Here's the pitch Conde Nast's GQ magazine is giving marketers: Spend at least $100,000 with us and get access to 57 "elite" GQ readers who will help promote your brand across print and digital. The program, called GQ57, is the magazine's latest effort to tap digital-ad budgets by enlisting readers, according to Chris Mitchell, VP-publisher at GQ, part of Conde Nast.
The 57 will be tapped to help amplify marketing campaigns through their own social media feeds, by producing custom content for GQ and their own websites, and by appearing in print ads, according to Mr. Mitchell. Four men from the GQ57, for instance, are slated to appear in a custom advertising campaign for retailer Express in GQ's September issue. The campaign includes print pages as well as an extensive digital component, with an interactive shoppable mosaic, display ad units and video interstitials.
The GQ57 includes Blake Scott, a style blogger with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram; Tyler Stewart, who oversees the popular Tumblr I Wear Cool Socks; and Sabir M. Peele, founder and creative director of the popular blog Men's Style Pro. (He was also named one of America's best-dressed real men by GQ rival Esquire.)
Asked whether the GQ57's bloggers will disclose the promotional nature of their work, a spokeswoman for GQ said they will be transparent about collaborating with GQ and its advertiser.
Most magazines still draw the bulk of their ad revenue from print, and GQ is no exception, drawing just 15% of ad revenue from digital.
But spending on print ads in magazines is expected to decline 4% to $12.8 billion this year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. It will fall to $9.3 billion by 2018, the report said. Magazines' digital ad revenue is forecasted to climb 22.4% to $3.9 billion this year and reach $7.6 billion by 2018.
Overall digital ad spending is projected to grow 66% to $194 billion in 2018. Magazine publishers are, for the most part, looking to attract digital budgets.
GQ has been trying to capitalize on its digital audience in earnest since January 2013, when it started GQ Insider, an online community of readers that work with advertisers on consumer research and, to a lesser extent, marketing campaigns with brands like Gap and Unilever. Last year, GQ Insider helped attract $5 million in additional ad revenue to the magazine, according to Mr. Mitchell.
GQ57 is an outgrowth of that effort, comprised of the magazine's "best consumers and most passionate audience," he said. The readers aren't paid, though they do receive samples from advertisers, GQ-branded gifts and, in some case, free trips. GQ settled on 57 because the magazine was founded in 1957 and turned 57 years old in 2014.
GQ.com attracted nearly 3.5 million unique visitors across desktop and mobile in June, according to ComScore. That's a 17% increase from the previous year.
Print ad pages at GQ declined nearly 5% through the August issue, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.
"We're not in the business of picking up the phone and filling orders," Mr. Mitchell said. "We will proactively go to marketers and bring them ideas around GQ57. Given how much money is going into social media and digital budgets, we have a way to tap into those budgets."
GQ57 and GQ Insider are expected to bring in $12 million in revenue this year, he added.
Robin Steinberg, exec VP and director of publishing investment and activation at MediaVest, credited the approach as a way to create and deliver native programs. "It's also a great way to provide advertisers extended and meaningful reach to a broad network of influencers," she said.
Tapping readers to appear in ad campaigns and extend their life online is becoming more common among magazines. Details magazine, a sibling publication to GQ, has its own blogger network, some of which overlaps with GQ57. Hearst's Seventeen magazine has used bloggers on behalf of advertisers. Rodale title Women's Health has also relied on readers to spread the word for advertisers.
While marketers welcome the reach of such programs, they also flinch at the idea of endorsers, essentially, that aren't exclusive to any given brand. "These should be the exception, not the rule," a media buyer said.