From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: Need Advice—Should I Invest in Brand Extensions?
Date: January 16, 2008, 9:43:12 AM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Mr. Shawn,

I’m the publisher of an 18-month-old bimonthly business magazine targeting young entrepreneurs. I’ve heard a great deal about your experience with creating successful magazine brands, and I was hoping you could help me. My magazine is doing reasonably well. Our total circulation stands at about 40,000, and advertiser response has been positive. Still, sales and advertising revenues are really only covering costs, and there’s not much profit. Given that many magazines don’t survive past five years, I’m starting to worry.

In broad terms, I’m concerned about industry-wide decline in readership and the growth of competition from the Internet and other media. More specifically, though, I worry I’m being overshadowed by competitors—large and small—who are investing in everything from parties and trade shows to websites, television shows and book publishing. These “brand extensions” are giving them an advantage in the marketplace, increasing levels of service to readers, reinforcing their brand identities and, in some cases, creating new revenue streams.

I feel like I need to start doing the same thing. The question is, how? What are the pros and cons of brand extensions? What are the risks? Can a smaller organization like mine afford to go down this path? Can we afford not to?

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,
X

 

From: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Need Advice—Should I Invest in Brand Extensions?
Date: January 18, 2008, 2:15:37 PM EST
To: brand_x@gmail.com

Dear X,

Thanks for your email. And yes, I’d be delighted to help you. You have the right idea—in order for your magazine to thrive in today’s market, it is essential that you look for ways to engage existing and potential readers through brand extensions. As you note, these can be anything from parties and conferences to book publishing and television programming. (York University professor Alan Middleton defines brand extensions as the application of a brand to another activity—this could be a product, an event or another medium.) The point is, whatever you choose to do, brand extensions can help strengthen your position in the market, create a deeper relationship with your readers and, if you’re successful, attract more advertisers and revenue to your magazine. In today’s tough environment for magazine publishing, you almost have to do something.

But your questions are valid. While magazines are especially well-suited to brand extensions, not every type of extension is valid for every type of magazine. Most publishers will tell you that making the right choices depends on a number of factors, including a magazine’s financial status, content, reputation, resources, market and business model.

The most important thing, though, is that brand extensions should fit in with the magazine’s editorial mandate. When they don’t, readers lose interest, or feel disappointed or put off, which will lose you money and weaken your magazine’s image. Your business readers may enjoy cooking, but that doesn’t mean you should launch a recipe-trading website. I was talking to Doug Bennet, publisher of Masthead, the Canadian magazine industry’s trade publication, about this point the other day. He summarized it well: “You could build a machine that’s a microwave, toaster and a pencil sharpener, but just because you can do it doesn’t mean it makes sense to do it.”

When you get it right, however, brand extensions can be very profitable. Al Zikovitz’s Cottage Life is famous for this. He has positioned his brand as Canada’s premier resource for all things related to enjoying the cottage by moving into trade shows, merchandise and books. Those extensions accounted for 65 per cent of his company’s annual profit in 2005. Likewise, Masthead magazine makes one-third of its revenue from its annual Magazines University conference for industry professionals.

More often than not, though, brand extensions only break even or make small profits by themselves. Still, they can be useful. Increasing opportunities for readers to engage more deeply with your editorial concept can help boost readership—even paid circulation—which can make your magazine more attractive to advertisers. You can also create different platforms for advertisers to reach your readers, something that may encourage them to spend more of their ad budget with you.

I must warn you, however, that brand extensions have pitfalls. For starters, they can place a burden on your already overworked staff, affecting the quality of your magazine. If you bring in advertising partners—in your case, a bank might be interested in sponsoring a section of your website on financial management seminars—you might find yourself fighting off efforts to influence your editorial. In some cases, you even risk losing control over editorial decisions for your extension projects (magazine-branded television shows are notorious for this), which is the absolute last thing you want.

But those risks shouldn’t put you off the idea. Just be prepared to put a lot of work and a lot of thought into what you do. There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a brand extension strategy. That is something you’ll have figure out for yourself.

Good luck!

Sincerely,
Brandock

 

From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: But What About My Staff—Can They Handle It?
Date: January 21, 2008, 4:30:07 PM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Brandock,

Thanks for your email. Let me tell you a bit more about where I’m at. I’m looking into starting a trade show aimed at entrepreneurs, or a conference, maybe even an awards program with a gala event. What are good examples of these types of events? My biggest concern is how I can pull something like this off with a staff of six. We’re on a tight budget. I can’t afford to hire outsiders or pay my staff extra to do the required work. Do you have any advice?

Best,
X

 

From: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com
Subject: RE: But What About My Staff—Can They Handle It?
Date: January 23, 2008, 10:22:53 AM EST
To: brand_x@gmail.com

Dear X,
Well, if you want an example of a well-executed magazine-branded consumer show, look no further than whatCottage Life has done. One of the most successful magazine brands in the country, it holds two shows, one in the spring and one in the fall. I checked out its fourth fall show back in November at the International Centre in Mississauga and it was quite a scene. Even though I went down on a weekday, there were more than 4,000 people in attendance. Almost 300 vendors had set up booths, displaying items such as kayaks, wooden floor panelling, heating systems, mousetraps, antique furniture and hot tubs. Experts were on hand to demonstrate tips and tricks for cottage renovations. There was even a pair of huskies at a display called the Great Outdoors Centre. They were very popular with kids. And when visitors got tired, they could go to a separate hall to rest and taste cottage country food and wine.

But putting on a show of this size takes a lot of work. Cottage Life has a five-member team that works on its shows full-time, but magazine staff have to help out, which takes time away from the business of putting the magazine out. I was talking to senior editor Michelle Kelly about this at the November show. She agreed that the shows are “additional work,” but also said, “We see it as a part of our job.”

Kelly’s experience shows just how time-consuming managing extensions can be. For the past four years, she’s been the staff manager for Cottage Life’s shows. For this year’s fall show, she started work on the Thursday, one day before the show opened, running errands starting at 8 a.m. and arriving at the International Centre at noon to unpack and set up. She stayed until late in the evening.

If she hadn’t been at the show, she would have been editing a pair of stories for Cottage Life’s boating issue and working on the story production schedule for upcoming issues. Those tasks had to wait until she returned to the office the next week. Instead, she spent all three days of the show doing everything from setting up the staff room, to organizing the volunteer schedule, to putting up signs, to generally ensuring that things ran smoothly. She carried a walkie-talkie around with her and was always on the go. It looked exhausting. “It would be ideal if I didn’t have to do the show job,” Kelly admitted. “Even though it’s a big magazine, very busy, there isn’t a big staff. We need everyone.”

Cottage Life balances things out by doing a lot of advance planning and compensating its staff with time off for the extra days they put into the shows. But not every magazine can make it work. In 2007, for example,Maisonneuve, an arts and general interest quarterly based in Montreal, had to cancel its “Visual Curiosity” art party, which used to run in conjunction with the magazine’s annual art issue. The event was extremely popular. Even though Maisonneuve is a small magazine, the yearly party would draw up to 2,000 guests and create a lot of buzz, especially in the media. (It could hardly miss: At the second party, in 2005, two people lay naked on a dining table while party-goers ate food off of their bodies!)

But Maisonneuve couldn’t keep up. The parties cost too much and last year the magazine’s small staff was busy organizing other events. One of them was Maisonneuve’s first spelling bee, which then-managing editor Meredith Erickson planned, marketed and executed by working overtime several days a week for two months. She says the experience was exhausting. For someone in her position there was a risk of forgetting the priority, which is to produce a top-quality magazine.

Maisonneuve now struggles with similar issues at its online boutique, which sells the magazine’s merchandise and clothing, along with décor items and jewellery by independent Montreal designers. At its peak between fall 2006 and spring 2007, the boutique made an average of $1,500 to $2,000 a month, but running it took up to 20 hours out of business manager Deborah Brewster’s week—time that could have been spent on more important business issues, such as building circulation. In addition, with limited staff to hunt for new and interesting products and artists, revenues dwindled. Mainsonneuve publisher and editor-in-chief Derek Webster tells me that it’s been scaled down, at least temporarily.

The lesson in all this? Don’t bite off more than you can chew, or your magazine might suffer. As one insider told me: “When everyone is overburdened and stretched just to get the pages of a magazine out, and you have two or three additional projects going on at the same time, it can be a real drain on resources, and that can have the impact of bringing down the quality of everyone—of all the work.” Or as industry expert Lynn Cunningham puts it: a magazine can suffer if its staff is up till midnight hammering nails for an exhibit rather than editing articles.

Best regards,
Brandock

 

From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: But Then How Do I Maintain Editorial Integrity?
Date: February 18, 2008, 1:08:44 PM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Brandock,

Thanks for your insights. They’re coming in handy, as we’ve decided to host a conference—branded by our magazine, of course—and are deep in the organizing stage. (We’ve given ourselves a fairly long lead time to help deal with our small-staff issues.) Overall, things are going well. Some prominent CEOs have agreed to be guest speakers and a number of our advertisers are stepping up to sponsor portions of the event. Unfortunately, some of them are starting to pressure us to mention their involvement in the show (and their products and services) in our magazine as part of the whole package. I’m in a tough spot. I don’t want to upset my advertisers, but I don’t want to compromise editorial integrity by promoting them either. I’ll let you know how this one works out.

Best,
X

 

From: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com
Subject: RE: But Then How Do I Maintain Editorial Integrity?
Date: February 18, 2008, 2:33:24 PM EST
To: brand_x@gmail.com

Dear X,

Please do. This is a really important issue. Resisting pressure from advertisers is always an issue for magazines, but with brand extensions, the problem is amplified as you often have more partners, vendors and sponsors coming into the equation. No matter what else you do, you have to protect your editorial integrity in your extensions. Your readers will know if you start bending to please an advertiser, and they won’t be happy about it.

What’s more, it doesn’t take much to put them off. I was at a show put on by Canadian Home & Country in October and was surprised to see vendors hawking everything from body lotions to African hair clips and British bakery items. I’m still not sure how these items were supposed to reflect Home & Country’s focus on décor. Some of the visitors I spoke to expressed disappointment, saying it felt more like a crafts fair than what they were expecting.

Another important point to remember: don’t let brand extensions drive your editorial. As Cunningham says, you want it the other way around. Otherwise, it can look like your magazine is full of promotions. InMaisonneuve’s art issues, for example, artists exhibiting work at the Visual Curiosity parties were profiled in semi-editorial supplements. In the issue following the first party, two pages covered the party and six pages were devoted to an excerpt from Stephen Marche’s new novel, which was being celebrated at Maisonneuve’s upcoming party. I’m not saying these packages were wrong—readers may have enjoyed them—but they do show how the lines between a magazine and its brand extensions can start to blur.

Ruth Kelly, publisher of Alberta Venture, a provincial business magazine, is a good person to talk to about this. Her magazine organizes several annual awards and rankings, such as Business Person of the Year, the 50 Most Influential People list and, in the past, the eAwards, which recognized Alberta’s best employees. Winners are featured in magazine cover stories and honoured at various events like galas, luncheons and golf tournaments. Kelly says Alberta Venture’s brand extensions and editorial are closely linked, but notes that editorial always comes first. The events followed because they seemed like a good fit with what the magazine was already doing. You want to keep that consistency.

In any event, there are no hard and fast rules for handling these types of situations. Just remember this: your editorial voice is the heart of your brand. If you let your extension programs dilute it, you risk hurting yourself in the long run. Bennet puts it well: “You are the reader’s advocate and your job is to provide editorial that will be useful to the readers. If there’s pressure on you to do something as editor and it doesn’t fit your editorial guidelines or provide a real service, it will look fishy to readers.”

Best regards,
Brandock

 

From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: I’m Trying to Retain Editorial Control
Date: February 22, 2008, 9:10:27 AM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Brandock,
Thanks. I’ve had some meetings over the past couple of days with my key sponsors and we’ve sorted it out. They’ve been insisting on getting editorial coverage in the magazine, so we’ve decided to run a conference “special report” in the issue following the event, with a page thanking the sponsors. That’ll add another job to the task, but we’ll manage. Too bad my sponsors say they won’t buy advertising in the section. Oh well.

Best,
X

 

From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: Conference Over—Success! (Sort Of)
Date: March 10, 2008, 8:57:56 AM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Brandock,

Well, our conference wrapped up over the weekend and I’m pretty pleased. We only broke even—just—but attendance was good. The people who came seemed engaged by the event and we generated some decent buzz and media coverage. As it turns out, one of our subscribers who attended runs a small broadcast production company, and now he’s pitched us the idea of doing a weekly show based around our brand. I’d love to do a show—that would be huge for our profile—but the proposal doesn’t sit right with me. The producer doesn’t seem to understand what we do with the magazine and the ideas and formats he’s talking about have little to do with our focus. It’s all very interesting—at least enough for another couple of meetings—but I’m not sure how good I feel about this.

Best,
X

 

From: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com
Subject: RE: Conference Over—Success! (Sort Of)
Date: March 17, 2008, 9:12:23 AM EST
To: brand_x@gmail.com

Dear X,

When it comes to magazines’ radio or television shows, maintaining control over the content is a huge issue. Some major Canadian magazines experimented with television in the 1990s and the results were mixed. In several cases, the shows misrepresented the magazine’s content entirely as producers and networks dealt with their agendas. It’s not surprising that many magazines abandoned television altogether, or were forced to leave because of disappointing ratings.

One of the prime examples was a Chatelaine program back in the mid-’90s. Rona Maynard, who was editor in those days, recalls Chatelaine & Company as a producer-driven show that was chatty, heavy on arts and crafts and girl talk, and appealed to a different audience than the magazine’s. It only lasted one season. The show’s executive producer, Carolann Reynolds, still defends it. She compares it to the The View, and says it covered serious issues as well as lighter topics. She believes it would have survived if it had more promotion within the magazine. Lee Simpson, Chatelaine’s publisher at the time, argues Chatelaine & Companyreceived plenty of promotion within the magazine, but there were not enough television advertisers to support the show. Maynard’s still unconvinced. She says TV and magazine people inhabit “very different worlds” and don’t speak the same language. “They generally don’t understand us terribly well,” she says, “nor do we understand them.”

Cottage Life Television was a bigger success and ran for 13 years, until 2006. Staff shot the show themselves, and ratings were high. In later years, however, Home & Garden Television, which carried the show, started dictating show content. The network wanted the show to focus on million-dollar cottages and décor, but Cottage Life‘s focus was on smaller cottages and everyday matters such as maintenance, cooking and entertaining. Zikovitz started changing the show to suit the network, but all he did was upset Cottage Lifereaders who complained that the show no longer reflected the magazine. Zikovitz figured he was harming his brand, so he pulled the plug.

The lesson here? Magazines must have 100 per cent control over their brand extensions, no matter what their partners demand—and that’s not just for TV. “It has to reflect the heart and soul of what that company is all about,” says Zikovitz, “and that’s hard to do when you have partners who have another agenda.”

Magazine websites are probably the area where this issue is most prominent right now, as many of the larger titles work with advertising partners to develop content. Chatelaine is doing this with its online Money Mavens club. The club allows registered users to gain access to exclusive articles, newsletters, tips and offers related to money management. State Farm Insurance is the lead sponsor of this site. On top of that, the company gets to see story lists and articles before they’re posted. Lauragaye Jackson, State Farm’s Canadian marketing manager, says the company has some influence over the Money Mavens editorial in terms of making sure it’s valid and appropriate, but the company hasn’t rejected any stories—yet. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the website’s editors and advertising sponsors ever have a serious disagreement over content. Who wins will tell you precisely who’s running that project.

Best regards,
Brandock

 

From: brand_x@gmail.com
Subject: It Was Worth It
Date: April 14, 2008, 10:11:47 AM EST
To: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com

Dear Brandock,

After much debate, we decided to take a shot at television. Unfortunately, our producers had too much control and produced an irrelevant pilot that flopped. Now we’re taking a step back and concentrating on extending our website by hiring a business expert to podcast weekly shows.

I think we’ve found a good balance with our business event and podcasts for now. We’re already attracting more advertisers and readers because of our event, and even though we didn’t make any profit, it was definitely a worthwhile experience.
Thank you so much for your help.

Best,
X

 

From: brandock.stan.shawn@gmail.com
Subject: RE: It Was Worth It
Date: April 16, 2008, 4:02:02 PM EST
To: brand_x@gmail.com

Dear X,
I’m glad you’ve found success. However, let me remind you of the most important point about brand extensions: stay true to your brand. Only do what fits with your editorial mandate.

In addition, remember that your extension is not a marketing opportunity. If you flood your event with your magazine’s merchandise and over-promote it, it gives the impression that you care more about making money than about your readers.

Make sure you understand the market you’re catering to and the market you’re relying on. About eight years ago, Zikovitz lost at least $60,000 after he had to cancel a log cabin show that didn’t generate enough interest from vendors.

Finally, a word about profits: from a business perspective, magazines shouldn’t do brand extensions that won’t contribute to the magazine’s revenue. However, Maisonneuve’s former managing editor Phillip Todd believes that despite the fact it only breaks even or makes a small profit from its extensions, they contribute to the magazine’s popularity.

I’m glad you found the experience worthwhile, X, and I’m sure your editors feel the same way. Michelle Kelly told me meeting readers face-to-face makes it worth it despite the hard work. “No one’s going to tell you that they love working on the weekend,” she says. “But at the same time people realize that there’s a lot of value in it, so we do it. We’re happy to do it.”

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

Best regards,
Brandock