Enjoyment: FamilyFun is getting significant mileage from its Toy of the Year awards. EVENTS QUICK TO FILL BOOKS' DANCE CARD MAGAZINES LEARN WAYS TO ENHANCE THEIR BRAND AND WIN OVER NEW FANS

By Published on .

Magazine publishers have gone on a binge of event-marketing events in the 1990s, discovering how events can boost ad pages, promote brands in new channels and generate new revenue streams.

That all depends, of course, on how the event is structured.

As more magazines dive into events, many publishers are discovering the high costs and potential risks to the brand. Experts say events are not for all magazines, and not all publishers know how to make events work for them.


"There's still a lot of confusion about what an event is and what it can do for a magazine, and as people get caught up in the excitement of events, quite a few publishers are going off in the wrong direction," says Steve Burzon, a magazine event-marketing consultant and president of Event Media Partners.

A successful event for a magazine ought to drive ad pages beyond the normal schedule, says Mr. Burzon, adding that it should buttress the magazine's core brand positioning.

Only a handful of magazines are doing events on this level. The majority are using events to generate publicity or to provide added value for advertisers, says Mr. Burzon.

Some magazines are proving it's possible to create additional ad pages and generate new revenue through events. But Mr. Burzon warns that clear success doesn't happen overnight; it usually requires the commitment of the magazine's editorial and sales staffs.

Examples of such successes include Time, with its much-ballyhooed "People of the Century" effort surrounding the millennium; Southern Progress Corp.'s Cooking Light, with its revolutionary mobile marketing and festival events; Buena Vista Publishing's FamilyFun with its popular Toy of the Year award program; and Wenner Media's Rolling Stone, a pioneer in the area of on-campus events.

"It's easy to spend a lot of money on an event and get nowhere," says Chris Allen, publisher of Cooking Light.


"Ask Cooking Light," one of the magazine industry's first major mobile marketing events, made its debut in 1993. Over the last few years it has inspired several copycats that have not achieved the success reaped by Cooking Light, claims Mr. Allen. The publisher, however, declines to comment on whose mobile marketing efforts have failed.

"You can't just throw together a tour, put up a Web site, stage a one-day event in a supermarket parking lot or Central Park and assume you've got an event that means anything," says Mr. Allen. "Each element has to be built around very specific advertiser-driven goals. Then your ad sales staff must learn about marketing, promotion, couponing, point-of-sale programs and how to execute these offerings, without spending a lot of additional money."


Cooking Light's tour, backed by its advertisers, crisscrosses the U.S., visiting supermarkets and public venues, offering free information about cooking and recipes. It also offers sponsor product samples.

For its seventh annual excursion next year, the tour is being renamed "Cooking Light on the Move."

Last year, Cooking Light staged a new type of event, a 10-year "Reunion" festival for 15,000 readers at its Birmingham, Ala., headquarters. The festival generated revenue through advertising, sponsorships and admission fees.

Mr. Allen now hopes to top "Reunion's" success with a bigger event next year called "GrandStand '99" festival slated for April 24-25 at Turner Field in Atlanta. He expects the event to draw more than 25,000, each paying around $5 to attend a weekend-long series of cooking demonstrations, contests, races and other activities.


In addition, sponsors have paid $95,000 to participate in on-site and in-magazine advertising events. So far, the list of top sponsors includes ConAgra's Healthy Choice, Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide's Bolla brand, Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury unit, Fila USA and Publix Supermarkets. The magazine is negotiating to add financial services and health & beauty aids marketers, Mr. Allen says.

Walt Disney Co.'s FamilyFun has spent several years developing its Toy of the Year awards. Introduced in 1992, the program is now the magazine's signature event.

Through a partnership with KinderCare Learning Centers, FamilyFun each year arranges for a panel of children to rate marketers' new toys. Results of kids' choices in several categories are unveiled in the November issue, frequently drawing national publicity.

Last year, FamilyFun linked with the FAO Schwarz flagship toy store in Manhattan for an in-store promotion displaying winningtoys; this year, the promotion has been expanded to eight FAO Schwarz stores nationwide with in-store kiosks selling such FamilyFun products as an expanding array of books.


"The event grew out of our deep commitment to what our brand stands for, and from there we are developing a 360-degree point of view of our how magazine can serve our readers through appropriate events," says Kim MacLeod, VP-group publisher and co-founder of FamilyFun.

FamilyFun is building advertising pages, publicity and new revenue streams from its Toy of the Year awards, but it is careful to turn down event opportunities each year that don't match its goals.

"Magazines have to be so careful to avoid getting into the events for the sake of events. It's only a useful direction if it reinforces the brand [and] serve its readers," says Ms. MacLeod.


The millennium is an obvious event-marketing opportunity, but Time has grabbed a huge share of spotlight in the magazine industry's many year 2000 commemorative events, with a event-marketing program spanning two years.

Six special issues and an equal number of network TV broadcasts by partner CBS, plus dozens of local and national events revolve around its "People of the Century: The Time 100" concept.

The first of five special issues appeared in April; the third one, slated for December, has sold more ad pages than any issue of Time, says Publisher Jack Haire.

"We found a great way to bring the magazine to life, giving readers and advertisers something to participate in. It allows us to make a statement that goes far beyond the magazine," Mr. Haire says.


For Rolling Stone, events have become an important part of its brand positioning, giving readers the expectation that the magazine delivers activities such as game-show style music trivia contests sponsored by advertisers, says Associate Publisher Jeffrey Ahl.

The magazine's event marketing has significantly increased in the last six years, with its activities surrounding the "Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl," a traveling festival visiting colleges during fall weekends, featuring music trivia contests, sweepstakes and other activities.

The bowl visits 13 colleges this fall, with longtime presenting sponsor Ford Motor Co., and a growing list of supporting sponsors including Ocean Pacific, AT&T Corp., Bausch & Lomb Global Vision Care's Ray-Ban sunglasses, L'Oreal, ABC-TV, National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, and Gillette Co.'s Mach3 shaving system.

Rolling Stone's sponsorship costs vary according to level of participation.

"Colleges are a tough audience, and if you don't click, people don't come and advertisers won't return. You absolutely must be genuine and committed, providing high-quality content and programs," says Mr. Ahl, adding that many other magazines are now crowding college campuses with events.

Rolling Stone also launched a historical exhibit of its covers on a college tour last January, which is being reprised this year with AT&T as a sponsor. The lure for magazines is strong, but experts say the growing level of events is increasing the risks for magazines.

"Most of the magazine industry is stuck in tactical events, trying to keep up with the pack without thinking about their long-term strategies for events," says Mr. Burzon. "To succeed, magazines need to think long and hard about their mission and then find events that have significance far beyond the event itself. Otherwise, they're wasting their money."


The lure of the tour also is irresistible for many magazines, who are hitting the road in record numbers with mobile tours of everything from supermarkets to country fairs.

The latest to jump onto the bandwagon is Rodale Press' Prevention, which is staging its first mobile marketing tour next May with a 22-city jaunt called the "Healthy Lifestyle Tour." With a 68-foot truck that converts into several stations giving consumers free health-risk tests and other feedback-oriented activities, the tour will be backed by several sponsors-to be announced-with kiosks, samples and educational activities. It's expected to visit pharmacies and supermarkets, reaching at least 200,000 consumers in a year.

"We don't have the luxury of big budgets . . . so this has to pay for itself. We're creating the event with the mindset of this being a long-term, strategic operation that backs up our premise as a magazine brand- helping people live healthy lives," says Publisher Stephen Giannetti.

Most Popular
In this article: