Dispatches From IMAG: Print, Data and the Power of Brand Offer Hope to the Indies
Recapping the major themes from MPA's other annual conference.
Optimism reverberated through the Petite Ballroom in Boston’s Taj Hotel last week at the MPA’s 2018 IMAG conference, and it was palpable.
This was my first time attending the MPA’s smaller, more intimate conference. I have been to the organization’s larger, flashier American Magazine Media Conference—which in the past few years has played host to notables like Michelle Obama, Ron Howard and Ronan Farrow—a handful of times. Thus, I can say with confidence, the contrast between the two conferences is significant.
AMMC is jam packed with a veritable who’s who in mass consumer magazine media and a roster of speakers that range from industry notables and media moguls to celebrities and thought leaders—whereas IMAG is a more condensed group of industry folks from “smaller” companies like Trusted Media Brands, Yankee Publishing and Afar.
IMAG’s speaker roster also featured more individuals from within this industry, each with an interesting story to tell, along with a sprinkling of out-of-market folks like Adam Grossman, CMO of the Boston Red Sox and Chris McDonough, chief sales and brand officer at L.L. Bean.
But the most substantial differences I noticed between the two conferences wasn’t really the attendee list, or the sponsors, or the speaker roster; it was the mood and the topics of discussion.
Anybody who’s been following this business for more than a couple years can tell you that 2016 and 2017 were not necessarily good years. To be fair, the woes go back further than that. However, print closures, massive layoffs, major consolidations and countless failed attempts to pivot to video casted an especially dark shadow over this industry recently. But last week at IMAG, you wouldn’t have known any of that to be true.
I had countless conversations with publishers and vendors about how they feel reinvigorated this year and see real potential for growth in the months and years ahead.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. The Atlantic’s CRO and publisher, Hayley Romer, stood on stage and plainly stated, “I see a bright future for magazines!”
And she wasn’t talking about “magazine media,” as we have all become indoctrinated to say. She means actual magazines. You know, those things that most of us built our legacy on. The things printed on paper that feature editorial content along with advertising.
Snarkiness aside, print (and “print innovation”) was perhaps uttered more than any other word over the one-and-a-half days of programming. Whereas at AMMC this year, you probably could have counted the number of times it was said without writing it down.
This group of publishers still very much believe in their print magazines. That’s not to say they don’t believe in digital media. On the contrary, there were plenty of conversations about digital, and even more on data, which was easily the second most popular word at the conference. But many of these publishers still see print as the foundation of their business models, and digital along with data serving as important buttresses to support those models.
Make no mistake, however. This wasn’t merely a bunch of industry folks sitting around wearing rose colored glasses while failing to see the writing on the wall. Even though they are optimistic and still believe in print, they also recognize that times have changed, and so must they.
Which leads me to highlighting the clearest theme at the conference, and one that has become omnipresent in media: the power of brands. Every single speaker had a different story to tell, but they all touched on how success is ultimately underpinned by the quality of their brands. It’s what allows This Old House to reach audiences on several different platforms, or Afar to launch a travel business that takes its readers on adventures from within its magazine or Yankee magazine to launch a nationally syndicated television show.
In other words, there is no template for success. Instead, the key is staying true to who you are while exploring new opportunities that will service your constituents and stake holders, and also increase revenue. This could mean small incremental changes, or completely rethinking everything you do. Ultimately, those decisions will be up to you. But while you are considering them never lose sight of the notion that there’s still hope.