Magazines finally form battle plan

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Stung by a continued malaise in advertising, circulation concerns and increased competition from cable TV and the Internet, some of the magazine industry's heaviest hitters have banded together to come up with a strategy for fighting back.

The Magazine Industry Coalition, as the group calls itself, held its second meeting last week. The committee, led by Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. President-CEO Jack Kliger, has the backing of the industry trade group Magazine Publishers of America.

"We want to make the case for magazines," said Mr. Kliger. "We spend too much time talking about our individual brands, and haven't as an industry coalesced to talk about the things that are right about us at a time when ... everything is being rethought."

Media buyers have criticized publishers for selling against rival publications rather than focusing on the strengths of their medium compared to marketing alternatives.

The initiative comes as magazines struggle for footing in a rapidly fragmenting media landscape, and continue to contend with a very slow climb out of the brutal ad turndown of the past four years. (For the first half of the year, consumer-magazine ad pages rose just 0.5%.)

In the latest sign of the economic toll, an Aug. 6 memo from Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing CEO Russell Denson spoke bluntly of a need to cut $25 million in annual costs to achieve 10% profit margins, a cost-slashing move that mandates layoffs.

industry leaders

The industry coalition is made up of senior sales and marketing executives from publishing's leading companies. They include Time Inc. Exec VP Jack Haire; Hearst Magazines Exec VP-Chief Marketing Officer Michael Clinton; Newsweek Worldwide Publisher Greg Osberg; American Express Publishing Corp. CEO Ed Kelly; Business Week President Bill Kupper; Rodale Chief Marketing Officer Tom Harbeck; and David Carey, publisher of Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker. (The inclusion of Mr. Carey is of particular interest, since Conde Nast is not usually active in MPA initiatives.)

The coalition has discussed ways to better market magazines, including one approach that would position them as a medium of engagement in a world crowded with intrusive marketing messages such as pop-up Web ads.

Magazines face a tough competitive environment, with a host of cable- and Internet-related ad opportunities serving as viable media options for marketers. Those spaces also can boast an unusual amount of heat and novelty, whether under the rubric of paid-search or, say, FX's "Nip/Tuck." A Jupiter Media study released last month forecast marketers' spending in interactive media would surpass spending in magazines by 2008.

Magazines are not perceived "as new," one industry executive conceded. "The other things are new."

Mr. Kliger said branded-entertainment concerns are not "the core focus" of the coalition, but conceded, "The subject gets discussed whenever senior executives get together."

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