With A Strong Brand, A Magazine Can Be Anything

By Bob Sacks on September 01, 2015
Active Interest Media serves as role model for extending magazine brands and businesses.

As we all know, the magazine industry is transforming from a print-focused concept to a broader, more media-diverse, "branded" approach to content distribution. In the new approach there are many extensions of the branded experience that lead to revenue success, and in many cases better, broader, and more stable empires than in the past. Active Interest Media (AIM) is a perfect example of brand extensions and off-the-page thinking.

AIM has five distinct publishing groups and publishes some of the country's leading consumer enthusiast magazines, such as Yoga Journal,BackpackerVegetarian TimesYachts InternationalBlack BeltAmerican CowboyPractical HorsemanLog Home Living, and many more. I think the key phrase here is "consumer enthusiast" magazines. Look at the diversity of this publishing house and the broad reach they have. No single-topic concentration in this publisher's large enterprise, but rather five main categories each with a broad range of brands that satisfy passionate readers and their very particular interests.

A few months ago I had a conversation with AIM's president and CEO Andrew Clurman. Andy said, "Today's operative words at AIM are diversification and proliferation. We are continually finding seams within the verticals we're in of unfilled audience interests and needs."

What Andy is saying here and what all publishers large or small must be considering is the revenue extension possibilities of your readers/consumer's passions.

In our conversation Andy went on to say, "With more ways than ever before at our disposal to serve those interests in the form of print, multimedia, live events, education, and services, the opportunities seem limitless."

Unlimited, indeed! AIM takes the traditional product of a branded magazine and builds other real businesses in areas that may at first seem unfamiliar or unconnected to AIM's publishing universe. I think one of my favorite examples of this brand extension focus and ability is the insurance that AIM sells to members/readers of their horse titles. If you travel with a horse in a trailer, they will sell you insurance, so if you and your horse have road problems, they will come with a new trailer and pick you both up. What other publishing house is selling products that far afield? None that I am aware of.

Sure, it takes a certain amount risk and commitment to redefine the possible reaches of fully broadening a brand's potential, but the results in many cases are overwhelmingly positive.

In AIM's case they redefine a magazine publishing house as film producer, email marketer, digital merchandiser, community leader, insurance salesmen, adjunct professor, tow truck driver, audience developer, revenue arbitrager, and dock worker. These are just a few of the hundreds of new job descriptions that AIM has developed and which didn't exist in the company when it started 10 years ago. That, my friends, is pretty impressive brand redevelopment and a role model for every publishing house.

I am often asked what magazine media companies are headed in the right direction. Well, AIM is, and I usually suggest that the questioners follow AIM's model as best as they can.

Enthusiast magazines have always attracted the passionate and focused reader. Magazines have been for a hundred years the place to go to for thoughtful insights into the public's desire for more: more information, more humor, more personal goal fulfilment, more of everything that makes life worth living. But where we used to provide useful information in only a print format, we now operate under a broader vision by providing valuable services as well as insights to the members/readers of our brands in countless ways.

How does AIM accomplish that goal? Well, as Andy pointed out to me, "AIM's strategy is to buy leading legacy media brands that can be maintained while growing events, digital, and services. To do this we need to have the subject matter experts on all these fronts. The best and brightest print, digital, events, and service people that are knowledgeable in and committed to our categories is the most important requirement of success."

So, in these times of revenue-challenged media enterprises, we all need to start asking new questions. It's not what the brand once did for you, but rather what can you do with the brand. By that I mean publishing has by necessity grown bigger in a digital age than just maintaining a traditional magazine brand. For sustainable success we must consider all the many extra things a properly functioning and extended brand can deliver. With savvy forethought we can all aim higher and broader and find revenue streams that didn't exist before. 

By Bob Sacks| September 01, 2015

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Bob Sacks

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