Eighteen months earlier, it was far from the top-10, with less than 4 million unique users. This meteoric growth has resulted in a profitable digital business for Heraldo Medio Group. We interviewed the company’s Chief Digital Officer, Armando Kassian Mieres, who has been at the center of this growth since day one, and who shared with us key insights as to how they got to where they are today.
WAN-IFRA: Armando, tell us about yourself, your profile and how you came to lead the digital strategy of El Heraldo de México:
Armando Kassian Mieres: I am a marketer by profession, I studied at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico and I have a master’s degree in Integral Communication from the Complutense University of Madrid and an MBA at the Instituto de Empresa also in Madrid. I had had a few website ventures, more focused on eCommerce and I had always been passionate about technology and the digital world, and that’s how I started at El Heraldo.
I was invited to write a column in 2017 and I accepted. Later on I started to run a complete section called Piensa joven where different universities collaborated with articles and from there, in 2018, I started working as coordinator of the digital area. I was there for a few months and started to lead the digital area of the whole group in 2019, which at that time only included paper and digital. Later that year, television and radio were launched.
WI: Tell us about El Heraldo de México, a historical media in the country, which disappeared for a while, and today is Heraldo Media Group, a Mexican media group of growing relevance, and increasingly active in digital.
AKM: Well, that’s right, after having been out of print for more than ten years, in 2017, it is acquired by Grupo Andrade, which arrives with a strong and ambitious project. A project for the print version, investing in innovation, as well as in the digital version. With this first step, and then the expansion in TV and radio, we have achieved great relevance in the country in a very short period of time. But above all, and although it may seem a bit cliché, I believe that the content and the way in which we deliver that content has also helped us to achieve this position and relevance in Mexico.
WI: In the last Comscore ranking of November 2020, EHM was positioned as the third most read media in the country, with 21.3 million unique users. Eighteen months ago, the same ranking indicated less than 4 million unique users. Tell us, how did you achieve this impressive growth?
AKM: Well, it is really about achieving a permanent balance, being careful in addressing all the aspects that lead a person to choose our brand when they need information, and not others. We have to take care of technology, because we must have a performant, fast and user-friendly site. And at the same time, we must be attentive to the content, always aware of what the consumer wants to read, needs to read, and how to provide it in the best possible way. I believe is that it is by achieving that permanent balance that we have managed to go from less than four million unique users 18 months ago, to the 21 million we have today.
WI: What would you say have been the biggest challenges you have faced in achieving this growth? Have you been able to overcome them? And if so, how?
AKM: I think the challenges are ongoing and constant and that’s part of what makes this job interesting. The first, and I think the most important one I have faced, is to try to make the content coexist in all platforms – TV, radio, print, digital natives – and make sure that we deliver that content to the user, via digital, in the best possible way. It is a huge challenge because we have to adapt it, since it is content that was not originally designed to be consumed in digital.
The second most important challenge is the technological part. Search engines, social networks, and the world are constantly changing, and we have to swiftly adapt. If our technology, our CMSs, do not adapt, are not constantly changing as the market is, there is no way to move forward or continue to grow.
WI: Last year you launched two verticals, Gastrolab and Heraldo Deportes, are you betting on a strategy of expanding through the launch of more verticals, as we have seen in several other groups in Mexico and in the region?
AKM: Well, we could say that among the various growth strategies this year, launching verticals is one of them, similar to what we’ve done with Gastrolab and Heraldo Deportes. I think it is an alternative, an attractive option to be able to do audience segmenation, to be able to reach audiences that are interested in specific topics the vertical focuses on, and thus reach more people. Yes, we plan to launch verticals, and that implies the risk of abandoning some of them. To avoid that, we will make sure that they are constantly fed with quality content.
WI: What are Heraldo Media Group’s digital priorities for 2021?
AKM: I think it will be a year in which we have to consolidate as a group and continue to position ourselves in a robust way.
One priority is to maintain our position in the market as a reliable media brand, a media outlet with broad reach, thanks to television and radio, which give us national coverage, thanks to digital, which gives us even international reach, and thanks to our print version.
Likewise, we continue to strive to reach more people with the best content, in the best way possible.
And finally, in a year as complicated as this one will be, it is also one of our priorities to continue supporting as many people and consumers as possible from our trenches.
WI: The growth of digital audiences is very much determined by the algorithms of Google and Facebook platforms. Algorithm changes and sanctions, which many media criticize for their opacity, can mean significant traffic drops with negative impacts on media revenues. At the same time, Google and Facebook have launched, in recent years, programs, accelerators, support funds and other projects to help the media with very positive impacts. Do you think that the current relationship with content distribution platforms is ideal or do you think it should change? And if so, towards what kind of relationship?
AKM: Going back to what you asked me before about how we can have grown this way in such a short period of time, the answer is in the balance. I think that Google, Facebook or any other content distribution platform are very important as sources of traffic. But as you say, there are many algorithm changes that do not depend on us and we cannot avoid them. We know they will keep making them, or implementing community policies that didn’t exist before. And we know that it can directly or indirectly affect us as a media outlet. I think the key is to have a balance in traffic sources, keep producing quality content, and be permanently alert to any changes in algorithms or policies that they implement.
I believe that Google and Facebook implement these changes because the market is demanding it. I think our relationship with them is good and must continue to grow. We are commercial allies -that is how I see it-, business allies, it is a win-win for everyone. I think they are companies that have known how to do their job and, like us, know how to adapt to the constant changes in this sector, learning from each other and enriching the relationship.
WI: Is the digital area of Heraldo Media Group profitable today?
AKM: Yes, indeed last year was a profitable year for the digital area of El Heraldo de México. This was the result of the growth it had throughout this year, to the changes we carried out in the technological area. Likewise, having WAN-IFRA’s support in our digital strategy has been of great help when defining the best tools, technology, personnel, and guaranteeing a fruitful relationship with platforms and technology providers. All this has helped us get to where we are today. This produced significant growth in our page views and impressions despite the pandemic.
WI: Where will Heraldo Media Group be in the next three years?
AKM: The vision is to continue growing, to be positioned as one of the most important media brands in Mexico, to consolidate ourselves nationally and internationally. To improve our content, to reach new audiences in the best possible way, exploring and being in all the new platforms that come out. Every year, every six months there are new ones, we have to be there.