The one-time purveyors of ink on print have all but dropped the word "magazine" in favor of "brand" to talk about their edited bundles of content. Much of that content isn't even delivered on paper anymore -- just ask Time Inc.'s Life -- showing up online, on TV and on iPods. Now it looks like the term "publisher" is becoming obsolete too, just another descriptor that increasingly obscures what's really going on: marketing.
It's happened subtly and in spurts, but more and more of the big magazine publishers have dug into business lines that once belonged basically to ad agencies alone. Two weeks ago Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. -- which has closed ElleGirl and Premiere in print while promising to continue the brands in other ways -- paid $84 million for Jumpstart Automotive Media, the San Francisco online ad network. That means Jumpstart handles internet ad sales for Hachette's Car and Driver and Road & Track but also -- and more important -- that Hachette is suddenly running a sales network of primarily non-Hachette sites with five million unique monthly visitors.
Competition swells, platforms proliferate
Diversification is actually breaking out all over media and advertising as competition swells and platforms proliferate. Witness the plans by the Publicis Groupe to build content-creation capabilities at its agencies or the offers by NBC Universal to craft digital advertising for key clients.
But the most fundamental transformation belongs to the crew that used to sell simple ad pages over martini lunches. The results in that sector will likely include a world of "publishers" with interests far broader than publishing and an arms race for marketing services to offer. In a perverse way, companies' success or failure at the new model could even help decide which magazine brands continue in print and which join the lengthening list of those winnowed from the herd.
Don't mistake the shift, by the way, for a mere ramp-up of bells and whistles. It's a necessity produced by incredible demand for multiplatform, breakthrough campaigns. It's also the result of publishers' realization that their brands can, should and must live beyond the bound page.
At Dennis Publishing, Maxim has doubled headcount in creative-services and marketing in the past 18 months. It has turned out work such as the 28-page "Maxim's Guide to the World Series of Poker," and its TV division, Moving Pictures DPI, produced Pontiac commercials that aired during the hourlong "Maxim Hot 100" special on VH1 last year.
"This used to be called added value," said Rob Gregory, group publisher at Maxim. "Now it's really the core value of what we provide as publishers. This is where the bar is set. In order for advertisers to cut through, you have to develop a disruptive unit ... then you have to customize it."
Meredith Corp., the modest Des Moines, Iowa, publisher of brands including Ladies' Home Journal and Family Circle, tacked a different but no less telling way over the past year: It bought three interactive ad agencies. "What we're doing is equipping Meredith Integrated Marketing to be a robust marketing-communications provider," said Jack Griffin, president, publishing group, as he announced the deals in January.
"Marketing services are no longer the exclusive province of independent agencies," said Jack Kliger, president-CEO, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. "Media has become more and more a marketing partner. And if I'm going to be a marketing partner, at least let me operate from a real partner-supplier position."
Diverse services from 'publishers'
Agencies understandably need some hand-holding during all this, but advertisers seem likely to keep encouraging the change. Case in point: watch retailer Tourneau's talks with Hearst Magazines last year. "Times have changed," said Richard Gellman, VP-advertising, Tourneau. "It wasn't just the salesman saying, 'Here's the ad page. Do you want it or not?' It was the ad-sales person leading the charge, obviously in conjunction with Hearst's creative-services and marketing departments." The result was a four-month program encompassing a section in five Hearst titles, a live event, direct mail and an online contest.
Conde Nast, which has long offered creative services for custom ad inserts to its advertisers, is now building creative-services tools such as the AdLab -- a panel of more than 200,000 consumers (so far) who help marketers evaluate print ads before they run. It is also working with Marketing Evolution to conduct six media-mix studies with top players from various categories, starting with DaimlerChrysler.
"When I joined Dennis in 2004, we were a publishing company," Mr. Gregory said. "Now we're a full-service media and marketing business with a core competency in men 18 to 34." Could the business soon include services for marketers who don't even advertise with Maxim? "That's the direction we're headed," he said.