Rodale: Brand-Building Bellwether

The lousy advertising climate notwithstanding, Rodale’s Steve Murphy is still bullish on ad-supported print. The president and CEO of the company that publishes Prevention and Men’s Health is prepping a new slew of consumer- and ad-supported spinoffs for 2009, building on a mini-empire of health- and fitness-related magazines, books, DVDs and events.

Murphy explained that today’s times require efforts to develop products that don’t depend on ad support, while noting he still sees ad-building opportunities. “Three years ago, not knowing the recession would be this steep, we decided there would be an opportunity to serve our readers and customers with products that were not purely magazine in format,” he said. “This year, there’s an imperative …  However, we’re just as excited about coming up with new products [for] advertisers … to advertise in new ways.”

Murphy green-lit a host of sidelines during a recent off-site meeting with Rodale executives. Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko, no stranger to brand extensions, has another busy year in store: his bestseller of 2008, Eat This, Not That!, will spin off a restaurant version. Men’s Health and Women’s Health, which he also oversees, are each slated to come out with a Big Book of Exercises. Women’s Health also has two bookazines (a higher-priced title with a longer shelf life) coming out.

Prevention also plans a number of extensions, including a Dtour cookbook based on its eponymous diabetes program, and an online tool that complements an existing book on brain health. Prevention is scheduled to put out diabetes-related and Flat Belly Foods newsstand specials. Also, Runner’s World has doubled to six the number of books that are in the works, including guides to eating and running.

As for ad-supported media, Murphy ordered up more mini-launches based on the model of Prevention’s Cook!, an in-book section that the pocket-sized health magazine launched in February. The section is designed to live across multiple formats, with an online section, newsstand specials, books and events. New iPhone applications to come from Prevention, Men’s Health and Runner’s World also will have ad sales potential. Two new newsstand specials at still-unidentified titles also are on tap for the fall.

Like the rest of the industry, Rodale is hurting; last fall, the company cut its workforce by 111, or 10 percent, and folded the corporate sales force that handled cross-title deals. Rodale said revenue declined 5 percent in third quarter, reflecting slowing growth across the board. Through March, ad pages at Prevention, Men’s Health and Women’s Health all declined by double-digit percentages (for the latest ad-page data, go to the Mediaweek Monitor page). Overall, though, Rodale’s ad pages have held up better than the industry, declining 5.2 percent in ’08 versus an 11.7 percent drop for all magazines, per Publishers Information Bureau.