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How Hearst UK is using emotional intelligence to deliver success for its branded partnerships

Hearst UK, the leading premium content and experience business, has recently announced a record-breaking growth in branded content partnerships. A key part of its success has been its exploration and use of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ to further empower its commercial brand partnerships.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is defined as ‘the ability to understand, use, and manage own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict’.

Hearst UK’s thinking behind the increased use of EQ was to use both artificial and human data, including research panels and social listening, to gain an even deeper emotional understanding of consumers who were living through a global pandemic – part of a successful strategy from the publishing company whose 23 brands sell 3.8M magazines and generate 18.6M unique users per month.

With an audience otherwise inundated with bad news, the publisher felt that its partnerships approach complimented perfectly its overarching message of ‘positivity’.

One of the first Hearst Purpose campaigns launched was Project Body Love, which drew on emotionally intelligent data and principles, and demonstrated the success that emotionally intelligent campaigns can generate – it has since been shortlisted for the best publisher-led social good initiative at this year’s AOP Digital Publishing Awards.

The campaign, which aims to change the way women think, feel and speak about their bodies, was based on pre-Covid research that found that only 6% of UK women loved their bodies. The pandemic has only made matters worse, with 41% of consumers surveyed by Hearst UK saying that they are even less body confident since lockdowns began.

The campaign – which initially launched in 2019 with Philips coming on board as partner last year – was amplified by content across Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Red and ELLE spanning 90 print pages, 45 online articles, 15 podcast episodes and 20 videos.

The impact of the Project Body Love campaign amongst Hearst UK’s readership has been significant. The publisher’s own research has shown that it has helped bolster high female body confidence by 43%. It has proven so successful that Hearst UK extended it to include a Project Body Love Weekender virtual event, and later this year the publisher is planning an augmented reality project similarly geared to boosting female body confidence.

The power of positivity

Hearst UK recently undertook world-leading research in conjunction with Bournemouth University, which continues to prove the power of positivity for audiences as well as commercial partners, reinforcing the publisher’s commitment to positivity as a strategy for both the business and its brands. Over a three-week period, 36,000 individual pieces of feedback and data were collected and crunched using Experience Sampling Method (ESM) methodology, an approach which reduces claimed response bias and captures positive feelings in real-time.

The data showed that 82% of Hearst UK’s audience immediately experienced an uplift in positive feeling following an individual interaction with the publisher’s content, whilst levels of positivity grew stronger over time especially with ‘frequent engagers’.

We were really struck by the relationship between positive stories and positive feelings, which developed as a core thread of this research with a very large sample size. It allows us to say, with confidence, that positive storytelling can have positive benefits to your mood.

Melanie Gray, Head of the Communication and Journalism Department at Bournemouth University

Our purpose at Hearst UK – to help our consumers get more out of life – is not forced, it’s authentic. It informs everything we do. And that enshrines the opportunity.

James Wildman, CEO, Hearst UK

Branded Partnerships

Within branded partnerships, Hearst UK’s increased exploration of emotional intelligence and positivity has paid off. Brands want to be associated with positive messaging and Hearst UK’s own research has shown conclusively that when readers are positively engaged with its content, the results for advertiser partners are superior – Project Body Love alone helped facilitate a 10% increase in Philip’s preference rating as a women’s hair removal brand amongst consumers and the brand has since extended its contract throughout 2021.

Faye Turner, Head of Commercial Strategy & Insight at Hearst UK, says that the research with Bournemouth University again proves how important positive content is for the publisher, saying, “when in a positive state of mind, consumers have a greater interest in brands and advertising delivering tangible results in terms of engagement and purchasing behaviour. This new research will enable us to offer solutions for clients to help better serve their needs.” 

Laura Chase, Head of Connect Development at Hearst UK, agrees. Speaking to WNIP, she says that Hearst UK’s increased use of EQ has been “key to connecting with people in highly emotional times like these” and is “the best way for publishers and brands to communicate in a relevant, honest, empathetic and intuitive way”.

Chase adds that Hearst UK looks at the majority of its campaigns through an emotive lens, highlighting the publisher’s Get into Teaching campaign for the UK Government’s Dept for Education as an example of how it tackles commercial briefs, “Uncovering how to make our audience ‘feel’ as well as just see our content was key to the success of our DfE, Get into Teaching campaign. With 1 in 5 people not considering a career in teaching due to opinion of others, we wanted to remind everyone of the positive power of a great teacher. With this in mind, we sent credible and relatable influencers including Clara Amfo, Naomi Ackie and Gareth Thomas back to school. 

“We watched them reunite with the teachers that changed their lives, taught them the most and helped make them the success they are today. Through this emotionally charged and nostalgic content, we powered a 37% increase in 18-34 year olds recommending teaching as a career to others and 51% of those exposed to the campaign took action.”

EQ is key to connecting with people in highly emotional times like these, and we believe it is the best way for publishers and brands to communicate in a relevant, honest, empathetic and intuitive way.

Laura Chase, Head of Create Development, Hearst UK

The benefits to Hearst UK have been self-evident. EQ campaigns have helped the publisher to a 12% increase in revenue generated through branded partnerships in 2020, as well as a sharp 82% growth in non-endemic category growth. Chase expects that by the end of June, Hearst UK will have witnessed an overall branded partnership growth of 150% for H1 2021.

What we are building is a 360-degree solutions business rather than a traditional media company.

James Wildman, CEO, Hearst UK

Learnings for other publishers

That’s not to say it has all been plain sailing. We asked Laura Chase about some of the challenges Hearst UK faced when approaching brand partnerships during the pandemic and the key learnings other publishers can take stock of:

  • “The pandemic most certainly affected clients’ marketing budgets and for sure, this proved a massive challenge for us. When experiencing a year like 2020, it goes without saying that publishers need to dig deeper with data analysis to gain emotional insight. We’ve focused even more on humanising our data in order to broaden perspective and understanding, and maximise results for the client.”
  • “Publishers can never underestimate the power of authenticity. Real people, real opinions and real content resonate more during challenging times. Empower your creator network to let consumers into their hearts, minds and homes to create partnerships with real substance.”
  • “Always plan for disruption and always have a backup plan! Be brave and make quick decisions. The pandemic has challenged problem solving for businesses more than ever before. A team of innovative, problem solvers is a must!”
  • “A big challenge for our clients was getting the tone right – how to drive purchase in a sensitive and appropriate way. We found our partnerships that first and foremost, addressed a real and relevant consumer need, worked hardest in converting to purchase.”

Hearst UK is hosting a free webinar based on its Bournemouth University research on Tuesday 22nd of June at 11am, for which attendees can register here.