War Another Blow For Magazine World Still Reeling From ’02

Publishers and ad execs are divided on what impact the Iraqi war will have on media buying in the third quarter.

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NEW YORK — Ask magazine publishers just how bad the war in Iraq will be for business and a few might reply that a short war — really short — could actually be good, ending the economy’s funk.

But most are convinced the war won’t be that brief — and their businesses will suffer yet another blow in an already tough year. For proof, all they have to do is look back to the last Gulf War in 1991, when ad pages at fashion-centered consumer magazines like Elle, Glamour, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle posted double-digit declines of up to 27 percent.

On the first full day of fighting in this Iraqi war — while the TV networks stayed commercial-free, forgoing tens of millions of advertising dollars — publishers nervously called on clients and waited to see if the war would last long enough for its advertising repercussions — expected to hit television, newspapers, and newsweeklies first, in that order — to eventually rock them.

"The publishers need to be positive and we all need to, because the economy sucks," said Tyler Schaeffer, senior vice president of media brand planning at Foote Cone Belding Worldwide, the West Coast office of which handles the Levi’s account. "I think the shorter the war, the better the potential to come back. While war is bad, it does provide a resolution to the uncertainty that has surrounded us all for too long and fostered a more dire economy. It should only lead to opportunities leading into the second half of the year, and a better track either flat or upward."

It’s a nice theory, anyway. But the dominant school of thought is that businesswise, war is yet another pothole in an already unfortunate year-and-a-half for the retail and luxury goods industries and thus the publishing and advertising worlds. It provides another excuse for advertisers to cancel or postpone campaigns deemed too sensitive for wartime, and another deterrent that could keep consumers from stores.

Lynette Harrison, publisher of In Style, was blunt. While In Style through April is up more than 20 percent in ad pages, she is not expecting that later on. "I think as we go into this war, it will be tough on all of us, and I think that will be true across the board. You’ll start to see it in the third quarter. It is just inevitable."
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