Lessons Learned from Christie Hefner

David Strom

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Yes, I’ll admit that I read Playboy.com only for the articles. I had a chance to get up close and learn from Christie Hefner herself. The CEO of Playboy Enterprises was in town for a conference preaching digital entertainment to a bunch of old-world TV types and Web wannabes. Her speech was on how she has extended the world's most famous rabbit logo into cyberspace and how she continues to make hay from those centerfolds, I mean, excellent articles.

I came to the keynote a bit skeptical about what Hef's daughter could tell me about online media. But by the end of the hour I was impressed with her knowledge and common-sense lessons that she and her company have learned from running one of the most popular Web destinations for the past decade. Her words (and a few pictures too, I won't deny that she is good with the illustrations on her PowerPoint slides) struck a very resonant chord with me. Let's see what she had to say.

  • Think about the intersection of new media with your brand, and just don't repurpose your content blindly. For Playboy TV, they focused on bringing adult entertainment for couples, rather than just single male-oriented programming. It worked to extend their brand to a new audience, and has become their most successful profit center. As another example, they are looking at delivering DVD-quality downloads next year to their Web site as a way to improve their content. Too many Web sites just shovel content up without thinking about how to leverage what the Web does best.
  • Don't be shy about testing different things, but make sure you listen to your audience and hear from them exactly what works and what doesn't. As a Web-oriented editor, I am constantly tweaking what to present to my readers, and hearing what works and what doesn't. The great thing about the Web is that you can change anything at anytime. The bad thing is that you have to know what you change makes a difference and improves the user experience and delivery of your content.
  • Understand how people interact differently with online media versus print and TV, and capitalize on these differences. The Web is not TV. Look how long it has taken the major networks to do a live broadcast for the left coast (only announced last week, and available next month). On the Web, minutes matter and I can update a page several times a day if necessary.
  • Don't be shy about reinventing yourself and making incremental improvements. Her case in point is her most famous father, who is still reinventing himself and his lounge wear decades after starting Playboy magazine.
  • Find the relevant intersections between legacy and new audiences and exploit them. The great thing about the Internet is that noobs are constantly streaming in your door. The bad thing is that you have to account for these freshmen and not lose track of the old-timers that have been with you since, like, 1995.
  • Localize your content carefully. Finding the right local partners is the key to your success. This is especially true not just for foreign-language properties but when you wish to expand into delivering your content on mobile platforms: understand what your potential partners’ expertise is and how the content will appear on these devices. This becomes especially difficult when you have editors who write in many different countries and in many different languages.
  • Find the many-to-many experience and exploit these for online. Information, content, call it what you will – the days where things flowed from publisher to reader in one direction are over. In the modern era, we have many-to-many models (think Flickr, MySpace, the blogosphere, and even the old Usenet news discussion groups too) that are much more complex and interactive. The hard part is mixing in moderators and still allowing this many-to-many conversation to happen in a meaningful way.
  • Don't think you can control the flow of information anymore. You can't. But don't sit back and ignore these new flows either. Jump in and be a part of the action! Blog away with the best of them.
  • Today's consumers have a completely different way of thinking when it comes to video games and online media. Get to understand the taste makers and influencers, just as you have done for the older generations of connected users. Ironically, at this same conference with Hefner was a panel of teenagers who were telling the assembled crowd what they liked and didn't like in online music. It was the most refreshing panel that I have been to in quite a while.
  • Cross promote everything. Use every means at your disposal, in every media, that you can.
These are all great ideas to those of us that spend our days creating Web content. It is true, you can learn a lot from reading those articles on Playboy.com.

David Strom is a noted speaker, author, podcaster and consultant who has written two books and thousands of magazine articles for dozens of IT publications such as Computerworld, eWeek, Information Week and Network Computing. His blog can be found at http://strominator.com , and he can be reached at david@strom.com .


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