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A Shortcut To Quality, Credibility, And Trust: Magazine Media. Better. Believe It. A Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO, MPA: The Magazine Media Association & Michael Clinton, President, Marketing And Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines.

October 3, 2017

Magazine Media. Better. Believe It. Explained.
‘Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?’

“Part of what we’re doing is talking to consumers to remind them that magazine media brands have that credibility… People have figured out that not all content is created equal and consumers are using magazine brands as a shortcut to quality… All of the outside research, not MPA research, proves that magazines build brands and sell products at the same time better than any other media channel.” Linda Thomas Brooks…

“Consumers and marketers are asking themselves who they can trust in a world with a lot of digital fraud and wrong information. Magazine media content is trustworthy. Our editors create print and digital content in safe environments with brands that people respect and believe in. It’s the moment in time for us to lead the narrative.” Michael Clinton…

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive…

“Publishing is believing,” a publisher friend of mine from The Netherlands once told me. And I told him Amen to that. In the magazine and magazine media business you are either 100 percent in it, or you’re not in at all. Magazine Media. Better. Believe it. And those last five words happen to be the basis of the new campaign that the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media is about to embark on today.

In the digital world we live in, consumers and marketers alike are searching for whom they can trust and in whom they can believe in. That is the main reason the magazine media industry is behind this consumer and marketing campaign that weeds fact from fiction in an age of fake news, fake content and fake advertising.

But why now? Why is today the best time to share this message that magazine media is the most trusted and credible source for engaging content over any other media form? The answer to that weighty question can be found here (among others), and is based on my recent interview with Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the MPA: The Magazine Media Association and Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

Linda and the MPA are staunch advocates for magazines and magazine media. And the central theme of this campaign is “Magazine Media. Better. Believe It.” It brings magazines’ uncanny ability to produce professional and credible content in a brand-safe environment to the forefront of consciousness, when claims of fake news are everywhere.

And recently, Michael wrote a Hearst feature article that’s very first line expelled any doubt as to what he and Hearst Magazines think about their admitted core print business: ‘Print is alive and well with consumers everywhere.’ And with Hearst Magazines being one of the many companies participating in the MPA’s ad campaign, it’s a given that “Magazine Media. Better. Believe It” is something they also strongly believe in.

So, I hope that you look past the recent headlines and give the acid test to the message that Linda and Michael are sharing, and agree that when it comes to truthfulness and abiding constancy in content and information, magazines are Better. Believe it. And now Linda Thomas Brooks, president & CEO, MPA: The Magazine Media Association, and Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

Linda Thomas Brooks

On what made the MPA decide that now was the right time for an ad campaign emphasizing credibility and trust in the media (Linda Thomas Brooks): You can look at this from two different standpoints. From the consumer’s standpoint; consumers just received a lesson in what it means that the media world has expanded so broadly. And they’re starting to figure out that not all content is created equal. And they’re trying to figure out who they can trust.

On what made Hearst Magazines decide now was the right time to participate in this ad campaign (Michael Clinton): Consumers and marketers are asking themselves who they can trust in a world with a lot of digital fraud and wrong information. Magazine media content is trustworthy. Our editors create print and digital content in safe environments with brands that people respect and believe in. It’s the moment in time for us to lead the narrative.

On whether she believes in this time of media circles and celebrity editors’ resignations, that it’s time to refocus on the magazines and magazine media brands rather than the people behind them (Linda Thomas Brooks): I don’t think it necessarily has to be one or the other, because those are iconic people and they did fantastic jobs for a long time and I think those magazine brands are as powerful as they are because the people behind them are so fantastic. But I think whoever replaces them, and in some cases that’s not known yet, I have no doubt that those people are going to be equally fantastic; probably differently fantastic.

Michael Clinton

On how this campaign fits into the Print Proud Digital Smart mantra Michael Clinton believes in (Michael Clinton): We pride ourselves on our editorial integrity regardless of platform. With a lot of false influencers that really have no influence, magazine brands and our editors influence consumers to take action.

On why she thinks the media industry is prone to talking about the negatives in the business rather than the positive stories (Linda Thomas Brooks): It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Even though I’ve been part of very, very competitive industries before, I’ve never quite seen the same role of the trade press when it comes to eating their own young. (Laughs) And that’s part of what this is, stepping up to say this is the power that our magazine media brands have.

On why he thinks the media industry is prone to talking about the negatives in the business rather than the positive stories (Michael Clinton): There is a great line from the play “Hamilton.” ‘Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?’ Every magazine professional has to have the passion to tell the story of our great medium. No one else will do it for us.

On how she believes in addition to the MPA’s campaign, the industry can show consumers and marketers that magazines are still the best reflectors of American society (Linda Thomas Brooks): That’s what we’re trying to do here is really start that conversation. This campaign will be going on for months. We’re going to be in 123 of our different magazine media properties in print in the next couple of months, but we’ll be in digital as well. We’re going to be trying to share this message and I hope that the message starts an industry conversation, or continues an industry conversation that I think has already started, which is about brand safety.

On anything that she’d like to add (Linda Thomas Brooks): I think that the idea of magazines being a shortcut to quality is something that I keep hearkening back to, because I think it’s really important for both consumers and marketers to understand that.


And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Linda Thomas Brooks, president and chief executive officer of MPA: The Association of Magazine Media, and Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: With everything taking place in the country regarding the media, why do you think now is the opportune time to sell magazine media’s story? There is a lot of fake news and many people have been predicting the industry’s demise; what made you decide it’s now or never to launch an ad campaign emphasizing credibility and trust in the media?

Linda Thomas Brooks: You can look at this from two different standpoints. From the consumer’s standpoint; consumers just received a lesson in what it means that the media world has expanded so broadly. And they’re starting to figure out that not all content is created equal. And they’re trying to figure out who they can trust.

Part of what we’re doing is talking to consumers to remind them that magazine media brands have that credibility and to be honest, they’re discovering this on their own, and if you look at the recent results for a lot of magazines, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and even magazines like Parents that has nothing to do with news or current events per se; people have figured out that not all content is created equal and consumers are using magazine brands as a shortcut to quality.

So, number one is to remind consumers. And number two is to remind marketers, because what marketers have seen in recent months is that their advertising isn’t having the results that they want. They’re not getting business growth. And we have all of the outside research, not MPA research, that proves that magazines build brands and sell products at the same time better than any other media channel.

And that’s not me saying that; it’s Millward Brown, Nielsen Catalina, and comScore saying it. All the proof points, and all of the problems marketers say they have; I hate to say it’s a Perfect Storm because that’s an overused analogy, but it’s a confluence of all of these things coming together, and we want to remind people on both sides of that. Where we sit, we’re the answer to all of those problems.

Michael Clinton: Consumers and marketers are asking themselves who they can trust in a world with a lot of digital fraud and wrong information. Magazine media content is trustworthy. Our editors create print and digital content in safe environments with brands that people respect and believe in. It’s the moment in time for us to lead the narrative.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all of the media circles, all of the resignations of some of the celebrity editors; do you feel that it’s the best time now to bring the focus back to the magazine and magazine media brands, rather than the people behind them?

Linda Thomas Brooks: I don’t think it necessarily has to be one or the other, because those are iconic people and they did fantastic jobs for a long time and I think those magazine brands are as powerful as they are because the people behind them are so fantastic. But I think whoever replaces them, and in some cases that’s not known yet, I have no doubt that those people are going to be equally fantastic; probably differently fantastic.

But those magazine brands have all been through more than one strong editor with a strong editorial voice, and those editors all left with those brands in such a rock-solid position; they didn’t leave them at a moment of weakness, they left them at a moment of really core strength. And I’m certain that will continue, because the publishers behind those brands know what they are and what they stand for.

Samir Husni: Michael, how does this campaign fit in the realm of the Print Proud Digital Smart strategy that you preach all the time?

Michael Clinton: We pride ourselves on our editorial integrity regardless of platform. With a lot of false influencers that really have no influence, magazine brands and our editors influence consumers to take action.

Samir Husni: Part of me feels that the industry fails a lot in telling its own success story. When I see magazines that are less than 10 years old with circulations of 1.7 million, like Rachael Ray Every Day, Food Network Magazine etc…

Linda Thomas Brooks: And the Magnolia Journal reached one million in around four issues.

Samir Husni: Yes, The Magnolia Journal hit one million after four issues, and many other magazines that are less than 10 years old, or even less than two years old are going to press for a second printing. Why do you think the media industry doesn’t tell those stories more often, rather than constantly reporting on the negatives, the magazines that don’t make it?

Linda Thomas Brooks: It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Even though I’ve been part of very, very competitive industries before, I’ve never quite seen the same role of the trade press when it comes to eating their own young. (Laughs) And that’s part of what this is, stepping up to say this is the power that our magazine media brands have.

And I’m not ignoring the fact that there are very real business issues and there are very real business disruptions that we’re facing, but every brand is facing business disruption, including digital brands. But we have this strength of heritage that is important to both marketers and consumers. So, I think this is the perfect time to do exactly what you’re describing, which is to step up and say, hey, maybe we’re not perfect, but we’re really damned good.

Michael Clinton: There is a great line from the play “Hamilton.” ‘Who keeps your flame? Who tells your story?’ Every magazine professional has to have the passion to tell the story of our great medium. No one else will do it for us.

Samir Husni: There was a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal about Mashable being up for sale. They lost somewhere around $10 million and they laid off 30 percent of their staff, but no one said digital is dying or digital is fading. In addition to this campaign, how can the magazine industry show consumers and marketers that magazines and magazine media are still, even in this digital age, the true reflectors of American society?

Linda Thomas Brooks: That’s what we’re trying to do here is really start that conversation. This campaign will be going on for months. We’re going to be in 123 of our different magazine media properties in print in the next couple of months, but we’ll be in digital as well. We’re going to be trying to share this message and I hope that the message starts an industry conversation, or continues an industry conversation that I think has already started, which is about brand safety.

The thing I tell people about magazine media brands; they’re more than brand safe, I call them brand edifying. If you’re a marketer, you want to know, not only the safe place for your brand, that you’re not going to be next to something that is completely inappropriate, but that the content is edifying to your brand. That it complements the brand and that consumers feel that it’s part of the package. If you look at Simmons or MRI, all of their qualitative statements, you get all of that with magazine media brands.

So, I think those conversations have started and we’re just trying to amplify that and remind people that these are really critical business issues for marketers demonstrably and again, from outside research, magazines are the best place for that.

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

Linda Thomas Brooks: I think that the idea of magazines being a shortcut to quality is something that I keep hearkening back to, because I think it’s really important for both consumers and marketers to understand that.

The other thing is that magazines are still invited guests in consumer’s homes. People consume magazines in a whole different way than they consume any other media channel. And I think that’s a really important idea too. If I like you enough to invite you to my home, I have a different relationship with you than somebody I just pass in the street that I don’t know.

If you think about it on a very personal basis that’s what magazines are representing in the marketplace, that invitation from consumers and that gives us a different point of entry in terms of our content, as well as the advertising that comes along. The way I keep phrasing it to people is that magazines are invited guests into consumers’ homes and advertisers get to come along as a plus-one. And that’s very different from every other media channel out there.

It’s going to take a lot of people to change the conversation about this, and I don’t think we should be shy about the power of our brands.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

Click to check the campaign here…
Read Linda’s current blog on this subject here.
Read Michael’s post on the Hearst’s website here.

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