With years of industry experience to her name, Beth Tomkiw recognizes the shifting nature of the industry — and, in that, identifies an engaging dynamism.
“We are in a constant state of learning and evolving, and that makes this business so interesting,” Tomkiw said. “Just when you think you’ve perfected something, you’re given a challenge to rethink it. It’s always this fun state of reinvention.”
As chief content officer at TMB, home to brands like The Family Handyman — launched in 1951 — and Reader’s Digest, which celebrates 100 years this year, Tomkiw said adapting to a new media landscape is an invigorating challenge that was bolstered by TMB’s acquisition of Jukin Media last summer. The company’s mission is to merge traditional, long-entrenched modes of storytelling with Jukin’s cache of online and social media savvy via brands such as FailArmy and People Are Awesome.
“There was a day in which we could count on putting something in our audience’s hands and getting them to read it or consume it. Now, the reality is people can consume content in a multitude of places, and we need to be where they are, but we still need to connect them with those great stories,” Tomkiw said.
To the casual observer, the similarities between the two companies might not leap off the page, given their respective areas of focus and content. But according to Chief Business Officer Cameron Saless, the acquisition made sense for two businesses that he described as “highly complementary.”
“TMB had spent the previous few years building a strong digital editorial business on top of its iconic brands, and the team was looking for a way to lean into the growth of social video and streaming,” Saless said. “Jukin had built a thriving portfolio of brands on social and streaming and was looking for a partner to help fuel that growth as well as round out its offering with editorial content and commerce.”
Another parallel between both brands is their embrace of user-generated content — whether it’s a video of a hedgehog hamming it up on the Pet Collective Instagram feed, a hilarious FailArmy moment streaming on CTV, or a sumptuous recipe submitted to Taste of Home.
“What I think is really unique and special about all of the TMB brands is that at the core we get our stories from our audiences. We not only literally get them because they deliver us content, but if we love their stories, we’re inspired to create originals of our own,” Tomkiw said. We’re a community-driven entertainment company whose content is powered by the stories of our fans. Our audience is what makes us special. We use their content and then their content inspires original programming.”
While each team might have its own business, strategic or creative goals, they’re all tied together by a broader post-acquisition mission of capitalizing on each organizations’ respective strengths. And that translates into a big focus on hiring, with the company having brought on more than 100 people since the start of this year.
“We’ve grown tremendously. Programming has been our biggest focus; content is king. So that’s the piece we’ve been spending a lot of time on,” said Senior Vice President of Streaming TV Jill Goldfarb.
With big plans ahead, Goldfarb, Tomkiw and Saless outlined why they’re excited for what’s on the horizon.
Tomkiw — who originally came aboard in 2017 as chief content officer for Taste of Home — is focused on providing content that will resonate with audiences of the “passion spaces” in which the brand operates.
What is your vision for leading content at Trusted Media Brands?
Tomkiw: No matter the organization, the role of the chief content officer is to really think about who the audience is and understand them and then determine what kinds of stories we want to deliver to them. And how do we tell those stories uniquely and optimally in each of our channels? If we’re doing our jobs correctly, we are creating these great stories and really repackaging them to get the best value out of the investment and the money that we’re spending on content.
How do you become a digital and video-first brand while still retaining the legacy that people love and enjoy?
Tomkiw: One of the wonderful things about being a journalist in this day and age is that we have these great instincts of what our audiences want, but we also have the data that supports those intuitions. When we’re producing content, we use insights from our trending and search tools to understand what people are looking for in the spaces where we play.
We also use the performance of our own content to see what’s driven engagement, what’s taking them from our social media channel to our website and what they’re doing when they’re there. We use this mix of data and editorial instincts to deliver to this audience that has been with our brands for years, but also to some who are just discovering us and realize that we’re giving them what they want. We’re not just using our own instincts, but we’re listening to how they’ve responded to the content that we’re putting out in the world.
Given the company’s deep history in publishing, how do you feel like it’s positioned itself to thrive in the current media landscape?
Tomkiw: Reader’s Digest is going to have its second generation — probably its third generation — through streaming and video content. We have a huge, very loyal audience of 3 million people that reads the magazine. We’ve grown a digital audience of millennials since I’ve been here. Now we’re going to be branching out and creating videos for our social channels and streaming that will introduce Reader’s Digest to a whole new group of people who want that kind of reliable, trusted, informative, clever, curious content in a platform where they spend a lot of time.
I think what is going to happen to TMB West, as we call our Jukin Brands, is that we are going to expand where we can reach people who value the content we create. The company has thrived in social and they’re on streaming, but now we get to capture their audience with written and affiliate content. We can use our expertise in building engaged audiences and apply that to the Jukin brands. We’re taking each one of them through the brand vision process that we’ve taken all of the TMB brands through over the past few years. Through that, we’re not only going to have a passive, scroll-through-your-social-feed relationship with them, but a relationship where they keep coming back to us intentionally to consume the content that we’re creating.
“We can use our expertise in building engaged audiences and apply that to the Jukin brands.”
Goldfarb, a cable and broadcast industry veteran, oversees a team of around 40 people running four free ad-supported streaming channels: FailArmy, Pet Collective, People Are Awesome and Weather Spy. The channels’ content runs on more than 25 platforms globally, such as Samsung TV Plus, Sling and Xumo. According to Goldfarb — who said viewership on the channels was up 80 percent last year — the organization is focused on investing in programming, production, marketing and promotion, monetization, and distribution.
How is Trusted Media Brands investing in streaming TV?
Goldfarb: We want to make sure our brands are in all the different places where people are watching content. Streaming TV, especially in the free ad-supported area, is a rapidly growing market. It makes sense to be there. It allows us to expand our programming from social and run full TV episodes. It gives us another distribution channel. It’s a good place to be right now.
How do current hiring needs reflect the company’s and industry’s growth?
Goldfarb: Producers and editors are really needed as we continue to produce high-quality programming and more volume year over year as part of our program strategy to expand our channels and offer more content. It’s more and more important that we’ve got eyes on how our channels are performing and how we can continue to optimize our programming schedules and what we’re producing. It’s a totally integral part of driving growth.
Why is it an exciting time to join the organization?
Goldfarb: I’ve been through other mergers and acquisitions in my career in TV and Hollywood, and you always hear about synergy. This is a case where the synergy really did happen. TMB had a lot of skill sets that we didn’t have, and we had skill sets that TMB didn’t have. The combination of the two companies has really made it a powerhouse media company. The culture is great with smart people who work well together. We’re at the forefront of some of these brand-new businesses. What’s more fun than that?
“The combination of the two companies has really made it a powerhouse media company.”
As chief business officer, Saless oversees TMB’s social and streaming businesses as well as handling business development responsibilities. “At this point, it’s all about delivering on the promise of bringing our two businesses together,” said Saless.
How has Trusted Media Brands embraced digital media?
Saless: Post-acquisition, we set up several cross-functional teams to begin bringing video content to the TMB brands and editorial content to the Jukin brands. Within just a few months, we generated more than 100 million views of video and editorial content from this initiative, which bodes well for our future together.
What sort of growth are you experiencing across site visits, video views and streaming TV viewership, and what is driving that?
Saless: We are already seeing significant results from some very early projects, which we think will only grow exponentially. A lot of that will come from bringing new video formats and experiences to brands like Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home and The Family Handyman, as well as expanding their presence in social and streaming spaces.
We are also seeing continued growth with video-centric brands like FailArmy and Pet Collective where we have been investing and hiring aggressively over the past six months. We expect that to continue as we bring more offerings to market, increase our distribution footprint, and invest in more talent and programming.
What’s ahead for you and the team at Trusted Media Brands?
Saless: We have so many amazing opportunities in front of us to build something unique and lasting. As I mentioned earlier, we will be rolling out new channels and new programming as well as expanding our reach and deepening our ties to our audience.