Corner Office: President Andrew Clurman on the Future of Active Interest Media
A life-long hockey player aspiring to ski, Andrew Clurman obtained a job at Skiing magazine in the early 1980s. After 20 years with the company and skiing to his heart's content, Clurman became president of Mountain Sports Media and relocated Ski and Skiing magazines from New York City to Boulder, CO.
In 2000, Times Warner's purchase of the company spurred Clurman's departure a few years later, along with former Times Mirror CFO Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III. Zimbalist formed Active Interest Media in 2003 hiring Clurman as group publisher and COO and establishing headquarters in Boulder, only a few blocks from their former offices. Clurman, now president and COO of AIM, manages the company's media properties, which comprise over 40 magazines (including Ski and Skiing as of June), Warren Miller Entertainment, and a slew of conferences and events.
How has Active Interest Media positioned itself to expand as rapidly as it has over the last decade?
We're operating five different [magazine] groups in Specialty Home, Horse, Outdoor, Healthy Living and Marine. Once we got established and gained some critical mass in those different categories, we started building out the full suite of programs, products and services. In almost every case but Marine we started with what was the leading or collection of leading magazine brands, and that gave us the content, authority, credibility and the legacy to build other kinds of media platforms from them.
From the beginning we really wanted to be diversified across print, digital and events. The magazines are probably the most visible [aspect of AIM]. We have close to 50 separate individual magazine brands, but the company is about 45% events.
I also heard you've moved into insurance with USRyder and Yoga Journal's BenefitsPlus?
Those have been really great, fast-growing compliments both to the Yoga and to Equine groups. The yoga teachers' liability insurance is bundled with the subscription to the magazine and a special newsletter, which is all under the BenefitsPlus name. And USRyder offers a long list of benefits and discounts and added value for horse people, but the main benefit is towing insurance for your truck, trailer and we'll take care of your horses, which none of the other roadside assistance plans do.
In both those cases we don't need to be the insurance company or own tow trucks. There are partners and service bureaus that do all that. We're the marketing and the branding and the organizers for the insurance. Those are sold similarly to the way we sell magazine subscriptions. We really like those businesses because they have high renewal rates and really high satisfaction rates with the users.
The other thing we've been doing is looking around within the audiences that we have to see what other services people need that are complimentary to what we do.
Will we see new services for other
We're looking at launching one of those in the marine industry and looking at the outdoor industry also. The key benefit is different by market. . . . Finding that compelling benefit by category seems to be the trick. Once you do that managing those things is a lot like how you manage a traditional magazine subscription file. We found that we have a really good core competency on building those businesses. And it has given us a nice additional profitable diversification.
The industry averages, if you look at something like Magazine Publishing Association, which does annual financial surveys, the stand alone print magazines are very low margin from a profitability standpoint, but if you add these other components, whether it's membership programs or events, suddenly the businesses become a lot more successful.
I knew a lot about the Boulder community. It has a lot of super-educated people who are passionate about their hobbies and interests. There are a lot of people in the design, media and communication world and this is the destination for those types of people, especially for what we have: outdoor, backpacking, equine, skiing. There are a lot of people here who are both great media professionals but also looking to find a way to combine their passion with their careers.
In New York City, you have a lot of incredible media talents and professionals, and unless you're in the fashion or finance business, it's very difficult to be able to marry your job and your hobbies. Here I think people kind of get the best of both worlds. We encourage that. We encourage the yoga people to participate in the yoga industry, and that is the same with the backpackers, climbers and the American cowboys.
Could you talk about one of your recent acquisitions, Warren Miller Entertainment?
This is a completely new platform for AIM, branching out into film and TV.
Warren Miller is an iconic brand and movie series that was started by Warren Miller the man over 60 years ago. His films have been the annual kickoff to the ski season for many, many years. The movies are ski documentaries shot all over the world. It has grown to a movie tour that goes to 160 cities around the U.S. It's in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, Canada.
The other part of it is that they produce a lot of film for the ski world and the non-ski world. They've done everything from television series to the opening of the winter Olympics last time around for NBC. They have a full-fledged television production business.
How does this production arm fit with
The production group is working with other Active Interest Media brands across other categories like the Marine Group, Active Living Group, Equine Group and Outdoor Group to come up with branded television or video that they will use for a variety of purposes as well as multimedia work for clients of those groups.
We are looking at which options are out there, but it's really more looking at what the programming is first and seeing how it relates to the yoga world or marine world. You also have a lot of marketers now who are producing their own [multimedia] or looking for their own authentic branded content because they're feeding it to their social platforms and their websites. That's kind of a new area of doing that kind of work.
What are you working on now?
We are expanding our yoga conference business with an additional conference in Southern California next year. We added an additional outdoor event, which is a tour of outdoor retailers and outfitters around the country doing clinics and teaching outdoor skills. We also have a couple of winter events for Warren Miller that are very large-scale and are also a part of the Warren Miller movie shoots.
Sounds like you're keeping busy!
Yup! And we're still working on a couple of acquisitions in the wings!