"It hadn't had a lot of investment in a while, and it has become more literary, more academic," said Keffer of the magazine's editorial product at that time, just after David G. Bradley bought the nearly sesquicentennial title from Mort Zuckerman in 1999.
While Bradley vowed to improve the relevancy of the editorial product, Keffer and her staff made a concerted effort to break out of the "commodity" business that ad pages had become.
That meant enhancing The Atlantic's version of added value for advertisers, leveraging her and David's marketing expertise. The magazine now acts as a part-time consulting firm, conducting research and presenting case studies for partners on topics such as ROI and targeting C-level executives.
They also arrange special events, including dinners and seminars with members of academia and the Washington, D.C. elite. Such events, which Keffer refers to as a "money can't buy experience," are credited for bringing in some new advertising revenue.
"We will help you in your job," she said. "We are becoming known for that."
But improving the quality of the magazine was still key. "That is at the core of the advertising resurgence," she said.
During the last few years, the magazine has brought in more editorial talent, become more topical while incorporating more humor.
It has paid off. In the last year, "we've been getting a lot of press attention," Keffer said, pointing to recent cover stories on the United States' pre-war strategy, "Blind Into Baghdad," and a piece penned by deposed New York Times Publisher Howell Raines.
The combination of consulting services and attention-grabbing editorial has translated into increased advertising dollars. Pages are up 21 percent in 2004 through August, following a strong performance last year.
The Atlantic also has been praised by the ad world for taking a bold step last year, by nearly doubling its subscription rate. A risky move, no doubt, it was nonetheless welcomed by an ad community that was suddenly sifting through audit statements with regularity, looking for quality circulation.
The new $29.50 subscription starting price has driven the average subscription price paid from as low as $10 five years ago to around $20.40, based on the latest figures.
The Atlantic knew they would take a circulation hit, so they lowered the rate base from 450,000 to 325,000. To their surprise, the title exceeded that number with ease over the past year, leading to a subsequent increase to 340,000 as of October 2004. "We were essentially leaving money on the table," she said. "We are not finding that much price resistance."
The magazine still has issues to sort out. "We still lose a lot of money," Keffer said, squelching rumors of any multimedia expansion or a launch of "The Atlantic Weekly." But the concept has been discussed. "We are still continuing to talk a lot about that."