Thursday, June 21, 2007

Meredith's Griffin Describes Whirlwind of Change, Both for Industry and for Company

The thing that's wrong with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur"
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Meredith's Griffin Describes Whirlwind of Change, Both for Industry and for Company
By Tony Silber

In an 'Age of Participation,' magazines are a great business to be in, according to Meredith Corp. Publishing Group president Jack Griffin, who in a speech Tuesday offered up seven reasons why this is true-and a revealing picture of how Meredith is acting on this.

Griffin, speaking in New York at the latest installment of Magazine Publishers Of America's Breakfast With a Leader series, opened with a description of the dramatic changes in the media world. This era, he said, is marked by "discontinuous change." It breaks with past patterns, he said. It's not incremental. "The impact of search in general and Google in particular rivals the introduction of the telephone or the automobile in its impact," Griffin said. "In the age of participation, communications power is open to anyone who wants it. Smart marketers are inviting people into conversations."

This new approach to marketing is doubly important today, Griffin said, since traditional go-to-market strategies don't work anymore because they assume consumers will stay in the same channel. But the traditional channels do still have relevance. "Television and print are crucial in brand building, and are the spark for other kinds of creative marketing," Griffin said. However, he added, echoing National Geographic's John Q. Griffin earlier this month at the Circulation Management Conference & Expo, "Magazines have got to make progress on selling on audience. Selling magazines based on distribution is akin to selling television advertising based on the number of TVs that exist, or online advertising based on the number of computers."

The seven reasons why magazines are a great business in an age of participation are these, Griffin said:

1. Editors are a lighthouse in a sea of information.

2. New technologies are enhancing the knowledge of consumers.

3. Magazines are opt-in in an opt-out world. "Consumers are in avoidance mode until something interests them," Griffin noted. "But they invite magazines into their lives."

4. Adult millennials are reading magazines, research shows.

5. Starcom reader-engagement research indicates that advertising in magazines is essential content, with ads pages being cited as key content for three pages in 10, according to the research.

6. Magazines drive new-media consumption.

7. Magazine advertising works across the spectrum. Ad share is up, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Broad industry trends aside, Griffin's presentation was most fascinating for his description of where Meredith fits and what it is doing to adapt. Meredith has been active in preparing for this new era, Griffin said, creating an internal 'flexible architecture,' and concentrating on developing and enhancing its skills in marketing. Consequently, it has focused acquisition and investment activity in the last three years on those areas. It:

· Acquired four parenting and family magazines from Gruner + Jahr in 2005, including Parents, Child, Fitness and Family Circle

· Acquired the five-year-old DIY brand ReadyMade in 2006.

· Acquired the interactive and relationship marketing firm O'Grady Meyers in 2006. "This took Meredith into beyond-ink-on-paper custom marketing," Griffin said.

· Acquired another marketing-services firm, Genex, and the 'buzz-marketing' firm New Media Strategies, earlier this year.

· Acquired Helia, a consumer health search engine specializing in high quality and personalized healthcare information online.

In all, Griffin said, Meredith has made over $600 million in investments in the publishing group alone. It has transitioned from a home-and-shelter focused company to a leading media company that reaches women across media platforms. "Our connection to this audience is crucial to our future relevance and prosperity," Griffin said.

And all this activity is based on five core strengths, according to Griffin:

· Leadership brands across life stages. "We have a database of 75 million women," Griffin said. "Using our database, we are becoming skilled at migrating our customers across our brands at different life stages." American Baby has 95 percent coverage of new-parents market. At ReadyMade, over one-third of all content is user generated.

· Trusted content in multiple platforms.

· Focus on consumers. "We have created an 'architecture of participation.' Our More team, for example, doesn't make a move without considering how the audience can participate."

· Deep and diverse marketing capabilities. "Meredith has always been more than a magazine company," Griffin said. "It is an integrated marketing-services company as well. Today, more than ever before, what we do is like riding a bicycle: We are either moving forward or we are falling down."

· Operational excellence, defined as publishing fundamentals, digital development, integration, organizational alignment, developing people, measuring what matters. "The idea of meeting the consumer on the consumer's terms seems to be working for us," Griffin said.

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