Meredith Exec Talks Consumer Control, Fragmented Market

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NEW YORK -- Even Steve Lacy, president and chief operating officer of a magazine publishing giant like Meredith Corp., admits that today's consumer is firmly in control.


He said society is becoming much more fragmented, and the media world, with its proliferating television channels and magazines, reflects that. He cited Procter & Gamble's analysis on the demographic and media changes over the past 20 years.


"The consumers have the right to control what they choose, what they listen to, what they ignore, where they shop," Lacy told a large majority of the 500 attendees at the Direct Marketing Association's 19th Annual Circulation Day conference yesterday.


P&G has developed four "consumer is boss" principles, Lacy said.


First, define consumer segments by passion and life stage. Next, create different propositions for them. Third, reach people when and where they are receptive. Finally, work with the retailer during the consumer's first moment of truth -- when the individual is being introduced to the brand.


In this world, it is critical for publishers to use all media at hand. Meredith's American Baby title uses baby fairs to service its various audiences better. The magazine brand, which gets 2 million new-mother subscriptions yearly, also has a strong Web presence.


The publisher takes advantage of books to reach niche audiences such as scrapbook enthusiasts. Other tactics in use are sweepstakes, tie-ins with home improvement retailers to hold how-to classes and radio syndications.


Lacy said magazines must act like brands, which they often don't. Better Homes and Gardens has mastered the art of leveraging its name across several platforms.


"For every dollar of advertising from Better Homes and Gardens, another dollar is generated around the brand," Lacy said.


Technology is another area of importance. Meredith invested $10 million in the past 2 1/2 years in consumer database technology.


Lacy said such steps were necessary due to several events in the magazine business. These include the loss of agent subscriptions, falling sales at newsstands, telemarketing restrictions and regulations with online solicitations. State-level restrictions on direct mail, postal rate increases next year and paper price increases this year are extra hurdles.


Add to those miseries greater scrutiny from auditors over fudged circulation numbers at several large publishers. The integrity of the publishing industry is at stake.


Over and above those concerns, publishers must continue to focus on long-term profitability and direct-to-publisher subscription acquisition sources, Lacy said.


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