Prokhorov's Snob Magazine Seeks Conversation Among 'Global Russians'

But Commenting on the Website Costs Extra

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- It's risky enough to introduce a print magazine while the economy is stalled and the web is still rearranging the media business. It's almost willful when the magazine is a high-end foreign-language title that celebrates success and calls itself Snob.

Mikhail Prokhorov at Snob's U.S. launch party.
Mikhail Prokhorov at Snob's U.S. launch party.
But Snob has arrived anyway, the splashy but niche product of Mikhail Prokhorov, the self-made Russian billionaire who bought the New Jersey Nets last May, and Vladimir Yakovlev, the founder of Kommersant, the first-ever Russian daily business paper.

Snob's new availability in the United States is part of their plan, following Snob's introduction to Russia two years ago and to Britain last year, to trade on two big trends at once: globalization and marketers' growing interest in targeting specific groups. They are also trying some tactics with pricing and reader participation that English-language titles might watch closely. As much as the "Snob Project" revolves around community, for example, commenting on the website costs extra.

Just don't misunderstand the group that the magazine is serving: Snob is a Russian-language publication that doesn't want to be seen as "ethnic." The goal is to engage "Global Russians" -- a group of people who, after the fall of the Soviet Union, "have accomplished what they set out to do, created their identities, and are now looking outward," according to Editor in Chief Masha Gessen.

The name turns out to serve as something like a bouncer for the audience, admitting mostly the accomplished, global Russians that Snob wants in its club. "We found out it's a funny test to anyone who reads it," said Snob Marketing Director Linor Goralick. "If someone sees it and smiles, they're one of us: a self-made person who has learned about culture and is proud of who they are."

Masha Gessen, editor in chief
Masha Gessen, editor in chief
A social network that has a magazine
These Russians have also realized that Western culture enjoyed something that they had not: a way of discussing things, according to Ms. Gessen. "Something that fills the space between politics and movie reviews -- sex, food, children, urban issues," she said. "These kinds of things are not covered in Russian media, or even in conversation. We don't have the language for it, or the habit."

Snob wants to fill that space for Global Russians. One recent issue took a risk, for example, by publishing a cover story that delved into depression, a topic you'd be hard-pressed to find in any other sort of Russian media. The subject was Stepan Pachikov, co-founder of ParaGraph International and other software companies that contributed to the development of handwriting-recognition technologies. He became rich; then he became depressed. The article became the most-discussed story yet on Snob's online network.

That means a lot to Snob. Although most of Snob's revenue comes from print ads, the print edition is considered the least significant part of the Snob Project, which is meant to create an online and offline dialogue among Russians around the world. "It's a social network that has a website, that has a magazine," Ms. Gessen said.

Snob magazine
Snob magazine
Because some readers in the U.S. can't type in Russian, the company this week launched a transliteration tool online that converts English letters into Russian text.

Five tiers of subscriptions
Of course -- and here some people might perceive an unhappy echo with the magazine's name -- participation depends on your currency of one sort or another. There is a five-tiered structure to Snob membership, with an online-only subscription at about $35; access to print and online following for $50; then the subscription that allows readers to comment and be "co-authors" on the website, which runs $230; a premium membership that includes all of the above plus access to a series of offline events for some $430; and, finally, an exclusive "premium plus" membership that's only for those with "newsmaker status."

But usually the Snob name plays like a good joke. Print and out-of-home ads promoting Snob's U.S. arrival used the tagline "Ask your Russian friend to read it to you."

"We tried to reach not only Russian speakers but to create more general awareness among highly paid professionals in New York and other big U.S. cities," said Gregory Kegeles, Snob's U.S. business development director. "Many of our target readers don't use Russian websites, Russian keyboards or show that they're of Russian origin. We wanted to create the kind of buzz that would make Russians want to read by having them hear about it from their non-Russian-speaking friends."

Snob approached Carat to create a targeted digital campaign to reach Russian speakers all over the U.S., mostly in the form of banner ads. Global Advertising Strategies, a New York-based shop that specializes in connecting U.S. marketers with European and BRIC countries and bringing BRIC marketers to the U.S., was tapped for all other advertising and will continue to be its agency of record going forward.

Know any global Russians?
Snob doesn't usually advertise in print in Russia, but here it placed ads in publications such as The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, where it believed some of its ideal readers could be found. And those magazines' non-Russian-speaking readers could tell their Russian friends about it.

Snob has hosted a number of gatherings in New York, San Francisco and Boston featuring guest speakers talking on topics such as Soviet cinema or post-Soviet art. Snob has kept these events open in the U.S., but in Russia, similar gatherings are invitation-only. The discussions, which welcome audience participation, have had attendance of up to 1,300. A new series of events begins in January.

Snob also used unconventional approaches to make its presence known, such as creating a special line of comics about the U.S. that it shared on social networks and sponsoring a geo-caching game that had readers solve 25 riddles online to find 100 special issues of Snob hidden around New York City. The issues included handwritten letters from editors as well as autographs from famous Russian figures and offers for free subscriptions. The effort was such a success, according to Snob, that people in Boston requested their own geo-caching game, which will take place Nov. 12.

Social networks have been crucial to Snob's growth. It counts about 13,000 fans on Facebook; 4,000 followers on Twitter; over 5,000 friends on Vktontakte, a Russian social-networking site akin to Facebook; and 3,050 followers on LiveJournal, which is quite popular in Russia and is used by Snob to create discussion by its readers. And it uses each outlet for a different purpose: LiveJournal is used as a discussion page, Twitter is used solely to tweet quotes from online discussion and keep the chatter going, and Facebook and Vkontakte are employed to alert readers of upcoming events and new content.

Niches with riches
Snob has also gone looking for advertisers here with ads in trade publications, including Advertising Age.

For marketers interested in the affluent Russians that Snob aims to serve, the other options have drawbacks, said Victoria Levinson, exec VP-operations at Global Advertising Strategies, which is also handling ad sales for Snob. "It's not efficient to target this niche audience through Russian media because it's too broad and expensive," Ms. Levinson said. "You can't do it through U.S. mainstream media either because it's also too broad."

"It's for mainstream advertisers looking to advertise in a very targeted way," Ms. Levinson added, citing real estate and travel brands as examples. Snob's U.S. publication has already attracted advertisers such as Maserati, Christie's and Lufthansa.

The team was nervous about launching in the U.S., admitted Ms. Goralick, the marketing director. But they were relieved when they got 5,000 people to subscribe to the magazine's free three-month promo in 45 days. "Our goal was to get that number in four to five months," she said.

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Contributing: Todd Stone

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