IMAG Conference 2019

Independent and enthusiast magazine media executives from across the country came together for robust conversation and candid idea sharing at the Annual IMAG Conference in Charleston, SC. This year’s conference was chaired by Donna Kessler, president of Morris Media Network, with a special assist from Samir “Mr. MagazineTM” Husni. The local host was Rebecca Wesson Darwin, co-founder and CEO of Garden & Gun and her team. 

The 2019 IMAG Conference is an important opportunity for brand publishers to connect with the innovative vendor partners who are helping them drive their businesses forward now and into the future. The following strategic associate member companies have invested in the IMAG event as sponsor partners, demonstrating their commitment to the industry and their support of this community: MRI-Simmons, PubWorX ProCirc and Quad. Support also comes from these MPA partners: Adcellerant, AdvantageCS, Alliance for Audited Media, CMG-Comag Marketing Group, eMagazines, Freeport Press, FTI Consulting, Intelivideo, Invisibly, MediaWorks 360, Piano, Port Hawkesbury Paper, PressReader, Secondstreet, Woodwing and ZINIO.

Wednesday, May 8

Indie Edge

"Not all content is created equal, and we need to remember to drive that message home,” said Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, in her opening remarks. Magazine brands are “expertly researched, written, edited, produced, curated content.” Brooks said she doesn’t want to live in a world where all content is crowd-sourced because it’s “poor quality, hastily produced, uncontrolled, un-researched and troll-prone.” Brooks also highlighted research in the Social Media Engagement Report, noting that magazine brands have higher engagement in most editorial categories than digital or social influencer brands. 

View presentation slides here.


IMAG Brand Story: How Garden & Gun Does It 

Rebecca Wesson Darwin, Co-Founder and CEO, Garden & Gun founded the magazine to speak to the soul of the South, appealing to those interested in the sporting life, adventurous travel and good food and drink. Darwin said Garden & Gun is driven by its community and is committed to quality, inspiring storytelling, authenticity and Southern grit and grace.  Darwin highlighted the many ways the brand reaches enthusiasts beyond the magazine, including 60-plus events a year, book publishing, product licensing, a restaurant in Atlanta, a brick and mortar store, a membership program and more. 

View presentation slides here.


Customer Acquisition: What Works and What Doesn’t

Heather Plant, VP, Consumer Acquisition/Retail Sales, Trusted Media Brands shared 2018 industry insights for customer acquisition, noting that direct mail pulls a higher response than any digital direct marketing medium.  Its response rate ranges from about 5 to 9 times greater than email, paid search or social media. While Plant revealed what has worked for Trusted Media Brands online and offline, she also shared what hasn't: a sneak peek “magalog” format, where the net response took a hit of -26-60 percent. 

View presentation slides here.

Social Skills: Building Your Brand on Social Media

In a panel moderated by Jim Anderson, CEO, SocialFlow, National Geographic’s Kelly Barrett and The Local Palate’s Joe Spector said they’re both looking for new revenue streams, particularly display sponsored content on social. When asked why a product would be turned down for sponsored social media, Spector said they vet all content through the editorial team and that the post must be on point with The Local Palate’s mission. Barrett added that at National Geographic, they won’t post sponsored material if the content won’t interest readers and won’t deliver the numbers the client is looking for. Barrett also said that the secret to National Geographic’s success—particularly reaching 100 million followers on Instagram—is “the amazing photography that provides a window into another world.” 

Membership Models: The Pros and Cons

Jamie Martin, Editor in Chief, Experience Life sat with Mona Hidayet, Executive Director, Clients & Products, AdvantageCS to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a member-based model. Experience Life was originally created by Life Time for its members to educate them on a healthy way of life. Since its inception, it has evolved to go on newsstands, though the majority of its subscribers are Life Time members. Because of this model, Experience Life has the ability to vet advertisers before they go in the page of the magazine, ensuring the product aligns with their mission. 

The Answers to Your Data Privacy Questions

Brigitte Schmidt Gwyn, EVP, Government Affairs, MPA, opened the discussion with a legislative outlook on privacy developments in 2019 and beyond. Realistically, Congress is not likely to pass a federal privacy bill this year. Because of this, publishers should monitor legislative developments in each state. Safeguard GDPR’s Richy Glassberg and Wayne Matus then outlined the top 10 compliance practices for publishers, including understanding your data and data structures; developing an internal compliance timeline; creating an 800 number to handle consumer requests (including the right to be cleared and the right to opt out of the sale of their information); and a training program for employees.

View presentation slides here.

Launching Subscription Video Channels as Your Secret Money Making Weapon

Matt Given, CEO, Intelivideo discussed the “Direct-to-Consumer Video On Demand Titlewave." With 65 percent of US households subscribing to at least one subscription video on demand service, Given said that publishers should harness the power of video to create a recurring revenue stream. He listed the three key ingredients for video on demand success: 1) An existing, passionate subscriber and fan base. 2) Video as a core competency. 3) A shift in thinking, from advertising revenue to consumer revenue.

View presentation slides here.

What's Hot. What's Not.

Wenda Harris Millard, Vice Chairman, MediaLink sat with MPA’s Linda Thomas Brooks to discuss the changing role of chief marketing officers, the true definition of advertising and the role of platform companies in the media ecosystem.  When asked what’s keeping marketers up at night, Millard said, “The CMO is concerned that she’s thinking about the right issues and the ROI on everything. Brand safety is critical right now.” Millard also said that publishers often think they should be meeting with CMOs, but said that generally it would be better to meet with others on the marketing team who have responsibility for advertising. Millard also said that going to those marketers directly is usually the right path for cross-channel packages.  Since agencies typically are organized by media type, packages that publishers work so hard to integrate get disintegrated immediately when they enter the agency. 

Opening Night at Tradd's

Andrew W. Clurman, President and CEO of Active Interest Media, welcomed guests to Tradd's and thanked Quad for their generous support. Southern culinary experts, Matt and Ted Lee, then walked everyone through the Charleston food scene and the basics of low country cuisine. The brothers also discussed their new book, Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World's Riskiest Business, exposing the secrets of a food business few home cooks or restaurant chefs ever experience.

Thursday, May 9

100 Years Young: Legacy Brands, Modern Thinking

Executives from some of the most longstanding companies revealed how they continue to attract new audiences while staying true to their devoted followers. Panelists agreed that despite existing for 100-plus years, it’s not enough to rely on that alone. Shawn Bean, Editorial Director, Bonnier Media said, "Iconic isn't a strategy; we're living in the age of the story." Erin O'Mara, President, The Nation added, “There's no such thing as a legacy brand, just legacy thinking." Though legacy status isn’t enough to prove the credibility of a brand, it does help. Mina Seetharaman, Chief Strategy and Creative Officer, The Economist Group said she encouraged her team to tell potential clients the “Nelson Mandela Story,” noting that Mandela specifically requested The Economist while he was imprisoned. Nina LaFrance, SVP, Consumer Marketing & Business Development, Forbes Media added that because Forbes has been a trusted name for so long, it has led to exciting new programs and initiatives, such as the extremely successful Forbes 30 Under 30 program.

IMAG Brand Story: Keeping Current at Morris Communications

“I am a strong believer in giving back to the communities our publications serve and driving engagement so as to maintain and grow deep and enduring connections within those communities,” said William S. Morris III, Chairman and CEO, Morris Communications Co. Mr. Morris reflected on his company’s transition from a newspaper company to a magazine media company, saying “We took the concept of ‘audience first’ along with the trust and the power of the brand to heart when we started buying and establishing the different magazines that make up the Morris Media Network, which allowed us to branch beyond the newspapers and their reach.”

Paywall Lessons Learned from Newspapers

Pete Doucette and Ken Harding of FTI Consulting shared lessons learned from the newspaper industry that could be applicable to enthusiast magazine brands. In newspapers, combined print and digital advertising revenue continues near 10 percent YoY declines, though circulation revenue has been growing YoY. Because of this, newspapers are approaching a 50/50 revenue split between the two. Doucette and Harding shared the components of a successful subscription model transformation, saying that many newspapers are evolving beyond the “metered model” to accelerate the growth of digital subscriptions. The focus on converting to paid digital mandates knowing more about your consumers.

View presentation slides here.

Applying Expert SEO to Your Brands

In a panel moderated by FOLIO:’s Caysey Welton, Anni Cuccinello, Director of Audience Development, AFAR Media and Fran Middleton, Chief Digital Officer, America's Test Kitchen revealed how to get the most out of search to drive site traffic and increase revenue. The panel began by talking about strategic shifts each brands made to bolster their search rankings and domain equity. Although the two panelists had two different objectives, given their unique business models, their tactical approaches were similar and they emphasized the importance in finding a brand’s keyword north star. 

Finding Revenue in Plain Sight

Trevor Carroll, Director, Content Partnerships, PressReader spoke to IMAG attendees about driving new revenue streams through business partnerships. From improving the digital sales funnel to building membership models to gifting individual issues, Carroll shared how PressReader’s technology allows publishers to monetize content they already have.

Digital Transformation

In a panel moderated by Piano’s Jonas Rideout, indie leaders—from the most well-known brands to companies that are new to the scene—discussed their digital strategy. Camilla Cho, General Manager, E-Commerce, New York Media said the company is identifying opportunities to reduce reliance on advertising. They’ve successfully done this with podcasts and with the launch of The Strategist, a stand-alone ecommerce venture devoted to online shopping and product recommendations.

DéVon Christopher Johnson founded BleuLife Media to drive the narrative of multicultural men. The flagship magazine launched in print and then turned to digital to gain new followers and expand the brand.

Gail Day, Publisher and VP, Global Advertising, Harvard Business Review discussed HBR’s very successful podcast strategy. The brand’s original podcast launched 10 years ago and has 1 million listeners. HBR is starting to introduce new series, such as Women at Work, and create an entire podcast network.

The Role of City and Regional Magazines

Joe Hyrkin, CEO, Issuu moderated a panel with publishers of some of the South’s most successful regional magazine brands to discuss the unique role of city magazines in the media ecosystem. Many regional magazine media companies offer numerous publications created by only a small handful of people. Ashlee Duren, Publisher, Augusta Magazine said that with a staff of only seven people, they are able to put out 33 publications—ranging in consumer-facing city magazines like Augusta Family and Athens Magazine to B2B publications like Buzz on Biz.  Lori Coon, Publisher and COO of Integrated Media Publishing, which publishes Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, Charleston Business Magazine and Palmetto Parent, and Anita Hagin, Publisher of Savannah Magazine, noted that regional brands serve as thought leaders in a city and must reach communities in a variety of ways, including events, awards ceremonies, interactive websites and social media.


Showcase: The Many Extensions of a Brand

Hosted by Patrick Taylor, Founder 59Media, indie leaders shared the brand extensions that have been most successful for their brands.

Kate Weeks, Marketing Director, Yankee Magazine discussed Weekends with Yankee, Yankee’s television series that captures the best of New England and reaches over 1 million viewers per episode on PBS. The series is a true multiplatform effort and is successfully driving subscriptions to the magazine. View presentation slides here.

Renee Jordan, SVP and Group Publisher, The Taunton Press highlighted the company’s many brand extensions, including podcast networks, events such as Fine Woodworking Live, and TV series, including Classic Woodworking. The newest extension is Fine Woodworking Unlimited, a membership model that launched in 2018 and gives woodworking enthusiasts unlimited access to digital libraries, video workshops, member-only content and more. View presentation slides here.

Gary Michelson, Vice President, Consumer Marketing and Operations, Garden & Gun shared how the magazine speaks to the soul of the South beyond the printed magazine. G&G’s many brand extensions include book licensing, with over 325,000 copies sold; product licensing, including a partnership with Clarkson Potter; Fieldshop, a brick and mortar store which also allows for online shopping; corporate gifts; and the Garden & Gun Club in Atlanta. View presentation slides here.

Imagination Awards Luncheon

Presented by PubWorX ProCirc, the fourth annual Imagination Awards honored the innovative and transformational work of independent magazine media companies and brands. The Economist, Forbes, Racer X, Smithsonian Magazine, The Taunton Press and Yankee Magazine took home the top awards.

To view the complete list of winners, finalists and judges, click here.

On the Brain: Building Meaningful Consumer Relationships

Dr. Don Vaughn, neuroscientist and Vice President of Data and Insights at Invisibly, shared how the social areas of the human brain process emotions. Vaughn explained that according to our brains, companies are people-like — that is, the brain processes experiences with companies in the same way that it does humans. He added, the emotions that we experience are often sloppy in their inputs and outputs. How does this play out in our digital world? Consumers process digital content and the advertising surrounding it as a single experience. The impact? Vaughn argued that a poor ad experience could jeopardize a consumer’s view of the publisher they are engaging with. And current programmatic structure has the potential to deliver just that. But Invisibly is redesigning the digital ad ecosystem to improve the online experience for consumers, in a system that makes the most out of every consumer interaction to foster deep, meaningful relationships. To join the growing list of publishers using the system today, visit or email our team directly at [email protected]

View presentation slides here.

Effective Video Strategy

In an interview with AFAR’s Laura Simkins, Gregory Gatto, EVP, Bonnier Media revealed best practices for building an effective video strategy. Gatto encouraged publishers to experiment with short form (on Facebook) and longer form (on YouTube and IGTV); make the content both informative and entertaining; ensure that there’s natural product integration; take multiple videos per shoot for efficiency; include evergreen subject matter that can be reposted and build over time; always test material; build an engaged audience and community of enthusiasts; and pick unicorns and retarget.


How Connecting With a Community Leads to Innovation

Active Interest Media's Jon Dorn and Hearst Magazines Enthusiast Group's Bill Strickland delivered their presentation from the audience to drive home the point that to succeed as an enthusiast brand, you must be part of the community yourself.  Strickland who serves as the "rider in chief" at Bicycling magazine said that at the Hearst Enthusiast Group, editors are looked at as “enthusiasts in chief." Dorn and Strickland made the crucial point that everyone is looking for communities, so it’s important to understand that communities social.They described communities as those which provide substantive interaction by its members and urged publishers to think about how the depth of their audience connections might be even more important than the much-heralded idea of scale.

Cannabis Media: A Budding Industry

Lori Rosen, Founder and President, Rosen Group moderated a panel on the rising popularity of cannabis-focused media for both the marijuana enthusiast and those in the business. Jennifer Skog, Founder, Chief Creative, MJ Lifestyle said she entered the industry to create a “diverse, inclusive and safe space for all womankind” because women were not represented positively in the cannabis industry. The panel reflected on the unique opportunities within the industry, including cannabis-focused events which Noelle Skodzinski, Editorial Director, Cannabis Group/GIE Media and Garrett Rudolph, Editor, Marijuana Venture said is a crucial component of the media mix.

View presentation slides here.

IMAG Brand Story: Active Interest Media

“AIM encourages every employee to think outside the box about business evolution and raise their ideas to the top of the organization,” said Andrew W. Clurman, President and CEO, Active Interest Media. With ingenuity as a top priority, Active Interest Media institutionalized innovation through group-level pilot programs, company-wide contests that reward ideation, and mentoring programs. Some of the ideas that came to life include AIM’s rapidly growing online education courses, branded video franchises and OTT subscriptions, marketing services for clients through Catapult Creative Labs and expanded emember services. “I’m happy to say the seeds of innovation we sowed with our innovation program has yielded a bumper crop of new businesses,” said Clurman. “Just in the last few months, we’ve launched or are about to launch five new platforms for consumers and marketers.”   

View presentation slides here.