Coverage of MPA’s American Magazine Conference
Publishing Executive Inbox Editor Matt Steinmetz attended MPA’s “American Magazine Conference” in Boca Raton, Fla. this week, where he sat in on Monday and Tuesday’s conference sessions and events.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29
The 2007 American Magazine Conference, hosted by the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), kicked off yesterday in Boca Raton, Fla. This year’s theme, “The MagaBrand Revolution,” aims to tackle how publishers can extend their brands’ footprints beyond the printed page and “into all corners of the target audience’s consciousness,” according to the 2007 AMC Conference Chair David Zinczenko, who is also the senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Men’s Health.
I’m live at the event, where attendees like myself are trading the 85-degree, sunsplashed weather that’s just outside for the freezing cold and crowded conference sessions inside the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Call us crazy, but the MPA has put together an interesting lineup of top execs from the consumer magazine space, along with a number of high-profile ad agency players, and other media moguls.
Monday morning’s general sessions included a spirited panel discussion centered around how publishers can position their companies for growth in the 21st century. One of the more notable comments of the session came from Jonas Bonnier, whose Bonnier Corp. purchased Time Inc.’s Parenting Group and Time4 Life titles earlier this year, when he lamented the inability of publishers to capitalize on the offerings of the Web in its formative years. “We saw [the digital era] coming and we still missed it,” he said. He then went on to predict that TV, radio, book and magazine companies will still derive “at least 50 percent” of their revenues from traditional sources in five years, but that this may not be the case with newspapers or b-to-b magazine publishers moving forward.
Wenda Harris Millar, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s president of media, said: “Speed kills--if you don’t have it,” referring to the fact that consumers are “way ahead” of publishers in terms of their understanding and use of the Internet. And yet, “Brands have never had a better opportunity to strut their stuff ... than now, because the consumer [still] needs an editor.” She then challenged publishers and editors to make the user “a part of the process ... opening up to the user an opportunity to [have a voice],” citing the rise in popularity of user-generated content in recent years.
Another highlight this morning was the “Getting Into ‘Leadershape’ in the Digital Era” presentation by Robert Eichinger, CEO of Lominger International. Eichinger dazzled attendees with all sorts of statistical evidence that way more M&A deals fail to achieve the goals of the buyer than do achieve them, and that central to this problem is a lack of understanding of change management. In a session really targeted at the c-level execs in attendance, his revelations included: jobs are getting bigger, faster, more difficult and more complex; the supply of talent is getting smaller due largely to retiring baby boomers; most organizations will lose around 50 percent of their management in the next five to seven years due to retirement; and, as a result, younger people will be moving into “bigger jobs sooner.” An average of six years sooner, in fact, than their predecessors, and with an average of two fewer jobs of experience, he says.
Eichinger spent a good amount of his presentation detailing the “three keys” to being a more successful leader/manager: self awareness, listening and people skills, and learning agility -- or the ability and willingness to learn, change and gain from life experiences.
One of the more memorable points from his talk, to me, was that managers’ “weaknesses don’t get [them] into trouble, [but rather] blindspots do.” Blindspots, he says, are the weaknesses a manager lacks the self awareness to see.
Magazines Get Moving: Exploring Mobile Opportunities
Monday morning’s conference programming was capped off with three breakout sessions. I attended the mobile session, featuring three vendors from the mobile space and a moderator who heads up CondeNet’s efforts in this area.
Interesting take-aways from the session included: Asia and Europe are well ahead of us in the U.S. with their mobile technology and the extent of its usage. Almost 220 million people in the U.S. own mobile phones (or nearly 80 percent of the population) so the opportunity to monetize the mobile medium is huge. Publishers need to figure out the best business model for themselves and move forward. Fast. Publishers should be sure not to let happen with mobile what they did with the Web, and they shouldn’t be afraid to “fail forward,” or continue to evolve their business models by learning through both their successes and failures.
Attendance at this afternoon’s session was markedly lighter, no doubt a result of some people’s decisions to forego MagaBranding in favor of golf and tennis here in beautiful Boca. Still, the afternoon’s programming was engaging, kicking off with a keynote presentation by Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal’s Integrated Media, whose chat was titled “What magazines can learn from TV.” Her appearance at AMC today happened to coincide with the launch of Hulu, a collaborative effort on behalf of NBC and News Corp. that some have dubbed a “YouTube killer.”
Multi-platform Editors Doing More Than Ever
Comstock was followed by a panel of editors who discussed, among other things, the challenges faced by editorial staffers being asked to do more than ever in less time than ever. Steve Adler, whose BusinessWeek went through an extensive redesign only a few weeks ago, admitted his staff now refers to its readers instead as users. He acknowledged that quality control of BusinessWeek’s online content is probably his most difficult challenge, as the quantity and frequency of copy prohibits him from seeing everything that gets posted on the Web.
Adam Moss, editor-in-chief of New York, said the environment editors find themselves in may well suit them more than they realize. Great editors almost have to have ADD, he said, adding that this new environment “rewards that.”
Angela Burt-Murray, editor-in-chief of Essence, summed up the discussion with simple advice to her fellow editors: “Evolve or die. ... Remember who brought you to the dance. Everything you do should revolve around the reader.”
Either/Or Argument Is No More
Upstaging all of the afternoon’s presenters was Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. Huffington stated plainly that the “either/or” argument is no longer valid with regard to publishers having either a print or a Web strategy. It’s clear now that publishers absolutely need to have both. Huffington’s line: “It is like France. You can have your wife and your mistress too now,” brought the afternoon’s loudest laughs and managed to drive home her point.
I Thought They Said ‘Sex Sells’
At least that’s what Brian Farnham was banking on earlier this year when he published his second “sex issue” since taking over as editor in chief at Time Out New York 18 months ago. As a matter of fact, the issue did sell ... and sell well. But it also brought a significant number of angry letters and even subscription cancellations which, Farnham said, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He argued that a sex issue that doesn’t incite a negative response to some degree probably isn’t a good sex issue. He challenged editors to be unafraid to “exceed the boundaries” and “not be afraid to take your readers outside their comfort zone.”
It must be working. Time Out’s newsstand sales are up for the first time in six years, and its Web site’s page views have doubled in the last 12 months.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30
Tuesday’s theme at AMC is clearly engaging your audience, by whatever means you have at your disposal. Social networking, user-generated comments and content, video ... the list goes on. The important thing to remember when trying to figure out the approach that’s best for your magazine, however, is to settle on the concept that will get your readers involved with you brand first, says Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief of Wired. Only after you’ve determined what it will take to motivate that audience to be responsive should you begin discussing what Web 2.0 tools to leverage in this quest.
A mid-morning keynote presentation by LinkedIn Chairman and President Reid Hoffman offered attendees a look at the “future of social networking.” Later this morning, the publishing community will be treated to another keynote--this one from Eileen Naughton, director of media platforms for Google. No doubt another can’t miss session unless, like myself, you have a plane to catch.
Congratulations to the MPA on another great AMC. If I take away anything from these past two days it is that publishers are charged with more headaches, challenges and opportunities than ever. And we need not be afraid to “fail forward. not be afraid to “fail forward.