Magazine Awards, Now With Fewer Deadly Ingredients

As the Afterglow From the Recent Ellies Fades, Introducing a New Way to Recognize Glossy Goodness

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"Do magazine people really take the National Magazine Awards seriously? Do they actually mean anything?" a newspaper editor asked me recently. Well, yes and no, to both questions.
Dwell on this: Home-design magazine is great at extending its brand.
Dwell on this: Home-design magazine is great at extending its brand.

As a longtime (recovering) magazine editor, over the years I've filled out way too many NMA entry forms (which require an essay explaining why you think whatever you're nominating is worthy -- a crib sheet, I suppose, for judges who might otherwise be unable to discern excellence). And I've endured way too many boring NMA ceremonies (I happily skipped last week's).

When you're not nominated and/or you don't win, you don't take them seriously and they don't mean anything. And when you are nominated and/or you do win, they do matter -- for, well, a day or two. Back when I was media columnist Michael Wolff's editor at New York magazine (before he decamped to Vanity Fair), he was nominated multiple times -- and I remember that one of the years he won, we had a celebratory lunch at Michael's, the famed media hotspot in midtown Manhattan. The maître d' brought out a surprise plate of congratulatory cookies at the end of our meal -- which was nice, except that Michael's, notorious for soaking its expense-account-equipped crowd, tacked the (overpriced) cookies onto the bill, perhaps hoping we wouldn't notice.

That's a pretty good metaphor for the National Magazine Awards in general: Do some good work and maybe, just maybe, someone will pat you on the head and give you a cookie -- but it'll cost you.

An NMA nod might help you get a raise (perhaps at your next job) and it might help your ad-sales people sell a few more ads, but probably not. The sad truth is, in the past some magazines actually have folded not long after winning one of the "Oscars of the magazine industry."

The fact that an NMA win has, occasionally, been the kiss of death has me wishing that the magazine establishment did a better job of recognizing and honoring vitality -- and innovation.

Actually, you know what? I'm just going to do it. I'm hereby announcing the American Magazine Vanguard Awards (AMVA's), which recognize both big and small innovators: magazines that are taking new, smart, necessary risks in extending their franchises off the page.

To give you few examples of potential nominees:

  • Dwell, the independent home-architecture and design magazine, for its conference/exhibition business, such as the upcoming Dwell on Design Los Angeles, June 5 to 8.

  • Fast Company, the business monthly, for its new, fast-growing FastCompany.TV, not to mention its nascent attempt at building a progressive-business-centric social network at

  • Dub, the youth/car-culture magazine, not only for its own foray into event marketing -- such as the Dub Show Tour auto show and concert (next stop is Atlanta on May 17) -- but for its Dub Pages "automotive lifestyles community" initiative.

    Though I've focused here on indie titles, I'll note that, of course, magazines published by conglomerates are eligible.

    The entry rules are simple: Anyone (editors, publishers, readers, etc.) can nominate any magazine they think is doing something noteworthy off-page that brings new energy and relevance to the brand. The entry form is a free-form e-mail to me, hopefully not too wordy. The entry fee is $0.00. The deadline is Sept. 29.

    What do winners (I'll name up to 10) get? Recognition in an expanded version of this column as part of the Advertising Age magazine-industry report in October, as an adjunct to "The A List."

    And, hopefully, increased odds of survival.
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