Magazine A-List 2009

A-List Publishing Company of the Year: Meredith Corp.

Publishing Group Rebrands as Meredith National Media Brands to Reflect Real Mission

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Meredith Corp., the publisher of major magazine brands such as Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, spends much of its time figuring out how to help big marketers' brands. But it did some work on its own brand positioning a couple months ago.

That's when the Meredith Publishing Group, where the company's publishing and interactive properties live, became Meredith National Media Brands, a change meant to convey reach across many kinds of platforms. And yes, Meredith changed its logo.

Jack Griffin, President, Meredith's National Media Group
SMART MOVE
Recognizing that its true business is connecting marketing with consumers.
Unlike some repositioning efforts we've seen, however, Meredith has the facts to back up its new story. For one thing, it made real changes at the publishing group before it changed the name.

Look back to 2005, before Meredith bought Family Circle, Fitness and Parents from Gruner & Jahr USA. "Meredith was primarily a shelter publisher," said Jack Griffin, president of the National Media Group. "The home marketplace was in the middle of a boom. But you could prognosticate forward and know that could not continue forever. We as a company made a decision that our focus and our center of gravity was with American adult women."

"If you took the Meredith portfolio as it existed back then and put into it Fitness, it allowed us to thread together pretty much all of our titles in a logical and coherent life-stage sequence," he said. "That wasn't by accident."

But that wasn't enough to serve advertisers' evolving needs. More and more, it was becoming clear, marketers wanted to deal with fewer, bigger media partners; wanted single points of contact at those partners; and wanted media partners that could convey marketing messages in integrated ways across many different partners.

So Meredith also started rethinking and reshaping its marketing services, creating the integrated marketing unit called Meredith 360; realigning its corporate sales groups under one executive; refashioning incentives to reward its sales people for success on the group level, not at individual titles; and started hiring people from outside the magazine business, with backgrounds, for example, in package goods.

It also bought whole agencies for Meredith Integrated Marketing, a business unit where some 500 employees now focus on custom communications, customer relationship marketing and database marketing. Its portfolio now includes O'Grady Meyers, a digital agency; New Media Strategies, a social media shop; a database agency called Directive; and, since this summer, a stake in mobile agency The Hyperfactory. Last month it succeeded in hiring Martin Reidy, a longtime digital agency pro, away from the top spot at Publicis Modem and Dialog to become the new president of Meredith Integrated Marketing.

Meredith's data on its audience and its marketing capabilities lets the company increasingly deliver sophisticated marketing for brands including Nestlé's Good Start baby formula, according to Wendy Riches, chief strategy officer at Meredith Corp. "That brand needs to be able to identify and target pregnant women, needs to understand whether it's a first or second child, what stage the pregnancy is at. We have a lot of data that comes through American Baby. The process begins with that data."

Now Meredith's alignment and capacities place it in position to benefit from the new realities, especially once the recession finally fades away. During the recession, the publishing division experienced declines in ad spending. Ad revenue fell 14.5% in the year ending last June. But Meredith Integrated Marketing saw revenue grow 13%. Its brand-licensing revenue grew 14% as the company expanded its Better Homes and Gardens line at Walmart. The company projects that four of its biggest titles -- Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Fitness and Ladies' Home Journal -- will each end 2009 with more ad revenue than they collected in 2008.

Just don't ever think its magazines and, increasingly, its websites are anything less than core, especially as the terrain shifts under media companies and marketers both. "The marketer and the advertisers always follow the end user," Mr. Griffin said. "So in our business, the branded content business, we are maintaining our relationship with the consumer and will do so no matter what."

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