With advertisers fleeing print a year ago, executives at Hearst Magazines went on a road show to establish its titles as smart places to advertise, with new ad formats and technological advantages.
With its next big campaign, Hearst is going on the attack against another industry bugaboo: the perception that magazines have a readership problem.
“The message we want to get out there is, in a world of free content, consumers spent $13 billion a year on magazines,” said Michael Clinton, president and publishing director for Hearst Magazines. “Consumers continue to pay money buying their favorite magazines, and they read them and respond to them. Our point [to] marketers is, you’ve got to listen to where the consumer is.”
Clinton pointed to Hearst’s fast-growing Food Network Magazine as evidence of the medium’s strength. “We go out with the Food Network Magazine launch, and we will, in the first half of this year, deliver 1.4 million copies,” he said.
Hearst plans to start taking its message on the road in the fall. While Hearst commissioned the study on its own, the presentation will be company-neutral, Clinton said.
GfK MRI’s latest audience survey showed that adult print readership rose nearly 1 percent in spring 2010 versus spring 2009 and nearly 0.5 percent since MRI’s fall report.
But those numbers are undermined by the continued drumbeat of sharply declining ad pages and magazine closures.
“We have to answer a lot of questions about whether it’s a dying medium,” said Jeff Fischer, senior vp, managing director, print activation group, Universal McCann. “In some cases, magazines have become a risk rather than a safe place to be.”
Magazines also may be caught up in a halo effect of newspapers, which are more at risk of losing print readers to online news sources, especially big-city ones. So while readership of the top 100 dailies has been stable, the top 10 dailies’ readership declined 4.2 percent in the past year, according to the spring MRI report.
Buyers agreed magazines have a perception problem, if they offered different views on how it should be combated.
Fischer called on magazines to show how they’re evolving to address changing consumer behavior and getting closer to a proof-of-performance measurement for advertisers.
Robin Steinberg, svp, director of print investment and activation, MediaVest, said trying to dispel the perception that audiences are declining is a step in the right direction. However, she added that part of the perception problem magazines face stems from the fact that many publishing companies still take a siloed approach to selling their content.
“We need to change the way we go to market,” she said.
Bruised by the recession, the industry has been more vocal of late in promoting itself. Hearst, along with Condé Nast, Meredith, Time Inc. and Wenner Media recently teamed up to back a big print campaign promoting the medium as vital to readers. For the campaign, titled The Power of Print, the participating companies agreed to give up prominent space in their magazines to run the ads. The campaign kicked off in April and was expected to run over seven months.