MPA's new digital VP: Time to get smart about technology
Ethan Grey, newly appointed vice president of digital for MPA, the Association of Magazine Media, understands the importance of technology to modern publishing models. The veteran of mobile and digital companies such as Tigerspike, Ubermind (now Deloitte Digital) and Blue Rooster, Grey has helped a variety of clients in the entertainment and media sectors develop digital strategies and bring mobile apps to market.
At MPA, Grey will help magazine publishers establish best practices for apps and other digital product development, steer the creation of mobile ad standards, and explore collaborations with technology firms. He offered his take on the industry in a brief phone interview. Here are the edited highlights.
EMV: Why did you take this job?
Grey: I’ve been heavily involved in mobile apps and digital products for entertainment and media companies, initially geared toward film and television. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with publishers – book publishers, magazine publishers, some who are just starting out, some who’ve been doing it for a while.
It’s an extremely exciting time for digital in general, and especially for this industry. The things we do today will affect the industry for the coming decades.
What’s the biggest challenge for magazine publishers building out their digital businesses?
The main challenge is keeping up with the technology – being able to get their content into as many hands as possible, while keeping costs in check. We need to get smarter and more educated about the products that are out there, by working directly with the OEMs, the vendors and even the agencies.
I want to enforce a view of looking at things holistically. There’s no one tool or methodology that will do everything. What’s best for Hearst may not be best for Conde Nast.
Over the next year, my goal is to really understand the platforms – the best-of-breed software and tools that are driving this industry. I want to be really literate in that, and I want to make sure our members are literate in that too. We want to help our members get better at making software.
What do advertisers need from publishers to invest more in integrated campaigns that run across web, print and mobile?
Advertisers are looking for metrics – really comprehensive metrics. Advertisers are very good at the metrics game – and they expect comparable skill on the [publisher] side.
Can you share any examples of client work you’ve done previously that demonstrate the type of expertise you’ll be bringing to MPA member companies?
I’d say the CNN app is the best example, because it was the first really large news application to launch on the iPad and iPhone. People have held it up as the best of the best. From a technical, infrastructure and politics perspective, it really prepared me to do great things for entertainment and media companies.
Which of those three – technology, infrastructure and politics – was the most daunting?
At the time, the technology was, because most publishers were trying to build everything themselves, at extremely high costs. The challenge now is to normalize that – standardize the infrastructure and technology so it’s sustainable.
Should publishers be looking to centralize content management and other systems to serve multiple channels, or are the platforms and workflows too different to try to integrate?
It’s not about centralization as much as it is about efficiency: What’s the best way to cost-effectively create content and push it out to as many devices and platforms as possible? The Holy Grail is write once, deploy anywhere, but we’re not quite there yet.
Do you have a point of view on apps vs. mobile web?
It’s about finding the right tool for the right job. Who are you trying to target, when and where?
Have tablets given magazine publishers a false sense that they can simply replicate the magazine experience – and the ad model – in a mobile medium?
Tablets are the same as any other tool – how well will you use it? If you don’t look at the data, you’ll be in trouble. Publishers see a great medium [for creating] really exciting products, which will get more advanced as people get more comfortable with the medium. The ad models will always evolve quickly too. There’s a lot of opportunity for very rich advertising, but we’re really just at the starting line.