Niche Media’s Top Execs Predict ‘A New Cachet’ For Publishing

The roster of media mavens, moguls and bold face names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsAfter last week’s head-spinning scene, where my lunch dates caused the most rubbernecking I’ve ever witnessed on a Wednesday at Michael’s, today I was more than happy to dine and dish with a trio of smart, savvy women whose accomplishments elicit applause, not raised eyebrows.

I was joined today by Katherine Nicholls, CEO of Niche Media and Mandi Norwood, the company’s SVP and editorial director. This afternoon’s confab was arranged by Cynthia Lewis, who, besides being the hardest working woman in publishing, happens to know just about everyone. A squadron of folks stopped by our table to say their hellos (Jack Kliger, Mickey Ateyeh and Jon Steinberg among them) before getting down to business at their usual perches, because lunch at Michael’s is never just about lunch. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Katherine Nicholls, Diane Clehane and Mandi Norwood
Katherine Nicholls, Diane Clehane and Mandi Norwood

Katherine and Mandi have transformed what has always been a stable of glossy, eye-catching lifestyle publications — Gotham, Hamptons and Ocean Drive among them — into a luxury brand that is equal parts substance and style. Niche Media is a subsidiary of Greengale Publishing, LLC and publishes city-specific publications which, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, include: Aspen Peak, Boston Common, Capitol File, Los Angeles Confidential, Michigan Avenue, Philadelphia Style and Vegas magazinesThe titles have a combined annual distribution of 4.6 million copies nationallyKatherine, who joined the company in 2007 as its chief marketing officer, has risen through the ranks as COO and president before assuming her current position last year. British-born Mandi, who edited her first magazine at the tender age of 25 and has topped the masthead of several publications at Hearst and Condé Nast, came on board in 2011. Working as a team, they’ve seemingly achieved the impossible in this era of rapidly shrinking (and vanishing) print titles. Not only have their books gotten thicker with ads over the past year (I needed two hands to pick up the latest issue of Ocean Drive), but they’ve added to their stable of regional titles with the very timely launch of Austin Way last fall. “There was a big gap in Austin,” said Katherine of the company’s decision to launch their first new title in five years. “There’s a huge benefit to being the first in this incredibly exciting market.”

In relaunching the brand, explained Katherine, it was important to develop and refine a collective mission statement for the titles. After canvasing the editors that helm each book, she came up with the three C’s. “We’re connectors, we captivate and celebrate with a conscience” is now the guiding principle. Lest you think the books aren’t focusing on the visual aspect of capturing an audience, Mandi told me that Niche Media’s Ann Song, vice president of fashion and creative, has “taken our content to the next level, made it sing and look super-stylish.” All the better to appeal to that “incredibly important” fashion crowd.

Each book is edited, said Mandi, with editorial covering “national trends seen through the local lens.” To wit: the upcoming ‘Women of Influence’ issues for each title, which will feature an impressive array of accomplished women, all with a connection to that respective area. NBC’s Tamron Hall is Philadelphia Style’s headliner, Arianna Huffington will be featured on the covers of Capitol File and Boston Common and Renee Fleming will grace Gotham‘s cover. (Full disclosure: I profiled the rest of the city’s most influential women for Gotham.)

Last summer’s special Arts issue featured original works by Peter Max across 10 covers, which were later auctioned off by and raised $100,000 for the Humane Society of the United States. The coveted issues became collector’s items overnight. The highly successful concept has been given a more regional point of view this year. In July, the Art of the City summer issues of all Niche Media’s titles will feature works of emerging artists from all 11 regions on the books’ covers, with in-depth profiles inside. Each book will contribute to a local 501C3 organization benefiting the arts. “A lot of magazines do these big events selling themselves,” said Mandi. “We’re not about that. We have to have a reason for doing things. We want to make a difference.”