Consumer marketing in a multititle environment

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I learned many things about consumer marketing at my first circulation job at CBS Publications many years ago. My then-boss, Bob Krefting, taught me most of what I still practice. I best remember his observation that the most difficult task in publishing is determining how to organize a consumer marketing department in a multititle publishing company. All of my experiences since then have reinforced his comment.

There is a definite trade-off between assigning responsibilities on a functional source-based level (e.g. direct mail, renewals, newsstand, on-line, etc.) and doing so on a brand level, which might involve giving up some cost efficiencies but allows consumer marketers to understand better their editorial product, their readers, and their competitive positioning.

Every multititle company has a portfolio of brands and, in general, each has a different set of priorities and opportunities. The critical thing is to avoid short-changing or ignoring those opportunities.

In our company, we publish more than 40 magazine titles, and they differ significantly in circulation size and the market they serve. Our promotional strategies and the resources we devote to each title need to take into consideration the circulation size, competitive set, audience universe size and price elasticity of each title.

I have a number of observations about working in this environment which I think are equally pertinent in other publishing organizations:

Respect the value of your subscriber list. The subscriber list (both active and expired) is one of the most valuable resources each magazine owns. It is the asset you have acquired after many years of investing in subscription promotions. Do not give it away for less than its value to advertisers, third parties or even other titles within your company. While the opportunity to market other titles to a list is tempting, and may make sense, tread carefully. Don't erode subscriber loyalty to their original publication, or make life more difficult for your advertising sales staff by increasing the audience duplication between similar titles within your company.

Respect and maintain the “DNA” of each magazine. Make sure that all of your subscription promotion materials reflect the unique look and feel of your magazine's personality. Every title has its own editorial and design approach, as well as a typical color palette, and the sensibilities of its target audience are different. You must have enough consistency in your communications to avoid confusing your subscribers — but avoid a cookie cutter approach.

While it no doubt saves some management time and possibly some money to use a one-size-fits-all approach to many titles, it is a short-term approach that will sub-optimize your marketing success. Everything, from the size of your mailings to your offers, should be tested on a title-by-title basis. Different markets and types of subscribers behave differently. Empower your marketing staff to do what is appropriate for each brand in your portfolio.

Of course, a concept, offer or creative execution that works well for one title may well work for other titles in your group. Set up a mechanism that allows different product groups in your company to share their results — successes and failures.

While these points seem basic, there are many instances, in many companies, where they are overlooked. It is an ongoing challenge within every organization to maintain them – particularly in the face of the daily budgetary and time constraints that we all face.

Bob Cohn is consumer marketing director for Bonnier Corporation's Science, Outdoor, and Mountain Sports titles, including Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Popular Science, Science Illustrated, SKI, and Skiing. You may reach him at bob.cohn@bonniercorp.com.

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