From Print Magazines to Online Communities

NEW YORK — It’s become a familiar story: New media trumps old; print gives way to the Web, while flat-footed publishers are left scratching their heads as their more nimble competitors take to the Web with grace and ease.

Or so the narrative often seems to go — but what’s true for radio and newspapers doesn’t apply so neatly to magazines.

Here at the minday Digital Media Summit, a group of media buyers told an audience of magazine publishers that they are uniquely positioned to monetize their content as they expand their Web presence. For starters, magazines are generally blessed with a highly engaged, targeted audience whose passions converge on a single, easily identified topic.

“It’s always amazed me the depth of knowledge that magazines has on the readership, whether its surveyed or focus-grouped or just pulled out over the long history that they’ve had with their audience,” said Jeff Ratner, managing partner and North American digital director of the agency MindShare. “I have never seen a Web site come with that level of data on their customers.”

Ratner acknowledged that Google and other Web giants have tremendous volumes of data, but said that it is comparatively superficial. Raw, depersonalized data about the sites certain IP addresses visit and the purchases they make is not enough to build the composites of individuals’ inner feelings: their “goals, hopes, aspirations and dreams,” he added.

So while the flight of consumers to the Web is an inescapable trend, there are nonetheless synergies to be had between advertising in a glossy monthly alongside its companion Internet properties.

The panel urged magazine publishers to abandon siloed thinking in presenting their media packages. Many advertisers are no longer interested in making magazine-only ad buys, they argued.

It is a familiar refrain in response to a fragmented media landscape. Advertisers are wondering why, when people are increasingly interacting with content in different formats, on different devices and at times of their choosing, the media buy should remain static. The panelists said that advertisers and agencies have been quicker to adapt to this fragmentation than have publishers.

When shopping their online inventory to would-be advertisers, magazines hold a strong suit in audience engagement. Admitting that they’re still chasing the best way to track audience engagement, the panelists agreed that the magazines that can parlay their core readership into an online community are a ripe plum for advertisers looking to reach a qualified audience.

An online community where people converge around a common interest can be a more natural brand extension for a magazine than for a consumer product like Coke or Dove Body Wash (not that those brands aren’t trying). The panelists urged the audience to leverage the value of their brand in expanding into new media, but only in environments where they can engage their audience.

“If you brand isn’t strong for mobile, don’t go there,” advised Irene Grieco, print media manager at Unilever.

Because their content is vetted, magazines enjoy another important advantage over strictly Web-based publishers when trying to sell ads. For all the hype of monetizing social networks by inserting branded messages into conversations among friends, advertisers, dogged brand stewards that they are, still wrestle with the prospect of placing their products next to unseemly or embarrassingly amateurish content.

With magazines, advertisers know what they get. A media buy on is an informed decision by an advertiser that feels its brand aligns with the magazine’s brand.

Then, with a powerful online community in place, magazines are finding that they can become partners with advertisers, creating branded campaigns that deliver a consistent message online and in print.

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