There's a separation of perception and reality in our industry that needs to be cleared up. Most ad agencies and clients are unfairly bundling magazines with newspapers in the print category, and as a result, magazines are having a difficult time selling advertising. This, at a time when their readership is actually increasing among younger adults.
I look around my agency and see young professionals reading both printed magazines and the digital versions on iPads. I see the same thing in my home with my teenage kids. When I travel, people of all ages are reading magazines. According to a MRI Data Report in 2011, magazine readership has increased in every age and gender category, compared to newspapers, in the last year, with the biggest gains in the 18-34 age bracket.
Yet my agency is creating fewer and fewer magazine ads for clients. That's a shame, because ads in magazines are a great way to target an engaged audience and build a brand in four color. I practice what I preach: Brownstein Group consistently advertises in local and regional magazines. That's in addition to a media plan for our agency that includes SEO, banner ads and e-mail marketing.
Magazines are considered "print," and many media planners/buyers want nothing to do with analog media. Many clients feel the same way. I often hear, "I want my target consumers to start a dialogue with my brand." That's fine, but the best way to achieve this is to create a compelling idea and reach customers on multiple platforms -- magazines, tablets, TV, social media, mobile, PC, events, etc. As I wrote in an Ad Age post, there's an irrational move away from any form of traditional media. Big mistake in my opinion. With 82% of the U.S. population reading one or more magazines a month, can we afford to ignore that loyal readership?
Last week, I spoke about this at the City & Regional Magazine Conference in Las Vegas -- a small-agency CEO perspective for magazine publishers and editors who are trying to figure out why their ad revenues don't match their increase in circulation. One publishing executive asked, "Do you think it's a disadvantage to call our product a 'magazine' these days?" Again, the perception is one of an outdated medium. The reality is that magazines such as The Atlantic, Monocle, The New Yorker and Self have no problem calling themselves magazines, because they are too busy evolving and executing relevant content, delivered in modern ways to their audiences. And they're succeeding as a result. They don't deserve to be lumped in with newspapers in the print category and overlooked on a media buy.
My advice to the magazine industry is the same advice I apply to my agency:
You define who you are and what you stand for. No one else. Don't let perception stand in the way of success. Inspire the innovation of new ideas. Evolve or die.
Recruit forward thinkers and dreamers. As "Good to Great" author Jim Collins says, sometimes you have to get the wrong people off the bus and the right ones on.
Reward those who break boundaries. Perceptions won't change until bold ideas redefine the medium. Take care of those who think in new ways and the magazine industry's ad revenues can match its growing readership.
I believe agencies should look more objectively at what kind of content consumers are consuming and how they are consuming it. If we do, we'll discover a different reality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.