Makeover: Photo section 'First Look' replaces 'The Scene,' 'The Must List' moves to the back and other design changes aim to 'emphasize our distinctive voice.'
Circulation is steady, and EW's rate base recently reached 1.8 million, but its challenges are clear: Ad pages are down 12% through May.
Advertising Age: Selling ads has become a long and grinding road for Entertainment Weekly, where ad pages have fallen the past three years and so far this year, too. Have advertisers lost sight of the magazine?
Scott Donaton: Our brand identity got a little lost in the marketplace with the explosion of the celebrity-tabloid category. Our goal with everything we've been working on in the last six months has been to totally set ourselves apart. Nobody else would claim our mission statement. We're a category of one. We're not a celebrity magazine; we're an entertainment magazine.
Ad Age: Do people still distinguish between celebrity and entertainment?
Mr. Donaton: The line between celebrity and entertainment has gotten blurred, but it never has for our audience, and it hasn't for our editors. What we're all about is shining a light on great performances. When we cover a celebrity, it's about what they do for a living; it's not about who they're sleeping with. Our goal is to lead our audience to the next big thing, to give them the tools to sort the gems from the trash. The ultimate promise of the brand is we help you make the most of your entertainment time.
Ad Age: TV Guide under new Editor in Chief Debra Birnbaum, formerly of Life & Style, has recently increased its emphasis on celebrity, but you seem to be heading in the other direction.
Mr. Donaton: Our audience doesn't care that celebrities are just like us. They want us to focus on what makes them special. Everything we do will enhance that. So our photo section is being relaunched with our design changes. The name is changing from "The Scene" to "First Look." We're getting rid of any pictures of celebrities outside of what they do as performers. The section will have all-exclusive photography, and it will all be character- and performance-based. This is what our audience enjoys most from us, and we're going to give them more of that.
Ad Age: Why did you kill the EW Oscar party at Elaine's in New York?
Mr. Donaton: Once we defined a very sharp brand position, we then used that as a filter for everything we do. Every event, sales program, marketing initiative gets poured through that filter -- the goal being to keep and enhance the things that are true to who you are; kill the things that aren't, necessarily; and create great new things that are even better expressions of who you are. We felt that the New York Oscar party that we used to do was no longer on brand. When you cover Hollywood, we felt it was very important to be in Hollywood on its biggest night of the year. It was very successful, but it was no longer our mission.
This year we took over the ArcLight theater in Hollywood during Oscar week, we showcased all five best-picture nominees, we ran a panel for the three women who were nominated for best original screenplay, including our columnist Diablo Cody, who went on to win. And we invited our subscribers in the area to come spend a day at the movies. That's true to who we are, because that's saying, "These are great performances; these are films that are worth your time."
Ad Age: There are some design changes also coming soon, right?
Mr. Donaton: It will be the 1,001st issue. Managing Editor Rick Tetzeli and his team really had several goals with the design changes. First and foremost, we want to emphasize our distinctive voice, bring that out more forcefully through the design. We want to make it accessible to the widest possible audience. We want to reflect the changes in how entertainment is consumed and the types of entertainment that are consumed, and we want to more seamlessly drive our audience across our print and digital programs. None of these things are reinventions of who we are. They're all about being truer. "First Look" replaces "The Scene," "Feedback" will become a much more true interaction using the web to give the audience voice as opposed to letters to the editor. We're shifting our style coverage so it's really about how style and design in TV shows and movies influence the culture. We might deconstruct a scene from "Mad Men," for example. In the music section we're focusing more on singles than on albums, reflecting the way people consume music. We're moving the "Must List" to the inside back page.
Ad Age: And you've got new efforts planned online, including something called TV Fan?
Mr. Donaton: Our website is increasingly news, video, community and functionality. TV Fan will really be a way for us to ramp up community. We're the first title after Sports Illustrated, which acquired Fan Nation, to take that technology and port it over to our website. We're really excited about the launch of TV Fan in August because TV fans are really knowledgeable, and they love the water cooler. This really lets them voice their passions with blogs, fan recaps, throwdowns where they'll test each other's knowledge against each other. That's just one of three new products we're launching. We're also launching a calendar in print and online, the first calendar to cut across every genre of entertainment. And we just took our popular "Sound Bites" print feature and added a version online.
Ad Age: Have you found differences between your old world and the consumer-advertising realm?
Mr. Donaton: Very little actually. The skill sets translate, the relationships translate, the knowledge translates. Everything that I did before was focused on consumer marketing, so everything held up. This felt like a very natural extension for me.