Penske Creates 'Rolling Stone' For New Generation

Andrew Budkofsky, CRO, Rolling Stone, and Steve Smith, vice president-editorial director, events, MediaPost, discussed the future of the legendary magazine at MediaPost's Publishing Insider Summit.

MP's Smith: Tell us about the Penske acquisition of Rolling Stone.

Budkofsky: There were bad times at Wenner Media in 2016, crushing the company. It decided to keep Rolling Stone as the crown jewel and sell off US Weekly. Jay Penske has a knack for reviving brands. 

MP's Smith: Where does Rolling Stone fit in?

Budkofsky: It adds to scale of Penske as a brand. All the verticals, Rolling Stone is the music vertical there. 

Smith: What do you expect to do now?

Budkofsky: Resources will be No. 1. The ability to have coffers from Penske and invest in a relaunch, which we did. The brand has to get younger, appeal to a broader demo. We need to cover more genres in music, invest in hip hop, R&B To reach those demos.



MP's Smith: How does an iconic brand from the baby boomer days make Rolling Stone seems authentic and genuine?

Budkofsky: By hiring different types of writers and editors; 20 years ago the newsroom was older. Hiring much younger people that understand how to write for a new audience. Strategic partnerships with other platforms yearning for content. It’s a company initiative. The magazine will always be there, people love to touch and feel the magazine. Shawn Mendes will be on our December cover. We had Aretha Franklin for October. From the website perspective, it’s important to create content, distribute it, and then focus on it.

If we’re doing the cover shoot, we have to have not just a photographer but a videographer. We needed to have content creation and distribution, everybody picks it up. Launch cover with Cardi B. Traffic is up YOY. We just have to get out there and tell our story. 

MP's Smith: Video is a place where Rolling Stone went through a lot of models. What’s the evolving video strategy?

Budkofsky: We produce video for every platform that we can. We have to create video for social platforms as well. We’re thinking about video in one-off Clips, in B-roll ...  People want to hear the stories of artists and musicians. “How I Wrote This,” we interview, say, Cardi B, we take her back to her hometown, where she got inspiration for this song. So much content out there. If you want to see the American Music Awards, go online and see it all. But we’re not going to win that game.

The monetization piece is about brands wanting to align with our brand and artists. Our audience have an affinity for our product. Music, sports, technology, comedy but music is always there. We build out plan how to read these audiences. We like to say yes. Brands want and have so many different kinds of assets. Email is great, social media, mid-roll, whatever.

MP's Smith: A number of brands are walking away from video. What’s wrong with the way that media brands approach video?

Budkofsky: The cost structure is out of whack. The math gets wonky because you spent 500 grand producing a series, the advertiser wants to spend only 250K. Bringing feeds in-house ourselves instead of outsourcing, is key for us. Integration, branded content, we can create a package for a brand. We can sell PMC properties as a whole and resell it at a premium. Facebook brought two series from us for Facebook Watch.

MP's Smith: Talk about events. How events structure this.

Budkofsky: Say, a Super Bowl party — expanding on that because brands want to put product in people’s hands at these events. Rolling Stone Live, we own it. Rolling Stone at the event. We don’t own it. but they like our presence there. RSLive, we own, at Super Bowl in Atlanta, we’ll do a three-day event, dinner, concert, big bash on Saturday night. 

MP's Smith: What kind of a team have you had to assemble?

Budkofsky: Calendar of 25 events throughout the year. We could flex up and run a special event. We have a framework, team in-house, up to seven people with marketing. The biggest thing we learned was brands want to be at these events, they have to have that content distributed. Otherwise, no scale for them. We put a strategy in place, people create music content from the Super Bowl, we’ll create content against that and everybody’s happy. 

MP's Smith: That’s where PMC scale comes in.

Budkofsky: Right. Advertisers have to have integration, not just a name on the wall. Give people the opportunity to see what apps are about. Print is bottoming out in a soft landing; it will always be print. Hoping to get a certain amount of pages. Hoping to get big categories, pharmacy, auto. Digital is big, brands want to get involved in our content. We want to get to a place where we are 25% print, 60% visual and the rest events.

MP's Smith: What have you learned about making programmatic work?

Budkofsky: Programmatic doesn’t work for us. Right now, that’s the only way to get involved with brands. Why is trust between clients and agencies at an all-time low? Clients aren’t comfortable. How can you have a buyer/seller sitting inside an agency with clients taking a piece off both ends? In the beginning, they understand the efficiencies of the automatic, but it’s a race to the bottom for pricing. I really want to reach this audience, so I’ll go to $8 CPM instead of $3.

MP's Smith:Rolling Stone Pro?

Budkofsky: We bought Buzz Angle, a list service. Billboard doesn’t have YouTube stream numbers in it. Buzz Angle does. A B2B application for us.

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