Hearst Is Throwing a Party and Calling It a Magazine Upfront

Borrowing From TV's Approach to Promote Upcoming Content and Products

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Hearst Magazines has invited hundreds of media buyers and ad agency staff to an "upfront" event next month, according to the company, making it the latest media enterprise to try to appropriate some of the urgency and splashiness of TV's annual ad market.

The Hearst upfront, scheduled for Oct. 15 at Hearst Tower, is meant to drum up advertiser interest in the stories and packages, in print and in digital media, that editors are planning for 2014. To that end, Hearst has trademarked the term "Big Content," a play on the trendy marketing term "Big Data."

"What's driving readers to our brands?" said Michael Clinton, president-marketing and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, whose titles include Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Elle. "It's not data per se, it's content."

Media buyers complimented Hearst for building excitement around magazine media but questioned whether the "upfront" concept really flies for publishing. TV's annual upfront parties, presentations and subsequent negotiations for ad time in the upcoming season are predicated on limited inventory. Magazines can always just print more pages -- witness the most recent September Vogue and its 665 ad pages.

"There never was, never is, and never will be a classic upfront for print," said an executive at a media agency. Another media agency exec said bluntly: "It's a PR stunt, plain and simple."

Robin Steinberg, exec VP and director of publishing investment and activism at MediaVest, said she applauded Hearst for trying the upfront approach to highlighting new products, programs and platforms. But the model, she noted, can for the most part accommodate unlimited demand.

Mr. Clinton said printed media does have certain kinds of limits on ad opportunities. Esquire's October issue, which marks its 80th anniversary, includes a long feature called "The Life of Man." Ad space within that editorial package is limited, Mr. Clinton said.

But the event is less about showing off limited inventory and more about putting on display the content Hearst has coming in the approaching year. The company will use the event to announce the official title of its forthcoming magazine with Dr. Mehmet Oz and to describe products still in development. "We have another magazine concept on the drawing board as well as some other digital concepts," Mr. Clinton said, declining to elaborate.

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