Audience Engagement
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“It’s good for your bottom line”: Why magazine media are focusing on social good

string lights in heart shape

Magazine media have long put energy and resources into efforts that are bigger than their brands, into socially and environmentally responsible events and campaigns. Companies are balancing making a profit with being responsible to the planet and the communities that they operate in.

“We’re living in a time where people are more ‘connected’ than ever, but feeling very, very lonely and disconnected. And when you get people energised about something in their value system, things that they care about, things that have affected them or their family, they’re much more likely to engage and feel connected,” explained Susan McPherson, an angel investor, consultant and expert on corporate social responsibility and social good.

McPherson suggests that companies who engage in activities that benefit the social good see benefits two-fold. First, doing so can help attract the best employees, she said. “I think it’s also about widening their net to bring in a wide variety of employees from unique backgrounds and experiences,” she explained. “If you want to be hiring the best people today, you want to show your commitment to purpose and doing good.”

“Quite frankly, if you reduce your carbon footprint and you turn off the lights and you have less waste, that’s not just good for the environment – it’s good for your bottom line,” McPherson said.

As companies become more interconnected to others around the world, so has corporate social responsibility grown, because one’s bottom line is in relation to everyone else’s bottom line. “We are so much more knowledgeable today about the state of the world because  we’re now so interconnected,” McPherson explained. “Most major US companies and global companies have supply chains that begin in other parts of the world. So, when a disaster hits in those locations, it drastically can affect those workers and adversely impact the company.” 

Fifty or sixty years ago when the US corporations manufactured their own goods, that wasn’t the case, she said. These days, companies have to pay attention to the global markets, to the global economy, to climate change, because all of these have effects on the bottom line, she said. “I think all play into why companies care more about protecting our planet and the 7.7 billion people who live on it,” McPherson said. 

Research examining the impact of CSR suggests that engaging in socially responsible activities while beneficial to society, can also have a positive link to a company’s financial performance, consumer attitudes toward brands, increase brand loyalty, and the potential to strengthen reputations. In a 2015 article in the Journal of Consumer Research marketing professor Alexander Chernev from Northwestern University suggested, “in addition to benefiting society, corporate social responsibility can contribute to the company’s bottom line by improving consumers’ evaluations of the company’s products.”

To see where magazine media are focusing their efforts, FIPP touched base with four titles within Meredith Corportation who are giving back to the wider world in a variety of ways.

Wood magazine

Each year, Meredith’s Wood magazine hosts an annual “Weekend with Wood,”  a three-day educational conference in Des Moines for woodworkers of all skill levels. The event, which started in 2013, draws approximately 300 attendees and is generally a sell-out. Beyond upping skills and experience, the big draw for many is the charity build.

“One of the things we do in the event on Saturday evening after the classes are done is we have this charity build and it’s voluntary on the part of the attendees,” explained editorial content chief Dave Campbell.

For the last three years, the charity build has built wooden urns for the cremated remains of indigent military veterans. This year, the urns were donated to Rock Island, Illinois and Keokuk, Iowa National Cemeteries. In previous years, Wood has donated the urns to  Omaha National Cemetery and to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery.

With the help of generous sponsors to provide the tools and raw materials, Campbell explained that the charity build sets up five assembly lines. Approximately 200 event attendees volunteer to build wooden urns. Volunteers machine, cut, rout, sand, glue and assemble, and nail the urns together. The finishing touch is a laser-engraved medallion noting the branch of service for the veteran. “This year we produced about 120 urns in a little over an hour,” Campbell said. 

The idea for the charity build came from one of Wood’s readers in Florida, Campbell said, who contacted the magazine because of a story he’d seen on the evening news. “It was about a veteran who was homeless, who was going to be buried in a cardboard box because there was no family and no funds to provide him a more dignified burial. “Woodworkers are a very generous sort as a group. This reader took it upon himself to make an urn and donated it to the cemetery.”

The cause struck a note for Campbell. Building for charity offered attendees a chance to be involved in a hands-on way, in an initiative for social good. “We thought it was important,” he explained. “It’s become more and more important as we go. It’s been described by attendees as the centrepiece of the whole weekend.”

“Most of our readers are older men, there are veterans in the group, and they like to make things, to use their skills to create something that makes a difference in someone’s life. You ought to be able to do some good with that.” 

The charity build speaks to the Wood brand. It also creates a ripple effect, as Wood magazine makes the urn plans available for attendees to take back to their local woodworking clubs, as something they can do to spread the volunteering across the country instead of it just being something that happens in Iowa, he said.

The charity event also builds community – 50 per cent of weekend attendees are alumni, readers who’ve come to the weekend before – and engages deeply with the brand’s audience and builds loyalty. Weekend with Wood is one of three events the Meredith title holds each year, one of frequent interactions they have with their passionate audience. “I think that’s something that’s kind of lost in our culture right now. There’s a lot to be said for building your brand and retaining your brand,” Campbell said. “We’ve been the number one woodworking magazine in the country for nearly 35 years since we started. So we must be doing something right on that loyalty score.”

Campbell outlined that it’s important to give back, whatever job we have, he said. “I think we’re all called  to do good. We saw a need and we sought a solution to that need. Business aside, I think that’s what we all should be doing as human beings is answering the needs of people who have needs.

American Patchwork & Quilting

Jody Sanders, group editor of American Patchwork and Quilting at Meredith, explained that her title’s initiative for social good started with their audience. American Patchwork and Quilting launched a one million pillowcase challenge in 2010, where they asked their audience to make a million pillowcases and donate them to a local charity of their choice. 

While the challenge seems daunting, the brand has made significant progress since starting with the current total over 800,000. “We have had four or five 24-hour sew-a-thons here at our corporate headquarters in Des Moines,” Sanders explained, adding that in 24 hours, they can produce around 2,000 pillowcases.

Pillowcases are donated in the central Iowa area, to children’s hospitals, hospice centres, nursing homes, homeless shelters and youth shelters. Pillowcases have been donated to Ronald McDonald houses, to womens shelters, and to victims of natural disasters.

“Hospitals can be very sterile environments and we’ve seen children in serious medical situations who’ve received a pillowcase with a fun, whimsical print, has brightened their day a little bit. It’s a pillow case, but it really can make a difference in somebody’s day.”

Sanders explained that the million pillowcase challenge started as a way to introduce people to simple sewing. “For us, one of the things we were looking to do was to get people interested in sewing.  Sometimes, it can be intimidating,” she said. “So, if you start with something simple like a pillowcase, you honestly can make a pillowcase in about 15 minutes, with about a little over a yard of fabric.” 

The campaign has gotten quilt and sewing shops and groups across the US involved. And, once they reach one million pillowcases, Sanders says the social good is going to continue. “It’s not like they’re going to stop, they’ve found a cause within their local communities that is so important to them, they’ll just continue making pillowcases.”

It’s important for magazine media to be involved in initiatives that give back to the communities they’re in. “It’s been a really fun thing. We had some wonderful stories from different groups that have gotten involved.  It’s just been a really terrific program to be part of,” Sanders said.

For publishers who are interested in getting involved in community and addressing social and global challenges, it’s important to choose issues that matter to employees, audiences and community. “I think the thing is it needs to relate to whatever your magazine niche is,” Sanders said. “We’re a sewing magazine, so the sewing part makes sense, but the key is finding something that’s authentic to whatever your special interest area might be.”

Food & Wine

Food & Wine, which reports the best of what’s new in food and drink, travel and home, design and entertaining, is involved with three charities in the US, according to editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis. Wholesome Wave,  a US nonprofit organisation that helps under served consumers by increasing affordable access to locally and regionally-grown foods, Chefs Cycle, which engages culinary talent to raise funds for No Kid Hungry, involving 275 chefs riding 300 miles in three days, and the Jacques Pépin Foundation, which provides culinary education for economically disadvantaged adults. 

“We’re involved with the charities because when we talk about food and food culture of the country, we can’t talk about restaurants, chefs and wine, without also thinking about community. And food is community,” Lewis explained.

Lewis was involved in Chefs Cycle this year in Santa Rosa, California, which took place in May. “It was an opportunity for us to come together; the editors, our group publisher was also riding, a couple of 2018 best new chefs, and some other folks from the industry, we rode together and raised $5O,OOO for No Kid Hungry.”

This year, Food & Wine is also getting involved with the Jacques Pepin Foundation. “Jacques is a hero in our national food culture, somebody that our audience admires,” Lewis said. “Michel Nischan of Wholesome Wave and Jacques are a part of the Food & Wine family and we wanted to support them.” 

According to Lewis, doing good is good for business. It makes the F&W team feel good about their purpose, he said. “It reminds us that our community is the most important part of what we do,” he said. “In 2019, it’s not enough for a brand in any industry to be thinking solely about shareholders and bottom line, you have to have a higher purpose than that, for your team and team morale, but ultimately for the higher good. It’s just a part of who we are.”

Real Simple

Real Simple has had a partnership with Win NYC, a provider of shelter and services for homeless families in New York City, for more than two years, according to editor-in-chief Leslie Yazel. “My personal relationship with Win NYC goes back further. I met Christine Quinn, former city council speaker and president and CEO of Win NYC, at an event about five years ago and she told me about the group’s mission to provide safe housing for homeless families. I asked, “What can I do to help?” and that’s when I first became involved,” Yazel explained.

When Real Simple launched its idea house last year, Yazel felt strongly that the magazine should use the amplification that comes with a show home to raise awareness for the work that Win NYC does, she said.

“While it’s amazing to decorate and organise a shoppable show home that Real Simple’s affluent readers will relate to, it’s nuts to ignore the fact that New York City has a housing crisis,” Yazel said. “My publisher and the Meredith executive team were hugely supportive when I suggested Win NYC be our partner… We donated all the proceeds of our ticketed Real Simple Home public night, as well as proceeds from the sale of the furnishings of the Real Simple Home.”

Yazel explained that it’s important for magazine media to get involved in efforts that support their communities. Real Simple encourages its fans and readers to get involved in their local communities, and encourages its staff, too. “When it comes to my team, I know how busy they are—but I also know their desire to volunteer and get involved with local charities. I think it is my responsibility as a manager to give them the opportunity to participate (which is always voluntary) and feel the joy and purpose that comes from supporting a great cause.”

By Jessica Patterson  @jesspatterson

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