Mary Berner Kicks Off Magazine Campaign

Trade group to promote relationships with readers

Five months into her tenure as head of the MPA, the Association of Magazine Media, Mary Berner is trying to get its notoriously competitive members to play ball together.

Berner has spearheaded the creation of a 76-word working statement that makes the case for magazines. Next week, she'll kick off a road show with publishing companies and ad buyers to present it. First up are Hearst, Meredith and Bonnier.

“I’m not dumb enough to think you’re not going to compete with each other,” Berner said. “But let’s have something we can agree on. Then they can beat the shit out of each other.”

The industry’s last campaign, “Power of Print,” emphasized magazines’ strength as a print vehicle. Three years later, most magazines are distributing their content on tablets and e-readers while expanding their digital and video presence.

“We have a lot of strengths,” said Michael Clinton, who is president, marketing and publishing director of Hearst Magazines as well as MPA chairman. “We felt now was the moment to marshal the language in the story and put it out as an industry. Pre- to post-recession, the magazine industry has held up very, very well. Our message to the advertising world is, listen to the consumer.”

But while magazine readership and circulation remains stable, steep declines in ad pages and newsstand sales tend to grab headlines.

“We have an advertising problem, not an audience problem,” agreed the powerful print ad buyer Robin Steinberg, evp, director of publishing investment and activation, MediaVest. “The perception is the audiences have declined when in fact there are more people reading magazine media cross-platform.”

The admittedly wonky statement is a starting point, and the MPA has a task force made up of reps of member companies that’s working to boil it down into a pithy tagline. MPA is rolling out a 90-second video to capture the statement, and hopes to turn it into a full-fledged ad campaign.

Berner’s hope is that publishers will incorporate the position statement in their own sales pitches. That may be an overly ambitious ask, but Berner said times have changed from the days when publishers succeeded by taking ad pages away from a competitor.

“I think what everyone realizes is, you have to right the industry problem,” she said. “We’re better off as a collective voice.”