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Itís a Perfect Storm but Donít Jump Ship Part II - 10/19/2010 -

In the second installment of this two-part series, we take a look at advertising challenges related to reducing a publicationís frequency.


By James G. Elliott


(Editorís note: Part One of this article discussed challenges related to selling advertising when an association moves from print to digital-only editions.Association Media & Publishing continues to welcome your responses to Part II of this guest commentary. A blog post on blurb is the appropriate place to respond. We look forward to a lively discussion on the topic of reducing publishing costs by reducing frequency.)


Many association magazines have been examining expenses, often triggered by a decline in ad revenue. And lately, it seems the two most common cost-reduction strategies are: (1) reducing print runs by converting print subscribers to a digital-only version of the publication and (2) reducing publication frequency, which basically means printing fewer issues per year. In part two of this article, letís consider some things to think about before deciding whether or not reducing your publicationís frequency is a smart move for you.


Quarterlies Cost More

Selling bimonthlies is already hard enough, and experienced ad sales professionals can share a whole set of reasons for not going from 12 to 6 issues per year. Lately, some bimonthly publishers are looking at dropping to four times a year.


However, a quarterly frequency will cause a larger gap between expenses and advertising revenues than a bi-monthly or monthly schedule. And, the gap will grow depending on whether the publisher chooses a 52-page magazine or a 64-page magazine. Simply put, it costs more to produce four ad-supported quarterlies than 6 ad-supported bimonthlies. Hereís why.


When frequency is reduced to a quarterly level, in addition to the immediate drop of 33 percent in revenue because of the lost issues, the magazine compounds its loss of ad revenue because of four new realities:


1.     Lessened impact of the message. Many advertising campaigns rely on frequency to communicate special offers, product details, or other information that is more than just brand awareness. Furthermore, advertisers rely on frequency to help drive home their intended message. A quarterly reduces the ability to deliver advertisers the frequency they need to meet the goals for their campaign.


2.     Wrong time frame for the ad campaign. Many advertisers are not year-round advertisers, but rather, gear up for three to six months of an advertising campaign. Often, they place three consecutive insertions to reach a magazineís total audience. They correctly assume it will take three placements of their ad to reach all the readers of that magazine. At a bimonthly frequency, magazines already lose out on some advertising campaigns that want three issues in three months (bimonthlies can only supply two). With a quarterly, the magazine loses out on advertisers that demand three consecutive insertions in a six-month time frame, and this is a common strategy for many advertisers that a quarterly can no longer support.


3.     Unreceptive buying audience. Advertisers plan advertising in a "just-in-timeĒ manner. These days, there are very few ad buying plans with significant lead times. Many advertisers want the flexibility of creating a campaign and buying media two to three weeks in advance of publication. As a quarterly, it is much harder to gain a commitment from an advertiser within the time horizon that you are selling. Buyers arenít interested in talking to a seller who is working with a time horizon that is as far as three months until publication.


4.     Perceived lack of importance. Association magazines start off with a perceived handicap when they are sold into an advertising agency. The recipient of an association magazine hasnít paid for a magazine; theyíve paid for a membership, the agency insists. In selling an association magazine to advertisers, the key selling point is that the magazine is an important benefit of membership.


If you have a bi-monthly publication, your sales staff will probably confirm that they already get the "If itís so important to members, why arenít they receiving it on a monthly basis?Ē question. Since most member magazines are monthly or bimonthly, moving to a quarterly forces the seller to defend the importance of the magazine as a member benefit because of the low frequency.


These four primary obstaclesólessened impact of message, wrong ad campaign time frames, an unreceptive audience, and the perceived lack of importanceóare why quarterlies are not successful advertising frequencies. In addition, industry reporting of advertising sales doesnít even follow the quarterly category because it is not a significant part of the media world.


James G. Elliott is president of James G. Elliott Co. Inc., an independent media sales company with clients in the association, consumer, and trade worlds. 


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