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Us Weekly Executive Vice President & CRO, Vicci Rose, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think Our Future Is Really Bright…” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 5, 2020

“As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.” … Vicci Rose

Vicci Rose is Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Us Weekly and its digital properties. Shortly after the publication’s March 2000 re-launch to a weekly frequency, Rose became one of the chief architects of the magazine’s turnaround and its impressive growth for nearly two decades. When someone says weekly magazines aren’t viable in this day and age, I always think of Vicci and the success she has brought to Us Weekly.

I spoke with her recently and we talked about the American public’s almost insatiable desire for celebrity news and entertainment. It’s a part of the magazine world that has never really gone away. It may have waned for a while, but people have always been very faithful to the genre.

Vicci has been a vibrant part of the magazine world for decades and believes in being positive, upbeat and hopeful about the future. She’s not wearing blinders by any stretch of the imagination, she just knows what pleasure and indulgences magazines bring their audiences. And indulgence is certainly the decided term she uses. Vicci said that while we may not allow ourselves many indulgences in our busy worlds of today, magazines may just be the only one we deem worthwhile to allow.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicci Rose, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Us Weekly and its digital properties.

But first the sound-bites:

On her assessment of the future of magazines and magazine media: As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.

On whether she believes that magazines are more of a luxury item today, rather than an impulse buy, and based more on their individual value to the consumer: The term luxury; what does that mean? Is it a small luxury? Perhaps. I would say that we’re talking about indulgences; is it a candy bar that someone says, I have to have my piece of chocolate every day? I do feel that today with the economy being what it is for the average American, despite the health and wellness of the stock market, I do think we have very little indulgences and magazines may be that indulgence.

On the biggest challenge she thinks magazines and magazine media are facing: While there are so many challenges facing us in terms of the overall business, but thinking about my own point of view and how our business is affected, it’s been over a decade or more, and it’s not a new phenomenon, but I do think that the role of procurement and the need for businesses to increase their cost efficiency across the board, whether it’s my business or your business, there is this emphasis on prioritizing efficiency and sometimes sacrificing productivity.

On magazines being the original influencers: There is no question that social media has become part of our daily lives. But each one of these channels plays a role for each of us in varying degrees. You might be an Instagram follower; I might rely more on Twitter; one of us might read more magazines; we might take our newspapers in the digital format today. So, I do think the idea of personalization is also playing a greater role, which does make our jobs difficult, but I’m very optimistic about the future as long as consumers remain curious, as long as they remain passionate, and I don’t know about you, but every consumer I know has extended their day well beyond the 24 that seems to be the criterion today. (Laughs)

On whether she believes social media in all its platforms is friend or foe to magazine media: I think social media partners that are committed to quality content are absolutely our partners. We have benefited, and initially we had an audience that was really early adoptive, first to the digital landscape, mobile, and then Facebook and Twitter. And today we still see really rapid growth in Instagram and Instagram Stories and Instagram TV, so we believe very strongly in social media as a real advocate for our content.

On anything she’d like to add: I would say to keep the emphasis on good, quality journalism. I believe that will keep the lights on for all of us.  That rallying cry that is hopefully on the tip of everyone’s tongue, behind all of this is the importance of good quality journalism. The journalism has to survive in whatever form it’s in. We need to have a society that allows reporters, honesty and principles to be governing what we do and we need to have a society that believes in it, and that believes in truth.

On what keeps her up at night: You know I don’t sleep. (Laughs) I would say again, it’s back to the challenge of the corporate consolidation. Our industry is being consolidated, has been consolidated in terms of the big publishing companies, where there were once many and diversification, now there are a handful. And that’s happening now in the digital landscape. As you know, almost every one of my primary digital competitors, within the last three or four months before the holidays, consolidated as well.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicci Rose, Executive Vice President & CRO, Us Weekly, American Media.

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

Vicci Rose: As someone in the business for multiple decades and who is extremely enthusiastic about where we are today and about the future, I have to say that as long as good content is developed and we have a willing and excited audience on the receiving end of that, I think our future is really bright, whether the form function is in print, digital or social, I think the quality content will really continue to compel a worthy community of highly coveted readers.

And what I mean by that is, of course, there is a lot of argument as to whether we should be targeting millennials or Gen X or Gen Z, but the bottom line is, we exist in a population in a community of consumers who are still very curious, very eager to learn more. The Royals are a fascination for the public, of course. People have a consuming passion that is still unsatisfied. The more we can give them, the more they can connect.

So, I do see that the future remains bright, but it is not without its challenges. I do believe that an environment where we continue to provide content with open borders, so to speak, on the digital platform, that puts the emphasis on those of us who are charging for our content to really focus in on those qualities that will command a price for that content.

For example, for our magazines, Us Weekly and many of the other titles here at American Media, we are charging premium prices at the newsstand. For our 52 issues per year, we’re charging $5.99 at the newsstand. So, in order for that consumer to feel justified for that purchase at retail, and by the way we’re competing with an average of 35 or 40,000 individual products for that shopper’s basket each week she goes into the store, we better have something of true value when she picks up that magazine, brings it home, and then sits down and consumes it. I believe the pressure continues to mount on us to make sure that the value to price equation is at an all-time high.

Samir Husni: I was speaking with the director of marketing and newsstand at Barnes & Noble, and she said that she looks at magazines today as luxury items. Do you believe with that high cover price, $5.99, on a weekly basis, that magazines are no longer just an impulse buy, but instead the consumer finds true value in them?

Vicci Rose: The term luxury; what does that mean? Is it a small luxury? Perhaps. I would say that we’re talking about indulgences; is it a candy bar that someone says, I have to have my piece of chocolate every day? I do feel that today with the economy being what it is for the average American, despite the health and wellness of the stock market, I do think we have very little indulgences and magazines may be that indulgence.

And they bring great joy to their audiences, whether you’re talking about the reader who picks up The New Yorker and is immersed in that editorial environment and again, the magazine may also have a very healthy digital business, but to that reader there’s nothing like picking up that magazine and sitting down as an avid reader of The New Yorker and doing so in print.

I do think that we would use the term indulgence as we sit down and really enjoy these physical experiences. And while we all have audiences that are intensely engaged with our digital, mobile and social properties, I don’t think the same adjectives are used when someone is explaining their connection to our digital content. There isn’t that same passion, that same indulgence, when you’re talking about the physical experience.

The short-term, near-term future for the next couple of years looks like magazines will continue to connect with the consumer. In fact, our audiences that are younger, the 18-34 year olds and the 18 to 49 year olds, are still quite strong in the magazine business. Of course, the need for a healthy and committed ad community has been one of our greatest challenges, as you well know. In 2019, and I don’t want to speak for other competitors, but I would say the rationale behind a number of very healthy and iconic editorial properties, the rationale for them to cease publication was not a lack of readers or a lack of committed audiences, it was a moving away by advertisers. And personally I think that’s one of the greatest challenges, not a loss of readership per se, but a loss of advertising support.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest challenge for magazines and magazine media? The loss of advertising support?

Vicci Rose: While there are so many challenges facing us in terms of the overall business, but thinking about my own point of view and how our business is affected, it’s been over a decade or more, and it’s not a new phenomenon, but I do think that the role of procurement and the need for businesses to increase their cost efficiency across the board, whether it’s my business or your business, there is this emphasis on prioritizing efficiency and sometimes sacrificing productivity.

So, I believe more and more corporate consolidation and more and more emphasis on ROI and again, productivity efficiency, has hurt brand equity; our brand equity, as well as our client brand equity. When you look at the landscape, and again this brings in other elements of our business, do we in an error of urgency and immediacy and immediate gratification, do we have brands and marketers who are able to take a longer-term view of the health of their businesses? We’re all under the idea that in order to do something we need to see an immediate return on investment. And I absolutely think that has changed the mentality of opportunities in the marketplace.

And I think some of the change in our business has been to take highly productive businesses supporting print, and as you know there are mechanisms like media-mixed modeling, which is obviously a very important component of our marketers and our advertisers’ research to allow them to assess the success of their dollars in each media channel.

But I hear frequently about how print works. But the idea is they’re under pressure to explore new channels of innovation and so, even though they know print works for them, the idea of innovating and moving their businesses forward and exploring new channels is more important to the company than really reinvesting in what they perceive to be a “traditional,” even using the word “antiquated” medium. And I think for the magazine media industry, that’s one of our greatest challenges, because for every client that tells me that, that’s a client who is walking away from a tried-and-true mechanism for productivity into the unknown.

In fact, there was a recent article I read about the huge emphasis and continued emergence of influencer marketing and yet, there is no real trusted mechanism to measure the true ROI. There was a survey in the marketplace that this journalist quoted as 84 percent of the marketers that he queried admitted that there was absolutely no proof that their dollars had any kind of ROI, that they were investing in influencer marketing, yet they felt that it was working for them.

So, the question is, why is there still this double standard? And as long as there is that double standard, that will continue to be our biggest challenge on the magazine media side.

Samir Husni: I recall Linda Thomas Brooks , when she was the CEO of the MPA, I heard her speak once and she said something like: magazines are the original influencers.

Vicci Rose: (Laughs) We talk about that all the time, as you can imagine, with the earlier conversation we had about celebrities. Whether it’s Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez competing with each other, I think the current number is well over 180 million Instagram followers for one of the two of them, so you can’t dispute that social media impact of those individuals.

And we recognize that. There is no question that social media has become part of our daily lives. But each one of these channels plays a role for each of us in varying degrees. You might be an Instagram follower; I might rely more on Twitter; one of us might read more magazines; we might take our newspapers in the digital format today. So, I do think the idea of personalization is also playing a greater role, which does make our jobs difficult, but I’m very optimistic about the future as long as consumers remain curious, as long as they remain passionate, and I don’t know about you, but every consumer I know has extended their day well beyond the 24 that seems to be the criterion today. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Do you think social media, in all of its many platforms, is a friend or foe to magazine media?

Vicci Rose: I think social media partners that are committed to quality content are absolutely our partners. We have benefited, and initially we had an audience that was really early adoptive, first to the digital landscape, mobile, and then Facebook and Twitter. And today we still see really rapid growth in Instagram and Instagram Stories and Instagram TV, so we believe very strongly in social media as a real advocate for our content.

We see our celebrities when they are covered in the magazine or on our website, reposting their photographs and their articles, and it brings back another huge community of readers and visitors. So, when the properties are committed to responsible journalism and responsible content; yes, we see them as a symbiotic partner and an advocate for our content and for what we do.

I think they’re, for the most part, the leading social media sites, and I do think that consumers value them. And we have to respect and recognize those properties that our consumers value. We approach our audiences as a community. And as you know our property, entertainment and celebrity journalism, especially through Us Weekly’s purview, which is very much about lifestyle through the lens of celebrity, is editorial content that is shared, relied upon and trusted, and those are very important attributes that are also part of the trusted social media properties.

So I think that we have everything to gain from a good and solid relationship with them. In fact, something that we’re very excited about and that we made a commitment to in the latter half of 2019, is a renewed commitment to YouTube. Our friends over at YouTube are working very closely with us to make sure that our new commitment across the portfolio, not just Us Weekly and J-14, but also OK! and In Touch Weekly; all of our properties, really understand how we can best navigate that flank to truly add value to our audiences.

And it’s not just going to be a repurposing of content; we’ve never believed in that from print to digital or from digital to mobile, we really see these various channels as opportunities to take the information and translate it in unique ways that particular population needs and we’re very excited about this new flank.

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

Vicci Rose: I would say to keep the emphasis on good, quality journalism. I believe that will keep the lights on for all of us.  That rallying cry that is hopefully on the tip of everyone’s tongue, behind all of this is the importance of good quality journalism. The journalism has to survive in whatever form it’s in. We need to have a society that allows reporters, honesty and principles to be governing what we do and we need to have a society that believes in it, and that believes in truth.

At Us Weekly, it’s a very important key tenant of our editorial and it’s important to us in the marketplace and it has also allowed us to trade on that with other elements of our story, whether it’s taking the material that we produce on a daily and weekly basis into a very productive email newsletter business, which we’ve been doing for almost two decades for our opt-in subscribers, roughly about 700,000 per day, and we’re almost on our second anniversary of a very healthy podcast business.

And while we’re still very committed to the almost two million copies of the magazine that goes into the hands of our consumers on a paid basis every week, we are continuing to thrive by adding new channels into the mix. And I do think it’s the diversification which will allow us to continue to thrive for the next 20 years. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary as a weekly and I’m hoping that these new flanks will allow us the next 20 and beyond.

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

Vicci Rose: You know I don’t sleep. (Laughs) I would say again, it’s back to the challenge of the corporate consolidation. Our industry is being consolidated, has been consolidated in terms of the big publishing companies, where there were once many and diversification, now there are a handful. And that’s happening now in the digital landscape. As you know, almost every one of my primary digital competitors, within the last three or four months before the holidays, consolidated as well.

So, the challenge that I mentioned a few minutes ago about the marketing community looking for that efficiency concerns me. I want to engage with clients that are interested in talking about ways to further their brand equity. To really design programs for them that capitalize on the strong relationships between their consumer and potential consumers and their brands, and the potential consumers that we have in common that look to our content to make the match. So, that’s what keeps me up at night because I see that potential audience of marketers who are willing to pursue brand and brand equity shrinking. That does keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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