Magazines Rethink Strategies to Deal With Economy

Like many other American businesses, it’s the worst of times for magazine publishers. The question is: Can they bounce back — and how?

with contributions from Irin Carmon, Amy Wicks
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Besides cutting costs and folding magazines, publishers are fine-tuning their strategies to ride out the economy’s troubles, which are expected to loom at least through next year. They’re running their businesses like any other consumer product looking to grow sales in tough times — communicating their value to consumers and advertisers seeking more bang for their buck.

“One of the things you’re going to see is the consumer buying fewer things but better things,” said Florio. “Customer service is very important. Clearly, the value proposition has to be there, but once you get out of a commodity-type of product, and you look at where we spend time in the fashion and luxury retailers, there’s a perceived product benefit, of quality, customer service and selling a dream.”

Magazines are aiming to tap into those same values. Michael Clinton, Hearst Magazines executive vice president, chief marketing officer and publishing director, said, “The value on entertainment and reading time that a magazine brings is fantastic. With people spending less money on a $4 cup of Starbucks, you can have a two-hour experience with an entertainment product at the same price. With consumers looking for value, that’s something we should communicate to them.”

In terms of pitching magazines to advertisers, Clinton believes titles should point out their virtues as a connective medium with readers: “Magazine circulation is holding steady and magazine readership is up. When you think about television viewership, they cannot boast that.”

According to Mediamark Research Inc., the number of magazine readers has increased to 190 million this year from 166 million in 1994, but the percentage of people who consume magazines has decreased to 84.8 percent from 88.3 percent because the U.S. population has increased in that time.

But that’s the industry as a whole — individual titles still have to stand out from their competition. The pitch to advertisers will need to convey the power and stability of a magazine’s brand. Bill Wackermann, senior vice president and publishing director of Glamour and the Condé Nast Bridal Media group, likened advertising in Glamour to investing in the most “secure, FDIC-insured” bank. “The analogy we’re using is, think about investing your dollars. Where can I go to find the most stable environment? You’ve got to think of the magazine industry in the same way. If I’m investing my money, instead of panicking and saying the sky is falling, I would say, ‘What brands have weathered tough times?’”

Magazines also will have to prove their power to influence sales. Advertisers are paying more attention to the return on investment from a well-executed media buy with a magazine, whether it’s the retail sales driven by a magazine ad or fashion credit, brand exposure from an event, or product sold through an online partnership.

“Our clients tell us The Wall Streets Journal sells lots of watches and cars,” said Michael Rooney, chief revenue officer of the financial paper, which is expanding further into print with the launch of glossy luxury magazine WSJ. “We have the information and the data. We can tell certain car manufacturers how many units we move a year.”

Steve Stoute, the founder of Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging, who was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Achievement of the American Advertising Federation last week, said he’s focused on online properties and media brands that have integration online, where “you can count clicks, and you can move product. You get data capture, a less expensive way to market a consumer and a profitable way to sell.”

For luxury brands, online also is becoming a bigger priority.

“As companies cut back on advertising, the overall budgets might be lower than last year, but they’re willing to experiment more with online, with search optimization and marketing,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of the Luxury Institute, a marketing research firm that focuses on the luxury market. He said that, although brands used to believe that advertising in print was necessary “to validate to consumers that they made a good purchase, that mentality is changing.” Companies believe they “need to bone up on how to motivate awareness and purchase. I need to see my media generate revenue for me, not just awareness.”
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