Meredith's CMO reshapes its story

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Nancy Weber had a clear goal when she signed on as CMO of Meredith Corporation in July 2005: define and put a face to the media conglomerate's then audience of 75 million.

But Weber encountered another, more nebulous challenge. She had to establish Meredith's presence in an area that wasn't generally considered to be its core competency: as a marketing services provider.

Meredith, best known as the national publisher of magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, also has 12 local broadcast stations and an extensive portfolio of marketing solutions and services, including Meredith 360° and Meredith Engagement Dividend. “We used to refer to ourselves as a magazine and broadcast company, which didn't truly describe who we are,” Weber says, who adds that she is strictly concerned with the national media and marketing services aspect of the brand, and thus does not work on any issues among the local broadcast division of Meredith. “My concern was really how can we tell a new story and position Meredith as a key media and marketing partner for a lot of clients.”

Ultimately, Weber must oversee the marketing strategies for two of Meredith's three lines of business. Doing so means ensuring collaboration across those units.

One way the company does this is through Meredith 360°, a strategic marketing unit pioneered by chief development officer John S. Zieser that Weber helped launch. The group's focus is to provide clients access to Meredith's portfolio of media products and services across its print, broadcast, and marketing services units. “Meredith 360° consists of a team of marketing and sales experts that leverage all of Meredith's assets, including its national media brands, 12 local network affiliated stations, and marketing company,” Weber says.

While marketing services continue to be a point of focus, Meredith's heritage is as a publishing company that caters to women, “from young adults to empty nesters,” she says. That demographic was extensive and Weber needed to distill it further to better understand the company's audience.

In 2008 Weber commissioned “The Gamma Factor: Women and the New Social Currency,” an executive marketing report identifying a type of American woman: the “gamma” woman, which the comprehensive report claims constitutes nearly 60% of Meredith's audience—more than 55 million individuals.

“The gamma woman is all about collaboration; [she knows] information is power and shares it instead of holding onto it,” Weber says. She speculates that the growing segment of gamma women is due to the ever-increasing popularity of social networks and online communities. “The whole blogger social scene is all about gammas and sharing,” she explains. “On the Internet, there is no hierarchy, everyone has a place.”

This research helped define the direction of Meredith's line of print and online magazines. Ultimately, Meredith's titles revolve “around home, family, and personal development,” Weber says. She notes that food seems to be the connective theme that runs throughout the titles. “Looking at how to improve diet and nutrition is a big trend right now,” says Weber, who was a key member of a strategic team that identified the critical need to grow Meredith's presence in the food space.

“While we had a lot of food-related content, we didn't have specific brands entirely focused on food [or] cooking,” Weber says. Consequently, she helped lay the foundation for major acquisitions of publications with a foodie-following.

In 2011 Meredith acquired communications company EatingWell Media Group, which publishes an array of cookbooks and nutrition-related books, alongside its flagship magazine title, EatingWell, the magazine Every Day with Rachael Ray, and the website Allrecipes.com. Weber describes the latter as “the third leg of the stool, bringing a critical user-generated kind of social component to our portfolio.”

With a clear vision of the target audience, numerous acquisitions, and significant updates to its marketing services portfolio, Weber sought to demonstrate “how magazines can increase sales of products.” So in June 2011 Meredith leveraged Nielsen Homescan, a tool designed to link online marketing with offline purchases, to launch The Meredith Engagement Dividend, a program that Weber says, “guarantees advertisers a sales list when they advertise in a [Meredith] magazine.”

The Meredith Engagement Dividend uses Nielsen analytics and is based on a 52-week research study conducted by Nielsen across Meredith's database of 85 million magazine readers from 2009 to 2010. The program took two years to implement, and is now a substantial program for advertisers seeking ROI for their paid ads, Weber says, adding that the program showed a sales lift for specific brands ranging from 3 to 66%.

But the company isn't resting on current successes. In moving forward, Meredith is focused on video and mobile advertising across its brands. “There are a lot of how-to and informational videos coming from our brands,” she says. It's this type [of] diversity of offerings that's vital to Meredith's continued success.

The advertising environment, Weber notes, is still challenging as “the economy is still coming back, but the consumer demands for our products has never been greater.”

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