Buyers To Pubs: Magazines Need To Distinguish Themselves in A Changing Marketplace

The general session that opened the 8th annual New York Magazine Day on Wednesday surveyed several of the expected big-picture issues: namely, what magazines must do to distinguish themselves in a changing and cluttered media environment, and how they might better articulate their value to marketers. However, the panelists suggested that publishers need to do more to convince would-be advertisers that magazines have evolved as an ad vehicle over the years--or risk being perceived as somewhat of a static medium.

Given that magazines are considerably longer in the tooth than flashier digital venues, the challenge for publishers seems to be making their titles appear equally vibrant. "[Planners] are going to spend more time agonizing over decisions in the digital space because it's new," explained Carat USA President Charlie Rutman. Johnson & Johnson Media Director Julie Chan noted that marketers are heading into the upfront thinking about plans for their marketing dollars; unless the business does something to make these marketers look at magazines with "fresh eyes," it isn't likely to see a higher percentage of those dollars anytime soon.



The panelists also assailed the state of magazine creative--suggesting, in effect, that publications don't have a lot to work with. Much of the criticism was levied by Rutman, who believes that magazines aren't taking full advantage of the opportunity to showcase marketers in a "more compelling, visually arresting way." Describing the 25 Kelly Award finalists displayed outside the conference room as "pretty good," he questioned why few publishers have tried to push the envelope further.

"Everything's a page or a spread," he said. "There's very little creative use of space."

The panelists also said that publishers who bellyache about the ad dollars parceled out to television and/or the TV buying process are missing the point. What they should be doing, Chan believes, is trumpeting their own particular strengths. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about the way TV is purchased versus the way print is purchased," she said, arguing that magazines haven't made enough of a case for a larger percentage of television's marketing dollars. Rutman echoed this sentiment, noting that magazines seem to have "kind of a little TV inferiority complex."

People Magazine Group president Peter Bauer, in fact, argued that a shift in mindset among publishers may what's needed. A longtime seller, he feels that many publishers expect marketers to lend a sympathetic ear, when in fact discussions should be proceeding in an entirely different direction. "Talk to them about their problems, not [yours]," he stressed, adding that a focused set of ideas should be a prerequisite for any sales call. Rutman was more blunt: given that he is presented with hundreds of media opportunities, he wants to be made to understand what distinguishes a given title "quickly and dramatically."

All this isn't to say that the panelists didn't have their share of kind words for the mag business. Bauer cited how competitive magazines have become in their ability to reach a targeted audience, while Rutman noted that magazines offer advertisers something that few other mediums do: "a self-selected, active consumption decision" on the part of readers. "We don't just sell space--we bring in programs," Bauer added.

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