Be Magazine and Magazine Media Bolder… A Love Letter From The IMAG Conference. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.

May 21, 2015

FullSizeRender-3 Without magazines, there is no magazine media. Without content, authentic content, there is no magazine brand. And without a brand, there is no future to the industry that we love and cherish.

That, in short, was what was enforced and repeated time and time again at one of the best magazine and magazine media conferences I have ever attended. The IMAG Annual Conference took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado.

Be Bolder in Boulder was the theme of the conference that was organized under the watchful eye of Mary G. Berner, President and CEO of the MPA: The Association of Magazine Media, and the masterful execution of Beth Tighe, VP of Marketing and her team at the MPA. Ms. Berner and Ms. Tighe wrote in the introduction to the program booklet, “Some of the most innovative work in our industry today is coming from the group gathered here this week. We celebrate your boldness, we celebrate your innovation and we celebrate your success.”

And indeed, the speakers at IMAG, with no exceptions, a rarity in magazine and magazine conferences, all were bold, innovative and successful.

The leaders from almost every major magazine and magazine media company, sans the big four (Time Inc., Hearst, Condé Nast and Meredith) were among the speakers at the conference. While there was some debate on whether this company is number five or that company is number seven, the consensus among all speakers was that magazines, print magazines to be specific (and need not I remind you that in my book, if is it not ink on paper, it is NOT a magazine) were, are and will continue to be the core, the foundation of each and every content company that has a magazine or two (or 20) in its stable of content delivery systems.

However, speakers were quick to remind all that “Audience First” is the new mantra for the magazine and magazine media industry. Andrew Clurman, President and CEO, Active Interest Media, Inc. (AIM), reminded the audience that twenty years ago we used to launch magazines for advertisers. “We were fully obsessed with selling ad pages,” he said. “The business was small minded. All the focus of any new launch was on the advertiser,” but things have changed now and we look “audience first rather than advertising first is the new mantra.” And, companies are doing that now with less than half the staff that they used to have 20 years ago.

Michela O’Conor Abrams, President and CEO, Dwell Media, summed it well when she introduced her “3 Cs” that are magic formula that served Dwell Media very well. Ms. Abrams identified those three Cs that she likes to dwell on (pun intended) as such: Authentic Content, Engaged Community and Contextualized Commerce. Those 3 Cs: Content, Community and Commerce, are the foundation of the brand called Dwell. A foundation that has served Dwell very well indeed.

In fact, Ms. Abrams showed the audience a chart from a study that answered the question asked to design and architect professionals, “When you decide to undertake a project to renovate or improve your space, do you rely on any of the following resources for getting started with ideas, creating a plan, or selecting products?” The number one choice by far was the magazine, the ink on paper magazine. That was music to my ears and to many folks attending the conference. Without ignoring all the other types of platforms and tools to reach the audience, magazines and magazine media were right at the heart of the discussion and for all the right reasons I will add.

That power of engagement, was also echoed by Ms. Berner in her opening presentation at the conference. When it comes to engagement, “There is nothing higher than print,” she said. But Ms. Berner was also quick to remind the attendees that 2014 was a “pivotal year for our industry, marked by overall audience growth (on all platforms of magazine media as measured by the new Magazine Media 360 that the MPA introduced last year) of more than 10% in the first quarter (2015) compared to last year.”

“We are a content company,” says Scott Dickey, CEO, TEN: The Enthusiast Network. “We are no longer just a publishing company, thus we eliminated the title publisher and replaced it with general manager.” Mr. Dickey told the story of transforming an almost dead magazine company to a thriving content magazine media company in today’s marketplace.

Some myths were also demystified at the IMAG conference. “Direct mail is still one of the most productive sources to get subscribers,” said Jeff Paro, President and CEO, Outdoor Sportsman Group (OSG). Our audience still wants and reads magazines, he added. The other platforms, from video to television channels, etc. they all provide “air cover to the brand.”

The collective wisdom of all the CEOs in the audience was amazing. It was as if John Temple, President and CEO, Guideposts, was indeed able to channel the positive thinking and stories of inspirations from the pages of Guideposts, to the entire conference. His presentation, “Infusing a Media Company with a Digital Soul,” was the perfect magazine and magazine media 360 approach to focusing on the community without ignoring the ever changing marketplace. That focus on the community will result in a new magazine from Guideposts this fall called, “Mornings With Jesus.”

I guess by now, you can tell that Mr. Magazine™ fell in love with the IMAG conference head over heels, but the dear reader of this musing is approaching the end of their attention span, so I better close with what Scott Schulman, President, Rodale Inc., told the audience. “We at Rodale focus on the consumer and the consumer revenue.” Sweet, short and simple. Words of wisdom for those who are not struggling to stay alive in the magazine and magazine media world, but rather are thriving and doing very well indeed.

I hope the gentle readers and speakers of the IMAG conference will forgive me for not covering every speaker and every presentation in this short musings, otherwise you and I will be here for a long long time, and I was reminded at the conference that our average attention span now resides at 8 seconds… I know it has been more than 8 seconds since you started reading this… but when you are in love, who cares? Right?

Thank you MPA and thank you IMAG for a most pleasant experience in a very long time…

PS: Watch this space for The Mr. Magazine™ Interviews with some of the movers and shakers who attended the IMAG conference starting Tuesday after Memorial Day Weekend.

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