All this would have been fine and good, if the ads were actually an attempt to alienate its core audience or included any criticism of Variety, implicit or otherwise. "They got it completely wrong," says 15-year Reporter veteran Bob Dowling, the publication's editor-in-chief and publisher. "There's certainly some edginess to it and some humor, but there's not a single negative thought in our mind."
While Dowling seems more astonished than piqued by the Times' interpretation of the ad campaign, there's no question that the Sept. 15th story did not provide the campaign with the high-profile rub that he had envisioned. Dubbed "Fuel for Thought," the campaign is print-intensive, with ads in the Reporter and its fellow VNU-owned siblings Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek and Billboard. It also boasts a sizable out-of-home component (posters in prominent LA-area locations) and, in January, will be the centerpiece of the publication's marketing push at the Sundance Film Festival.
Misdirected readings aside, the campaign is intended to better define the Reporter's editorial mission. "We want to be certain that people understand exactly what it is that we do," Dowling says. "If you do something and keep adding to it, like we have, at some point you say 'let's take everything we've done and put it into a statement about what we are.'"
Developed by Stein Rogan + Partners, each of the six ads features a cartoon populated by Hollywood sorts, with the "fuel for thought" tag at the bottom. In one, a vexed man and his date are pictured sitting on a couch, with a caption reading, "A tiny intestinal rumble told Kip that his lactose intolerance was kicking in, as was his intolerance for his date's endless chatter about the perils of digital piracy." The point: regardless of the situation, people in the entertainment industry are never off the clock; they view everything they do and feel through the lens of showbiz.
"The campaign says that we know what [people in the entertainment business] are facing - that if they're not on the edge all the time they stand to lose a lot," Dowling explains. "It says that the Hollywood Reporter is the place to look for information that will help them make more informed decisions."
Skewing slightly male (55%), The Hollywood Reporter's average reader is 41 years old and quite affluent, with an average household income per subscriber of $285,320. The publication boasts a very "inside" readership, with 73% of readers holding a C-level or owner/partner position within the Hollywood food chain. As for its competitive position vis-à-vis Variety, the Reporter's weekly edition is more widely read than Variety's. But Variety's daily edition is read by about 10,000 more people than the Reporter's, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Variety also enjoys a small advantage in ad pages.
It goes without saying that entertainment companies are by very far the biggest advertisers in each of the two Hollywood trades, especially during Oscar season. But Dowling believes there's room for growth into other high-profile categories, especially given the prevalence of mainstream companies in Hollywood product. "There are so many brands rummaging around entertainment, trying to get into product placement, merchandising, things like that," he notes. "If you look at us as a representative of the entertainment community, it makes sense for some of these companies to come in with us [as advertisers]. We have the high demos they're looking for, and our readers are the people who make the decisions about the products that go into movies, videos, everything."
Dowling identifies a handful of technology giants as primary targets for the months ahead: "Microsoft, we've been doing some business with them but we could be doing more. Intel, HP - they're in the [entertainment] business one way or another, but they're not major-league advertisers with us." The problem many mainstream companies are struggling with, he suggests, is that they're not exactly sure how to tailor a message to the Hollywood Reporter audience. "They know they want the market and they know we reach it, but what's confusing them is what exactly they'd say to that market," he explains.
As for the future, Dowling believes the Reporter has its house in order and that the campaign will provide the expected boost. "I'll give you a metaphor," he continues. "We were on the launching pad and everybody was watching Cape Canaveral. This campaign, it's launched us. The question is how high, how far, how fast we go."
He pauses, then adds, "Unless our readers think we're making fun of them. But I'm pretty sure anybody who actually looks at the ads won't make that mistake."