Sensing a Void in the Marketplace, NewBeauty Readies to Seize an Opportunity
Agnes Chapski on her plans for lifting "the beauty authority" to new heights, and why print is anything but dead at Sandow.
Over an eight-year run as publisher and chief revenue officer at Allure, Agnes Chapski made a name for herself by growing the brand from a mass-market beauty magazine to a diversified business, replete with a multi-million dollar portfolio of ancillary revenue lines and brand extensions that generate Condé Nast millions in revenue each year. But success (and accolades) aside, she readily admits that a considerably smaller title had always occupied a secret place of envy: NewBeauty, the weighty quarterly digest of all things beauty launched by Adam Sandow in 2005.
“When NewBeauty first came out, it hit something that no one else was doing,” Chapski tells Folio:. “Every time Adam started a new business line, like the TestTube subscription boxes, we said to ourselves, ‘Wow, that is the smartest thing ever.’ This was way before Birchbox existed. No one was doing that kind of stuff in the publishing space.”
It was partially Sandow’s own spirit of entrepreneurship that Chapski says drew her to her latest gig this past September: president of NewBeauty and Beauty Engine, Sandow’s newly formed marketing services shop.
In the new job at a new company, Chapski is tasked with further expanding NewBeauty beyond its near-ubiquity on newsstands across the country, building on the brand’s 13-year foundation and creating new revenue streams in print, online, and beyond.
Folio: sat down with Chapski to learn a little bit more about her plans for the brand going forward and the nuances that come with running a mass-market magazine in 2018.
Folio: Your mandate when you arrived was to grow the business. Would you say your main priority in that mission is creating new business lines?
Agnes Chapski: That’s one thing. Brands need to evolve and I really feel this brand has an amazing foundation that needs to be lifted up. It needs more visibility and it needs to be elevated. We want to reimagine what everything around NewBeauty is, from the magazine and our digital platforms, to our sampling business and our awards and credentialing. We are the beauty authority—that’s our tagline—and we need to own that in a way that is legitimate and authentic, making sure that everything we do is done through that lens.
The other thing is that NewBeauty fills a void that’s currently being ignored. There’s so much emphasis on chasing Gen-Z and Millennials. There is a mass segment of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers and women in their 30s or 40s or 50s that is completely being ignored from a media perspective. NewBeauty speaks to that consumer, so we see a phenomenal opportunity, particularly since these women are the ones who have the money to spend.
So filling that space in a meaningful way is really important to us, and that’s one of the main reasons we brought on [former Elle beauty director] Emily Dougherty, our new editor-in-chief. She lives and breathes beauty like no one I’ve ever come in contact with. We know our women are affluent and sophisticated and inquisitive, so we want to make sure that we represent that.
Folio: What do you mean by creating better visibility for the brand?
Chapski: It has been a smaller brand, and we think there’s huge potential to grow our audience but stay very core to who we are. A really important part of that visibility, and also our credibility, is our awards. In our May issue, we’ve unveiled all of our award-winning products. There are over 140 of them, and the awards are very much a reflection of NewBeauty. We’re elevating and sophisticating that brand and all of the assets around it, so the feel of it has been redesigned and we’re doing a lot to push that out and raise consumer awareness.
We want consumers to discover new products, but they have to have efficacy and solve a woman’s problem. We’ve vetted these products, and we have a very different way that we go out to market with our credentialing. There has to be authenticity to it.
Folio: You mentioned this segment of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who are being ignored by marketers. Why do you think that void exists?
Chapski: It’s a complicated question. I do think a lot of marketers are confused and that they get caught up chasing things. As a brand, you always have to be adding new consumers, but you also have to be really focused on protecting your core consumer.
Folio: To that point, if you look at the newsstand, a lot of mass-market magazines are getting thinner, particularly those in the beauty and women’s lifestyle space.
Chapski: And not just thinner, look at their trim sizes. It’s alarming. And they’re cutting back issues. We’ve always been a quarterly, and we are robust. We charge our consumer $10 to buy us, and she expects a robust experience if she’s spending that kind of money. The circulation departments at Sandow make money. If you’re a marketer, don’t you want to know that the consumer sees value in a media brand?
Print is not dead. Marketers abandoned print, not consumers. If you look at the successful print brands that are out there, they’re very focused on passion points. Travel is doing very well. Food is doing well. And those brands are charging the consumer for it.
Folio: Has that quality over quantity approach enabled NewBeauty to resist the challenges we’re seeing in the marketplace?
Chapski: I do think that’s part of it. It’s about how you make your money. We’re not beholden to having to charge a dollar an issue just so we can capture ad dollars. Of course I want advertising. I think these brands do very well when they come and advertise with NewBeauty, but we aren’t beholden to just advertising.
I think what makes us healthier and more resistant to fluctuations that occur in the marketplace is the fact that we’ve diversified. Even online, we just hit an all-time high in January of 1.1 million uniques. That’s pretty big for a niche brand. We have lots of plans to grow that too, but we have to stay true to our mission and our consumer. We don’t invest in tons of SEO or anything like that; these people are coming to us organically.
Folio: What can you tell us about Beauty Engine?
Chapski: That’s another big part of this. In very simple terms, it’s going to be a full-service beauty solutions company. We’ve got all of these different ways we can help the brands and partners we work with to amplify their businesses. We will be able to help brands in a really new and different way from just coming and advertising with us.
Folio: You’ve said that brands need true solution partners, rather than just media partners. Was that the idea behind setting this up as its own sort of company, rather than doing these types of things at the brand level?
Chapski: It’s a matter of taking the things that we already do and blowing them out in a bigger way with a singular focus. We have different partners for [product-focused SIP] Beauty Report than we do for NewBeauty. Some are the same. Some intersect with just TestTube. We want to have options for all of our partners.
We can help someone like a Procter & Gamble, but we can also speak to an indie brand that’s maybe only two years old. We don’t want to just speak to one segmentation of the beauty market.
Folio: What about the TestTube subscription boxes?
Chapski: We’re doing a full redesign of the TestTube, in that same vein of elevating it. It’s interesting because other models of these subscription boxes have all very much been beholden to building scale in order to make them profitable, and they become sort of homogenized, and I think it compromises the offerings.
Our box is meant to be a quality experience; we only take luxury or full-sized products, and the consumer pays a hefty price. It’s $29.99 per Tube, for a six-times-a-year subscription, whereas elsewhere in the marketplace you’ll typically see $10 or $15. We think there’s a different kind of space that’s being missed and we’re filling that void.
Folio: Going forward, is it a priority to drive more revenue directly from consumers?
Chapski: It’s about diversification, but it does feel good to have a healthy circulation and to put a product out there that people are paying for. We do really well on the newsstand, especially with retailers like Hudson News and Barnes & Noble. So I think there are a lot of clever and different things we can do there. There’s more to come on that.
Folio: NewBeauty has always partially differentiated itself through its coverage of cosmetic procedures in addition to traditional beauty. Is that something you intend to lean into further?
Chapski: I wouldn’t say lean into so much as making sure it’s as credible as possible. If you think about beauty, those two worlds have historically been very compartmentalized. You had consumers who were heavily engaged in the cosmetic enhancement world, and then you had the more traditional beauty person who thinks of makeup and fragrance.
Those two worlds have collided. It’s all one space now. As Emily evolves the brand, I think that’s one more thing you’re going to see. Beauty is a holistic experience for women and it shouldn’t feel shameful or diminishing. There’s an empowerment and confidence piece that plays into all of that. So it’s important to us to be able to tell women about what’s going on there.
Folio: What broader trends are you paying attention to in the beauty space moving forward?
Chapski: We want to be ahead of all of it. If a woman is turning to us to understand things, they expect to see it here. Discovery is a very big piece of what we are, no matter what we’re covering. It’s trends and styles, but it’s also health. We cover it from the full spectrum. We educate our consumers so they can make informed choices about their lifestyles and their beauty.
A lot of magazines are veering away from that. They’re consolidating their expertise into homogenized departments. That’s what’s happening around us, but that’s not what’s happening here. It’s a great place to be.