By David Teich
In 2005, Refinery29 was founded out of a Brooklyn kitchen. Since then, the female-oriented media company has been growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to its website, the company is now active across multiple digital platforms, including Snapchat and YouTube, pulling in between 55 and 60 million dollars in revenue in 2014, according to Fortune. And the Refinery29 website has averaged over 20 million global unique visitors since this past August, according to Quantcast.
In large part, Refinery29 is ad-supported – and the company has been mastering the art of brand engagement. According to a survey the company ran this year, two thirds of its audience-members will purchase something as a result of seeing it on Refinery29. And 63% say that they trust the brands advertised on Refinery29.
So just what has led to the company’s success? Cynopsis Digital spoke with Amy Emmerich, who took over as Refinery29’s EVP of Programming in January 2015, assuming the role of Chief Content Officer in December.
How have you seen the Refinery29 change during your time with the company?
The company has grown extremely quickly. And as it’s grown from a publishing brand to a media brand, we’ve needed to stay focused on the most efficient and creative ways to create the best content, and to drive strategy across all of the distribution channels that exist. And there’s a new one every day. We’ve also had to focus on scaling the brand globally. It’s been kind of a transition year, with all of those things coming together.
Refinery29 isn’t the only female-oriented media property that deals in beauty, fashion, and other lifestyle topics. What sets it apart?
I think that women have been put in boxes for a long time. But that’s not truly who we are. Women want to conquer the world, we want to do it all. And I think what makes Refinery29 really special is that we touch on all 360 degrees when it comes to women. So even though, yes, beauty, fashion, and style are always at our core, it’s the range of content that we create and provide that keeps us really unique for our audience. And that’s what keeps them coming back
In what ways do you think other media has put women in boxes?
I grew up with as a TV kid. And with TV you had to sit in a demo: How old are you? Where do you live? And that’s not who we are anymore. We’re all socially connected, twenty-four/seven. Someone who’s 18 can be living the same life moment as someone who’s 40, because they might both be reinventing themselves. The 18-year-old is on her way to college, and the 40-year-old has an empty nest now that the kids are gone. And who does she want to be? That’s where we are now. It’s more about psychographic information and life moments than it has ever been about demographics. That’s what has happened in the past two years: With all the ways that we can now connect as a society, age has kind of disappeared. [At Refinery29], we talk about millennial-minded people.
What are some of the other reasons that Refinery29 has been growing in popularity? And what do you anticipate for 2016?
I think that the brand is growing organically, and now we’re adding fuel to that fire. It’s happening because of the authentic relationship that we have with the audience. And I think it helps that the audience is also what powers this voice. We’ve got really strong, empowered women working here, within the age range of literally 18 to 50, and I think that that helps keep us connected with what the audience is doing. I believe that for the first five years of our brand, we’ve been walking alongside the audience, finding ways to feel empowered. And I think next year is going to be all about claiming that power. The younger generation always comes to us for the tools, not the rules, to claim what is theirs. And I think they’re really going to help guide us as much as we guide them.
What are some of the ways that they guide you?
What’s amazing when you have a brand and a platform and a distribution outlet is that you communicate with the audience. So we [ask for] constant feedback. What’s working? What do you want to hear? What do you think about this or that? Our platform, and all the social channels that we work within, allow us to keep that conversation fluid and alive.
In what ways do you solicit and respond to feedback?
We have multiple social teams and emerging platforms that work the channel day in and day out. We then take the data, as well as the engagement – the comments – and we review them, some of us on a daily basis, some of us on a weekly basis. But we also converge multiple departments, so we can apply our different knowledge and skill-sets to the data and engagement. And that will inform what we create the next day. We also have trend forecasters, who are experts within editorial, beauty, fashion, style, and food. They help keep us informed about where the trends are moving.
As the company’s former programming chief, you’re well aware that video has taken on an increasingly important role at Refinery29. How would you describe that transition?
I think we’ve been driving a car, and now we’re transitioning to a plane that flies at Mach speed. And I still feel that editorial content is the engine that drives the machine, not video alone. But video will play a big, big role in helping us to marry relevant and authentic content across all of our platforms.
As new platforms crop up and your audience grows, what do you think some your biggest challenges will be moving forward?
I don’t really feel the challenges. I feel the opportunities and the possibilities. It’s so exciting to work with our creative team, and to envision what the future is going to hold. We really embrace new technology, new platforms, and new distribution outlets. It’s exciting and invigorating to lead a team that can move so quickly, that isn’t afraid of change, and utilizes data to create new types of content and new ways to tell stories. I guess the biggest challenge is to not be afraid of the unknown.
More than anything else, the company is ad-supported. What do you look for in a brand partner?
I always say, “You can’t just be providing a product. What do you believe in?” We have a very powerful voice, and we have brand partners who are looking to provide something to the audience. And I think the audience trusts us to align ourselves with partners who believe in making their lives a little bit easier, instead of just selling a product. I think that’s where my role will be really interesting over the next year – making sure that all the amazing content we create can, yes, be ad-supported and work alongside the right brands, and provide support for both of us. But more importantly, making sure that it’s audience first: Is it something the audience wants? Are we providing entertainment? Are we providing a resource? Are we providing utility? Again, it’s got to be audience first.
In what ways do you work with content creators? Do you consider yourself a creator, or more of an overseer?
This role just started, so we’ll soon find out. [Laughs.] I do think I’m always a creator at heart. I started as a one-man band shooter-producer, and that’s in my blood, so I hope that in my lifetime I will always touch content. But I definitely think I’m the cheerleader. We have so many talented people here, and I just want to pave the way for them to create what they truly feel will be compelling.
Any closing thoughts?
I do want to make one mention of Christene Barberich. She’s our Global Editor-In-Chief now, and I am truly just so excited to be working so closely with her. She has always been the voice of the brand, and she’s helping to guide Refinery29’s voice right alongside me…I think it’s just just an amazing company, with so many women at the helm. And I’m just really proud to be a part of it.
The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at Lynn@Cynopsis.com.