Meredith Magazines Promises 'Audience Action' to Print Advertisers During COVID-19
As advertisers push "pause" on marketing campaigns amid the COVID-19 crisis, traditional media is expected to lose more ad dollars than digital media, according to a recent IAB survey. To be proactive and reassure hesitant customers, Meredith Magazines announced last week that it would prove the effectiveness of brand campaigns in its magazines under the new Meredith Audience Action Guarantee.
The Meredith Audience Action Guarantee (MAAG) promises that a specific number of readers will take an action (i.e., visit a website or recommend a product) after seeing a brand campaign in Meredith magazines — including PEOPLE, Better Homes & Gardens, REAL SIMPLE, and InStyle. To get the guarantee, advertisers need to buy at least five ad pages across two magazine brands' May-December issues.
MAAG was inspired by the company's existing Meredith Sales Guarantee program, which uses Nielsen Catalina Solutions to demonstrate how cross-platform campaigns with Meredith brands boost product sales.
“We’ve never had to give anyone their money back, so it’s worked, but it takes a lot of advertising and a lot of time to execute that,” says Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines. To demonstrate results more quickly under the MAAG, Meredith pivoted to the measurement of "audience action" using MRI-Simmons Starch AdMeasure.
Publishing Executive asked Olson to share motivations behind the new guarantee and to shed light on the biggest concerns among advertising customers during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's the lightly edited interview:
What prompted you to make the Meredith Audience Action Guarantee?
Recently we’ve had discussions with customers that were in two or three buckets. It was, “Hey we’re going dark because as a company we don’t think our product or service is relevant right now to the consumers who are very distracted” or, “We’re worried about our organization and we need to save money while this thing is going on so we’re still a viable company on the other side of this thing.” Some were going to go dark or ‘pause,’ as we like to say. But then there are a whole bunch of other organizations who say, “No, I want to advertise, my product or service is relevant, but I want to make sure my messaging is correct.” And then an equally as big group of people said, “We can advertise, but we really don’t know if it’s money well spent right now. Is there a way that you guys can come up with something to indicate to us that our money is well spent and the consumer is taking some kind of action?”
So we huddled with our data and insights team and said, "Can we do a version of the Meredith Sales Guarantee program?" We decided it would just take too long and it wouldn’t give people an answer fast enough, and then said, you know, in the past we’ve used the MRI-Simmons Starch AdMeasure product, more brand by brand, but what that measures is an audience’s actions. So it could be going to a website, it could be referring something, it could be asking your doctor a question, it could be a whole list of things around an action that would suggest that there would be a purchase at some time. We put that together, we called it the Meredith Audience Action Guarantee, and we’ve rolled it out to our biggest customers and ad agencies and people who have budgets right now. We’ve gotten an overwhelming response to it. I don’t think everyone is going to do it, but I think some of them will.
How are you measuring audience action?
It’s an advertiser-by-advertiser or brand-by-brand discussion, so I’ll give you a hypothetical. Somebody buys five ad pages: Four are in REAL SIMPLE and one is in Better Homes & Gardens. What we’ll do is we’ll sit down and say, we think that we can guarantee you X amount of actions, and it could be using your camera to look at a QR code, looking at a video, going to a website, making a referral, or whatever. Then there’s a little negotiation of whether that’s the right target or not, but once the advertiser agrees, we set the target and run the advertising. If it works – and we believe it will because we’ve done it for a long time – then everybody is happy. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll make a make-good. In the case I just shared, if there’s four pages in REAL SIMPLE and one in Better Homes, then we’d run the make-good in REAL SIMPLE.
What are the biggest concerns you’re hearing from advertisers right now?
The biggest thing is messaging. “Do we do business as usual? Do we continue to advertise with our same campaigns? Do we change the messaging to be more sympathetic or focused on what’s currently happening?” A lot of our May issues were already closed when this hit, but if you’re making a decision now, today, you’re probably not going to see that ad for 30 days by the time you get through the close process, the production schedule, and the mailing. In print, with the exception of PEOPLE magazine, which is a weekly, most of our brands are monthly and less frequent, and so a lot of advertisers are like, “You know the messaging in 30 or 45 days from now might be completely different than if I just tomorrow decide to turn on a campaign in television or in digital.” So we’ve had a lot of discussion around helping them with messaging and trying to predict the future and consumer behavior, just taking all the insights. Like people are obviously having breakfast together now and cooking together, so our food, family, home, and entertainment focus in our portfolio is super relevant. We know that not only is our web traffic up 30 or 40%, but so is the readership of our magazine. So we’ve got our consumers’ attention.
Are you seeing reluctance toward print among advertisers and readers? Either to spend on print campaigns or handle print products?
We’re not seeing any reluctance because of the medium. Like I said, the only decision point is what is it going to look like 30 or 45 days from now. I think that’s the biggest question. But they know print works, the advertisers that have stuck with it. Even though it’s been challenged as an industry, if you look at our portfolio we’ve actually done pretty well the past few years comparatively.
As far as consumers go, no. Our renewals are strong; our digital subscriptions where someone is actually buying a subscription to a magazine on a digital platform are all up. So we’ve seen good healthy metrics around subscriptions to our magazines. You know, I’ve been quoted several times in the industry that when we started out we actually had newsstand up, because of so many people in the places where we sell the most – the grocery chains, Walmart, Target, any place that sells food where a lot of people were in the stores, queued, and seeing our products. Our sales were up the first couple weeks, and then it flattened out and got soft because of airport terminals that now have virtually no one in them. Barnes & Noble is not taking product in their stores because they’re either closed or they’re in areas that are so small that it’s not going to move the needle. We’ve got that going against us, but we still have high sales in places like groceries, Walmart, and Target.
Why align with Meredith brands during this crisis?
The bulk of our portfolio is food, home, family, and entertainment and those things are very relevant right now. We’ve got the biggest food site in the world in Allrecipes.com. That’s always a go-to place, much more now that restaurants are closed and people are looking for something other than making hamburgers every day. For us this is more like holiday season because holiday season is about entertaining and family assets that we have. The fourth quarter of every calendar year goes way up for us, and that’s kind of what it’s like right now for us every day. And it doesn’t matter if it’s our core content that we always have or the way our brands are covering the COVID-19 situation, both areas are up.
Some things are a subset of COVID-19, like tips for how to home-school your children and parent. That’s something we’ve always covered, but it was always a more level interest category. All of a sudden, that’s one of the more popular things as people try to figure this out. It may not be directly related to medical information about COVID, but it's certainly an offshoot of the crisis. And you can pick any brand: FOOD & WINE. Restaurants all over the country closed, so a lot of those people are looking for an expert like FOOD & WINE asking, “What types of things should I think about when I open up my restaurant?” We have a B2B service called F&W Pro, and that traffic has gone through the roof.
Beyond advertising, what are your biggest concerns for your business?
Well the biggest concern is how to get everyone coming back as safely as we can. More than likely we’ll start out with essential functions that have to be in the office, like doing photoshoots and video shoots and getting some of those things going again, and then we’ll slowly add people back on as we are comfortable and they are comfortable coming back. That whole process is yet to be determined, but I think that’s first and foremost.
Is there any advice that you’d like to share with publishers?
I’m on a lot of industry boards and get a chance every week to talk to a lot of different people: our customers and our suppliers, all the printers, paper companies, and newsstand people. They really have not missed a beat unless a retailer was not open for some reason that was put in place. Our supply chain has been phenomenal. So I get a lot of different perspectives, and at the end of the day, those of us who are sitting around looking for solutions to the current issues will be successful.
We’re being aggressive, we’re being solution-oriented, and we’re continuing to consultative sell because we think that’s going to get us through all this. Our job is to find solutions, not to sit around and sulk. I’m seeing a little too much of people feeling sorry for themselves, and they’re not taking the kind of action that they need to take to get through this and survive on the other side of it. My best advice to people is, play to win in this. Don’t sit back and play not to lose, because if you do that, you’re going to lose.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.