Publishers Court Late Ads With Production Shifts

Magazines may be far from declaring a full ad-page recovery, but some have managed to squeeze out extra ads by taking a page from their digital and broadcast rivals.

Many are pushing their production cycles nearer to the on-sale date, which in the case of monthlies traditionally has stretched as long as eight weeks. In doing so, they’re trying to eliminate timing as a potential objection from marketers, who for their part are making ad decisions more and more last minute.

Hearst has been one of the most aggressive in this regard, shaving anywhere from three to 14 days off the cycle at eight magazines including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, with plans to do so at all its titles by the end of the year. “The whole idea is, we’re working toward monthlies behaving like weeklies,” said Michael Clinton, evp, chief marketing officer and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

Clinton said that for the first five months of the year, having later deadlines has helped bring in some $1 million worth of last-minute ads. “When budgets were very, very tight, this was a really strong selling point,” he said. “The majority of ads we captured were time sensitive.”
Hearst is tracking better than the industry overall; the company’s first-quarter pages were flat year over year versus a 9.4 percent decline for the industry overall.

Other publishing execs said the smaller window has helped them make inroads with a range of categories, including entertainment, beauty, food and auto ad messages of a time-sensitive nature that they believe would likely have been spent online.

American Express Publishing’s Food & Wine has landed some last-minute ads since shortening its cycle by two weeks this year. The May issue carries 10 extra pages from latecomers. “It’s definitely a pattern,” noted vp, publisher Christina Grdovic Baltz.

Wenner Media’s Men’s Journal is collecting about five more pages per issue since adopting a later close. “It’s a mad, mad scramble,” admitted publisher Matt Mastrangelo. Despite the accommodation, Men’s Journal is still down 20 percent this year to 240 through May; Mastrangelo said the magazine didn’t publish a January issue this year, which partly accounts for the decline.

Still, others are hard-pressed to put a number on the impact, given the magazine might have captured the late ad in a future issue. “It’s hard to quantify if it’s made a difference,” said Tom Harty, president, consumer magazines, Meredith National Media. Nevertheless, Meredith has extended the close dates at its titles, which include Parents and Fitness, by about a week. “We’re just trying to be as flexible as we can.”

Buyers of print applauded the efforts they’ve seen to shorten production cycles, but said that in a 24-7 buying environment, they’re still challenged by print deadlines. “We’re moving to a real-time world,” said Barry Lowenthal, president, The Media Kitchen. “Eight weeks is a serious compromise.”

Carolyn Dubi, svp, director of print at Initiative, said she expected magazines to continue to close the window, particularly as the iPad and other digital reading platforms take hold. “The way the digital world is purchased, it’s, ‘I’m buying an hour from now.’”

While publishers might wonder if later closes will encourage advertisers to further delay their decisions, there may be some built-in protection. Baltz pointed out that advertisers would lose flexibility in terms of dictating or requesting where their ad gets placed: “If you’re last in, you don’t get some of the benefits.”