Dering Hall may be rooted in e-commerce, but executive editor Dennis Sarlo’s career has long been grounded in editorial: He started his career at Random House and Fodor’s, was a part of the founding team at Gilt Groupe’s Jetsetter and in 2013, served as the first site director of ArchitecturalDigest.com. Sarlo joined the Dering Hall team last summer and has since crafted the online retailer’s image-driven and ambitious editorial strategy, one that aims to “cover all things interior design.”
Sarlo discusses all things digital with EAL:
What is your strategy for Dering Hall’s editorial?
It may seem a bit ambitious, but we aim to cover all things interior design, from must-know brands to inspiring projects from firms around the world to major design events. As the editorial team, we curate great product and images from Dering Hall, and essentially shop the site like anyone else. We’re all about discovering new brands and must-know artisans.… It’s part of our mission, and we’re passionate about it as editors. Our business development teams bring top-notch design practices and makers to the site, and we have the editorial freedom to choose the very best of the best. We also partner with major shows like High Point, M&O, and the AD Design Show to shop those experiences as well.
We’re an image-centric site, so you won’t likely find thousand-word treatises…but you’ll find collections of new products from top brands, beautiful shots from projects that use them inventively, and tips from our designers on how to execute.
What changes have you implemented recently? How or why did they come about?
We redesigned our site in the fall to make it much more image-focused and truly mobile first. When you come to the site now on a desktop or tablet, you see big, beautiful images on our homepage, and it’s all content first—those take you to our biggest stories of the day. In terms of editorial improvements, we’re producing more content across all categories—more house tours of our designers’ work, more collections of beautiful new product, more designer tips and brand spotlights. And as I mentioned, we’ve partnered with lots of major design events that we’re covering more thoroughly than before. We’re also syndicating more of our content—now you can see Dering Hall content on Elle Decor, for instance. And we have more coming.
What’s on the horizon for the next three months? 2016?
We’re still evolving, of course, and I can’t tell you everything we have in the works…but you’ll see updates to our site and homepage this year, and new tools and technology for our members and content partners. Obviously, the online space changes every day, and we’re growing with it—we’re working on new ideas and avenues of distribution for brands on Dering Hall. We have an amazing tech team, and they’re always making the experience better, and our members always have ideas.
Editorially, you’ll see more content than ever on Dering Hall, and you’ll be seeing the results of some of our biggest partnerships to date. We’re also growing our media contributor program—we curate and syndicate the best design content online with major media partners. And we have some amazing new brands joining that we’re all excited about, so stay tuned.
Have you had any staffing changes or restructuring?
As I said, we’ve recently brought on some really talented developers to expand our tech team. I’ve worked at a lot of different dotcoms with a lot of different engineering teams, and I can definitively say we’ve got a great group. We’re growing in pretty much every department, which is, of course, encouraging…so much so that we’re actually working on moving into a larger office space. We’ve had to play musical chairs a bit in our current office.
What have designers been requesting or seeking out on the editorial side?
We honestly have so many amazing projects to put on the site—every designer wants to have their best work featured on Dering Hall, so we have a lot to keep up with! Again, this is a place where we, as the editors, get to curate the best of the best…and there’s a lot of great work to choose from. I would say that’s the biggest request from our designers. We’ve also been doing more editorial featuring designer tips, advice, trend spotting… We have so many designers contributing there, too, which is wonderful.
How does digital press impact designers? How can designers and brands promote themselves?
The design industry has, in some ways, been more traditional than others, since there’s a physical product that needs to be accounted for.... Having worked in the travel space, it was much easier for them to shift online quickly, since they’re selling an experience rather than a physical item or a design service.
There are now so many ways for smaller firms to feature their work online, and for smaller companies to get promotion for their brands. It’s not just a world where you have a couple of magazines to choose from anymore—Dering Hall is obviously a site that does this for our design members and brands, but there are so many design blogs that do it too. And social media provides an incredible outlet for business in this industry to work as their own PR firm—a well put together Instagram following, for instance, can create a loyal fan base and get your name out there, even if Instagram doesn’t provide more than one link back to your site.
It’s not all about page views online, especially in a world that’s mostly mobile. We’re finding so many of our clients appreciate being promoted in our social, and are making huge strides on their own in that arena. Ours is maybe the most visual industry there is, and experiences like Instagram and Pinterest are hugely influential in deciding who gets new business, who gets new orders, and who doesn’t become as well known.