Roman Holiday: Magazines and Madcap Reporting

M.S. in Publishing students and World Magazine Conference volunteers (l-r) Ashley Roberts, Anna Arutiunova, blogger Pam Majumdar, and Clarisse Khairallah at the Colosseum, Rome
M.S. in Publishing students and FIPP World Magazine Congress volunteers (l-r) Ashley Roberts, Anna Arutiunova, blogger Pam Majumdar, and Clarisse Khairallah at the Colosseum, Rome

There is perhaps no greater city than Rome to exude the glamour and luxe often associated with the magazine industry. The ancient allure of the city provided the perfect setting for a global conversation on the future of magazine media. The 39th World Magazine Congress organized by FIPP brought together over 700 industry professionals to discuss current trends and successes, and what they mean for the future of magazine publishing.

Four NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students were selected to attend the congress and report on the event for the FIPP website. Anna Arutiunova, Clarisse Khairallah, Ashley Roberts, and I were excited to be part of the a global conversation and also to meet three NYU Center for Publishing Board of Advisors members attending the Congress: Martha Nelson, Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc., Mary Berner, President and Chief Executive Officer of MPA-The Association of Magazine Media, and Declan Moore, President of Publishing and Digital Media for the National Geographic Society.

No sooner had we arrived in Rome than we headed for a tour of the Colosseum and Capitoline Hill (as well as a detour for some gelato). The next day, the congress opened with a stunning gala at Villa Miani. A live band, dance floor, endless food options, photo ops, and “paparazzi” galore all contributed to the elegant and fun cinema-inspired theme, ‘Roman Holiday.’

Roberts, Khairallah, Majumdar, and Arutiunova at work during the conference
Roberts, Khairallah, Majumdar, and Arutiunova at work during the conference

Congress duties kicked off the next morning with iPads, laptops, cell phones, and one all-important hashtag for our Twitter coverage of the day’s proceedings: #FIPPCongress. Each of us was assigned to cover specific panels and speakers, and we frantically wrote up our reports right after each session ended. Together, we contributed nearly 30 articles to the FIPP website.

Ernesto Mauri, Chief Executive Officer of the Mondadori Group, delivered opening remarks. His directive, “Digital is where future growth lies, but we need a true multi-channel approach,” was an appropriate introduction to the congress sessions. The day’s panels included how to achieve tablet success, how to earn money from mobile, and discussions of new business models and brand extensions. Martha Nelson of Time Inc. and Fiona McIntosh (Founding Editor of Grazia International and current Editorial and Digital Consultant for Mondadori International, UK) delivered much-anticipated keynotes about creativity and editorial excellence. Time Inc.’s ongoing success stems in part from a continuing belief in “the power of print,” said Nelson.

Volunteers with Center for Publishing Director Andrea Chambers (second from left) and M.S. in Publishing Advisory Board member and Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Martha Nelson
Volunteers with Center for Publishing Director Andrea Chambers (second from left) and Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Martha Nelson (third from right)

Throughout the conference, we learned about brand innovation including live events, multi-tiered subscription models, bundling, e-commerce partnerships, B2B activities, real-time bidding (also known as automated buying), and native advertising.

Mary Berner of the MPA delivered a fascinating keynote on transforming a magazine media organization from the inside out by engaging employees. She said organizations need to do four things to be competitive within the industry: define the brand, communicate it, walk the talk, and shake things up.

The congress closed with a panel of four publishing executives: Wenny Wang (Chief Executive Officer of Business Weekly, Taipei), Bob Carrigan (IDG Communications Worldwide board of directors, USA), Carlo Mandelli (Manager of Magazines for Mondadori Group in Italy), and Rupert Heseltine (Chairman of Haymarket Media Group, UK). Their companies’ struggles and successes in the print-to-digital transition varied, but the most surprising takeaway from the discussion was the matter-of-fact acceptance of the declining print industry. Going from print to digital will not be the focal point for much longer, they agreed. The new emphasis will be on building brand awareness across all channels.

Our conference experience will no doubt help us as we finish our degrees and build our careers in publishing. Despite some doom-and-gloom surrounding the industry from the outside, we feel more confident than ever about our career paths in a field where there are countless leaders testing assumptions, innovating and expanding, and delivering on all platforms. We received a privileged look at what media insiders are really talking about, and they’re not talking about a dying industry.

My fellow students agreed. “Digital is no longer just an add-on to print or a separate tactic, but the new driver behind publishers’ overall strategies,” said Anna Arutiunova. ”Print is not dead and still remains the industry’s cash cow, and some publishers have even launched new and successful print magazines in Europe in the past few years.” Clarisse Khairallah, in turn, felt that the growing emphasis upon multiplatform channels has helped revitalize the industry: “It is necessary to look at a magazine as a whole brand and pay attention to all potential platforms,” she said. And Ashley Roberts summed up our Rome experience with the following thought: “You have to constantly be looking for the next thing and take what you know now as an experience to help develop new technology and ideas.”

After a farewell gala at the Villa Giulia, replete with circus performers and opera singers, we sadly said: “Arrivederci, Roma.” While we had to leave the Eternal City, the glow and the lessons learned will last a very long time. As Anna noted: “The chance not only to  hear the speakers, but also to practice summarizing and reporting on the sessions was an extremely valuable experience for anyone interested in the publishing industry.”

by Pam Majumdar

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