IMAG Conference 2018

Independent and enthusiast magazine media executives from across the country came together for robust conversation and candid idea sharing at the 14th Annual IMAG Conference in Boston. The event was hosted by Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau, CEO and publisher, MIT Technology Review; David Nussbaum, CEO and chairman of the board, America’s Test Kitchen; and Jamie Trowbridge, president and CEO, Yankee Publishing.

 The IMAG Conference is the one time a year where independent media executives can come together as colleagues for an immersive, open forum about the unique opportunities we face as an industry. The theme was Revolution: both a nod to Boston’s role in the formation of America and a representation of the extreme transformation we are seeing in the magazine media industry.

Wednesday, June 13

Welcome Lunch

Yankee's Jamie Trowbridge welcomed IMAG attendees to Boston and applauded everyone for coming together for this important event. He said, "I know it is never easy to get away from the office, but it’s so important for us to come together once a year to share with one another the ways we can grow our businesses." In the spirit of kicking off the conference as a community, Trowbridge invited everyone to introduce themselves to the group. 

Better. Believe it.

As trust in platforms declines and trust in journalism rebounds, MPA’s Linda Thomas Brooks shared the research that proves magazine media continues to be the most trusted source of information. Thomas Brooks demonstrated the resources that go into an article with a series of “credibility by the numbers” slides. For example, Parents’ article, “I think there’s something wrong with my child,” took two years of research and required eight print editors, seven Child Mind Institute staffers, four psychiatrists/psychologists, two lawyers, one fact checker and more.

View presentation here.

Leading the Revolution

“You need to do the hard work for your business to survive,” said XO Group’s David Liu who transformed his company from a single website to massive print and digital empire with brands that cater to consumers’ needs during the special moments in their lives—getting married, being a newlywed and having a baby. Liu said that instead of focusing on audience growth, think about how your brand can better service your audience. Because Facebook and Google account for 90% of all new digital advertising, Liu recommended publishers “focus on the consumer, rather than the advertiser.” 

Conquering Cross-Platform

“If you’re in the media business, you’re in the audience business,” said Eric Thorkilsen, CEO of This Old House Ventures, one of the first truly multi-platform media companies. Thorkilsen said that as a company grows and evolves, it is important to align customer needs with brand-consistent execution on platforms that can deliver growth. To better fit the needs of DIY and construction enthusiasts, This Old House created “This Old House Insider,” a paid membership program within the digital platform that gives super fans access to the complete TV and magazine library, sneak peeks of future content, 24/7 live web cams, special discounts and so much more. 

The Ethical Imperative to Survive and Flourish in our Data-Driven Digital Future

With the globalization of the economy, an increasing number of foreign laws are attempting to protect personal data and preserve and strengthen human rights and fundamental freedoms. “Data is the very air that we will all breathe in the digital future,” said Acxiom’s Sheila Colclasure, “and it’s all going to be regulated.” Colclasure said that because of a trust deficit in driving regulation and enforcement—business failures, data misuse, lack of governance, and more—GDPR will be the model for at least the next 10 years.

Are You Ready to Change?

Ink Global’s Simon Leslie kicked off his presentation with a bold question: Most people don’t care if 78% of brands disappear tomorrow, so how do you make your business part of the 22% people care about? Experiencing several changes and disruptions over the past three years, Ink Global has maintained relevancy in the market place by emphasizing their credibility with the reader and by focusing on people first, not profits. After experiencing their strongest year yet, Leslie’s final advice to IMAG attendees was “Start with the end in mind.”

Finding Success in Today's Digital Age

SocialFlow’s Jim Anderson sat down with Trusted Media Brands’ Vince Errico to discuss how the heritage brand uses digital and social media to thrive in today’s media ecosystem.  Errico said that when he first took on the role as chief digital officer, his first undertaking was to fuel digital growth by figuring out exactly what audiences want. TMBI sees the goal of social to be content discovery rather than audience development, which has resulted in tremendous growth for their suite of brands. 

Boston Red Sox: Building Audience Engagement

How do you balance the great tradition and legacy of the Boston Red Sox with the need to bring on a new generation of fans? In a discussion with Yankee’s Mel AllenAdam Grossman advised publishers to “beware of the binary. You don’t have to choose between being traditional and progressive.” In a time when the competition for hearts, minds and dollars has never been fiercer, Grossman said that legacy brands must evolve without losing their identity in order to build audience engagement and brand value.

Opening Night at America's Test Kitchen

Did you know that passengers tend to drink tomato juice on airplanes because the white noise created by the engine makes your taste buds more receptive to savory and umami flavors? IMAG attendees learned this interesting food science revelation and enjoyed a mélange of delicious appetizers at the opening night reception at America’s Test Kitchen’s headquarters, new 55,000-square-foot space featuring multiple studios and the capacity for live-viewing of their TV shows.

Thursday, June 14

Results of the 2018 Financial Benchmarking Study

Presented by IMAG Chair Laura Simkins, the 2018 Benchmarking Study offers IMAG brands a window into the competitive media landscape and showcases the progress these brands are making. Study highlights include:

-Consolidated revenue in 2017 was flat overall, but more respondents in 2018 predicted modest growth.
-Subscriptions contributed more to print revenue than in 2015.
-Third-party merchandise and affiliate revenue increased as a percent of e-commerce.
-Almost half of the respondents expect increased revenue from licensing in 2018.

Revitalizing a Legendary Brand With the Power of All Media

“Know what your brand stands for, and use that as your ‘north star,’” said L.L.Bean’s Chris McDonough. “At L.L.Bean, ours is made for the shared joy of the outdoors.” McDonough added that in order to keep the iconic brand fresh and mobilize consumers, it’s important to translate consumer needs into a brand positioning.  The company is continuing to experiment with a variety of new platforms, including events, and is heavily investing in print to drive awareness across platforms.

Do We Really Need Salespeople Anymore?

Are sales reps still needed in media ad sales? According to this panel, yes! Panelists agreed that the ad sales structure has changed dramatically, and arming sales reps with case studies and ROI analysis is essential in 2018. When it comes to great sales people, the group said they typically look for entrepreneurial types and bloggers—creative self starters wh know how to present big ideas. They added that editors have a “celebrity sales power” and bring credibility when they’re brought along to sales meetings. 

The Right Arsenal

As the world and the media industry face disruption, magazine brands continue to look for ways to carve out their audience, achieve scale and expand their advertising and subscription revenue. By putting the brand first, said The Atlantic’s Hayley Romer, the company has managed to buck the trend—going on a hiring spree and investing in new areas such as a partnership with HBO, a podcast and a family section. Throughout its 161-year history, The Atlantic has seen that audiences and other brands keep coming back to the legacy, value and perspective of the world that the brand provides.

The Membership Solution

“I’m a big proponent of revenue from the reader,” said Mediaworks 360’s David Algire who shared the many benefits of membership programs for publishers. An enhanced subscription offering allows for the bundling of all of your assets—print, digital, video, social and experiential—to create new types of value beyond “business as usual.” This membership strategy strengthens relationships with core customers, deepens engagement, supports renewals and creates longer retention.

View presentation here.

New Day for Tech Review

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau of MIT Technology Review advised publishers not to “fall into the content trap.” Just because your brand delivers great content doesn’t mean it will be successful and impactful. In an effort to become the world’s most authoritative and trusted technology media platform, MIT Technology Review implemented a number of changes: focusing on digital content, creating new touchpoints including newsletters, leveraging the global impact of the MIT brand with events in China, utilizing consumer data and staff changes including a new editor-in chief. Bramson-Boudreau said that the brand values their independence from MIT, but they are still “of the school.”

Data Needs for a Modern Media Company

Does your company have a winning data strategy? Acxiom’s Mike Woods urged publishers to create a unified data framework to better facilitate audience development, omnichannel ad sales, data monetization, personalized content and more.  America’s Test Kitchen’s Fran Middleton added that because of the complexity of the ATK model—the company does not accept advertisements—it was crucial for them to create an effective data strategy. The process is ongoing and allows the company to use data to be more intelligent about consumers, giving them access to their purchase history and how they engage with the brand.

View presentation here.


Six Sigma Email Marketing: Why More is More

Mequoda Systems’ Kim Mateus shared how the Biblical Archaeology Society doubled their online revenue in just six months using the Six Sigma Marketing strategy. The method leverages all of the Society’s assets and offers content across platforms in various subscriptions offerings. Here’s the six-month breakdown:

Month 1: Control offer
Month 2: Increase price for All Access subscription
Month 3: Offer limited introductory offer
Month 4: For new subscribers, offer 30 days free and control pricing
Month 5: Offer a premium incentive
Month 6: Offer an introductory sixmonth rate for the All Access subscription

A Case Study in Retailer and Publisher Collaboration

Barnes & Noble’s Krifka Steffey and Meredith’s Tom Maloney shared examples of effective collaboration between publishers and retailers to effectively drive newsstand sales and showcase your brand. One of the examples highlighted how a tote bag that accompanied the September issue of Vogue increased the sales of the magazine at Barnes & Nobles by 40% at a higher cover price. The duo shared the many benefits of collaboration, including ensuring a stable supply chain for the wholesaler, improving newsstand P&L for the publisher, commitment to the category for the retailer and giving the customer exactly what they want.

View presentation here.

Imagination Awards Luncheon

The third annual Imagination Awards honored the innovative and transformational work of independent magazine media companies and brands. AFAR Media, America’s Test Kitchen, Backpacker, The Family Handyman, Fine Cooking, Fine Homebuilding, National Geographic and This Old House Ventures took home the top awards.

To learn more about the finalists and winners, click here.

Verticalization & the Importance of Platform

New York Media’ first website first launched in 2001, but it was in 2006 that the company started “verticalizing” with the launch of Grub Street, Daily Intelligencer and the Cut. Though all of the verticals are highly successful, New York Media’s Daniel Hallac shared a case study on The Strategist, the company’s youngest and most unique vertical. He said, “Think of The Strategist as your cool, shopaholic friend who cares equally about function, value and innovation.” What makes the Strategist unique is that it is both an editorial project and a business venture generating an important new stream of revenue for the company.

View presentation  here.

Leveraging Content Platforms and Data to Drive 360 Solutions

As one of the leaders of Motor Trend Group, the largest automotive media company in the world, Eric Schwab shared how the company is leveraging content and consumer data to drive 360 solutions. Schwab said there are three ingredients in building a solid 360 degree program:

Step 1 | Don’t underestimate the power of your brand. Magazine brands are more trusted that other media among young adults. They also provide advertising partners with third party credibility.
Step 2 | Plan for the next video series vs. photo shoot. For example, video content on their social platforms gets 60% higher engagement rates.
Step 3 | Your first party data is valuable, allowing you to hit the right consumer with the right content at the right time.

View presentation here.

Why Aren't You Flying Yet?

Pressreader’s Trevor Carroll shared new insights on the reading habits of elite airline passengers. He discussed the company’s collaboration with Cathay Pacific—a partnership that allows all Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers to get sponsored access to PressReader—which represents a shift in the way people read and get access to content.

View presentation here.  

HBR: A Case Study in Consumer Marketing

Over the past year, Harvard Business Review has shifted its consumer marketing strategy away from traditional direct mail toward a 100% data-centric digital marketing approach that has yielded dramatic results. HBR’s Jeff Levy said the company is “driving subscriptions and increasing retention by reaching new users and nurturing their journey.” In addition to introducing a magazine redesign, the brand changed its print frequency from 10 to six issues a year while expanding its array of digital, subscriber-only content, including the popular Facebook Live Whiteboard Sessions.

View presentation here.

Using Data Science Tools for Email Audience Analysis

How do you build repeat audience attention? According to Shorenstein Center’s Nicco Mele, email is the best way to own your audience, cultivate relationships through repeatable interactions and build and test models. Mele advises publishers to use a consistent email format, so readers know what to expect. Mobile versions, catchy subject lines and legible graphics also increase open rates for emails. Mele ended the presentation by reminding attendees they’re in the “relationship business.” Be sure to make something people want to read, create more value than you capture and engage with your audience.

View presentation here

Revolution: Final Notes from the War Room

FTI Consulting’s Ken Harding wrapped up the IMAG Conference by highlighting important themes from the presentations. What do we know? 

  • Our revenue mix is generally more advertising based than consumer but some are further down this journey
  • Nearly all digital growth is garnered by Google and Facebook – about 90%
  • Mobile exceeds desktop advertising revenue and audience
  • If you are in the media business you are in the audience business