Town & Country Publisher Jennifer Levene Bruno on Revitalizing a Legacy 170 Years in the Making
It’s apt that a magazine brand dedicated to honoring and exploring modern society’s elites and their distinguished legacies would itself be steeped in a rich heritage. The oldest continuously published general interest magazine in the U.S., Town & Country turns 170 years old this year.
As is the challenge with any legacy, maintaining relevancy and building a bright future upon a storied past was a key goal when T&C VP/publisher and CRO Jennifer Levene Bruno took over in 2012. In a post-recession funk, the T&C brand needed to be revitalized, which Bruno and her team did by refocusing its content on the topics and ideas that appeal to its affluent audience, bringing advertisers along for the ride. “Our audience craves products and content reflecting good taste,” says Bruno. T&C reignited the content pillars that have been important to the audience since the get-go -- travel, weddings, philanthropy, and style -- and then built franchises around these verticals that cut across print, digital, and events.
The results have been positive, with T&C seeing its best increases in revenue and ad paging since 2008. “Our current June/July issue is up 30 percent in ad revenue versus the same issue last year. There are not many brands out there, especially in print, that are gaining readership as opposed to losing it, because it’s just such a fragmented media landscape right now.”
Like many magazine brands, T&C has found success taking the people in its magazine pages and connecting them in real life. Bruno was instrumental in the creation and execution of the Town & Country Philanthropy Summit, which was held for the third year in a row in May. The summit, held at The New-York Historical Society, brought together influencers and thought leaders involved with giving and coincides with Town & Country’s June/July philanthropy issue.
Here Bruno shares some of the secrets behind T&C’s recent success.
Since you've been with Town & Country, what have you changed or focused on to uplift the brand?
When I arrived at Town & Country, the editor Jay Fielden had been here for about 18 months. [The magazine] had definitely lost its way. We both sort of came together at a pivotal time to reimagine a brand that had such an incredible legacy and heritage over the years.
What we've really done is sort of reignite the content areas that have been the core DNA of Town & Country since 1846. We brought each individual category --whether it be philanthropy, travel, weddings, or the fashion and style pages -- and we sort of made them fresh again. Yes, there have been a lot of programs and in-book content and custom content that have contributed to that, but overall, it’s been a matter of having the right people in place and knowing what the top 1% of affluent Americans want from a magazine and from a website. We have such a great pulse on what that is.
Stellene Volandes has taken over as editor-in-chief. She's been here for five years, she was Jay's first hire, and she truly is Town & Country. She embodies everything about this brand through and through. She knows our reader better than anyone I've ever met on the editorial side. I think we can really confidently and proudly say that we're intelligent, interesting, stylish, and provocative all in one.
So realigning your content strategy has been crucial to reigniting the brand…
Well, you're only as good as your content. I hate the whole saying, “Content is king,” but if the content and the product is there, I can go out and market it and sell it and have it help my clients move their businesses forward. At the end of the day, they want sales and we are the brand that help them do that and they've come back.
Town & Country really is the place people come to be in the know. The luxury brands come to Town & Country when they want to have a conversation with a really high-end client. We recognize that. I wanted to put programs in place where the readers and the people that are with us at events see a great product in the pages or come to life at an event, and they go buy it.
Can you tell us about the Town & Country Philanthropy Summit you held in May?
We launched it three years ago, but as I mentioned earlier, philanthropy has been part of the core DNA of this brand for 170 years. For people with money and influence, we wanted to put a spotlight on what it means to give back and create this forum where people can share and express these new and unique ways of giving.
This is a huge investment in our brand. We came up with the idea of creating this one-day summit, where giving back is celebrated. We have a series of panels, and hot-button discussions, and conversations with key charities and organizations. There is a specially curated audience of donors and VIPs. This year we're putting the spotlight on the next generation of families who have a strong history of giving back. Honing in on this next gen is really important. These younger members of these legacy families are actively involved in the variety of important causes that are really making a difference.
What we do is have them on stage with us, and their sheer passion and determination really comes through. And our sponsors are Forevermark, DKMS/COTY, Michael Kors, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and 1 Hotels. Those are our primary sponsors that we'll bring along and have a spotlight on them on stage through one form or another. We're examining the causes that are most important for our readers. And it’s good. I'm really proud to be at the helm of this brand and supporting philanthropy over the world.
Are you doing other events beyond the Philanthropy Summit?
Our partners over the years have asked the same question. “As opposed to it being this one off great day, how can we extend this throughout the year?” I respond to that in two ways. One, I was very influential in getting the editor to create a philanthropy column in every issue.
I've also created a series of T&C Talks, which are panel discussions or one-on-one conversations with an editor or brand ambassador, in any market, at any time, on any topic. Under this umbrella of T&C Talks, [we can host talks] on art and design, weddings, or philanthropy for anyone of our partners.
Your June/July issue is your philanthropy issue, which follows the summit that occurs in May. Can you speak about how those two products work together?
In year one, our philanthropy issue was December, and then the following year in May, we launched our first summit. Clearly, the two weren't aligned, but we knew we were onto something because the sell-through was so strong on the print. Then we launched the live summit. In year two, we decided we were going to align the issue with the summit. Last year, the philanthropy issue was May, and the summit was in May. This year, it's the first time ever we unveiled the philanthropy issue on stage at the summit.
What are your plans for celebrating the 170th anniversary of the magazine?
I'm glad you asked. Of course there's a lot. If you've see Town & Country you've noticed that beginning last December we added this great 170th anniversary insignia onto the cover of every single issue. That is very present in everything we do, in terms of our logos, our collateral pieces. October will be our official 170th anniversary issue. It'll definitely be a collector's issue. Without giving away too much, what I can say is the anniversary issue will be full of one-of-a-kind moments, and a celebration of tradition and what's next.
Legacies matter. Legacy and heritage, they’re alive and well on our pages, and culturally the top 1% of affluent people in America name Town & Country as a guide.
We are a multi-generational brand, and that is the biggest takeaway in terms of who our audience is and our position in the marketplace. We have been appealing to multiple generations for almost two centuries. What I like to say is, when it comes to multiple generations, when something is good, it appeals to all generations. For me, luxury is ageless.
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Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.