Why Hoffman Media Is Doubling Down on Print

By: Greg Dool


Print is anything but dead at Hoffman Media.

The Birmingham, Alabama-based publisher of 11 Southern-focused special interest magazines—several of which boast nationwide print audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands—has distinguished itself as something of an anomaly in the current landscape by continuing to stake its bets on reader-driven print revenue.

The company says it hit a record high in newsstand sales last year (as of the most recent MagNet report, from Q1 of 2017, Hoffman was the only top-15 publisher to see a year-over-year increase in either retail units sold or newsstand revenue). It says its magazine business grown steadily since its founding in 1983, and it’s difficult to argue the point; in the last three years alone, Hoffman has bolstered its portfolio by launching four additional regular frequency titles, with a fifth planned for 2018.

Moreover, the company is kicking off the year by investing further in two of its flagship titles: Southern Lady, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and Taste of the South—increasing both magazines’ trim sizes to 9 inches-wide and adding 16 pages to Taste of the South (Southern Lady saw its page count increased a year ago).

For Brian Hart Hoffman, president and chief creative officer and son of company founder Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, it’s about offering a quality product to readers, first and foremost.

“We really value the relationship we have with our readers, and they demand and command the quality that we put into each of our publications, whether it be through our photography, the quality of our recipes, the extent of our travel coverage,” Hoffman tells Folio:. “They told us they wanted more. It’s a wonderful problem to have readers that love what you’re doing so much that they want to see more of it.”

Folio: sat down with Hoffman to learn more about what’s allowed the company to remain bullish on print, and where the medium is headed in the future.

Folio: A big part of Taste of the South‘s refresh is increasing the magazine’s travel coverage. Why?

Brian Hart Hoffman: We’ve entered into a period of time where the hunger for culinary travel is really strong, so we knew that by adding pages we could double down on our commitment to that. Social media is such a lens into our readers’ daily lives and what they love and want more of. We constantly get messages from readers saying, “I’m traveling to Atlanta; give me the top five places to eat.”

Taste of the South is read nationally. The readers are Southern by interest, Southern by heart. They want to travel and explore the South, and food is something that they think about in that planning.

Folio: What are some ways you take a regionally-focused title and appeal to readers in new markets?

Hoffman: Newsstand placements, absolutely; making we’re sitting front-and-center in key markets where we’ve seen a lot of success. But social media is a big vehicle through which people learn about us. We work with a lot of influencers now who are in the Southern food and lifestyle space. They love being in print and we love seeing our products in blogs and on social media.

Folio: How has social media impacted the decisions you make when it comes to designing a print magazine?

Hoffman: Readers love to take photos of what they’re reading. We see a lot of social media engagement when subscribers receive their copies of the magazine in the mail. They love to style their own images with coffee or muffins or something they’ve made from the magazine. They have it sitting on the counter and they want people to know that they’re spending their Saturday reading Taste of the South and baking something in their kitchen, or that Southern Lady is accompanying them on a road trip or an airplane.

People love to engage with the brand digitally, but show that they’re also reading a print product.

Folio: Do you think your magazines lend themselves particularly well to that idea, because they do tend to skew toward those thicker, coffee-table type of books? 

Hoffman: I think so. Our quality is absolutely something we want people to engage with, and they do. It’s not uncommon for us to hear from our audience that the paper is so nice, the photos are so pretty. We get photos from readers of the stack of magazines on their bookshelf because they can’t come to part with them.

We’re moving in the direction of higher quality, nicer paper, wider format. We’re not looking to cut back to the point where readers would start to feel like it’s a disposable product.

Folio: Does appealing to new readers on the newsstand ever come at odds with maintaining that level of quality for your regular subscribers?

Hoffman: We absolutely value the balance. Some of our magazines have much higher cover prices than a typical publisher might set; we have some titles at $12.99. Southern Lady is $7.99. Taste of the South is $5.99. When someone sees that price on the newsstand, the quality has to match that ask. They have to see it when they turn the pages; they know right then that they aren’t buying something that doesn’t provide value back to them.

It’s the same with our subscribers. We don’t offer $5 subscriptions and undervalue the quality of what people receive in the mail. They pay a price that’s indicative of the product they’re going to receive.

Folio: What about when it comes to advertising? What considerations do you make when trying to maintain that quality for the reader?

Hoffman: We limit some of our publications to a 70-30 edit-to-ad ratio. So you’ll definitely see more editorial in all of our publications. The higher the price goes, the more limited those advertising opportunities are. We are looking for quality advertising partners. We’re not chasing rate bases and doing things to keep the audience size at a certain level.

When someone chooses to advertise with Hoffman Media, they are getting a file of qualified and paid customers, so they are getting an active and engaged audience. That’s what we deliver to them—that relationship. And their ad is going to be visible. It’s not going to be buried.

Folio: Has it become a tougher sell as advertising budgets have moved towards digital media?

Hoffman: We’re absolutely still seeing demand. Our advertising revenue has grown each year for the last three or four years. It’s all in the relationship and the package we bring to that partner.

Sure, it now involves digital elements and engagement with our audience through social media or our newsletters. But they absolutely still see the value of being in the print product.

Folio: That’s contrary somewhat to what we’re seeing more broadly in the marketplace, where a lot of publishers have had to move away from print toward other revenue sources. What has Hoffman done differently?

Hoffman: I don’t have the crystal ball to speak to other publishers’ strategies, but I can speak to ours, and it’s delivering more of what people tell us they want. I know that sounds simple, but we enjoy a really great relationship with our core audiences, and they’re very vocal.

As an example, I am an avid baker. I had been producing content for a number of years that had baking elements for Taste of the South and other publications; we would do special editions geared toward baking that were very successful. The light bulb went off when we asked, “Why is there not a baking publication?”

We introduced the Bake from Scratch brand because we knew there was an audience there. After successfully testing it, we launched what became one of the hottest launches of the year.

Folio: What are some of the ways you identify or test which markets might be right for a new product?

Hoffman: If you look at some of our brands like Southern Lady or The Cottage Journal or Southern Home, we often test “sister content,” that feels a part of the brand, but may be kicking the wall out into a new sector. We conduct newsstand tests for subject matter, for branding, for various things. When we see really strong success, we have internal conversations about how to do more of that and whether it’s worthy of expanding to its own brand platform.

Folio: More broadly, what kind of trends are you paying attention to? Where do you see print magazines heading?

Hoffman: I would say it’s trending toward quality. The audience that we see engaging on the newsstand and in subscriber publications is for higher quality products, and they don’t mind the price. Obviously, everything has a price threshold.

I’m often asked about Classic Sewing and its $25 cover price. But when you look at that niche and that product and see the value that’s contained within that polybag, it’s not just a publication. They can immediately look at that package and see that the $25 price is providing way more value to them than that monetary amount.

You will see more and more of that from us. I have said before, you will never see Hoffman Media launch another publication at $4.99 or less. I guess I should never say never, but we are definitely seeing the numbers and the trends indicate that the higher quality and higher price is working.

5 Ways Publishers Can Hyper-Target Print Like Digital Marketers

By: D. Eadward Tree


Marketers’ disgust with online ad fraud has created an opening for our industry, but we’re not ready to take advantage of it. Our out-of-date, out-of-synch approaches to magazine advertising proposals are holding us back from taking advantage of this new opportunity.

Judging from my interactions with advertising sales reps, they’re seeing fewer digital-only RFPs these days and more media-agnostic ones. Marketers who were in the “print is dead” camp now seem intrigued with the ability of print to engage their most valuable prospects. But simply buying ad pages in general-interest magazines is not their idea of effective targeting.

In this environment, niche titles are holding up best because their readership provides a natural target for certain advertisers: An archery magazine is obviously a great place for a bow manufacturer to place its ads. (Still, that manufacturer may be shifting more of its dollars to a programmatic campaign targeted to people who have shopped online for crossbows in the last two weeks.)

These days, our magazines are mostly represented by two types of ad reps, neither of whom is equipped to do the job: 1) Print-only veterans who are out of touch with marketers’ ability to identify their prospects -- and the kind of money they’re willing to spend to reach those prospects. Their idea of targeted advertising doesn’t extend beyond old-school demographic sections, such as women’s or affluent editions. 2) Multimedia reps, who are typically hired for their digital chops and have little, if any, print experience.

Here are five scenarios that illustrate what can happen when we take a millennial’s grasp of hyper-targeting, blend it with an old print dinosaur’s tricks, and add a pinch of imagination:

Challenge #1: The audience for your parenting magazine is too broad for a prospective advertiser that’s mostly interested in affluent parents of teens.

Solution: Place sponsored cover wraps on copies mailed to orthodontists’ waiting rooms. Parents with time on their hands will pick up your magazine because it’s relevant to them, and the sponsor will have plenty of space and attention to make its pitch.

Challenge #2: Exhibit sponsors complain that they’re not meeting enough good prospects at your show.

Solution: Customize the exhibit copies or show guides for pre-registered attendees, enabling your exhibitors to include messages that are targeted to people based on job title, employer, or the break-out sessions they have selected. It could be as simple as inkjetted messages on the cover. Or as complex as using variable data with digital printing to produce individualized versions of the conference schedule. Instead of just “1 p.m.: Exhibit floor opens,” a participant might also see, “Jane, stop by the Acme Rocket booth before 4:30 to pick up your free iPad!” and an invitation to a sponsored roundtable discussion to which only purchasing directors are invited.

Challenge #3: A grill manufacturer is intrigued by your foodie magazine but focuses its advertising on people who are “in market” for a grill.

Solution: Use repurposed content from your magazine to create a downloadable “How To Buy a Grill” guide, with plenty of room for the sponsor to tell its story and perhaps to offer embedded videos. Promote it in the magazine, in the midst of grilling recipes on your web site, via social media, etc. (Whoever said “magazine” advertising has to be about print?) Besides the sponsorship revenue, you might pick up some valuable email addresses and first-party data.

Challenge #4: The grill manufacturer isn’t re-upping the how-to guide campaign because it’s shifting more money to point-of-purchase marketing.

Solution: Create a retailers’ toolbox that is sent to stores selling the clients’ grills. Include printed copies of the how-to guide. Three-hole punch a few of the copies and place them in binders, along with extra information and resources for store employees. Throw in some magazine-branded laminated tip sheets, illustrated with photos of your clients’ grills. Include hang tags that highlight awards or favorable reviews your editors have given to any of the clients’ grills.

Your client probably knows better than you what will work and may be in a better position to execute as well. Fine: Just license your content to the client or sell it copies of your how-to guide.

Challenge #5: Several clients are reducing ads in your regional magazine to put more money into reaching new residents. “Your readers are ‘from-heres;’ we need to talk to the ‘come-heres,’” one advertiser tells you.

Solution: Create an evergreen welcome-to-town guide with repurposed content from the magazine, along with ads targeted to new residents. (Plus a subscription offer and a promotion for your web site, of course.) A lead sponsor could get a back-cover ad that is digitally printed, providing a map from the recipient’s house to the sponsor’s nearest retail location.

You can buy new-movers lists that are derived from month-old change-of-address data. Or work a deal with the local electric or water utility and you could get the copies delivered shortly after people move in.

We're Still Here: Media Buyers Keep the Print Faith

By: Steve Smith


The magazine industry collectives may not want us to count ad pages anymore (or even ask about them), but surely they’re still here. For the last decade, print ad budgets seemed like an unlocked vault from which digital budgets could steal.

As we’ve covered every new digital channel—social, video, mobile and even rich media (remember that?), we routinely asked media buyers where they expected to reallocate funds from their zero-sum budgets. Depressingly, “print” was the first and almost gleeful reply from a new digerati who saw bloated page rates as the soft underbelly of ad budgets.

Alas, they were right.

Regardless, advertisers and agencies do retain faith in print as a medium—and especially in the print media brands that have built sometimes generations of trust with their readers that go beyond the page. We asked a couple buyers why they’re still here. In other words, why do they still believe in magazines?

Beyond Scale

“There are certain categories where print investment is still quite strong and delivering great programs and results for our clients,” Ginger Taylor White, EVP, Managing Director, Publishing Investment at Amplifi tells Folio:. “Specifically, CPG, food, pharma and auto brands continue to spend in print and are gaining positive ROIs.”

“We don’t consider print to be a reach play—we view it as an ideal opportunity to engage in contextually relevant content,” says Vanessa Watts, EVP of Media at Laughlin Constable. “For our clients, it’s all about context. “One of our healthcare clients is always involved in a local Chicago magazine ‘Top Doctors’ issue. For a different client, who is focused on brides and grooms, bridal magazines are essential to reach this consumer.”

Similarly, White is encouraged by publishers who are launching new titles like The Pioneer Woman and The Magnolia Journalthat are designed to reach audiences across channels. Each have shown that a new media brand can take root on non-print media like a blog or TV series and create new experiences in print.

The Analog Indulgence

In fact, it’s that longing for a less cluttered and more focused alternative to fragmented media that could be print’s best friend. In some sense, White indicates that magazines themselves and their reading experience are the counterpoint or cure for digital.

“Magazines are still that lean back, tangible indulgence,” she says. “For some it is aspirational and for others it is that time to take a deep dive into something they are passionate about. Regardless of what a magazine means to a reader, it’s time that a person takes for themselves.”

And it’s in that special mode of consumption that media buyers are still able to find a quality other media don’t quite provide. It all comes down to engagement, Watts says. “Readers are passionate about the magazine brands they choose to spend time with. Whether in print or digital formats—or even experiential opportunities— that passion comes through and brands can capitalize on having an engaged consumer to message to.”

And yet, the reality is that digital has changed expectations in all media. Print is being held accountable for its impact in an environment that calls a two-second impression of half of a banner ad’s pixels “viewable.” White says that measuring print is now all over the maps. “This is really on a client-by-client basis. Some clients rely on ROI to determine the impact of print, while others rely on MRI reach numbers and Starch data. For some clients we build out programs with specific KPIs and pre-and post-attitudinal studies to gauge success.”

Watts adds that this is one place where digital presence is most helpful to print. “With publishers providing more digital solutions—measurement becomes easier and more robust than say—typical Starch reporting. Obviously traditional methods of media mix modeling also help compare the impact of print with other channels.”

Exporting Trust Beyond the Page

It almost goes without saying now that the key to print media’s survival is not relying on print; or at least not on print alone.

“Diversification is key,” says Watts. “Publishers have to think beyond the page and offer opportunities to engage with readers digitally and in person. Think content, video and in person experiences. Consumers want to engage with brands beyond the glossy magazine. Publishers need to develop innovative solutions to do this and bring brands along for the ride.”

And it’s not just about being everywhere but, for advertisers at least, being a trusted companion on the consumer’s journey. “It isn’t about buying pages, but rather using the brand to speak to the consumer throughout the purchase funnel/behavioral journey,” says White.

And while diversification is critical, this common publishing strategy now more than ever requires editorial discipline applied from the top down.

“Publishers need to remember that they are still selling a brand that consumers trust,” She says. “They need to sell the value of aligning with their powerful brand and how they are able to engage with the consumer. Continue to look at the holistic brand and make sure you are talking to the consumers in a consistent editorial voice across all touchpoints.”

Author: Steve Smith

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