Social Life is a luxury lifestyle publication based in Manhattan, NYC and Hamptons, Long Island. Angelina Jolie, Naomi Watts, Kim Kardashian, Keira Knightley, Elle Fanning, and Brooke Shields have all graced the cover of the magazine during its 16 years in existence, perhaps not surprising for an aspirational title covering some of the most exclusive real estate in the world, let alone the U.S.
Despite its laser-like geographical focus – and a longstanding list of loyal luxury brand advertisers – Social Life hasn’t been immune to the problems afflicting magazine publishers. But whilst the bi-monthly publication has been hit like everyone else in terms of circulation (down to 45,000 at the last count), the independent publisher has seen overall revenue grow. The secret to its expansion? A renewed focus on its core audience and diversification into new revenue models.
According to Publisher and President Justin Mitchell, essential to the title’s success has been its continued, sharp focus on its main “editorial pillars of luxury, travel, art, real estate, interviews with celebrities, event and charity coverage. People know what to expect from our magazine and look forward to reading the regular columns and features.”
But the real uplift in revenues has been its diversification into new areas, especially sponsored events. According to Mitchell, this has become “more vital than traditional advertising” despite its advertising roster boasting brands of the stature of Porsche, Escada, Laurent Perrier, Hania, and Turks & Caicos Tourism – 80 out the magazine’s 230 pages are given over to glossy ads.
The magazine’s first event was held at St. Barth Hamptons Gala in 2011. Now in its eighth year, the event has been hosted by Christie Brinkley since its inception and is held at the Bridgehampton Historical Museum. It is regarded as the biggest social event in the eastern Hamptons each year, with one thousand guests.
Its Polo Hamptons Match & Event has also become a notable success, attracting more than 600 people last year. Hosted by fashion designer Rachel Zoe, the exclusive event featured a Laurent-Perrier champagne bar and other upmarket add-ons. The polo matches have been so successful that this year there will be double the number of matches.
Other events include Healthy Guru, a wellness-focused event that featured brands such as Soul Cycle, Exhale, and Lululemon. Hosted by Beth Stern (wife of Howard Stern), over 300 guests participated in fitness classes from organizations including Erika Bloom Pilates, Five Pillars Yoga, Run the Hamptons, Bode, Exhale, and Elements Fitness.
Each of the events are created as separate entities with their own social media, following, identity and goals, and sponsorship opportunities. Sponsor packages combine media placements in the magazine and offer a marriage between event sponsorship, print media, and digital media – the brand/advertiser receives blanket-coverage in the Hamptons market.
Mitchell says, “The events provide a venue to entertain clients and supply added value to media schedules by connecting brands with high-net-worth and high-income guests who attend the events. This translates into better ROI for each advertising investment. We have packages that make it easy for brands to reach the Hamptons market.”
The magazine has also debuted a 9,000 square-feet ‘Social Life Estate,’ where celebrities, socialites, and high net-worth guests are able to stay for a weekend and enjoy a secluded retreat interacting with the products and brand advertisers within the magazine, further connecting its high net worth audience with relevant brands.
But he sounds a word of warning to other publishers hoping to diversify into events, “In the beginning, you learn things that you would change or do differently. No one can teach you this, you have to live through it,” adding, “You have to use reliable suppliers as they are the backbone to any successful event, and definitely don’t cut any corners.”
And if it rains? “You have to have a crisis management plan ready for uncontrollable situations. This includes the weather – you need to plan on it raining and how the weather could change your event if it’s an outdoor event.“
In short, publishers have to prepare for every eventuality and it’s the task of the organizer to mitigate as best they can against every unexpected eventuality, “It is imperative that you have a capable production team who can help across all facets of the event preparation and set up. This includes the vendors and suppliers – we only hire vendors who come with their entire team and are fully engaged with each event.”
But get events right and the benefits are clear – a new revenue stream that deepens engagement with both a magazine’s audience and the brands that want to reach them. The key is in their execution, relevance and, not least, attractiveness to third-party sponsors and advertisers.