Publisher Insight: Q&A with Adam Needs from OZY

By NativeAI / May 30, 2018

What is NativeAI Publisher Insight?

NativeAI Publisher Insight is a series of articles on the NativeAI Blog where we will feature chats with Editors, Audience Development gurus, and Marketers from top digital publishers around the world. We aim to collate insights, experiences and best practices in the publishing industry and get the pulse of the industry now. This is the first post in this series and we hope to bring you many more in the upcoming months.

NativeAI Publisher Insight with OZY

Every brand cultivates a carefully curated brand story that acts as the philosophical foundation for who they are and what they stand for. News publishers are no different - there is the venerable & serious newspaper of record, there are the brash, in-your face publications that operate right on the edge and there are the deeply intellectual & nuanced ones that churn out long reads. 

In a highly crowded, ultra-competitive news industry, where the barriers to entry are fairly low and reader loyalty is hard to quantify and harder to retain, this ‘brand identity’ has become critical for publishers. It drives the tone of stories, editorial decisions, segments of audiences and motivates the army of journalists and contributors to look for that unique angle to a story that everyone is reporting.

ozy@2x-testOZY is one such new-age digital-only publisher that boasts of an incredibly strong central idea that defines the way their team works. We caught up with Adam Needs, who leads audience development at OZY, to learn more about their story and get his thoughts on the state of the publishing industry today.


Here’s the full Q&A:
Q: Can you tell us about your role at OZY and your background?

Adam: Yes, I am the director of audience development here at OZY and I’ve been here for a year now. My focus is two-fold: drive engagement to our news and content pieces with both returning and new audiences. My background has always been in the digital consumer space. Before I joined the OZY Tribe, I cut my teeth at companies like Nickelodeon, Rosetta Stone and AOL.

Q: There is no dearth of news websites these days, but OZY promises a fresh take in news publishing, setting it apart from mainstream websites. Tell us more about how that vision translates to how you work and what you publish.

Adam: There are a variety of publications - there’s The Economist which is heavy and all business-like and boasts of an entrenched reader base, then there are others like VICE who are closer to our own positioning but with a pronounced tone. OZY’s focus is to ensure that our content is intellectual, edgy and provides a different point of view than our competition would. We pride ourselves on doing stories that no other major publications are doing. This makes my job more exciting because we have to find new audiences all the time. We are constantly testing what is resonating with our audiences — old and new — and adapting so that we can build a community loyal to our unique view of the world.

Q: Do you see any significant differences in audience engagement and behavior / feedback given OZY’s positioning? A good chunk of your team are media veterans, how does the comparison with ‘traditional media’ engagement stack up based on your experience?

Adam: Our audience will not be fooled by “keyboard cat” type content. The traffic that we pull when we publish more mainstream content doesn’t drive the returning traffic that we want to see to grow our business. Our veterans have set the bar high from our editorial content and our readers expect the best.

ozy homepage
Some of our best performing articles feature takes on stories that you may not expect or see elsewhere. For example a recent article on the struggling F-35 program used a simple infographic to compare against landmark projects and spends in US history and such visual aids to story-telling help drive engagement and help our readers digest and remember the details a lot better. For a discerning audience like ours, this is critical.

Q: What are the different content / publisher analytics tools that you use at OZY and which of your teams would you identify as stakeholders?

Adam: Adverity, Google Analytics and Simple Reach – Adops uses Adverity and Simple Reach and the rest of the company uses GA. We use Hootsuite as well as the internal analytics solutions of each major social media platform too. We diligently track various indicators of user engagement such as clicks, video watch time and completion, newsletter subscriptions etc. It is in this context that we used NativeAI - to get a handle on engagement quality & audience interests, the insights we have got have been highly useful.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge that OZY faces in today’s digital publishing industry context?

Adam: Breaking through in the crowded content space is difficult. Not only are we competing against older news establishments like the NYT, Economist, Wapo but we are also facing off against younger news organizations with deep pockets like Vice, Vox and Buzzfeed. For OZY to make the splash it needs to scale, we need to offer something new to our readers, something more than just interesting angles on stories.

Video is our platform of choice for these initiatives and several of our video series have resonated incredibly well with our audiences. Unapologetic with Ozy is a series that showcases the struggles and journeys of women and gender non-conforming people which has worked very well for us. Another instance is the True Stories series which covers intriguing topics in great detail.

Q: What role can Publisher Analytics play to give you a winning competitive advantage?

Adam: In the end, data is the only way a publisher can succeed. A publisher needs to find what is resonating with its audience and both promote what is working and continue to create similar type of content to increase engagement and retention.

Q: Many publishers are reducing their reliance on Social Media in general, and Facebook in particular, in light of their algorithm updates, as well as concerns about over-reliance. What’s your take on this and how is OZY handling this?

Adam: Social media and Facebook growth in publishing happens because that is where people go to read entertainment and news. You have to go where the people are. We are past the days of print and traditional TV. The younger audience has either reduced their attention there or are now double-tasking with this content while 2nd screening on newer platforms.

The updates to the algorithm are just these companies staying ahead of marketers and making these channels as profitable as possible. Every publisher should pay attention as these products evolve to ensure they still stay relevant. They also should keep their attention on new channels that will surpass the older media someday or at least capture the younger market who will be early adopters.

Q: Digital publishing has been through a few cycles - email newsletters, RSS readers and news aggregators, socially viral content, live video and some of these are going strong even today. According to you, what is the the next big thing in digital news media?

Adam: My thoughts on the next big thing is either driven by smart home devices like Alexa/Google Home or through video on demand like Amazon Fire or Apple TV.

ozy presidential daily brief

The audio driven smart devices will be able to inform people without breaking them from their daily routine (i.e. you could get updated with the news of the day anywhere you are from just saying one phrase.) You can already configure the OZY Presidential Daily Brief to be your news digest of choice in the morning on some smart assistants and I see a lot more scope in using this increasingly common user behavior through the day.

As for video on demand play, you can have such a breadth of content at your fingertips in a very interactive way from the location of your choice. No longer do you have to set by an awkward computer to go down a content rabbit hole — now you can do it from a lounge position on your couch/bed.

More reading: Why Audience Development is critical for publishers

Written by NativeAI / May 30, 2018