How (All) Publishers Are (And Should Be) Capitalizing on Celebrity
At MPA conference, editorial directors from People, EW, ESPN, Hollywood Reporter, and ESSENCE talk about why celebrities and their magazine need each other.
If Amtrak could maintain its schedules, you’d be reading a post about native advertising right now. But alas, Amtrak is Amtrak and I arrived an hour late to the American Magazine Media Conference 2016 (AMMC).
I arrived just in time for a panel on “Selling Celebrity,” which aimed to explore how magazines work with and capitalize on celebrity. With big names from Michelle Obama to Seth Myers to Lena Dunham in attendance, the annual MPA conference caters to the biggest New York City publishers, with a focus on reaching large scale, consumer audience. And though many magazine publishers may not operate in the type of space that boasts the household celebrity names that Esquire and People magazines do, every subject matter has its equivalent celebrities -- big personalities, popular names, movers and shakers.
To be clear, celebrity focus by no means indicates of a lack of substance. All the editorial leaders on the panel agreed that celebrity content has become more substantive and is an opportunity to drive conversations that their audience find meaningful. Celebrities are part of the same ecosystem and have mutual interest that can benefit audience development, traffic, and advertising.
Also, increasingly, the notion of celebrity is changing, with the editors from Hollywood Reporter, ESPN, and ESSENCE, acknowledging the importance social media celebrities. Whether the personality resonates with the audience is what matters. In the B2B space, that might be an outspoken innovative business thinker. In the special interest space, it could be a unique industry supplier with its own fan base.
Following are some more insights from the Selling Celebrity panel.
Celebrities Know Print Covers Matter
From listening to the editors on the panel, it became abundantly clear that landing the cover of a print magazine matters.
Chad Millman, editor-in-chief, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, said that even though the newsstand is not big part of the brand’s business, covers still hold a lot of weight because of how it resonates within the ESPN ecosystem and breaks through the noise of the sports world. “The cover ends up being the most tangible representation of the brand,” said Millman.
Millman added that: “Nobody says they want to be at the top of [ESPN’s] news feed.” They can’t make a poster out of that or put it on their wall.
Vanessa K. De Luca, editor-in-chief of ESSENCE, said the publication pays attention not only to how the cover behaves on newsstand, but also its affect online and on social media and leveraging it at ESSENCE events.
What makes the print cover important to celebrities, says De Luca, is its very scarcity. With only 12 opportunities a year, the print cover is the “crown jewel” of the brand. “They know it’s not something that comes around every day,” says De Luca.
Janice Min, president and chief creative officer of The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group said that it’s no surprise that Donald Trump’s office is covered with magazine covers. “You see the long tail of the influence of covers,” said Min. When Trump did the 60 Minutes interview, recent covers of himself were sprawled on his desk, said Min, to show he’s important.
All the editors agreed that the energy and thought that goes into creating a cover, and the role editors play as tastemakers, brings a significance to magazine covers that is unshaken by digital disruption. In fact, the singular message of the magazine cover is its strength.
Leverage the Cover to Derive Value
The conversation then turned to how magazines can “leverage” their magazine covers.
Even though celebrities have their own platforms, they still desire the cover, even in the celebrity athlete world of ESPN. Millman said it’s important to recognize the inherit value of the cover and use it to negotiate time with celebrities to get a more meaningful story. “It’s still important for us to get access and spend time with them to get insight into what they do on a daily basis and why they’re important.”
Min said that it’s no longer adequate to do a vanilla cover story when a star has a movie coming out. The celebrity needs to bring more to the table. “I don’t need a 1000th Sandra Bullock,” said Min. And celebrities are willing to comply because of the value of the platform -- they could make an announcement on social media, but it won’t have the gravitas.
De Luca said that celebrity content can serve as a tool to bring value to an audience -- and that’s what audiences expect. “It has to be about something the audience wants to hear about and connect to.”
Moderator and People and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle suggested using the magazine’s cultural cache to get celebrity personalities to “give people something you cannot get for free on our website” or to have celebrities write pieces themselves.
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.