Masters of Reinvention: how magazines stay relevant

You’ve got to admire the perseverance of Canadian magazine publishers. Amidst the tablet-tapping, internet-trolling masses, they’ve managed to adapt and maintain enviable audience loyalty. Still, the past few years have been unprecedented for the medium and the advertisers who rely on it for audience connection.

Alicia Androich May 13, 2011

You’ve got to admire the perseverance of Canadian magazine publishers. Amidst the tablet-tapping, internet-trolling masses, they’ve managed to adapt and maintain enviable audience loyalty. Still, the past few years have been unprecedented for the medium and the advertisers who rely on it for audience connection.

A sky-is-falling mentality would be understandable given all of the competing platforms print magazines are up against. “Obviously there’s a lot of media clutter out there these days,” says Lilia Lozinski, SVP and group publisher of Fashion, Weddingbells and Canadian Family magazines at St. Joseph Media. “The beauty of magazines is they are the most personal of the media out there.”

The Spring 2011 report from the Print Measurement Bureau (PMB) shows digital isn’t usurping the Canadian magazine industry after all. The “average degree of interest” in Canadian publications stayed steady at 6.8 on a scale of one to 10, and the average readers per copy for the 61 English-language titles in the study rose slightly. It’s now 5.1 and was 5 last spring.

Magazines have something else working in their favour: they understand the plight of their allies, the advertisers, when it comes to audiences. As Lozinski says, “We’re in the same business as a lot of our advertising clients: acquisition and retention.”

It’s a tough go when advertisers are still crawling out of recession bomb shelters. Despite this, Canadian publishers are a decidedly positive and resilient bunch. When traditional business models broke under the weight of the faltering economy, magazine publishers invented new, integrated strategies to work with clients beyond the confines of the printed page and, ultimately, click with audiences. Whether using social media connections, custom content or standout events, publishers and their advertisers are working more closely and collaboratively than ever before.

Ideas for partnership opportunities are continuously brewing between the two as well. “It’s not something where it just comes through an RFP,” says Karen Cleveland, marketing and communications manager at St. Joseph Media. “It’s more of a dialogue between brands… We’re always paying attention to what our partners are doing and recognizing ways to add incremental value to that.”

“We’re acting as full-service providers and developing programs that range from social media strategies, ad creative, research, contest, video, TV production. It’s really the whole realm,” says Lynn Chambers, group publisher of Canadian Living and Homemakers at Transcontinental Media. “It’s a different skill set because that’s the demand of the market.”

There’s still trepidation at some publishing companies about bridging the gap between publisher and client. Gary Davies, EVP at RedPoint Media Group and publisher of up!, Avenue and Wine Access magazines, says his company does basic ad building for clients, but that’s as far as its ad services go. He admits internal management has struggled for years over whether RedPoint should create its own ad services department. “Our battle has always been, frankly, do we want to take agency work away from agencies that sometimes supply us with our advertising base? Do we want to get into that competitive role?” For RedPoint, Davies says the answer remains uncertain.

But those publishers willing to bring ad agency work under their own roofs—or experiment with advertising partnerships in other ways—can tap audience development dollars not traditionally slotted for “display ads.” Read on for our coast-to-coast proof that magazines have the potential to authentically connect brands with consumers.

Go integrated or go home
Integrated programs aren’t new, but they are more essential than ever. Caroline Andrews, group publisher, sports, leisure and entertainment at Transcontinental Media, has noticed that even though her group has used integrated approaches since Netscape, “clients are really starting to buy into it now.” She attributes this to the torrent of recent statistics about how Canadians use the highest amount of data—internet, mobile, searches—in the world. In this type of environment, it seems like the more layers the better.

With that in mind, Transcontinental Media created Media Lab about a year ago. The initiative lets a dedicated magazine team work with clients on a case-by-case basis to build customized integrated experiences. A lot of the work is with “clients who say to us ‘Don’t talk to me about regular ROP,’” says Eric Morin, senior manager, business development and product innovation at Media Lab. So if a client of Les Affaires, a business weekly in Quebec, wants to reach CEOs of mid-sized companies, for example, Media Lab’s 10-person team can provide ideas for print, web and events.

One of Media Lab’s biggest breakthroughs was a multi-platform project built for Export Development Canada (EDC), a federal agency that helps enterprises export goods internationally. To get the word out in Quebec, Media Lab worked closely with EDC to build a French website, LesAffairesMonde.com, which EDC sponsors. It includes information on foreign trade, and is led by François Normand, the journalist who handles the international pages in Les Affaires magazine. The site contains everything from country fact sheets to video interviews with business owners.

The Google Analytics report for March 2011 shows the site got 12,253 visits, 16,443 page views and 7,071 unique visitors. Morin says EDC is pleased with the results, and extended the contract for another year.

A true multi-platform project, there are also roundtables with entrepreneur exporters, a semi-regular Les Affaires editorial column (with EDC running an ad page to ensure ownership), and a mobile app that sends a weekly export-related tip.

The unabashedly raunchy yet highly profitable youth culture magazine Vice has long delivered integrated programs for advertisers. Take, for example, the franchise music show Practice Space on VBS.TV, Vice’s online broadcast network (yep, they have one of those, too). Vice publisher, Canada Ryan Archibald says Vice matches brands rooted in music—or those that like to have that association—with bands that suit them on the site. The client can then partner with Vice to sponsor and produce new Practice Space shows. “[Advertisers] get all the exposure out of us doing these shows and promoting them, and they get a built-in audience because it’s an existing, successful show and has a following,” says Archibald. It’s a healthy one at that: Archibald says the site gets 300,000 uniques a month in Canada.

Get social
Connecting with audiences in the social space is vital for magazine brands, but generating revenue and measuring ROI remain a challenge. That hasn’t stopped several publishers from breaking through the e-clutter with standout campaigns.

To help Coty launch the new Calvin Klein fragrance Beauty, Fashion magazine delivered an integrated program to stimulate trial and create awareness of the new scent. For the social media component, Fashion worked with Coty Canada’s word-of-mouth marketing agency Matchstick to create a contest hosted on Fashion’s website. The magazine’s 340,000 Twitter followers and 21,000 Facebook fans were invited to visit the website to submit a photo of something that represents beauty to them and describe their interpretation of beauty.

Matchstick also seeded samples of the perfume to its database of “influencer” beauty bloggers, who then wrote about the scent and drove readers to the contest. Plus, Fashion posted contest details on sites including RedFlagDeals.com and Win-Free-Stuff.ca to help increase traffic to its site.

Within a month, more than 300 people had uploaded a shot. Next, the images were displayed and readers voted on them. More than 5,300 readers, in fact. Coty’s goal was to disseminate roughly 2,500 samples to contest participants. Fashion more than doubled that expectation.

The interest in the contest proves reader engagement, says Lozinski. “It was a lot of work to upload a photo and write a description… The fact that many people went to the trouble speaks volumes about the connection to the brand.”

Magazines and their advertisers can definitely strengthen their connections with audiences online, agrees Transcontinental’s Chambers. When P&G had an Herbal Essences launch a couple of years ago, Canadian Living used its 9,200-person reader panel to find readers interested in trying a product sample. Roughly 1,200 samples were mailed out with recipients expected to provide feedback online; some of the testimonials were used to create an ad campaign that ran in Canadian Living and Elle Canada. “It almost helped enhance the credibility of the campaign because it was coming from word-of-mouth community and it connected P&G to our audience and helped them find people who could be brand ambassadors,” says Chambers.

Make it custom
Hitting up a clients’ supplier list to sell ads in an anniversary supplement is so analogue. RedPoint halted that practice in its custom division seven or eight years ago because, as Davies says, “We wanted to focus more on quality than quantity.” Rather than simply pitch a client on a custom magazine, RedPoint is rebranding the division as a “custom content sell.” That could mean anything from creating content for a client’s website to producing a customized wine insert, such as Wines of Chile or Wines of Spain, that appears inside Wine Access magazine.

In Quebec, Loulou, a Rogers-owned shopping magazine, recently created some unique custom content in partnership with shopping centre giant Cadillac Fairview. To build customer loyalty for Centre à la Mode (CALM), a quiz was developed with Rogers’ research department and sent to CALM’s database. The goal was to filter CALM’s clientele into three shopper profiles: impulsive, thoughtful and habitual.

As a result, 18,000 of CALM’s clientele were sent a personalized issue of Loulou that featured eight customized pages of editorial clothing picks based on the person’s own shopper profile.

All of the clothes featured in the bonus pages are available at CALM’s retailers. “It was mutually beneficial because it brought exclusive Loulou expertise to their clientele,” says publisher Marie-José Desmarais. “It was nice to see our magazines in the hands of Centre à la Mode customers… and those pages fit perfectly with Loulou. They’re true to our product and it’s useful information for the reader.”

All about the databases
If there were a mashup for the creative ways Canadian publishers are using their databases to connect clients with the right audiences, it’d have to include Oscar Hammerstein’s “Getting to Know You.”

Say, for example, you’re looking to find women with dry, itchy skin (hang on, we’re going somewhere with this). Look no further than the Reader’s Digest ailment database, which contains roughly 175,000 people. (Segmentation is the new gold standard.) Compiled through an annual questionnaire about ailments they or their family members may have, it’s a goldmine of data for clients. So when, for example, Kao Brands’ skincare line Curel wanted to target women 35 to 64 who suffered from skin symptoms like dry patches, Tony Cioffi, president and CEO of Reader’s Digest Canada played matchmaker to the ailment database.

Reader’s Digest and Sélection, its French sister publication, wrote and posted a dry skin editorial feature on their websites as part of the partnership and an e-blast was sent to about 60,000 people: 15,000 people in the ailment database who, through their survey, indicated they or a family member suffer from eczema or psoriasis and would be interested in receiving information on it, and the remainder from a list provided by Environics. Thanks to the e-blast, says Cioffi, more than 190,000 unique visitors (151,000 English and 42,000 French) went to the site last May from the women 35 to 64 demo.

Like a lot of publishers, RedPoint’s database is a mix of user data “within individual databases kept in individual spreadsheets for various purposes,” says Karen Hounjet, VP, sales and marketing at RedPoint. More than a year ago, the company decided to create two positions to manage and develop in-house databases. “The recent changes to the foundational structure of our database allows us to account for growth in many future areas, including aggregating our audience, collecting more audience information, streamlining production and project management systems, and integrating it all with accounting and circulation,” says Hounjet.

Bring the title to life
Enhancing reader affinity with a community of interest under a magazine brand means going beyond the printed page. While conferences and seminars have been common for decades, an increasingly popular way to monetize readers and extend the brand is by hosting events with more entertainment value (and ensuring advertisers come along for the ride).

Take the Barbie events Canadian Family helped create for Mattel. As a celebration of the latest Barbie movie, the magazine held a free afternoon screening for its readers last November in Toronto. An invite ran in the magazine and an e-blast was sent to its database of about 20,000. In just two days, the guest list of 400 was full. “We had moms who couldn’t get on the guest list crying, saying ‘It’s my daughter’s birthday,’” recalls Lozinski. The event had a pink theme (naturally) and featured craft tables and a dress-up station. “This is our way of giving back to our reader,” she says. “And for Mattel, it opened up to a very engaged customer base.”

In Nova Scotia, a regional magazine went for something more permanent than a day-long event… like “bricks-and-mortar” permanent. For the past 11 years, Atlantic Canadians have associated Saltscapes with flipping pages. Now they’ll associate it with flipping burgers, too. The magazine with the tag line “Canada’s East Coast Magazine” has licensed its brand name to a new chain of restaurants and general stores. The first location recently opened in Millbrook, Nova Scotia.

The highway-side restaurant is “the antithesis of fast food,” says publisher Linda Gourlay. “You can sit down with somebody and have a meal that’s reasonably priced and still get in and out in 45 minutes.” It sources its produce and hormone-free meat and poultry from local farmers and the general store carries old-fashioned staples like strawberry rhubarb jam.

The restaurant and store concept ties in well with the magazine’s brand, which represents the Atlantic Canadian lifestyle, she says. “It’s maybe folksy and simple, but it’s very meaningful because it’s all about the quality of the experience and the time spent in that experience.”

Membership has its benefits
A new initiative by Applied Arts magazine, a hefty visual communications publication, qualifies its Canadian subscribers for an exclusive group benefits plan. The Applied Arts Benefits Program includes medical, dental, life, disability and critical illness insurance. Publisher Rosetta Heckhausen announced that this was a way to do something special for subscribers for their loyalty and commitment to the magazine.

Offered through Associum Benefits and Green Shield Canada Insurance, the program is meant to empower the magazine’s audience of primarily self-employed individuals, many of which don’t have access to reasonably priced group benefits.

Another bonus: for $60 annually, members of the benefits program also qualify for an additional program that offers discounts on several business products and services, from office supplies to couriers.

To drive subscriptions and build community, RedPoint launched “Inner Circle”, a loyalty program specifically for readers of Avenue, a city lifestyle magazine for those with discerning tastes for fine dining, fashion and travel in Calgary and Edmonton.

This members-only concept delivers privileges such as first-in-line access to concerts and festivals.

Inner Circle members are also eligible to win monthly prizes, which have included a designer sterling silver charm bracelet and $100 spa or restaurant gift certificates.
Membership also includes a year-long Avenue subscription and city-specific shopping and dining guides. The benefit of Inner Circle, says Hounjet, is it creates brand loyalty, “which increases our eyes, our subscriptions, our word of mouth, our participation at events and so on.” Also, the magazine’s advertisers get a better understanding of its readers and can directly target a loyal readership group.

As much as giving back to your readers is a great way to lock in their loyalty, so is showing them their input is valuable. To get direct reader feedback on the editorial content of Avenue, the publisher invited members of Inner Circle to become contributors to an editorial panel. The invitation to participate was also extended to Avenue’s readership through the magazine itself.

The first task for the editorial panel was to put the upcoming July issue of Avenue together, says Davies. This included choosing everything from the cover to the types of stories to the columns (while keeping within the magazine’s existing framework). “It’s a ‘make your own’ concept,” says Hounjet. “It’s also a way to get readers to see right away that their feedback has results,” adds Davies.

Be a tool
You can’t talk about magazine publishing in 2011 without mentioning apps. One particular app in Canada does a great job of more than just repurposing content from its print version.

Nightlife.ca magazine, a free monthly dedicated to Montreal’s urban culture and published by out-of-home media company Newad, targets the young, affluent 18- to 34-year-old treasure trove. The magazine wanted to give Montrealers continuous, immediate access to a cultural activity calendar so, in December, it launched a free iPhone app called “Nightlife Montreal.”

Using geolocation, the app points out, for example, the best cinq à sept happy hours happening closest to the user. “I think you have to do apps that are really relevant for the audience and aren’t necessarily a copy of your magazine or website,” says Martine Desjardins, EVP, publishing and content at Newad. Apps can help draw advertisers since, as Desjardins says, it’s a challenge for some brands to develop content that has the credibility with consumers that magazines already do.

Nightlife.ca decided to bring on a major sponsor for its app’s launch. Société de Transport de Montréal was a fitting choice since the app’s users can get a transit map and schedule for the fastest route to get to the establishments recommended by the app. “We were already on a free model with the magazine, so we didn’t want to change that for the application, but we wanted to be sure we had sponsors and advertisers on board,” says Desjardins.

In the future, Desjardins plans to add other sponsors, alerts and ad banners to the app. “Because it’s the type of app that talks about, for example, local bars, it’s easy to drive traffic to those places by alerts,” she says.

Roughly 8,000 people have downloaded the “Nightlife Montreal” app so far, which pleases Desjardins given it’s a niche Francophone app specifically targeting the Montreal market on the iPhone. And while she can’t give details yet, she says it’s “very possible” the app will have an English version in other cities in the future.

A new role
So what’s the new value proposition that Canadian magazine publishers sell to advertisers? Speaking from the client perspective, Aliki Mahshy, director of public relations and education at Coty Canada, feels most magazine publishers come to the table with integrated programs these days. And based on the success of Coty Canada’s partnership with Fashion over the past five years, she says the relationship will continue.

At Vice, Archibald shares his take on the client/publisher relationship: “What we’re bringing to advertisers now is we’re this one-stop shop of production and creation and distribution house. We’re getting well outside the magazine, but this is the reality of how we operate. We don’t operate just as a magazine anymore.”
Other publishers feel the same way. Transcontinental Media’s Chambers welcomes the new opportunities digital platforms bring to engage audiences. “I now consider myself not a publisher; I consider myself a media brand manager,” she says.

But well-known magazine consultant and blogger D.B. Scott isn’t entirely sold on the concept. “I think the term ‘publisher’ is still a worthy and worthwhile title to have,” he says. “What they’re publishing is not necessarily just ink on paper; they are doing video, audio, multimedia and consumer and trade shows.” His concern is that if publishers devote a lot of time doing the work ad agencies have traditionally done, something else may have to give. “This is an audience business, and my concern might be that not enough attention is paid to building audience.”

Still, it’s undeniable that customized, layered solutions work in these nascent days of magazine-driven audience development. It was a layered campaign that helped The Hockey News build audience during the recession. When Hockey News Mobile launched in late 2008, Andrews says she gave a big promotional push to the print publication on both the mobile and regular website to get new eyeballs and potentially subscribers to the core brand. “The year we started doing that, our newsstand went up 9% in a very, very tough year,” she says. “I was thrilled. We did nothing differently other than a very good layer campaign constantly and consistently.”

For those worried about the web stealing readers away from print, new PMB/comScore data showed the duplicated rates between 30 measured magazine titles and their online counterparts are low. In fact, a magazine’s website added an average of 15% unduplicated readership to its print counterpart.

Celebrating its own impressive digital audience, ReadersDigest.ca gets more than 800,000 unique visitors a month, says Cioffi. That number jumps to more than 3 million unique visitors a month when you include all of RDMedia’s digital assets, he adds.

Cioffi says digital is definitely a profitable venture. “In calendar year 2010, we grew 103% in digital advertising year over year,” he says. Print ad revenue, on the other hand, was relatively flat. Still, Cioffi welcomes integrated programs because they allow publishers to keep the print product relevant in an age when the number of clients and agencies doing print-only buys is dwindling.

And, in the eyes of many consumers, magazines remain a part of the overall media menu. “We’re reaching a significant mass of people that are keenly interested and willing to pay for the content and also are accepting the ads as part of the experience,” says Chambers. “Not many other media can make that claim. I believe the power very much still exists for the ability of magazines to connect with their audience.” Canadian publishers are proving the options to do so are limitless.

Masters of Reinvention is part of Marketing’s Magazine Report 2011 and appears in the May 16 issue, which also includes a brief history of the Canadian mag scene and Vice’s ‘zine-to-empire timeline.