Edna Belleza, Summit Media Publisher for print and digital, manages teams of creative talented professionals including writers, editors, artists, and marketers. to generate content production in all its platforms, In this Q and A, she discusses two vital elements that enable one to stay ahead of the curve: the knack to discern what evolving audiences want, and the agility to craft the right message through the right medium.
Q: At a time when a lot of analysts are saying that print media will go by the wayside because of the development of digital, how has Summit Media not just managed to survive, but continue to lead the industry? How do you stay on top not just of news, but of trends? What is the current ratio between your print vs. your digital components?
EB: Ultimately, it’s all about the audience. Print is just one medium to reach the audience. And we’re primarily a content company. We deliver the content in whatever way is effective. With consumers’ changing media habits, we need to be as pervasive in digital as we have been in print.
Today, we have 15 brands in digital and six in print. All the remaining six magazines also have strong websites and sizable social media following. Some of our digital-only brands evolved from print, like Smart Parenting and Entrepreneur. The others, like Spot and SPIN, started out as purely digital.
With print, the monthly readership across our portfolio is about four million. With digital, we reach 26 million unique visitors and our social media footprint is at 33 million. So digital has actually been a big opportunity for us as a media company.
Q: How do you continue to make great content? Are editors given free rein to feel the pulse of the market and thus conceptualize the stories? Or do marketing, research, and analytics now play a role and how so?
EB: We’re a very data-driven company but we also allow our editors to experiment with concepts they want to explore.
One of the good things about digital is that you get instant feedback on every piece of content as soon as you put it out there. This allows you to tweak it so it resonates with the audience more. And it helps you plan for succeeding articles or videos you want to produce. We also use social listening to stay on top of trends and anticipate what audiences want.
The common misconception about being data-driven is that you can’t write about a serious topic because it might not become viral. Our view at Summit is that we should write about the things that matter and use data to make sure we reach as many of the intended audience as possible. Because, in the end, if you have a great story to tell, what good will it do if nobody gets to read it?
We’re always having conversations with our editors about having a sense of purpose and being clear about what each of their brands stands for. There are topics that may not necessarily become viral, like reproductive health and women’s rights, but we continue to write about them lest people forget that those are important to us.
Q: What kind of content has proven successful with the Filipino consumer audience? Which do not gain ground and why?
With the proliferation of fake news, advertisers are now looking for the brand-safe environment that an established media organization like ours can provide. This is a global trend.
EB: Some things are universal. There are emotional triggers that make people like or share an article or a video. For instance, we know humor works. And, yes, we Filipinos love our “hugot [something inner or soulish that is compelling].”
In terms of subject matter, celebrity still brings the numbers and we seem to love our local celebrities a lot more than we do our Hollywood favorites. Our coverage of the Ms. Universe competition in January, for instance, generated close to eight million page views.
What works, of course, can also differ depending on the audience segment. The beauty of digital is that you’re able to quickly gather data and glean actionable insights about them.
Q: Aside from the usual numbers when it comes to circulation and website hits or clicks, what are the things that advertisers look for before placing ads or sponsoring packages in media? Would you say that advertisers now favor digital (website and social media) over print? What would be the ratio?
Engagement and conversion appear to trump simple reach.
EB: With the proliferation of fake news, advertisers are now looking for the brand-safe environment that an established media organization like ours can provide. This is a global trend.
Also, there seems to be a lot more effort going into making sure advertisers are able to target the right audiences over reaching the biggest ones. Engagement and conversion appear to trump simple reach.
Advertisers go where consumers go. Clearly, digital is no longer playing second fiddle to print. But each platform serves a purpose and a consumer uses each medium differently.
Q: Summit has been known for its agility in adapting to the fast changes that constantly develop in the various media industries. How do you manage your editors, writers, artists, and other members of your team to do this? Is this agility a matter of giving them the right training, picking the right people, or providing them the right motivation? What kind of structure lays the groundwork for this agility and makes it possible?
EB: It’s a mix of hiring the right people and training existing ones so they can evolve. In digital, things are always in flux. One day, you’re poring over analytics to figure out what articles do well; the next day, you’re learning how to make videos that perform better in mobile and social media. Regular huddles provide a venue for sharing best practices and learning new methods.
And, for many years now, we’ve recognized the best performers through internal awards.
Q: Your experience cuts across all media platforms. After a solid start in print journalism, you pioneered what were then called portals, and many of them remain top of mind among the readers and users of today – first in news and current affairs, and then in show business and entertainment. You’ve seen the evolution of both consumer and audience as they have been influenced by the rise of the internet and the development of content. What are the major changes that these users have undergone, and how can media – print and digital – reach out to them?
And, instead of spending a fixed time in front of their computers to browse content on the Internet, consumers are now pulling content in pockets of time throughout the day on their mobile phones.
EB: When I started in digital almost 20 years ago, the game was to build a website people would bookmark and visit regularly. Obviously, things are very different today, thanks to social media and mobile. Instead of going directly to their favorite websites, most people are led to content shared by their friends on social media. And, instead of spending a fixed time in front of their computers to browse content on the Internet, consumers are now pulling content in pockets of time throughout the day on their mobile phones.
Q: You’ve worn a lot of hats, from strategic planning, business development, sales and marketing, to overall general management. Which of these roles fulfill you the most, and why?
EB: Strategic planning is the most challenging and exciting for me because it involves some amount of prognostication. But, general management is most fulfilling because you get a holistic view of the business and, at the same time, have the opportunity to dive into the different functional areas when the need arises.
Q: What is the most important campaign that you launched that you feel most proud of? Or the one story that you built, explored, and published? And on both occasions, what made you feel that they are the greatest kind of content that you produced – and why?
EB: It’s cliché but it’s really difficult to choose when you have so many brands. And it’s really a team effort led by our president, Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng. She’s very hands-on in every aspect of the business.
But some noteworthy efforts quickly come to mind. For editorial, we did a lengthy piece on the Metro Manila Film Festival controversy in PEP a while back that touched on issues that have an impact on the future of the local showbiz industry. A more recent editorial effort is that of Esquire’s expose of the world of “hokage” or “pastor” groups in Facebook that exploit women.
And it’s not just the controversial long reads that make us proud. Every day, I always find something to be proud of in the hundreds of content the team produces. Take Entrepreneur, I find the articles on local business and how to invest your money quite intelligent and helpful. And I’m not saying that as a publisher but as a consumer myself.
In terms of advertising efforts, we’re proud of the fact that we’ve done many firsts in the industry, like the content marketing project with Unilever and Mindshare. We’ve also helped many clients win awards, like our 360 campaign for P&G and our custom publishing project for Meralco.
Q: Which direction do you see media going into the near future? Will video replace heavy text-based content? Will all stories have shorter word counts or video time because of the audience’s short attention span? Will AI and analytics influence the way we do content? How will Summit respond to these challenges?
EB: Global trends point to video becoming the preferred format for the future, but I personally don’t think text-based content will die totally. Nor will all content be shorter. While it’s true that the small pockets of time we have to consume content require concise storytelling, there will still be room for long reads or videos.
Our data suggests that long form is starting to get more engagement than short pieces. In the end, it’s all about having a compelling story to tell.
As more and more people are getting used to watching streaming video via Netflix and the like, they’re also getting used to spending more time on their phones. In fact, our data suggest that long form is starting to get more engagement than short pieces. In the end, it’s all about having a compelling story to tell. And being able to use data to tell it well.
At Summit, we’re investing a lot in video production. We have 25 people focused on the production side. They collaborate with over a hundred more people in editorial and creative solutions. We also have new studios. I think that’s pretty substantial for what was once purely a print business.
Q: Given the ton of content that is published every single day, what piece of advice would you give writers, editors, marketers, and content producers to become continually relevant and their stories visible to today’s attention-shifting audience?
EB: Always keep the audience in mind. What moves them? What are their pain points? Use data to guide you. Formats and platforms will continue to change. There will also be generational shifts in behavior.