Magazine Pro to Newbies: Downturn a ‘Petri Dish For Innovation’

MPA 0306.jpg
From left: MPA’s Shaunice Hawkins; Newsweek‘s Kevin Delaney; Meredith’s E.J. Moralez-Gomez; Fortune‘s Brad Young; and moderator Elvira Perez of MPA

At Magazine Publishers of America’s “Find Yourself In Magazines” event for those seeking to enter the industry, the mantra from industry panelists was one of encouragement: Magazines, they promised, are not going anywhere. On Friday, nearly 100 job-hungry college students and recent graduates crowded the Time & Life building for the event, designed to deliver guidance from magazine pros in editorial, marketing and sales.

Speakers included Parents executive editor and Ed2010 founder Chandra Turner, who’s been sharing her advice a lot these days. In a keynote speech referencing the doom and gloom of recent mass media layoffs — Turner herself was let go when CosmoGirl! folded last October — she said the industry’s current state was simply the next step in magazines’ ongoing evolution. “I don’t think that this is the end of magazines,” she said. “We’ve had magazine genres die and come back, die and come back. Now, I think [the industry is] changing to be more tailored magazines, more niche magazines.” She supplemented the prognosis with seven upbeat predictions for 2009.

So, what should mag-industry newbies expect?

Turner predicted that hiring freezes would thaw by graduation-time this May, more temporary and intern-level jobs will become available, more stories will be freelanced out (albeit by pubs that are paying less), and that the days of Devil Wears Prada expense-account diva-dom are over. Those factors will favor younger, less-experienced editorial employees, Turner said, because it’ll mean easier access to writing and reporting opportunities at the entry level, with less coffee-fetching and Xeroxing. Turner advised attendees to master juggling new- and old-media skills — writing, editing, packaging and programming — a theme echoed by other speakers throughout the morning. “I used to tell people to be a specialist, but now you need to be a multi-specialist,” Turner said. “Do everything, or at least make it look like you do everything.”

Next up was a panel discussion moderated by ContextNext Media CEO Nathan Richardson, featuring Hearst Digital Media content director Beth Ellard, ESPN executive producer for multimedia Robbyn Footlick, Essence Communications director of digital development Lesley Pinckney and People en Español executive editor Nicole Raymond. The talk focused on ways to make oneself marketable in the digital age, and the name of the game was multi-platform — being able to work with content from magazines and the Internet, enhancing it with the best and newest in Web, video and photo applications.

“It’s amazing that all of you aren’t thinking about multi-platforms at all times,” Footlick said. “If you want to succeed in the media business, you need to understand these media. And if you don’t know it, learn it.” (, by the by, offers classes on many of the skills these pros deemed essential.) Once you’ve got the knowledge, you’ve got to show it off, urged Ellard. “Suggest a Web site that you think is really good to your manager,” she said. “Show them you’re paying attention.”

A second panel discussion addressed how recent graduates can pursue marketing and sales careers in print magazines. Moderated by MPA vice president for education services Elvira Perez, the talk featured Newsweek director of brand development Kevin Delaney, Meredith Hispanic ventures account manager E.J. Moralez-Gomez, Fortune marketing director Brad Young and MPA membership vice president Shaunice Hawkins. While all agreed that magazines were in no danger of dying out “as long as there are bedrooms, bathrooms and beaches,” Young quipped, panelists said the format might be shifting, referencing’s Kindle e-book reader and other emerging technologies.

However, no advances negate the need for problem-solving skills, according to Moralez-Gomez, who said they were essential to magazine marketing and ad sales success. “Be resourceful,” she advised. “If there’s a problem, you need to bring options to the table. You need to offer solutions and you need to be able to state your case. When you do that, you get noticed.”

Despite the numerous challenges it brings, Hawkins encouraged the crowd to see the recession as an opportunity to showcase new ideas and solutions. “This is where you get rid of all the fluff and you get down to your most creative thought,” she said, calling the current downturn a “petri dish for innovation.”

Megan Stride