Folio 2006: Sex Didn’t Always Sell

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Meredith editorial director Mike Lafavore has eight things you should know if you’re a magazine editorial manager. He gave them at the Folio Show keynote today, after noting that back in 1988 when he launched Men’s Health it was seen as a very odd idea. Advertisers didn’t get it, and were very worried about sponsoring anything that had to do with sex. Then Maxim came over from England, and they saw its success and thought “well, maybe we’re not so worried about sex after all.” Here are his eight tips, and our observations. He gave them as a disembodied head in the lunchroom, but was very cordial at the escalator later when we saw he has a body, too.

1. The reader is in charge.
2. We’ll always need editors. He said Drudge and Gawker don’t really have much real reporting or news, which made us wonder if he’s been reading them very much. He mentioned a train trip to DC on which everyone except him, with his magazines and newspapers, was playing with their Blackberries, and his children with their devices, and wondered, “Are we going to become creatures with big giant thumbs and no legs?”

He hopes writing will never go away. Like on, um, Gawker? OK, he meant like in Esquire, but still.

3. There are too many magazines but there’s always room for another good one.
4. Editorial will face increasing pressure from advertising. “Probably this is the fault of the Internet, where ads are “embedded.” Advertisers ask for things they “never would have dreamed about before,” three years earlier.


5. There’s money to be made overseas. Go to a trade show called FPI, scare up some contacts, and see if you can get your magazine licensed or distributed in other languages in other countries.
6. No you can’t lower the median age of your magazine’s readers. The median age among magazine readers is 46, he said. “I don’t know one” that successfully satisfied its audience while bringing in younger readers. “I have seen several magazines ruined by the attempt.” He said you can try to launch an offshoot separate publication for the young.
7. You can never spend too much time worrying about your cover. Plan it six months in advance, and decide the cover words. Assign the stories based on those cover words, he said. As opposed to the usual pattern where editors gather three days before the issue goes to bed, take inventory, and bang it together. “Push readers’ hot buttons” with the cover lines. There’s a reason magazines at the checkout do well – big cover words, pink, lots colors.
8. If something works, keep doing it until it stops working. Do it again the next issue; don’t wait until it comes around next year on the editorial calendar. An editor asked when she’d stop putting Princess Di on the cover said, “When she stops selling magazines.” (Guess that’s why Jennifer Anniston rotates with Brangelina every week.)

During the Q&A he gave the formula for success at Men’s Health: Abs, Sex and Weight Loss, in that order. (Are you listening Dave Zinczenko?)

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