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Social Media platforms eating into publishers’ revenues, says Saurabh Garg of Condé Nast India

Garg shares the brand’s digital journey and its growth. He also talks about the challenges publishers are currently facing

Saurabh Garg

Condé Nast, the media house that publishes Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest, and Condé Nast Traveller, has seen significant digital growth in India in the past five years. According to the company, there has been a 133% increase in the year-on-year unique number of users.

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In an exclusive interaction with, Saurabh Garg, Digital Director of Condé Nast India, shares the challenges digital publishers face and Condé Nast’s digital growth over five years.

Garg said as social media platforms end up taking a big share of the brand’s advertising spends, publishers are left with very little share. “Bigger platforms and networks take away the lion’s share of digital spends. Facebook and Google take 80-85%, depending on different accounts, so the publishers are left to buy from a very small pool. Given the plethora of options available, there is a lot of supply but the demand is not that high as of now,” he said.

Garg said as some brands might find social media platforms to be unsafe and are pulling out of there, it might give publications an advantage in the long run.

“While in the short term, the impact of such incidents has been much lesser compared to geographies like the US, but this issue is not going to go away because these platforms are increasingly becoming a place for a lot of negativity, and it's difficult to control that for these platforms. This becomes a challenge for brands. Do they want their ad to be placed next to something controversial? Publishers like us, which can offer such a safe and controlled environment opportunity, definitely exist but in the long term,” he said.

Talking about Condé Nast India’s growth across the four brands, Garg said, “We really started investing in our digital play about five, six years back and we invested in scaling up our teams across three kinds of functions. We took a decision to segregate and set up dedicated editorial teams to only write for our websites. Unlike others, who have integrated news desks, we realised the capabilities and resources that can understand the medium and for the medium, specifically. Secondly, we invested in understanding data and insights. So we created a central audience growth team. It would work across the four brands that we have. These teams would closely work with the editorial teams in terms of looking at data and sharing insights across. The third part was linking all of this with monetisation. We made an internal creative studio team that would use all the insights and learning and then partner with brands and deliver the solutions as a result of all of this. Our audiences have more than quadrupled across the four brands in the last five years.”.

Garg said across platforms, they have seen a significant increase in the number of brands they have partnered with. The share of digital business to the overall business has increased and is one-third now. “Our website users have grown from somewhere 2 million to 15 million. Apart from this, on our social media platforms, we have 10 million followers who follow and engage with our brands. Our engagement rates are one of the best in the Condé Nast space across the world. A lot of thinking has flown from India to other markets in how we have grown,” he added.

Speaking about how their content strategy changed due to the lockdown, Garg said despite the fact that digital has increased in the past few months, it was a challenge to figure topics to cover during the lockdown.

 “GQ has been strong with fitness content. So themes like fitness, workouts from home and food really picked up and were in demand. For Vogue, where fashion and beauty have always been the focus, we shifted the focus towards how women are working from home and beauty regimes one needs to follow during work from home, fashion attires for video calls, etc. Architectural Digest and even Vogue did a lot of articles around setting up your home, etc. Home entertainment is another category that continues to do well for us,” he said.

Garg said the revenues were impacted during the early lockdown days but digital growth has been significant. “Condé Nast is print and digital, we do events — we are very diverse in that sense. Some of our other businesses were more affected than digital for obvious reasons. Speaking about digital, we have strived to approach advertisers that are still spending during the lockdown. While our regular advertisers consist of high-street fashion, luxury goods, travel, etc., were hit badly. However, categories like e-commerce, entertainment, gaming, etc., were spending. We tried to come up with ideas and solutions that would make a difference to them and we have had some success,” he added.

Speaking about subscription performance, he said India was badly hit in terms of physical distribution of copies as newsstands were completely closed and logistics were hit to deliver copies.

“The print magazine subscription was hit in the early days of lockdown. We were slightly affected by new subscribers but the growth has been much faster on digital during the lockdown. Across brands, we have seen 45-50% growth on digital. However, print subscriptions have recovered while digital has grown significantly. This has been the trend globally and not just for Condé Nast but for every publication,” he said.

They have also launched two performance-based products Spire and Amplify, which will help brands target specific audience groups. Spire is a digital performance product and Amplify is a social marketing product. “At Condé Nast, our strength is the audiences and how we offer very specific audience segments to our advertisers. We created eight audience segments using first-party data like fashion-forward women who spent a lot of time on Vogue, fitness enthusiasts. These segments can help brands target these specific segments. We have launched these globally. In the US, we have seen a lot of success with performance campaigns. Advertisers have seen 18-80% over-performance.” he explained.

Speaking about Amplify, Garg said their audiences are specific and wide on social media handles and many brands wish to engage with them. “Through Amplify, you can target deep segments on social media who are engaged with our brands on social media. I can target people who have come and visited Vogue now on Instagram on our Twitter, or Facebook feeds,” he added.

They have evolved their business strategy to suit the new environment. Garg said as viewers and advertisers are moving away from television and print, they are increasingly upskilling the sales and digital teams.  “We have grown significantly and are no longer a small niche player. That's the message we want to give to the market, we are now primarily a digital-first business,” he added.

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