In Circulation: Rodale's Lambiase talks about circ strategy

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DMNews' Lauren Bell sits down with Rodale's Chris Lambiase — fresh off his promotion to VP and group publisher for Running and Cycling and Rodale's double “Ellie” win at the ASME awards last week.

Q: You're now responsible for Bicycling, Mountain Bike, Runner's World and Running Times and all their corresponding Web sites. How would you describe the market position of these titles?

A: The marketplace for both of those sports or activities is growing rapidly. The cycling market, the number of participants and bike sales — particularly at the higher end, which is sort of the market that we serve — is really growing rapidly, and the number of participants in races and triathlons and charity events is really through the roof. The same is true on the running side. It's more popular than ever, participation is up, entrants in marathons are at record levels, and, therefore, both of these are in great shape. At Rodale, we have the number one magazines in both, which is a great position to be in.

Q: How have recent changes in the economy or the publishing industry affected these titles?

A: With regard to that sort of debate [print vs. online], it's important to realize that when it comes to passion-based participant sports, the propensity for coexistence between print and online is tremendous. Therefore, we're not in an “us against them” mode. We know that our magazines are working very well with our Web sites.

Each month, the magazine comes with the thoughtful longer narrative on the big stories and the stories behind the scenes that they can't get enough of, but then, because these sports are a daily part of life that happen in real time, the Web sites complement the magazines very well.

On the sites, it's a matter of logging mileage, training records, making purchases, so it all works very well together. The fact that last week the two ASME awards we won were for our Web sties I think is very telling. We realized early on it's a coexistence, not a battle, and we focused on building Web sites that are really service providers.

In our case, the Web and the magazine are growing together. Through June, Runner's World ad pages are up 6.6%, Bicycling is up 1%, Running Times is up 18%, and our Web site traffic on both sites are running 40-50% more on monthly basis than last year. There's a lot of gloom and doom out there, but through May the market was flat to slightly down overall, so I would say this is bucking the trend.

Q: You joined Rodale in 2004 as VP and publishing director of Bicycling. What skills or experience are you bringing to your new position?

A: There are a lot of similarities in the businesses. Both Bicycling and Runner's World are passion-based and niche publications with a tremendous amount of loyalty and focus. Bicycling is similar in that there's a great base of endemic advertisers, and with the fact that the audience now is professional, managerial and affluent we've had tremendous success in the non-endemic areas like auto and travel and nutrition. Runner's World is a similar model in that it's a passion-based readership, and it's just on a much bigger scale. There's a strong endemic base of advertising, and beyond that there's a very similar non-endemic list of advertisers that match up and mirror those at Bicycling.

At the end of the day, they're both endurance sports that are a lifestyle that have been embraced by professional, affluent Americans, and as a result the advertising base is similar. The marketing strategy is also similar: we're both involved in event marketing to a very similar degree, so this makes it a very logical promotion for me.

Q: Does this signal a change in marketing strategy for your team?

A: Both Running and Cycling have very specific needs, so no. There's been a very successful strategy in place that is running its course for both titles.

I think where there will be some sort of fine tuning in the potential for improvements are in certain advertising categories like financial services. There are categories where maybe Runner's World was a little too small, even though the audience was perfect and rivaling the business magazines in demographics, but on their own the magazines' audiences might be a little bit small. Combined, they make a huge rate base — over 1 million — of the right demographics, and I think that's one of the areas we're going to pick up on and move forward a little.

Q: What's next for Rodale – what big initiatives or growth areas can you tell me about?

A: This year, we're recognizing the growth and popularity of the triathlon sport. Bicycling magazine did two standalone inserts this year that were very very successful, and I think as we move forward there are opportunities in the triathlon market to bring the brands together. I also think there are opportunities for more cross-promotion at strategic events on both sides, where there wasn't a lot of crosstalk before.

However, there are very significant core readers that really specialize in their sport.

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