Magazines, like other media, have occasionally adopted TV's language of the upfront before, but don't have the same finite inventory that makes early TV buys compelling to many advertisers. Before Oprah Winfrey's magazine had a name, for example, its publishers created an "Oprah upfront" in 1999 to sell off premium positions within the first issue, and Talk magazine tried to require advertisers to buy the first four issues as a whole.
Importance of event marketing
This time around, the new upfront effort demonstrates the importance of event marketing to the magazine business, which once lived and died on ad-page sales. As marketing options have bloomed and ad pages remained in plentiful supply, advertisers this year waited longer than ever to unlock budgets for ad pages.
Ad pages at People fell 3.8% from January through April to nearly 1,116, while ad pages at In Style grew 2% to about 1,125, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Ad pages rose 7.2% to almost 196 at People en Espanol, fell 3.2% to 180 at Teen People and dropped 5.4% to 484 at Entertainment Weekly.
But unlike ad pages, certain events such as glitzy awards shows do provide opportunities, although limited, for sponsors to make a splash. ESPN has figured that out, packaging ESPN the Magazine into its upfront sales when selling programs around big events such as the Super Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game.
Now advertisers will be offered the chance to buy multi-title programs around the big entertainment industry events. A marketer could arrange, as one example, to participate in EW's Night-Before Emmy Party, People's Emmy-night event, the Teen People Young Hollywood Awards and People En Espanol's Emmys En Espanol after-party.
Media buyers are receptive
Media buyers said they were receptive at this early stage. "It's a good idea on their part," said Beth Fidoten, senior VP-print services, Initiative. "A print upfront is somewhat of an oxymoron because in print you can always add an additional page. However, the red-carpet opportunities are very desirable and those are limited."
Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment, MediaVest, said there can't be any harm in it, and the early presentations should help marketers' planning. "It's really about making us more knowledgeable about these programs and events before the budgets have been spent," she said. "As we go into planning, you learn all about the product, the consumer and the insights behind everything that's going on. Having that knowledge early on and aligning it early is better."
Other publishers also begin talking up event-marketing programs months early, but Time Inc. titles united in this effort may be starting earlier than anyone has, said Paul Caine, publisher, People Group, which includes People, Teen People and People en Espanol.
"I don't think any magazine has done this before," Mr. Caine said. "We're not just putting out our opportunities. We're saying, 'Let's get ahead of the planning season and be more organized about it.'"
Perks of buying early
Although advertisers are being asked to make commitments earlier than ever, participants will receive benefits such as category exclusivity and the right of first refusal to sponsor the same event programs each subsequent year.
Under normal rules, a marketer could pay millions of dollars for a single-title, one-off live-event sponsorship, the accompanying ad pages and other components, Mr. Caine said. Upfront package prices will start in the high six figures, but executives said the effort was more about strategy and position.
"The position we're offering is the ability to get a first look before the strategies are finalized, category exclusivity and turnkey programs that fully leverage the power of these brands for these core initiatives," Mr. Caine said. Upfront negotiations will end around late August or early September.