Thanksgiving Memo 2014

Thanksgiving Memo 2014

Maxwell Ryan
Nov 10, 2014

October Stats:

The Kitchn

14,074,916 up 4% from September
up 49% from October 2013

Comscore rank: 14 of all Food Sites

Apartment Therapy

up 0% from September
up 15% from October 2013

Comscore rank: 12h of all Home Sites

Dear Team,
The cozy chill of November is upon us and Thanksgiving is firmly in our headlights. Meanwhile some news:

  • Scripps Networks (HGTV, Food Network, etc) laying off hundreds because of revenue issues (rumor that the whole company is up for sale)
  • Conde Nast lays off 70 in their Media Group
  • Turner Broadcasting (CNN) lays off 1,475 to reshape its workforce and add to digital areas
  • SheKnows buys Blogher Network to expand reach
  • Vice Media expands news channels to seven new countries
  • Gawker signs 15 year lease for new offices on 5th avenue for $75M and Nick says, "growth and destiny demands we do it."
  • AT Media Sales team is 200% ahead of Q4 last year

Last time I wrote in July, I wrote a tome about the digital landscape, our place within it and talked about my visit to IKEA, excellence and how we need feedback to continue to grow and improve. In the meantime we've been digging in and putting changes into place.

Traffic in the past few months has only been fair, and while KT is about to launch into it's Thanksgiving/Christmas traffic surge, AT is struggling with a continuing decline in Search traffic that is keeping growth flat. We have work to do here. Thank goodness for our Social Media push as it's grown over 250% since this time last year.

While everyone has been doing great work, we have hit a wall with regard to how big we can grow organically doing things the way we've been doing them for years. We are swimming with the big fish, but are not one of the biggest yet but we totally can be as we transform into a smarter, more aggressive organization. Why do we need to grow bigger or be more aggressive? Four reasons: One, because the demands of the online advertising industry right now are so intense and changing so fast that to increase revenue and rise to the very top we need scale and growth in our audience, Two, there's a land a grab going on right now with tremendous opportunity as bigger, older companies continue to weaken, Three, when I look around at all the people here who are working so hard, I see a lot of desire and excitement to continue to improve and grow our capabilities, and, Four, because our readers love us and we owe it to them to keep getting better for them.

So what are we doing?

The first thing we've been doing is looking outside for more information and expert advice. As of this week (inspired by IKEA) we've held two Reader Feedback Sessions with readers who came in and chatted for 1.5 hours here at the office that both confirmed things we need to work on and highlighted some that we hadn't seen on both sites. We will continue to do these. In addition, we've hired three consultants to help us with Video production and distribution (David Staley), SEO and Product Management (Tela Andrews), and Audience Development (Drew Sanocki). Each one will be staying at least for the next three months to help our full time staff reorganize and up their game in the new year. Tela will also be working directly to help the Tech team correct all of the fixable issues we discover are affecting low SEO on AT.

Greater Content:

  • More Editors - We're going to accelerate hiring for both KT and AT so that we can continue to improve our product. KT has basically been understaffed (and running great things like the Cooking School) and AT can use a boost (to nail Social Media and expand great programs like Reno Diaries and Personal Style). Both teams can do more and do better with more hands watching over content creation, editing and social media.
  • More Analytics - Editorially we will be using our analytics more and more to track and predict the success of our work
  • Planning Ahead - Both sites are going to continue to plan further ahead so that bring more intelligence and forethought to our editorial calendar and base those plans on what we've learned is truly working
  • Better Video - We have increased budget and strategic plan for specific videos to be built out of our winning content on both sites
  • Better Comments - Tech just released comment notifications and this month are following up with nested comments which will vastly improve this experience and heighten engagement
  • New Navigation and Pages - Making our posts bigger and juicier, while stripping down the clutter of our navigation is the goal here: better, fewer choices. This is in process to roll out in 2015.

Greater Distribution:

  • SEO Fixes - With Tela's help, we're going to discover why the SEO on AT and KT has behaved so differently over the past year. Fixing this crucial to the long term health of both sites and totally doable.
  • Video Distribution - With David's help we've already begun to explore moving our video to our own YouTube channels and optimizing our archive for SEO
  • Partnerships - Ashley has already begun to secure some major content partnerships that will ensure that our content and brand are seen in the best places on the web. Increased Sweepstakes are a big part of this to grow our following on Facebook and Email.
  • Paid Media - We've never paid to have our content placed elsewhere but we're going to on a monthly basis in 2015. A big part of growing up, we need to grow in areas that we're not reaching organically.

All this means that we're going to be spending more money in 2015 than ever before and burning through more dollars a month to keep the readers hot. To help pull it in we've hired a new Account Executive, Adam Miller, and Creative Services Project Manager, Carrie Winiker, who both start this week. More hires here will come in the beginning of next year. With the tremendous success our current team has had as they've entered the back half of 2014, I am very bullish on the next year. By this time next year our offices on Lafayette Street will be overflowing and we'll already have a plan in place for our own office move. But as Nick said, growth and destiny demands it. Now is the time to accelerate and as I ask everyone to raise their game at least 30% in the new year, we're going to be giving them more support and tools to get there.

Best, M
November 10, 2014

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