Going Outside the Association
Lodging targets executives outside association membership and becomes an ad-share growth leader.
The world of association publishing can be insular, and usually, the mission of the magazine is subordinate to the mission of the association. In other words, the publishing staff takes its direction from the association management, and generally that means no aggressive attempts to rethink, expand, modify or alter, well, anything. But not always. In the pages that follow, three examples of publication innovators (or mavericks, depending on the perspective) who say that being an association magazine doesn’t mean you can’t either expand beyond the current membership or use the magazine to attract new members.
Nearly four years after the McNeill Group took over publishing operations of Lodging, the official magazine of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Yardley, Pennsylvania-based custom-publishing services firm says it has found a successful balance between achieving journalistic excellence in reporting industry news, and increasing ad sales and bolstering the bottom line.
"It’s something all association magazines strive to do," says Lodging publisher Bob Ryan. "In 2003, we took over an un-audited publication with a circulation of just under 17,000. We are now BPA audited, and the June 2007 statement will reflect over 40,000 qualified circulation."
And a lower frequency than its competitive set isn’t a problem. "As a monthly," Ryan says, "we have less frequency than our main competitors, who come out anywhere from 16 to 24 times a year. Our marketshare has risen every year, however, and we’ve led in ad share growth every year since 2005." Competing industry titles include Hotel Business, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel & Motel Management, and Hotels.
The McNeill Group has since purchased Lodging and began supplementing the magazine’s circulation by targeting hotel executives and managers outside of the association’s membership, Ryan says. The firm was confident that Lodging’s circulation increase and that AH&LA’s membership would grow, too.
"Many associations don’t see the value in this, but a well-written publication can act as a recruiting tool for an association," explains Ryan. "The added circulation increased our ad revenue, which in turn allowed us to plow more money into the editorial product. It was a win-win situation."
Ryan declined to give Lodging’s annual revenue, saying, "We have a strict policy on non-disclosure and that’s not going to change." But a tally of Lodging’s 355 2006 ad-pages multiplied by its one-time rate of $5,855 produces a figure of slightly more than $2 million, which would then be discounted to account for frequency and other discounts. Ryan says the magazine has realized steady growth each year since the McNeill Group took over. "Lodging is a for-profit magazine," he says. "After nearly doubling the revenue the first year, we have seen steady growth of 20 percent each year. The market has flattened, but we are still leading the way in ad pages gained in 2007, as we did in 2006." Overall, Ryan says, Lodging has a marketshare of about 10 percent, up from 5 percent a few years ago.
Editorial content is a major reason why the magazine’s ad sales are consistently on the rise, says Ryan. "We are competing in a very crowded trade marketplace, and that requires us to stay sharp, organized and on balance," he says. "Some trade magazines suffer when they are labeled as house organs or propaganda rags. Our reputation is very solid editorially, and our credibility rating is off the charts."
Even with a full-time editorial and design staff of five, an important element of Lodging’s editorial philosophy, Ryan says, is that the magazine covers issues of general interest. For example, Lodging ran a story last year about hotel rooms being used as methamphetamine labs.
"We got a great response from that story, and no one else in our market would touch a story like that because it has no advertising value," Ryan says. "We realize that we are not only competing for our readers’ time versus the trade press, but against all media. Knowing this, we incorporate editorial that is often very close to [that of a consumer publication]."
In addition to continuing its program of enhancing and solidifying the print magazine, the McNeill Group is taking steps to expand the Lodging brand to a number of ancillary products, following the lead of the rest of the industry. The firm has improved Lodging’s Web site with video interviews, product showcases and conference coverage, Ryan says. Earlier this year, the magazine launched a monthly e-newsletter with both original and overlapping content.
"To be a success, you should take an honest look at your product," Ryan advises. "Listen to your readers and, when possible, partner with solid, respected organizations and associations." Also, he suggests, surround yourself with a team of "passionate people who not only understand their jobs but how their work affects other aspects of publishing a magazine."
In four years, a focus on editorial has helped to grow circulation by more than double and increase revenues by 20 percent each year.
Award-winning Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is courting magazine all-stars to tighten up its publishing strategy and broaden its appeal.
You may have never heard of it, but few magazines have the pedigree of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Founded more than 60 years ago by the inventors of the atomic bomb, the journal, which is not a straight member publication, appeals to a cross-section of academics, scientists and security policy makers. "The founders sought to bring the best in scientific judgement about threats to the planet," says executive director Kennette Benedict.
Today, the 9,000-circ. Bulletin’s goal is to reach a wider audience. "We’re trying to build up again the community of people who like to talk up and bring expertise to these issues," says Benedict. Both the magazine and Web site;which recently re-launched, feature columns from experts on topics ranging from bio security to China and nuclear disarmament. The Bulletin will also be launching a program of technical papers and hosting more live events including face-to-face roundtables.
Recruiting Publisher Help
The Bulletin is receiving help, often gratis, from some big magazine names, including board chairman Cathryn Cronin Cranston, former publisher of Harvard Business Review and Jay Harris, publisher of Mother Jones, who is working to improve The Bulletin’s direct mail and circulation strategy, according to Benedict. "As we develop resources we’ll be able to follow up on his advice," she adds. "We hope he can help solve our problems just like he solved Mother Jones’ problems."
Meanwhile, Pentagram, a Madison Avenue design firm, offered to help redesign the logo for the Bulletin’s most famous product, The Doomsday Clock, which marks the growing danger for a cataclysmic global event. When the Bulletin moved the minute hand from 7 minutes to midnight to 5 minutes to midnight last January 17, it generated nearly 1,500 stories and was one of three or four major news events worldwide on that date.
The Bulletin has recruited staff with impressive credentials, including editor Mark Strauss, formerly of Spy, Slate and Foreign Affairs. "Mark is interested in building up a community of journalists who can address complex issues in a sophisticated but clear way," says Benedict.
In addition to relaunching its Web site in January, the Bulletin has also added a new Web editor and a director of digital publishing. The Bulletin is also working to develop an online archive, which could be one of its key selling points. It all tells the story of an increasing Web-centric organization. Today the Bulletin site attracts about 30,000 unique visitors per month and last fall, it averaged 90,000 article downloads per month. "We think our future is on the Web," says Benedict. "Digital appeals to a more academic audience and it’s the home for scientific experts as well. We’ve got 60 years of archives and we want to ensure the material is archivable and accessible."
Business Side Breakdown
The Bulletin is 75 percent funded from grants, with a significant number of individual contributors, and operates on an annual budget of about $1.5 million, with only three staffers who are not dedicated to editorial duties, according to Benedict. "We want to get in place broader revenue sources in the next year or so," she says.
Advertisers are mostly university presses and some professional associations, although a robust ad-sales operation will most likely not become a major priority for the Bulletin for the forseeable future."I don’t think we will ever be heavy in advertising," says Benedict. "The academic audience is more interested in content. As long as we get academic institutions to subscribe, we’ll do okay. We’re more on the Cook’s Illustrated front than Vanity Fair."
The Bulletin’s efforts are gaining critical notice in the form of prestigious awards. The publication won a 2007 National Magazine Award for General Excellence from the American Society of Magazine Editors in the under 100,000-circ. category for a series of issues with articles ranging from the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea to a point-counterpoint feature on the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. "Over the years we’ve tried to make it more accessible and much more lively, and I think the National Magazine Award suggests we’ve gotten there," Benedict says.
Heeding the advice of publishing pros on the business and edit side has earned the Bulletin wider acclaim and a National Magazine Award.
More Like a B-to-B
Realtor Magazine, the 1,000-pound gorilla in the real estate market.
By its sheer size alone at 1.3 million readers, Realtor, the official publication of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), dwarfs its competition, which, according to senior vice president, communications and convention group, Frank Sibley, range in circulation from 30,000 to 50,000. But the magazine’s size is not the only characteristic that makes it the dominant force in the realtor market. Sibley has engineered a transformation of the magazine from a basic member benefit that cost the association $4 million a year to produce to a valuable b-to-b magazine that now generates $3.5 million per year.
"There are several other real-estate publications, but no one is biting off 1.3 million like we are," says Sibley. "But it’s not really us or them. One page in us could buy you a six or 12-time schedule in them. So if you decide you want to vend a product to real estate professionals there’s probably two million active practitioners out there, of whom a little bit more than half are current dues-paying members of the NAR. So we would be the mass-market coverage vehicle."
A Dramatic Turnaround
But the magazine was not always like that. Sibley joined NAR nine years ago and immediately recognized an opportunity to make the magazine more of an essential tool for real-estate professionals. "I had the serious conversation up front. I wasn’t interested in doing the classical association publication;pictures of people at governance sessions holding glasses of chardonnay, smiling at each other. I said what I want to do is edit a b-to-b magazine where we approach you as a professional. I want to give you information that will help you be more current, more profitable, more professional in your chosen field of endeavor. So we’re not the NAR magazine in terms of the editorial ideology of the title. We’re a business magazine for people in the real-estate industry," he says.
The pitch was an easy sell. "The quid pro quo was the magazine was a cost of doing business and all in it probably cost them about $4 million a year. And I said let us do it our way and we’ll make it a revenue generator. And the magazine now generates about $3.5 million a year. So on an annualized basis, that’s a big turnaround," says Sibley.
What that magazine turnaround has allowed the association to do;aside from becoming the mass market b-to-b magazine leader in the real estate space;is add more member benefits without raising members’ dues. "To them, that’s great," says Sibley. "They’ll make that deal seven days a week." The association also produces two tradeshows per year. NAR’s mid-year event attracts about 10,000 attendees and includes a 33,000 square-foot trade-show component. The annual meeting draws 30,000 attendees and includes a 200,000 square-foot exhibit hall.
And completing the trifecta is Realtor’s Web site, which, according to Sibley, regularly sells out of available advertising inventory.
"NAR is an association that decided it could monetize some of its member services as a way of subsidizing the growth of services back to them, instead of raising dues," says Sibley. "So in the convention business, in the magazine business, and our marketing group, that’s what we did about nine years ago, and it has really paid off."
Realtor sheds the association magazine stereotype and a $4 million annual cost of doing business to become a $3.5 million money-maker and 1.3 million-circ giant.