SPI Day One: Best Sneaker Forward

SPI Opening Day 011

On the opening day of NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, David Granger, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire, waved two ketchup bottles at the 100 students in the audience, and Marvin Scott Jarrett, Editor-in-Chief of Nylon, plunked a pair of Big Bird-hued yellow sneakers on the podium. What does all this have to do with the magazine industry? As it turns, out, plenty.

In his keynote address at NYU’s Woolworth Building, Granger related inviting his editors for a drink and an examination of the old, upright  ketchup bottle and the revolutionary new upside down one. “This is the single greatest consumer product in the world,” he told them about the upstart. “Why didn’t we do this?”

The ketchup caper was meant to illustrate Granger’s point that Esquire needed to change radically to avoid being stagnant. Pretty soon, the Table of Contents turned into a photo collage (“a work of art,” Granger boasts) and fiction was running along the bottom margin of the magazine; coverlines were hidden by photos of Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, and no one cared. Electronic ink for the 75th anniversary cover? By that point, it seemed as natural to Granger and his legions of admirers as an inverted ketchup bottle.

And what about those sneakers? In a panel discussion on “Magazines as Brands: the New Reality” moderated by Cyndi Stivers, Managing Editor of EW.com, Nylon’s Marvin Scott Jarrett, too, said he believes in throwing out the rules. “Other magazines have readers,” he says. “We have fans.” That means building up a fan base through active partnerships with YouTube, My Space, Urban Outfitters, and now Nike. The cool electric yellow sneakers will debut June 13th (four other colors are also available) and Jarrett is jazzed. “Once you become ‘that brand,’ people come to you, and Nike came to me,” he explains. “You need to surf the physical world, and that means doing not only the print magazine, but getting the brand out there.”

Nylon Editor Marvin Scott Jarrett and his Nylon/Nike sneakers

The same message was echoed by Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief of Prevention magazine, who itemized 26 international editions, mobile apps, three special issues a year, exercise DVD’s, a line of blood pressure machines and, most notably, “The Flat Belly Diet,” her # 1 bestseller. Rodale shrewdly sold the book only on www.prevention.com for months, building excitement (and pure profit) before releasing it to the retail market. When a student asked how she came up with the cover, Vaccariello described Rodale’s elaborate process of testing images and text on both books and magazines. “We learned that ‘belly’ is a softer word than ‘abs’ and ‘flatten’ does better than ‘shrink,’” she explained.

By the time Forbes Editor-in-chief Paul Maidment stood up at the podium, he had contrived a great olive martini diet, rejected Jarrett’s suggestion that Forbes do golf shoes, and confessed that his magazine had ticked off Apple 25 years ago for writing something nasty. “Steve Jobs does not forget,” he complained.  “But what can I say? We are a hard, crunchy brand.” Still, Maidment gets sentimental when he talks about helping the reader:  “We live in a world where an audience won’t pay for anything anymore. You pay them…not with money but with unique, engaging content.”

As moderator, Stivers revealed that while her editors generally have “radio faces,” they get more traffic than celebrities when they appear in video on www.EW.com.

Students, for their part, were dazzled by the ketchup, the fancy footwear, lots of video, bons mots and a clear love and passion for publishing filling the room. But what about us, a student asked. “What is our future in publishing?” Granger summed it up well: “This is a time of massive opportunity,” he said. “The magazine industry will be strong after this recession. There will be new launches and, for the right people, there will be hiring. When you get a chance, bust your ass and do a great job!”

by Andrea Chambers

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