KILLING OUTDOOR MAGAZINES – SAVING A PHOENIX


Give It To Me Straight: Historically successful companies don’t normally die at the hands of overhead, marketing, or even operations. While each can damage a well-insulated company the true cyanide in the coffee normally rests in revenue stream addiction. Any company, but particularly older ones, become attached to historically successful revenue models and as a result tend to overlook how these models are the very anchor slowly sinking the ship.

Rather than addressing the core problem, company leadership often double down on old revenue models, like when Kmart and Sears merged in 2005. Other examples could be selling more of the same ad space, attending more of the same trade shows, or running previously successful marketing campaigns but with a bigger ad spend. Many magazines, for example, provide media buyers with online advertising assets as a “value add” (free)  when they buy enough print advertising – talk about confusing activity with results. If you want to throw a glitch in the matrix tell your print salesmen you want to buy all digital advertising and expect to get print ads as “value add”.

Saving or killing outdoor industry magazines is more complex than the content consumption habits of young people. On the surface, it’s easy to understand how poor advertiser analytics, internet content trends, and the disappearing act of newsstand sales are chipping away at company growth. It could also be argued that the old scams and hacks of padding subscription and circulation numbers finally devalued print brands with advertisers to the point of no return. Maybe, it could be that a historically well-known “buck” deer hunting magazine used vicious telemarketing harassment to earn one of the worst scores possible with the Better Business Bureau. There are a number of thoughts on how to kill outdoor magazines but if you look deep enough you will find that the core to almost all of the issues is a direct result of an addiction to old revenue models.

If you learn nothing else from this article consider how your business may be chasing old revenue models and therefore missing true growth. Perhaps it’s time to pivot.

The magazine phoenix may be dazed and confused but it is not dead. In fact, these old businesses could once again become a powerhouse media solution. Let’s breakdown in this Media Lab why this old bird might just be the last one standing at the party.

Top 3 Takeaways on Killing Outdoor Magazines:

#3 Own The Tracks: He who owns the railroad tracks owns the railroad. What runs on the rails will change often and with public spectacle, but the tracks always control the outcome. The railroad tracks, in this case, is meaningful influence over a desirable audience. Owning this influence is what stipulates market demand for media properties like magazines, or that matter any media property.

To achieve and maintain market influence we assume it’s a formula of using the best delivery channels and the most compelling content, but actually good data is generally the driving force.  Using data to understand how, where, and when to reach an audience as well as determining what content they desire is not only the future of successful media companies it’s been important all along. Many outdoor magazines are now investing in sophisticated data programs to advance their communication offerings (Online or Offline). The advertisers that leverage this data will have access to greater success in all forms of advertising.

The only problem with this analysis is that outdoor industry advertisers often do not know what they want until they see what it is they don’t want. Educating an advertiser on new offerings generally means dead-on-arrival.

#2 Content Authenticity: Do you really believe that consumers can’t see through the product placements and over-the-top reviews found in every outdoor TV show and industry magazine? Let’s face it, if we are truly evaluating all sides of the matter we should consider how most, not all, of outdoor magazine articles are at the corner earned media and paid media. Now more than ever before manufacturing brands overnight gear to writers, host paid for media events (Hunting & fishing trips), and leverage advertising deals to secure “added value” product coverage.

Outdoor writers and editors are some of the finest people in the industry, but making a living as a full-time freelance writer without taking paid for trips and gear is about impossible. In the attempt to chase old revenue models, magazines have paid content creators less and less over the years as well as accepted a few more product plugs. Conversely, there isn’t a professional outdoor writer I know of that hasn’t rewritten and sold the same hunting or fishing article three different ways. The second most difficult job in the industry is the magazine editor. He/She may desperately want to hold on to some sort of journalism code of ethics but each month they are beaten into submission by the revenue department. I can only assume it’s painful when a crap product makes your cover story because they bought it for more than you make in a year.

The advertiser can and should play a role in great content. Brands like RedBull or even John Deere (Furrow Magazine) have proven countless times how to inspire an audience and still sell a product. What continues to kill the credibility of magazines with younger sportsmen is pretending to be the impartial middle ground when clearly the soul of the publication is for sale. The magazines that utilize advertisers as the solution to create better content while remaining truly authentic I believe will be more successful with consumers. Do you suppose the audience cares less about an article that was publicly noted as “supported by” or one that they can’t tell is authentic and may be just an advertisement?

#1 A Personal Touch Society:  A rule we often bring up with Frontier Media clients is “Don’t be everything to everyone because then you’re nothing special to anyone, instead be everything for someone”. This article is a great example of this lifestyle, some of you will like this material while others will find it uneasy. In short, we are a niche society seeking to belong with like people. Outdoor magazines have capitalized on this very human nature in the past and can continue to sustain this opportunity going forward. However, some print magazines will fail because they can’t let go of old operating procedures.

Consider for a moment that a person’s interest in a company crosses over into a passion when that brand surrounds their audience with a personalized experience. Take Garden and Gun for example. They went as far as to have a dedicated retail store and a full calendar of unique in-person events that match their brand. Gunwerks in Cody WY not only has a dedicated magazine for their wealthy niche audience but they also host in-person training and hunting events. SilencerCo in the suppressor industry continues to prove how their investments in content marketing are just one step away from RedBull level marketing.

The outdoor magazines that (a) are willing to connect with consumers when and where they want the material (online or offline), (b) offer truly authentic niche content, and (c) make deeper investments to surround their audience in a consistent brand experience will thrive.

Disclaimer: Frontier Media LLC is a full-service business development firm that supports both media companies and brands looking to maximize growth potential. 

…Just One More Thing…

For those of you who might believe mail is dead, I urge you to consider the following questions. How many people do you know have a mailbox, and do they check it daily? Do you think the trend of eCommerce is going to help or hurt the concept of a mailbox? Finally, how do you react to a personal letter or Christmas card you receive in the mail, do you throw it away immediately of feel compelled to hold onto it due to some subconscious value? My point is simple, the right content sent to the right user is meaningful… the rest is junk.

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