As Its Ranks Swell, Bauer Xcel Turns To Platforms To ‘Kik’ Start Growth

Bauer XcelBauer Xcel Media is a digital latecomer and only began devoting attention to its websites three years ago, but the publisher of J-14, Life & Style and InTouch is operating like a young digital pure-play.

Completely separate from its parent organization, which houses the print operation, Bauer Xcel sells 100% programmatically and has quickly embraced platforms, including Kik, a messaging app where it reaches many J-14 teen readers.

To continue the company’s growth, Bauer Xcel last week hired Allison Mezzafonte as SVP of operations. Mezzafonte will organize the company as it adds staff to support its flourishing publications.

For the past two years, Bauer Xcel Media staffed lean, with two full-time editors per website. At Life & Style, for example, two people presided over a site that reached 12 million unique visitors a month. Now it has expanded to 50 employees, requiring Mezzafonte to come in and organize operations.

Mezzafonte previously worked at About.com, but she started her career in magazine publishing, which offered a glimpse of how print and digital may battle over conflicting goals.

“Bauer Xcel is totally independent from the print publisher,” she said “When the digital brands are bound by the print editors, I’ve found that limits our ability to be successful.”

One reason she joined Bauer Xcel: its 100% programmatic approach (minus a small amount of cross-platform sales).

“That allows us to focus our efforts on what, in my opinion, really matters: engagement and the user experience first,” Mezzafonte said. “When you have an ad strategy with premium ads, you find yourself in a situation where you’re distracted by audience size, from an optics perspective,” versus putting the user first and developing a strategy around cultivating that user.

One user-focused strategy Bauer Xcel brands use to draw in readers involves reaching them on platforms.

J-14 has 5.6 million Facebook fans. That makes it the largest teen brand on the social network, according to data from Shareablee, said Bauer Xcel President Christian Baesler.

The publication has opportunities on platforms that others don’t, simply because its teenage audience is an earlier adopter of messaging app Kik and other platforms.

J-14 created a user on Kik in the form of a chatbot. A user types in a celebrity, like “Justin Bieber,” and the chatbot responds with links to articles that the viewer reads in the app. Plus, Kik allows Bauer Xcel to send push notifications to every user it follows, while on Facebook only a fraction of followers see an individual post.

“Facebook has been the biggest driver for us trafficwise, which is a great opportunity but also a great dependence,” Baesler said. “We want to diversify.”

The drawback to Kik is that for users to find and follow J-14, it’s almost essential to pay for a sponsored placement. While J-14 tried that paying for sponsorships and users, it’s paused those efforts because it found they weren’t efficient. Kik is pivoting its business model, so Baesler will revisit the platform once that’s complete.

Another platform where Bauer Xcel would like to see its brands is disappearing-message app Snapchat. But conversations with Snapchat have stalled, Baesler said, because it’s more interested in publishers that attract readers over the age of 25 for advertising reasons, despite Snapchat’s huge popularity among teens.

Next year, Bauer Xcel plans not only to grow its audience, in part through its presence on platforms, but also wants to merge content and commerce by introducing more opportunities to purchase products.

For that endeavor, which won’t be easy, Baesler needs tight communication and execution. That’s another reason why he hired Mezzafonte to work at his side to organize the company for growth.

 

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