Magazine Publishing

What’s Old Is New Again



In 2001, the publisher of the five-month old LUCKY magazine asked me to write a presentation addressing the question: “Why Launch a Magazine about Shopping at the Beginning of an Economic Downturn?” I gave her three answers: (1) Consumers are ready for the combined benefits of fashion magazines, catalog shopping & e-commerce, (2) Twenty something women who love to shop… love to shop! and (3) When times are good, you should advertise; when times are bad, you must advertise.

As part of the presentation, I included a line chart showing the decline of the Dow Jones from 11,600 to 9,200, which I then covered up bit by bit with expert opinions supporting the importance of maintaining marketing budgets during a recession. These were the following:

– “Companies that increase their marketing activities during the recession are more successful than companies which cut back.” PIMS database of 1,000 companies.
– “Economic downturns reward the aggressive advertiser and penalize the timid one.” Strategic Planning Institute
– “The most successful companies [maintain] their advertising investment when the economy slows down and weaker competitors cut back…” London Business School
– “During an economic downturn, a strong advertising/marketing effort enables a firm to solidify its customer base, take business away from less aggressive competitors, and position itself for future growth during the recovery.” Coopers & Lybrand
– “Maintaining ‘Share of Mind’ costs much less than rebuilding it later on.” American Business Model

I have always felt a sort of sympathy for car manufacturers spending millions of dollars on television advertising that was bound to get lost in the clutter of two to three automotive commercials per commercial pod (one national, one local and, more recently a second national ad separated from the first by some kind of “pod-breaker”). Personally, I found myself forwarding through automotive ads on a somewhat regular basis despite my being generally inclined to watch TV commercials. But it was a no win situation for automotive brands. While magazine publishers tried valiantly to impress upon them the value of print advertisements, car companies could not afford to take money out of TV so long as their peers were still there.

Fast forward to 2008 and 2009 and a sudden automotive silence within TV commercial pods. It was eery and a bit scary. Careful what you wish for – one might say. And then came the Super Bowl. During the game, there were two brands who dared to pony up the money for multi-million dollar spots: Hyundai and Audi. Audi, the insurgent brand that has often been willing to take risks, positioned its brand against other luxury autos through years, coming out as the only one with the performance attributes worthy of a James Bond. Hyundai, meanwhile, showed compassion for a country of would-be consumers paralyzed by their fear of losing their income. “If you lose your income, we will allow you to return your Hyundai,” the announcer promised. Quite daring. Now, American Express will reimburse you (up to $300, I believe) if you break something you buy with the card or change your mind and are unable to return it. And that strategy has often given me the piece of mind that allowed for the indulgent impulse buy. But this is taking that concept to a whole new level! And rightly so. Truly brilliant, I think, to address the problem head on. To remove the roadblock on the path to purchase.

So the message was smart, but equally as important was the audacity on the part of both car companies to see this calamity as an opportunity and to finally gain the unique benefit of television advertising without getting lost in the clutter. Did it work? Yes, it did. Both Hyundai and Audi have experienced increased sales in 2009 – an achievement not to be underappreciated.

— Originally posted May 14, 2009

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I Want My Allman B – And I’m Willing To Pay!


How unreasonable is the idea of getting paid for your digital content or services? Let’s see who’s doing it:

Moogis: Video streaming of Allman Brothers concerts – $125 annual subscription, $15 for individual concerts. Moogis offers subscribers streaming video access to entire live concerts, both in real time and on-demand from its archives. Moogis.com provides a gathering place for subscribers, a social website where fans can create their own profiles, join discussion groups, hang out with like-minded folks and “share the communal experience that music inspires.” Quote from one subscriber: “I was able to get an early bird discount of $100 when it first came out. It was the best $100 I’ve spent.” Clearly, people will pay for value and for things about which they are passionate. (June 2009)

Flat World Knowledge: Offers free online college text books and charges for premium options and services. Students can review the books for free or pay as little as $20 to print out a tome or $30 to download an iPod-ready audio file. Other paid services include open source student-generated study aids fueled by creative-commons licensing. Teachers can also customize text books for a fee. As of October, the company had signed contracts with 29 authors to write some 20 books. It recently raised $8MM in venture capital funding. Keep your eye on this. It’s extremely exciting and disruptive. (June 2009)

ESPN Magazine: Put everything behind a paid wall as explained here – “ESPNTheMag.com and ESPN Insider Merge: ESPNTheMag.com has hooked up with the folks at Insider to create a sports content supergroup, where Insider’s traditional next-level analysis is paired with ESPN The Magazine’s unique storytelling and insight. As of Friday June 5, ESPNTheMag.com ceased to exist as we know it, but the site’s signature pieces and voice continue to live on the Insider page.” Existing Magazine subscribers can upgrade to ESPN Insider at no extra charge. Non-Magazine subscribers are invited to, “See what you’re missing at ESPN Insider.” (June 2009)

Guide to Trekking Locations in the U.S. (Gorp?): $50 per year – I am told that a printed guide book turned out to be more helpful (e.g., finding hiking trails that are dog-friendly). Only benefit to online subscription is being able to print out a few pages rather than carrying or photocopying book. Also, info about other regions of the country, but that was not relevant because the hiker I spoke to only hikes locally. Net, net, it wasn’t worth it for her. It’s all about execution. (June 2009)

20 Minute Yoga Download Podcasts: Voluntary micro-payments via paypal go to charity (May 2009)

Weight Watchers: Weight Watchers Online is a customized online weight loss plan that you follow step-by-stop completely online. You manage your results at your own pace, on your own time. It (a) includes a set of interactive tools to help its members stay on track, (b) manages weight loss daily and (c) provides customized sites for men & women to meet individual needs. There is a sign up fee of $29.95 and a monthly fee of $16.95. (June 2009)

Teri’s List and Grocery Game: Teri’s list provides “rock bottom” prices on a range of grocery products each week and matches them with the manufacturer coupons to help the user get the best savings at the user’s local supermarket. The Grocery Game utilizes databases that track manufacturers’ coupons along with weekly sales and specials, both advertised and unadvertised. It then presents this analysis in a quick reference format on the Internet each week. Members log in to access and print the info and offers. Here’s an explanatory video. (June 2009)

Fahrenheit 48 — So Soon?


How time flies when your career spirals beyond your wildest expectations. When last I wrote — back in August… it was 88 degrees, and I was working on a little — albeit nearly impossible — project about high resolution business projectors. The project, by the way, required me to find a handful of experts in France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. who were deeply knowledgeable about high resolution business projectors. People joke that the French are all on vacation in August. It is no joke. The country closes down completely. And my client, who was Japanese, could not comprehend this at all and therefore could not appreciate the difficulty of finding even one person in this field who was not on vacation for the entire month.

Early in the month, I found the perfect person. I could not have asked for a better participant. He had the ideal background and was exceedingly excited about sharing his opinions and seeing what kinds of questions we were asking. The stipend we offered was a complete afterthought and really unnecessary. Then he disappeared. Completely. I called his home number and his outgoing message said that he was on vacation for 3 weeks and directed me to his mobile number, which, in turn, directed me to his home number. The way I understood this, by the way, was by asking a college classmate who is fluent in French to call the numbers and translate the messages. But that is not the point of this blog entry, and I have digressed completely.

In any case, as this project wound down, I was put in touch with a SVP at McCann Relationship Marketing (MRM), the digital and direct marketing division of Interpublic’s McCann Worldgroup (which includes McCann Erickson). This introduction was made, by the way, by a recruiter who tracked me down on LinkedIn. Don’t underestimate the value of LinkedIn as a marketing tool! A passive marketing tool at that.

The SVP and I discussed several projects, and I met with two other executives, but alas the projects did not pan out for internal and client budgeting reasons. (I was starting to learn about the agency world.) I therefore accepted an engagement with an ad rep firm called Interevco, whom I had helped sell an online monetization strategy engagement earlier in the year. The 6 month engagement was for Ancestry.com (The Generations Network) and required me to travel to Utah for the kickoff meeting.

Well, the day after I accepted this engagement, my MRM SVP e-mailed with a project for their Intel client. Ok, so now I had 2 projects plus the tail end of the Hi Res Biz Projectors gig. A few days later, I went to MRM’s offices for the Intel project kickoff meeting and was asked to work on another project, this one for MasterCard. Ok, 4 projects and counting.

The next day, I received an e-mail from the Associate Publisher of a magazine at Time Inc. with a very cool strategic audit engagement that needed to be completed in 2 1/2 weeks! I had the initial conversation with the Time Inc. client as I was getting ready to leave for Utah (literally — the car was waiting downstairs) and wrote the proposal in Utah. (This is where sleep deprivation started to creep in.) For those who are counting, I now had five projects. Oh, and the Blackberry I had purchased in August had already paid for itself by enabling me to book this new business.

So, there I was, happily and frenetically balancing five projects when one of my very favorite colleagues, Trish Hayward of Catalyst Strategies, called with a short project for a new media client with a user generated voice technology. The firm is Razz, Inc. Well, I could not turn Trish down, particularly because the value I gain from working with Trish often exceeds the monetary benefits. I think that we are up to 6 projects…

As Intel’s main competitor launched a new product, and as the Intel team began intensive planning for 2008, I was asked to help with two additional projects. 8 projects in total, if I can trust myself to remember anything from this period of time.

I believe that I worked 7 days a week for well over a month, and I hired a colleague I had met at an HBS media guru breakfast to help out with one of the engagements — wow, I was actually hiring other people. My only respite was when I forcefully dragged myself to a yoga or spinning class to maintain some form of sanity. Oh what a ride it was!

Don’t Do It!


“Don’t do it,” I told her. A colleague from my magazine days took me to breakfast to ask for career advice. She has 11 years of magazine experience and is reentering the work force after a maternity leave and a quick detour into non-profit. “Don’t go back into pure play print,” I told her. If you do return to magazines, make sure you have digital responsibility and interaction.”

My colleague didn’t think she had enough online knowledge to enter that world. “I don’t know about search and all that,” she said. But my feeling is that she needs to get up to speed on the lingo, the players and the trends. I suggested that she attend some industry breakfasts such as iBreakfast and NY:MIEG and directed her to paidcontent.org and eMarketer. She has more digital experience than she thinks as she oversees the redesign of her non-profit’s website. I like to think that I earned my pancakes.

Fahrenheit 88: It’s ComingTogether


It’s 88 degrees here in sunny New York, and I’m reaching the time of day when I must get away from my window and retreat into the nether regions of my apartment. Having moved my car into a sweet unmetered parking spot that is good until Friday, I settled into the writing of my survey on high resolution business projectors.

Since I completed the survey yesterday — translating it from a Japanese translation of a very long survey to one that is user-friendly — my client forwarded a completely new list of the questions. Much of my work was for naught, but I can see the end of the tunnel now and will soon be onto the next stage of the project — recruiting and tapping industry experts. I had thought this project was relevant to my media & entertainment focus only in that the client is an ad agency, but, as I get up to speed on the high resolution lingo & technology — XGA, SXGA, WXGA, SVGA and all that – I see it all coming together — once again. The world I have chosen is at the nexus of media, marketing and technology.

It all started when I was asked to create an overview of mobile marketing trends & practices for a magazine client. That led me to the world of SMS, MMS, MVNO and all those wireless abbreviations. A later engagement for a television network brought me a knowledge of multi-channel, satellite and telco television — nonlinear, of course. And now, it’s all about pixels — which, of course, ties back to my high definition television engagement. That’s only a small part of the technology I’ve inhaled over the past two years. It’s very heady.

I am deeply entrenched in two books at the moment (as well as “Freakonomics”): “Television Disrupted” by Shelly Palmer and “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson. In addition, I’m listening to the executive summaries of a number of current business titles, more and more of which have a technological element to them. (The terms of the day are “wiki” and “open source,” and I can’t go a day without hearing about my IM buddy Jimmy Wales.)

I once had my skills evaluated to identify the best career. I was advised that with strong spacial visualization and math skills, I could have been an engineer. Ok, this isn’t the same thing, but it’s coming together. Exciting stuff.