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
Jason 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?
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?
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.
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