Leveraging additional components such as online ads or live events to increase an ad-page buy in the magazine is a long accepted part of the business. But advertisers continue to push for more and are increasingly demanding to tap into a magazine’s assets beyond media, such as asking for editors to speak at their events or access to the magazine’s database and market connections. Done right, such cooperation can take the publisher-advertiser relationship to new heights. But at what point do publishers draw the line to keep from giving away the store?
Northwestern Mutual secures high profile editors from magazines such as Fortune, Business 2.0 and Food & Wine to speak at some 40 events throughout the year aimed at strengthening relationships between Northwestern reps and their clients. "Our financial reps could host events themselves but they couldn’t get the kind of speakers we’re getting or get access to the kinds of places these publications can get for us," says Adrian Mullen, Northwestern Mutual’s assistant director of marketing.
Fortune is happy to assist;within limits. "Our editors are in demand to speak at a lot of events, we hold them in reserve as a way to drive business like that," says Fortune publisher Mike Federle. "We make them available to our best advertisers. Tapping into the editors has been going on for a long time for us."
What Fortune doesn’t do is allow advertisers to compensate its editors for their appearances. "We don’t allow anyone to pay our editors," Federle adds. "These are the same companies they’re writing about. A lot of people say, ﾑWe will fly them out and take care of them,’ but we don’t go for that."
Consumer magazines are debating where the limits are for editorial involvement in marketing programs beyond the pages of the magazine. "We’re happy to go above and beyond. We welcome the challenge but the one place we won’t go is editorial even though everyone is saying that’s the new frontier," says Chris Grdovic, publisher of Food & Wine. "The farthest we will go sometimes to help a client is to get an editor at one of their events or as a judge."
Food & Wine partnered with Holland America to create a culinary arts program and with The New York Times to create a culinary arts center. In each case, the program "started out as a good old fashioned proposal," says Grdovic. "You give us this many pages, we’ll get this many chefs on board. That evolved into, ﾑLet’s make this a partnership with a life of three years.’ It’s an event for them and pages for us but then we started bringing in other parts of our company;such as consumer marketing;to offer subscriptions to their guests. We have a huge targeted database."
The main problem for Grdovic is not advertisers asking for anything inappropriate but having outlandish expectations. "It’s less about saying no and more about managing expectations and creating a working partnership than can be ongoing," she says. "A lot of clients have unrealistic expectations. They expect 1,000 people at their first-year event or they want to sell $50,000 in product at a retail demonstration or they don’t understand why they can’t get a celebrity chef to do a cooking demonstration in an appliance showroom when he or she can be making $50,000 for the same two-hour appearance somewhere else."
About half the time advertisers ask Food & Wine to be part of the brand’s existing event. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t conflict with the execution of the magazine, Grdovic says. "I hate to use bad cliches but it’s walking a fine line," she adds. "We’re running a business and we have to make it work for us;we can’t have people working 25 hours a day on one client."
While the larger advertising commitments get the priority, Food & Wine’s obligation to the advertiser varies case by case. "Our criteria includes whether we are the marketshare leader, whether we are getting the business exclusively," says Grdovic. "If it’s a category that doesn’t have that much money;wine doesn’t have as much money as automotive;we’ve created special programs for less than what we may ask from others because we know they don’t have as much."
Still, compromises can usually be reached, especially if you’re upfront about the expense for the magazine, says Lisa Natale, senior vice president, corporate events and promotions at Playboy. "It’s challenging. We always sell the magazine first, we don’t want it to be the tail wagging the dog," she adds."We almost always work it out. Most of our advertisers are pretty understanding;we disclose the effort it takes, we disclose the budget line and what it costs us. We’re not hiding anything and it works pretty well. We always come to a happy medium where we make the advertisers happy and they’re really not taking advantage in any way."