New Voice of Consumer Magazines

Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management ,  Nov, 1999   by Teresa Ennis


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In the association world, the prized qualities among executives are usually defined in terms of consensus building or lobbying skills.

But in August when the Magazine Publishers of America named Nina B. Link, group president of publishing and interactive software for the Children's Television Workshop, as its new president, it chose her not so much for those characteristics but for her depth of experience in publishing. Indeed, Link has been associated with CTW-producer of "Sesame Street" and publisher of five magazines-since 1978, starting as an editor and along the way serving as a publisher and advancing to president of CTW's $60 million publishing and interactive software group. In that capacity, she oversaw publication of the magazines, a database business, book and CD-ROM licensing partnerships, and the launch of CTW's family Internet service.

During her time at CTW, Link was recognized as a magazine-industry innovator, leading in marketing, content development and other areas. Now she takes over a group charged with leading magazines at a time when the Internet is changing the industry more dramatically than anything since the emergence of television 50 years ago.

Link's challenge is to bring together companies that compete fiercely, and to find common ground upon which to create strategies for Internet publishing, integrated marketing, maintaining the church-state separation, attracting top talent and more. Link, who officially assumed her new job November 1, succeeds Donald D. Kummerfeld, who had been MPA president since 1987. Here, a discussion of the industry, the MPA organization and Link's objectives.

FOLIO: What do you see as your legacy at CTW?

Nina Link: The people I've mentored. I had an opportunity to work with young talent that moved through the ranks and did marvelous things. Also, my entrepreneurship. I think I pushed the company in directions that went beyond television and moved them into magazine publishing, the Internet and database areas. I leave behind assets that I helped create.

Why do you believe you were selected for the MPA position?

That I worked in practically every area of magazine publishing was a big plus, I think. In my DNA, I'm a writer. But I've been an editor in chief and I've been on the circulation side. I've also been involved with advertising, custom publishing and database marketing. And I did a fair amount of work in Washington on behalf of CTW. In addition, I think the work I've done in new media was very appealing. I also did quite a bit of work in an integrated-media model. And that's definitely the way a lot of publishers are moving.

Why do you want the job?

Because I love magazines.  I've been involved with the MPA for a number of years, most recently on the executive committee and government affairs. And as trite as it sounds, I really want to help bring the organization into the next millennium. I think it is such a fast moving, frightening, exciting media world out there. All of us in all media are trying to figure it out, and I really want magazines to have a seat at that big media table.

What has the MPA done well in the past five years? Where has it moved the needle?

The research work that's been done on the advertising side has been extraordinary-a really good start in terms of answering the questions of advertisers. We've been able to demonstrate how print really moves product. The single-copy work we've done at our retail conference has been important. And the work we've done in Washington, particularly this year around sweepstakes, has been critical.

What hasn't the association done well?

It needs to be more visible. I'll look for ways to become more visible with the trades, with the consumer and in Washington.

What do you mean by visibility?

Magazines have to get the appropriate attention to ensure that we get our messages across. I want people to understand the power of our brands. There's so much activity in the media world that we have to raise the bar when it comes to exposure. I think of magazines as the front door to multimedia platforms because these powerful brands have a deep relationship with the consumer-we know how to talk to our audiences.

When was the last time the MPA funded a major marketing campaign for the magazine industry? Are any planned in the near future?

I think we're going to look at everything from branding to maybe freshening our logo-building up different taglines and communications messages. It's been a long time since the logo was redone, and we have to think about the fact that magazines are multimedia now-they have Internet businesses and are involved in television. Which brings another question: Should the name change? I don't know, but we need to hear from our members.

The majority of magazines in the industry are not MPA members. What do you think that says about the organization's relevance?

Is that true?

There are about 4,700 magazines on the newsstand alone. Your literature says MPA represents about 1,200 titles.

Well, we definitely represent the leadership in terms of revenue. But we are very welcoming of smaller members. Many of these people are starting up magazines. They are very entrepreneurial-that's the kind of energy and talent we want in the organization.

Which companies are not members that you would like to see join the MPA?

Just last year we got Hachette and TV Guide, and this is the fullest we've been in terms of membership. But I think all magazine publishers should be represented, and I hope that [former Hachette CEO] David Pecker's company-American Media-will be coming in.

What are your top-five priorities as the new CEO, and what's your time table for achieving results?

First I just really want to come in and talk to people. I can't pretend to know the ins and outs of this organization. I'd like to get to know the staff and then reach out to the board and the publishers. I want to meet a cross section of people and hear what they think the MPA is doing that they are happy about and the things they'd like to see the MPA do going forward.

I want to continue to make inroads with advertisers in meeting their needs and providing the research that will show the power of magazines. That's critical.

And I'd like us to have a lot more visibility and activity in Washington.

I want to make sure we keep the talent pool healthy. I also want to make sure our events and our professional development seminars are fresh and are taking some risks.

What kinds of risks?

Reaching out to the ad community-I'm interested in exploring some ways of working with them more closely. I'd like to put together roundtables. And we'll continue the Advertiser Forum Series, which invites key advertising executives to come in and speak to our members.

Do you think the MPA should play a more active, perhaps aggressive role overall?


I think the MPA has been very effective. I also think that as publishers, we're facing so many challenges that we're all more open to discussing the big issues.

Do you get the sense that there is now actual cooperation among the big publishers?

I find that they are open. Sitting on the board, where we certainly do not agree on everything, we have been able to bring people to enough agreement to move forward.

Do you think the MPA has been effective in regulatory issues such as postal, telemarketing, privacy and sweepstakes?

I think it's been incredibly effective. The MPA knows the Washington scene and the people and stays on top of the issues-and there have been some big ones in the last couple of years. My work with the government affairs committee has given me somewhat of a more full relationship, and I know the board is very pleased.

The MPA takes credit for fighting damaging sweepstakes legislation, but some say it didn't join the fight soon enough and that the MPA should have stepped in when the lawsuits first started. What do you think?

I think we were quietly there from the beginning.

At what point did it become necessary to make some noise?

As the hearings became more public-it was getting into the press and on television. So when we were invited to speak at the AG sweepstakes hearing in Indianapolis, we accepted.

You don't think there was anything that could have been done earlier than that?

As I said, I think we were there pretty early on. Was there anything else that could have been done?  Maybe. But I don't feel that we were not on top of it.


Critics also say the MPA did nothing to re-establish the credibility of the sweepstakes companies. Do you think it should have?

We supported the fact that people like to enter sweepstakes and that people order magazines that they read. We testified that sweeps are a viable way to sell magazines, and the research has shown that people like to enter sweepstakes. If there was small group of people out of control, that did not represent the vast majority of people who understand what sweeps are. I think what we did was appropriate.

There was a terrible van accident earlier this year in which teens working for a door-to-door magazine-sales company were killed. In television reports about the accident, the MPA refused to comment. Was that the right decision?

I don't know. People here are so thoughtful and that decision was made with a lot of consideration.

Would you refuse to comment?

I'd have to be in the situation. If I felt it wasn't in the best interest of magazines, then no. There are so many things that go into commenting, particularly on television.

What's your opinion of the agent business?

I think it's an important part of the mix, especially considering the expense of direct-to-consumer solicitation. Many times third-party agents help us to reach the consumer more efficiently. And there are [subscription-agent] guidelines, so we're comfortable with the people who are representing magazines.

Should publishers be more aggressive in self-policing efforts?

We have some best practices and, again, we have established guidelines. I think many members have been good about following those guidelines, but there are probably a few that haven't.


Has the MPA taken any initiatives to follow-up on guideline adherence?

We talk to people all the time. We get the names of people who are particularly abusive. On the circulation committee, we try to keep people informed and constantly remind them of best practices.

Some are saying that subscription marketing is facing a crisis situation. Would you agree?

I don't know if I would call it a crisis. It's a challenge. It's expensive. But what I've found is that circulators, when challenged, are very creative.

Where will the industry find solutions to the problem of locating and acquiring customers?

The  Internet. It allows us a whole new way of talking to the consumer. Most publishers are looking at how consumer lifestyles are changing and trying to figure out the most effective way of communicating with them.

Anderson News recently announced a plan that establishes a two-tiered distribution system that could greatly restrict the distribution of some smaller magazines. What was your reaction?

Anything that restricts magazines is something that we have to find a way to open up. The newsstand situation is challenging, but it's an area where the MPA has been quite effective-working with retailers, wholesalers, national distributors and publishers through the Retail Task Force. Our goal is to get back as many square feet as we can, but as publishers, we have to be sure we are efficient and that the system works for everyone in the distribution chain.

Is the newsstand too crowded?

That's so hard. The consumer has a lot of options and not a tremendous amount of time. But there are all these wonderful titles-and if the newsstand is restricted, how will the consumer find out about new titles? On the other hand, it's publishers' responsibility to market viable products.


There's been pressure on magazines to demonstrate advertising effectiveness. The MPA produced a research study that addressed this. Would you call that study a success?

I would call it a success and a start.

Any proof that this study was at all effective?

I don't think anyone can tell you they got "X" more pages. But the reception from the ad community was, "Gee, you guys are listening."

Critics say these types of reports are not effective because they tend to be self-serving. What do you think?

This is what the ad community asked for. It was done with a third party. We were confident and the results showed that magazines do work.

Heavy competitive discounting is still a major problem in ad sales. Do you see any solutions, and what should the MPA's role be here?

There is no easy solution because it comes down to each company's own way of doing business. But the MPA can be a place where these issues are discussed.

What did you think of Ford Motor's announcement that it was going to cut print spending in order to put more ad dollars into the Internet?

Of course we are all not happy about that announcement. Ford is a very important advertiser, but Ford, too, is trying to figure out how to talk to the consumer in a changing world. Ford acknowledged the importance of print but got caught in a year where it had to do some strategic things. I don't think magazines are the only ones that are going feel this changing world.

Earlier this year, ASME disqualified This Old House from the National Magazine Awards, saying it was in violation of its guidelines. Did you agree with ASME's decision?


A: Yes, they have specific, published guidelines. The whole area of custom publishing and sponsored content is challenging, and you can see those challenges in every medium right now.

It's something that we need to continually look at, but we also need to feel that our content has integrity.

Magazines have already begun to diversify into other media, notably the Internet. As a result, church-and-state issues have emerged, particularly with e-commerce. What do you believe is the solution here?

A: I don't have a solution. There are going to be a lot of models out there. The convenience of e-commerce-where people are comfortable with buying things online-is going to be very powerful. People still like to touch and feel things, but there is a real convenience to shopping online, and I think our paradigms are going to shift dramatically.

I also believe the consumer is going to be the watchdog in this area. When it goes too far, we're going to hear it. There's this trust thing, and a line, and we're all trying to figure out where that line is drawn. When people cross it, they'll get their wrists slapped and that's how they'll know they've pushed too far.

Where are the growth areas for this industry?

A: Line extensions. This whole integrated media model is another because we have such powerful brands. Magazines are fabulous at producing events. We're very good at cause-related marketing because we can touch the consumer in a very emotional way.

There's growth in reaching the consumer through new distribution channels. Magazines are often the front door to the affinity. Whether you're talking about fashion, cars or cooking, there is not a topic around which we do not have magazines. People have a relationship with their magazines, they trust the brands.

What do you think is the single biggest issue facing the consumer-magazine industry?


A: The vitality of the revenue streams that support our business: circulation and advertising.

How do you see MPA's role changing in the next century?

A: I want to be sure it is meeting the needs of its membership. That it is helping us all figure out this multimedia world. That it has a powerful dialogue with the advertising community. That new magazines are born and  flourish. And that we have a big important seat at the media table.

Advice for Nina Link

What should the MPA be doing on your behalf that it doesn't do now?

Fayne Erickson

Publisher, Ms

I'd like it to be a resource when I'm looking for consultants or new hires in the industry.

Chuck McCullagh

Vice president of corporate strategy, Hachette Filipacchi

I don't get the sense that they are cognizant of the game changing. They need to spend a lot of energy on how the Internet is transforming publishing, especially on the circulation side. The organization just isn't as relative as it used to be. For instance, when it comes to programming, I'd like to see the MPA bring in some young turks and the people who are shaking up the business--people who are on the edge.

Dick Porter

Senior vice president, publisher, TV Guide

The MPA is in a tough spot. Trying to represent the interests of all the constituents isn't easy, but I think they're trying with some of the research they're doing. I'd like to see them look at specific accounts that are way under spending in print relative to other mediums, and work on demonstrating to those companies that print should be part of their mix.

Michael Penis

President, ZD Publishing

I'd like to see the MPA continue to be a participant in the rapidly evolving changes taking place in the circulation world, from both a retail and a circulation angle. The infrastructure of these sources of revenue and the connect with readers is changing with incredible velocity, and I think it's important that the MPA is active, participating and creative in working with the people who are changing the nature of that part of our business.

Bibliography for: "New Voice of Consumer Magazines"

Teresa Ennis "New Voice of Consumer Magazines". Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management. 12 Apr, 2009.

Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management