Keys to attracting magazine readers

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There are many direct marketing strategies and tactics that can be used to help magazines increase circulation. Four experts share what has worked and what hasn't worked.


Patrick Hainault
Circulation director, Mansueto Ventures

Direct marketers are the type of people who build predictive models to forecast their wedding invite responses, view movie sequel grosses in terms of retention rates and carefully review weekend plan emails for hard hitting calls to action.

Why is it, then, that magazine marketers tend to check their direct marketing instincts at the door as soon as they enter the realm of “non-traditional” marketing? Doing so forgoes their greatest strength: their experience in generating effective and measurable “call to action” promotions. If you are a direct marketing professional, why not use your direct marketing toolbox everywhere possible?

Recently, Inc. magazine did just that in an effort to reach small and mid-sized business owners — a group exhibiting little unity in interests or demographics.

We started by calling a handful of local chambers of commerce, discussing their needs and possible ways in which Inc. could offer subscriptions to their members. Once we had a sense of what might best resonate, we ended the one-to-one conversations and, instead, developed a home-spun letter and brochure package.

We tested the package to a few hundred of the 8,000 existing local chambers of commerce. Our offer was, simply, “here's what we can do for you and your members — call to set it up.”

The test generated enough response to warrant an expansion and, next thing we knew, we had created a hybrid lead generation/partnership-development program.

Presto, a new channel was born. Best of all, it was immediately managed using the Inc. consumer marketing staff's existing skill set.

While the channel yields modest volume, the driving principle behind its creation serves as a nice reminder to circulators everywhere: If you can take direct marketing home with you, surely you can also take it to “non-traditional” subscription channels.

THE TAKEAWAY
Use marketing skills to develop new or nontraditional subscription channels.


Caren Kelleher
Marketing manager, Paste

Three years ago, six colleagues and I went to the Bonnaroo Music

Festival to convert music fans into Paste subscribers. We distributed 8,500 free copies of Paste, accompanied by a direct response offer. Only 18 people responded directly to the offer.

I expected to find like-minded people — people who my team and I could talk to about the magazine. We did find these people, but the product became part of the festival experience clutter.

I found the direct-to-publisher (DTP) list a more valuable, but overlooked, resource that can help cut through the clutter and find strong potential clients.

We had success inviting DTP subscribers to send a free copy of the magazine to friends and family. For leads that converted to a paid subscriber, the referring subscriber received a gift or discounted subscription.

Paste used its email database to reach DTP subscribers, and provided an online template for listing friends or family members. We agreed neither to rent nor sell the information provided for this one-time mailing. A unique cover wrap introduced the magazine as a gift and advertised an aggressive subscription offer. Mailing labels that named the gift donor prevented customer service concerns and made the magazine less of an intrusion into new households.

The response was stronger than anticipated. The cost was low, especially compared to a traditional direct mail campaign, and required less energy than Bonnaroo.

THE TAKEAWAY
Don't overlook direct-to-publisher lists — they can lead to like-minded people


Leslie Guarnieri
Circulation director, Discover

Renewals have been one of the larger sources of subscription rates for us, and our new major business source is direct mail. In 2007, we experimented with a direct mail campaign where we tested different months, and increased mail quantity. Net gross was up, and conversion rates were up. I'm willing to test anything — you never know what's going to work.

When targeting new readers, we start with the obvious — figure out what fits with the average subscriber, and then test various strategies and tactics and really expand on what we started with.

Science is a big genre, so we're not just expanding one demographic. We might work with Kennedy Space Center to develop a program or target MySpace or Facebook and see how to make that work.

When picking direct mail lists, we have had some that are science lists that we think are great, and they bomb, and one we least expected has ended up doing really well for us. That's circulation — you have to learn it as you go.

With paper and postage prices going up, the Internet is a popular place to get subscriptions. We have subscription ads on our Web site and in newsletters we send out. Always look at ways in which to optimize and drive people online.

For me, a lot of circulation success is in planning ahead. I always think about what I'm going to test and where we want to expand. Come up ahead of time with a list of five or 10 things to do in a year and implement them.

THE TAKEAWAY
Test everything — you never know what is going to work


Dan Woods
Associate publisher, Make

Make magazine, a project-based quarterly for tech do-it-yourself enthusiasts, backyard scientists and basement engineers, has a circulation-driven business model. About 90% of revenue comes from circulation, and the magazine went from a standing start to more than 100,000 paid circulation in fewer than three years, with virtually all customers paying full price.

Finding relevant communities and being real with them worked well for us in driving circulation. Our team members live and play in these communities; they know the people and the issues.

We probably spend half of our circulation marketing money funding small causes, issues, street level events and people our staff believe in. What's in it for us? Simple: Mobs of interconnected people who feel so passionate about our mission that they effectively become evangelists.

Opening content to sharing allows us to tap passionate readers, who are our most valuable asset. We allow a reader who has come across a cool project to share it free for two weeks. In fact, they can share the entire issue. It makes me shudder to imagine a passionate subscriber who comes across an awesome new project and can't share it with a friend.

Open content to web searchers. If you're going to be relevant, you need to get your content in front of people when they're looking for answers. We open up our full magazine archive to

Web searchers, providing seamless access for subscribers and free six-page samples to non-subscribers.

Provide in-person opportunities for readers to interact with the brand.

Something magic happens when we allow readers and the community to interact with the staff, the magazine content and each other. We launched Maker Faire — a weekend festival celebrating the spirit of Make. People only recall so much of what they hear and so much of what they read, but they retain almost everything that they physically do.

THE TAKEAWAY
Don't miss in-person and online opportunities to build relationships

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