What’s Next In Epicurean Magazines: 4 Questions For Saveur Publisher Merri Lee Kingsly

Newspapers are dying, magazines are closing and more journalists are finding themselves without paying gigs every day. Everyone is wondering: what does the future hold for the media? We brought the questions to the front lines, asking leaders in the field to tell us: what’s next?

As publisher of epicurean magazine Saveur for the past 18 months, Merri Lee Kingsly has seen impressive growth in the pub’s ad sales. Earlier this month, Kingsly announced that Saveur‘s June/July issue was the largest in the publication’s 15-year history with 22 percent more ad pages and 14 new advertisers compared to last year. And the Ellie-winning magazine is preparing to get even more visibility (and, hopefully, ads), thanks to editor-in-chief James Oseland’s cameo on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” and a new Web site set to launch later this summer. We asked Kingsly about her successes so far and what makes Saveur different from all the rest.

FishbowlNY: As other magazines struggle, Saveur‘s recent June/July issue has 22 percent more ads than last year. Why do you think you have been so successful?

Merri Lee Kingsly: We are true to our mission. Everything we do is very much about the tradition and heritage of food. We’ve never been about the hottest restaurants and the hottest chefs and the new places to go, and I think that is the key to our success. When you look at the whole competitive set, which has forever been about the hottest restaurants and the hottest chefs, they’ve really followed the weak economy. They are only talking about how people are huddled in their kitchens making stews for the weekend. These are magazines that forever talked about going out and eating and traveling and they have changed their tune in such a drastic angle that they’ve not only confused the reader but they’ve chased the advertiser away. They have abandoned their luxury market. We haven’t. We haven’t changed the formula; we’ve been doing the same thing for 15 years.

FBNY: The luxury market is suffering because of the recession, but you deal with a lot of luxury advertisers. Do your readers really want to see luxury ads?

MLK: Obviously [the luxury consumer] has cut back, but they still do things differently. If you’ve always stayed at the Four Seasons, you don’t go stay at a Motel 6. People don’t drastically change their behavior. Our competitors think they do. I don’t believe that there are pattern changes. Maybe the amount you travel changes, maybe what you’re looking for from a trip changes — maybe you’re looking for an experience now as opposed to lying on the beach in Phuket. Now people want to talk about the experience because they want to feel like they did something.

FBNY: How does your approach to ad sales differ from your competitors?

MLK: I have built a team of marketers and not a team of sales people. We are so small; my entire team could fit into one marketing department of one of our competitors. This is not a political place. My sales people don’t spend their energy sucking up to me. They are expected to take care of their clients. I think that we just approach our business differently. Every sales call has to feel consultative. No client should be made to feel that they’re being pinched. If you go in with a consultative attitude, being able to talk about a multitude of ideas, then you’ve really done your job as a marketer for this magazine.

FBNY: What projects do you have planned for the rest of the year?

MLK: We’re relaunching our Web site in August and adding an aggregator as part of the site. We’ll be the only food magazine Web site with an aggregator because it’s more about the user at Saveur. Not having a narcissistic approach to everything we do is really important to us. I really think it’s just trying to have a team that is continually happy and driven by the adrenaline rush of what they do every day at work. If they are motivated then they can go out and help our clients do whatever they want as an epicurean partner.

Earlier: Saveur Ad Pages Continue To Rise