For years, print buyers have complained about the historically long lead time between magazines’ ad deadline and on-sale date, typically upwards of seven weeks. Now, mirroring greater flexibility in broadcast media, magazines are starting to take ads closer to the on-sale date and narrowing the gap between ad close and sale date to get more pages in their struggling titles.
Hearst Magazines has shaved two weeks off its seven-week window at Cosmopolitan and intends to shrink the lead time to three weeks by January 2010. Plans call for adopting the same schedule for Food Network Magazine and eventually all of Hearst’s 15 titles, said Jeff Hamill, a senior vp at Hearst. “We’re spending an enormous amount of money to decrease the advertising lead time,” Hamill said. A representative confirmed the company’s goal is to get to a weekly magazine production model for its monthlies.
Meredith also is looking at shrinking the time between ad close and on-sale date for Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Parents and its 20 other subscription-based titles, said Tom Harty, executive vp, Meredith Publishing Group. The company would like to cut that time in half, now about 60 days, Harty said. American Express Publishing’s Food & Wine is looking to shave a week off the time between close and on-sale date—now six weeks or more—by September, and cut a total of two weeks by 2010. Sibling pub Travel + Leisure expects to follow suit.
Wenner Media’s Men’s Journal has already taken the leap, shrinking the time to 26 days from 47 starting with its May issue.
Many titles already have been keeping deadlines fluid to stay competitive with other media. Local TV and radio are seeing campaigns placed closer to air date. Even out-of-home media have been able to respond to last-minute calls via digital boards. And, of course, the Internet is practically instant.
The economy has added new urgency to the issue. In addition to examining close dates, publishers are trying to lock in pages by offering marketers customized ad packages and ever more unusual ad units. And it’s not just monthlies that are feeling the pressure. Titles from Us Weekly to Time are taking ads later in the production cycle to accommodate clients’ shorter lead times. “Everything’s getting faster, and we need to try to adapt,” said J.P. Kyrillos, vp, publisher of Travel + Leisure. “For anybody who wants to have a message they can change rather quickly, the shorter the close time, the better.”
Even Magazine Publishers of America is getting involved. “It’s something that we’re exploring to see if it’s something agencies want,” an MPA rep said.
Print buyers seem to be unanimous in wanting shorter lead times. “It’s a big problem as production timelines on our end are getting shorter, making it more difficult to meet these early deadlines,” said Andrea Luhtanen, president of Haworth Media. “In order to compete with other media, it’s a challenge magazines need to address.”
Jeff Fischer, who leads Johnson & Johnson’s print spending for Universal McCann, said that with money shifting out of print and advertisers reluctant to commit ad dollars at all, much less to monthly magazines with their far-off deadlines, monthlies need to make this change now. “We’re telling people, ‘This is a particular challenge for us,’” Fischer said. “We’re at the point where there’s no more talking about it; it’s got to be done.”
Buyers like Brenda White, senior vp, publishing activation director, Starcom USA, said that magazines’ long lead times are causing them to miss out on revenue. But while Men’s Journal claimed that shortening the lead time helped it secure five additional ads in its May issue, including SC Johnson Edge, Ford Mustang and Honda Motorcycles, other publishing execs said that anticipated revenue wasn’t enough to justify the expense and hassle associated with changing the close date.
Anne Balaban, vp, publisher of Reader’s Digest Association’s Every Day with Rachael Ray, said while she would continue to take ads “as late as we can take them,” she doesn’t foresee changing the close date because,
“I think you need some system in place so it’s not chaotic. I think it’d be a lot harder on our production people.”
And Christina Grdovic, vp, publisher of Food & Wine, acknowledged the risk inherent in moving up the close date. While it will let clients get in later, she said, “On the other hand, it gives them more time to cancel.”