5Q’s With…Sweet’s Newest Chief, Ross Clark
Hearst has been making major plays in video, including a partnership with Snapchat to create a new channel on Snapchat Discover called Sweet. And since launching in Fall 2015, Sweet has generated upwards of 15 million uniques a month as it provides editorial content around beauty and lifestyle topics. On the heels of that growth, Sweet grabbed former senior director at Conde Nast Entertainment, Ross Clark, to serve as the business’ new VP and General Manager.
Clark told VideoInk: “Every morning when I walk from the subway to the Hearst Tower and every night when I do the reverse, I pass by a poster that features a photograph of William Randolph Hearst and one of his quotes — “We must be alarmingly enterprising, and we must be startlingly original, and do new and striking things, which constitute a revolution.” Our mission now is the same as it’s been for many, many years: to be bold and original, always innovating and experimenting. Finding the right opportunities and making smart bets has spurred decades of success.”
And for Hearst, that looks like innovation on emerging platforms where younger audiences exist in droves. As video businesses mature and expand to include all platforms, Snapchat Discover has gained strong mindshare in many publisher’s content strategies. We caught up with Clark to get his thoughts on the platform and the overall state of the industry.
VideoInk: The collision between digital and television has been oncoming for a while now, but it seems the two have now merged into one space. The caveat to that are the social video platforms like Snapchat where serialized and verticalized programming are just starting. What do you find most exciting about these kinds of platforms?
Ross Clark: Snapchat is an incredibly addictive and powerful platform, with brands like Cosmopolitan and Sweet creating daily hybrid magazine/video editions for millions of users on Discover, and individual users including celebrities and brands creating and sharing content via Stories. It’s a fast paced environment for content creation, and that’s the beauty of the platform. So as the first brand created entirely for the mobile and social Snapchat Discover experience, Sweet is really distinguishable from its competitors.
VI: And given your background in biz dev and revenue strategy, what do you see as the revenue potential for a brand like Sweet or others trying to build vertical or episodic programming on Snapchat, or Instagram, for instance?
RC: Sweet is the best environment on Snapchat Discover — It’s curious, it’s global in its mindset, and embodies sophisticated taste. Marketers connect with Sweet’s readers through full sight, sound and motion via mobile phone, a truly personal device, with 100 percent share of voice. Other forms of monetization will come and I’m excited to see how it plays out, particularly with e-commerce.
VI: There have been murmurs of consumer behavior towards vertical vs horizontal video (i.e. going 90 degrees vs staying upright). What do you think are the strengths or pitfalls of mobile-viewed content?
RC: Mobile-viewed content, including video, offers the opportunity to reach consumers multiple times per day in a very direct way. I probably do something on my phone every five to 10 minutes while I’m awake — that’s very significant screen time. That said, consumers are moving incredibly fast. To be successful, media brands have to be present on the right platforms, match their users’ velocity and speak to readers in a way that’s both original and relevant. There are opportunities to be successful with both vertical and horizontal video, but you’ve got to get the other stuff right first.
VI: There’s a lot of money coming into the space. Netflix recently announced it would spend $60 million on content. Verizon has spent upwards of $500 million. Fullscreen, Facebook, YouTube, are all putting investment into content as well. But not many are seeing what would be considered sizeable audience. What advice do you have for other platforms looking to monetize content? / What do you think is a winning equation for revenue generation on these platforms?
RC: My first job out of college was in the music business and we had a saying, “Are you selling records or building fans?” If you’re building fans, you are creating content that makes them want to come back to you every day — ideally multiple times per day. To do that, you need to relentlessly focus on your audience. And you have to create content or an experience that is addictive for that audience. This is something that Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, talks about constantly. What makes digital exciting and challenging is the vast amount of data and constant feedback — you have to use it to strike the right chords. On the monetization front, the combination of audience and addictive content generates the volume and growth required for an advertising-supported model.
VI: What’s one trend that’s keeping you up at night?
RC: The fragmentation of content consumption — whether on social media or video platforms. We’re in an environment of constant forward momentum and change (which is one of the reasons why I love media) and that requires content companies to be nimble and ever-evolving. I spend lots of time thinking about how to help our advertising partners reach consumers in all of these different places with original and authentic messages.