What Every Magazine Media Company Needs: A Chief Dream Officer

October 18, 2011

“This idea will never work,” is by far the most often used phrase when it comes to launching a new magazine. The history of magazine publishing is filled with stories about great publishers who were told, time and time again, that their magazine idea would never work. Guess what, that fire did not quench their passion and desire to prove the naysayers wrong. Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, People and Maxim are but four magazines whose publishers heard the aforementioned phrase, “This idea will never work.” (photo illustration from she-fit.com)

So what is the difference between yesteryear and today? Passion and dreams. Magazine publishing was an act of passion and a conception of a dream. Publishers dreamt and lived and executed their dreams. Today, dreams have become business plans, test issues, focus groups, more focus groups and an entry and exit strategy for the newborn publication.

Yesterdays’ magazines were the “dream come true.” For example, some, like The New Yorker, had no masthead. The product was the dream, and the dream was more important than the dreamer. Magazine publishers were in the business of making their dreams come true. The magazines were the most important manifestation of the passion and dreams of the publishers. Reading the history books of how some of those great magazines were born, one must wonder what has happened to the old publishing business model.

Magazine publishing has become a business plan, numbers and statistics, analysis and more analysis (think “paralysis by analysis”). Ideas are no longer the manifestations of a dream. They are the results of calculated risk analysis with no passion, or for that matter any type of emotion. Magazine publishing has become the domain of the MBAs, with their computer-generated flow charts and five-year projections.

I know times have changed, and companies and boards of directors have taken over most magazine publishing houses. Very few individuals still dream and decide. The board has to report to the shareholders and the shareholders to their pocket books. These are the days where dreams are kept dreams and never brought to fruition.

The reason for this lengthy introduction is to issue a call for the creation of a new position in magazine and media publishing companies – The Chief Dream Officer, i.e., someone in charge of dreaming and executing big ideas. Steve Jobs did just that. No focus groups, no test markets, no statistical analysis of the success or failure of the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Dreams fueled by passion and executed by sheer will power. “If you build it, they will come,” can easily be translated into, “If you publish it, they will come.”

Each and every company needs a Chief Dream Officer. After all, we have all types of chiefs now, from a Chief Revenue Officer to a Chief Content Officer to a Chief Creative Officer. Why not add one more chief, the Chief Dream Officer? The job description – dream big, execute bigger and follow your passion. If you publish it, they will come. Just know your “it.”

I know of one such company with an unofficial Chief Dream Officer. Mr. R is the strategic dreamer of the company. This blog is a salute to his dreams and a call to make his title official. In magazine publishing, the road to success is paved with a lot of dreams. History teaches us that behind every successful magazine, there existed a Chief Dream Officer. Let’s remake some history today.


  1. My dream magazine is launching next month! It’s a passion project (that we also had to do financial plans for) started by three friends, and without a hint of big publishing house admin.

    I’m a Type 1 diabetic, and when I was diagnosed there was no glimmer of hope that being diabetic could mean living a happy, healthy life. So we’re publishing that hope, in a magazine called Sweet Life: http://www.sweetlifemag.co.za

    Thanks for the boost of confidence in following our dream!

    • Looking forward to seeing your first issue and all the best. Follow your dreams.

  2. Samir,

    You’ve really nailed it with this one. A magazine becomes a reflection of its editor.

    Restated: a boring, safe, corporate approach will yield a publication just the same. One that pleases focus groups or online suvey takers, yet has no soul. It also pleases investment bankers….for a short time.

    When a magazine founder/editor feels as if this magazine is one of his children, the reader also feels this level of care. Creativity, ideas and energy shine through.

    Mike Beno

  3. There are crazy little guy dreamers out there. My magazine just had its first anniversary. I do believe that if I build it, people will come, and I create each issue on the premise that if it delights me, it will probably delight others. By the way, the magazine is Ingredient, the magazine for kids curious about food (www.ingredientmag.com).

    We’re scrappy boot-strappers now, but we know our day will arrive.

    Thanks for a great resource

    • Dear Jill
      I would love to have a copy of the first issue and the first anniversary one. My address is P.O. Box 1062, Oxford, MS 38655
      Thanks a million and good luck with your dream…

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