“Pub Talk”: Q&A With Brooklyn Magazine’s Jesse Smith

Unruly and Brooklyn Magazine have been working together since 2011. The relationship began initially with the magazine publisher running In-Page ads and Sponsored Posts, and has since developed as Unruly launched new products, such as our In-Feed and In-Article formats.

We sat down with Jesse Smith,
VP, Integrated Sales and Marketing from Brooklyn Magazine (or
bkmag.com), for our inaugural “Pub Talk” at New York City’s Flatiron Hall (a local favorite for NYC Unrulies) this week to discuss the challenges and successes of being an online publisher.

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From what makes the magazine unique, to its vast – and perhaps surprising – international audience, to how it curates a good user experience while keeping the eye on the bottom line, Smith shared details on what he’s been working on. Here is our full conversation:

Unruly: How would you describe your audience? Obviously Brooklyn is in the title of the website, but do you have more of a national audience interested in Brooklyn, or people visiting?

Brooklyn: How would we describe our audience? A lot of times the way we describe what we do and who we create content and experiences for people are people who are really plugged into Brooklyn as a sort of zeitgeist. As Brooklyn has become a national and international adjective for what’s next, we are the ones defining and showcasing that adjective through our content. So, while our content is relevant on an international scale, it’s because there’s a community, and this creative community is people paying attention on an international scale. While the content that we create is really around Brooklyn, and there is a strong Brooklyn community reading, we actually find that we have a big international audience because we’re trying to tell a larger story through a Brooklyn lens, not a story about Brooklyn.

Unruly: It’s funny, when I was back home in Michigan, I heard someone say “That’s so Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn: Yes, we hear that a lot. We put our print magazine in hotels all around the world because people really want to understand what’s going on.

Unruly: What’s the biggest piece of content you’ve ever run?

Brooklyn: We did a really big piece of content recently that was a map that showcased a book for every neighborhood in Brooklyn (see below). Brooklyn is a huge literary community, so it was a literary feature about the different books that have taken place or have been associated with different parts of the borough. And that was extremely successful, so we then recreated that. Instead of a book for every neighborhood, we had a book for every state, based on the success of that piece. And the book for every state piece, just basically shows what the single most significant piece of content that say, Louisiana, would relate to.

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That. piece. did. gangbusters.

We also do a lot on local community level. We recently identified the 100 most influential people in arts & culture in Brooklyn.

Unruly: How do you use video on your site?

Brooklyn: We create a lot of original video. We work with Unruly to show ads through your video formats on the page. We do a lot of original video, a lot of times it’s tied to branded content campaigns or original stories. We bring in partners to basically allow for us to finance the production. And those typically live with editorial features.

But we’re doing a lot more. We were recently acquired and are now tapping into a huge network of incredible content creators, and we’re doing more and more with the talent that we now have access to; to create more video and branded content, more editorial content and whatever lives between those two things. There will be more going on in video in the next year. 2016 will be a much bigger year for video than it has been historically.

Unruly: How do you approach putting enough ads on the page to monetize and curating a good user experience for your readers?

Brooklyn: That’s always a delicate balance. We are in a situation now where we will be relaunching BK Mag this month with that specific dilemma in mind, where you get in this mindset where you want to monetize the page as much as possible, but then you realize that the page will look like crap. It’s a math equation, but you also need to know that there is a user experience involved. We are actually in the process of revamping the entire look of the page because, a. it just needs an update and, b. we just got to the point where we think there are just a couple more units we could do without. Though we want to make an income on that we want to make sure that at the end of the day, Brooklyn Magazine is still the premium product we want it to be.

Unruly: What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in publishing right now?

Brooklyn: Other than list-based stuff, and people making too much content for the sake of making content? I come at it mostly from a brand perspective. I’m not the publisher, but instead work closely with our brand partners to create integrated programs across our media and event properties. From a brand perspective, while “content is king” people are actually just creating too much content.

People are trying to reinvent their platforms in new looks and feels. Pubs are presenting themselves in new and interesting ways from a design perspective. That’s constantly changing but overall I would say there are a lot of lists and a lot of content that is both unnecessary.

Unruly: How is adblocking affecting the Brooklyn Mag?
Brooklyn: I’m not the best person to speak to in terms of how it is affecting Brooklyn as I don’t sit on the publishing side of the house. What I do know is that it’s affecting the ways brands are building their digital strategy, so I am seeing it from that end. As ad blocking is becoming so prevalent, content is becoming such a big tool to figure out new and innovative ways to make sure your brand shines in messages that go beyond programmatic advertising.