Q&A: Sarah Personette, COO of Refinery29

The Idea talked strategy with Refinery29 as it expands — rapidly — both globally and across platforms.

Sarah Guinee
May 29, 2018 · 4 min read

The Idea: Refinery29 launched in 2005 as a New York City lifestyle guide. Now, it has a global audience of 550 million people, $125 million in funds raised, and coverage areas spanning fashion, health, and professional development. What do you identify as the most important levers that have fueled this growth?

SP: Everything we do is rooted in people. Refinery29 really knows our audience and we work with brand partners to produce content that reflects putting women first and telling stories through the lens of women. Refinery29 also has an intelligence practice called Refinery29i. Through qualitative and quantitative first party data, we use insights that inform our content and to drive real economic impact for our brand partners. Looking ahead at our cross-platform reach and franchise-based business, we are projected to double our audience engagement next year and continue to grow in the future.

Refinery29 has invested a lot in video; you’ve produced several documentaries and docu-series, and now you have a dramedy and several other projects in the pipeline. With a robust slate of programming, you’re set to launch Channel29, a free, ad-supported OTT channel later this year. How does this fit into Refinery29’s overarching strategy alongside your flagship editorial content, ecommerce business, and live events?

To get a sense of our video growth, over the past year, time spent on Refinery29 video has reached 4.1 billion minutes, 68 million hours, 3 million days and 7,719 years.

With Channel29, we want to create a home for the amazing content that we’ve been producing for years into a singular destination for the way she wants to watch television today and into the future. We believe this allows our brand partners to speak to our audience in new and innovative ways.

Recent data shows that over 51% of people today are actually consuming video on internet connected devices and that will grow to over 335MM people over the course of the next few years. When we think about Refinery29’s mission to be a catalyst for our audience to see, feel and claim her power, we want to ensure that she is able to consume the content that supports that on every device and every space and place she wants to be. At launch, Channel29 will include Refinery29’s premium short-form digital on-demand content, including returning successful series such as Try Living with Lucie, The Mention, and Style Out There, as well as 2 hours of live, and daily programming.

Refinery29 has expanded internationally into Germany and the U.K and you have plans to enter France and Canada. How do you approach international expansion? What learnings have you taken away from your first global expansion efforts?

Canada and France already have strong organic audiences. We will be launching in both markets with Refinery29.com/Canada and Refinery29.com/France and will be investing in an editorial team to build out custom tentpoles — topics and programs that we build specifically and natively for a given audience — relevant to the insights of people in the respective market.

Are there any other exciting developments we haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss?

I am exciting about our continued investment in R29 Shop and the unique shopping experience curated for young women today. With the relaunch of our site in April, we decided to focus on 3 areas: discover, watch, and shop. This way, we’re speaking to how our audience wants to shop today — that means a greater curation of products and editorial content around those products. As a result, the new site has seen a 400% increase in shopping traffic. We have editorially curated shopping collections, as well as custom brand shops, and both site and branded experiences will be supported by our popular ongoing newsletter focused on shopping.

Shopping is unique to our heritage and origin story but the quick growth and engagement of R29 Shop over the last month’s launch is indicative of the latest demand our audience has for content and curation from Refinery29.

What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen from a media outlet other than your own?

The ongoing proliferation of messaging as a medium and form of communication is fascinating to me. The shift to mobile has not just condensed the purchase funnel but collapsed it. As we seen in much of Asia, messaging platforms will bring in a new evolution for how people discover, shop, and communicate with brands today.

This Subscriber Spotlight first appeared in the May 29th edition of The Idea. To get your weekly update on everything new and innovative in digital media, subscribe here!

The Idea

A weekly newsletter on the business of media from @AtlanticMedia, home of @TheAtlantic, @NationalJournal and @GovExec. Subscribe here: bit.ly/2miVHiQ

Sarah Guinee

Written by

Gender + Media Freedom at Committee to Protect Journalists. Formerly Strategy Research Fellow Atlantic Media, and before that @Atlantic57

The Idea

The Idea

A weekly newsletter on the business of media from @AtlanticMedia, home of @TheAtlantic, @NationalJournal and @GovExec. Subscribe here: bit.ly/2miVHiQ

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