The Trade Magazine That Wasn't, Sort Of

First, let's begin by acknowledging that we, of all people, know how confusing it is to be a "trade" these days, but one of our most perplexing trade publishing dilemmas occurred recently, when we got pitched to interview Adweek Publisher Erica Bartman, about the venerable trade magazine's "re-launch" this week, and the simultaneous demise of its sister magazines, Brandweek and Mediaweek.

"Um, you do know we compete with Adweek, right," we told the PR lady pitching the story to us? No reaction, so we added, "At least we think we do."

Apparently, the new Adweek team doesn't think so. Heck, they don't even think they publish a trade publication.

"We no longer consider ourselves a typical trade publication," Bartman stated in a press release we received Monday morning, the day Adweek actually relaunched. "Rather, we are a business-to-influencer brand telling the story of advertising."



We know you think The Riff sometimes makes this stuff up -- and sometimes we do -- but we swear, this one came straight from their release.

That, and the fact that there had been so much speculation leading up to the new Adweek, and especially what new Editorial Director Michael Wolff planned to do with it, that we couldn't resist, and agreed to conduct an interview, and maybe even write about it. But then we got even more confused when the PR lady informed us the interview would take place the morning after Adweek relaunched, and after The Wall Street Journal had already reported on it. When we pointed out how weird that was, and asked if the new Adweek would cover a story after it had already been announced and covered elsewhere, the PR lady demurred, adding, "today is the day everyone is covering the story." Well, maybe that's the way business-to-influencer brands do things, but we're a conventional trade publication, so what the heck, we waited yet another day just to prove how old school we really are.

Don't get us wrong. We admire Michael Wolff a great deal, and believe he has a real command of the media industry, and we look forward to reading his version of Adweek, even though it's now actually the "voice of media" (that's their new tagline). Maybe that's appropriate, because MediaPost would probably call itself the "voice of advertising," if we had a tagline.

That said, the first edition of the new Adweek had some old advertising stories in it. Like its cover story on "Madison Avenue Moves to Brooklyn," a subject that OMMA magazine featured on its cover last November. It also had some really nice, sentimental, weepy-eyed touches of old Madison Avenue nostalgia, including a homage Wolff wrote about his father Lewis A. Wolff who launched Force Inc., a creative boutique during Madison Avenue's "Mad Men" era. In it, Wolff took another jab at the ad industry trades and their "narrow-focused insularity" (boy that guy can write), asserting that trade pubs are "not the most logical place to turn when the world is exploding." That's why, he said, it was time to blow up the trade publishing model and reinvent Adweek.

But when he added, ""We need to be more Tolstoy than trade reporter," it raised some sixth sense -- a narrowly focused, singular sixth sense -- deep down in the hackles of our reptilian trade reporter brains that remembered one of Adweek's earliest and most successful trade advertising campaigns positioning it against the ad industry monolith Advertising Age. The campaign, which was created by Adweek's original marketing chief Wally Lawrence, was earlier even than the famous Dick Orkin radio spots that really put Adweek on the map. The ad featured an archetypal ad executive's desk with three publications laid out on it -- Adweek, Advertising Age and Tolstoy's "War & Peace" -- and carried the headline, "Which would you want to read on Monday morning?" Okay, so the truth is we'd actually want to read Tolstoy, but we all knew that we needed to read Adweek back then, even before the world was blowing up.

The truth is, we'd still like to read Adweek, especially if this week's relaunched edition is any indication of what Wolff has in store for us. In fact, we always liked reading it. But we used to call it New York magazine. Okay, so it's not quite New York, but maybe if it had another story or two about Brooklyn in it and coverage of some hot new restaurant scene, then it would definitely be New York. That actually surprised us, because we were actually expecting something more like Vanity Fair. Some of the writing in it actually is that good.

The relaunched edition of Adweek is an interesting mash-up of old and new, which may be appropriate given the current nature of Madison Avenue. In addition to some old stories, it featured some old photos, including a beautiful Henri Cartier-Bresson portrait of the McCann-Erickson reception area, circa 1959.

Clearly, the new Adweek would be some formidable new competition for us trades, if they were a trade.

Asked what they consider the pub's competitive set to be, Adweek's Bartman told us, "Like every business person, you don't want to limit yourself. Ad Age and Adweek are the two most similar, and most competitive. There has been, and will continue to be plenty of room for both of us to do our own thing."

On a business basis, Bartman says she is pitching the kind of traditional B-to-B advertisers that historically advertise in advertising trades, but that she is also going after advertisers in the financial and business travel categories.

Bartman must be doing her job, because the current edition of Adweek is stuffed full of print ads, including a number of those old-style testimonial and congratulatory ones from big ad agencies.

"I've found that there's a lot of heart for the Adweek brand," she noted, adding, "I think that people have been very receptive to the idea that there's going to be a place that's bringing back the excitement of all of the reasons we all got into this industry. We have all eyes on us, and support as we bring new ideas and capabilities into the marketplace."

As for being the "voice of media," as opposed to the voice of Madison Avenue, Bartman said that's not exactly true, and that the real goal of the new Adweek is to retain its core ad industry following, while broadening its base to other "super influencers." In fact, she says Adweek has identified 1,000 people who qualify for that description, and lists people ranging from ABC's George Stephanopoulos to rapper and businessman Jay-Z as some of the new Adweek's new super influential readers.

Asked how the new Adweek managed to get these new influencers to subscribe, Bartman confided that Adweek has actually arranged to hand-deliver advance copies to their homes.

In conclusion, the new Adweek is a bit like the old Adweek with bits and pieces of other "consumer" magazines that cover the media industry thrown in. And based on that assessment, we agree with them that they do not compete with other trades.

1 comment about "The Trade Magazine That Wasn't, Sort Of".
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  1. Bill Gloede from the late Mediaweek, April 20, 2011 at 9:43 a.m.

    Nice tribute to Wally. It does seem we've heard this story before: Jack Thomas, Penn Tudor and Ken Fadner were doing very much the same thing as Richard Beckman is now, though Clay Felker, as an editor, was in class by himself. And it worked. It might again. We all should wish them well.

    Goes to show there simply is no such thing as a new idea.

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