Magazines Turn to Brand Managers

NEW YORK As they struggle to stay relevant to readers and advertisers, magazines have spun off Web sites, podcasts, books, events and other media properties. Having gone beyond the printed page, many publishers now face the question: How do they extend the magazine while staying true to its image? For several titles, the answer has been to appoint a brand steward.

In some cases, it happens on the editorial side. At Condé Nast’s Glamour, editor-in-chief Cindi Leive last year relieved managing editor Susan Goodall of some day-to-day duties so she could focus on managing the magazine’s online and other extensions, in part to ensure they reflect the brand’s image.

Liz Vaccariello, chief editor of Rodale’s Prevention, earlier this year created a new position of brand editor to develop and manage the magazine’s extensions across all media.

Elsewhere, the response has come from the business side. Hearst’s Redbook publisher Mary Morgan in June hired Robyn Mait Levine as brand development director, a new position, to translate the magazine into other media. Morgan said she sought to pattern the position after the brand manager function well established at many packaged-goods companies.

“Most all of the [magazine marketing departments] are still somewhat beholden to the advertising model,” Morgan said. “The majority of their assignment is about how to support those advertising dollars. What we wanted to create was a position that was never beholden to one side of the floor.”

Whether it comes from the editorial or business side, the expectation is that ad revenue will follow. Under Levine, the magazine’s book club department will be parlayed into a program, set to launch in 2007, that will encourage women to start book clubs. Redbook plans to partner with a national bookseller to host local club meetings and sell ad space in a newsletter it will send to interested readers. Redbook also plans in March to launch Red Letter Day, an extension of an editorial column celebrating women’s experiences, which could involve seeking retailer sponsors.

In yet another response, Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens earlier this year created a new position of president with oversight for all the magazine’s extensions, some of which, like books and special interest publications, used to report directly to their respective corporate divisions. President and executive vice president Andy Sareyan said the goal is to create advertising and marketing programs that work across the magazine’s many platforms and that are consistent in the consumer’s mind. “I clearly see opportunity for the whole benefiting with each of the parts being near each other with common objectives,” Sareyan said.

Jane Deery, president of PGR Media, says that in the case of Better Homes, having one person run all multiplatform activities can result in more robust programs for advertisers and provide a unifying voice for all those activities, which tend to operate in silos. “Most salespeople will focus on their core job, whether it is selling a magazine, online or whatever their revenue is based on,” she said.

While applauding publishers for treating the magazine as a brand and appointing someone to safeguard it, observers advise against having, say, a print editor repurposing editorial content into other media like books and the Web without understanding the consumer needs that drive those other platforms.

“You start hearing, ‘I’m in charge of all applications,’ and the businesses are too different,” said Mark Edmiston, managing director, AdMedia Partners. The brand steward should play a protective rather than entrepreneurial role, he continued. “They shouldn’t be telling people what to do, but they should be telling people if it is consistent with the brand image,” he said.

Some magazine editors expressed concern that spending time on all these multiplatform extensions would compromise the print product, while others were more concerned about the potential for advertising-editorial conflicts.

Redbook‘s Morgan said that to avoid such conflicts Levine’s proposals for extensions and partnerships are always vetted through editorial before going any further. “If it felt icky, it would be abandoned instantly,” she said.