WebMD Magazine’s New Look and Advertiser Offerings: an exclusive conversation with Editor-in-Chief Kristy Hammam

Kristy Hammam, WebMD Editor in ChiefRecently Kantar Media marketing director Mike Morrow spoke with Kristy Hammam, editor in chief and SVP for WebMD, to learn more about how the brand – which was recently named one of the top 30 launches of the past 30 years – is growing and evolving, engaging healthcare consumers, and creating value for its marketing partners.

Ms. Hammam leads the team responsible for serving WebMD's users by selecting the best content to appear on WebMD's Home Page, Health & Wellness Centers, newsletters, and partner sites.

Before moving into her current role, Hammam served as WebMD's deputy managing editor and as executive producer of programming.

Mike Morrow: Thanks for joining me, Kristy, especially at what seems like such a busy time of year for the WebMD team. 2016 has been an exciting year for WebMD, and it seems like you’re only getting started! Perhaps we could begin with an introduction to WebMD, just in case some of our readers aren’t as familiar with what you’re doing.

Kristy Hammam: WebMD is the leading provider of health information for consumer, healthcare professionals, employers and health plans. On the consumer side specifically, I’m the editor in chief of WebMD.com. Our website, our mobile apps and also our point of care offering are designed to help consumers make health decisions anytime, anywhere.

On the editorial side, we have a very strong focus on health literacy, with expertise in taking what can often be confusing and complicated health topics and presenting them in a way that’s easy and straightforward to understand.

We continually update and enhance our content offering, which includes investing in new video and social experiences so the user can more easily discover, share and interact with our content. Not just on our site, but wherever they are.

MM: Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the content you have been producing and some of the ways you have been addressing that interaction, where people are hungriest for that information – whether that’s at the point of care or at their doctor’s office? I know that WebMD is the most read magazine at doctor’s offices. Can you tell me a little more about what you’re doing to reach consumers there through your print offerings?

KH: Point of care is a very important platform for us. That’s often where people are making healthcare decisions, or are about to go in and talk to their healthcare professional, so WebMD magazine is our offering at the point of care. It launched back in 2005, with a circulation of one million copies, and now 11 years later it has an audience of more than 10 million. We publish eight times per year, but then we also have four WebMD Diabetes magazines that go out quarterly, one campus magazine, and we also do custom content reprints for clients.

WebMD CoverOur next issue is very exciting, it is a double issue for November/December featuring a new, refreshed design.  The redesign is about modernizing the look and feel of the magazine and bringing forth the emphasis on health literacy from the digital platform to print, as an evolution of our brand.

The magazine is, as you mentioned, the number one most read in doctor’s offices. It actually is distributed in 85% of doctor’s offices nationwide, and that includes 115 different specialties.

The new look and feel of the magazine is an evolution more than a total redesign. We started with our cover, to make sure that our cover continues to stand out. We know that there is a lot of competition in doctor’s offices for consumers’ hearts and minds, whether it’s from other print publications or their smartphone. So we wanted to make sure that we have a bold look that grabs consumer attention.

Each of our issues features a celebrity, and we’ll continue to do that. We’ve also refreshed our food section, which is one of the biggest changes people will see. We wanted to bring food much more front-and-center. Our data shows that one of the main things people are thinking about when they’re in their doctor’s office is what they’re going to eat for dinner that night!

We know that recipe content performs really well on our site, it’s very engaging, and so with our fresh new design people can expect to see recipes, tips for healthy eating, with shopping lists that make it easy to do healthy meal planning.

MM: That sounds fantastic and will probably open up the whole spectrum of health and wellness for your readers, and probably open up some new possibilities and additional partnerships with your advertisers as well.

KH: Absolutely. Our advertising in the magazine has increased substantially since we first launched and it has continued to increase. We look forward to seeing it continue to grow. The magazine is such an important platform because it does allow advertisers to connect at the point of care.

In addition to the food content will be new lifestyle content that we know people are interested in. Every issue of the magazine spotlights various diseases and conditions, and we always have a feature story that looks at a really important health news trend, for example the Zika virus. Something that’s top of mind and spotlights some of the important news that WebMD covers.

MM: One of the things that has always stood out to me about WebMD has been that, rather than trying to translate a print brand into a digital platform the way so many publishers have had to do, you’ve translated a digital brand into a powerful offline platform. It isn’t just the magazine, it’s also events and community outreach to make WebMD a total experience for readers and advertisers. Is that fair to say?

KH: Yes, that is fair to say, and speaking of events, we’re getting ready to host our third annual WebMD Health Heroes Gala. The Health Heroes Award is something that originated in WebMD magazine ten years ago. We’ve been honoring people from all facets of life who are working to change the healthcare landscape in this country through their dedication and compassion. It’s taking place in New York on November 3rd, and we’re honoring people in four different categories: Advocate, Scientist, Prodigy, and we have a People’s Choice winner who is determined by our audience voting.

The winners are showcased across all of our platforms, with one of the main spotlights being WebMD Magazine. This year’s winners will be unveiled in that newly designed November/December issue.

The Gala has always been a star studded affair, and will be again this year, hosted by Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. We’re very excited about that.

MM: It seems like that’s been a great relationship you’ve had between Ms. Roberts and the WebMD brand for some time. It’s interesting to see the way you’ve used celebrities and famous faces in the magazine and on the site to show a very different side of celebrities than you might see in other media brands.

KH: We do focus on celebrities, for example Robin Roberts, who use their celebrity platform to raise awareness of important health topics. Their celebrity star power might get somebody to open up a story or pick up a copy of the magazine. We’re focused on aligning with people who are trying to get important messages out, whether it’s through their own personal story or through a cause that they’re involved with.

MM: And moving back to your digital platforms, and your multi-platform approach at WebMD, I’d love to hear more about how you are using mobile, and more storytelling techniques like video to engage your consumers and add value for your clients.

KH: Certainly when it comes to digital platforms, video is really important to us. We’ve made strategic investments in developing and launching new video content over the last year. Video is the next phase in terms of deeper connection with our audience, and that includes allowing users to activate video from their mobile device. We also have video offerings built into our WebMD Magazine tablet app, so users can interact with video that way at the point of care.

Our goal at WebMD is to provide consumers with information that they need in the format that engages them most. Video is such a relevant way to do that, and it’s also so conducive to health topics. Whether it’s a lifestyle trend or a breaking news story, a medical advance or medical animation, video is the perfect format to bring that to life.

In terms of scaling our video offering, it’s not just about creating new videos, but also about adding videos to packages that we’re developing for our marketing partners, and that will definitely continue to be a focus as we get into 2017.

MM: Kristy, I really want to thank you for sharing some of the things you’re doing at WebMD with me and with the media buying community. Are there any other takeaways you’d like to share?

KH: WebMD has been around for close to 20 years, and even with all of that history and legacy we are always working to improve all aspects of the WebMD experience. For instance, we’re currently working on a new responsive site design, improving page load times, to further drive engagement with our content and our services.  Our investment in video that we discussed is a really good example, and our investment in WebMD Magazine, all underscore our commitment to ongoing improvement and evolution. I think that WebMD will always be changing to meet the needs of consumers however and wherever they prefer to consume information.

Editor’s Notes: For more information about partnering with WebMD for advertising and marketing programs, click here

At the time this post was written, WebMD was a paid advertiser in the SRDS.com multimedia planning platform.

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