Fresh from the January relaunch of Five O’Clock on VIP, men’s grooming brand Harry’s is in the process of launching a major initiative and set of partnerships that evolves the brand’s mission in culture and sharpens its editorial focus. Last week Harry’s released a new short film emblematic of the new approach, entitled “A Man Like You”:
We caught up with Caitlin Ganswindt, Editor at Harry’s, to hear about what’s in the works and the journey that brought her, and them, here.
Ganswindt came to Harry’s in late 2015 after serving as managing editor at Shinola and leading experiments with native, branded content at Urbandaddy. Since its origins in 2013, Five O’Clock has gone through a number of stages in its evolution from pioneering native brand magazine to the bigger cultural mission it is now embracing.
Tell us about the history of Five O’Clock and where you have taken it in since you joined.
We’re coming up on our 5th year anniversary at Harry’s in March. So you’re talking about, in 2013 starting a native publication with a very small group of people. Whatever story pitches we got pretty much went up on site. When I joined the team, they were looking for somebody who could figure out what the editorial strategy should be, and migrate the site on to a non-self-hosted solution. We just didn’t have the engineering resources to support a site, that we didn’t really know how to quantify yet, and didn’t really know the value of yet.
The original site was custom and proprietary, and very, very binary. There were only a couple of formats that we had to choose from. All of the assets were required and very finite. There was no tagging. There was no way to search on site. It was a rudimentary sort of blog…hole.
I spent the first couple of months, November and December of 2015, just doing a complete audit of the site. Everything we had run, things that worked, things that didn’t, and tried to hypothesize the what and the why. Then, in January of 2016, I made a proposal to migrate on to a customized WordPress theme, so that we could get away from the engineering constraints, and actually start testing against our point of view in real time. I started development of the second iteration of Five O’Clock using the Zuki theme, with a full custom CSS overlay of the existing theme templates.
On the last day of March 2016, the last day of Q1, which was a feather in my cap, we went live with that iteration of the site. We received a Webby nomination, and it was met with a lot of love from customers and industry folks. People were into it! They were really excited about the content that we were producing.
What was the new editorial focus?
We started talking about grooming education. We started talking about brand happenings. Business initiatives. Iterations of our products. We introduced people to our factories. We started putting faces to the names behind our products.
And then in November of that year, 2016, we launched Five O’Clock News, which is a monthly newsletter of Five O’Clock content.
That’s also been doing really well. We have very consistent readership, with numbers firmly above industry averages. More than half of everybody who receives our emails are opening them, engaging with them, and sharing them on a regular basis.
Do you have a mental picture of what’s been most popular and what the profile of the readership looks like, based on what works and what doesn’t?
We’ve actually gone through another iteration with this new site launch, but the very clear things that are trending, and are still true today: first, grooming education. Actually learning the “how” and “why” behind the tools we make and products and practices. Highlighting ingredients – the differences between shave cream and shave gel and why you should care. How to match the grain patterns on your face to optimize your shave.
Then in January of 2017, we starting thinking as a brand and marketing team more seriously about our point of view as a company. And have been working over the past year to bring that brand mission and positioning to life in the real world.
In tandem, we realized that while the new Five O’Clock site was really beautiful and doing great things, it was also grounded in three categories: better grooming, better mornings, and better life. Because our original positioning of the brand was – “the shaving company that’s fixing shaving” – being really frustrated by the margins in between what it cost to make something, and how much people were actually paying for razors from the bigger guys. While that’s where our story started, and we realized that we can do a lot more with this microphone.
We started thinking about what we truly believed, and realized that our focus was really more about this idea of progressive masculinity. Harry’s is committed to amplifying the ongoing cultural conversation around what it means to be a man today. Because men can be both strong and nurturing, self-assured and accepting of others. The big overarching picture is that to be a good man is to be a good human. We’ve always felt that existing shave brands weren’t speaking to us in a way that resonated. And again, since launching, we’ve learned so much about our customer values. So we wanted to do our part in opening up that conversation and try to modernize ideas around masculinity, to better reflect who our customer really is.
Obviously we know that shaving is inherently masculine, and the category has been dominated by brands that have perpetuated this traditional idea of masculinity as “being the best, the strongest, the smartest, the toughest.” But in real life, guys are a lot more than those traditional stereotypes. There is no one box that can define a person, and we feel like it’s time for brands to promote a more progressive vision of masculinity. But, moreover, we want to help guys define what it is to be a man on their own terms. Embrace whatever attitude and behaviors actually are resonating with them, and have a safe space to be who they are, or who they’re not, and embrace the parts of themselves that have previously been off limits according to these outdated ideals.
It’s quite a maturation of vision from “fixing shaving” to this bigger, cultural piece, with a lot of area to explore.
Yeah, definitely. We’re rolling out our new social mission over the coming weeks as well. Harry’s is partnering with a few really wonderful charitable organizations, to donate a portion of our profits to, and join the movement behind the initiatives and the conversations that they are pushing forward.
But by and large, as far as Five O’Clock is concerned, we’ve realized there’s a real whitespace when it comes to men’s lifestyle content. With all these fights for gender, marriage, class, equality, all over, men are facing new dynamics that are having them question these traditional ideals of what it means to be a real man. We think that the tension between the past and the future are really important to highlight and have real, candid conversation around.
We feel that Five O’Clock is a microphone to amplify these voices and galvanize this new generation by cultivating a space for real discourse. I think what drives us most is to lead in culture and raise awareness by bringing positive attention to these progressive shifts, rather than just focusing on the negative.
Tell us about where you are today with that mission and project. What has been shared so far?
One of the partners we’re aligning with is The Representation Project. They’re focused on helping guys understand misrepresentation and breaking down barriers of harmful stereotypes. We worked with GSD&M, a creative agency out of Austin and The Representation Project to create this film. We’ve also rolled out on Five O’Clock, profiles with the founders of The Representation Project and A Call to Men, another organization that we’re partnering with for our social mission. In the UK we’re collaborating with an organization called CALM (Campaign against Living Miserably) that focuses on awareness on mental health and also suicide prevention among men. We’ll have a profile and some great initiatives coming out with them soon.
Over the next several weeks and months, you’ll definitely see us putting a bigger stake in the ground around these conversations for sure.
It all sounds amazing. How do Five O’Clock and Harry’s fit together? How does the one connect up with the larger organization?
We feel like Five O’Clock is the place where our point of view can be loudest. It’s the most concentrated as far as participating in these conversations. It serves as a point of discovery and inspiration for people who feel like they’re ethos and values are in line with this progressive future.
It definitely serves as a contrast, particularly if you look in the broader world of beauty across masculinity and femininity – having a strong magnetic pull that says ‘This is what we’re about. If you’re about this, become a part of our…of us.”
Totally, and I think that’s definitely the goal. And it’s not to say anybody else is doing it wrong. Brands have found, and will continue to find success in myriad ways. But taking two steps back and reflecting on the state of culture and the world right now, we feel like particularly that grooming—you can call it beauty, sure—it’s a lot deeper than that. Shaving is important for upkeep, but it’s also a moment to make you feel good. And there are so many other things that are important to feel good as a human.
What do you think about the observation that in the current political moment, skincare is all of the sudden becoming a bigger piece of self care than it was before?
I don’t necessarily know if that is tied to a cultural moment. I think that care routines in general are becoming more center lane, and I think that that’s a little bit more of a technology thing. With social media, if you look at Glossier, Fenty Beauty—it’s the age of bloggers—we’ve never before had such democratized access to product reviews in real time.
If you think back to the original general store, if you needed a product, you went and you talked to the shopkeeper and said, “This is what’s going on and this is what I need.” And they would make a recommendation on the right product for you. You weren’t competing with branded advertorials. It wasn’t the guy who has the most money made the loudest boom, and that’s who you went with.
And now, in the age of bloggers, and independent brands, and direct to consumer, I think that we’re actually coming back to that original moment of …all of this information is available, so it’s about what you need and what you want and then you can find the product and brand that is most in line with that. I think it goes beyond just the quality of the products themselves and ladders up more to, “Is this brand for me in general?”
Tell us about the current iteration of the site, and the move to VIP.
As we were working on this updated brand positioning, we realized we’d also need to overhaul the Five O’Clock editorial mission to be in line with that. So we were thinking, yet again, of overhauling our content space. Part of the challenge we wanted to solve for was to be able to see the whole 360-degree user funnel. We wanted to improve our approach to data as far as who is using the site. Are they Harry’s customers? Are they more valuable because they are reading our content? Those kinds of questions, and that’s how we came to VIP.
In March of last year I put together a proposal for this migration. And then building all of the piping on our end to use the analytics we’re now able to use. We started development in September, and we launched live in January of this year. The whole site is fully custom. We’re doing some really cool things as far as styling on galleries. We have a really lovely dynamic scroll on the homepage as well as all of our article pages that have a gradient treatment, which is not something we see super often. Also, the entire site is set up super scalable to our business needs. For example, we built in hexadecimal code fields for every category on the site. Which means changing the look and feel of the homepage is as simple as changing the color scheme that’s aligned with a particular content category. So, if we had a big campaign or partnership we were rolling out that we wanted to do a whole new treatment for, we have that immediate flexibility without actually getting in to the code.
We’re also now running a reverse proxy for hosting, so the domain is now Harry’s.com/fiveoclock. We’ve also set up a child environment where we can theoretically host all of our acquisition/DR pages. So for the first time everything that we’re creating as a brand is all indexed against the same domain, providing that full 360 user funnel.
Over the next year, two years, and beyond, my focus is going to be figuring out what that attribution model looks like, understanding the real brass tacks – things like profitability of content on long term customer value. And that’s definitely where we’re heading next.
How does this new brand and site relaunch feel for you, to have done so much in evolving Five O’Clock multiple times in such a compressed period of time?
I think that this is a next step in one of the most exciting years for Harry’s as a brand, and Five O’Clock as a publication. I definitely feel lucky that, as an editor, we’ve had such confidence from our co-founders from the start, and that we were given the years necessary to hone in and prove out the channel. And I’m just really excited for the opportunities Five O’Clock has ahead.
You’ve built a very progressive case and grown this thing deliberately over time. Any advice for others who might be trying to develop similar evolutions for their publications?
I think the most important thing is to keep yourself in check. Particularly working at a brand, if you’re talking about native content, there tends to be one editorialist in a room. So that person needs to remember to take two steps back and ask themselves “Do I give a shit about this piece of content that I’m putting out in the world? Do I believe in it? Do I care personally?” If these answers are no, then you’re probably not on the right path. At the end of the day, even if it’s branded content, it’s still content, and as an editor, you’re wasting your mind if you’re putting things out into the world that you don’t feel are spurring or perpetuating culture or conversation.
Highlights from Five O’Clock: