h1

AARP The Magazine: Relevant, Vibrant & Still The Largest Circulation Magazine In The Country With Over 37 Million Readers – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Shelagh Daly Miller, Vice President, Group Publisher, AARP Media

January 9, 2017

“I believe that magazines have devalued themselves tremendously. I think that they’ve been in panic mode for years. I’m a big print person; my dad was in the magazine business; I had a sister in the magazine business and I love magazines. I still read books; I don’t have a Kindle. I love print. And I think that it’s sad that the industry has moved toward devaluing publications by offering them for $2 and $3 in some cases, I can’t believe the offers that have come my way over the last several years.” Shelagh Daly Miller

TM51617DJ_C1_MEDIA.pdfAARP The Magazine is a mass-circulated publication that makes no apologies for its print prowess and passionate nature regarding ink on paper. The magazine is the largest-circulation publication in the United States with over 37 million readers and its AARP Bulletin reigns supreme with 29.7 in readership. Combine the two together and the numbers are a staggering testament to the power of print and its relevant audience, while never ignoring the reach and information the brand’s digital extensions offer.

So why not start the new year right from the top? Shelagh Daly Miller is Vice President, Group Publisher, AARP Media Sales and has been with the brand for 16 years. Coming from a background rich in advertising and publishing, she is a woman very much at home in the world of magazines and magazine media.

I spoke with Shelagh right before the Christmas holidays and we talked about the world of magazines and the extremely bright path that AARP The Magazine was on and has been on for several years, as the brand has seen exponential growth under her leadership. As Shelagh stated, while AARP The Magazine is a mass-circulated magazine, it’s also a niche title that dominates relevance when it comes to its audience.

With storytelling and vibrant, buoyant features about people and things that interest its very active and affluent audience, AARP proves that the 50-plus readers should not, will not and will never be, defined by a mere number. With consumers over 50 in the prime position of not only being able to afford their lifestyles, they can actually revel in them; the magazine is geared toward a group of people who today dominate our country’s wealth, and that is a very good group to gear to. Relevant audience, relevant content; it never fails and it never will.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very inspiring and print-positive Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman and her brand that make no apologies for their faith and commitment to print, Shelagh Daly Miller, Vice President, Group Publisher, AARP Media.

But first the sound-bites:

shelagh-millerOn some in the industry who believe that there isn’t room for a mass-circulated magazine anymore, yet AARP publishes its magazine and tabloid at 23 million plus: I would say that while our publications are obviously mass, considering the circulation, 22.5 is the rate base for 2017 for each of the publications, but we’re really serving somewhat of a niche audience at the same time. It’s specifically 50-plus, but not only that, it’s 50-plus people who have raised their hands and said that they were going to join the organization that’s advocating for them as people over 50-years-old. So, I think that gives us a bit of a niche focus.

On why it seems the magazine industry focuses more on the audience that it doesn’t fully have (the millennials) instead of the one it does have (the baby boomers): I honestly think that part of it is the people who are working in the industry are millennials themselves. And I believe there is a bit of self-reflection going on there; that’s one part of it in my opinion. As you can probably imagine, we’re often out talking to agency folks that are, I’d say, in their late 20s or early 30s, and we’re trying to communicate to them about how valuable the 50-plus market is. In particular, we may be talking about Boomers if it’s a pharma or a packaged goods company.

On the most pleasant moment she’s experienced professionally during 2016: Actually, that moment happened very recently. The fact that Ad Age finally recognized us is super exciting. In my opinion, we’ve been doing great things for many years and have been overlooked by the trades for a long time. So, there’s a big smile on my face. There have been lots of personal Facebook posts and many professional congratulations. I think that’s probably been my sweetest moment during the past year.

On the most challenging moment of 2016: The most challenging moment of the year was a bit of a theme, which is AARP takes the brand very seriously and as a result we have a fairly stringent ad policy team. All of our advertisers have to be approved by that team and I would say that advertising rejections from our ad policy team are the biggest frustrations because we literally have people who are out there with their dollars; their wallets opened, ready to spend money and we can’t take their advertising or their money. That’s the biggest frustration.

On the trend of basically giving magazine subscriptions away for nothing: On the topic in a more global sense, at least on your question, I believe that magazines have devalued themselves tremendously. I think that they’ve been in panic mode for years. I’m a big print person; my dad was in the magazine business; I had a sister in the magazine business and I love magazines. I still read books; I don’t have a Kindle. I love print. And I think that it’s sad that the move toward devaluing publications by offering them for $2 and $3 in some cases, I can’t believe the offers that have come my way over the last several years.

On what she believes that she can do to make the magazine business model work again: That’s a hard question to answer. I can tell you that I know what I can do, and what I can do is wake up every morning with a great attitude about going out into the marketplace and representing two amazing print brands that deliver on their promises to both advertisers and readers. I don’t know that every magazine can say that they do that. I don’t know that every magazine is attracting the kind of talent that is passionate about magazines the way that I know our staff is.

BUDEC16_001A.pdfOn breaking the stereotype that AARP The Magazine is more of a membership read than a great storytelling vehicle: I think that’s more of an editorial challenge or opportunity than it is an ad sales opportunity. Of course, the better the editorial product, the easier it is for us to attract advertisers, so obviously they all work together. And our MRI numbers are a testament to the fact that our publications are vibrant and have evolved. And hopefully we’ll continue to evolve. We got a tremendous amount of MRI growth over the last few years. I’m sure you saw the latest release where our total readership is up almost one million from spring 2016. And it’s the highest readership we’ve had in the magazine’s history, so clearly the editorial is on point.

On anything else she’d like to add: I think the only thing that I’d like to add is that I’ve been in the advertising business now for 31-plus years, with a few years on the agency side, but most of my career has been on the print side. Of course, we took on digital about seven years ago, but I grew up in this business for 31 years, and I’m happy to say that I still wake up every morning with a smile on my face knowing that I’m coming to work. Not necessarily when it’s 13 degrees and I have to get in my car in the mornings. (Laughs)

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly at her home one evening: You would definitely catch me cooking; cooking is a passion. You may catch me having a glass of wine while cooking. I have long work days and I travel a lot, so when I am home, I love to cook. And oftentimes you’ll find that you’re not the only guest; my husband and I entertain quite a bit. We love having people over and I love cooking for people.

On what keeps her up at night: On a business note, I would say that what keeps me up at night is being able to keep up this momentum. We’ve had year after year after year of bucking industry trends; am I going to wake up at some point and it’s all going to come crashing down? That’s something that weighs on me, I’d say. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s something that sticks in the back of my head.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Shelagh Daly Miller, Vice President, Group Publisher, AARP Media.

Samir Husni: You hear a lot in different industry circles about the changes in magazines, and how there’s no room anymore for a mass-circulated publication, yet you publish a magazine with over 37 million readers and the Bulletin at 29.7 million readers. What gives?

octnov-2016-warren-beatty-70Shelagh Daly Miller: I would say that while our publications are obviously mass, considering the circulation, 22.5 is the rate base for 2017 for each of the publications, but we’re really serving somewhat of a niche audience at the same time. It’s specifically 50-plus, but not only that, it’s 50-plus people who have raised their hands and said that they were going to join the organization that’s advocating for them as people over 50-years-old. So, I think that gives us a bit of a niche focus.

When you look at, for example, a women’s service book that’s really trying to be everything to everyone in that women’s group, you might have an editorial piece on dealing with “terrible two’s,” and as we know the age of those publications has gone up significantly over the last 10 years, so you may also be talking to someone who is my age, 53, who’s well beyond the point where the “terrible two’s” are relevant. Therefore I think that’s a harder mass appeal to address. Whereas we’re talking to this group who are not only age-wise for the most part over 50, but again they’re sort of the cream of the crop of the 50-year-old’s. We know that they’re more educated than non-members; they’re more affluent than non-members, but most importantly, they’ve raised their hands and paid their money and have said that they want to be a part of this.

Samir Husni: You make a very good point about having a niche audience or a specialized audience, although there are plenty of them. In this country we have almost 72 million millennials and 72 million baby boomers; why do you think that the magazine industry focuses so much of its attention on the audience that it doesn’t fully have, such as the millennials, and ignores the audience that it does have?

Shelagh Daly Miller: I honestly think that part of it is the people who are working in the industry are millennials themselves. And I believe there is a bit of self-reflection going on there; that’s one part of it in my opinion. As you can probably imagine, we’re often out talking to agency folks that are, I’d say, in their late 20s or early 30s, and we’re trying to communicate to them about how valuable the 50-plus market is. In particular, we may be talking about Boomers if it’s a pharma or a packaged goods company.

And I don’t remember this myself, Samir; I don’t remember thinking 50 was old, because I’m 53 now and I’m so young, hip and cool (Laughs); it’s hard to believe that at 28, fifty years old seems so far away, but the truth is, it really does seem so far away to them. They can’t even imagine it. And they don’t necessarily think of their parents when they consider who we’re trying to reach. When we ask them how old their parents are and they might answer 55; and we ask, well, what are they doing? My parents both just retired and they took a biking trip around the world, which we can then say, this is the kind of vibrancy that we’re talking about.

So, again, I think a lot of it has to do with that it’s almost like an ethnocentric focus. You have largely brand managers and agency folks who are in their mid-twenties to late thirties, and that’s who they think about when they want to sell their brand. So, I feel that’s one of the challenges.

And then the other reason that I think the focus is younger is the fact that the target many years ago when you wanted to reach households and get consumption and volume, was moms 18 to 34 or 18 to 49 with kids. And I think that has just stuck, as opposed to moving with those 18 to 34 or 18 to 49 year olds who are now Boomers and beyond; the industry has stayed in that age group and I think it’s almost habit.

Samir Husni: As you reflect on 2016 at AARP The Magazine and the Bulletin, what has been the most pleasurable moment for you during the past year?

Shelagh Daly Miller: Actually, that moment happened very recently. The fact that Ad Age finally recognized us is super exciting. In my opinion, we’ve been doing great things for many years and have been overlooked by the trades for a long time. So, there’s a big smile on my face. There have been lots of personal Facebook posts and many professional congratulations. I think that’s probably been my sweetest moment during the past year.

Samir Husni: And what was the most challenging moment of the year?

Shelagh Daly Miller: The most challenging moment of the year was a bit of a theme, which is AARP takes the brand very seriously and as a result we have a fairly stringent ad policy team. All of our advertisers have to be approved by that team and I would say that advertising rejections from our ad policy team are the biggest frustrations because we literally have people who are out there with their dollars; their wallets opened, ready to spend money and we can’t take their advertising or their money. That’s the biggest frustration.

But on the other hand, that’s a good thing because it really does speak to the integrity of the brand and the fact that advertisers in our publication benefit from the halo effect of a brand that is so stringent. So, it’s kind of a challenge, but it’s a positive at the same time.

Samir Husni: I’ve been known to say that we don’t have a magazine problem; we have an industry problem, because we technically give our magazines away. In your case, it’s part of the membership, but in the case of the major publishers; with some you can pay $5 and get an entire year of magazines. Do you think it makes a difference if you charge me $20 or $10 per year for a membership? Will that stop me from getting the magazine and the bulletin?

Shelagh Daly Miller: If we were to increase our membership dues; I think naturally you would lose a certain number of members who just don’t want to afford an increase like that. But ultimately what you’re left with is likely the members who are most committed to AARP and all of the good work that we do.

I believe that people feel when they join AARP; one of the benefits of their membership is receiving these two publications in their homes, six times per year for the magazine and 10 times per year for the bulletin. I think that if we took that away we would have a great deal of vocal dissent from our members.

On the topic in a more global sense, at least on your question, I believe that magazines have devalued themselves tremendously. I think that they’ve been in panic mode for years. I’m a big print person; my dad was in the magazine business; I had a sister in the magazine business and I love magazines. I still read books; I don’t have a Kindle. I love print. And I think that it’s sad that the industry has moved toward devaluing publications by offering them for $2 and $3 in some cases, I can’t believe the offers that have come my way over the last several years.

In the same way, when I was a media planner at William Esty back in 1986 and magazines started to negotiate off rate card, I think it’s bad that we did that too, because a rate card means very little. And I believe that started devaluing the benefit of being an advertiser in a particular brand, and that’s sort of a B to B erosion and a B to C erosion when you chop your subscription prices. I think it’s a shame that it’s moved in that direction. I don’t know how you shift it back, but I do think that there’s a human nature aspect of, and my parents used to refer to it as something being “dear,” being expensive and important. If we could move the needle back the other way with brands like AARP that are going to stay in the print business, and make them a little bit more costly because of their value, I think that would be terrific. But it’s very hard to swing the pendulum back the other way.

Samir Husni: Recently, I did an interview with Linda Thomas Brooks from the MPA, and I told her that I was going to use a line from a button that she found in a bookstore, and incorporate it into a new mantra following along the path of our recent presidential election, “Making Magazines Great Again.”

Shelagh Daly Miller: I love that! That’s awesome.

Samir Husni: Linda doesn’t allow anyone to say either “print is dead” or “print is not dead,” she banned both statements because she believes that even if we say that print is not dead, we’re making it appear that at one time it was.

Shelagh Daly Miller: Yes, we’re acknowledging that some people think it is dead, even if we tell them it’s not.

Samir Husni: Yes, so she banned that phrase from the MPA, which as I told her, is a breath of fresh air. With everything you’re doing and everything that you see happening around the magazine industry, what can you do to, not necessarily move the needle back, but to help change our business model? From somebody who was on the ad side and who is now on the publishing side; what will it take to change things? We’ve really been our own worst enemies; we haven’t changed yet; what do you think it will take?

Shelagh Daly Miller: That’s a hard question to answer. I can tell you that I know what I can do, and what I can do is wake up every morning with a great attitude about going out into the marketplace and representing two amazing print brands that deliver on their promises to both advertisers and readers. I don’t know that every magazine can say that they do that. I don’t know that every magazine is attracting the kind of talent that is passionate about magazines the way that I know our staff is.

We may not have the 27-year-old media planner who just got into sales, because frankly, we’re not really a cool, sexy brand to those people, but if you want a great print operation to be a part of, come on over here, because we’ve got people who are passionate about print; we’ve got marketers who are passionate about print, and not to sell our digital properties short, which are also an amazing growth medium for us, but if you walk around these offices, you’ll see that most of the people here have a rich print background. And are, to this day, still excited about being out in the marketplace talking about our print properties and what we can do for their brands.

That’s my own little corner of the world and I do believe that if there were more operations embracing who they are and being true to themselves, maybe that’s part of the answer, instead of trying to become something that they’re not, or instead of walking away from their original DNA and what the brand means. Make the brand relevant again to the people who are reading it; don’t try and be relevant to a group of people who aren’t. I guess that’s my thinking.

Samir Husni: I’ve been following AARP The Magazine since before it was called AARP and you have a great editorial team. The magazine today is not the same magazine that if my father had been in this country he would have read. And granted, the recognition from Ad Age is a big step forward, but how can you combat that stereotype that the magazine is just a membership read and not a great editorial storytelling package?

Shelagh Daly Miller: I think that’s more of an editorial challenge or opportunity than it is an ad sales opportunity. Of course, the better the editorial product, the easier it is for us to attract advertisers, so obviously they all work together. And our MRI numbers are a testament to the fact that our publications are vibrant and have evolved. And hopefully we’ll continue to evolve. We got a tremendous amount of MRI growth over the last few years. I’m sure you saw the latest release where our total readership is up almost one million from spring 2016. And it’s the highest readership we’ve had in the magazine’s history, so clearly the editorial is on point.

I too have been following AARP in one form or another for a long time. When I was at William Esty, I worked on Vaseline dermatology formula and we advertised in Modern Maturity, and I remember it being frustrating because AARP had lowered their age from 55 to 50, so their rate base was changing every couple of months. And I remember it being a little bit frustrating to work on that publication from a planning standpoint.

But then when I joined AARP, we still had a publication called Modern Maturity and we had just launched a separate publication called My Generation. And I think this goes back to a question that you asked before about being relevant to your audience; we wanted to have My Generation focused on the Boomers, and what we realized after a year or so was that AARP members referred to their magazine as AARP Magazine, so why were we trying to create a new brand when AARP was already such a strong brand, and that was when AARP, Modern Maturity and My Generation became one age-versioned magazine, which is what we have today; AARP The Magazine.

So again, I think that was an example of understanding your audience and not trying to be something that you’re not. And from an editorial standpoint, we started to take a very different direction back then and it’s just continued, and I would say it has become even more accelerated since Myrna (Blyth – editorial director) came onboard, and Myrna brought Bob onboard; the types of people we’re getting on the covers; the types of editorial: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen’s new book; Helen Mirren and Sally Field, somewhat iconic, but still very relevant today, even to younger folks.

Again, I think it comes down to making sure that you’re relevant and I believe our editorial product has done a great job of evolving into a more and more relevant publication. The fact that we do, for the magazine, the age-version, is another USP that enables us to be particularly relevant within the mass number, but the niche audience.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Shelagh Daly Miller: I think the only thing that I’d like to add is that I’ve been in the advertising business now for 31-plus years, with a few years on the agency side, but most of my career has been on the print side. Of course, we took on digital about seven years ago, but I grew up in this business for 31 years, and I’m happy to say that I still wake up every morning with a smile on my face knowing that I’m coming to work. Not necessarily when it’s 13 degrees and I have to get in my car in the mornings. (Laughs)

But I really love what I do and I love this business. And I love the evolution that I’ve had; I’ve been at AARP for 16 years, and I never expected that. Up until that point I had the pretty typical career where every three or so years I moved from title to title, but I really found a home here for a lot of reasons. It’s an amazing brand and it’s an amazing organization that does really great things. We have really terrific high engagement media properties and we have an amazing team of people, which is definitely part of the reason we finally were recognized by Ad Age. This is my family away from home and I do wake up every morning excited to go to work. I know my own peers, my friends, are often envious of me that I still love what I do. It’s just been really fun and I hope to be doing for a while longer.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your house unexpectedly one evening, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; having a glass of wine; cooking: watching television; or something else?

Shelagh Daly Miller: You would definitely catch me cooking; cooking is a passion. You may catch me having a glass of wine while cooking. I have long work days and I travel a lot, so when I am home, I love to cook. And oftentimes you’ll find that you’re not the only guest; my husband and I entertain quite a bit. We love having people over and I love cooking for people.

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

Shelagh Daly Miller: I think this will be a little bit reflective of my personality because I like to think that I’m kind of funny, but frankly, my dog hogging the bed and my husband snoring is really what keeps me up at night. I have a 67 lb. dog and he thinks that he owns the entire bed.

On a business note, I would say that what keeps me up at night is being able to keep up this momentum. We’ve had year after year after year of bucking industry trends; am I going to wake up at some point and it’s all going to come crashing down? That’s something that weighs on me, I’d say. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it’s something that sticks in the back of my head.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

One comment

  1. […] 37 million readers, AARP The Magazine is the largest circulated magazine in the U.S., writes Samir Husni is his Mr. Magazine blog. Add to that the close to 30 million readers of the AARP Bulletin, and you have an American print […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: