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AD-ING IT ALL UP: Last week, the vanguard of Condé Nast dominated the awards portion of the company’s annual publishers meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired were the winners of in-house awards for a strong year of business. All four are big, venerable titles — no surprise there.
But there was one other old-time heavyweight that got up on stage too: Architectural Digest won the award for the best business turnaround at Condé Nast. AD finished 2011 with a 9.1 percent ad page jump, the largest spike on a percentage basis for any magazine at Condé Nast. Further, boosted by a fat January issue for the AD 100, the magazine will finish the first quarter with a 22 percent ad page bump, said publisher Giulio Capua. He added that the April issue will have a 38 percent increase year-over-year.
All told, the magazine, which saw only modest gains immediately after its March redesign, has had a surge of momentum in the last few months. Between the second quarter last year and the first quarter this year, it has seen increases of 6, 5, 18 and 22 percent, respectively.
“It’s not just this phenomenon of the big AD100 issue,” said Capua. “There’s a lot momentum that is building for the brand and a lot of excitement in the community that is really starting to see what AD is going to be.”
Likewise, after a slow start, the newsstand is starting to see improvements. Through December, editor in chief Margaret Russell’s redesigned AD has seen year-over-year gains on the newsstand in six of seven issues going back to July.
Architectural Digest was part of a large group of magazines in 2010 that rolled out big changes: It appointed a new editor in chief for the first time in 35 years and moved editorial operations from Los Angeles to New York (other magazines that appointed new editors or had big design changes in the last two years include Bon Appétit, Elle Décor, Veranda, W, Lucky, The New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, WSJ. Magazine, Newsweek — you get the point). Condé Nast alone named four new editors that year. Most of these magazines have struggled to see meaningful gains in ad pages in the last year. So it appears that Russell and Capua’s AD is now in the early lead among the Class of 2010.
“I think it makes sense what you’re seeing both in ad sales and in our newsstand sales,” said Russell. “It’s the transformation of a magazine that really wasn’t meant to be done instantaneously. It’s not a flash in the pan. This is a magazine with enormous history. And I’ve been very, very mindful in the changes I’ve made to it.”
The fact that Russell hasn’t overseen a dramatic redesign of the magazine could be part of the game plan. After all, much of their energy needs to go into reclaiming advertisers that used to be theirs and were lost. AD lost nearly half of its business in 2009 when it had a jaw-dropping 49 percent fall in ad pages, and in the process lost its ad page lead to rival shelter title Elle Décor (which was then edited by Russell). That huge gap still exists: Elle Décor, which finished 2011 with a 5 percent ad page gain, had a 265 total ad page lead on AD by the end of 2011, or 1,176 pages to 911.
But with a 22 percent increase in the first quarter and a 38 percent spike in April, Capua is expecting a big year — and to cut the difference.
“Barring Europe falling apart, or the economy going into another recession, or any events, so to speak, that would shake the entire economy, I feel very, very bullish about 2012,” he said.