Innovate. Don’t Stay the Course. Don’t Ride it Out. Words of Wisdom from Greg Schumann, Group Publisher, The Parenting GroupJanuary 14, 2009
“Innovation is the key and not staying the course,” says Greg Schumann, vice president and group publisher of Bonnier Corp.’s Parenting Group (TPG). That, in fact, sums Schumann’s take on the current status of magazine publishing in general and on Parenting magazine in particular. Parenting magazine is now two magazines serving the needs of two separate groups of moms, where the mantra of “one size fits all” no longer exists.
Schumann’s strategy is not only limited to innovation.
The new strategy isn’t just an innovative way to launch a new publication. By separating the current Parenting (for moms of kids 0-12, 2.15 million circ) into two separate monthly editions – Parenting School Years (for moms of kids in kindergarten through 5th grade, 500,000 circ) and Parenting Early Years (for moms of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, 1.65 million circ), Parenting is offering readers the ability to choose the content that’s most relevant to them, and offering advertisers a new way to customize their marketing messages to target moms with children in different age groups.
This strategy brings to life what TPG has learned from studying the effects of Gen Y moms on the parenting media landscape: Today’s generation of web-savvy moms expect customization – so it’s time to rethink the concept of the “one-size-fits-all” mass parenting magazine in a media universe populated with niche web sites and mommy blogs targeted to every possible subset of moms. The more targeted the content, the better. And the more relevant the magazine is to its readers, the more advertisers’ messages will resonate with their intended audience.
To follow up on this strategy, I asked Mr. Schumann few questions regarding Parenting magazine, The Bonnier Corp. and the magazine industry in general.
What is the secret of your success with Parenting and what is the secret of Bonnier Corp.’s success in the midst of all this doom and gloom?
Well, I think I’ll answer in two-fold. I’ll answer it first on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I had lunch with a business consultant in the industry, and we were talking about (the fact that) there’s so much defensiveness going on right now in light of the turbulence that’s being felt economically and certainly in our industry. But I am a believer that difficult or challenging circumstances demand innovation. And that’s the time you should be looking to do things differently and to improve on things versus, let’s ride it out or stay the course.
The rationale behind one magazine with two editions is based in that I am a believer in the research that we did leading up to deciding definitively on our strategy that this approach of one size fits all for moms is no longer working. I would even argue that one size fits all is becoming a challenge to strategy. The needs of moms are so different relative to the stages that they’re in motherhood, relative to the age of their child or children. You just couldn’t think that you are going to be able to properly address their informational needs in one entity.
We’re taking the approach with the business model from a consumer standpoint. We’re serving her more targeted, more relevant information that feels more personalized, more customized, relative to the place she’s in. And also for advertisers, to a point, we are providing the most efficient means to invest their dollars relative to their target, the sub-segment targets of mom. The response we’ve gotten and the feedback have been incredibly positive. It’s been incredibly positive from moms. It’s been incredibly positive from the advertising community.
But in the midst of the doom and gloom, and I know it sounds really cliché and maybe a little holier than thou, but there should be no conditions on doing the right thing for the business. There should be no circumstances that dictate whether you do the right thing or not as far as figuring out constantly how you best serve your consumer and in our case, obviously, moms. So, to me the economy, and the advertising climate shouldn’t weigh into that debate. We have a mission: How do we best serve moms? We think we’ve found the best way to do it with this versioning, targeting strategy. We’re going to do it, whether the economy’s healthy or not healthy. Whether the advertising business is up or down…because it’s the right business decision.
As far as how is Bonnier is doing it, I think this is one of the advantages of being operated by a philosophy that’s looking long term. When Jonas Bonnier acquired our division along with the rest of the other titles that we were sold from Time, Inc., he made it very clear: I am doing it to expand our business, to expand our footprint in the United States, and I’m doing it to have a long term viable, sustainable, growing business. And so, he always talks about the notion of evaluating 20 years from now. The fact that we’re privately held allows, obviously, and helps facilitate being able to take a longer term approach to things. Unlike the industry that seems to live quarter by quarter, as far as how Wall Street goes, earnings and so forth… I do think that in too many instances, in our industry and in American business, we foster just short term thinking. The industry is always trying to get immediate gratification or instant gratification for the business needs, perhaps at the expense of really thinking long term and figuring out what’s the best model looking outward.
I think we’re fortunate to be in a corporation, part of an entity that does look at things long term.
Are we really in such a gloom and doom marketplace today? Is the cup half full or half empty?
The current industry environment too often is viewed as problematic. And I believe it is opportunistic. If you adhere or believe in the notion that within any problem lies an opportunity, I think that without question, that the economic landscape’s changing, our industry landscape’s changing, but anytime there’s change, there’s opportunity. It’s just that too often people tend to look at it as the change is problematic. I think that there is a little too much negativity. Because the country as a whole, and even our industry has been a little bit traumatized by the events in the last twelve month and in particular the last six months.
So do you see light at the end of the tunnel or is it the train coming?
Well, I had an interesting explanation from someone in the financial industry. He said you should look at this situation as though the economy is a giant pan and we’re at the bottom of the pan. But the pan is elongated, meaning it’s not going to get much worse, but it’s not going to be remedied quickly. And so I’m of the school of thought that I think you’re going to be hard pressed to see the economy really turn around, this year.
But, I do adhere to the thinking that the mood, this fear that you talk about, the doom and gloom, that’s the first thing that will go. People are going to start to see the sun again. And then I think that’s going to be the precursor to seeing re-investments and the general dynamic of the economy starting to turn and then people starting to invest more aggressively, but I think that’s probably not going to happen until 2010. So what do you do? I think that everybody has to re-examine their business model. This is the time that everyone should be thinking about innovation. If you look at this situation as an opportunity instead of a problem I think that’s what should be our approach.