Lynn Schlesinger - How Trust Became the Focal Point of Publishing
“People have choice right now. There's a ton of choice. And we have to be the one they choose to spend their time with, as a publication, or spend their money with.”- Lynn Schlesinger
In the sixth episode of No Hype, Lynn Schlesinger, former CMO and current Chief Customer Experience Officer at Forbes, discusses her role of delivering growth by connecting with customers across the brand, and her experience of creating new surprises and bringing them to market.
Join Schlesinger and our hosts as they talk about the importance of trust, the unique space Forbes occupies, what Schlesinger’s three focus areas were when she arrived, and why Forbes is ahead of the curve compared to many publishers.
Allyson Dietz: Welcome to No Hype, the podcast about truth, science and the future of Marketing, brought to you by hosts Allyson Dietz...
Devon DeBlasio: ...and Devon DeBlasio.
AD: Today's guest is Lynn Schlesinger, former CMO and newly appointed Chief Customer Experience Officer at Forbes, where she's focused on delivering growth by connecting with customers across the Forbes brand. She's focused squarely on demand gen, performance marketing, and the activation of client paid social and lead gen programs. Lynn actually spent some time at Neustar, running our media and partnership marketing experience program as well. Lynn, it's great to speak with you again, and have you on the show.
Lynn Schlesinger: So nice to meet you Allyson, and Devon, to see you.
DD: Great seeing you again, Lynn. You've had quite an illustrious career in the marketing world. And including a few years, as Allyson said, spent here at Neustar. Can you just share a bit about your career path to date?
LS: Sure. Well, illustrious is very generous, but thank you. My career, a lot of it happened by taking chances, and looking at new opportunities, and just really being curious. I got started in this business, really, when I was in college. My sophomore year of school, I got an incredible internship at BusinessWeek Careers Magazine, which was part of the BusinessWeek franchise. And had this incredible chance to learn about publishing, learn about events, learn about being organized, hands-on marketing, really, as I was starting to think about what I wanted to do full-time. And that internship at BusinessWeek Careers turned into an 11 year stint at McGraw Hill, which owned BusinessWeek. I really do see that as the foundation of what got me here to Forbes, many years later, today.
I also had excellent role models and mentors, some of which, I am in touch with on a regular, ongoing basis. These are people who helped see me, and could see what I could accomplish, long before I saw it in myself. They really gave me the confidence to take a lot of the chances I have, professionally, over the years. The other big thing, I would say, is being a working mom. First of all, you need an amazing partner. And my husband, Greg, is exactly that.
AD: I hear that.
LS: We know that people can perform as a parent in their professional roles, no matter where they are working, at any given point in time.
AD: Lynn, I love you saying that, because also as a working mom, I think that it's really great to hear other leaders in the industry talking about that. I think that's really important. You mentioned role models, and I personally was really excited by the recent project from Forbes. The 50 Over 50. I thought that was a great example of women in leadership and role models. What has your favorite project been so far, while at Forbes?
LS: So that is absolutely one of the highlights. 50 Over 50. But we also have other incredible programs. The Under 30 platform, recognizing young entrepreneurs, and inspiring them to take those chances, to be curious about the world, and make the world a better place for all of us. That is also very inspiring. Forbes The Culture, which was a grassroots endeavor, and started at the Under 30 Summit, by attendees who wanted to get together and create a safe space, for black and brown entrepreneurs to work together, to network, to help grow their own professional aspirations.
One of the fun things about Forbes that I really love, is that we really service people from the beginning of their careers, through retirement. We have content, and education, and events that are accessible to people, no matter where they are on their personal and professional journeys.
DD: And so I want to dig in a little bit to the publisher world, that you live in and work in today. I think you're our first publisher representative that's been on the podcast. And a lot of questions that we have around that world, and someone specifically in your role as Chief Customer Experience Officer. It's a very unique position today, in any organization. But for you, the fact that you have to manage two distinct customer groups. You have readers, and you have advertisers. And how do you manage those two audiences, day to day?
LS: We actually make it a little more complicated for ourselves, because we think about our customers more broadly. We have forbes.com readers. We have magazine readers. We have advertisers and marketing partners. The marketing partners are event sponsors. Branded content partners. Video content partners. It really runs the gamut. We have paid and free newsletter subscribers. We have investing newsletter subscribers. We have shoppers. We launched the Forbes Store last week. Too much fanfare and a lot of fun. We have event registrant's and attendees. That's another audience segment that we really look closely to. Plus we think about our employees, as their experience as being a member of the Forbes team is also really important to our success. So everything we do at Forbes is really with the customer. The broad sense in mind, making sure that how we're engaging, what we're engaging with, and the messaging, is really aligned.
AD: Obviously, you've got print and digital. You've talked about events, and there's so many different ways in which you're engaging audiences across these different channels. Do you typically think about that as an omni-channel experience, or are you curating unique experiences in each of your channels?
LS: So it's a little bit of both, right? There is not that much overlap between our print audience and our digital audience. The numbers are staggeringly different. We have six issues published every year now. But our digital footprint, when you look at digital and social, we've got over 132 million uniques on forbes.com. 78 million of those are from the US. And our social footprint is enormous. We reach about 52 million people through social. So from a scale perspective, digital is much bigger than print, but print has been the foundation of Forbes since we were founded, over a hundred years ago. About a little more than a year ago, I hadn't been at Forbes very long, we introduced a brand new look and feel to the publication. It's really almost a coffee table style book, that appears in your mailbox every two months. And we take as much pride in that, as we do in the stories that we publish on forbes.com every day.
DD: Looking at the Forbes Store really quickly, I really want to get that future CEO onesie for my five month old. That's really, really, really, cute. It's a really cool store, actually. I didn't think you were going to have apparel. But I really like that. So switching gears a little bit, I'm a data nerd. Allyson's a data nerd. We want to know a little bit more about data, in the terms of how it plays into the role, for you specifically at Forbes, but also Forbes in general? What does data mean to Forbes?
LS: People entrust us with their information. Whether they are just visiting forbes.com, and reading an article or two, or 20, they're leaving a digital footprint. The print subscribers are giving us information, and event attendees actually give us a lot of information. We take our role in carefully managing and protecting this data, very, very, very, seriously. When I got to Forbes, there were three big focus areas. One was a brand, and really thinking about the brand experience across the business. The other two were data and technology. And we've spent a lot of time in my two and a half years at Forbes, really drilling down into what is the best technology stack to provide an incredible customer experience? What are the data assets we need? We don't want to hang onto any more than we need. We want to be respectful of keeping people's information private and safe.
But we also want to provide them with the best experience, no matter where they're interacting with us. So the data that is entrusted with us, is used to provide a better experience for our readers, our marketing partners, and for our event attendees.
DD: I want to double click in on the data, in terms of your marketing partners, your advertising partners, because our listenership most likely is in that milieu. How is Forbes making the data valuable to your marketer and advertiser constituents? How are they using the data, to reach a wider, more select, more informed audience, across Forbes?
LS: We're constantly evaluating, and determining the best way to use the data that we've been entrusted to hold. Each of our platforms that we use, whether it's Salesforce, or Pardot, or Smartsheet, is all working together to make sure that the information is being used properly, by the right folks, at the right time, and in the right way.
Earlier this year, we introduced a product called ForbesOne. And this is our first-party data solution that brings us closer to our audiences, by enabling us to better understand who is visiting our site, what piques their interest, and what ultimately motivates them. This allows us to give them an incredible on-site experience, and it allows us to provide our advertisers with incredible targeting opportunities that ensures that their advertisements and their messages are getting to people who they really want to reach.
AD: I love the idea of ForbesOne, and understanding the customer set within the Forbes portfolio. One of the things that we talk a lot about at Neustar, is data-driven marketing and data-driven advertising. Can you just share a little bit about your thoughts on the evolution of data-driven marketing and advertising, and how it's progressed or not progressed, over the last few years?
LS: I think things are changing dramatically. Right? Cookies going away. Cookies not going away as fast as everyone has been preparing for it. But I think the key thing for both marketers, if I put my brand marketing hat back on, but also for publishers, is that the exchange, the value exchange for information, for data, is truly delivered on at every interaction. So one of the things that we grapple with at Forbes, is we have this huge audience on forbes.com. Right? They are not all known audience members. We don't know exactly who we have email address connected to, all of the fabulous people that visit our forbes.com site. But we do have registered users. We do have newsletter readers, who have had to give us their email address, in order to receive the newsletter. We have a Forbes all access digital subscription now, that launched in November, where people can pay for forbes.com content, in exchange for receiving fewer ads on the page.
So all of this filters into providing an incredible reader experience, or audience experience on the site. And then, allowing our advertisers, through ForbesOne, to reach those who are most engaged, and most likely to react positively, to the messages that are presented before them. And I do think that because we have an incredible known user base, we are ahead of the curve, compared to many publishers, on knowing who the people who visit our site are, and allowing us to continue to support our advertiser messages, even as things with the cookies continued to evolve.
DD: As we look to the end of these identifiers, both from a display, desktop, as well as mobile, at which you have subscribers, and visitors, and customers, across both of those platforms and devices, how is this changing your data strategy? how you are utilizing ForbesOne, in terms of creating that single view of that customer across those identifiers or those touch points, when it is becoming harder to actually connect those dots?
LS: So in this new role, it really is going to give me the opportunity to focus on that magic combination of data, technology, and marketing. This is a new area, I would say, of specialization, because companies are entrusted with this incredible trove of information from their clients. In this case, advertisers and readers. And we are responsible to use that in a way, which gives them an incredible experience across whatever brand that we're working for. And for us at Forbes, the key is how do we connect the dots on all the data, that's all around the company? We've been around for 103 years. We're incredibly entrepreneurial. There are pockets of data in all parts of the business.
How do we connect the data? How do we unify the data? And then, how do we allow each of our business units to activate on that data, in a responsible way? Making sure that we're focusing on privacy, both in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. Ensuring that we're only sending people messages that they have opted in to receive. We have hundreds of different possibilities, and combinations of possibilities at Forbes. And if you no longer want to receive our CMO newsletter, but you still want to get the CXO one, we want you to be able to do that. And we want you to trust that we're going to follow your directive appropriately.
The other piece about it, is ensuring that when we are activating messages for all of our different businesses, that we're doing so in a respectful cadence to the recipients of those messages. There are certainly a lot of high value folks that we work with at Forbes, particularly the C-suite. And we want to make sure they're not overwhelmed from offers from Forbes, or any of our marketing partners, in a way that would cause them to opt out or lose their trust in the Forbes brand. So by focusing on this intersection of marketing data and technology, we're in a better position to do that.
AD: So you're talking a lot about trust, and building trust. And obviously, as the Chief Customer Experience Officer, I think it's really important that you are curating these experiences for your readers and for your audiences, so that there's a mutual benefit for them to engage with the Forbes brand. I'm curious, with data deprecation and some of the things you mentioned, obviously, that Forbes is in a unique position, in that there's a lot of known customers out there. But how do you think that the industry in general is reacting to these changes, in terms of building and curating customer experiences? How do you think things will change, based off of these changes in the industry?
LS: I think that customer experience and customer trust are really becoming the focal point, for many of the decisions around how our industry moves forward together. The customer was, five years ago, was not at the center of the conversation. It was really about pushing messages out, getting dollars in, essentially right? The conversion of those messages. Now, with the focus on the customer, we can think more directly about what does this customer want? How do they want it? How can I send them the information that they want, in a way that will give them what they need? And give them what they need, from either myself or my brand, or my marketing partners?
AD: I think what you're describing, is this opportunity to build a relationship with your customers. You're serving up content that's relevant to them, but also advertisements that are relevant to them. You want it to be a holistic, unified experience, that really is something that they're engaged with and that they're interested in. So I think that that makes a lot of sense, to think about it as building a trust, and building a relationship with that customer.
LS: It's very important. People have choice right now. There's a ton of choice. And we have to be the one they choose to spend their time with, as a publication, or spend their money with. We want to be at the top of that consideration set, each and every time, by making sure we're doing our part to deliver on the Forbes promise.
DD: Is there something unique that you would say is really a standalone competitive differentiator for Forbes, versus many of the other publishers out there that are similar to you, or even just in the same boat?
LS: Well, we're really in a unique competitive set. In a lot of cases, we compete with some of the daily news publications. But in other cases, we are thought of as competitors of some of the business publications. And we really have this unique space, where we serve all kinds of audiences.
We launched the Forbes Store. Our first partner drop is with a streetwear clothing company. That's not traditional for Forbes, but it is absolutely in line with what we do with our Under 30 audience. Creating these new surprises, and then bringing it to market. And we talked about a little bit earlier, 50 Over 50. That's the other end of the spectrum, where we really are in that differentiated space. And the audiences on both ends of their career really trust the Forbes brand, because we have been there to inspire them, and then support them through their personal journeys. And others in our space really don't have that.
And our advertiser love the scope and the scale of the audiences we have, both in print and online. We pivoted to virtual events in 2020, as did many other media companies. And it rocked. It rocked. We didn't lose a single sponsor. We had more events than we thought we could handle, but we did it. Our event registration numbers were off the charts. The audience development teams exceeded all of their registration goals for everything. Sponsors were thrilled. And we look forward to moving that into a hybrid, hopefully Q4 or maybe 2022, as things continue to shift. But the Forbes is in a really unique spot in the industry. And I'm so blessed to be able to be part of.
AD: So Lynn, you mentioned events. I think it'd be really interesting to just talk a little bit more about events, because I'm curious if you think virtual and hybrid events, are they here to stay?
LS: I think they are here to stay. When you think about scale, both of them play a really important part in the marketing mix. With virtual events, you can reach a much larger audience, sometimes an enormous audience, which allows for sometimes more diverse audience members to participate, and speakers, versus having a small group in a particular location, where things like travel is required. I know from our perspective, we had an incredible opportunity to get speakers that we almost always couldn't get because of scheduling issues, being able to do it from their living rooms during the pandemic. Where getting them to spend half a day flying somewhere, speaking to that, and then need to fly out, was much more troublesome from a logistics perspective. And when I put my brand marketer hat back on, there would be a place for both in my marketing mix.
The scale, the information from the registry list, the opt-in list, that most publishers share with their sponsors, is incredibly useful from a legion perspective, complimented by the in-person experience, and actually getting to give someone a hug, or shake someone's hand, or share a cup of coffee, has a different set of values to it. And so, I think from Forbes's perspective, we're going to approach with both. Our plan is to, hopefully, if the regulations allow, introduced some small in-person events towards the end of this year. And then, look at building out a fully hybrid schedule for 2022.
AD: At Neustar, we see a lot of benefit in both. But for the exact reasons you mentioned, being able to get the scale of speakers and audiences in these hybrid events has been phenomenal. But at the same time, our teams are really excited about interacting with customers and advertisers in person. So I can see there's benefits to both, for sure.
DD: A controversial comment here. We hear the death of this, the death of that. And people are saying now, digital is here to stay, and the rise of digital, and the progression and expansion of digital, that people say that print advertising would die. Has not happened yet. I still get magazines delivered to my door. How would you specifically respond to that, as the Chief Customer Experience Officer at Forbes?
LS: I think there is a place, both in our personal lives and as a media company, for both, as long as it's a delivery mechanism in which your clients, in which your readers wish to receive content. For me, for years, I was traveling a ridiculous amount, and it got too heavy to bring all of my print magazines with me.
LS: So I went the digital route for several years. When I got to Forbes, one of the first things I did, was resubscribe to all of my favorite print publications, so I could enjoy the tactile experience of getting the magazine, flipping through it, ripping out a page, and giving it to my husband. Those kind of things can't be replaced with digital. However, we have these computers in our pockets, that we are tethered to 24/7. And they are a quick way to receive content, but it is a much different experience than sitting down and enjoying the print experience. So my hope is that print never fully goes away. I look forward to my magazines. I looked forward to my Sunday New York Times, every Sunday. And I enjoy the experience and the ritual of really going through them.
AD: It's funny you mentioned the New York Times. I also subscribe to the Sunday version of New York Times. And I think it's one of those things. That tactile experience of reading a magazine, reading something in print, and having a cup of coffee, is just something you can't compete with. So what do you think is the future of traditional advertising channels, like print? What do you envision, as where they will be in the future?
LS: I hope that there is still a strong place on media plans, for print. I think for brands who are trying to reach their audience in cluttered markets, print is an important part of the media mix. It is going to reach a specific audience. And if that audience's personas align with the brand, then I think it will continue to be a great match.
DD: And so, your perspective, what do you predict will be the top of mind, concepts, themes, challenges, that marketers will need to think about, 24 months from now?
LS: I think marketers really need to focus on how their product or service helps make the lives better for their intended consumers. The competition for someone's attention is only going to accelerate. We are receiving mass marketing messages, nonstop, all day, multiple messages at a time. And if you have something special, something relevant, you are going to be heard. And when we tie back to the customer experience, if what you are delivering is what someone needs, when they need it, in the format in which they're receptive to receiving it-
LS: ... you really can continue to be successful.
AD: That's the magic right there.
LS: That is.
DD: It's how you stay relevant.
LS: And it's hard to do.
AD: It is hard to do. Especially, like you said, in today's world, where we're all bombarded by so many different messages, it's just, it's so important to really hit them at the right moment with the right message. So I think you hit that perfectly.
DD: Well, Lynn, thank you so much for the time today. We really appreciate you being a guest on the show.
LS: Well, thank you guys.