IMAG Conference 2017

Independent and enthusiast magazine media executives from across the country came together for robust conversation and candid idea sharing at the 13th Annual IMAG Conference in Marina del Rey, California. Hosted by the IMAG Board and Chaired by Scott Dickey, CEO of TEN: The Enthusiast Network, the conference theme was “Excite: Leveraging Brand Power.” From a collection of case studies to inspiring keynotes to panels featuring top experts in the industry and in the agency world, the 2017 IMAG Conference offered invaluable insight into issues central to indie brands. Thank you to all of the great sponsors who made this event possible.

Monday, May 22

Opening Night at TEN: The Enthusiast Network Headquarters

Opening night kicked off with a talk held at the TEN studio on their newly renovated corporate campus. The Grand Tour— a cheeky new automotive-based series from Amazon Originals— is bold, irreverent and has clearly hit a chord with a devoted audience. And in fact that could be the mantra for the ground-breaking content that Amazon Originals is successfully delivering to audiences. Interviewed by Motor Trend editor in chief Ed Loh, Amazon Originals’ head of marketing Mike Benson articulated how their innovative programming stems from empowering the team to take risks and pivot according to the success (or not) of their ideas. Going big to market such series such as The Man in the High Castle and Mozart in the Jungle has helped Amazon target passionate, return viewers who have moved beyond traditional content and remakes of series like “Roseanne.”

Tuesday, May 23

Conference Welcome

Emphasizing the collaborative nature of the IMAG community, Scott Dickey encouraged attendees to share ideas and engage in open dialogue about the challenges independent companies face. He said, “We know what it’s like to be down, but we also know how to survive.” Referring to all of the companies in the room as “partners,” Dickey said each presentation would give attendees actionable takeaways they can apply to their own brands.

Leveraging Brand Momentum

MPA’s Linda Thomas Brooks applauded IMAG attendees for taking back the conversation on magazine media, the most trusted, inspiring and motivating form of media according to Simmons Research. She added that because magazines are such a trusted medium, print advertising is perceived, understood and recalled more often than advertising in other channels. Our brands are recognizable, professionally researched and masterfully executed. View presentation here.

The Bonnier Transformation Imperative

After joining Bonnier in June of 2015, Eric Zinczenko implemented a bold and groundbreaking strategy which led to the company’s strongest year ever in 2016. In just 12 months, Bonnier more than tripled their EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) with almost 20% fewer employees and with their existing portfolio. Zinczenko said that media companies should not rely on legacy and best practices, because “today’s best solution will be irrelevant tomorrow.” Instead, he encourages attendees to adhere to a core set of principles and to look at their companies as mutual funds, diversifying revenue over a broad group of activities to increase asset value and eliminate risk. View presentation here.

Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight: Publishing in the New World Order

“Getting stuck in the middle is almost certain death,” said KC Estenson, "Be precious about your content, but not about your audience." In his “Go Big or Go Guerilla” approach, Estenson urges publishers to either make allies and strike massive partnerships or get small and focus on personal issues to win the attention war. Estenson also acknowledged the mobile disruption in the media industry. Because of increased use of mobile devices and online video streaming, 2019 will experience a paradigm change: mobile/desktop internet ad spend will continue to boom and will most likely overtake TV. View presentation here.

Stepping Up to the Challenged and Shifting Landscape

As the media landscape continues to evolve, Beth Buehler revealed Rodale’s core areas of focus for 2017, which include committing to creating excellent content, increasing direct-to-consumer revenue, expanding to new categories. Despite advertising and circulation decline in their print entities, their digital network is growing in large part to video. Rodale plans to continue utilizing content marketing, audience extensions and product investment to reach new audiences and keep up with the rapid rate of change in the magazine media industry.

San Francisco Chronicle: A Story of Revenue Diversification

“We are not a startup; we do not have ping pong tables. We have to have an eye on efficiency to fund great content,” Jeff Johnson said about the San Francisco Chronicle. After almost shutting down in 2008, the company focused on restructuring cost to ultimately lead to their most profitable year in 2016. The challenge for the company– and all newspapers– has been replacing the massive diminishing spending from local and national retailers. In response, the company went through a radical change with new hires from a range of companies and increased product offerings and revenue diversification. One of the most beneficial product offerings was their custom content studio, The Story Studio. Taking off quicker than expected, The Story Studio was able to offer clients custom solutions to localize their content for the Bay Area. The San Francisco Chronicle also offered new verticals including “The Press,” an interactive guide to wine country and “Green State,” a new digital hub for sophisticated cannabis-users, and focused programs for real estate companies, elective surgery, non-profits, education and more. View presentation here..

Leading Legacy Brands into the Future

Led by John Amato, The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group has seen phenomenal revenue growth over the past three years by shifting resources from a legacy company to one serving audiences across brands. They did this with two driving ideas: create a powerful voice for each brand and build a nimble culture that can adapt to an evolving environment. From 2013 to 2017, the company more than doubled in revenue. Amato also attributes the company’s success to investing in new revenue streams including events like the Billboard Hot 100 Festival and licensing and products like the Billboard glow collection footwear and earbuds. To ensure revenue continues to grow, Amato created Project 300, a challenge for the company to reach 300 million views per month across all video distribution channels; ensure that more than 50% are monetizable, non-social views; and reach monthly ComScore numbers that exceed their competitors.

Big Ideas Showcase

In a rapid fire showcase hosted by Trusted Media Brands’ Alec Casey, 10 indie leaders shared the projects and ideas that worked for them and discussed both the successes and challenges with IMAG attendees. Case studies and presenters include:

#hemigram | Simon Leslie, Ink Global
A social media program that engaged readers and significantly leveraged consumer engagement with hemispheres in new ways, and for long after their flight was over

5 Things with Hilton Dresden |Joe Landry, Here Media
A weekly comedic web series taking five news stories from Out Magazine’s website and offering feedback and jokes on each

Aruba Tourism Authority Instagram Adventure |Maggie Gould Markey, AFAR Media
A first-to-market Instagram adventure, offering followers an interactive platform to tap their way along a nine-section map of Aruba

Catapult Goes to Cabo | Jon Dorn, Active Interest Media
Launching into a full service marketing firm, from photo shoots, to lead generation, to marketing materials

Fine Homebuilding ProHOME |Renee Jordan, The Taunton Press
A demonstration home project that incorporates advertiser products in the building process

Motor Trend OnDemand |Jonathan Anastas, TEN: The Enthusiast Network
The world’s premier all-automotive subscription video on-demand service. With 1,500-plus hours of live and original video content that can be viewed anytime and on any device

Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking |John Boland, Fine Cooking
An expansive media platform which includes the magazine, website, a massive social media community and the award-winning PBS television series, Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking

Museum Day Live! | Amy Wilkins, Smithsonian
An annual partnership and celebration that gives ticket holders free admission to over 1,200 museums and cultural institutions across the country

Redefining Revenue Streams | Beth Brenner, Domino
A series of programs to build new businesses beyond their print, digital advertising and ecommerce efforts, from showcase homes to design books and more

Take Action | Erin O'Mara, The Nation
A website proving easy resources to encourage readers to sign petitions, join protests, support local organizations and write to representatives on a range of political issues

TEN Integrates Advertising Workflow with Media Services Group Élan Software | Jeff Shine, Media Services Group
A CRM system to fully respond to the needs of publishers like TEN: The Enthusiast Network

Winning in the Content Democracy

As president of DEFY Media, the top digital producer for 13-34 year olds, Keith Richman told IMAGers his goal is “to create programming as meaningful as the audiences who consume it.” Noting the difficulties of creating memorable content in a “newsfeed world,” Richman said it’s important to know your audience to create “thumbstopper moments,” where users will stop scrolling on their feed and give your video their attention. To do this, you must have the confidence to invest in your own strategy and then have your whole team on the same page behind a single idea. Richman also stressed that discoverability is largely dependent on platform—it’s impossible to find videos on Facebook, so content producers need to think about each platform and how their content aligns with them.

Chasing the Challenge of Consumer Engagement

In a panel moderated by TEN’s Eric Schwab, top agency experts discusssed the importance of brand safety, noting viewability and fraud as two major areas of concern. The panel encouraged independent companies to view sites like Facebook and Google as great partners to distribute content and mobilize audiences. With real candor, the panel also questioned the one-second rule. 

The Atomized Audience

With changes in consumer content consumption and competition from new digital platforms in the media ecosystem, CDS Global’s Malcolm Netburn urged publishers to rely heavily on data and consumer engagement. He says it’s important to consolidate data—which is typically extremely siloed—to keep consumers engaged and interested in your products and services. Analyzing the data will lead to insights for content creative, marketing and audience development. View presentation here.

Culture, Innovation & Reinvention: The Story of Atlantic Media

Increasing number of employees, brands and business units, Atlantic Media successfully reinvented itself to keep up with the rapid evolution of the magazine media industry. In a banner year which saw growth in both print and pure play digital programs, Michael Finnegan attributes this achievement to key learnings. As Atlantic Media transformed core products into high growth industries, these lessons included the importance of experimentation, understanding the power and value of niche and premium content, using data and metrics, diversifying revenue and putting your audience first.

Unlocking Growth Through Experimentation

Citing Hofstadter's Law, Harvard Business Review’s Josh Macht says company-wide experimentation usually takes longer than expected because we get stuck in our mental models. He said, “People don’t want to lose something that they perceive works.” Instead of thinking of immediate fixes, Macht encourages IMAGers to think more broadly—understanding the needs, figuring out your brand’s capabilities and then coming up with the solution. Macht’s top tips for leading innovation efforts include: start with a product innovation portfolio, engage everyone in the transformation, hold yourself accountable and give people time to become accustomed to the changes. View presentation here.

Innovating for the 'Me First' Generations

According to PressReader’s Trevor Carroll, consumption of content hasn’t changed—it has actually grown—but how it is consumed has changed dramatically. Using declining sales at CD and video stores as examples, Carroll says that customers have a new thirst for digital content that can be personalized, customized and curated just for them. View the presentation here.

Facebook Best Practices for Publishers and Case Study

Facebook’s Amy Hudson and Rob Shaw offered product updates on video, including extensive testing they have done on vertical video, automatic expanding video, sound and time countdowns. This represents a new area of revenue and direct control for publishers. Rob and Amy encouraged IMAGers to join their publishing community via a Facebook group.

The Imagination Awards Ceremony

The second annual Imagination Awards honored the innovative and transformational work of independent magazine media companies and brands. Active Interest Media, The Atlantic, Domino, The Economist, Fine Cooking, Forbes, Science News and TEN: The Enthusiast Network took home the top awards. AFAR Media's Laura Simkins acted as 2017 Imagination Awards Chair, and Kerri Kasem, Radio and TV Personality, served as the evening's emcee. Categories included: Audience Development, Content, Digital, Events, Leadership, Revenue-Advertising, Revenue-General, Revenue-Native. To learn more about the winners, click here.

Wednesday, May 24

IMAG Financial Benchmarking Study

Presented by Active Interest Media’s Andrew Clurman, the 2017 Financial Benchmarking study is an IMAG Board initiative to provide member companies with key metrics to better understand how their performance compares to similar companies. Based on an online survey conducted in Q4 2016, general financial performance of enthusiast titles remains steady. Three quarters of revenue comes from print products, with the rest split evenly between digital and other sources. Areas targeted for growth include new products and increased presence on new platforms. View the presentation here.

The Data Transformation of America's Test Kitchen

In an attempt to actively build relationships with prospects and customers, the team at America’s Test Kitchen relies heavily on the brand’s CRM program. Since the CRM’s launch in October 2016, David Nussbaum said America’s Test Kitchen has shifted to a customer-focused approach, building engagement and optimizing customer value. This new data-based strategy allows ATK to tailor offers to a range of potential customers ranging from anonymous visitors to television show enthusiasts. Fran Middleton added that this has had a dramatic effect on lifetime value of a customer.

The Data Transformation of America's Test Kitchen

In an attempt to actively build relationships with prospects and customers, the team at America’s Test Kitchen relies heavily on the brand’s CRM program. Since the CRM’s launch in October 2016, David Nussbaum said America’s Test Kitchen has shifted to a customer-focused approach, building engagement and optimizing customer value. This new data-based strategy allows ATK to tailor offers to a range of potential customers ranging from anonymous visitors to television show enthusiasts. Fran Middleton added that this has had a dramatic effect on lifetime value of a customer.

Hollywood Loves a Comeback Story

Though Variety was considered a global icon in entertainment journalism, it wasn’t enough to keep the company from going through tough times. According to Chief Marketing Officer Dea Lawrence, lack of digital strategy, heavy competition from bloggers and an inept parent company led to Variety’s fall in 2008. It wasn’t until their Acquisition by PMC Media that the brand began to flourish again. With a digital-first approach and a number of changes including staff layoffs, paywall elimination, website redesign and more, Variety made a comeback with a significant double-digit increase in revenue growth from 2012 to 2016 and all time high traffic growth. View presentation here.

Key Insights and State of the Business for 2017

Industry leaders candidly discussed big issues in the industry as well as area of opportunity ranging from licensing deals to native advertising services to more sophisticated data capture and more. Underscoring the affinity an audience has to a lifestyle, these executives said their sights are focused on bringing value and uniqueness to consumers across all platforms. The overall discussion reflected the themes of the previous two days: enthusiast brands are pursuing brand and revenue growth in an unprecedented number of areas, attracting the firm support of both long term loyal audiences and legions of new recruits.

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