Gloss Leaders: 6 mags shaking things up

Print properties expanding their horizons

It’s really not that bad. Sure the magazine world has changed radically in the past few years, but that world is not coming to an end. It’s simply a case of different times calling for different measures. These publishers have figured that out

David Leonard, manager of events and projects, Walrus Foundation

With the world of magazine advertising feeling the squeeze, grim laments about the future are pandemic.

Those fears aren’t entirely unfounded: magazine revenues hit a historic high of $732 million in 2007, dropped to just $608 million in 2011 and could only bounce back to about $618 million this year, according to ZenithOptimedia.

Not exactly a bull market.

But look closer and you’ll find no shortage of magazine big-thinkers coming up with new ways to connect audience with advertisers. Their message: When you’re buying into a magazine, you’re not just buying into a magazine—you’re buying into an entire brand.

These publishers refuse to roll over in the face of unprecedented challenges to the industry. They do not accept that magazines are dying, but instead have looked at the evolving media landscape as an opportunity to position themselves as leaders in the field.

They are looking beyond traditional print to other platforms. And while there’s no hiding the fact that print magazine circulation numbers are dropping as a whole, advertisers are eager to be seen on digital mediums. So magazines are growing their audiences with their new reach and offering custom cross-platform advertising opportunities for their clients. Through websites, apps, digital editions and branded events, these publishers are showing that magazines have strength beyond the dead tree.

[Toronto Life] [Fresh Juice] [Sportsnet] [The Walrus] [Alberta Venture] [Maclean’s]
[Who’s On Top] [Getting Interactive Can Be A Snap] [Who’s Going Up: Circulation Heroes]

1. Toronto Life

Scott Atkinson, Toronto Life

Toronto Life has been tapping its restaurant-goer crowd through a Best Restaurants app, which it sells for $1.99 (so far, 1,200 people have bought it). It’s not the first attempt to impress foodies; last year the magazine ran a “Taste of Tuesdays” campaign sponsored by Telus. Print ads noted that if readers visited one of 10 restaurants in Toronto on a Tuesday, Telus would pick up the bill for an appetizer or dessert. “We also did a microsite with fancy rollover functionality, and pulled Toronto Life’s reviews into that,” says Toronto Life’s director of interactive sales, Scott Atkinson.

The magazine also remains committed to special print editions, including Toronto Life Cooks due out in September. “That’s a traditional print vehicle that seems to be growing; it’s like specialty TV,” says publisher David Hamilton. “We think the special editions—along with the development of apps—are the second engine of growth.”

Beyond food-focused content, the magazine also supported Peroni’s LG Fashion Week sponsorship by supplying a top Canadian fashion blogger and photographer to deliver daily LG Fashion Week coverage, giving Toronto Life online readers an inside look at the week’s events and daily happenings (including at Peroni’s VIP bar). The campaign resulted in 115 blog posts, 15 videos, 175 photos, and 225 tweets in 13 days.

Meanwhile, is seeing record traffic numbers: Atkinson says March 2012 was the site’s best month ever, at 560,000 unique visitors. Social channels drive about 15% of traffic to the site, while the brand has more than 47,000 followers on Twitter and 9,500 likes on Facebook.

2. Fresh Juice
Fresh Juice is fresh indeed—it officially launched in April as the answer to TC Media’s defunct magazine Homemakers. But despite its newness, it boasts a 425,000 print circulation, with 60,000 copies hitting newsstands nationally, and has 20,000 digital edition subscribers through digital newsstand service Zinio. The website has had more than 77,000 unique visitors, with nearly 12,000 of those from a mobile device. An e-newsletter is offered with 54,000 current subscribers, and there are plans for a mobile version and tablet edition as well. How’d it get so big so fast? By tapping Loblaw shoppers. Holders of President’s Choice Financial credit cards receive the magazine in the mail as a reward. But don’t mistake Fresh Juice as a custom publication, because it’s not branded to Loblaw. The content is completely independent.

“There are many benefits to this distribution partnership for both Loblaw and TC Media,” says Merida Lake, brand director for Fresh Juice. In addition to being a Loblaw customer reward, “delivering Fresh Juice content to these customers helps them make the connection between healthy living information and the important role their grocery store can play in achieving their goals.”

The premiere issue had food-focused President’s Choice ads, while there was also an ad for President’s Choice Financial showcasing its PC Financial MasterCard. The mag will also have a “special PC points coupon page for those brands that have a PC points program and want to offer bonus points to our readers,” says Lake.

3. Sportsnet

Readership Leaders Click to expand

The print extension of Rogers’ popular television and radio brand launched last fall. But even with the brand recognition Sportsnet carries in other media, its publisher and editor-in-chief Steve Maich says magazines “remain the most engaging medium,” while being available across multiple platforms “means that we can truly offer advertisers everything.”

Examples of recent cross-platform campaigns include a Ford F-150 editorial program billed “Unstoppable Athletes,” in which readers visit to vote on their favourite athletes in various sports (hockey during the playoffs, baseball for the summer etc.). The “winning” athlete as chosen by readers will be discussed on Sportsnet television, with Ford-sponsored ads throughout each platform in the competition.

Another example is “Canadian Cathedrals,” sponsored by Molson, with Sportsnet featuring a “beautiful” hockey rink in each issue, “with a mini-documentary video living online at, encouraging people to write in with their memories of the rink,” says Maich. “It’s been extremely popular with readers, and we’re actively exploring expanding the program onto more platforms in time for next hockey season.”

Maich isn’t sharing subscriber numbers (it launched with a 100,000 print circulation), but says, “We have a very nice base of paid subscribers already and we’re on pace to almost double [it] between now and year-end.” And it’s clear other magazine experts appreciate it. After less than a year in print, Sportsnet magazine made the National Magazine Awards shortlist for “Magazine of the Year.”

4. The Walrus
The Walrus magazine, powered by the non-profit Walrus Foundation, has thrown the door open to digital platforms. But it doesn’t stop there—The Walrus is one of the handful of magazine brands in Canada that also has a television presence, with January’s launch of on HDTV’s eqhd channel, showcasing documentaries based on articles from the magazine. “Cross-platform is obviously great for The Walrus in that our mandate is to foster conversation on matters vital to Canadians,” says David Leonard, Walrus Foundation’s manager of events and projects. “We know that The Walrus magazine remains a great venue for those conversations and that our readers are dedicated to continuing that conversation.”

That said,, a partnership with, just launched to encourage audience participation in discussions about issues important to Canadians. While that site is too new to report engagement numbers, the magazine’s main site has been generating 75,000 unique views per month, says Leonard. That’s on top of an audited circulation of 50,490 print copies, which The Walrus expects to grow by 10% this year.

And strong audiences obviously bolster unconventional brand exposure opportunities. One example of a recent mutli-platform campaign is The Walrus Amateur Travel Photography Contest sponsored by Aeroplan—a branded microsite for photo submissions.

The program helped drive new sign-ups to the Aeroplan program, while also gaining brand exposure in the magazine, online, and even at the magazine foundation’s annual fundraising gala. In terms of other brand extensions, The Walrus has recently forayed into book publishing, partnering with Coach House Press. The first book by Margaret Atwood is being offered as a bonus to subscribers.

5. Alberta Venture

Joyce Byrne, Alberta Venture

Last year was an eventful year for business title Alberta Venture. Literally. It was full of sponsored events and smaller networking sessions, with an attendance of up to 700 for the “Alberta’s Business Person of the Year” award luncheon.

“The sponsors get banner exposure, but to them, it’s a chance to meet and interact with a very targeted audience that comes from our readership,” says Joyce Byrne, associate publisher.

In late April, Alberta held its first annual best workplaces program in partnership with the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (participating on the panel selecting the award winners) with presenting sponsor Davies Park. “Our sponsorship packages offer pre-event, event and post-event value that we build into a suite of benefits for a sponsor,” explains Byrne. “They would get print and online exposure in advance of the event, the day-of benefit, and then in any audio material/podcasts that come out of the events.”

Using its cross-platform reach, Venture also helped ATB Financial gain exposure during Alberta Small Business Week last October. The magazine came up with a program that combined print, web, mobile and social media (the magazine has 2,500 Twitter followers). Through a branded online survey, promoted by various means including a gatefold magazine cover, the editorial team produced a 16-page feature to share insight in how to run a better business, with exclusive advertising from ATB. It was also developed as a separate 20-page publication distributed to ATB locations.

And while Venture has been developing opportunities for advertisers in new areas, Byrne still sees a bright future for the print product. “It’s rare that we get skepticism from buyers about print. Print is still very much the go-to medium for businesses, particularly in the B2B space,” says Byrne.

The mag’s audience, “elite, educated and affluent” business people, get the magazine delivered to their desks—“that’s a guarantee you can’t make with online,” says Byrne.

6. Maclean’s
The sales team at Maclean’s has a fairly straightforward pitch when talking to buyers, says publisher Penny Hicks. “Be less skeptical about the medium and more curious about the brand experience,” potential customers are told.

“The strength of a magazine brand,” says Hicks, “rests on its ability to attract and build a community by delivering relevant, engaging and credible content.”

Perennially one of the top circulation print magazines in Canada, Maclean’s has also tapped a digital audience and advertisers along with it. Case in point: Maclean’s recently launched its “Canadian Moment” campaign with Scotiabank, inviting readers to share their stories about the moment or time they felt proudest to be Canadian. The campaign will result in the selection of reader stories to be shared in the pages of Maclean’s in print, on tablets, on and mobile, says Hicks.

“The benefit to Scotiabank is that their message via the partnership is being promoted throughout every touch point of the Maclean’s brand as we connect with our audience.”

The magazine also launched its first multimedia ebook earlier this year, a 171-page interactive edition focusing on the Shafia honour killing trial, followed by The Harper Decade by Paul Wells. Reaction was positive enough that Maclean’s has another three ebooks planned for the near future, says Hicks, though she wouldn’t share any details “for competitive reasons.” 

Who’s Going Up: Readership Leaders

Getting Interactive Can Be A Snap

Along with extending their reach to other platforms, magazines are also looking at new print innovations to take them into the digital world. QR codes in magazines allow the reader to connect to a website via smartphone by scanning the code after downloading an app. Near Field Technology (NFC) is poised to eliminate a step by linking the user to sites just by tapping the NFC-enabled smartphone on a page. But will it take off?

“I haven’t heard anybody talking or asking about NFC for advertising yet,” says media planner/buyer Mike Chornopesky of Canmedia Planning in Toronto. “In the short and medium term, consumer interest in NFC will be driven by retail payments. Advertising will come along for the ride, but it won’t ever be a priority for consumers.”

The cost of the “tags” needed to be embedded in print to make the NFC technology work have been reported to be 30 to 50 cents each. “For most advertisers, NFC-enabled ads won’t make sense until the cost of tags comes down to pennies and NFC penetration passes 50%,” says Chornopesky.

Beyond, QR and NFC, there might be another solution: “social snap tags.” Essentially better-looking QR codes that can be branded to the advertiser, readers scan the logo or icon and are taken to an interactive experience to learn more about brands, get discounts and even make purchases. Rogers Publishing used snap tags in the May/June issue of shopper mag LouLou (pictured). Five advertisers took part: Smart Set, Puma, Sears, Kotex and Tri-Cyclen Lo, while LouLou ran a “Find the Secret Snap Tag” contest for the chance to win a prize from Birks.

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