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Necessary, Sufficient and Relevant: The Rodale Publishing Model Finds Success on All Magazine Media Fronts. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Chris Lambiase, Senior Vice President and Group Publisher of Rodale

December 11, 2013

Last week, in my introduction to the Mr. Magazine™ Minute with Chris Lambiase, I wrote:

In the midst of the print doom and gloom that some in the media world wants us to believe, one magazine media company, Rodale, has had one of it best years in print yet. Yes, you read that right. In 2013 a magazine media company telling the world that 2013 had been their best year yet.
So, I asked Chris Lambiase, senior vice president and group publisher of Rodale (Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World, among many others), about the secret of Rodale’s success in 2013 and his expectations for 2014.

I knew, one minute with Chris Lambiase was not enough to understand the entire Rodale approach to today’s magazine media publishing… So here is the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Mr. Lambiase and click here to review the Mr. Magazine™ Minute with him.

First the sound-bites followed by the lightly edited transcript of the interview. Enjoy.

The sound-bites:

Picture 21 On why Rodale is enjoying so much success:
I think one of the most important things is that the healthy, active lifestyle is very much in vogue right now. And regardless of the economy, job situation and everything else, it’s a way of life that people are turning to more and more to have a sense of control, of well-being, of health, both physically and psychologically.

On print and digital coexisting at Rodale:

One of the things I think that works so well here at Rodale on the digital front and why it sort of coexists so well with print is that most of the brands that we have surround participatory activities and because of that our digital products whether it’s the website or our apps all lend themselves to the tools that help you live that life in real time. So whether it’s training advice and guidance, a place to store the maps of your runs or rides, a place to log your workout and then take it the next step forward and share it with the community, we’ve established it on our websites.

On whether or not any of the Rodale titles – Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World — would ever go digital only:
No. However, you might see Runner’s World for beginners or more expanded running for women digitally or with cycling for instance, perhaps a website for commuters now that cities are becoming more bike friendly, etc. I think there are all kinds of digital-only ways that we can expand our brands into areas that wouldn’t necessarily be something we would devote an entire magazine or website to.

On the importance of advertising in Rodale titles:

If we have Bicycling magazine with no ads in it, no one would want to read it. They want to look at the ads; they want to look at the gear, the bikes, etc. The same is true for Runner’s World and the same thing is true for Men’s Health and Women’s Health. So many of the advertisers are creating products and marketing them to people that are trying to live a lifestyle and they want to know about what’s out there and what products are there to help live that lifestyle to the fullest. So we’ve done research here and asked our readers point blank what they would think about this magazine if we could serve it up to you without any ads and that’s not what they want.

On predictions for Rodale in 2014:
I think you’re going to see our content find its way to websites for corporations in America, for insurance companies, healthcare provider networks, etc. I think that’s going to become a bigger and bigger part of our business

On another prediction for Rodale in 2014:

Then the other area, and everyone is talking about native advertising, the sort of new form of advertorials and it’s a place that we’ve been actually playing in for a while because again companies realized early on that if they want to talk to our readers they need to come from a position of authenticity.

On what keeps Chris Lambiase up at night:

Seriously, the things that we’re looking at now are how not to rest on the laurels. I think expanding on the events, creating more opportunities to grow through mobile, which you heard this morning somebody announced “We just learned 50 percent of our site users are coming through mobile devices.” And I thought, you haven’t looked down a few lines because you’ll learn that those folks don’t click through to as many pages and there’s an evolution taking place there. So one of the things that keep me up at night is how do we change that dynamic, how do we make our sites where folks visiting us through mobile devices want to stay and have a more enriched experience and thus result in more inventory for us to sell.

On the possibility of any new Rodale titles in the making:
Nothing I can say yet, but I think some of the things we talked about digitally you’ll see.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Chris Lambiase, Senior Vice President and Group Publisher of Rodale

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 11.49.45 PM Samir Husni: My first question to you… Why are you up and positive while everybody is down and crying and mourning?

Chris Lambiase: I think it’s a number of things all working in our favor this year. I think one of the most important things is that the healthy, active lifestyle is very much in vogue right now. And regardless of the economy, job situation and everything else, it’s a way of life that people are turning to more and more to have a sense of control, of well-being, of health, both physically and psychologically. It just seems that right now this is becoming more and more of the American way of living — the healthy, active way of living. And you know, no other media company owns it like we do, whether it’s general fitness and exercise like Men’s Health and Women’s Health to more specific things like running or cycling or to really general health and wellness issues like prevention.

No company out there right now has so many brands aligned in the space to offer to marketers in America. And right now it seems to be among marketers a very popular target and you see it everywhere. All advertising has people running, riding — even in automotive advertising, these days it’s very rare you see an SUV that doesn’t have bikes on the roof.

SH: People say digital is taking over yet your print titles are seeing an increase in ads and an increase in revenue. Where do you see this mix between print and digital heading? Do you imagine a day when it will flip flop where print is making a little money and all the money is coming from digital or is this just wishful thinking?

CL: I think that it will continue to grow and I think there will be a day where it represents at least half of our revenue overall, but I think this year is a perfect example of the fact that print is far from dead when you have the right magazines, the right brands. It almost seems to me that this year there was a little bit of a return to the known entity of print media and the quality content of magazines like ours at Rodale.

I think the amount of money that continues to be spent on social media continues to grow and it’s significant but I don’t think it’s working as well as everyone expected it to work five years ago. I believe one of the things that tell me that is the fact that the whole big data industry seems to have grown up around supporting digital marketing and digital advertising because I don’t think it’s actually working as expected. And now we’re seeing this year advertisers that really turned away from print and to digital a while ago are turning back now to print with a digital counterpart.

One of the things I think that works so well here at Rodale on the digital front and why it sort of coexists so well with print is that most of the brands that we have surround participatory activities and because of that our digital products, whether it’s the website or our apps, all lend themselves to the tools that help you live that life in real time.

So whether it’s training advice and guidance, a place to store the maps of your runs or rides, a place to log your workout and then take it the next step forward and share it with the community, we’ve established it on our websites.

So what happens is, and this happened when we were at Smart Money as well because at that time in the 90s investing was such a participatory activity, it became a sport of sorts back in the day and we set up Smartmoney.com to be tools to live the life — to trade, to analyze stocks, to analyze risk, to manage and keep your portfolio and then the magazine was a place where you could get the more thoughtful reads about what Greenspan was thinking and sort of the longer narrative stories behind the stories.

The same thing is happening here now at Rodale. Our magazines are longer form, more thoughtful reads and obviously when people are passionate they can’t wait to get it, they consider it their favorite, they spend close to two hours with it, but then they’re living the life in real time. Every morning they’re logging on, they’re finding out what their workout is for the day, they’re finding out who is meeting where to go for a ride together, they’re communicating with like-minded people and community. It really becomes an excellent companion piece for print and thus they can coexist.

There are some magazines clearly that can go 100 percent digital if they’re news and not necessarily something that a person is participating in.

SH: I did a quick analysis where I looked at all the magazines that are purely digital from ’06 to today. At most they lasted 16-18 months before they disappeared completely or they have become a shadow of their former self. Do you think there is a future for digital without a print component or without print being the mechanism that moves the brand?

Picture 22 CL: That’s a really good question and I think that again it comes down to whether it’s a general news delivery mechanism, which I do, or if it’s something that’s passion-based. I think in the case of an enthusiast title, like a Runner’s World or a Bicycling or a Men’s Health where people are really passionate about it, I believe that it really is a two-part relationship that they have with us, print and digital.

If the magazines went away completely I think the relationship would be cut in half. I think there would be less driving to the web and a big part of their sort of emotional attachment to the brand would be gone. And theoretically they could drift away. So that is a good question.

Now, if it was the Times or the Journal, I think they would do just fine 100 percent digital forever. I think if it’s a second- or third-tier news operation or even in the case of Smart Magazine they shut the magazine and went full time digital and it all went away. Well, there are a lot of other places now. But I think when it’s something again, going back to what you asked me up front “Why us, why this year?” there’s a special bond that we have with our readers with almost every title here and it’s very special.

SH: So I take it you will never see a Men’s Health or Women’s Health or Runner’s World just digital?

CL: No. However, you might see Runner’s World for beginners or more expanded running for women digitally or with cycling for instance, perhaps a website for commuters now that cities are becoming more bike friendly, etc. I think there are all kinds of digital-only ways that we can expand our brands into areas that wouldn’t necessarily be something we would devote an entire magazine or website to.

SH: If that’s the case then how are you only going to support financially those digital-only entities when you have people telling you now we have a Hopper on TV and we can skip all the ads. We have the AdTrap on the mobile and we can plug it in to our Internet and skip all the ads on my mobile phone… And so where do you think as a magazine media institution as a whole; where did we fail in recognizing or understanding the customers who count rather than being in the business of counting customers?

CL: You’re touching on something that really is at the core of Rodale. We consider our customers No. 1. It’s the relationship that we have with them that is the keystone to everything else that we do whether that’s selling magazines or books or DVDs or apps or anything. We have a very devoted following at this point. That’s what I think is really important.

I also think when you have the type of magazines that we have that are fairly vertical and enthusiast-based, advertising becomes a very important part of the content. If we have Bicycling magazine with no ads in it, no one would want to read it. They want to look at the ads; they want to look at the gear, the bikes, etc. The same is true for Runner’s World and the same thing is true for Men’s Health and Women’s Health.

So many of the advertisers are creating products and marketing them to people that are trying to live a lifestyle and they want to know about what’s out there and what products are there to help live that lifestyle to the fullest. So we’ve done research here and asked our readers point blank what they would think about this magazine if we could serve it up to you without any ads and that’s not what they want.

SH: There was a recent study in the UK where they asked people to select their 10 favorite pages from their favorite magazine, three out of every 10 pages were advertisement.

CL: That’s what we’re finding as well. So back to your question, I think the ads at least in our brand, it might not be true everywhere, I think the ads are part of the whole experience.

SH: Can you put your futuristic hat on and predict where we’re headed in 2014?

CL: If you had asked me this a year ago, would I think that 2013 would be a record-setting year for Rodale in print, I would have probably said no. So that is a very, very tough question.

But I think that we are a sort of leading indicator on two things. And one is that the emphasis on health and wellness in the United States is not going away. And whether that’s a healthy, active lifestyle or whether it’s the nuts and bolts and dealing with the expense of dealing with healthcare going forward with the expense of Obamacare and the complications of Obamacare and everything that goes with it and the health care networks that are cropping up and sort of navigating these waters.

I think issues of health, wellness and fitness are going to become more and more important. And more and more people are going to be seeking information and guidance. I think that our magazines will continue to grow both in print and digitally. I think that the demand for our content, which is growing by leaps and bounds, will also continue to grow and become a bigger part of our business.

We’re now talking to insurance companies; we’re talking to health care providers. There’s something that took place with 401Ks back in the 80s that is now taking place with healthcare. It’s being put on Americans’ backs to manage for themselves. And just like the government dictated that companies and investment service companies educate Americans on what to do with their money, I think we’re sort of in the position now where everyone needs to educate their employees and their customers.

So our brands are going to play a bigger role in that advice and guidance business going forward. I think you’re going to see our content find its way to websites for corporations in America, for insurance companies, healthcare provider networks, etc. I think that’s going to become a bigger and bigger part of our business. All the while, print and digital will continue to grow and the magazine itself will continue to stay strong.

Then the other area, and everyone is talking about native advertising, the sort of new form of advertorials and it’s a place that we’ve been actually playing in for a while because again companies realized early on that if they want to talk to our readers they need to come from a position of authenticity. If they’re not Nike or Trek or GNC, I think advertisers have been creating ads that speak to our readers and we’ve been helping create those ads and thus we’ve been sort of on the leading edge of the whole native advertising front.

The thing that we’re discovering over the last couple of years and in particular this year now is that because of the participatory nature of our magazines and our brands, events is another frontier that we’re pushing out now.

You probably saw in our note to you that over 100,000 people have participated in our events this year globally. But in the last couple of months alone in the United States, 50,000 people have participated in Urbanathlon, the Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival, Bicycling Fall Classic and the Prevention R3 Summit in Austin. And again, this works so well for us — it drove about 12 percent of our advertising revenue for this year. We’ve created Rodale Events LLC and we’re putting some further investment in to taking another step in to that business. And that’s interesting because to me that’s the ultimate advertising. We can help our advertisers reach these people literally at the point of sweat.

SH: You’re one of the few VPs, group publishers of a media company in the last, maybe two years that is so positive. So my last question is what keeps you up at night?

CL: I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve fortunately had mostly good years in my entire career. I was blessed by working at great brands between The Wall Street Journal and Smart Money at that time, but I think you sleep worse after a good year looking down the barrel of a new year. When you have a bad year you kind of have a bad year thinking there’s nothing but up next year.

But seriously, the things that we’re looking at now are how not to rest on the laurels. I think expanding on the events, creating more opportunities to grow through mobile, which you heard this morning somebody announced “We just learned 50 percent of our site users are coming through mobile devices.” And I thought, you haven’t looked down a few lines because you’ll learn that those folks don’t click through to as many pages and there’s an evolution taking place there. So one of the things that keep me up at night is how do we change that dynamic, how do we make our sites where folks visiting us through mobile devices want to stay and have a more enriched experience and thus result in more inventory for us to sell.

SH: Any new magazines in the making?

CL: Nothing I can say yet but I think some of the things we talked about digitally you’ll see. Cycling commuting is taking off…

SH: Thank you.

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  1. […] the whole article Necessary, Sufficient and Relevant: The Rodale Publishing Model Finds Success on All Magazine Media … on the website Mr. […]



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