TV Guide's hiring of The Richards Group last week was the latest step in the publication's effort to reinvigorate a brand that magazine executives said needs to become more relevant to consumers.
The weekly's ad pages have dropped, in part because some media buyers seeking to reach people who plan their TV watching have turned to newspapers that carry listings and other local fare, said Steve Greenberger, svp and director of print media at Zenith Media in New York.
"[TV Guide] has, quite frankly, disintegrated as the must-buy," Greenberger said. The magazine needs to "re-identify itself in the advertising-agency decision-maker mind-set."
Though it still ranks third among major magazines, TV Guide's circulation has dropped 30 percent during the past five years to about 9 million, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The New York-based magazine's ad pages were down 11 percent last year to 2,458, per Publishers Information Bureau/CMR.
Following a review, the unit of Gemstar-TV Guide International selected The Richards Group to convince readers as well as media buyers that TV Guide is a relevant read and has an attractive readership. It will be no small effort. The independent Dallas shop said the client is expected to spend up to $20 million, significantly higher than the $250,000 recorded last year by CMR.
"It's a fair characterization to say that for the last several years, there's been virtually no media spend," said John Loughlin, who in September was named president of the new TV Guide Publishing Group. Loughlin said the magazine has not had an agency for at least two years.
Richards principal Rod Underhill said a marketing push set to launch in September will be more than just an ad campaign. "It's really about creating a whole new brand," he said. "The world is confused about what is TV Guide. The brand itself doesn't carry any baggage, it doesn't have a lot of negatives. It's just suffering from neglect."
Though the magazine will be the principal area of focus, Richards' work will also extend to the company's other branded properties, including the TV Guide Channel and TV Guide Interactive. "This is a comprehensive initiative," Loughlin said.
In addition to creative, Richards will handle media planning and buying.
Efforts to turn around the magazine were initiated with Loughlin's hire. In the last three months, Loughlin hired Scott Crystal as evp and publisher, Chuck Cordray as vp of consumer marketing and Michael Lafavore as editor-in-chief.
The New York-based magazine is adding content as it attempts to be not just a listing of television programs but to "be the guide and trusted voice of helping people make decisions about in-home, on-screen entertainment," Loughlin said.
He said stories will extend to how to get the most out of watching with your kids and how to buy DVD players.
One of the shop's initial tasks will be defining the magazine's competitors, Underhill said. One clear rival is not a fellow publication but the TV remote. "That's what 87 percent of American households use as their first alternative [for finding programming]," he said.
Any other medium offering listings, from daily newspapers to Web sites and onscreen programming (TV Guide has its own version of that, too), are also challengers.
Despite the magazine's recent troubles, Zenith's Greenberger said he has remained bullish on the property.
"TV Guide was, still is and will be an important magazine in the planning-consideration list for a long list of categories," he said. "Now it has the opportunity of presenting itself as an A-list must-buy through the regeneration of its editorial product and it marketing thrust. ... This has the makings of a very serious turnaround."
Robin Steinberg, vp, director of print at Carat USA, agreed that TV Guide remains "a very viable place" but added that "it's not necessarily being the biggest that is the best anymore.
"Since we're in a print recession right now, the quality of the reader is very important, and I think TV Guide is going to go after that," she said.