The activity comes as the news about the print industry couldn't be much gloomier, with Publishers Information Bureau calculating that magazine ad pages for the first five months of 2001 fell 9.4% while revenue decreased 1.9% from the same period in go-go 2000. For newspapers, ad spending in the first quarter dropped 17.3%, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.
"You can see what's really going on in the industry from a business standpoint when you pick up any issue," says Jeanne Tassaro, exec VP-director of print at WPP Group's Media Edge, New York. "Take issues for this year and stack up the same months from last year, and you find a big difference in the height of the piles."
"The perception is we're down and that clearly leverage is on the buying side," says Chris Allen, publisher of AOL Time Warner's Cooking Light. "I feel that we are being negotiated harder than we have in the past, in some cases much harder ... We don't have much time to sit around and be optimistic or pessimistic, just pay attention to get the job done," he says, noting that pressure is increasing significantly this year from newly merged companies that wield more buying heft, such as Kraft Foods and Nabisco.
Not only are bargain-hunting advertisers scrutinizing print, but so are some other media that are competing for the same ad dollar.
BLASTING PRINT BUDGETS
Earlier this year, Viacom President-Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin blasted print when he said the amount of money national advertisers spend in magazines is "unconscionable."
The executive added, "I can tell you from a network television point of view and the cable television point of view, our biggest target who we are trying to take share away from is national magazines" (AA, April 30).
TV's own drawn-out, deal-ridden upfront season may have increased the tide of ad dollars flowing from print to TV, too.
"Print folks have to realize that they don't just compete with each other, but compete on a much broader scale for the share of advertising dollars," says Karen Jacobs, senior VP-director of print investment for Bcom3 Group's Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago. "If I'm an advertiser and seeing incredible softness in TV with folks willing to do deals, but the magazine industry says postal rates are increasing so our rates have to go up, I'm not sure where the motivation is to increase print budgets."
Indeed, publishers see some spending they could count on getting in recent years shifting to TV.
"When the economy gets tough, people tend to go to things that bring immediate results: Package-goods companies go to coupon inserts and TV, which bring immediate return. It's more a promotional mindset," says Ken Wallace, senior VP-corporate sales and marketing for Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing.
But publishers, which have weathered challenges from electronic media, rising postal rates and a consolidating wholesaler community, are battling back. The print industry is trying to woo ad dollars by burnishing its own product; customizing ad programs, including cross-media deals; and spewing new data about audiences.
To get out there in the minds of advertisers, publications are launching promotions during the second half of the year. American Express Publishing Corp.'s Travel & Leisure is planning a TV special in September to boost brand awareness. Cooking Light will commandeer a restaurant on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
For newspapers, Leland Wester-field, a media analyst with UBS Warburg, says the move to offer quality color pages to advertisers will work in their favor.
Publishers also say they're focusing on creating customized ad programs that reach beyond the pages of their magazines for clients. Due to their relationship with readers, publishers say they're in a better position to customize the targeted efforts than other media outlets, such as TV.
This year, Meredith Publishing Group built a program for Mattel's Barbie doll that included print ads in Better Homes & Gardens and presence in the magazine's annual mall tour. Similarly, Meredith teamed up with both Toyota Motor Sales USA and Home Depot (for which Meredith publishes do-it-yourself books). Material from Home Depot's books was incorporated in ads for Toyota, and a sweepstakes was launched with Toyota vehicles displayed at Home Depot stores-all coordinated by the publisher.
Travel & Leisure has united advertisers to create custom programs, such as a contest and Kodak Max film giveaway for guests at the Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club in Carmel, Calif.
For advertiser Plaza Hotel, Cooking Light plans to feature the magazine's recipes when special cooking sessions are held next February in the New York hotel's Palm Court restaurant.
Cross-media deals-perhaps the ultimate in ad programs that reach beyond the book-are on more order lists for ad buyers this year, publishers find.
"Advertisers are looking for big cross-media programs that are turnkey," says Mr. Wallace. He adds that Gruner & Jahr is planning to partner with other publishing companies, as well as radio and TV outlets, to provide advertisers with a bigger platform. Mr. Wallace wouldn't provide further details.
AOL Time Warner picked up the pace this spring with some of its own cross-media deals. However, notes Mr. Allen of Cooking Light: "When all of the merger realities have settled in, there will still be a strong element of each book having to sell itself, as well as the corporate deals."
Publishers also are brandishing new studies that may cast print in a more valuable light to ad buyers. The "Media Research Report" of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding, New York, for example, tries to show print is better than TV for reaching a mass audience.
The report, released in late spring and using Mediamark Research Inc. and Nielsen data, concludes that the 25 most popular magazines have a 40% higher rating with adults 18 to 49 than the 25 most popular network programs in prime time. The study also says that those 25 TV shows deliver about 30% fewer impressions than the 25 magazines, yet cost advertisers 75% more.
Last fall MRI introduced an accumulation study to measure on a daily basis when weekly and monthly magazines are read. MRI predicts these data will allow agencies to plan print in the same way they plan TV, by considering weekly target points, weight goals and reach estimates.
Also new is the Audit Bureau of Circulations' Magazine Subscriber Profile Verification Audit Report, designed to make publishers' own subscriber studies more comparable for media buyers.
The audit bureau's board voted this month on new rules redefining paid magazine circulation numbers as "copies sold at any price," where previously issues had to be sold at a minimum price to be counted. Changes could take effect as early as Dec. 31, and will likely affect the print negotiation process, several media buyers and publishers say.
RULE CHANGE OPPOSED BY SOME
Marianne Foxley, exec VP-chief investment officer for Starcom MediaVest, says her agency is strongly against the change. "I'm sympathetic to print's challenges. They're looking for new channels to get circulation up, but to say now I'm going to count every Tom, Dick and Harry, whether they wanted the copy or not, is harsh," she says.
But Mark Stanich, chief marketing officer of American Express Publishing Corp., predicts the changes will make publishers more accountable. "Some people assume publishers will bring on more circulation just because they can," Mr. Stanich says. "Yes, ad revenue is important, but if it is more expensive for a publication to go and get that circulation, with postal rates and newsstand rates, they may choose not to do that."
Planners and buyers also say they want more qualitative data about the consumers who pick up a newspaper or magazine. It's a common refrain heard by publishers.
"Buyers want to know what makes your audience unique. They say, `Talk about a day in the life of your reader, bring your reader to life for me so I can understand that person as a consumer,"' says Michael Clinton, exec VP-publishing director and chief marketing officer for Hearst Magazines.
"I just had a sales meeting and had a media [buying] executive speak, and she said she doesn't even like numbers in sales presentations. MRI numbers are not even relevant because [media-buying executives] can find those themselves," adds Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, VP-publisher of Travel & Leisure.
Numbers that buyers would like to see, however, before reapportioning budgets to print, are statistics to prove that print ads make clients' products move. Starcom Media-Vest's Ms. Jacobs says "research that would convince most of our clients to increase spending or make changes in how they look at print is in the area of effectiveness-ROI-rather than audience data."
Executives from Gruner & Jahr are talking to advertisers and other publishers about a print effectiveness study, Mr. Wallace says.
Publishers are well aware of marketers' increasing need to justify their ad spending. "At some point we've got to be able to make phones ring or provide feedback advertisers want that is measurable," says Tom Curley, president-publisher of Gannett Co.'s USA Today.