Media & Content Marketing Association
Reporting on this event provided by: Greg Wolfe, MCMA Board Member
The MCMA held another zoom “Candid Conversation” event on Friday 4/24. Noted magazine expert and publisher of Heard on the Web media newsletter, Bo Sacks, joined as a special guest and Matt Steinmetz from Adweek was our moderator.
We had a lively discussion over zoom about many topics facing the magazine industry, with attendees from consumer and business publishing, and also vendors that serve the industry as well.
In his introduction, Bo said he thought that the problem for publishers is the commodification of content. Media was once a “luxury item,” he said and will need to be again for us to be sustainable as an industry. “Trust and brand recognition would be media’s life preserver amid the rising tide of fake news and shifting consumption habits.”
He said that “we are in the solution business” and challenged the attendees to think about what the solution is that their publication provides. “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole, “he said.
Bo was nonetheless very optimistic about publishing and said he thought we were entering the “next golden age of publishing,” with vast opportunities for success with both digital and print publications.
In terms of magazine categories doing well, Bo said home and decorating, and food titles were overperforming. He also mentioned that the association magazine from AARP is the largest circulation magazine in the U.S, serving the senior and elderly community, and that was a strong category.
There was some discussion on podcasts and Bo said he was a big proponent. He thought that there was a serious revenue play from sponsors.
One attendee raised the subject of third-party cookies going away and what the impact would be on publishers. Bo thought it would make publisher’s first-party data very valuable but said the thing about “big data” is that you can have a huge amount but if you don’t know how to analyze it properly and make it actionable it’s useless. He also said that there is so much fraud in programmatic advertising, and if that comes more to light, the first-party data will empower publishers more than ever.
In terms of print, Bo remarked that print is now a “luxury item” and that low-quality print is a non-starter in this day and age. He advised that the future for success in print was very high-quality and very expensive.
On the subject of remote vs. in-person offices in publishing, he felt that remote working would be a major factor in the future and would continue post-pandemic, but that creativity blossomed in a face-to-face environment and would still be needed and valuable. He threw out a projection of maybe 20% in-person and 80% remote. Other participants felt that face to face was important for relationship building and collaboration across the work teams.
Another attendee, a long-time b2b publishing executive, shared that another benefit of remote working was how it opened the pool of potential employees much more broadly and allowed businesses to hire the best person regardless of geographic location.
There was a lively discussion about trends in the event side of the business. In response to a question, Bo commented that the publisher’s content was at the core but there were an unlimited number of ways to provide other products and services to their customers, such as events, and highlighted the wine clubs that have been successful for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Bo was bullish on the membership model approach with many spokes coming off the wheel.
Bo thought that virtual conferences were “not as thrilling” as live and that the opportunity to make a new friend was one of the important benefits of live events that you don’t get from virtual. Bo thinks it is going to be a slow transition back to live events, though. There will be questions of trust and sorting out how vaccination requirements play into it.
Lisa Pistilli, from Lester and President of MCMA felt there was also a question of how fast conference travel budgets and sponsor budgets would come back as well.
Matt Steinmetz from Adweek, who was moderating the event, mentioned that he could get many more people to attend a virtual event than a live event, and they have been successful from a financial standpoint with virtual events this past year. Bo agreed that publishers had figured out how to make virtual events work and they would also be here to stay, even after it was safe to go back to live events.
There was a thought, among those online, that a benefit was that businesses were inclined to send more people to virtual or hybrid events due to the lower cost of attending virtually.
One vendor spoke from their perspective after having attended virtual conferences this past year and felt the value for her company was considerably less, from a sales standpoint. She mentioned that some of the upcoming hybrid conferences she is considering sponsoring are making guarantees of in-person attendance numbers, and she is planning to attend some events in second half of 2021.
In talking about virtual conferences, a theme was that the most successful events this past year didn’t try to replicate an in-person experience, but rather built a new experience that would bring value to the attendees and sponsors in a new way. The comparison to Amazon, that didn’t replicate the experience of a bricks and mortar store online but created a new online shopping experience that was different but satisfying.
When asked about what industry conference he was most looking forward to, Bo said it was Samir’s ACT events at the University of Mississippi, where Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni is a professor of journalism. “Samir puts together 40 high-tier publishing professionals all giving their best insights not only to the other professionals but more importantly to the J-students. There is no more intimate conference in the business.”
He noted that at the end of the conference beside Bo doing a wrap-up keynote, they then go to Morgan Freeman’s Blues club called Ground Zero “and that’s worth everything!”
I think we’re all looking forward to the day, hopefully soon, when we will be back together in person. Morgan Freeman’s blues club in Mississippi sounds like a great way to kick that off.
by Greg Wolfe
This commentary originally appeared on Bo Sacks daily newsletter and is re-published with kind permission. You can subscribe to Bo’s e-newsletter here.