Raju Narisetti wasn’t confident about how he would fare when he agreed to lead global publishing at McKinsey & Company in 2020.

“I honestly thought, ‘This could be a disaster a year from now. I could be out of a job because I don’t know how to do this (B2B publishing),’” he recalls.

But that very doubt also prompted him to take the job. Raju explains, “When I’ve been interested in (any) new role, it’s come from answering a fairly simple-sounding question: ‘When is the last time I did something for the first time?’”

He uses that answer as a filter to decide the next step in his career path. That philosophy has turned his 30-year resume into a who’s who of the mainstream media world. Raju led the digital network at The Wall Street Journal, where he also spent years in various editor roles, and helped create the digital editions of The Wall Street Journal Europe and Asia. He served as managing editor of The Washington Post. He was senior vice president of growth and strategy at News Corp. He was the CEO of Gizmodo Media Group, which included properties like Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, and Lifehacker. In 2018, he signed on as a professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. In January 2020, he joined McKinsey, where he remains today.

During his tenure, the McKinsey team has delivered award-winning content to growing niche and general audiences in expanded formats. But Raju didn’t stop there. He’s committed staff to focus on the future of content, audiences, and more. That work and vision propelled Raju to be named a Content Marketer of the Year finalist.

Focusing on the audience, not monetization

Raju joined McKinsey & Company to lead a team of 57, most of whom had worked there for 10 to 20 years. “It meant I could learn a lot from them, while I felt I could teach people a lot. That’s been a really great way to think about this role,” he says.

And Raju didn’t have to think about monetizing eyeballs, unlike at many of his more recent media jobs. McKinsey doesn’t sell ads or its database. All its content is free, and few of its content assets require any registration at all to read.

“My thinking about how to grow my audience is in a much more pure way and a lot more fun,” Raju says. “We have to find reasons why somebody should put down The New York Times and want to read McKinsey about the same business issue.”

McKinsey’s publishing began in 1964 with the debut of The McKinsey Quarterly, which continues today. An originator of thought-leadership content, McKinsey has evolved as the internet’s democratization of content has seemingly led every business and business leader to publish “thought leadership.”

Today’s McKinsey thought leadership still encompasses good ideas like the others, but it does so through the eyes of the audience – the content must help them along their own journey.

“Our audience is actually in the trenches of big companies trying to solve problems. They have to see the applicability of what we are saying [about] their problem. The hope is they may say, ‘You know what? McKinsey seems to be pretty smart and interesting and engaging about this. Let me reach out to them to see if they can solve my problem on the consulting side,’” he says.

Though McKinsey doesn’t treat publishing as a direct lead-gen tool, they tie publishing priorities to business priorities. “It’s more around the narrative, around the storytelling, and less about trying to actively pull a reader to become a customer,” Raju says.

Growing the publishing team and expanding channels

About 16 years ago, McKinsey.com became the primary content distribution vehicle. The consulting firm also has grown an audience through email. Subscribers can pick from 50 options divided into two broad categories: alerts and curated newsletters.

McKinsey social channels attract 6 million followers, primarily through LinkedIn, but X, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are part of the mix. The McKinsey Podcast is the flagship audio content, but the company also publishes 29 other podcasts that focus on singular topics. The content team also publishes reports and the occasional print companion to those tomes.

“Everything is created in-house,” Raju says.

Raju was No. 58 when he joined the publishing group, which also encompassed about 30 or so long-term contract workers. However, the demand for content on all those platforms meant the team needed to grow.

Today, the publishing team stands at 90 globally. About two-thirds encompass traditional roles – editors, copy desk, editorial production, and web production, which manages all of McKinsey’s digital platforms.

The remaining 30 employees staff the two new teams Raju developed. The visual storytelling team includes about 15 people who create award-winning designs, graphics, and interactive content.

Another 15 people are on the audience development and innovation team. Given McKinsey’s longstanding external reputation as a quality content provider, Raju’s decision to add this team is particularly interesting.

The consulting firm sees content generally as a significant generator of ROI even though it’s not designed to collect leads or sell services. McKinsey also believes so much in content’s value that it uses new knowledge creation as a metric when evaluating consulting-side employees for advancement.

Visioning the modern McKinsey edge

Raju isn’t satisfied with the status quo even though McKinsey’s publishing is going well. His eyes are on the future and understanding more specifics of their content consumers. “It’s important for us to think not about a monolithic audience … If the firm is interested in reaching the world of technology, how do we know who they are in the first place? How do we measure what they’re doing with us, and how do we engage with them,” Raju explains.

So, the relatively new audience and innovation team possesses the marketing mindset to understand audiences, how to engage them, and how to attract new audiences. On the innovation side, they work on growing McKinsey as the audience’s go-to choice for content on the same topics other publishers might cover.

Raju believes just relying on a new idea as a competitive advantage isn’t a sustainable strategy in this era of content. But, if the team adds an interesting McKinsey layer to an already interesting idea, they can produce an engaging and different piece of content. “Then we have a bit of an edge,” he says.

That strategy enables McKinsey to often beat its content rivals. Raju explains, “People may sample a lot of wares, but they often start with McKinsey and often end with McKinsey.”

And that’s why Raju has stayed in the role he once worried might not last a year.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute