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Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Have Put More Into Print To Make It An Even Better Physical, Tactile Experience And A Premium Product.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 21, 2020

“I’ll speak for ours (Print) and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best.” Andy Clurman…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 5: Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media

Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media.

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

One of the world’s largest enthusiast media companies, Active Interest Media (aimmedia.com) produces leading consumer and trade events, websites, magazines, and films and TV shows that reach millions of readers, fans, and attendees in 85 countries. AIM powers the second-richest equestrian competition in the world, the World Series of Team Roping. Understandably, 2020 has been a different year for the enthusiast world as well as all of us.

Andy Clurman is president and CEO of the company and said the biggest challenge for the company this year has been remapping the way AIM conducted its business. I spoke with Andy recently and we talked about this difficult year and the way AIM handled itself during the onset of the pandemic and the successes and challenges they have had so far. 

It was an informative conversation and one that inspired hope and continued energy for the world of magazines and magazine media. So, please enjoy the fifth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media (AIM).

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that AIM faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: I’d say the biggest challenge was just remapping our work life, our product portfolio, and emphasizing what we said about combining frequencies of different print issues because advertising had collapsed in the spring and early summer. We didn’t want to lay anybody off, that was always a high priority. So, we redeployed people and put them to work on a big ecommerce initiative that was showing promise around the company.

On the roadmap for AIM into 2021: As the business has evolved and we see other opportunities out there, it’s clear to us that there are some different opportunities and possibilities that aren’t all similar across all of our groups and finding investors who have a category-focused strategy and the capital to support it in some cases is better than us trying to ration resources and grow all things all the time across multiple different verticals.

On the future of print: I’ll speak for ours and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best. Like others, we have put more into print to make it an even better physical, tactile experience and a premium product, which I think serves a very different purpose than how people are engaging digitally.

On the changes he sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: The old tried-and-true business model was the magazine being the mother ship and the source of all other lines of business, whether it was licensing, a website, or what have you, now the magazine is just one of the planets in this whole galaxy of content and customer connections that you have. It’s continuing to evolve to where you’re able to think about that whole galaxy of content and relationships and grow and sustain all of the points of that as opposed to having it heavily skewed toward emphasis on print or emphasis just on digital.

On some of the things AIM is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company: It’s education first. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on. How do we understand in a deeper way what we should be doing, could be doing, and how to think about it as opposed to the way we’ve all been trained and the structures and the conventions that have led to where we are right now. I think it’s energizing to not just respond, but to think about how we could do things differently that would bring in other kinds of voices and faces to what has been a pretty homogenous group.

On any active initiatives to educate employees about diversity and inclusion: Yes, we created a Jedi task force, which is Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and is a cross-section of people from the company. We also brought in an ad hoc diversity officer who has been leading this in terms of sourcing, education, facilitating conversations, doing content and promotional audits, hiring practices, so really looking top to bottom through our organization and our messaging and content. And strategically are there different organizations’ approaches within a different group?

On anything he’d like to add: We’re very grateful for where we are right now. I’ll say that this year has been and continues to be a major test, but I think if you went around and asked people in our company how they’re feeling, I believe they are feeling energized and gratified by the reinforcement for what we’re doing and that it matters to people and is something that people, no matter what’s happening in the world around them, will continue to value and make a place for in their lives. And that’s sort of the punchline to this terrible joke we’ve all been living through. 

On what makes him tick and click: I’ve always been an idea guy. I love working with our group to come up with the next thing or to activate someone else’s great idea, then watching it proliferate through the company, watching it proliferate through our audience and our community. I get a lot of weird satisfaction from that.

On how unwinds at the end of the day: I’m very fortunate to live in Colorado. So, right outside my door there is always opportunities for a long bike ride or a hike or all kinds of things. I just got a hip replacement recently, so now I’m focusing on physical therapy, that’s my release. I’m hoping to get back to the great outdoors as soon as I can.

On what keeps him up at night: You think you know the unknowns as you navigate life as we now know it. And every once and awhile, you can’t escape that uneasy feeling that you don’t know all the unknowns. Other than that, I tend to sleep pretty well.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media.

Andy Clurman

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that AIM (Active Interest Media) has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Andy Clurman: It evolved overtime as we experienced, understood and reacted to all the things happening in the country and the universe. Normally, and I’ve been in this industry for a long time, you tend to have an outdated convention, but you used to have a Rolodex of ways to solve problems. You came to work, something cropped up and you remembered how you’d solved it in years past. But there was no Rolodex or no tried-and-true solution to the pandemic. It was of course something that none of us had experienced in our lifetime. 

The level of social and civil unrest, very few of us had experienced in our lifetimes, depending upon your age. So it was uncharted territory as we first began to understand the gravity and depth of what the pandemic was going to impact on everybody, personally, professionally and socially. 

We operate without a major financial net most of the time. And recognizing that businesses were shutting down, our customers in many cases were shutting down their brick and mortar storefronts, consumer demand was plummeting, people were shut-in and staying at home, we first went into a rapid situation of assessment modeling where we didn’t know if the business and demand would just collapse. Would people stop buying things if outlets for physical products were closed? Advertising was cascading downward. 

So, we did a lot of very quick what-if scenarios and looked at our whole portfolio. What are the things in different categories, things that would absolutely be negatively impacted very quickly? Things that might actually benefit from people buying virtually via ecommerce, consuming content virtually, still being able to get magazines in subscription form to people’s homes, and that led to a whole series of decisions that we made, which fortunately turned out to be successful.

Things like certain issues of certain magazines; other people have done this where you combine frequency, suspended some products. All of our physical events were shut down, so which events could we transform into a virtual experience, a hybrid experience. Is there another way to accomplish a similar task or put a different product out into the marketplace? 

Then we wondered what was going to happen to our workplace in terms of how we work, where we work. How are we technology-enabled and do we have all the tools in place; do we have the right support for the staff to do what they do; how are they feeling, are they healthy; can we help them financially? 

I’d say the biggest challenge was just remapping our work life, our product portfolio, and emphasizing what we said about combining frequencies of different print issues because advertising had collapsed in the spring and early summer. We didn’t want to lay anybody off, that was always a high priority. So, we redeployed people and put them to work on a big ecommerce initiative that was showing promise around the company. 

Samir Husni: What’s your roadmap for AIM as you move toward 2021?

Andy Clurman: We’ve been on a fairly traditional course since we started the company, which was to build a large scale, multimedia enthusiast business across multiple categories. And I think we’ve accomplished that very successfully, at least the initial strategy and roadmap that we created 15 years ago. 

As the business has evolved and we see other opportunities out there, it’s clear to us that there are some different opportunities and possibilities that aren’t all similar across all of our groups and finding investors who have a category-focused strategy and the capital to support it in some cases is better than us trying to ration resources and grow all things all the time across multiple different verticals.

So that led to the sale of one of our larger groups to a group that has a very focused category strategy, very focused category investment, and we thought that would be a good way for them to accelerate growth of that group and let them pursue their opportunities. So, meanwhile we’re doing the same thing with the rest of the company. We’re still very vested in horses, homes and the marine industry. And again, even though there are different opportunities there, we have the ability to put the resources we have against growing their lines of business. 

For example, I think one of the silver linings around COVID is people with more time and interest in our online education writer’s group and our woodworking group has really taken off. As well as digital woodworking plans and digital products for people who are at home doing the things they love. 

So, we really want to double-down on those categories. And even though post-pandemic, there’s a COVID bump, I believe, that we all have experienced in parts of the business that may secede as we get through next year, but this has showed us some of the opportunities of the products that we consider to be ancillary to other lines of business that could be much bigger if we put the focus on them. 

Samir Husni: What is the future of the print portfolio?

Andy Clurman: I’ll speak for ours and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best. Like others, we have put more into print to make it an even better physical, tactile experience and a premium product, which I think serves a very different purpose than how people are engaging digitally. 

We obviously have multiple, multiple platforms, but from what we’ve seen, there has been a surprising boon in print subscriptions this year. Things that were questionable, we are now even more convinced they have a long-term viability and a place in people’s media diet. 

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? What are some of the changes you see taking place? 

Andy Clurman: The old tried-and-true business model was the magazine being the mother ship and the source of all other lines of business, whether it was licensing, a website, or what have you, now the magazine is just one of the planets in this whole galaxy of content and customer connections that you have. It’s continuing to evolve to where you’re able to think about that whole galaxy of content and relationships and grow and sustain all of the points of that as opposed to having it heavily skewed toward emphasis on print or emphasis just on digital. 

The words diversification and balance, and this year really was the biggest proof and test of that. What would your business look like if your advertising was down thirty, forty, fifty percent? Do you still have a business? And thankfully, we answered and have driven through that scenario pretty successfully. So, it’s given us a lot more confidence and enthusiasm for the fact that there really is a great business here, but you can’t think of it in limited dimensions.

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality, or inclusion. And at last count in the past several months there have been over 318 magazines that have had Black subjects on the cover, which is more than there has been in the last 60 years. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at AIM?

Andy Clurman: We, in the magazine media, have always thought of ourselves as fairly progressive, enlightened and have not really been at the forefront of accountability around social progression. I think what’s really been brought to the light this year is our audiences, whether it’s younger people or people in the outdoors within our broader audiences, which do have different levels of diversity, have called us to task, which is reasonable and appropriate. 

To think about not just how we present content and what’s the diversity in the content, but how our whole industry and organizations look. Which to be fair, there is a very low level of diversity that we’ve accomplished, both as an industry and in media. And some of the underlying industries that we serve.

It’s education first. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on. How do we understand in a deeper way what we should be doing, could be doing, and how to think about it as opposed to the way we’ve all been trained and the structures and the conventions that have led to where we are right now. I think it’s energizing to not just respond, but to think about how we could do things differently that would bring in other kinds of voices and faces to what has been a pretty homogenous group.

Samir Husni: Are you taking any active initiatives to educate employees about diversity and inclusion?

Andy Clurman: Yes, we created a Jedi task force, which is Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and is a cross-section of people from the company. We also brought in an ad hoc diversity officer who has been leading this in terms of sourcing, education, facilitating conversations, doing content and promotional audits, hiring practices, so really looking top to bottom through our organization and our messaging and content. And strategically are there different organizations’ approaches within a different group? 

People in the marine industry have a different approach than people in the horse industry, but all have their opportunities we’ve found to partner with different people. And a number of the groups have come up with very industry-specific categories, specific strategies, to bring in some new faces and voices.

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

Andy Clurman: We’re very grateful for where we are right now. I’ll say that this year has been and continues to be a major test, but I think if you went around and asked people in our company how they’re feeling, I believe they are feeling energized and gratified by the reinforcement for what we’re doing and that it matters to people and is something that people, no matter what’s happening in the world around them, will continue to value and make a place for in their lives. And that’s sort of the punchline to this terrible joke we’ve all been living through. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

Andy Clurman: I’ve always been an idea guy. I love working with our group to come up with the next thing or to activate someone else’s great idea, then watching it proliferate through the company, watching it proliferate through our audience and our community. I get a lot of weird satisfaction from that.

Samir Husni: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

Andy Clurman: I’m very fortunate to live in Colorado. So, right outside my door there is always opportunities for a long bike ride or a hike or all kinds of things. I just got a hip replacement recently, so now I’m focusing on physical therapy, that’s my release. I’m hoping to get back to the great outdoors as soon as I can. 

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

Andy Clurman: You think you know the unknowns as you navigate life as we now know it. And every once and awhile, you can’t escape that uneasy feeling that you don’t know all the unknowns. Other than that, I tend to sleep pretty well. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

Up next, Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights for Children.

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

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