In Circ: Rodale’s Chris Lambiase on Organic Gardening

Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine is upping its rate base from 235,000 to 260,000 as of its February/March 2009 issue. DMNews chats with publisher, Chris Lambiase, about the rate base bump, cross-marketing at Rodale, and, of course, organic gardening.   

DM: A rate base increase now seems…

CL: Unusual?

DM: Yes, what made it a good business decision?

CL: The time and the place has come for OG because it focuses on a much simpler, cleaner, more efficient lifestyle, and it is coming of age. The economic and environmental conditions that exist now have given us a nice nudge, with gas prices and the environmental impact, the costs of goods and services and the cost of going out for meals all rising. OG is all about an efficient, healthy way of living that’s really getting some traction right now, thus more people are turning to the magazine.

OG had a rate base last year of 235k and was serving considerably more. It’s nice to offer advertisers a bonus, but it was time to move the rate base up. It was raised purely on consumer demand. You could say we raised it organically.

DM: What have you been doing to successfully promote the magazine?

CL: Bob Rodale back in 1974 — a pretty dismal economic time — wrote in the annual report that, “Our primary subjects, gardening and health become more important in hard economic times.” Armed with this understanding and with the organic trends taking place now, we’ve put a big push behind driving circ. We’re reaching out to our Rodale database, which is massive and encompasses the folks who are involved in the healthy, active lifestyle already. We’re reaching those folks through all our magazines, all our Web sites, even more so on OG’s site. We’re increasing our e-mail pushes out to these folks as well, and we are also relying on direct mail. That’s been successful in our tests, so in February we’re doing another big direct mail push.

DM: Who is your target?

CL: They’re primarily female — 70/30 to male. Average age is around 54, and income levels are high along with education and professional background. They are what we would consider opinion leaders.

DM: You do a lot of events and sponsorship for “active” brands like Bicycling. How do you use that strategy with gardening?

CL: We sponsor various garden projects across the country. Rodale has just become a sponsor of the Boston Greenway, which is a major undertaking, and we have other programs running in conjunction with advertisers, like Farmers Can be Heroes. Up at the Boston Greenway we’re also sponsoring the Boston Farmer’s Market.

DM: How are you building the brand beyond the magazine?

CL: Right now the Web site is very service-oriented. Our plans going forward include a big push into community which will take place over the course of the next year. As people get into this, everyone wants to share their story and ask questions. That same sort of passion that has been fueling Bicycling and Runner’s World we’re seeing for the organic lifestyle, and we’re investing more in the site to generate a sense of community online. 

DM: What are your goals for 2009?

CL: Goals for the year would be to expand beyond our current base of advertisers. We’ve already stepped up our contact and relationships with auto manufacturers because, even amid cutbacks, quite a few green initiatives from auto have stayed strong. In terms of advertising, our first issue of the year closed 19% over last year.

We also want to continue to grow the rate base. At this point I have no doubt that we’ll be able to raise it again. We want to move the Web site and traffic there to a new level as well and continue to create these programs that we do that really are not only good business but change lives.

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