Newness, economic downturn helped doom ‘Portfolio,’ observers say

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Within hours of a series of meetings on Monday in which Portfolio’s 80-plus-person staff was told the magazine and Web site were being shut down immediately, the news of the 2-year-old Condé Nast title’s demise had spread to almost every online outlet that covers media, from The New York Times to the media page of The Huffington Post, which simply posted a three-letter headline, “RIP,” with five cover photos of Portfolio beneath it.

The closure had been rumored since last fall, when Condé Nast reduced the magazine’s frequency from monthly to 10 times a year. The company expected to lose money, a reported $100 million, introducing a new high-quality magazine into the mature business sector in 2007, but it had a long tradition of investing in titles for years before they became profitable.

That’s what Martha Cleary, VP-group account director at Carat, was told on Friday. Her client, Phillips, is the back-cover advertiser in the May issue, which turned out to be the magazine’s last.

“We’ve been asking ourselves whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” she remarked of the ad placement. On the one hand, people may hang on to the now-historic issue; on the other, it may seem unlucky.

Cleary said she liked Portfolio. “It had a different approach from other business magazines, and a lot of people were interested in it,” she said. However, she added, “I always felt I had to defend that buy.”

Portfolio had a somewhat snarky point of view, like Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and “some people found it offensive,” Cleary said. Other media people may have met similar resistance, she said, making Portfolio vulnerable as advertising budgets were cut back over the past six months.

Just being the “new kid on the block” put Portfolio near the top of the list as advertisers cut back, said Reed Phillips, managing partner of DeSilva+Phillips.

But at the end of the day, the economy killed Portfolio, he said.

“For a very high-profile launch into the business category, I don’t think they could have done a better job,” Phillips said. “They did their homework. The execution was well done. I think they were on the right track. They just ran into one of the worst economic downturns in history, which nobody anticipated two years ago.”

Portfolio was making headway and establishing a niche for itself separate and apart from other business magazines,” said Michael Parker, managing director of AdMedia Partners. Although the depth of the current recession caught most people by surprise, there were already signs of trouble in the business magazine category when Portfolio debuted, he said. “There were skeptics from the beginning,” he said.

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