Friday, August 29, 2014

Smaller CRMA Conference Concludes in New Orleans
By Tony Silber

NEW ORLEANS—The 33rd City and Regional Magazine Association Conference concluded Tuesday here after a two-and-a-half day event marked by a significant decline in attendance and sessions that blended broad economic trends with granular tactical approaches to running city magazines.

The event featured Susan Lyne, former CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and current CEO of the Gilt Groupe, an online luxury fashion retailer, as keynote. Lyne described her prior experiences with the Village Voice and Premiere and outlined how the Gilt Groupe works as a sort of invitation-only online auction. She got the audience’s attention when she described the massive demand the Gilt Groupe enjoys for certain products and the lead-capture mechanism her business uses.

Mostly, though, the event was more tactical, even if the buzz was about how many fewer people attended this year. There were 205 total bodies, according to the official attendee list, which included speakers and exhibitors. By contrast, the 2008 event crested 400, according to some attendees. Several publishers mentioned how they might in prior years have sent a contingent, while this year only they themselves attended.

Moffly Media, the Fairfield County, Connecticut, publisher, was notably conspicuous for its absence, several attendees said. Last fall the publisher laid off about 35 percent of its workforce and cut the frequency of its Westport and New Canaan-Darien magazines.

The program included several sessions aimed at interactive media, but interestingly, much of the conversation was focused on using tools like social media to drive business in the print magazine. For example, Jessie Peterson, marketing director at Baltimore Magazine, described a “101 Things to do in Baltimore Before You Die,” contest. In 2008, she said, the contest generated 129 entries. In 2009, thanks in part to the use of Twitter and Facebook groups, the contest has attracted 2,574 entries/votes, all through an online form, and curiously, with no capture of contact information.

Kelly Dill, Circulation manager at Nashville Magazine, told how her title runs house ads in every issue promoting its Facebook and Twitter groups, thus boosting participation.

In a session on online marketing practices, Fred Parry, owner/publisher of Inside Columbia magazine, drew rave reviews for a host of marketing activities, including “Culinary Adventure” tours, an “Inspiration Home,” project where the magazine partners in the construction of a house, and a Wine and Food festival.

On the M&A side, Regional Media Advisors president Kim MacLeod described a deal climate that she said will be improving in the second half of 2009. On the day the sale of Pittsburgh magazine was announced (it was acquired by Weisner Media), MacLeod nevertheless told attendees: “This is my business, and if you were to ask me, I would advise you not to sell in this economy if you can wait.”

Mac Leod also said rationality has returned to the market and that city and regional magazines are the strongest properties out there. She said there is "real value out there" for buyers and sellers. Multiples, she said, while down from the 2005 to 2007 high, are still better than 2002 to 2004.