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Outside Magazine’s, Larry Burke, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I’m Bullish, And It May Sound Crazy To Some, But Personally, I Love Print.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 23, 2020

“We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.” …Larry Burke

Outside is the world’s leading active lifestyle media brand. For 43 years, the Outside brand has covered travel, sports, adventure, health and fitness, as well as the personalities, environment and lifestyle of the world Outside. The magazine is the only publication to win three consecutive National Magazine Awards for General Excellence.

Larry Burke is chairman and editor in chief of Outside and it was his vision of health, robust fitness and just overall fun and physical wellness that brought Outside to life. Larry is the founder and has been with the magazine since its inception, making him one of the longest-serving magazine editors of a single brand and in a club of peers that includes the likes of Hugh Hefner, Jann Wenner, and Marvin Shanken.

I spoke with Larry recently and we talked about his affinity toward print, (actually, he used the word bullish) and we talked about the fact that he is a one-brand man and he is convinced that has made Outside, in all its formats and platforms, a very successful business.

Outside reported a 41 percent growth in its total print audience, which is the third highest increase, according to MRI’s Fall 2019 study. You certainly can’t argue with that particular success. And Outside reaches over 3.4 million active readers with every issue. Another confirmed success story.

So, please enjoy reading about many more of the brand’s successes in the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, chairman and editor in chief, Outside magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On his assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

On his secret sauce of success: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

On how he is breaking the stigma of if the magazine is an outdoors publication, it’s for a male audience: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

On the biggest challenge he faced in 2019: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

On the Outside Experience event: We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

On being an independent company and whether he’s becoming a rare breed in the magazine industry: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

On what keeps him up at night: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Larry Burke, founder, chairman and editor-in-chief, Outside magazine.

Samir Husni: What is your assessment of the future of print magazines and magazine media?

Larry Burke: It’s no secret that with the proliferation of other media channels that print is viewed as traditional media and therefore is subject to all the pressures and competition from other platforms. In our particular case, and the industry in general, I think that the strongest brands that dominate their specific space, their specific lifestyle or market as the case may be, are in a great position to grow from their heritage. That’s certainly the case with us; we happen to dominate in a very active lifestyle marketplace as a media brand. And it has given us a lot of opportunities . Of course, there are a lot of challenges that go along with that, but personally, I’m very bullish on our ability to keep pounding away with our print platform, as well as all of our other platforms.

We’ve actually had a very good print year. Our audience grew by an astounding 41 percent in print alone, not even including our digital growth, which across the board has been very strong. I’m speaking from a very narrow perspective, our own view of our brand and its opportunities and the opportunities that the brand has presented us year in and year out, both with advertisers and the reader and consumer side as well. I’m bullish. I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print and I think that we’ve had absolutely strong consumer retention on the print side, and a strong growth story on the print audience side, as evidenced by MRI’s recent results in the last study they did.

And we’re going to take that forward into this year. It’s based on a lot of things, of course. Our overall market is growing, for one thing, people participating in an active, outside lifestyle and that just keeps growing. The outdoor industry is now an $877 billion goliath. So, from the broader market perspective in the space that we exist in, it looks very positive. And across the board, on all of our platforms, we’re talking about television, online, digital, newsletters, podcasts, events; all of those platforms are doing very well.

Samir Husni: What’s your secret sauce; your magic formula? Is it the blue stones in New Mexico? (Laughs) What differentiates you?

Larry Burke: Let me just say this; when the two teams are going to play in the Super Bowl, and if a sports journalist calls them up and asks them what’s your game plan? They’re not going to tell you. And our secret sauce is a “secret sauce.” But I can tell you this much; Outside has been in the making for forty three years now and it has an incredible legacy of journalism. And we basically view ourselves as a content creator and a content distributor. And with that in mind, we position ourselves to provide that content to our consumers in any way they want to consume it. And in as many ways that they could possibly consume it. So, we want to be in all the channels of distribution with what has been a tremendous legacy of great journalism and storytelling.

Recently, we started a company called Outside Studios, which was created to take our storytelling to an additional level and that’s into film, into docuseries or one-off documentaries, and theatrical releases, scripted or unscripted. So we have these opportunities, again, based on the legacy of the Outside brand and based on our legacy of incredibly-executed journalism and great storytelling. That’s really the essence of it.

Again, in terms of being a content creator and a content distributor, to a very specific, yet very broad market, a global market, that’s basically what we do. And it’s what has allowed us to have so many opportunities beyond what originally was simply one magazine. We are very highly focused on one thing, as Jack Palance said in “City Slicker.” (Laughs) We focus on one thing; we focus on the Outside brand. We don’t have a lot of brands to consider; we try not to have too many distractions that are out of our wheelhouse. Some things come across our transom that represent opportunities that we feel we can connect our consumers with. That could be, as was published not too long ago, an opportunity in the cruise ship business. It could be an opportunity in the hospitality business; it could be an opportunity in a lot of things. Again, going back to the brand, the brand has just developed a reputation over the last 43 years in solid journalism and content creation.

Samir Husni: With the Outside brand, you’ve been reaching the upper-aged millennials. And you’re getting as many females as males in that group. How are you reaching that audience, and breaking the stigma of if it’s an outdoors magazine, it’s for a male audience?

Larry Burke: I never started in this business with a market research study. I had an idea about the way I thought people should live their lives as often as possible, giving consideration to their jobs. But on their personal time it was always about how we felt people should spend as much time as possible. And that was in an active lifestyle outside. There was no demographic; there was no male or female target. It was all about an attitude toward life. It just so happened that originally it was predominantly a male audience and it was always historically somewhere in the 70 percent male and somewhere in the 30 percent female.

But as the decades wore on, we realized it and the market itself gravitated naturally toward the female gender. We’ve always spent a lot of time covering women, they have been on the covers going all the way back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Women are a huge force in our world, but it wasn’t really recognized as much as it is today. They represent at least 50 percent of the population that is employed in our market and more and more people are flooding in to this market all the time. It just so happens that there’s an equal representation of women across other cultural disciplines as well.

It was quite natural when a couple of years ago we decided to have one issue totally edited, written, photographed, designed and the subjects, all women. All women on both sides of the equation, executing the issue and as subjects in the issue. I think that was a big eye-opener to a lot of women who individually weren’t subscribing. A lot of them might have been reading their husband’s copy or their boyfriend’s copy, but generally speaking overtime it just evolved into a pretty strong representation in both genres, women and men.

The floodgates have been opened, as evidenced by MRI’s recent study showing our 41 percent growth that came mainly from women, but also in regional areas like the Midwest. We also cover the whole LGBTQ community. We believe everyone should live an outside lifestyle.

That’s at the bottom of it, and that was what the idea of Outside was based on. We think it’s just good for people, good for the planet, good for relationships, business or personal, and that’s our mantra. We don’t exclude anybody; we’re very inclusive. And we’ve learned a lot along the way, over the last 43 years, about our audience and what it’s made up of and what the advertisers need to. Our marketing partners have evolved as well. There never used to be a strong, in our market anyway, there never used to be any strong attention given toward the female market or the children’s market, for that matter. Our world was pretty much, as you said, dominated by a male perception of what an active lifestyle was all about, but that has changed over the decades and it has really come to fruition now.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2019 and how did you overcome it?

Larry Burke: There are challenges every year and we certainly have a lot of them. One of our biggest challenges is converting more online readers into habitual users. It’s a huge challenge, but it has a lot of opportunity associated with it. It’s difficult to get readers to come back habitually for a host of reasons. The biggest one might be that the majority of online readers consume media in 2020 through various umbrella platforms, from social media to news aggregators, than they do through a single source or a brand. As a result, it’s much harder to get readers to come directly to a singular website than it is to draw them in through Facebook or Flipboard or something like that, because that’s where all their eclectic interests are covered.

It’s important that we focus on things that will generate habitual use of our site for our readers in any given month. We have a lot of formulas that are on point to do that, which is a close to the vest subject, but we’re very intent on increasing the percentage of online visitors that return more often in a given month. So, that’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity because it leads to a lot of affiliate sales, print subs, reader revenue opportunities, advertising revenue opportunities; it leads to a lot of things. So, that’s one challenge.

Another challenge that comes to mind is bandwidth. I was mentioning all the opportunities that come to a brand like Outside; we have so many companies from a variety of fields that want to associate themselves with the Outside brand. And there are a lot of really strong opportunities there, that the bandwidth of our teams gets stretched. And with the huge changes in sales and marketing brought on by the emergence of digital and native, video and event platforms, and a lot of other platforms that we employ; all of that has created an environment where we really need to spend so much time in client service. But the challenge is really to, not only provide our existing clients with very healthy service, but to also prospect for new business and strategize on new markets, and new accounts to approach.

You have to balance the maintenance of existing business, which is critical for renewing that business, with breaking new business and growing our client base. So, there’s always that bandwidth challenge, where how much can we shove through the pipeline and still be effective at what we’re doing. So, it comes down to the economics; how much can you reinvest in growth and do you have more opportunities than you have funds to invest in those opportunities? It gets down to a lot of business modeling and a lot of strategic thinking. And a lot of editing of the opportunities, really.

 Samir Husni: And one of those edited opportunities is the Outside Experience that you started last year and that you’re doing again this year.

Larry Burke: Exactly. We love the event side because we get to be up close and personal with our readers, our users, our television viewers, our listeners, our podcast listeners. We get to meet these people at an actual live event. So, we’re very high on that side of our business and it’s a really fun kind of exhibition. Of course, we partner with Reed Exhibitions, which is the largest event organizer in the world, and they do a lot of the activations and stuff for us. It’s a terrific way to connect with the actual consumer as opposed to just looking at them through other marketing efforts that are in the traditional sense.

Samir Husni: Larry, do you feel that you’re a voice in the wilderness? When you look at all the magazines that were started when Outside began, and with what’s happening today in the industry, you’re one of very few that still owns the magazine and edits the magazine. You may or may not report to a board of some kind, but you’re not continuously looking at the stock market to see how you’re doing. Are you becoming a rare breed in the industry?

Larry Burke: We are an independent company. One of the few that is recognized as a national and international brand. I really haven’t given myself much time to look behind me; look at the past and see what happened to all of those magazine titles that started at the same time as Outside. I really try to focus on what’s ahead of us, I don’t like to look in the rearview mirror often, unless it’s helpful in seeing the future. I do have to pinch myself now and then. Malcolm Forbes told me one time when I asked him a question about expanding the Outside brand and expanding the business, and this was back when it was still a juggernaut, I was real high on all these other ways to grow the business. And he looked up at me from his newspaper and said, “Just stick to your knitting.” (Laughs)

I took that as, okay, if I believe in this idea of Outside; if I believe as I do, and I did then and I do to this day just as much, I believe that the idea of Outside is much more powerful than any particular platform or any vehicle for delivery of our content. It’s the idea behind Outside, that it is, in fact, just a great way to live your life. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for your family and it’s good for people in general. Our consumers, our audiences across all of our platforms, I think they believe that as well. They know that, in fact. They know that is true and all we have to do is create award-winning content and distribute that content through our channels in order to maintain a healthy business and be viable and loyal to our mission. And that’s basically our secret sauce.

I believe in focusing on just the Outside brand. There have been plenty of opportunities to acquire other titles, but I said no, I have my hands full with Outside. If I just stick with this brand, it can take us anywhere that we want to go.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?

Larry Burke: (Laughs) I’m not sure I know what the perception of me is that people have. Frankly, I haven’t actually sought a lot of publicity. Whenever it comes by, I try to accommodate journalists or media, if they want to talk about Outside or myself personally, but really over 43 years, I haven’t had a lot of media exposure personally. So, I don’t know what the perception out there is, I honestly don’t. I’ve never even looked myself up on Google. (Laughs) I just don’t do that.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Larry Burke: You would find me taking my dogs out on my ranch, then I will go down and check on the horses, making sure they’re all well taken care of. You may also find me down at my tennis court, practicing my tennis game. I might be taking a hike with my wife, having a good husband and wife catch-up conversation on the day’s activities. You might also find me unloading my car with all my ski gear in it, because hopefully I’ve spent a day on the mountain.

In the summer, especially in the evening, you would probably find me swimming some laps in the pool because I try to stay in shape for surfing, which we’re going to Australia and New Zealand soon to do just that, we’re going down there to surf and dive from the Great Barrier Reef, then we’re going to do some sailing and we’re visiting New Zealand to do some bike touring and some rafting on the rivers there. This whole Outside thing came out of my own personal lifestyle.

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

Larry Burke: I actually wake up almost to the minute at 3:00 a.m. every morning. And at that time, I go to bed no later than 10:00 p.m., I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and I’m immediately thinking about anything and everything in the world. No matter how small; no matter how large; it can enter my consciousness and that always includes something about Outside. Some opportunity that I want to remember to follow up on, some conversation I had with one of the staff people that I need to finalize. Some strategy that I think we need to employ in a certain area of the business. That goes on for approximately two hours and then I sleep for another hour before I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. religiously, every morning, no alarm clock necessary. (Laughs) And that’s how that goes.

If there’s one thing I think about it’s how can I make sure that Outside is positioned as best as it possibly can be going forward? And what might those opportunities be that Outside can take advantage of? Basically, in a nutshell, that’s it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

One comment

  1. […] “I’m bullish, and it may sound crazy to some, but personally, I love print,” Larry Burke, chairman and editor-in-chief of Outside magazine, recently said to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni in an interview. […]



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