Sandow CEO: Print Is the Future; Digital World Is Tough

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

lunch at michaelsOne of the best things about chronicling the weekly goings on of the movers and shakers who show up at Michael’s on Wednesdays has been meeting some extraordinarily innovative thinkers who have built their businesses not by following the rules, but by making their own. Today was one of those days. I was joined by Adam Sandow, chairman and CEO of Sandow, whose stable of brands includes Interior Design, Luxe Interiors + Design, NewBeauty and Worth magazines, as well as California retailer Fred Segal, Culture + Commerce and the library/consultancy Material ConneXion.

Diane Clehane and Adam Sandow
Diane Clehane and Adam Sandow

When Jessica Kleiman, the company’s executive vice president of communications, sent along some reading material about the company in anticipation of our lunch, I was stunned by the variety of businesses Adam has amassed under the Sandow umbrella. Equally impressive was the sheer weight of each publication included in my care package. I could barely lift the entire bundle– the latest issue of Luxe Interiors + Design has 412 pages (250 of which are ads) and weighs in at two and a half pounds, while NewBeauty tips the scales at two pounds, with 312 pages. In an age when most magazines are starting to resemble pamphets (especially this time of year), I was more than curious to hear how Adam had such a robust business in print.

A serial entrepreneur, Adam started his first business while a freshman at the University of Miami and by the age of 25, he had launched his first national consumer magazine, Honeymoon. He was a principal in the Internet start-up The Knot (now called XO Group), which he joined after selling his first publishing business. After founding Sandow in 2003, the Miami resident launched two publications two years later. NewBeauty, which was profitable from the first issue, premiered with over 500 advertising pages. That same year, Luxe Interiors + Design, originally a regional shelter magazine in Colorado, had its debut with a circulation of 30,000. It has since expanded into 14 markets across the country, with a combined circulation of 500,000. NewBeauty and Luxe Interiors + Design were both introduced with a $10 cover price at the newsstand and have been selling at that price ever since. “We love newsstands.” I’ll bet.

Between bites of Cobb salad, Adam explained to me that his thinking in building both brands centered on attracting “a coveted audience of the most engaged readers,” not the most eyeballs. With NewBeauty he said, “I don’t want the biggest audience, I want the most engaged. With NewBeauty selling at three times the price of the category leader [Allure], we’re going to get the best readers. On average, our readers spent 94 minutes with each issue.” There certainly is plenty to read within the pages of the current issue with Nashville’s Connie Britton on the cover. Besides an exhaustive report on the latest techniques and treatments in plastic surgery (and an advertorial with an array of doctors outlining their respective specialties), the book boasts pretty much everything you would ever need to know about sunscreens and plenty of product news. NewBeauty’s reporting is “carefully vetted” by “an independent editorial board” created by the company, comprised of doctors and industry experts. “We have very stringent guidelines on what doctors can and cannot say,” said Adam.

Luxe Interiors + Design is going bimonthly with their summer issues, which hit newsstands next week. (10,000 copies of a one-off standalone Hamptons issue will be distributed in the summer playground.) The magazine’s readers, according to an MRI reader survey last year, have an MHI of $473,000 and an average net worth of $2.5 million.

Targeting the country’s richest readers has paid off handsomely for Sandow. A few years back, when Adam asked himself:  “How do I get to the super-affluent readers?” he came up with the idea for MediaJet, an exclusive newsstand network in over 250 airports across the country, where titans of industry board their private jets. Currently in the homestretch of finalizing plans to go into East Hampton airport, Adam told me he frequently hears stories from his full-time logistics team of “celebrities picking up the phone and calling advertisers when they get off their planes about something they saw in our magazines.”

Adam believes companies flocking to create digital platforms in order to shore up their print businesses have got it wrong. “A lot of media guys are hoping to do that online and then pivot to print. It’s not going to happen.” Instead, he said, “The way to grow the business is by providing new services.” Sure, he told me, Sandow does “tons of events” but that’s just “low-hanging fruit.” The company has differentiated itself from other media companies with offerings uniquely targeted to their core businesses. To wit: advertisers in the interior design books have access to Material ConneXion, a library of 8,000 design and architectural materials. Usage of the library is also available by subscription (Google, Apple and Samsung are users). In the beauty category, there’s NewBeautyPRO, a full-service marketing platform, the subscription sampling program TestTube (“We were doing it long before all these other programs like Birchbox”) and BeautyDNA, currently in beta, which Adam says will utilize “computer science and algorithms” through an app which is slated to be introduced by year’s end. It promises to match users in a database with the “perfect beauty product that matches their profile” by scanning thousands of items.

Our two-hour lunch proved to be too little time to cover all of Sandow’s businesses, but I had to ask Adam about his seemingly random purchase of iconic California retailer Fred Segal. While many entrepreneurs tried and failed to acquire the luxury fashion brand over the years, Adam’s friendship with the longtime owners led to his “opportune acquisition” last year. Because he had “no plans to become a retailer,” he was introduced to Hollywood hotshot Bryan Lourd who came on board as a partner and brought in Evolution Media Partners (a joint venture between Hollywood talent agency CAA and private equity firm TPG). What Adam originally saw as a licensing opportunity has evolved into something much different. As you might expect, Adam has big plans for Fred Segal, which include a global expansion of stores and a soon-to-be launched website “that is as much about content as it is about product.”

In anticipation of the “major changes coming in the next ten years,” Adam says it’s thinking differently about existing businesses that will keep Sandow in good stead. “We like diversification as long as it makes sense.” Indeed.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Lynn Nesbit and pals

2. Bisila Bokoko

3. Andrew Stein and two dark-haired gals

4. Patricia Duff

5. Alan Zweibel

6. Beverly Camhe

7. The sole of good taste: Manolo Blahnik’s CEO George Malkemus (who is also partnering with Sarah Jessica Parker on her burgeoning shoe business) and Footwear News’ Michael Atmore

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Barbara Tober

10. Debbie Bancroft and her son

11. Paige Peterson

12. Elle’s Robbie Myers and Bottega Veneta’s Tomas Maier

15. Will Manuel

16. Beauty Fashion/Cosmetic World’s George Ledes with his wife Christine Schott Ledes and Nancy Labadie of Marina Maher Communications

17. Jeff Langberg

18. LAK PR’s Lisa Linden with Joseph Spinnato, president of the Hotel Association of NYC

20. Shirley Lord

21. Quest’s Chris Meigher

22. Max Shapiro

23. El Diario’s John Paton

25. Jon Bren

26. Vicky Ward

27. Adam Sandow, Jessica Kleiman and yours truly

29. The Wall Street Journal’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein. David told me he is “thrilled to be back” at work after a short recovery from his successful hip replacement surgery. Great to seeing you back at your usual perch in the ‘cafeteria.’

Faces in the crowd: Walter Sabo in the Garden Room

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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