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The Most Effective Use of Checkout Space. Saving the Newsstands with Mr. Magazine’s™ MagNet Exclusive Series of Interviews with Luke Magerko.

July 7, 2014

Picture 10 This week we focus on the most effective use of checkout space for the publishing industry, analyzing the value of multiple titles sharing checkout space, and how this can benefit small publishers and large publishers equally.

YOU WANTED TO ADDRESS ANOTHER READER’S COMMENTS THIS WEEK?
A newsstand consultant told me that “none of your analytics matter until you can solve merchandiser challenge.” One quick note: a merchandiser is responsible for placing magazines on the racks in-store.

I am frustrated by the defeatism of this comment. While publishers have no control over merchandisers, all is not lost. Publishers should influence what titles are shipped, and should work closely with wholesalers on store-level product mix.
This is why MagNet recommends a profitability approach to distribution, especially for titles which are part of a checkout rotation.

WHAT IS A CHECKOUT ROTATION?
Publishers like Meredith and Time Inc. rotate multiple special interest publications (“SIP”) through checkout space. Publishers use this rotation to ensure the product remains fresh. Publishers give the consumer an opportunity to choose from a wide variety of product which changes on weekly basis.

DOES THIS TECHNIQUE WORK?

Yes. Meredith SIPs and Time Inc. Home Entertainment SIPs rank in the top 15 of all publications based on profitability.
IS IT FAIR TO COMPARE AN SIP ROTATION OF MULTIPLE TITLES TO AN INDIVIDUAL TITLE?
Not necessarily, but title rotations are quite beneficial to the retailer, and these rotations are rewarded with checkout space.

HOW DOES THE RETAILER BENEFIT?
As I mentioned in our last session, checkout space is not optimized when a title can remain in a location for extended periods. The consumer shops multiple times a week. If they do not take action in the first or second visit, it is fair to assume they will probably not purchase the product in the third or fourth visit. Retailers benefit from the fresh product and enhanced sales title rotations bring.

http://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/single-copies-at-the-check-out-and-the-mid-level-publishers-a-solution-to-a-major-dilemma-a-mr-magazine-magnet-exclusive/


IS THE CONSULTANT RIGHT? WHAT IF A MERCHANDISER MAKES THE WRONG DECISION AND REMOVES A GOOD PRODUCT AND INSERTS A POOR PERFORMING PRODUCT?

It happens all the time, but that is something a publisher cannot control. A publisher, however, can control what is sent to the merchandiser. This has been a debate in larger publishing houses, and needs to be explained to smaller publishers interested in checkouts.

WHAT IS THE DEBATE?
Publishers attempt to influence the merchandiser’s choice of product through communication. Two examples: (1) color coding and (2) rotation schedules.

For example, a red dot on the spine of a magazine might imply this title should be replaced in favor of green-dotted titles. Publishers also send rotation schedules, a title-specific guide for the merchandisers to follow when a new product arrives.

THAT SOUNDS CONFUSING!

It is both confusing and wrong. Publishers who try to influence merchandisers this way make the tactical error of leaving the decision in the merchandiser’s hands. Our approach determines which titles are successful in a store, and removes those titles which are not, completely removing the merchandiser choice.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A TITLE IS SUCCESSFUL?
Profitability by store. A publisher who tries to influence the merchandiser assumes the strongest national-selling title should have a higher position than a lower-selling national title. Every title has successful stores and unsuccessful stores, even the best title in the rotation should not be in every store.

IS THERE AN EXAMPLE OF THIS?

This is a top-20 publisher with greater than 25,000 checkout pockets, rotating six titles through these pockets. The publisher’s strategy is to rotate most, if not all titles, through each checkout pocket. Let’s look at the profitability results of some individual stores in Walmart Canada:
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All titles are profitable in stores 1122, 3075, and 3076. This is wonderful news and needs no further analysis. However, Title 5 is highly unprofitable in store 1094. There is no benefit to shipping Title 5 into this store.

Publishers can eliminate merchandiser choice by not shipping Title 5 to the store. It is impossible for the merchandiser to make a bad decision if the poor performing product is not available.

In the case of stores 1145 and 1149, most titles are unprofitable. What would happen if this store only received two or three titles as opposed to all six? One can assume there would be some slight sales increase for the remaining titles but the publisher (and wholesaler, by the way) would gain overall profitability.

THAT IS A VERY INTERESTING USE OF SPACE FOR LARGE PUBLISHERS. HOW WOULD THAT WORK FOR SMALLER PUBLISHERS?

In the last newsletter, I stated some mid-sized publishers could benefit from following the SIP model. Today, I implore small publishers to work together combining their magazines into one category-specific checkout offering. Many smaller titles, when combined with other smaller titles are in fact quite powerful and are worthy of checkout space.

THIS SOUNDS VERY COMPLEX TO ME!

It is a bit complex, but MagNet looks forward to offering advice to smaller publishers about how they can play at checkout. The most important note is that these publishers have to think about their competition a bit differently, and retailers have to think about their checkout space a bit differently.

WILL THERE BE PUSHBACK?

One senior level publishing executive bemoaned that the problem with this industry is poor checkout productivity. Another account representative pointed out checkouts are locked down because some large publishers agree to pay for space only if their product is represented at checkout in every store. This is not helpful in making the industry more productive at retail.

MagNet provides an objective look at each title’s profitability at checkout, and provides alternative titles not currently being considered but are valuable to the retailer.

The era of a mass checkout planogram with 15-20 titles in every store needs to end sooner rather than later. The checkout needs to become a bazaar worthy of the audience these publishers target. We look forward to leading that conversation.

THANK YOU LUKE.

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The Mr. Magazine™ Blog is taking the first break since its inception in March of 2007. We will be back at the end of July. Enjoy your summer.

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Finding the Right Balance Between Print and Digital: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with the New CDS Global President & CEO Debra Janssen.

July 3, 2014


“The whole world doesn’t tip over to online or digital and there’s something about holding that magazine with the content and the experience you have with it in your hands that clearly consumers still enjoy.” Debra Janssen

Picture 20 CDS Global is the leading provider of end-to-end business process outsourcing. With more than 40 years of expertise, the company assists and supports brands across industries, including media, nonprofits, utilities and consumer products. Hearst Magazines, CDS Global owner, recently announced that Debra Janssen, former COO would step up to the position of President and CEO of the company. Former Chairman and CEO Malcolm Netburn will retain the title Chairman of CDS Global.

I recently spoke with Debra to get her thoughts on the future of the media business, finding the right balance between print and digital and a host of other topics that shed enormous insight into how CDS Global is paving the way for a successful and bright tomorrow for Hearst and all of their clients.

So sit back and be prepared to learn how CDS Global allows clients to focus on creating great content and raising support for their mission, while they work on audience connection and interactivity. Enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Debra Janssen, CEO and President, CDS Global.

But first the sound-bites…

On whether we are living in the best of times or the worst of times: Oh the best of times, definitely. I spent 30 years in the payments world and they’re so many parallels to my current scenario.

On how she feels the industry has changed after the 2008 recession and the technological explosion:
Well definitely the new technology has I think diced up or split up the consumer’s attention span because they’re so many different devices and access methods and so much competition for the consumer’s eyes.

On the major stumbling blocks the industry is facing:
I think it’s finding the right balance of print and digital for the subscriber audience.

On the number and significance of CDS Global’s digital-only customers:
Very few. Six titles only. Because they know how the print side works and they do it very well.

On the future of CDS Global:
Speaking specifically for CDS Global; obviously, we have a very strong core business, so we need to maintain that business, supporting those 450 plus titles.

On her most pleasant surprise since joining the CDS Global team:
Actually, it’s been the strength of the Hearst Corporation and our private companies, so it’s not as easy to do your due diligence when you join a private company. It’s really been impressive.

On whether she believes that one day digital’s revenues will surpass print:
It’s like I said about checks; I don’t think they’ll die in my lifetime and I don’t think print magazines will either.

On what keeps her up at night:
Obviously staying a step ahead of your clients, whether that’s technology-build or we’re doing a lot in terms of trying to learn how to use our data in a collaborative way to help our publishers find new subscribers, so I think there’s still work there to be done.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Debra Janssen, CEO & President, CDS Global…

Samir Husni: Being promoted to president and CEO of CDS Global must have been very exciting for you. And as Charles Dickens wrote: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Do you think we’re living in the best or the worst of times today?

debra-janssen-cdsglobal Debra Janssen: Oh the best of times, definitely. I spent 30 years in the payments world and they’re so many parallels to my current scenario. In the payments world it was the pacing of physical paper check into an electronic transaction and obviously, we’re sorting out print and digital and it’s great. It’s an exciting time to find the right balance. I’ve been with CDS just a little over two years and it’s a great time to be a part of it and help figure out the balances.

Samir Husni: In 2008 when the economy busted and technology burst onto the scene; how do you feel the business changed after that?

Debra Janssen: Well definitely the new technology has I think, diced up or split up the consumer’s attention span because they’re so many different devices and access methods and so much competition for the consumer’s eyes. It really makes you stop and think. And I’ll say this several times: finding the right balance and then too it’s all about consumer choice. They’ve got so many different distractions now that trying to be the one thing that grabs their attention for longer than 20 seconds is a challenge these days. I always use a very similar parallel from my experience in the payments industry; I don’t think checks will retire in my lifetime and I think consumers have different preferences, different rhythms and cadences of their life that they fit their technology into or out of, if you will.

And the 30 years that I was in payments we never retired a single form of payment; we just kept adding more ways that people could pay. I think there are a lot of parallels to my current job and some people are going to continue to be old school or prefer to use the same methods they always have, some are going to dabble in the new, some are going to fall over right away into the new, but it never really tips over in one fell swoop. But clearly all the technology teams have us competing for consumer’s attention.

Samir Husni: The first thing that came to mind when you were talking about that is Harvard is the oldest university in the United States. So you have to choose between going to the old school or the new school. Old school does not necessarily mean bad school.

Debra Janssen: No, not all. I think a lot of it comes down to what consumers or subscribers of magazines are comfortable with. I tell people that I’m a little split myself right now. Unfortunately I think I’m reading less of my magazines because I’m trying to look at them in a variety of places, where in the past I had my print copies that came to the house and I could kind of monitor and police myself, making sure that I was getting through them each month. And I’ve tried different titles and things just because of my client base and wanting to see how they were doing with digital and I have to go to more places now to stay current on all my titles. I think some days I’m further behind now than before when I had my print copies.

Samir Husni: What do you think are the major stumbling blocks facing our industry today and specifically your industry?

Debra Janssen: As I said before, I think it’s finding the right balance of print and digital for the subscriber audience. Clearly there’s a ton of power in the content that I look at; we have 450 plus titles that we support and you look at the diversity across the titles and it’s absolutely outstanding and very compelling. I think trying to find that right balance so that you don’t lose your subscribers is important. And clearly if the content is good, the method in which they consume it is a personal choice.

As I look across all our customers, they’re in different phases of sorting it out and we have some of the larger publishers who have more resources and capacity to try more things and we have a lot of single-title publications; it’s just more challenging for them. People put their content out and they try to figure out how to be digital, so a lot of them lean on us significantly for best practices and insights that are coming from other publishers that we have across our entire book of business and I think getting there fast on as many fronts as you can to keep the subscribers engaged.

Samir Husni: Of those 450 plus customers that you have; how many are digital-only publications?

Debra Janssen: Very few. Six titles only. Because they know how the print side works and they do it very well. We have some very efficient clients and that’s where most of their subscriber base still is today and it’s like I said, not everybody gave up their checkbook and went to online payments, very similar parallels here, it’ll get sorted out over time, but it won’t tip over.

Samir Husni: With your experience seeing the entire client base; are you seeing a significance of digital subscriptions?

Debra Janssen: No, the majority of ours is still print-based.

Samir Husni: As you look toward the future; first, what do you see? And then, how are you preparing to meet that future as the new CEO of CDS Global?

Debra Janssen: Speaking specifically for CDS Global; obviously, we have a very strong core business, so we need to maintain that business, supporting those 450 plus titles. And we’ve done it for 42 years and we like to think we’re very good at it. We have a very high percentage of clients who have been with us for many years and we support across our entire business 159 million consumers on behalf of our clients. And we need to continue to do that very well day in and day out. And I’m highly confident because in the two years that I’ve been here I look at how well we do that.
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(Chart provided by CDS Global)

The other opportunity that we have as a company which started several years back was to diversify our CDS Global business, so we have moved into the non-profit vertical most successfully. We have several large non-profits that were really repurposing the competencies that we’ve used in our media business, so managing a donor in this case, taking their money and processing their payments and then having an ongoing relationship with them. And so we have American Red Cross, American Heart, Make-A-Wish, Salvation Army; I think we have eight of the top 50 non-profits that we’re doing business with.

And then the other vertical that we’ve moved into is electronic payments for utilities, for bill payment. And they’re extensions of our capabilities we already have today. If you look at the number of bills, invoices and marketing solicitations that we’ve done in the media and publishing vertical, very applicable to other verticals, so we have a lot of very exciting things going on beyond media to really just leverage the competencies that we think we do very well. And it’s a nice way for us to grow our business outside the media vertical.

Samir Husni: You’ve been with CDS a little over two years; what has been the most pleasant surprise, besides being named CEO, for you?

Debra Janssen: Actually, it’s been the strength of the Hearst Corporation and our private companies, so it’s not as easy to do your due diligence when you join a private company. It’s really been impressive. It’s a very well-run company, very good rigor; they’ve made a lot of smart bets, in terms of diversifying their portfolio, obviously with the outsourcing business that we represent, but they’ve got cable and television; they’re now investing heavily in the healthcare technology space and newspapers; it’s just a fascinating organization and while it’s big in size, it’s very personable, in terms of its approach to working with its business units. So it’s really been pleasant to see and really great as the leader of one of their business units to be a part of the organization. That’s something that I’ve kind of uncovered as I’ve been in the company, because that’s hard to find out before you join.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most frustrating moment?

Debra Janssen: It takes a lot to frustrate me. So they’re haven’t been that many frustrating moments, maybe challenging. One of the challenging parts of our business is we have a lot of customers that are single-title magazines and they just have a whole different challenge, in terms of not only surviving who they are today, but migrating into the digital world. And that’s a challenge for us. But we ride the spectrum of size of clients. We have all the big guys and then we have quite a variety from there down. It’s good work, it’s just challenging because their requirements and needs are very different.

Samir Husni: We talked about the fact that we live in a digital age, but at the same time we’re still making more money from print than digital. Do you think that will change in our lifetime?

Debra Janssen: It’s like I said earlier and I’m a little biased coming out of my 30 years of payments, checks are still written, there are just occasions where that’s just easier for a consumer, or someone doesn’t take a card, that’s less and less, but still 46% of the payments made in the U.S. today are still cash-based. That kind of tells you that the whole world doesn’t tip over to online or digital and there’s something about holding that magazine with the content and the experience you have with it in your hands that clearly consumers still enjoy. It’s like I said about checks; I don’t think they’ll die in my lifetime and I don’t think print magazines will either. They’re there for different audiences and obviously it’s a core part of how we make money, so selfishly we hope it stays strong, but at the same time we need to be cultivating and expanding our digital services and offerings because there will be parts of our audience and customer base that want that. So we really need to ride on both sides.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Debra Janssen: Not a lot. I’ve got a great team and we try to stay very focused so that we’re not lying awake at night. But I think in general, obviously staying a step ahead of your clients, whether that’s technology-build or we’re doing a lot in terms of trying to learn how to use our data in a collaborative way to help our publishers find new subscribers, so I think there’s still work there to be done. And clearly with a 159 million consumers in our database we have a lot of opportunity to help our clients. So it’s really just staying a step ahead of them and helping then to find ways to grow their business.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Parents Latina: Born from the Womb of Data — Reaching Hispanic Millennial Mothers. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Carey Witmer, President – Meredith Parents Network & Enedina Vega, Vice-President/Publisher– Meredith Hispanic Media.

June 30, 2014

“We have a lot of data that shows in most instances print is a very important component to the media mix.” Carey Witmer

Parents Latina Cover Parents Latina, a new English-language magazine focused on serving U.S. Hispanic millennial mothers, one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States, is about to take its place on the newsstands and the powers-that-be behind the new print product are enthusiastic and energetic about consumer reception.

Carey Witmer is President of Meredith Parents Network and Enedina Vega is Vice-President and Publisher, Meredith Hispanic Media and both women are confident the magazine will be a great addition to the Meredith portfolio, so much so that Parents Latina will have a guaranteed rate base of 700,000.

As the most respected brand in the lifestyle category focusing on moms, the Parents brand, along with Meredith Hispanic Media, plan on Parents Latina serving a unique niche of millennial, Hispanic moms across the country.

So sit back and get ready to see why the Parents brand is still going strong today and launching a print product that’s sure to be a success…the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Carey Witmer & Enedina Vega – Parents Latina Magazine.

But first the sound-bites…


On why the Parents brand is launching Parents Latina with a guaranteed rate base of 700,000:
We saw the changing demographic and that really led us to launching what we’re launching. We were seeing what was happening with the language questions we were getting from marketers and what we were observing from our consumers as well.

On the unique selling feature of Parents Latina:
There are some nuances just in terms of how she feels about family, which varies somewhat from the general market. So she does have specific needs that we will be addressing.

On whether they’re looking for a new audience or to just add to the consumer reception they already have:
I would say that we are looking to expand the data base of women that we reach.

On the stumbling blocks that they’ve faced during the preparation of the launch:
The hurdle really is to educate the advertising community and the agencies about the nuances of the Hispanic market because as marketers it’s easy for us to put people into silos and to think of segments as being homogeneous and we know that the Hispanic market is not.

On whether the message is on selling the power of print:
We have done quite a bit of research on Moms and media, so we have a lot of research that shows that this is a market segment that consumes media and it’s really not a question of digital versus print or broadcast; this is a multi-channel information-consuming market segment.

On their most pleasant surprise during this venture:
I like the phone calls; people calling us, that’s hard to come by. And from big companies that matter.

On what keeps Carey Witmer up at night: For me, it’s discovering what the next big thing is that’s going to matter to the consumer and therefore matter to Meredith.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Carey Witmer & Enedina Vega – Parents Latina Magazine…

Samir Husni: Can you tell me about the birth of the idea; what did you do before you decided to have a Parents Latina?

Enedina Vega: We worked on the strategy for almost a year, just looking at what all of the company’s assets were when it came to the Hispanic population across the company’s portfolio. We worked to identify who was in our data base and who we were reaching across digital.

And as a result we’ve found that we are reaching 6.6 million unique viewers monthly who are Latina across the Meredith data base and that we’re reaching these women with content that was both in English and in Spanish. And that’s a pretty significant number.

And then of course, the opportunity that we uncovered with this particular market’s segment: Latina millennial moms in print.

We really worked for a period of time to identify where the pockets and the assets were within the company that we could monetize and take to market in a unique way. And part of that was really focusing on our data base, the 6.6 million that we have in digital and now Parents Latina.

And we looked at a number of different, once we focused in on something in the parenthood space; we looked at many different iterations of what it could be and what we would call it. We had long meetings about what the name would be and then finally we agreed on the Parents name and we did some consumer testing and it just came back so incredibly positive. And we thought it would, we weren’t sure, but we thought that would be the case, so that really led us to where we are today.

Samir Husni: And what is the launch date?

Carey Witmer: The first issue will be out in, hopefully, April, 2015.

Samir Husni: Why now? Why are you launching a 700,000 guaranteed rate base magazine, Parents Latina, in today’s marketplace?

CareyWitmer_8.12Carey Witmer: We believe that there’s a real opportunity here. And Enedina and I and several others have been looking at this opportunity for quite some time. We were thinking about doing something last year, but I’m glad we waited to really understand marketplace. We saw the changing demographic and that really led us to launching what we’re launching. We were seeing what was happening with the language questions we were getting from marketers and what we were observing from our consumers as well. We wanted to put our toe in the water, in terms of an English-oriented magazine for Hispanics. And we examined the categories where we thought we had a lot of credibility and where there was room to play.

And then we began to study what was happening with the second generation Hispanics in that 18 to 30 year old segment, coupled with the fact that we have this incredible, iconic trusted brand with over 90% awareness in the Parents name. It just became really clear that Parents Latina was, we thought, clearly a winner.

Vega, Enedina 8.13_3 Enedina Vega: In spite of the downturn in the economy and the recession from 2008, the Latina market is a very dynamic growing market. So it’s sort of the bright spot for the American economy today, if you will. It’s kind of going counterintuitive, because it is the population segment that’s growing and fielding the middle class.

And one of the other things that we’re seeing, in terms of media consumption is that this consumer base does consume media and she does read magazines.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me what’s going to be the unique selling feature of Parents Latina and what it will offer the Hispanic second generation that they can’t get from any other source?

Carey Witmer: We believe that by and large the English-dominant millennial mom is an individual who primarily is born in the United States and we believe her experience as a bilingual, bi-cultural mom is different from that of other moms. And there really is no publication at this point, not even significantly digital, or broadcast that addresses her uniqueness.

So she is someone who is living her life in two cultures and balancing that, to some degree, in two languages. So there are some unique opportunities to address in what she’s going through.

There are some nuances just in terms of how she feels about family, which varies somewhat from the general market. There are health concerns that face her that are a little different than the general market. So she does have specific needs that we will be addressing.

Samir Husni: Do you think that those 700,000 Hispanic women are adding to the 100 million women data base that Meredith has or they’re already there, getting the other Hispanic magazines that Meredith already publishes? Are you looking for a new audience? Or is this audience already part of your data base?

Carey Witmer: I would say that we are looking to expand the data base of women that we reach, there may be a small degree of duplication, but the opportunity is to expand and reach women who we don’t have as part of our Meredith family.

Samir Husni: What have been some of the stumbling blocks that you have encountered concerning this launch?

Carey Witmer: Well, most people are excited and people who are in the know completely understand the opportunity and are looking for content that is being directed to these millennial moms who are English-preferred, so the reaction has been great.

The hurdle really is to educate the advertising community and the agencies about the nuances of the Hispanic market because as marketers it’s easy for us to put people into silos and to think of segments as being homogeneous and we know that the Hispanic market is not. And it’s really just getting the message out and educating the clients.

Samir Husni: Is part of that message selling them on the power of print? Everybody tells us that we live in a digital age and I agree; we are in a digital age, but what’s the power of a printed magazine in 2015? And how can you sell that?

Carey Witmer: That’s a big question. We have done quite a bit of research on Moms and media, so we have a lot of research that shows that this is a market segment that consumes media and it’s really not a question of digital versus print or broadcast; this is a multi-channel information-consuming market segment. We have a lot of data that shows in most instances print is a very important component to the media mix. And we feel very confident just on the basis of the number of advertisers that we do have across our Parents network print portfolio that there is enough interest and commitment to the medium that makes this viable.

Samir Husni: It seems that we have to prove that print is a viable medium quite often due to the “digital” age, while people are picking up digital without even thinking about a return on their investment. So with that in mind, what is the power of the brand Parents?

Carey Witmer: Well, we have our portfolio, which is a beautiful thing for us. We’ve worked really hard to organize it in such a way that we have something for everyone across all platforms.

We have American baby, which is pregnancy and newborn and the compliment to that is a combination of Ser Padres Espera and Ser Padres Bebé. We have Parents, of course, which is the mega brand. We have Family Fun and that is a different kind of brand, but it’s in the group as well and then Ser Padres and now Parents Latina.

So we have total market, we have in-language, we have the English solution for the English dominant Hispanic and optimally we’ll be able to calibrate the circulation levels of the entire portfolio based on how the population changes over the course of time. We feel like the strategy is really smart.

Enedina Vega: And another thing is that a lot of the research that’s out there now has surprisingly reinforced the fact that the millennial generation is actually embracing magazines as much as previous generations.

Carey Witmer: The recent MRI saw a pretty sizeable uptick in millennial to our reading print magazines. We have some circulation programs that we are doing with the Parents and American Baby brands that are going quite well that we’re excited about.

We think that motherhood is a real entry point for millennials into print; it’s when she needs trusted, branded content for the health and wellbeing of her family. So that’s one of the drivers for her to come to our portfolio.

Samir Husni: Do you think it’s better for the brand Parents to be almost the only player on the marketplace now? Have you benefited from that or how do you handle it when people come up to you and say, “It’s either Parents or nothing?”

Carey Witmer: There are lots of different ways; a lot of Pure Plays that are digital. So there’s a lot of competition, but it’s not just in print. We’re not the only game in town, but we believe we’re the most effective.

It’s interesting too; we’ve had some discussions with various digital websites over the last several years in our space and many of those in the parenthood/mom space, many of those Pure Plays are looking for a print solution because clients are looking for that 360 surround sound and of course we have that.

Samir Husni: When you were talking about all the different brands; it’s as though I’m hearing about all these titles that appear to be adjacencies around Parents, which seems to be the core of the brand and then everything else is surrounding it.

Carey Witmer: This is just really another edition to the group of offerings that we have that does include digital and data base marketing and all of our other capabilities across the company, including video and mobile, so it’s really an invigorated way when it comes to overall parenting content for the Parents network at Meredith.

Samir Husni: Steve Lacy (Meredith CEO) told me at one time that, I think he was referring to Better Homes and Gardens; that only 2% of revenues were coming from digital and 98% from print. Is it the same at Parents?

Carey Witmer: Our digital is more than 2%, I don’t know when he said that, but for Parents.com it’s a big contributor to the overall portfolio, but make no mistake print does the heavy lifting in terms of the revenue generation for this group.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise when you announced the launch of this magazine?

Carey Witmer: I like the phone calls; people calling us, that’s hard to come by. And from big companies that matter.

Samir Husni: Cosmopolitan launched Cosmo Latina and it was a success and they increased the frequency, any chance that you’ll go from quarterly later to something more frequent? Is there a strategic plan? Is quarterly just the beginning?

Carey Witmer: What we do know is that we’re going to calibrate frequency and distribution optimally to what we’re seeing in the consumer marketplace.

Enedina Vega: And with the Meredith model, the consumer drives everything at the end of the day. So we’ll watch that and monitor it and make decisions based on that. We’ve done that with the other brands that you’ve seen us put out over the last few years. We base everything on consumer calibration.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Carey Witmer: For me, it’s discovering what the next big thing is that’s going to matter to the consumer and therefore matter to Meredith. We obviously have to have the right portfolio of products that can engage the consumer in a meaningful way, but it also has to have the proper return on investment for the company as well. We think about that a lot.

Enedina Vega: For me, since I’m focused on the Hispanic space, is the fact that this is a growing, dynamic and changing consumer and demographic population.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted without permission from the author and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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Robyn Peterson Reveals the Secret Sauce that Makes Mashable Thrive and Survive. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

June 20, 2014

“I think the secret sauce for a digital publishing company to survive is to try and reinvent the game.” Robyn Peterson, Chief Technology Officer, Mashable

robyn peterson 2 Tech start-ups and media companies; and never the two shall part, at least, not at Mashable where CTO Robyn Peterson has done some amazing things with the marriage of the duo. After leading the development of the new Mashable.com in 2012, which saw a 100% increase in mobile page views, pages-per-visit and ad engagement, and the development of Velocity, a technology that predicts and measures audience response of content across the web, Robyn is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to digital publishing and how to make it more accountable and successful.

I spoke with Robyn recently during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal where the two of us were keynote speakers at the WoodWing Xperience. Our conversation was about Mashable, the Velocity Platform and digital publishing in general. My main questions related to how to make digital much more than just a click of the mouse and bring engagement and connection to the audience. I even asked him if Mashable is going to follow other digital platforms that discovered print as a new outlet to their digital sites.

So sit back and discover Robyn Peterson’s answers in this lively Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Mashable’s Chief Technology Officer.

But first a Mr. Magazine™ minute with Robyn Peterson, CTO, Mashable on what makes a digital platform survive and thrive in today’s marketplace.

And now the sound-bites…

On why it’s hard for legacy media to achieve and do what some digital-only companies have done in the media world: I think to really excel on the digital side you have to really operate aggressively. You need to be OK with risk and really take some chances. It’s a different mindset.

On any similarities between legendary risk-taking journalism of yesterday and today’s digital entities: I would say there is something in common with companies that risked it all to succeed. And when you’re a digital-only company trying to make it in digital, you need that to survive; you need that success or you go away.

On the DNA that makes up Mashable: I would say the real secret to Mashable is that we listen to our readers as much as we talk to them and we have even from the very beginning.

On how the Velocity Platform works: The Velocity Platform is a platform that predicts the viral potential of a piece of content. It will watch a particular piece of content and listen across social networks and try to get a good figure of how viral a piece of content will become.

On his most challenging moment at Mashable: I would say it was actually developing this Velocity Platform. I’ve been in the media business and text startups before and it was fun to really merge those two pieces of my identity together.

On the secret sauce of Mashable’s digital staying power: I think the secret sauce for a digital publishing company to survive is to try and reinvent the game.

On what keeps him up at night: I would say that one thing we believe strongly in is that you need to make big bets. And in order to really get ahead of market, those big bets have to pay off at some percentage.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Robyn Petrson, Chief Technology Officer, Mashable…

Samir Husni: You’ve been involved with Mashable now for over three years; why do you think it’s so hard for legacy media to achieve and do what digital-only companies have been doing in our media world?

robyn peterson1 Robyn Peterson: I think to really excel on the digital side you have to really operate aggressively. You need to be OK with risk and really take some chances. And when you talk about legacy media, I’d have to assume you’re talking about companies that have been doing what they’ve been doing quite successfully for many years, but it’s been a very similar recipe. And the digital world requires a completely different mindset.

You really need to think about how your brand adapts to a different use case; a use case where your readers don’t come to you or you don’t go to your readers once a month or once a week. Your readers will actually come to you and you want them to come to you on a very regular basis, many times a day is ideal.

To get to that place, you need to rethink who you are. You need to step back to the core of your brand and say: OK, in print I publish this much and this is the use case whether I’m once a month and I want to be on coffee tables and be that flag of identity which helps so many brands or I now want to be the place that everyone goes to or this target market goes to in order to get XY and Z. It’s a different mindset.

Samir Husni: What’s amazing to me is if you look at the early 20th century and all the journalists who started magazines, they were risk takers and when they had an idea for a new magazine they weren’t thinking about the statistical analysis of that product or the money. Whether it was Henry Luce or DeWitt Wallace, they were journalists first and businessmen later. Do you see that there are any similarities between the new digital entities today and the historical others?

Robyn Peterson: I have to profess, first of all, that I’m not an expert on some of the earlier publishing history. But I would say there is something in common with companies that risked it all to succeed. And when you’re a digital-only company trying to make it in digital, you need that to survive; you need that success or you go away. And a lot of us like our jobs and don’t want them to go away.

When you’re in an existing business and trying to branch into a new business, it’s hard to have that level of aggression, for lack of a better word, the ability to take a risk. And in a new start-up, you need to take that risk in order to survive. And there’s no safety in staying still or in being conservative.

Samir Husni: Can you define the DNA of Mashable?

Robyn Peterson: I would say the real secret to Mashable is that we listen to our readers as much as we talk to them and we have even from the very beginning. When Peter Cashmore first started the blog, he was constantly on social networks like Twitter listening to how people were reacting to what he was saying or what other people were saying that they wanted to see written about. So he was always listening.

And as Mashable grew from a blog to a media company over the last few years, I would say that we’ve just accelerated that and continued to listen to what our readers are saying. And by doing that we’ve managed to build an audience of people that like to share. They share with us and more importantly than that, they share with each other and with new people who haven’t heard about us.

So I guess if you sort of dial back to what is Mashable’s DNA; it’s listening and talking to a connected audience.

Samir Husni: So you don’t think in those early stages that Pete Cashmore (Mashable founder and CEO) was sitting around looking at statistical analyses and seeing how much money he was going to make developing this blog?

Robyn Peterson: No, not then, although we are now. We run a lot of data stats out of Mashable. Within my engineering team I have an artificial intelligence team and a data science team, both of which are working on our Velocity Platform.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit more about the Velocity Platform and how you’re actually able to monetize digital?

Robyn Peterson: Sure. The Velocity Platform is a platform that predicts the viral potential of a piece of content. It will watch a particular piece of content and listen across social networks and try to get a good figure of how viral a piece of content will become. We’ll take all the data we get from listening and plug it through statistical models and make predictions some number of hours out.

And what that helps us to do is figure out which content is winners and the ones that we’ll want to promote more highly and aggressively. We’ve used the Velocity System internally for about a year.

robyn peterson 2 Internally, we use it for a couple of different things. First, we’ve created an intelligence dashboard that our editorial team can look at and at any given second they can find out either the viral potential of our content, content that we’ve published, or the viral potential of content that’s out there at large on the Internet. And then that way they can make a decision on themes they want to cover.

Mashable.com itself has a large component of Velocity built into it. The System makes recommendations and moves content around dynamically; makes recommendations to editors who manage our home page and the editors can then decide which pieces of content to highlight in top positions and the algorithm can manage the rest of the page. The algorithm can manage the right side of articles and what comes below articles. And once again, it helps us promote the stories that are our winners.

We also use the Velocity Platform to inform our marketing team as to which pieces of content should be discussed on social networks, Facebook for instance. With social networks and a story, timing is critical. So knowing which piece of content to promote and exactly when to promote it is something that’s really critical knowledge for our marketing team and that’s what Velocity internally provides to them.

With this announcement that we’re partnering with 360i and giving them exclusive access to Velocity, we’re going to start exploring how Velocity can help an agency, especially an agency that’s so good at social already for the brands that are in their portfolio, from Oreo to HBO and many others; it’ll be interesting to see how our use cases apply to 360i and we’ll see how that evolves as our partnership goes on.

Samir Husni: As you were talking about this I was thinking why can’t the print magazine business have some kind of Velocity Platform to predict things about their covers? Like which ones will go viral? In this digital age; is it possible for print to learn from some of these techniques?

Robyn Peterson: It’s an interesting idea. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it before. If there’s data to collect, there’s velocity to be observed and predicted. If those components are there then there’s a recipe for print as well.

Samir Husni: What has been the most challenging moment in your career with Mashable?

Robyn Peterson: That’s a really good question. I would say it was actually developing this Velocity Platform. I’ve been in the media business and text startups before and it was fun to really merge those two pieces of my identity together, to try and evolve into this media company/technology company hybrid that Mashable is today.

And I think just the evolution of that created some challenges, but of course a lot of positives too. Then with respect to Velocity itself being the result of that sort of evolution, or one of the results, we didn’t know what we built with Velocity would be possible. We thought it would be in our heart of hearts. We thought we could predict, but we weren’t a 100% sure it would be as good as it is, let’s put it that way.

We spent some time developing out a proof of concept and got it out there and sure enough it actually worked and that was a pretty thrilling moment.

Samir Husni: And was that the most pleasant moment in your job?

Robyn Peterson: That was. It was a very fun moment, although we have a lot of exciting stuff in store for the next few years. I hope we beat that.

Samir Husni: Is there a recipe that can be duplicated from Mashable? We have some out there like Huffington Post, Media Post and others; is there some kind of secret ingredient that goes into all of these companies that are surviving? I think the death rate on digital is even higher than print, in terms of how many companies have started and are now gone. What’s the secret sauce?

Robyn Peterson: I think the secret sauce for a digital publishing company to survive is to try and reinvent the game. So it’s not to be exactly how the print media companies are bringing publishing to the web, but to actually step back and say: How should I create this digital business; what’s at the heart of my brand? A – what is my brand? B – what kind of operating model fits my brand? And then to execute on that plan.

For us at Mashable, we’re such a social company that if we were to follow classic media rules we wouldn’t have tried to develop a lot of product expertise in house, we wouldn’t have tried to build out an artificial intelligence team and a data science team and all those sorts of things to build platforms that listen and predict social behavior.

We stepped back and kind of flushed all the old media history out of our minds and asked: How can we do this differently? If we’re starting right now from scratch, and again that’s important for any company, to try and reinvent itself and we did that, I believe, at Mashable a couple years back, we feel like we’re a new company. How should we actually attack this problem and come to a solution? For us the thought was let’s build this technical expertise, this product expertise in house and A – not leave all the fun to the tech startups, but B – create something that’s completely differentiated and although it doesn’t fit nicely into this is just a media company or this is just a tech company, it’s a hybrid between those two, but it’s really shown great results for us.

Samir Husni: Can you imagine a mix between innovation and renovation or it must be all innovation?

Robyn Peterson: I guess to some degree innovation brings renovation, doesn’t it? If you’re trying to do something new, you have to mold the existing organization to fit that. So I think one brings the other.

Samir Husni: Any other words of wisdom?

Robyn Peterson: For media companies in particular, think about how you’re utilizing your technology team. In too many media companies, the technology team have been relegated to simply being assigned tickets and executing on those tickets and not really having a seat at the table to decide the strategy of the company.

And that’s where new media companies or digital-only media companies have a leg-up on some of the existing companies that made it to their prime during the print era; not that we’re out of the print era by any means. I think digital-only companies recognize the importance of technology and digital product and things that go along with that like user experience. And it’s so critical to not only keep that in mind, but to have the folks who actually run those groups at the table deciding where to go next. Because when you’re in a world dominated by engineering and technology, you need an engineer and a technologist at the table when you’re deciding where to go.

Samir Husni: Do you think there will ever be a print magazine from Mashable?

Robyn Peterson: I’m not sure. We have no imminent plans to launch one, I’ll say that.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Robyn Peterson: Too much caffeine. It’s a great question and I would say that one thing we believe strongly in is that you need to make big bets. And in order to really get ahead of market, those big bets have to pay off at some percentage. And I guess when you’re making big bets; sometimes you can lose some sleep over them. But when they pay off it’s fun. And I feel like a lot of our big bets have been paying off lately.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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Teen Vogue: More Vogue and Less Teen. VP & Publisher Jason Wagenheim Shares With Mr. Magazine™ The Secrets Behind The Magazine’s Survival. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

June 18, 2014

“There’s something people like, whether you’re fifteen or fifty, about the printed product. You don’t have to charge it, no worries if it gets sandy or wet at the beach; you don’t panic if you leave it on a plane and that’s not changing. I don’t think digital will ever fully replace that.” Jason Wagenheim

JasonHeadshotJason Wagenheim has been Publisher of Teen Vogue for just over two years and has already made a tremendous impact on the magazine. In 2012, he transformed the Back-to-School shopping experience with the debut of a new national shopping holiday, Teen Vogue Back-to-School Saturday that has become a unique experience for students during that busy time of the year. He calls it Teen Vogue’s Super Bowl.

An apt description for an idea from the man who has seen record-breaking ad page growth, market share wins and new business and shows no signs of slowing down. In 2013, Teen Vogue marked the largest August and September issues in 5 years and Teen saw +9% in ad pages through the September issue.

I spoke with Jason recently about his perspective on why Teen Vogue withstood the test of time and economics when others, like CosmoGirl and Ellegirl weren’t quite so fortunate. His answers are spot on and very informative.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vice-President and Publisher of Teen Vogue – Jason Wagenheim.

But first the sound-bites…

On his secret for why Teen Vogue outlasted most of the other teen titles:
Overall we survived because we maintained our relevancy. When we launched this magazine 11 years ago, it was 2003, we had this perception that there wasn’t a young fashion magazine out there.

On the idea that teens don’t read print anymore, only digital: Fashion and beauty magazines still work really well in print, even if you’re fifteen-years-old or fifty; our category is thriving from an audience perspective.

On whether he anticipates any changes during the next three years for the magazine:
A lot is changing and it’s changing very quickly. I think our biggest opportunity is to continue to evolve like we have the last 11 years.

On his biggest stumbling block since coming to Teen Vogue:
The hardest thing in general has been this economic climate that we’re in. There’s a lot less out there and a lot more people going for it.

On whether he believes the brand can exist without print:
I don’t think so. I think the mix of our audience and how they come to Teen Vogue in five years might look totally different.

On his most pleasant surprise:
I think it’s the relationship we have with our audience. Our median age is actually twenty-four-years-old and they’ve grown up with us.

On adding events to the Teen Vogue mix, such as Back to School Saturday:
We simply decided and declared that we were going to have August 11, 2012 to be the first-ever back to school Saturday. That was it. We just went out and told everybody we were putting all of our resources behind this day.

On what keeps him up at night:
I do lie in bed thinking about what are the things that I’m going to do that next day or during that week that is going to get me business right now, keep me healthy and profitable and contributing to Condè Nast.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Jason Wagenheim, Vice-President and Publisher, Teen Vogue…

Samir Husni: Ten or fifteen years ago, teen magazines were rediscovered. Titles such as Teen People, Cosmo Girl, Elle Girl and Teen Vogue to name a few; however your magazine ended up being the sole survivor from the group. What’s your secret? What kept Teen Vogue going when the other magazines, including Teen People that had an even larger circulation, all vanished?

Picture 17 Jason Wagenheim: Overall we survived because we maintained our relevancy. When we launched this magazine 11 years ago, it was 2003, we had this perception that there wasn’t a young fashion magazine out there. Not a teen magazine, but a magazine that was the youngest fashion title. And that’s what we set out to do and 11 years later that’s what we’ve really accomplished. We’ve owned this position as being the youngest fashion magazine and not just being teen.

We have stellar edit, a killer product that Amy Astley puts out every month and on top of that we’ve really been able to take advantage of being only 11 years old and growing up in this age of digital, social and now mobile and capitalizing on that without having to adapt. We’ve grown up at the same time that our readers have with all of this new technology.

So we’re using those other platforms to drive relevancy back to our print product and it’s working really well.

Samir Husni: I assume since you are still a print product that you didn’t subscribe to the same mantra those other three teen magazines did: that teens don’t read anymore, they are always on their digital devices so let’s fold the print and stick to digital?

Jason Wagenheim: Not at all. And I think a lot of it has to do with our category in particular. Fashion and beauty magazines still work really well in print, even if you’re fifteen-years-old or fifty; our category is thriving from an audience perspective.

We were up 39 percent in total audience with the Fall MRI numbers. We just posted a six percent gain in total audience with the Spring release this week and teens are reading magazines in the fashion and beauty space. We’re doing really well.

I think that every time somebody texts, posts or tweets a story from our product and our brand, that’s a new audience development opportunity for us that we didn’t have ten years ago. So we’ve really tried to capitalize on that.

I think also that there’s something about print that’s very tangible in the fashion and beauty space; it’s very engaging, big, pretty pictures of clothes and beauty products and great looks still sell product. And marketers know that and audiences know that.

Samir Husni: You were one of the early adapters in the United States for the Teen Vogue size, which was originated by Glamour in the U.K. and now is all over. Is this still working? You are still unique in that space.

Jason Wagenheim: Yes, coincidentally it’s the same size as the iPad seven or eight years later. The format does work, girls love it, they can carry it around like a textbook or it fits in their backpack or nicely in their purse. We’ve always had this size long before the iPad and it continues to work really well for us.

Samir Husni: If we’re having this conversation three years from now; do you think anything will have changed?

Jason Wagenheim: A lot is changing and it’s changing very quickly. I think our biggest opportunity is to continue to evolve like we have the last 11 years. We have to constantly be challenging ourselves to think outside of our core product in print and invent new innovate with social, mobile and video products that we can connect our audiences and marketers together like we have.

We have a really big social footprint. We’ve continued to double-down on our efforts to grow our social strategy. We’re growing Teen Vogue.com, we’ve doubled our traffic in the last year, and we’ve also doubled revenue. We’ve launched video, really great video product and I think that you’ll see all of these things become part of continuing to be a factor in this Teen Vogue eco-system that’s rooted in print, but lives in all these other places.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the relevancy of the Mother Ship – Vogue Magazine – and its position in the marketplace?

Jason Wagenheim: I think it’s the most important fashion magazine that’s ever been and is the total arbiter of fashion magazines. It’s the category leader; there’s no doubt. They will continue to have that position and they also evolve and live in these other places like social, mobile and digital. They launched an Instagram commerce strategy this week that’s gotten a lot of nice pickup for them.

That is the game right now, to constantly be reinventing yourself. And those brands that do will survive.

Samir Husni: When you were offered the job of publisher of Teen Vogue a little over two years ago, what was the first thing that came to your mind?

Picture 18 Jason Wagenheim: I was coming from Glamour and I was talking about what a great opportunity it was with Anna Wintour and Amy Astley and we’d been talking about how much untapped opportunity there was with Teen Vogue and how much potential it had to grow, because the combination of brand DNA and the audience was a really powerful one. Teens and millennials were and are driving the whole conversation. And a lot of it was just really around the opportunity to take this thing to new levels.

Samir Husni: What has been your biggest stumbling block since taking the job?

Jason Wagenheim: The hardest thing in general has been this economic climate that we’re in. There’s a lot less out there and a lot more people going for it. Our competitors now aren’t just other teen or fashion magazines, we’re competing with a lot of the Pure-Play digital sites, broadcast networks, radio, outdoor and a lot of new start-ups that are out there vying for advertising dollars and it’s hard to sort through what’s really good and what’s going to work in the long term.

Marketers are enamored of a lot of the new stuff out there, so our biggest challenge has just been maintaining our share. And we’re doing it. We’ve had nice growth in our digital and social and mobile revenue. And we’re holding onto print as best we can.

Samir Husni: Do you think the brand can exist without print?

Jason Wagenheim: I don’t think so. I think the mix of our audience and how they come to Teen Vogue in five years might look totally different. My challenge now in the near-term is protecting my core product in print which still makes up a lot of our revenue, overwhelmingly so and growing and scaling those other parts of my business. I’d like to see more of a balance and when that happens I think the print product will always be the root of our overall business.

There’s something people like, whether you’re fifteen or fifty, about the printed product. You don’t have to charge it, no worries if it gets sandy or wet at the beach; you don’t panic if you leave it on a plane and that’s not changing. I don’t think digital will ever fully replace that.

Samir Husni: What has been your most pleasant surprise so far in your job at Teen Vogue?

Jason Wagenheim: I think it’s the relationship we have with our audience. Our median age is actually twenty-four-years-old and they’ve grown up with us. We’ve actually aged-up over the last few years. And our audience has aged-up right along with us. They’re young, smart and so credible; they have more influence than any generation prior has ever had with what they have in the palms of their hands, their devices in particular.

And their relationship with Teen Vogue is so strong and so credible; it’s very different than a woman in her thirties or forties who has sort of been-there-done-that-seen-that a million times. They still have hope in their eyes and believe that they can take over the world and that’s a really powerful place for us to be in, being they’re big sister and mentor as they’re growing up.

Samir Husni: With the median age as twenty-four; when do you think they grow up from that teen mentality and say, “OK, now I can move to Vogue.”

Jason Wagenheim: I think that they’re starting to read Vogue certainly earlier too; it’s a very sophisticated fashion customer that both of our brands have. What Teen Vogue has done really well is mix the highs and lows. A woman’s first experience with luxury is not a $15,000 couture dress; it is a $300 pair of sunglasses from Gucci or a $500 pair of shoes from Prada or maybe it’s even a lipstick for $30 from Chanel. That’s how they enter luxury.

What Teen Vogue does great and what separates us is we mix high and low really well together. It’s OK to wear H&M, Gap and the Topshop and mix it with that Chanel lipstick and that Gucci pair of sunglasses. That’s always been our secret sauce and that has been what has separated us from many of the other fashion brands.

It’s also what’s been able to keep us healthy and relevant because it’s very real and how young women shop.

Samir Husni: When you look at the marketplace now, and the only other teen magazine still out there is Seventeen; do you use that as a competitive set or you don’t really consider them a competitor to Teen Vogue?

Jason Wagenheim: No. There are only a very small handful of mass beauty advertisers where we are really competing for the same business. If you look at our mix of business, we have a much stronger mix of retail, fashion, jewelry and accessories advertising. We’ve also done a great job of growing some of our non-endemic businesses and the stuff we’re competing for is really coming from the person targeting the fifteen and sixteen-year-old from a mass market perspective.

The good news is there are only two of us in town when it comes to that particular part of our business, so we both fare pretty well with those brands.

Samir Husni: You’re adding events to the mix; can you tell me a little bit more about this?

Jason Wagenheim: This is a great example of when I talked about evolution. We saw that the back-to-school space in 2012 when I started here was wide open for an experiential event-based holiday, similar to a Black Friday or even a Fashion’s Night Out, which the Mother Ship Vogue created several years ago. There was no rallying moment or galvanizing moment, I should say, for teens and college-aged kids to shop and for going back to school.

So we created a day. We simply decided and declared that we were going to have August 11, 2012 to be the first-ever back to school Saturday. That was it. We just went out and told everybody we were putting all of our resources behind this day. And if you put promotions and offers and gifts-toward-purchases and you had great social and digital strategy against this day, together we will get people shopping. And we did. In the first year we had about 60 malls participate and in the second year we had 130, this year we’ll have more than 100 through our relationship with Simon Malls and we’ve expanded it to be four Saturdays starting August 9th and rolling through the Labor Day weekend. Forty-five different brands participate in the fashion and beauty space. And it’s really our moment that we very uniquely own. There’s no other brand that can create such a galvanizing moment during the back to school season. It’s our Super Bowl.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give a newcomer to the field?

Jason Wagenheim: Be extremely well-rounded. First and foremost, no matter what side of the business you’re on, either the business or the edit side, there’s something happening where kids are coming out of school now and they’re not paying enough attention to how they write and communicate in business. And I would tell them to really hone their communication skills. And work hard at that.

The second thing is to be really well-rounded and understand that we do not live in a myopic world where it’s just magazines or just TV or just radio; you have to know everything. When you’re producing content now you have to think about the implications across every different platform and know that what you do in print is very different than what you do on the web, or on social, but how are you going to tell that same story to those different platforms in the most relevant way.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jason Wagenheim: I do lie in bed thinking about what are the things that I’m going to do that next day or during that week that is going to get me business right now, keep me healthy and profitable and contributing to Condè Nast, but also what are the things that I should be doing this week that will keep me evolving so that in three years’ time my business continues to be as healthy as it is now. And that’s what I think about. I don’t think you can look beyond three years, but there are things we are doing and putting into place, strategies that take years to implement and recognize the fruits of and those are the things that keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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Single Copies At the Check-Out and the Mid-Level Publishers: A Solution to a Major Dilemma. A Mr. Magazine™ MagNet Exclusive

June 16, 2014

Picture 10 In my continuous exclusive analysis with MagNet’s Luke Magerko, this week we focus on checkout acquisition for the mid-level publisher. Last time, we discussed AAM sales results and checkout disparity and received a thoughtful response from an industry veteran and friend to this blog. This is an excerpt of the response:

“I believe you have seriously underestimated what’s required to play at the checkout. Very few titles have the financial where-with-all to purchase checkout racks (where upfront money is a requirement) or support the needed merchandising services. The checkout is only for magazines with broad consumer appeal and nearly always with a female orientation. Relatively low cover pricing is also required to feed the impulse nature of the purchase and help support multiple purchases”

LUKE, THESE ARE ALL REASONABLE CONCERNS. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THIS?

Let’s walk through each point of the article and address them one at a time.

READER SAYS: “Very few titles have the financial where-with-all to purchase checkout racks (where upfront money is a requirement) or support the needed merchandising services.”

This was true many years ago when smaller publishers represented only one or two titles, retail prices were low, and existing checkout titles were highly competitive (selling at high efficiencies).

checkout1 MagNet identified the top 25 publishers at newsstand based on retail sales. These publishers represent 75 percent of all retail sales however but many of these publishers have opportunities to expand their presence further.

Specifically, six of these 25 publishers have little to no checkout exposure. These publishers produce high-priced, high-quality products that generate significant profit for all parts of the supply chain but are underrepresented at checkout.

SO WHY CAN THESE PUBLISHERS NOT MAKE IT TO CHECKOUT?
These publishers have been told they could not afford checkout space but also there are no checkout pockets available. Existing checkout publishers have an advantage as they own the space and defend it though such programs as Pay-to-Stay.

READER SAYS: “The checkout is only for magazines with broad consumer appeal and nearly always with a female orientation.”

At the MPA Retail Conference held last week, Steve French of the Natural Marketing Institute indicated nearly 30% of all shoppers are male*. The purely female-driven shopping experience is changing and the publishing industry must catch up.

cosmowal We now live in a time where “broad consumer appeal” is not an efficient use of space. The newsstand needs micro-marketed checkouts at the store level, not just a broad coalition of fifty magazines displayed at every store in the United States. We will discuss this micro-marketing at a later date.

READER SAYS: “Relatively low cover pricing is also required to feed the impulse nature of the purchase and help support multiple purchases”

People Magazine now retails at $4.99 and the national weighted cover price is close to $6.00. Time Inc, Meredith and some other publishers have made an extraordinary profit at checkout producing higher-priced, niche titles.

SO HOW DO THESE MID-LEVEL PUBLISHERS ACQUIRE CHECKOUT AND WHAT DO SMALLER NICHE TITLE DO TO JOIN IN?
Publishers but publishers of multiple titles can afford checkout space and should “pack” a checkout pocket like larger publishers; that is rotate as many releases through the checkout pocket as possible.

BUT WON’T ROTATING TITLES THROUGH A CHECKOUT REDUCE ON SALE TIME IN STORE?
Yes, but the consensus from larger publishers is this is acceptable. Here’s why: this is an example of scanned unit sales by week for a top-200 monthly title. Next to the sales, we added four labels using the terms created by the renowned statistician Frank Bass in 1969**.

Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 3.23.50 PM

A consumer makes multiple shopping visits a week so we conclude the consumer will have seen a monthly magazine multiple times in in one month. At some point, the consumer will ignore the issue as they have purchased it (“early adopters”) or decided not to purchase it weeks earlier. By week four, sales drop dramatically when “laggards” finally purchase the product.

Let’s look what would happen if this publisher added five additional issues to the checkout rotation, reducing on-sale time from four weeks to three weeks.

Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 3.25.25 PM

New issues will reengage the early adopters and increase sales in what was week four of the previous issue. This example suggests that week four sales increases from 625 (laggards in chart #1) to 2,200. In this example, that works out to a 252 percent sales increase for the week.

SO AN INDIVIDUAL ISSUE MAY LOSE SALES BUT OVERALL THE SALES INCREASE?
Yes, the publisher loses approximately 8 percent of issue sales but will increase overall sales by 31 percent.

WHICH TITLES AND HOW MANY SHOULD ROTATE THROUGH A CHECKOUT POCKET?
I defer to the publisher on which titles to rotate but the publisher must select their rotation schedule using the same scan data I used above.

IS THERE ANY WAY TO MAKE THIS WORK FOR A SMALLER PUBLISHER?
Yes, we will discuss how a smaller publisher could get into checkout but it is more complicated than a short blurb here.

IF YOU WERE ONE OF THESE POWERFUL BUT UNDERREPRESENTED PUBLISHERS, WHAT WOULD BE THE NEXT STEPS?
• Analyze the data. Make a list of profitable, impactful accounts that might be worthy of pursuit.
• Create a rotation schedule of titles that make sense for these chains.
• Create a P/L on a checkout pocket. Again, please contact MagNet to help with this.
• Present this plan to wholesalers representing these chains and determine when the next line review is scheduled.
• Prepare to meet with the retailer if at all possible.

THANK YOU LUKE FOR THE RECOMMENDATIONS AND THANK YOU READER THE COMMENTS. WE HOPE WE ADDRESSED YOUR POINTS. WE ALWAYS LOOK FOR READER RESPONSE AS IT HELPS US CLARIFY CONTENTIOUS POINTS BUT ALSO LEADS TO A BETTER CONVERSATION. THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING RAPIDLY, PLEASE JOIN US IN MAKING IT A STRONGER!

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* Steve French and Natural Marketing Institute can be found at http://www.nmisolutions.com/

** Frank Bass is the author of the Bass Diffusion Model which presents a rationale how current adopters and potential adopters of a new product interact.
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© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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Greg Sullivan and AFAR Magazine: Five Years of Going Against The Odds And Making It In The Print Business – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Co-Founder And CEO – Afar Media.

June 13, 2014

“Print is coming back. It has credibility and it’s deeper; it just has so many attributes to it that the digital world lacks.” Greg Sullivan

BW Passionate, caring and extremely open about what it takes to keep a travel magazine growing and sincerely true to its mission and brand; Greg Sullivan – Co-Founder and CEO, Afar Media – talks about the wild and challenging ride of Afar Magazine over the last five years and how “far” (pun intended) they’ve come.

From the ink on paper magazine to the nonprofit foundation, Learning AFAR, which provides scholarships to lower-income high school students to go on life changing trips and another division, AFAR Experiences, that puts on travel events; the man and his mission stays focused on what’s important to himself and his vision: making travel make a positive difference in people’s lives.

No matter where you’d like to go in your mind’s eye, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Greg Sullivan should be able to take you there – so pull up your favorite chair, grab your drink of choice and get ready to go Afar as you enjoy Mr. Magazine™ and Greg Sullivan’s animated and passionate conversation…

But first the sound-bites:

On the five year journey of Afar Magazine: Well, it has been a wild ride. It’s been fun and it’s definitely been challenging. In particular, those first couple of years were tough.

On his most pleasant surprise over the last five years: There have been a couple of pleasant surprises. One was the receptivity that Afar had, just in general. There was certainly some degree of skepticism, but there was also a lot of wow, this is great, how can I help and we love not only the fact that you’re doing it, but we love what you’re doing.

On his biggest stumbling block: The biggest stumbling block was just breaking through the whole credibility thing.

On whether having no magazine experience was an advantage or a disadvantage to him: Both. If I’d had the experience, in my opinion, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

On how the non-profit Foundation and the program Learning AFAR is going: We’ve sent over 300 students, basically we’ve been sending 50 or 60 kids every summer from all over to places like Peru, Cambodia, China and Mexico; just amazing trips and these kids are coming back and they have you in tears as they tell you about the effects these trips have on them.

On the advice he would give to someone starting a new magazine today: Well, it’s not for the faint of heart. First of all, it takes cash. And it takes a lot of work.

On what role he believes print plays in today’s digital world: Print is coming back. Three years ago, people didn’t even like to talk about print and now you’re seeing more and more people going to print again.

On what keeps him up at night: What I think about in the middle of the night is execution issues; how are we delivering on all of our promises every day.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Greg Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO, Afar Media…

Samir Husni: Afar is still going strong after five years; tell me about this five year journey from that launch party where I first met you in August 2009, when you were just beginning a magazine during one of the worst economic times in the industry, until today.

AFE0614_COVER_RGB Greg Sullivan: Well, it has been a wild ride. It’s been fun and it’s definitely been challenging. In particular, those first couple of years were tough. You know, even in the best of times, it’s tough for magazines to break out from the crowd and make it economically. But during that time I think it was especially challenging with lots of doubting about print and magazines.

Yet, we’re making money this year. Our circulation has gone up fivefold, and I can’t even tell you just how much our revenue has increased, but yes, it’s been a very gratifying and exciting ride and I’m really pleased.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant surprise during this five year journey?

Greg Sullivan: There have been a couple of pleasant surprises. One was the receptivity that Afar had, just in general. There was certainly some degree of skepticism, but there was also a lot of wow, this is great, how can I help and we love not only the fact that you’re doing it, but we love what you’re doing.

It was a little about what the magazine was doing, of course and that’s the fact that we try and help people have deeper, richer, more authentic travel experiences and it comes through a little that the passion we have is real and people have really rallied to that and said that they love it and want to participate in it. Readers, advertisers and industry people have all been jumping on and have been very supportive and that’s been the most gratifying thing.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to overcome?

Greg Sullivan: The biggest stumbling block was just breaking through the whole credibility thing. You know it’s back to the question: are you going to make it, or are you just this oddity and are you going to be a real and successful business?

And like I said, even in the best of times, lots of magazines failed. In this environment, people were asking were we really going to make it; so it was getting by those questions of whether we were going to make it or not, I would say, was probably the biggest hurdle.

Samir Husni: I remember at that launch party five years ago and it was almost a consensus that people were giving you six months, maybe three to six issues and you would be out of business. Having said that; you came to this industry with no magazine background, was that an advantage or a disadvantage to you?

Greg Sullivan: Both. If I’d had the experience, in my opinion, I probably wouldn’t have done it. We brought freshness and a competence with a we-can-do-this attitude that showed an outsider’s point of view really helped. But yet, there’s a lot of reality to everyday business and of course we brought in a lot of pros to help us, from our editor to our publisher, people who have a lot of experience and that made up for the lack of experience on my part with their great industry connections and knowledge.

Samir Husni: Did you expect to spend as much money as you did? I remember, and please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I remember you told me that you budgeted something like $20 million to spend on this; is the $20 million gone?

Greg Sullivan: That’s about right. But we’re still in good shape.

Samir Husni: And now five years later, you’ve been in the news again in the last month or so about native advertising and the deals that you’ve made with naming the hotels; do you think that will impact in any way the credibility that you’ve established over this last five years with the magazine?

Greg Sullivan: No, we won’t let it. What we’re doing in the hotels category is we’re recommending great hotels, some of which pay for support. You don’t put this kind of money or this kind of investment without always being very true to the brand. You’re not going to do things just for short-term profit and that’s always been our approach and so we’re not going to do anything that’s going to confuse people in terms of what we’re about and we’re not going to put our name somewhere that we think is going to not be appropriate. So I’m not at all worried about that.

Samir Husni: And you were on a mission; I remember the first time I met you, you were telling me the experiential aspect of travel, where you decide one day to buy a ticket for Buenos Aires, hire a cab once there and have it take you to some hotel without any planning; has experiential travel evolved at all and are you still going on those wild trips or are you planning a bit more?

AF0514_Cover_CMYK-1 Greg Sullivan: Well, even then I told you there are a lot of different ways to do experiential travel. I would do them on trips and I would also do them on what I call deep dives where I would go somewhere and I would study or take art classes; I actually studied philosophy at Cambridge and I took eco trips in Borneo and we took spontaneous trips.

So there’s various ways to get beneath the surface and try to experience the distinctive parts of a place and I guess that I’m still doing that; however I don’t do it as much or for as long before I started the business.

You know fortunately and unfortunately the business has caused a lot of attention for me, but I’m also able to do deep dives so much easier. We have connections all over the world now and Afar gets me through doors that before I couldn’t even get beneath the surface of so quickly by just saying, “Hey, I’m Greg from Afar.”

And I guess the thing to me is experiential travel has become more and more of a thing. When we were first talking about it the consensus was, isn’t that just for backpackers, and now it has just become more and more accepted and part of the vernacular.

When we launched, hotels said we don’t want to talk about what’s going on outside our four walls and now they’re widely accepting of being a part of the local community and helping people have experiences outside of their properties.

And by the way, that goes for all kinds of businesses, not just hotels. Car companies are talking about experiences, so it has become much more of the mainstream in some sense.

Samir Husni: For you, it seems as though you’ve been on a mission, not just to publish a magazine. You had the Foundation idea, where you wanted to take high school kids overseas who had never gone; how has that multiple mission worked?

Greg Sullivan: When we started the magazine in 2009, at the same time we started our non-profit. It’s all the same heart; it’s about travel that makes a difference in people’s lives and that’s what we believe in. And if you really believe in that, you want to get younger people or people who would never be able to afford traveling and take them and you know it will change their lives and their communities.

And we’ve sent over 300 students, basically we’ve been sending 50 or 60 kids every summer from all over to places like Peru, Cambodia, China and Mexico; just amazing trips and these kids are coming back and they have you in tears as they tell you about the effects these trips have on them. And that program is really beginning to take off too as we’re beginning to grow and get our message out.

We just received a donation last week, our biggest donation yet, over $400,000, toward Learning Afar, which will be for another 40 kids. And what we want to do now is not only talk to the students who are making the trip, we’re going to try and start spreading that message by doing assemblies in the schools and getting everybody there to start thinking about travel, even if they don’t get to make these trips. Expanding their horizons and their perspective will broaden the possibilities in their lives.

Samir Husni: I can hear in your voice that sense of satisfaction; do you feel that now you’re on the right track and ten years from now you and I will be talking about the fifteenth anniversary of Afar and the Foundation and the success of the trips?

Greg Sullivan: Absolutely. And you’re right; I do have a passion and a determination in my voice that’s probably the same tone you heard five years ago. What you hear a little bit different now is confidence, a little bit more experience. We’ve reached profitability and we’re on this great path. This is like the 4th business I’ve started and this one is definitely the one I have the most passion for and hopefully it will be the last one I start.

And it’s interesting being an entrepreneur. I always talk to people about having a vision and you also have the reality and keeping those two in sync is always interesting and it can be difficult. Some people are very good at vision and some at reality and it’s hard to find people who can do both and keep them in sync. And that was really hard five years ago.

But today the reality is so much closer to the vision that we have, it’s easier and more and more people get it and it’s more and more believable.

Samir Husni: With the five years of experience in your back pocket and the other three businesses that you’ve started; what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who came to you with an idea for a new magazine?

Greg Sullivan: Well, it’s not for the faint of heart. First of all, it takes cash. And it takes a lot of work. You need to have both of those and you need to bring in some people to help you. I’ve been very fortunate to attract an amazing team that has really helped to make this all happen.

But I totally believe it’s a great way; I would not have wanted to try and build our company as an all-digital company. I don’t think we would be here today.

It takes a much bigger investment than just trying to start being a blogger on the web or something. Just don’t underestimate the financial and time commitment that it’s going to take would be my best advice.

Samir Husni: One of the points that you mentioned, and I remember when I first met you five years ago, you were focusing on print first, then the web, but you just said you don’t believe you would have been as big of a success as an all-digital entity. What role do you think print still plays today in this digital age?

Greg Sullivan: Print is coming back. Three years ago, people didn’t even like to talk about print and now you’re seeing more and more people going to print again. And they just see the value and the break out from the clutter. It’s also a tactile and a permanent thing. It has credibility and it’s deeper; it just has so many attributes to it that the digital world lacks.

In reach, we’re bigger digitally than we are in print, but that would have never happened without our print component.

Samir Husni: Are you making more money from digital now than print?

Greg Sullivan: The revenues are not bigger, it’s probably a little bit more profitable, but they’re both profitable.

Samir Husni: Can you imagine Afar existing without the print edition?

Greg Sullivan: No.

Samir Husni: And feel free not to answer this question, but have you gotten any money back from your $20 million yet?

Greg Sullivan: Yes.

Samir Husni: And when do you think you’ll break even or recoup that money?

Greg Sullivan: That’s harder to say. That depends so much on what else we get into. You can tell by our approach, we’re introducing new things all the time. There are always new opportunities, so that’s hard to say.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Greg Sullivan: I go back to the vision and the execution thing. What I think about in the middle of the night is execution issues; how are we delivering on all of our promises every day. Which I shouldn’t be worrying about, but that’s a part of me that is a reality. It’s like each of our things are always trying to get executed and I wake up once in a while and ask myself, “Wow! Is that program really delivering what I want it to?”

Maybe not a classic answer, but that’s the honest truth.

Samir Husni: Thank you.
© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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Ellen Levine: The Launch Queen of Successful Magazines. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Hearst Magazines’ Editorial Director

June 11, 2014

“I believe that you have to be the reader. You can’t try and force the reader to be you. So you have to give them what they want and understand it emotionally, understand the voice and the need.” Ellen Levine

HCI Being responsible for some really big magazine titles that have been around for a very long time is only one of Ellen Levine’s job duties as the first-ever Editorial Director of Hearst Magazines; she also knows what it means to develop and strengthen the flock. Dr. Oz The Good Life, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine are just a few of her success stories while at Hearst.

If anyone in the magazine industry deserves the title “launch queen,” it is Ellen Levine. And not only launch queen, but successful magazines launch queen. She succeeded where others failed and she continues to do so. Levine is the no non-sense editor who puts her money where her mouth is. In fact, she is the “less-talk” and “more-do” editor. Levine’s mantra for success is becoming the reader, learning to look at each one of her titles through the eyes of her audience and connecting with each individual person in a very human, very empathetic way.

I spoke with Ms. Levine recently about her past and present accomplishments and her secrets of keeping that audience engagement.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On her recipe for audience connectivity: You need to be able to give them what they didn’t know they wanted or needed in a way that’s appealing.

On her secret for keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground: I really don’t know my secret. I like to define myself as a normal reader when I read all the magazines that we do.

On what keeps her up at night: I am usually up at three in the morning, saying, we should have fixed that headline or that cover line.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines…

Samir Husni: You’ve launched and supervised more successful magazines than probably any female editor that I can think of; what’s your secret recipe for that editorial connectivity with an audience in these changing times? Things have changed so much and yet, from your days at Woman’s Day until the present with Dr. Oz The Good Life, you’re always able to captivate that audience out there.

Ellen Levine: That’s a good question. I believe that you have to be the reader. You can’t try and force the reader to be you. So you have to give them what they want and understand it emotionally, understand the voice and the need. In terms of that, it doesn’t mean you have to have multi-personalities, but you have to be open to what they want. You’re not a teacher, you’re not forcing things. And you need to be able to give them what they didn’t know they wanted or needed in a way that’s appealing.

Everybody wants health information, but they don’t want it the same way. Some want it in an academic voice, some want it in a kind of sillier voice and there is an intimacy that you have to feel. You can’t intellectualize it.

Samir Husni: You also keep your feet on the ground. A lot of editors who have achieved less than you have aren’t so grounded. You see their heads above the clouds; what’s your secret?

Ellen Levine: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I really don’t know my secret. I like to define myself as a normal reader when I read all the magazines that we do. Maybe I have so many different personalities that I should be hospitalized.

But in fact, I can just get into it. And we look to hire staffs that have the same wonderful journalism skills and are very embedded in that fact, but also have understanding and empathy with the reader, none of the holier-than-thou attitudes. You come to us and we will educate you. We want to speak in a different language in each magazine and of course, with somebody like Oz it’s very easy to capture what the energy should be.

On other brands where you’re trying to read the needs of the Food Network person, the best lesson that we ever learned, first of all was to hire brilliant editors like Maile Carpenter, Sara Peterson and now Jill Herzig; you have to understand from that reader exactly how to approach her.

The one other anecdote on Food Network, which is very much of an example, is that we went into focus groups, we did two prototypes and we went into those groups thinking, oh my gosh, what are we going to name this magazine? We liked Spoon, we liked Butter; you know we went through all these names and we’re putting them out there in the focus groups and one of the women said, “I don’t care what you call it, I’m calling it Food Network Magazine.” And there became the name.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Ellen Levine: Everything, my children and my husband. But really, toward the closing of every magazine issue, I am usually up at three in the morning, saying, we should have fixed that headline or that cover line.

Samir Husni: Thank you.
© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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A Self-Proclaimed User Experience Evangelist Whose Passionate Belief In The Power Of Interactive Design And Engagement Returns Him To Print – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Joe Natoli – Creative Director, Dinosaur Magazine

June 9, 2014

“Design is a part of communication and media; it’s a part of everything. It’s all very much interconnected.” Joe Natoli

Joe-Natoli-Promo What can you say about a man who has been designing creatively and passionately for over 25 years and is still filled with the excitement of a child when he talks about his work and once again designing for print as the art director of Dinosaur Magazine? The word amazing comes to mind.

Joe Natoli is a consultant, teacher and master of design and brings more to the table of interactive connection and engagement with the audience than any designer out there. He can visualize print pages as alive with movement as pixels on a screen and the best thing about his perception? He knows how to make that mobility happen.

I spoke with Joe recently about his theories and ideals on design, working at Dinosaur and the “Imposter Syndrome,” something he is definitely not when it comes to the creativity of his designs.

dinosaur2 So grab the latest issue of Dinosaur and follow along as you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™
Interview with Joe Natoli…

But first the sound-bites…

Sound-bites:

On going up onto the mountain of design and bringing down three commandments: I believe there are three components that are incredibly important and I think one of those is you have to have a mission and a focus if you’re going to put anything out onto the marketplace, magazines especially.

On the biggest challenge he’s faced in his career and how he overcame it: I think the biggest challenge that I ever faced was self-confidence, really believing enough in my ability, in my talent, in the gifts that I’m fortunate enough to have, and to sort of go out there and just do it.

On the most pleasant surprise of his career so far: I look at this from a very human perspective. When something I do helps someone in some way, I feel very good about what I do.

On what keeps him up at night: I think honestly, I’m still trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Joe Natoli, Creative Director, Dinosaur Magazine…

Samir Husni: There are hundreds of magazines out there, thousands of apps; what would be the three most important differentiation points that would say: OK, this is what needs to be done so that this picture, this article and this design is solely for Dinosaur? I mean, is this a scenario where Joe Natoli goes up onto the mountain and comes back down with these three commandments?

Joe-Natoli-Working Joe Natoli: I think so. I believe there are three components that are incredibly important and I think one of those is you have to have a mission and a focus if you’re going to put anything out onto the marketplace, magazines especially. You have to have a mission and a focus that is not presently being served. You cannot go out there with more of the same content-wise and just package it differently.

And whatever that is, it has to strike an emotional chord. From a psychological standpoint, one of the things that I tell designers all the time and marketing people as well is that a call to action is related to money and will only work if you’re not appealing directly to the act of subscribing or the act of making money. The call to action has to be in some sense, a personal connection. And we’re wired for personal stuff first, that’s what we respond to.

So if I get the idea that you’re going to make really good use of my time; you’re going to entertain and inspire me, you got me, you have my attention. I will at least take ten seconds to check this out. That’s the first part. You have to have that and it has to be something that’s not out there currently. I am a big believer in zigging when everyone else is zagging. I think that’s the first thing.

The second thing is the visual design part. The presentation has to be way beyond adequate. There is any number of templates out there for print design; web design and visually they look nice. They’re clean, everything is aligned, and the colors are nice, it’s pleasant to look at. It has to go beyond that.

Every visual design decision that you make has to support and exclusively communicate your specific vision, your mission; the design has to come to life and push all that. So it has to be extraordinary, it can’t just be good. There’s just too much out there that you’re competing with for it not to be extraordinary. You have to find a way, which means you have to spend money, to hire, not a “good” designer but a “great” designer. That’s the second thing.

The third thing is material. It’s format, size and it’s paper. One of the other things that I see a lot of is magazines have sort of been forced to cut cost and downsize, and I understand the pressure, I really do.

Also you see a lot of size changes, big magazines, oversized magazines are now getting smaller and the paper is a lot thinner. The problem with that is that you’re sacrificing the emotional components of numbers one and two that we’ve talked about. And again, the emotional component is what makes the connection with the reader. The emotional component is what makes people feel like they have a relationship with you. And the touch of that paper, the feel of it in your hand as you pick this thing up and it feels substantial, that has an impact. There’s an intangible, unconscious impact that happens because of that. Now Dinosaur is 10×14 in size. When we originally conceived this, we thought about 11×17; we wanted to go even bigger. We wanted it to be a coffee table piece and we kind of wanted to make it where people would have no choice but to pay attention to it.

But here’s the reality; paper costs money. So you hear from the printers and you say, wow, that’s a lot of money. So we had to rethink the size issue. So the way that we compensated for it, in our case, is we said we’re not sacrificing paper weight, so we moved to a different type of press and went to 10×14. It’s a compromise, but we didn’t go to 9×12 or 8½x11.

And for the first issue, we went to two colors. That saved us money, but also the real reason that we did it is at the end of the day the big deciding factor was that this was going to differentiate us because no one does this. Every other magazine is full color.

So the material form, the paper, the weight, the size, the message you use to produce it absolutely matters. People can see the difference. You can pick up two products in the store and if one feels heavier in your hand, there’s an immediate assumption that the heavier article is of higher quality. And that’s cognitive wiring, nothing more.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in your career as a designer and how did you overcome it?

Joe Natoli: Quite honestly, I think that the biggest challenge, and you may find this funny, a lot of people do after they talk to me awhile; I think the biggest challenge that I ever faced was self-confidence, really believing enough in my ability, in my talent, in the gifts that I’m fortunate enough to have, and to sort of go out there and just do it.

I don’t know if you ever completely overcome that, but what you do come to realize is that the only way to get that, and I think this holds true for my students as well, I have taught part-time for many years; the only thing that you can really do is go out there and get your nose broken. The first thing that happens when you fall hard that first time is you realize that it didn’t kill you. And then I think it also gives you a sense of what you’re made of and you start to understand just what you’re capable of. And if you keep at it what eventually happens is you start having some successes. And that hopefully gives you more confidence about what you can do and it feeds itself.

But I think it’s hard. I read something somewhere, and I don’t know if it’s just creative people or maybe smart people, but a lot of successful people in particular have something called “The Imposter Syndrome.” There’s a converse proportion where the more talented and successful and capable that you are, the more likely you are to have these moments where you say, “I’m an imposter. Everyone is going to find out that I really don’t know what I’m talking about. I really don’t know how to do any of this stuff.” It’s a weird correlation between ability and fear.

The fact is, and here’s the funny thing, you do have something that for whatever reason they’re not able to get to themselves. And that’s not a decision on anybody’s part, if you think about it it’s probably just a testament to the fact that we’re all very different. We all think about things in very different ways. And I wrestle with that a lot.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant surprise of your career so far?

Joe Natoli: I don’t know if it’s been the most pleasant surprise, but I’ll tell you this thing that happens that makes me feel like this is absolutely what I should be doing.

When I’m in a room with people or in a room with a client’s team or with students or a one-on-one situation, coaching someone through something; when the light bulb moment happens and when everybody’s attention sort of perks up and everyone has that yes moment at the same time and they get it and when whatever it is gets implemented and the team comes back to me and says, “I cannot possibly explain to you how much this helped us.” That’s what matters to me. It may be cliché to say it, but my client’s successes are my successes. And it’s the truth.

I look at this from a very human perspective. When something I do helps someone in some way, I feel very good about what I do. It’s time well spent. It’s proof that you’re in the right place and I love that.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Joe Natoli: I think honestly, I’m still trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up. It seems to be getting clearer in that the more consulting and speaking that I do and the teaching moments, because consulting is teaching in many ways; I think I’m figuring out that’s what makes me the happiest, but I’m interested in so many things.

Like I hadn’t done print design in probably ten years before Steven from Dinosaur called me about this. And who knew? I certainly didn’t.

So I don’t know; the problem is so many things get my attention and I’m like the proverbial dog, when they’re constantly distracted. Some part of me feels like I’m still trying to figure it out, but you have kids and you’re supporting them and trying to be there for them and you know that you can’t go diving off into every adventure you find because you have a wife and kids; a family.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.
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Rights to excerpts and links to the blog are hereby permitted with proper credit. Copying the entire blog is NOT permitted and is a violation of the copyright laws.

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“The Core Is Always Going To Be Magazines And Print And I Think That’s As Far As The Eye Can See,” Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director of Hearst…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

May 29, 2014


“What probably keeps me up at night is the dynamic relevance of printed magazines and what they mean to the consumer and making sure that a generation of advertising and media professionals appreciates the value of the medium.”
“I think about magazines and magazine media all the time.”
“More Print Products are coming from Hearst in the coming years.”
Michael Clinton

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 9.40.38 PMA pilot, an accomplished photographer, a philanthropist who started his own charity, Circle of Generosity, a publishing director, an author of several books, a marathon runner, a traveler to more than 120 countries, an executive, a magazine rabbi and a high priest in the eyes of those who know him and work with him… In fact, there is no shortage of adjectives to describe Michael Clinton, who is also the chairman of the MPA — The Association of Magazine Media.

He and David Carey, the president of Hearst Magazines, seem to be among the few magazine executives who are not closing any magazines, downsizing, or just reducing the weight of the paper. No, actually they’re doing just the opposite. Hearst magazines has been acquiring magazines, launching very successful print products, without forgetting digital which as of today only represents 3% of the total circulation of Hearst Magazines.

So when I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with the multi-talented Michael Clinton, my brain was racing with a million questions I was ready to fire at Michael and my eyes were roaming his office observing the pictures on the walls and the model Air-Force One on the round table among many other memorabilia scattered around his office.

I asked Michael about his favorite picture from all the photos he has taken over the years. He was quick to point to a picture on the wall facing his desk of a plane off the coast of Namibia. The same picture is also adorning the cover of his book The Globetrotter Diaries.

I chose that spot in Mr. Clinton’s office on the 43rd floor of the Hearst Tower in NYC as the backdrop for The Mr. Magazine™ Minute with Michael Clinton. I asked Michael Clinton why more publishers aren’t following in the footsteps of Hearst Magazines? Click the video below to listen to his answer:

And now for the sound-bites…

On whether he thinks about magazines when he wears his other, innumerable hats: And so I think about magazines and magazine media all the time. And actually some people around here laugh at me when I say, “I was out for a long run the other day.” And they know that that means that I concocted some idea in my head while I was running that I was about to lay on them.

On the most challenging moment in his career: For many people, a dark moment was in the depths of the recession because as businesses really cut back in their spending, and it was across all media, part of my job is to keep the troops motivated.

On what he believes the other magazine professionals are doing when it comes to why Hearst seems to be one of the few publishers promoting and launching new magazines: That’s a great question, but I don’t know. We’d love more of our peer companies to step out and put out a new magazine and a new concept. But we’re happy to continue to innovate on that front.

On whether he’s a believer in print: Big time.

On what he believes is the most problematic issue we have today in the magazine marketplace: I think that we’re in a state of confusion and disruption in the media landscape in general.

On a solution for the newsstand problems: I think to do innovative things at newsstands such as working with retailers. We’re doing some really innovative things on the shopper marketing front where we’re creating customized units that are combinations of gift-with-purchase.

On what keeps him up at night: I think that what probably keeps me up at night is the dynamic relevance of printed magazines and what they mean to the consumer and making sure that a generation of advertising and media professionals appreciates the value of the medium.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director of Hearst…

Samir Husni: I’ve been doing some homework, checking around the building and talking to people; three things I learned about you, some I knew before, some I did not. One is your philanthropy, which hasn’t been covered much, but people do know about it. Two is your marathons, which you cover yourself on your tweets. And third is that you’re the rabbi to most of the magazine publishers and editors in the building, they refer to you as Rabbi Michael. So as the high priest of magazines, especially the ones that you’ve been really involved with – the three most successful launches of the last five years, from the Food Network to Dr. Oz; how do you combine those three entities and juggle between them? Is it always magazines on your mind whether you are teaching, running or giving away your money?

Michael Clinton: That’s a great, great question. I think that fortunately for me I still love the magazine industry; I’ve been in it a long time. So I’m one of the lucky people who wake up every day and am excited to go to work. And I think regardless of what industry you’re in it’s great to be able to have that sense of drive, commitment and interest in your chosen profession.

And so I think about magazines and magazine media all the time. And actually some people around here laugh at me when I say, “I was out for a long run the other day.” And they know that that means that I concocted some idea in my head while I was running that I was about to lay on them.

I often find that my down time of going and running a marathon or training in the park is actually great for clearing my head to come up with new ideas or solutions, solving problems or thinking about new ways to go at what we do.

To answer your question, a lot of what I think about with regards to magazines, a lot of it solves problems, not necessarily in the Hearst Tower, but outside doing a lot of the other things that I do.

Samir Husni: And what has been a most challenging moment in your career? Maybe a time you had to run extremely far to get it out of your system and come up with a solution.

Michael Clinton: For many people, a dark moment was in the depths of the recession because as businesses really cut back in their spending, and it was across all media, part of my job is to keep the troops motivated.

And so when you see the kind of business downturns everyone faced during the recession, especially younger professionals who never experienced a recession, for some of us we’ve been through different business cycles, but for younger people it’s harder for them to see the other side and younger publishers who were coming off of those phenomenal go-go years and 2007 being kind of the penultimate one and keeping people motivated and focused, making them try and appreciate that it wasn’t the end of the world, that business cycles happen and there would be a leveling out and a rebuild, that proved challenging.

So there were a lot of long runs during that time.

Samir Husni: With the Food Network it was smooth sailing from day one. Dr. Oz was a bit rocky in terms of staffing, correct?

Michael Clinton: Yes, we had an editor change and she left on her own to go back to California. I think the thing that was very interesting in 2008 when we decided to launch a magazine, obviously it was a very bold and daring statement, and I think what happened was we were counter-contrary to the marketplace and we went out and launched Food Network Magazine in a very strange way, talking about my earlier comment. It kind of lifted the whole organization because when you do bold things in tough times, what happens is often it not only lifts the entire organization, but when you have the success, it really shows there is clear view out there for other businesses to grow. So you’re right Food Network was an instant takeoff.

Samir Husni: And why is it that you and David Carey are among the very few who have been promoting new magazines, talking about new launches; what’s the rest of the industry doing?

Michael Clinton: That’s a great question, but I don’t know. I think that as the chairman of the MPA, we always talk with encouragement when it comes to new product launches and bringing new magazines to the marketplace, because we now have new proof points that if you put out a great product, the consumer will come and the consumer will pay. We now have three proof points on that.

We’d love more of our peer companies to step out and put out a new magazine and a new concept. But we’re happy to continue to innovate on that front. We now have the perception in the marketplace that we are the innovators in regards to new magazines in this time period. That we’re the ones that will innovate and put out new products and feel strong about new print products as well as all the other things that we’re doing digitally.

Samir Husni: You are one of very few companies that never lost its focus on print, just to swim in the digital ocean. That you actually kept both print and digital.

Michael Clinton: And don’t forget we acquired Hachette. So at the same time, aside from launching new products, we made a very big print acquisition also coming right off the heels of the recession.

Samir Husni: So are you a believer in print?

Michael Clinton: Big time. I think what we see, and once again I’ll go back to today, Dr. Oz, we have 300,000 subscriptions in hand. It has been one of the fastest ramp ups, one of the highest pay rates, where the consumer actually wrote the check; and as you know we sold out on the newsstand and went back to press.

So I think even if it was 2008 when it was Food Network, people might say, well OK, that was then and then we did HGTV in 2011 and people might say, that was then, but it’s 2014 and it’s happening again people. I think the trick is in finding a fresh voice in a cluttered marketplace and I think those three examples really had a fresh voice in their market.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the most problematic issue we have today in the magazine marketplace?

Michael Clinton: I think that we’re in a state of confusion and disruption in the media landscape in general. And I think that if you’re a CMO today of a brand and you think about everything that is coming at you, the big headline in Adweek: is TV dead? Video is taking over. What’s happening in the digital marketplace with programmatic and view ability.

Every media platform seems to have big issues as part of the overall media ecosystem that marketers are challenged with. So the print medium has a long history of tried and true audience and audience measurement, but in a world of disruption everything is sort of up for grabs.

So I think what a lot of marketers are finding and what I’m seeing is that it’s all about the media mix and magazines play a part in that mix. That when you have the correct media mix in your media spends it can actually lift all boats.

There’s a lot of noise and disruption and I think the overall noise and disruption affects all media, not just magazines.

Samir Husni: Putting the rabbi hat on and talking to the future generations, people interested in our business, in journalism, in magazines; if you’re teaching a class, what do you tell the students?

Michael Clinton: You know I think that the good news is that magazine brands used to be just print. And if I use an analogy in the retail world, I call that our bricks & mortar business. Even though E-commerce is ubiquitous, bricks & mortar is not going to go away. It’s a different experience. So when someone is in the pages of Esquire, Oprah or Cosmo, they’re having a very unique and different experience.

It’s part of the bricks & mortar story. The beauty we’ve had and I think that what gets lost in the conversation and I talk to publishers about this all the time, is that the brand footprint now for Cosmo can live in many different places. So the core is always going to be magazines and print and I think that’s as far as the eye can see. Cosmo.com, Cosmo – social media, Cosmo events, Cosmo won-off-TV-things; we now have the ability to take our brands out to other brand and media platforms that before we didn’t really have the opportunity to do.

So I think that for young people I like to say, think about it as a horizontal experience, not just a vertical experience. Because whether you’re on the publishing side or the editorial side, and this has already happened in the news marketplace, if you speak to a young reporter now, they’re producing their story, filming their story, and posting on the dot com, doing their social media; so they’re multitasking with different content and we’re doing the same thing, so it’s a big opportunity.

I think magazine media’s core is still going to be the printed page.

Samir Husni: Do you think we can ever succeed with a digital-only magazine? Even though I don’t call anything but print a magazine…

Michael Clinton: I think you have to clarify that question; are you talking about web-based or tablet-based?

Samir Husni: Can you name a tablet-based digital magazine that’s making money?

Michael Clinton: Well, that’s a great point. I think that the opportunity is there for a magazine that is a tablet-only magazine. I think the tablet world may have to mature a bit. But in our May issues we did a test; we took 10 of our women’s magazines and we embedded a 12-page beauty supplement that ran in 800,000 copies of those paid circulation magazines. Now that’s a bit of a scale play that never really existed before. You know, could that become its own magazine, who knows.

But I think that we’re in the very early days of testing whether something could have a circulation of a half million, but only live as a tablet distributed magazine. I think we’re too early in the product life cycle of magazines on tablets, but five or ten years from now it could be possible. But I think that we have a long way to go.

As you know we only have three percent in total magazine subscriptions on the tablet to begin with, so I think you almost need to have the consumer have a deeper learned experience in how they’re getting their content.

Samir Husni: Which leads me to say you are the only company that doesn’t bundle…

Michael Clinton: We do not bundle, no.

Samir Husni: If you want Cosmo on the tablet, you pay $19.95 or $14.95 and if you want the magazine, you buy the magazine…

Screen shot 2014-05-27 at 9.36.23 PM Michael Clinton: Why do we do that? We have an expression: fee not free. Let me first talk about authentication. The analogy we would make is I went to go see Godzilla on Saturday night, but when you walked out of the theater they did not hand you a free CD because you just paid for your ticket or when you buy a book, say the new Hillary Clinton book, you don’t get a free download on your tablet. If you want it then you buy it two different times.

I think what’s been great about iTunes, in particular, is if you wanted the content you paid for it, hardcover book versus download book. So we took that position very early on and as a result we have about a million, almost a million-four, paid subs that are tablet-based subs and it creates a level, from our perspective, of wantedness from the consumer and also a story we can tell the advertiser. So it’s choosing your distribution.

Samir Husni: Talking about distribution; how’s Next Issue doing?

Michael Clinton: It’s coming along. It’s a fantastic consumer proposition. In their next round, where they need to go next as they continue to build their brand is a big marketing and promotional play. At a certain point they have to get the message out to the consumer marketplace at large, because while it’s growing, they need to get that lift-off. They’re going to have to get that funding to be able to promote it in a big, big way to the consumer.

Samir Husni: What can we do about the newsstands? With closings and rumors of closings…can we have a magazine industry in this country without newsstands?

Michael Clinton: It’s 10 percent of magazine circulation, so it’s small, but it’s an important piece; forget the economics because it’s an important economic contributor. But it’s an important piece for sampling, to get that magazine in front of the consumer’s eyeballs.

So the good news is as doors shrink, borders go out of business; on the flip side there are other doors and stores that are actually growing their magazine presence such as Costco and Dollar General; points that didn’t have magazines. So the answer is yes, it’s important to have newsstand.

And also I think to do innovative things at newsstands such as working with retailers. We’re doing some really innovative things on the shopper marketing front where we’re creating customized units that are combinations of gift-with-purchase. So if you buy a skincare product and if you buy a copy of Marie Clare, Elle or Cosmo and we align ourselves with the skincare product, there can be a dollar off somewhere.

Creating these customized incentive packages at floor level, which is what happens in general with retail anyway, aside from just being in the traditional slots that magazines occupy.

I think the next generation is going to be doing more inventive marketing programs at floor level, so you’re stimulating sales as opposed to magazines just sitting there stagnant. We’re doing a lot on that front here.

Samir Husni: Do you think that will solve the mobile blinders problem?

Michael Clinton: I heard a stat the other day about how many times someone checks their mobile phone, but you have to think at a certain point it’s going to be overload. So I guess the answer is probably not, but the mobile blinders affect any impulse purchase if you think about it. Unless you’re going to just buy something specifically, you’re going to have that.

But I think about something like Hudson News at the airports; when you go into that store, you’re basically going in because you are looking at the magazines versus a check-out. The mobile blinders are a big issue for every business category.

Samir Husni: This question is for you, the photographer; what’s the best picture you’ve ever taken?

Michael Clinton: There it is, on the far left. The story behind that picture is that I’m a pilot and I was on the famous Skeleton Coast of Namibia, which is in the country just north of South Africa, on the West Coast. It is a spectacularly beautiful landscape. You’re flying along the coast and the sand dunes hit the water and this is where you find these hulls of ships in the flat sand dunes because that’s why they call it the Skeleton Coast because of all these boats.

So I was literally flying up this coast for a couple of three hours, I wasn’t the pilot the entire time, there were six of us on board, but I happened to be then, and it was very difficult to see another plane in the air throughout the whole week that we were in Namibia and all of a sudden I saw that plane coming beneath us and I asked the other pilot could you please take the controls because I was flying at the time, grabbed the camera and I yelled, “Come on, we have to keep up with him.” So we tracked him and just the image of that airplane against that backdrop with the shadow is a very romantic shot. It’s actually a shot that, when I’ve had gallery exhibits, it’s one of my most popular.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps Michael Clinton up at night?

Michael Clinton: I’m a good sleeper. I go to sleep with a clear head. No, I think that what probably keeps me up at night is the dynamic relevance of printed magazines and what they mean to the consumer and making sure that a generation of advertising and media professionals appreciates the value of the medium. And we do a lot of things to innovate to keep that message front and center, but it is a very dynamic and growing medium with new products. And from a circulation and audience standpoint, it’s been very consistent even during the recession. You’ve heard the famous line during the recession: we didn’t have a consumer problem, we had an advertising problem.

But remarkably, from circulation and an audience standpoint, it’s been a very consistent story and that sometimes gets lost in the whirlwind of the whole media ecosystem. So how do we get that embedded into the brains of younger professionals?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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