Magazine advertising can rebound, and here's how
Up in Rochester, N.Y., there is a bar locals affectionately call "Oli's." The Genesee beer is served in cold cans and the winds off Lake Ontario keep everything else chilled. Recently, I traveled there for a reunion of sorts. Richard and his wife, Caroline, were part of an extended group of friends I met years back through my friend Teeser. Caroline is an educated Republican and The Teeser (as we refer to him), a well-informed Democrat. The two like to spar, and this particular day they quickly engaged in a debate over President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. Caroline's suggestion that this recognition represented a premeditated political tactic was derided by Teeser as "not possible." He countered that the award was a reflection of what the world thinks of our president: "How can that be a bad thing?"
Caroline conceded Teeser's point, and steered the conversation toward safer subjects - like health care reform. She started with, "Have you read the latest issue of The Atlantic? It has a terrific and moving article written by David Goldhill. He breaks down the reality of the health care issues we face in a very compelling manner."
This was followed by a silent pause. It was the moment within a conversation that signaled a heightened sense of listening would be required to keep up, because the speaker had referenced published material that had been "read." Some in this listening situation stand straighter and listen closer, others bail. The Teeser, who had already washed down a few margaritas with a couple of cold Genesees, maneuvered out of the conversation, leaving Caroline and I to get reacquainted through tamer topics.
I'm going to make a bold prediction: The act of reading is driving the initial stages of what will become a full-fledged magazine advertising comeback. This comeback will take time to be realized - as ad dollars follow trends - but this retro consumer behavior has already started to illuminate business meetings, family gatherings and local bars.
This form of self-education delivers an intellectually more curious consumer (regardless of the category of content being read) and a consumer with a more influential voice inside their social circles. Magazine reading as a whole may be off the grid, but those still connected to periodical content will become more attractive to advertisers while becoming less available, which is an ideal position to be in as far as the selling of media is concerned - and magazines are the only medium that can deliver this reading experience for advertisers to exploit.
You don't read billboards - you see them. Nothing is read on television or radio, and online (or mobile) induces a significantly watered-down reading experience. Online content is glanced at, stared at, darted through, and rarely read with vigilant attention, given the access roads to redirect the attention-deficit disorder in all of us. Just staying with a story online is an accomplishment - and those with word counts exceeding 1,000 have very little chance to be absorbed. That leaves newspapers and magazines to deliver advertisers a pure reader and, given the more dire state of the former, the latter is the obvious choice to reclaim ad dollars returning to print.
How magazine publishers maximize this return of available ad dollars will depend, ironically, on how well they can change their business culture to mimic their online counterparts, all while adding improvements along the way. Here are just a few examples of what I mean:
Refer to your pages as "inventory." This is a liberating experience. It opens the door for far more creative thinking on the part of your sales (and marketing) force, which needs to see inventory as a way to bolster the price for the packages they create, versus worrying about the price they get for selling a page. Using the word "paging" is an interim step, and a good one, but ultimately dropping the emphasis on the word "page" to describe what you create for advertisers to buy is where you need to start.
Save the front of the book exclusively to promote "big ideas." Don't allow advertisers to just run single ad pages in premium front-of-book position unless they are using that inventory to promote a "program" co-created with, and sold by, you. Run house ads up front until your sales team figures out the only way to get their clients up front is to sell them a program instead of just pages.
Produce one formal audit statement with print and online combined. The window is still open on this opportunity, created by the current chaos of reporting a Web site's audience. Research players are still battling it out for supremacy, which means there will always be a seat for a minimum of two versions, so do something unique and with authority. Get your Web site audited and then create and publish a combination pink sheet. It doesn't matter how big or small of an audience your magazine brand attracts online: Combine your audience delivery under one audited umbrella and your advertisers will feel safer looking at cross-platform programs you create for them, and you will leave the online community out in the cold when it comes to audited audience delivery.
Believe in the value of a magazine reader. When I attended the OMMA conference recently, I picked up the September issue of Media magazine. The cover was striking and the mood to read struck me. When I finished reading "The Advantages of Being Completely Lost" by Alex Bogusky on pages eight and nine, I was reminded of the power of reading printed content.
His article can now be found online. If and when you're done reading it, ask yourself if you really did.