Pac Mags’ digital white knight

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 14 August 2015
Pacific Magazine head of digital and innovation Darren Kerry.

If you have the slightest sympathy for the plight of the revenue hammered magazine sector, Darren Kerry probably doesn’t need it. He’s on a terribly ambitious plan for Seven West Media’s magazine unit to wean itself off a near-total reliance on advertising for its future.

The eagerness of advertisers and media buyers to trounce magazines in favour of digital in Australia, versus other developed markets, still boggles many a magazine executive and it’s clear Pacific has drawn the line.

Kerry is rapidly scoping out the deployment of at least four major e-commerce verticals that will sell products and services, many of them featured in Pacific’s mastheads. Simultaneously, the former Southern Cross Austereo digital boss and wingman for Seven West’s chief digital officer, Clive Dickens, is building a custom content management system which will plug directly into its e-commerce ventures, recut content automatically for any platform outside its owned digital assets and become the first Australian publisher to be a vertical video specialist.

If his form at SCA is any indicator, Kerry, who built more than 100 mobile apps for the company, might just shake up
the market view on what a magazine publisher’s future looks like. He’s nearly completed a rapid blow-out of the publisher’s digital team from four to nearly 40, including a dozen specialist unit heads across user experience, e-commerce, social, mobile, digital strategy development and content.

The editorial teams are all over it, busting for more digital smarts, but there’s also a handbrake. Pacific’s digital strategy to date, has been, shall we say, bespoke. It has a dozen or more different website platforms and content management systems that Kerry needs to unravel and replace with one.

It’s a big job given he says there is nothing he can buy off the shelf to do what Pacific needs. Hence, he’s bringing in the coders.

The other challenge is literally spatial. How does the magazine publisher balance the need for editorial to be
constantly brushing up against the digital team but for the digital team to be a colocated ensemble in order to finesse their strategy deployment and tactics. Kerry doesn’t have an answer for that yet but he has plenty of intent.

The e-commerce plan is fascinating. It’s a critical attempt to wean the publisher’s reliance off ads. And so it should. The hacking of ad revenues by the market has been ruthless. 

“E-commerce is a natural extension for Pacific Magazines. We tell people what they should be wearing in mags, why not give them the opportunity to buy as well? It’s just that simple,” he says.

“On top of that we have this huge social community which is already giving us feedback and opinions, and sharing. That’s how people are shopping in real life so we’re enabling this behaviour on our digital platforms.

"There are three or four [e-commerce ventures] that we’re rolling up; big ones that I can’t expose yet but they’re in much larger market skins. So if you take some of our magazines, you’ve got lifestyle, home, fashion; the power is bundling them together.”

So what does Kerry think the tipping point is for e-commerce revenues to outstrip advertising?

“It’s absolutely massive,” he says. “It’s happening pretty quickly, I would say it’s a two or three year play. The financial year has just kicked-in. This time next year we will have some more accuracy as to whether it’s six months or two years.

"If you factor in that we are part of the Seven West Media group, the ability to push these new e-commerce platforms, not just through magazines but also TV, is pretty powerful.”

Some observers express their doubts almost instantly at Pacific’s e-commerce prospects, but whether or not it succeeds, it’s precisely the sort of reinvention the advocates of disruption theory call for (and that’s pretty much the whole planet these days).

Of equal intrigue is Kerry’s distribution strategy – Pacific is preparing for a future in which platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google will usurp its own websites for traffic volumes.

“A large driver of traffic to websites or mobile apps is coming from social and I think such communities are absolutely going to take a lion’s share,” he says.

“Those networks, I believe absolutely are going to take a large proportion and are going to challenge people’s own
websites and digital properties. Obviously Australia is going to lag behind the US but because everything happens so quickly in digital, I would envisage 18 to 24 months.”

For someone who made it very clear early on, as one who doesn’t like being the focus of stories, Kerry has articulated quite a grand plan. He’s diplomatic but he finishes on the point at which we started.

“Some people talk, some people do,” he quips. “I remain deliberately quiet.”\

Only because Kerry’s top brass gave him a nudge did he talk at all. And deliberate he certainly is. It’s refreshing in that while blazing a trail in unchartered territory for Seven West’s magazine portfolio, he’s not going to fall for the old speed trick.

Kerry wants to get it right before getting it first.

“People are far more savvy than they used to be so if you don’t get the user experience right they’re not coming back,” he says.

“So it’s got to be done right and if that means it takes two more months instead of four weeks, I have been there and seen what the difference makes in doing it right. We’ll take an extra two months if we need to.”

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