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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Rolling Stone Cover.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Aside from focusing on accountable media, high-end brands also are focusing more on accountable consumers — their core, affluent audiences most likely to buy product. Brenda Saget Darling, vice president and publisher of fortysomething women’s magazine More, is seeing an increase in business from luxury brands targeting an older, cash-rich consumer.

“Most [brands] had focused on their aspirational customer, and now they can’t afford to do that anymore,” she said. “Now,” — along with a recent redesign of the magazine — “we’re a far more attractive place in the market. They want to talk to the women who have the money to spend.”

At a time where “more for your money” is the new world order, marketers also are looking increasingly at environments that provide the maximum exposure for their products in as many outlets as possible. It’s been repeated that advertisers are seeking multiplatform solutions, but in tough times, clients are looking to such multifaceted media brands more than ever. Publishers need to bring creative advertising packages to their clients that touch every outlet where the brand has a presence — radio, magazine, television or mobile.

“The best magazine publishers will have a connection with their clients where they are solutions oriented,” said Wenda Harris Millard, co-ceo and president of media of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. “If you look at yourself as a seller of ad pages, you’re not going to have as many opportunities in the marketplace.”

She pointed to a recent example of her company working with Mars Inc. to promote personalized M&M’s that include an image of a person’s face. The brand bought ads that included ideas for craft projects using the M&M’s in the magazine, on the Web site and on MSLO’s television program, “The Martha Stewart Show.” But Mars got even more exposure when Martha Stewart herself toured the M&M’s factory on a Halloween-themed show.

“As we look to 2009, we’ll continue to emphasize what we like to call our ‘Omni-ness.’ We’re able to present them with an engaged consumer, a reader, a viewer, a listener or a shopper,” said Millard.

At the WWD summit Thursday, Millard added that Mars literally wanted to know how many bags of M&M’s the promotion sold. “I’m sorry, that’s the world we’re in now.…We are being held to higher and higher levels of accountability. This is a different world and we need to step up to it.”

To offer such extensive packages, it’s important publishers develop well-trafficked, user-friendly Web sites; large consumer events, or even additional spin-offs from the magazine to reach more consumers “where they live, thrive and buy,” said Steve Yanovsky, a consultant at media agency Mindshare. These offshoots of the flagship also can create additional revenue streams, offsetting ad page losses in the core titles.

Last year, Rolling Stone, which shrank the trim size of the magazine in October, partly to save on printing and paper costs, began licensing its covers for posters and T-shirts, and both have become additional cash streams. Wenner Media chief marketing officer Gary Armstrong said a poster of the Jonas Brothers sold 480,000 copies at around $10 apiece. Aside from additional revenue, the posters have another benefit.

“Really who’s buying that is a 12- to 16-year-old girl — a future Rolling Stone reader,” Armstrong said. “The smart brands are doing what they can to reach new audiences.”

But developing new businesses doesn’t mean abandoning print offshoots. Us Weekly is spinning off 450,000 copies of Us Style next April, a fashion quarterly that will expand on Us Weekly’s coverage of Hollywood fashion trends — and hopefully the magazine’s roster of fashion and beauty advertisers. Rodale already is making significant sums from “old media” extensions: Men’s Health in December will spin out its second edition of Men’s Heath Living, after the first one made “six-figure ad revenue” and sold 50 percent of its 375,000 newsstand copies last year. This year’s issue will cost a dollar more, at $5.99, and will have a 475,000 print run.

However, Men’s Health’s most recognizable spin-offs have been its books, the latest being nutrition guide “Eat This, Not That!” The book, published in December 2007, since has spawned two offshoots, “Eat This, Not That! for Kids” and soon-to-come “Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide.”
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