Rodale Aims to Grow By Getting Lean
Rodale has undergone several organizational shifts over the past few years. Not only have there been leadership changes and some staff reductions in various departments, but there have also been brand level changes, such as Prevention going ad free and Organic Gardening rebranding to Organic Life and then becoming a digital-only property a year later. But these transitions are part of a bigger strategy at the company, according to Chief Operating Officer Beth Buehler.
Magazines are expensive to produce, from labor to materials to distribution, and the expenses are only getting higher. But magazines still produce a lot more revenue than their digital counterparts. So publishers are seeking out the best ways to grow by building better products, spending smarter and developing better infrastructures that maximize output and efficiency. That’s specifically what Beuhler is spearheading, so we caught up with her to learn more about that strategy and how it’s working out for Rodale.
min: One of your core responsibilities is overseeing the overall growth of Rodale’s portfolio. Summarize your overall strategy.
Beth Buehler: We’ve been focused on diversifying our revenue, and that’s been exciting and fun. Digital makes up a lot of different products and revenue streams, it’s not just one single thing. We’re focusing on e-commerce and affiliate commerce, and direct and indirect sales, and all of that is underpinned by our email list, which continues to grow. We’ve also had success with direct response in the past and plan to continue that drive.
We’re also working against ad blocking and thinking about how new paid models like our Men’s Health app, which has only been in market for eight weeks, can work around that challenge.
min: What other examples like the Men’s Health app illustrate your product strategy?
Buehler: Our gear finder for Bicycling is another example that’s a consumer product. The monetization model is affiliate and e-commerce. Essentially, we provide a product review, which is a valuable experience for the user, but also offer click-and-buy options that are valuable to our partners. When we think of product development we think about who we are building for.
min: Print obviously has its challenges, but so does digital—including the fact that it’s still not making up for print losses. What are you doing to close the gap?
Buehler: We have to tackle two things—cost and revenue. One of the things in my role is lightening up our infrastructure, our processes and workflows, without sacrificing quality. It’s not super easy because we have tons of legacy processes and technologies. But we have spent a lot of time becoming lighter and more flexible.
We look at every single brand we have in print and think about its best strategy. Prevention, for example, went ad free because the old model wasn’t working with balancing all the overhead and holding a rate base. We also looked at Organic Life and thought about how to make the brand work for consumers and advertisers in a digital-only ecosystem.
We don’t think of our brands as just magazines. Men’s Health is a 360-degree brand that works well and comes to life in all forms. So we are trying to propel revenue growth in a multitude of ways across the portfolio that works for each brand.
min: So how does Rodale, or magazine media in general, thrive in this new environment?
Buehler: We have to expect the infrastructure to change. And really, we need to be where the consumers are and keep looking for new revenue streams.
One example is DVDs. It was, and still is, a healthy business for us, but if you go to Best Buy you won’t find a DVD player, so that’s an indicator we need to shift. So what we’ve been doing is putting that content in digital format so users have more options. Brands need to be savvy about the way consumers are consuming content. They will always want high-quality content, and that’s what magazine media offers.
min: What’s the biggest challenge a company like Rodale faces in 2017?
Buehler: I think the challenge for us is our size. We’re not a small startup that has big investments coming in and we’re not “The Big Four.” We’re in the middle and that can present challenges, because we don’t have the scale or access that some other companies may. But I think that is also a big opportunity because we are a mission-driven company with a focused set of brands where the market is also ripe. Health and wellness is important for many consumers and brands and we are able to develop products for a large-enough audience and test products effectively, so large marketing agencies and advertisers want to work with us.
min: What was your biggest win for the first half of 2017? And what has you excited about the second half?
Buehler: The biggest win is our audience growth. We have had record-breaking growth online and in video. Our sites are up 40% versus last year. Our video views on-platform, which is everyone’s golden ticket, are up 109% over last year. And you can imagine that’s growing even more significantly off-platform.
What’s got me excited is that scale is starting to pay off with advertisers and we’re looking at a healthy pipeline of advertising. I also think our new leadership team is really exciting and is starting to come into its own. Having a chief advertising officer [Ronan Gardiner] and a head of content [Adam Campbell] looking across brands is only going to make our products stronger.