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Publishing Company of the Year: Rodale

Mixing Type A With a Bit of Zen

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- To understand just how much the perception of Rodale has changed over the years, one need only listen to the voices from the media-buying community.
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Rodale President-CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy describes the company atmosphere as 'simultaneously Type A and Zen.'



Ahead of curve
"They were organic before anyone knew what organic meant," says Beth Fidoten, senior VP-director of print services at Initiative, Los Angeles. "Back then, people considered them a crunchy-granola, offbeat company. Now, everybody's trying to catch up."

Or check out this one from Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment at MediaVest USA, New York: "They understand that they're not just a communications company. They define themselves so incredibly well, and they speak in an innovative way to people's passions."

Rodale isn't entirely without its critics. George Janson, managing partner-director of print at Mediaedge:cia, says: "The perception [is that Rodale is] a privately held company that has been slow to bring new magazines to market. The $10 million question is 'What took [Rodale] so long to launch Women's Health?' "

A mainstream force
But mostly, Rodale seems to have transformed itself in the media community's eyes from odd-case niche publisher to a responsive, nimble-on-its-feet mainstream force.

It's a shift that's largely lost on Rodale President-CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy. While he acknowledges that "it's always nice to hear things like that," mostly he's eager to chirp about the Rodale way of doing things. He's quick to deflect credit to the Rodale family and his editorial and marketing lieutenants, describing the company atmosphere as "simultaneously Type A and Zen."

As for recent successes -- among others, Women's Health has driven its rate base from 200,000 at launch to 650,000 18 months later and plans a 31% bump to 850,000 in 2007, while Best Life is up nearly 47% in ad pages over 2005 -- Mr. Murphy believes that the seeds were planted long ago.

"What we do, health/wellness/well-being/diet/fitness, has roots in the alternative, but they've gone mainstream," he says. "Since we've been doing them so long, it gives us a credibility with advertisers and, of course, readers that maybe some other companies don't have."

Jane Deery, president of PGR Media, Providence, R.I., attributes Rodale's success to something else entirely: a keen understanding of publishing market dynamics. "There is usually a need for a particular title that they launch," she notes. "They tend not to follow what the industry sees as hot."

Creative cooperation
On the ad side, Rodale earns high marks for its willingness to accommodate marketers in creative ways. The company recently launched a series of "Rodale Roundtable" sit-downs in which various publishing powers-that-be listen to what magazine buyers have to say.

This has resulted in a host of unique programs, including the "Westin Workout" initiative (experts from properties such as Runner's World were tapped to provide a range of materials, such as a compilation of running trails in cities where Westin boasts a sizable presence; ads and events followed shortly thereafter) and the early October Men's Health Urbanathlon race in New York.

"That's not something a conservative company does," Ms. Steinberg says of the Urbanathlon. "The idea is great, and the sponsors on board are dead-on."

As for next steps, Mr. Murphy, like pretty much every one of his peers, hopes to take advantage of the online presence of his company's titles "in a real way, not in a way that makes sense in a PowerPoint presentation." He points to Bicycling's real-time coverage of the Tour de France and Backpacker's GPS-centric "Routes to Fitness" section as prime examples of the content Rodale can offer online.

"The media world is changing with an exponent I've never seen before," Mr. Murphy says. "But online is the best thing to happen to magazines like ours since the printing press. We want it to be the loop-closer for us with our readers."
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