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Issue for October 2016

Do Your Readers Value the Ads in Your Magazine?

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3:10 PM

Two principles for delivering meaningful ads to your readers.

By William Dunkerley

A B2B magazine I've worked with has readers that relish its ads. The readers are professionals who make purchasing decisions. The ads give them information that is vitally important to them, so they like the ads.

Another magazine has many readers who read the ads even before the editorial content. It is a special interest consumer magazine in a hobby field. The hobby involves products and the ads provide readers with specifications and descriptions that are key to making decisions on what to buy. These readers don't just like the ads; they love them.

At the same time, other publications are recipients of reader scorn over the ads they include. Readers are so incensed that they employ ad blockers to avoid seeing the ads. They find the ads annoying. Extremely annoying.

What's the difference here? What makes the readers of some magazines value the advertisements while others want to stamp them out?

Principle 1: Match Advertisers to Reader Interests

Here's my take: Publications that sell ads featuring products and services in line with reader interests are winners. Those that insert any old kind of ad that can make them money are the losers.

From a reader standpoint ads are inherently part of the publication product. In a sense, the same rules that govern the kind of articles that are published should strongly influence the ads that are included too. To do otherwise is to interfere with the relationship of trust that is necessary between readers and their magazines.

This is the first principle for building a good strategic plan for advertising sales. Acquire advertisers in which readers will take interest. That's not limited to a professional or hobby tie-in as exemplified above. The shared interest could be lifestyle, geographic location, sports, or any common bond.

Recently I saw an online magazine that almost exclusively carries ads provided by a large broker. The publication leaves holes in the editorial content and the broker fills them without any publisher intervention. The broker reads cookies on the reader's computer and serves ads it deems to be related to the consumer's interests.

That may sound like a good proposition for the advertiser. Targeting is a very important concept in the success of an ad campaign. The trouble with this system is that it involves a faulty assumption. For example, if I buy a set of golf clubs online, I don't want to be subsequently bombarded with ads for golf clubs in the magazines I read. Maybe I'd be a good target for golf balls. But my interest in such ads is offset by annoyance at the reminder that my online buying privacy is an unrealistic illusion. And besides, when I want golf balls, I know how to shop for them and buy them. I resent having them pushed on me.

Principle 2: Avoid Annoying, Intrusive Ads

That brings us to the second principle. Ads should not be intrusive. Intrusiveness is what created the whole industry of ad blockers, which some publishers strongly decry.

According a Digiday report, the New York Times is "surveying 700,000 readers who use ad blockers." The Times stated, "We are opposed to ad blocking, which does not serve the long term interest of consumers. The creation of quality news content is expensive and digital advertising is one way that the New York Times and other high quality news providers fund news gathering operations."

Methinks that there is a better strategy the Times should consider. Instead of trying to guilt readers into putting up with annoying ads, the venerable newspaper would be better off getting to know its readers' interests better and serving them ads that would be well received. The Times approach actually implies a disdain or disrespect for its readers.

But even ads related to reader interests can be obtrusive and annoying too. That was discovered when Bon Appétit ran a campaign by Samsung. It featured an advertiser-branded wraparound cover in the image of a refrigerator. Inside were interesting tips from the Bon Appétit editorial staff.

According to Digiday:

"The reaction was, well, not positive. Bon Appétit took the unusual step of posting an Instagram video detailing how to use its magazine cover. That's quite possibly a first, and probably not a great sign.

"Needless to say, readers were not mollified by the well-intentioned effort to clear up confusion as to how to use the magazine. To read the reaction on social media, you'd have thought Bon Appétit was suggesting adding peas to guacamole. On social media, where comments are usually confined to recipes, reader backlash was swift and unequivocal."

These are examples to learn from. Your long-term advertising revenue prospects will be best served to the extent that you can abide by the two principles:

--Publish ads that will interest your readers.

--Don't publish ads that will annoy them.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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Changes Afoot for Ailing Newspapers?

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3:07 PM

In the news: How are newspapers shifting priorities and workloads in response to falling revenues?

Newspaper ad revenues continue their sharp decline. The subhead of a recent WSJ.com piece by Suzanne Vranica and Jack Marshall reads, "With global newspaper print advertising on pace for worst decline since recession, publishers cut costs and restructure." Forecasts indicate that the decline for 2016 will land somewhere around 8.7 percent.

These ad revenue declines are plaguing publishers in the US and abroad. Vranica and Marshall write that the decline is affecting all the major newspaper publishers, forcing some to reconsider "the format of their print products and the types of content they publish." Some major publishers are cutting hundreds of staffers to staunch the bleeding. Read more here.

Also Notable

A Surge in Agency Magazines

Recently, several agencies have launched magazines to present data in a format more accessible to readers than traditional reports. Katie Richards of AdWeek.com writes, "These aren't your typical agency publications, distributed internally each quarter and designed to highlight top work from within the network. The publications not only keep current staff up-to-date on important trends that will help inform their creative, but reach outside the agency as well." While the benefits of an agency magazine are many, Richards warns that agencies need to be willing to shell out the money necessary to develop the product and publish regularly. Read the full article here.

Pulitzer Eligibility for Magazines

In recent years, the Pulitzer Prize committee has experimented with magazine eligibility. Now, it appears they are all in. Earlier this month, the committee announced that magazines are now eligible in all prize categories. Entry guidelines have also been revised, replacing the entry letter requirement with a questionnaire. Read more here and here.

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