Brad Dunn has been named senior VP, chief digital officer for Athlon Media Group/Parade.
Dunn is a veteran of the Parade brand, having served as executive editor of the magazine for eight years when it was owned by Advance Publications.
Dunn has most recently served as a consultant for AMG since last September.
At AMG, Dunn will report to Tracey Altman, AMG’s executive VP of sales, marketing, digital and content.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Israely, a former Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is the cofounder of a news startup called Worldcrunch in Paris. For the past five years, he’s been describing and commenting on the startup process here at Nieman Lab. Read his past installments here.
On a recent trip down to Italy, I was thumbing through a thick copy of the Air France inflight magazine. As sleek and smartly organized as it was, the formula was still the familiar mix of fashion and travel pieces, VIP briefs and culture profiles that you reach for because it’s there. But I was interested in something else: For the first 153 pages of the issue, there is virtually no sign that it was produced by or for the airline. Even the name on the cover is simply “Magazine,” with the words “Air France” written so small that you’re clearly not meant to see it.
Sitting in your window seat, you’re the definition of a captive audience. It’s not hard to see why airlines still invest in these glossy products, which can both generate high-end advertising revenue and perhaps even get some readers to notice that Air France flies direct to Guadeloupe or sells duty-free perfumes.
But no less important is all the work that goes into not talking about Air France or selling its products. For marketers, it’s a perfect exercise in what someone once dubbed slow branding — a chance to momentarily soak a current or future customer in whatever the company wants to define as its ideals, lifestyle, or core message — to be reactivated somewhere down the road.
The old airline magazine formula has helped me think about some of the major changes we’ve seen in the relationship between publishers and advertisers. This comes as my business partner Irene Toporkoff and I have begun to pivot our business model in the face of these changes. (A bit more on that here and below.)Losing the magic
Sellers and marketers have long known that there are many ways to both win and lose loyalty. The Internet’s virtual elimination of the cost of information distribution accelerates and diversifies that reality. Yves Saint Laurent used to get the singular global exposure (once a year) that came with dressing an Oscar nominee; today, any designer can take a crack at trying to dress (every day) all the many fashionista Instagrammers of the moment.
From the news industry’s perspective, the pre-digital deal was: We decide what’s worth publishing, we command the printing presses and the airwaves, and so the advertisers must come to us if they want the eyeballs — and a whiff of the aura that comes with the unfettered pursuit of truth and the other stuff we’re supposed to be so good at.
It was a nice arrangement for both publisher and advertiser, one the Internet has been dynamiting for 15 years. In his book about Google, Ken Auletta recounts how, like other media and advertising moguls, then-Viacom chief Mel Karmazin made his pilgrimage to Mountain View in 2003 to meet the founders. When he understood that Larry Page and Sergey Brin were building a machine that could drastically reduce the long accepted uncertainty of knowing which advertising did and didn’t work, an angry Karmazin quipped: “You’re fucking with the magic.”
Since then, a host of new technologies have arrived that track our online behavior and feed us offers for products that can be followed all the way through to purchase. This in turn has spawned counter-innovations like ad blockers and a wider uneasiness that we’re being hounded and hard-sold around-the-clock. Meanwhile, nothing can keep up with either the multiplying pages and pixels of digital content or the accompanying plummet of display advertising rates and continued uncertainty of real returns. Maybe algorithms and cookies alone don’t replace the magic after all.Automotive inserts and Chinese walls
The “anyone can be a publisher now” mantra usually makes journalists think of a hungry blogger with a stand to take or a book to promote. But it also means that any business with a marketing budget can pursue and retain customers in ways that look a whole lot like the media outlets that they used to crawl to for a bit of print space or airtime. And as with the well executed airline magazine, the smart brands know they’ll lose your attention if they use this new publishing power simply to push their merchandise. They need good stories, useful information, and other new ways to captivate an audience that is just one click away from leaving forever.
Much of this is what is now generally referred to as “content marketing,” and it spans from elaborate one-off Red Bull space jumps to permanent high-minded web projects around key global issues. By some estimates it’s a $44 billion annual business.
Whether or not this is a good thing for the news industry, on both ethical and existential grounds, has been the source of some hot debate. Many of the questions revolve around the entry point from news websites, so-called native advertising formats, which have proven to offer much healthier returns even as some have given in to tricky practices aimed at fooling readers into thinking that it’s bonafide news content rather than advertising.
But if we look back at what has been around for years, it may help see better where we are going. Most of this — including the fundamental advertising-wagging-the-newshole-dog — isn’t anything particularly new: Print dailies and magazines have long featured standalone advertorials, long-running weekly inserts, and annual special issues devoted to automobiles and watches, real estate and university rankings. The famous Chinese wall separating the business and editorial sides of a news operation always had a few holes in it — it’s just that no one needed to notice when the ground was firmer and calculations simpler for both publishers and advertisers.
Now, everyone competes for everyone’s attention everywhere in the great unbundling of the content of both industries, which will realign the relationships between publishers and brands that have long helped pay the bills. Envelopes will be pushed, rules will be broken, and fundamental questions about both journalism practice and value will be put to the test. That Vice named its content marketing arm Virtue is a snarky wink at that reality.
It’s been three-plus years since we launched Worldcrunch, and we’re making by far the sharpest pivot in our overall strategy in the face of the opportunity that we believe content marketing offers us. How our relatively small startup with a global beat and audience executes this will be the subject of a future post, and may hold the destiny of the adventure we have embarked on. Can a media company be built on a different kind of relationship with brands and advertisers? How do we shift our resources? What is unique about our offer?Benetton Times
As we’ve been planning this shift, I tracked down a profile I wrote about the original king of content marketing. His name is Oliviero Toscani, an Italian photographer and master ad man. He was the creative force behind the groundbreaking advertising campaign in the 1980s and 1990s that used photographs of social and political issues like AIDS and organized crime to build the Benetton clothing company into a hugely successful global brand.
I had gone to talk to Toscani because he’d stirred the pot again by using an anorexic model in an ad campaign for a women’s clothing brand. To respond to the criticism, he asked us to imagine an archaeologist a thousand years from now digging up an issue of Time circa 2007. “Maybe on the cover he’ll find a poignant photograph of AIDS in Africa. Then he’ll open up the magazine and see a photograph advertising a shiny Mercedes…And then he’ll see a big spread on the lost children of Brazil, which is followed by a double-page photograph for Chanel perfume…Our archaeologist will wonder what the hell was going on back then. All I’ve done is put a news photo in the ad pages.”
Now, instead of the rare visionary/provocateur, an entire industry is emerging that promises brands that they can better find, engage and track current and future customers by telling stories alongside the selling of products. Some of it will work, and some won’t. For a news company, the changing relationship with advertisers can create vital new revenues — or it can wind up undermining the journalism that gives it value (to both readers and brands) in the first place. For the businesses big and small that want to take up the promise of “being a publisher,” it means learning a different way to market yourself and a new set of rules. If they get it wrong, the same Internet that had offered the promise will bite back hard and fast. When they get it right, we might even see the magic return.
Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the continuing persecution of community radio stations in Guatemala, where the mayor of Santa Eulalia, in the western department of Huehuetenango, forcibly prevented members of the indigenous Mayan community from reopening their station last week.
Indigenous representatives had wanted to organize a ceremony on 20 March to formally reopen Radio Snuq Jolom Konob, closed by the mayor two months ago, but the mayor and his supporters, some of them armed, prevented the ceremony from going ahead.
Prensa Comunitaria reporter Lucía Ixchíu said they insulted, threatened and roughed up community representatives and journalists.
“We are disturbed by this use of violence against Radio Snuq Jolom Konob by the local authorities and their supporters in Santa Eulalia,” said Claire San Filippo, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk.
“This was unfortunately typical of the hostility that the Guatemalan authorities show towards the media, especially community radio stations. Those suspected of being responsible for this act of violence must be brought to justice in order to end impunity.”
Among the recent stories covered by Radio Snuq Jolom Konob was local opposition to the company Hidro Santa Cruz's construction of a hydro-electric dam in an area where members of several Mayan indigenous groups – Akateko, Chuj, Popti' and Q'anjob'al – are in the majority.
Its coverage of the way the indigenous population is defending its ancestral lands upset the local authorities, who support the hydroelectric project.
The news coverage provided by community radio stations is particularly important in Guatemala, especially in rural and indigenous areas, where their reporting is accessible to the population and focused on local issues.
However, Guatemala's media legislation favours the established media at the expense of community radio stations, especially since the adoption of a new telecommunications law in 2012, which endorsed the concentration of media ownership in few hands.
It allowed media outlets with previously allocated broadcast frequencies to renew them almost automatically for another 20 years but failed to address the irregular situation of community radio stations, which find it almost impossible to obtain legal frequencies.
Regarded as “pirates” by the authorities and telecommunication networks, community radio stations are very vulnerable and are permanently exposed to the possibility of closure or seizure of their equipment.
Support the reopening of Santa Eulalia's community radio station by signing this petition.
FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. — The tiny bottles of 5-hour Energy that made Manoj Bhargava a billionaire are just about everywhere. But the Princeton dropout and former Hindu monk is nearly invisible.
Bhargava’s investment firm ETC Capital gave $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association last year, joining conservative billionaires Sheldon Adelson and David Koch on the list of top five donors to the group that works to elect Republican governors.
Yet RGA Chairman and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said, “I don’t know him.”
The 62-year-old Bhargava and several of his Michigan-based companies have given at least $5.3 million to candidates for state office and political groups around the country since 2009, according to state and federal campaign filings. But Bhargava remains a mystery man, even to many of the people who are benefiting from his largesse, including Bobby Schostak, who received a $25,000 donation from ETC Capital in 2010 during his first campaign for Michigan Republican Party chairman.
Schostak, who recently left the job, said, “I would have trouble knowing it was him if he walked in the door, honestly.”
Few people have given as much to politics at the state level as Bhargava and his companies in the past five years, and donors of such generosity are typically well known and aggressively courted by politicians who need their favor and funding to pay for campaigns. Yet Bhargava avoids the spotlight, both in politics and life: he said in a 2012 television interview that fame puts “a bull’s-eye on your forehead.” And he’s gone to great lengths to obscure his political activity, even as his signature product draws more scrutiny from some of the same politicians he’s supporting.
Only a fraction of the donations were made in Bhargava’s name or by the companies that oversee the production and marketing of 5-hour Energy. But an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that he makes donations through several of his more than 70 limited liability companies. As such, the motives for his political giving are as muddy as the circuitous way in which the donations are made.
He gives most heavily to Republicans but has donated to Democrats, too. Many of the donations appear to have ties back to Michigan, where his businesses are based. Nearly a quarter of the donations affiliated with Bhargava went to candidates for state attorney general, who have the power to investigate his business, and the organizations that support their election efforts.
Attorneys general in five states are suing Bhargava’s energy shot business, accusing it of deceptive marketing practices. A federal court in California is considering nine consolidated class-action lawsuits brought against 5-hour Energy in seven states, though the cases have been partially dismissed. And the Food and Drug Administration is investigating the safety of the shot, having received reports of more than 20 deaths potentially linked to its consumption. The political giving tied to Bhargava has only increased as investigations have multiplied.
Bhargava did not return multiple calls and emails sent over the past month seeking comment about his political giving, and a reporter who recently visited the two-story brick-and-glass headquarters of his companies was told Bhargava was not available. Several people who have worked with or live near him declined to comment, citing a fear of legal reprisals, or legal agreements barring them from speaking about Bhargava and 5-hour Energy.
Political operatives in Michigan say the relative anonymity seems to be how Bhargava prefers to do business.
“People are very conscious of the fact that he’s very secretive,” said Mark Brewer, the former chairman of Michigan’s Democratic Party.
The price of privacy
Bhargava grew up in Lucknow, India, a city of roughly 5 million in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He moved with his family at 14 to Philadelphia so that his father could pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He won a scholarship to The Hill School, a prestigious boarding school in suburban Philadelphia and, later, admission to Princeton University.
But Bhargava only spent a year at the Ivy League school, dropping out in 1973, according to The Daily Princetonian. He then spent more than a decade traveling between Hindu monasteries in India as a monk and working odd jobs back in the U.S. He returned to the U.S. permanently in the early 1990s and took over the family’s plastics company, Prime PVC, in 1996, growing it into a multimillion-dollar business that he sold to a private equity firm in 2007, according to multiple news reports.
By then, he had moved to Michigan and was on the hunt for a new business. He abandoned his first venture, the anti-hangover pill Chaser, but he won big with 5-hour Energy — a flavored energy drink that contains caffeine, vitamins and amino acids. As he has told it, Bhargava replicated an energy drink he stumbled upon at a trade show in 2003 after its developers refused to sell him the recipe. Sales of the 1.93-ounce bottles propelled Bhargava onto Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2012.
Bhargava credits much of 5-hour Energy's success to the decision to place the small yellow and red bottles at checkout counters, rather than in coolers with the other energy drinks. The business has also engaged in an aggressive pattern of litigation, having sued more than a dozen competitors for producing or distributing similar products. Bhargava’s office is said to contain a mock graveyard, made up of the bottles of failed competitors.
In 2012, Bhargava publicly took the giving pledge championed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, which encourages billionaires to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. Three years earlier, he transferred a stake appraised at $623.6 million in Innovation Ventures, a parent company of 5-hour Energy, to his Rural India Supporting Trust, which he has described as “the largest charity in India that nobody knows.” The organization has spent more than $60 million since 2008 supporting development projects in India, according to tax forms it has filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
In public speeches, Bhargava has prided himself on his modest lifestyle. He lives today in Farmington Hills, the same well-off Detroit suburb where 5-hour Energy is headquartered. While his five-bedroom, six-bath home is worth about $1.7 million, he has forgone the flashier Bloomfield Hills or other tony Detroit suburbs where someone of his wealth might be expected to live.
In many respects that home — and the fight to build it — highlight both the pugnaciousness of Bhargava and his quest for privacy while staying in the middle of everything.
Instead of a single home, the low-profile multimillionaire planned a 17-house development sandwiched between two existing tracts of homes, with a gated entrance, private road and a second, eight-foot fence surrounding his home in a city with only a handful of other gated neighborhoods.
By the time other homes in the development hit the market last year, listed at more than $600,000, Bhargava’s team had already sued both its initial developer and a neighbor who distributed fliers opposing the development. Both suits were settled, confidentially.
A complex web
When the trim, slightly balding Bhargava speaks publicly about his energy shot company, he emphasizes its common-sense approach. No one in the company uses business-school jargon, he told a 2012 meeting of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, and he jokes that he doesn’t even know how to spell the words “strategic initiatives.” He says that his job is to make complex ideas simple.
But Bhargava’s various business ventures are anything but easy to follow. More than 70 limited liability companies, some of which are no longer active, have been registered at the address of 5-hour Energy's headquarters. Such businesses, which as their name implies limit the personal liability of their owners, also offer tax benefits and, in Michigan and elsewhere, aren’t subject to the same restrictions on political activity as other corporations. Those LLCs include a host of other ventures, such as investment funds and Bhargava’s backing of several upcoming Hollywood films. The business of running 5-hour Energy itself is composed of three separate LLCs: Innovation Ventures, Living Essentials and MicroDose Sales.
For political purposes, Bhargava’s most active company has been ETC Capital, which bills itself on its website as “founded on the basis of opportunistic investing” and invests in companies that don’t qualify for traditional loans or private equity.
Since 2009, ETC Capital has given nearly $4.9 million to state candidates and political groups across the country, which helped it become one of the top 50 donors to state races in 2014. It’s unclear why the giving has come in ETC Capital’s name or who in the company decides which political groups merit donations.
In at least one case, a donation given by ETC Capital to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was later publicly represented as sponsorship of a fundraiser by 5-hour Energy, according to The New York Times.
Seven donations totaling $319,500 were made during 2009 and 2010 in the name of Ted Mills, a former managing director at ETC Capital. Mills, however, told the Center for Public Integrity he didn’t make the donations, which were spread across five political action committees. Three of those were connected to Mike Bishop, a former Michigan Senate majority leader who ran for state attorney general in 2010. Mills declined further comment.
Matt Miner, treasurer of the three committees connected to Bishop, said the committees’ policies for handling donations from limited liability corporations, like ETC Capital, was to attribute them to someone affiliated with the corporation, such as Mills.
Giving to state investigators
Since 2009, companies tied to Bhargava have donated more than $1.2 million to candidates for attorney general and political committees that support them, according to data from the IRS and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The bulk of that giving, more than $850,000, has benefited two Republican groups: the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee. Bhargava’s companies also donated more than $310,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, and more than $40,000 went directly to state attorney general candidates from both parties in at least seven states.
Those donations haven’t insulated Bhargava and 5-hour Energy. Since 2013, 33 state attorneys general have investigated the marketing or safety of 5-hour Energy. Five of those states — Indiana, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have sued the company since last July, accusing it of making deceptive claims in its marketing. Ohio settled with the company in July without filing suit, after investigating the company for deceptive marketing, with the energy drink company agreeing to pay $1 million for research or public education on childhood disease. Ohio and Indiana are the only states among the six with Republican attorneys general.
Two of the five attorneys general to sue Bhargava’s company in the past year received campaign donations from him as candidates. Washington’s Ferguson, a Democrat, returned a $1,000 donation from ETC Capital in July 2014, one day after his state filed the suit against 5-hour Energy. When asked recently about the donations, his office referred to prior public statements in which Ferguson has acknowledged personally soliciting a donation from Bhargava’s company.
Indiana’s Greg Zoeller, a Republican, also sued Bhargava’s company after receiving a total of $7,500 in donations from the Bhargava-connected Oakland Law Group in 2011 and 2012, which placed the law firm among Zoeller’s top 10 donors in that two-year period.
Andrew Buroker, the treasurer of Zoeller’s campaign, said in an email that while Zoeller doesn’t solicit contributions from organizations under investigation, these donations wouldn’t be returned because they were made before the state’s investigation into 5-hour Energy began.
After The New York Times last year highlighted efforts by 5-hour Energy to influence states not to file suit, Bhargava and his company accused attorneys general of soliciting political contributions from the company while it was being investigated by them.
“Ninety percent of my money is pledged to charity,” Bhargava said in a statement to the newspaper. “I am certainly not going to take it from the poor and give it to the attorney general.”
Not showing up in Michigan
Donations to Michigan political groups given in the name of ETC Capital, Mills and Bhargava totaled more than $450,000 in 2009 and 2010, according to IRS and state filings. Since then, none of them has donated directly to Michigan groups or candidates. But national groups that have received the biggest checks from Bhargava’s companies have been very active in Michigan politics. The timing of the donations and the spending by such groups in the state raises questions about whether the money was earmarked for Michigan.
For example, eight weeks after ETC Capital gave $275,000 to the Republican Governors Association in October 2013, the group gave $276,000 to the Michigan Republican Party. In 2014, Bhargava’s company gave $2.5 million to the governors' association, which paid $3.2 million on the same day to the media company it used to place ads backing the re-election of Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Bhargava’s company also gave heavily to Republican groups active in Michigan’s 2014 attorney general race. In 2013, ETC Capital gave $125,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which donated $34,000 to Republican incumbent Bill Schuette’s campaign on the same day.
Yet numerous Michigan politicians, ranging from his local mayor to statewide political bosses, say they barely know Bhargava, even the ones who have benefited from the political donations of his various companies.
A spokeswoman for Schuette said he has never met with Bhargava and doesn’t know him. Snyder, who won re-election in 2014 thanks, in part, to an estimated $7.4 million in ad spending by the RGA, has met with Bhargava only once — during Snyder’s first year in office in 2011, according to a spokeswoman.
Several Michigan political insiders also said they don’t know of particular pieces of legislation or policy issues that Bhargava has tried to influence.
“What was strange is he never asked for anything back,” said Ron Weiser, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and an ex-national finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. “Usually people want something.”
Bhargava’s low-key approach stands in stark contrast to other wealthy political donors in the state, such as the scions of Richard DeVos, who made a fortune after co-founding Amway Corp., the world’s largest direct seller.
“In Michigan everyone knows the DeVos family,” said Susan Demas, publisher of the political newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. “They’ve made no secret of the fact that they’re willing to be big donors and fundraisers.”
Bhargava’s name, meanwhile, appears sparingly in campaign finance filings. He appears to have made only two political donations in his own name: $1,000 to President George W. Bush’s campaign in 1999 and $500 a decade later to the campaign of Jim Townsend, a Democratic state representative in nearby Royal Oak.
Despite the donation to Bush, the bulk of political giving by Bhargava’s companies has so far been focused on state-level races. Michigan isn’t scheduled to elect a new governor until 2018, but presidential contenders are already visiting the state to shore up support for 2016. Last month, Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush was in town talking to a packed room at Detroit’s convention center.
“Everybody who’s a player and who wants to be a player was there,” said Dennis Darnoi, a political consultant in Bhargava’s home base of Oakland County. “But he wasn’t.”
Associated Press reporter David Eggert contributed to this story.
UNESCO introduced its Opendata site on March 16. The site includes data on 982 country projects, 430 regional projects, and 516 global projects that UNESCO has supervised since 1970. Here's what its accompanying news release had to say:
"Opendata.UNESCO.org is intended to present comprehensive, quality and timely information about UNESCO’s projects, enabling users to find information by country/region, funding source, and sector and providing comprehensive project data, including budget, expenditure, completion status, implementing organization, project documents, and more. It publishes program and financial information that are in line with UN system-experience of the IATI (International Aid Transparency Initiative) standards and other relevant transparency initiatives. "Fact Sheets from SIPRI
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is a well-known and highly respected organization for international security research, data, and commentary. While access to some resources is fee-based, SIRPI provides a number of data-rich resources (often labeled as "fact sheets") at no charge. The Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2014 fact sheet was published online about one week ago and is a good example of what is available for free. This document runs eight pages. You can find more fact sheets published by SIPRI here along with links to all SIRPI publications (both free and fee-based).Global Guide to Research and Academic Institutions
OrgRef is a free data set made available by a British company that consists of the names and locations of more than 31,000 research and academic organizations located around the world. Data provided includes name, country, and a link to the organization’s web site. OrgRef has the same Creative Commons licensing as does Wikipedia. The data is supplied in .CSV format and can easily be sorted and organized to meet your needs.Research Reports by U.S. Congress and UK House of Commons
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) is part of the Library of Congress and conducts research for members of U.S. Congress on any topic they request. Sadly, it's not always easy to access these useful reports since they are not made officially available. The good news is that Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), gets ahold of many of these reports and shares them on the FAS website. What follows are a direct links to recently published or updated reports from CRS.
The House of Commons Library Research Service plays a similar role in the UK. Below the CRS links you'll find two new/updated reports from the House of Commons LRS.
From the Congressional Research Service (via FAS)
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, March 18, 2015
Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, March 17, 2015
Iran Sanctions, March 9, 2015
Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, March 3, 2015
Military Service Records and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources, February 27, 2015
Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, by Topic, March 13, 2015
From the UK House of Commons Library
Egypt 2015, March 20, 2015
ISIS and the Sectarian Conflict in the Middle East, March 19, 2015Searching the iTunes Store
The way most people find apps, music, books, podcasts, etc. from iTunes is by using one of Apple's search tools. The search, however, is often slow and results are not easy to navigate. For these and other reasons I'm finding myself using a tool named Fnd.io to search the iTunes store.
It can be used with any country's app store and, along with search results, provides direct links to browse the charts of the top apps, songs, books, movies, etc. sold in the store. If you're an iOS user, I suggest giving it a look. Fnd.io is a free resource and works on all browsers.
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He is the author of INFOdocket (@infodocket) for Library Journal, and was a co-founder and senior editor at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker. Previously, Price served as a contributing editor to Search Engine Land and director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.
After last week’s head-spinning scene, where my lunch dates caused the most rubbernecking I’ve ever witnessed on a Wednesday at Michael’s, today I was more than happy to dine and dish with a trio of smart, savvy women whose accomplishments elicit applause, not raised eyebrows.
I was joined today by Katherine Nicholls, CEO of Niche Media and Mandi Norwood, the company’s SVP and editorial director. This afternoon’s confab was arranged by Cynthia Lewis, who, besides being the hardest working woman in publishing, happens to know just about everyone. A squadron of folks stopped by our table to say their hellos (Jack Kliger, Mickey Ateyeh and Jon Steinberg among them) before getting down to business at their usual perches, because lunch at Michael’s is never just about lunch. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Katherine Nicholls, Diane Clehane and Mandi Norwood
Katherine and Mandi have transformed what has always been a stable of glossy, eye-catching lifestyle publications — Gotham, Hamptons and Ocean Drive among them — into a luxury brand that is equal parts substance and style. Niche Media is a subsidiary of Greengale Publishing, LLC and publishes city-specific publications which, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, include: Aspen Peak, Boston Common, Capitol File, Los Angeles Confidential, Michigan Avenue, Philadelphia Style and Vegas magazines. The titles have a combined annual distribution of 4.6 million copies nationally. Katherine, who joined the company in 2007 as its chief marketing officer, has risen through the ranks as COO and president before assuming her current position last year. British-born Mandi, who edited her first magazine at the tender age of 25 and has topped the masthead of several publications at Hearst and Condé Nast, came on board in 2011. Working as a team, they’ve seemingly achieved the impossible in this era of rapidly shrinking (and vanishing) print titles. Not only have their books gotten thicker with ads over the past year (I needed two hands to pick up the latest issue of Ocean Drive), but they’ve added to their stable of regional titles with the very timely launch of Austin Way last fall. “There was a big gap in Austin,” said Katherine of the company’s decision to launch their first new title in five years. “There’s a huge benefit to being the first in this incredibly exciting market.”
In relaunching the brand, explained Katherine, it was important to develop and refine a collective mission statement for the titles. After canvasing the editors that helm each book, she came up with the three C’s. “We’re connectors, we captivate and celebrate with a conscience” is now the guiding principle. Lest you think the books aren’t focusing on the visual aspect of capturing an audience, Mandi told me that Niche Media’s Ann Song, vice president of fashion and creative, has “taken our content to the next level, made it sing and look super-stylish.” All the better to appeal to that “incredibly important” fashion crowd.
Each book is edited, said Mandi, with editorial covering “national trends seen through the local lens.” To wit: the upcoming ‘Women of Influence’ issues for each title, which will feature an impressive array of accomplished women, all with a connection to that respective area. NBC’s Tamron Hall is Philadelphia Style’s headliner, Arianna Huffington will be featured on the covers of Capitol File and Boston Common and Renee Fleming will grace Gotham‘s cover. (Full disclosure: I profiled the rest of the city’s most influential women for Gotham.)
Last summer’s special Arts issue featured original works by Peter Max across 10 covers, which were later auctioned off by charitybuzz.com and raised $100,000 for the Humane Society of the United States. The coveted issues became collector’s items overnight. The highly successful concept has been given a more regional point of view this year. In July, the Art of the City summer issues of all Niche Media’s titles will feature works of emerging artists from all 11 regions on the books’ covers, with in-depth profiles inside. Each book will contribute to a local 501C3 organization benefiting the arts. “A lot of magazines do these big events selling themselves,” said Mandi. “We’re not about that. We have to have a reason for doing things. We want to make a difference.”
Katherine told me Niche Media gets forty percent of its audience through a significant investment in verified data from Nielsen Claritas and reaches the “aspirational reader” through its strategic distribution model in haute hotels, restaurants and resorts. With a “core target” of affluent readers aged 35-55, I asked Katherine where millennials fit into the brand’s overall strategy. Clearly, the magazines’ sleek, lively websites attracts younger readers who will find exclusive and constantly refreshed content there. But both Katherine and Mandi believe that it’s the magazine’s informed point of view and expertly curated content that lures younger readers from their mobile devices to actually picking up a magazine. “There’s a level of insider knowledge and expertise [in the magazines] that they can’t get from social media,” said Mandi. To that end, virtually all of Niche Media’s editors live and work in the cities they cover year in and year out. “We’re in the Hamptons all year,” said Katherine. (Mandi is a year-round Hamptons resident with regular forays into the city) “We don’t just come drop in for the season. Over the winter we held small business seminars for the locals there. We’re very engaged with the community.”
When dessert arrived (Fern Mallis’ red velvet birthday cake served up by Michael’s GM Steve Millington), Mandi and Katherine offered an intriguing assessment of the future of magazines. While other executives might bemoan the decline of print, Mandi and Katherine beg to differ. “If I had a crystal ball, I’d say bookstores will come back — not in a big way — but they will come back,” predicted Mandi. “In the not-so-distant future, there is going to be a new cachet about publishing, books and bookstores.” Katherine offered what would seem to be the best case for Mandi’s prognostication: “For the many millennials who apply for jobs with us, it’s still their dream job to work for a magazine.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Fashionista Fern Mallis celebrating her birthday (thanks for sharing your cake!) with three pals including Mickey Ateyeh. Fern is going to be plenty busy in the next few weeks with her upcoming interview with Tim Gunn for the 92nd Street Y and her new book, Fashion Lives: Fashion Icons. Saks Fifth Avenue is throwing her a chic soirée next month. See you there!
2. Peter Brown
3. Cheri Kaufman
4. Jack Kliger and Greg Osberg
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. Katherine Nicholls, Mandi Norwood, Cynthia Lewis and yours truly
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and a well-heeled blonde gal we didn’t get to meet
9. Sara Beth Shrager
11. Uber agent Boaty Boatwright
12. David Poltrack of CBS
14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew
16. United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky
17. Playbill’s Bruce Hallett
18. Attorney Bob Barnett
20. NBC’s David Corvo
21. Daily Mail North America’s CEO Jon Steinberg and Mark Suster
23. Mark Makepeace
24. Philip Tedeschi
26. Peter Feld
27. The New York Post’s Richard Johnson, Chuck Pfeifer and Michael Mailer
28. Gotham’s Juliet Izon and celeb wrangler Jami Kandel of Vision PR
29. The Wall Street Journal’s David Sanford and Lewis Stein
Faces in the crowd: The dashing Theo Spilka, who we learned bikes to and from his office at Firmenich every day. I asked him how he fared during the past few months and he admitted that “the snow did get in the way.” I finally met one person that just might be a tad happier than I am that this endless winter is finally coming to a close.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.
TVNewser: Bill O’Reilly said he thinks NBC should — and will — bring Brian Williams back. That O’Reilly, such a softy.
TVSpy: If you’re going to act a fool, maybe don’t do it places where there are hundreds of cameras around.
PRNewser: Ok Go’s shitty music is featured in another ad. Enjoy, everyone.
A few weeks ago, there was all sorts of online fury hurled in the direction of Deadline co-editor-in-chief Mike Fleming Jr. when he failed to credit the website Latino Review for a Spider-Man-related scoop. Kellvin Chavez started off his March 2 item by revealing that he had been working for weeks on confirming the news; but nowhere in Fleming’s same-day post was that reporter’s work mentioned or linked.
Fleming will likely tell you that he was separately working on the same scoop track all along, and that once Chavez posted, he shared what he had been preparing. But the rule of the Hollywood biz Internet is that if you get beaten to the punch, no matter whether you’re already in the same ring, it’s common courtesy to acknowledge the journalist who officially broke it first.
Cut to 6:30 p.m. PT last night. In the wake of the perceived Spider-Man slight and other similar situations involving Deadline, the Twittersphere was primed to attack. That’s exactly what happened within moments of Deadline’s other co-EIC Nellie Andreeva posting a very clumsily headlined article about a mainline trend in this year’s TV pilot season.
A majority of the objectionable and shocking observations in Andreeva’s piece come from the talent agents and personal managers she sourced. Things like:
“Basically 50% of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,” one talent representative said.
However, thanks to the terrible headline, some additionally awkward Andreeva commentary paragraphs and the overall need of a feature like this to be handled with extra-special editing care (which it apparently wasn’t), all social media hell broke loose. There would have been bedlam no matter what; but the extra level of animosity directed at Deadline in the past 24 hours has a lot to do, also, with the site’s perceived elitism.
Furthermore, Deadline’s decision to stick with the casting industry jargon term of “ethnic/ethnics” and use that term throughout without quote demarcations only served to compound the outrage.