Magazines are the New Giveway

Don’t laugh. What better promo than a free pub to build brand identity and customer retention?

CDs have become a loss-leader to promote labels, bands, and new music to a targeted community of influencers. After ten stupid years of consumer bashing, music distributors have finally capitulated to selling legal downloads rather than forcing pricey CDs down consumers throats. E-books have thankfully entered the market through a vastly more intelligent process.

Reinvention is the essence of survival.  Apple’s Steve Jobs is perhaps the archetypal example on an personal basis, but in the case of publishing “think out of the box” has a deeper meaning. So many of today’s vaunted titles, Road & Track as a case in point, are no longer viable in a market of immediate online news, cheaper forms of advertising (performance-based), and feather weight content repellent even to the most casual reader.

Pubs with a fundamental editorial mission to deliver timely content such as classified advertising, race news, auction reports, show results, or consumer alerts is about to enter the winter of their discontent.

So what’s the next best thing? Give the damn thing away!

Perhaps that’s not precisely what Hagerty Insurance had in mind when launching Hagerty Magazine a few years back as a quarterly featuring a mix of collector car lifestyle and market news and a smattering of paid advertising. Yet it holds many key features of our discussion. Is publishing a means to an end, or an end to itself? I believe Hagerty falls in the former category.

Hagerty Insurance is a marketing machine with a presence at just about every collector car event the world over, hosted by young and attractive blue-coat diplomats eager to serve fresh coffee and sign policies to insure your $40M collection of vintage Ferraris. Owner McKeel Hagerty has become an occasional lunch companion during our hazardous pay days as Pebble Beach Judges, and from casual observation I would say he is not the type to sit back and watch the world go by.  Insurance is a dull game. A product that no one wants but needs, and where very little perceived differentiation exists among providers. It comes down to price, of course, but service and category knowledge are equally vital in a competitive arena of at least a dozen or so specialist carriers, probably a bunch more if I took the time to go deeper.

So when every ice cream cone is vanilla, how do you get customers to visit your tent and not the other guys? Apart from the aforementioned Hagerty schmooze fests, distributing a nifty publication for 300K customers might be an effective way to maintain mind share and demonstrate that an ordinary business can become something extra ordinary.

I asked Hagerty to comment on the publication’s key metrics and role in brand building; the following response from Hagerty Public Relations Manager, Jonathan Klinger:

Thanks for your interest and reaching out to us for your upcoming blog posting.  Hagerty Magazine is a quarterly magazine with an ABC audited paid circulation of 315,000.  Subscriptions come from two sources:  direct paid subscription for $5 annually or the subscription is included as part of our Hagerty Plus Roadside program.  (Hagerty Plus is an optional program for clients that includes roadside assistance, subscription to the magazine, membership to the Historic Vehicle Association, and other benefits.)

The magazine evolved from what was once a quarterly newsletter to what is  currently the most widely circulated magazine (on a per issue basis) in the collector car space.  This publication is our way of further engaging and entertaining car enthusiasts without directly marketing any of our insurance products.  The editorial goal is to serve a very broad range of car enthusiasts with entertaining and informative stories.

Currently, each back issue of the magazine is available on our website and we are currently developing web and mobile versions.  However, we have no plans to eliminate the print edition as our clients continually provide us feedback that they appreciate receiving the print version.  We recently commissioned a survey of our readership by Avenue ISR, an independent market research firm. ISR reported that 65.7% of our readers share or pass along the magazine with at least one other person, and that 77%  read three-quarters or more of a typical issue.  As a privately owned company our policy is to not share any of our financials but I can tell you that most of our advertisers are repeat advertisers and report excellent results.

I should point out that Hagerty Magazine’s circulation is nearly 100% internally cost-allocated to a Hagerty membership program (315,600) where just 550 are direct paid by subscribers at $5 annually according to Kilnger ($8 per the Hagerty website). To say the publication is the “most widely circulated magazine on a per issue basis in the collector car space” is only factual if accompanied by the key qualifier: “complimentary.” Though ABC audited, this lofty claim invites a few twisted eyebrows.

Yet Hagerty’s practice of circ gamesmanship derives more from a casual innocence than any intention to deceive. The publishing graveyard is full of phonies (Auto Aficionado among the more recently prominent), and the perverse biggies maintaining rate base at all costs (do they think advertisers won’t catch on?). Surely there’s better ways to spend  insurance premium revenue for what amounts to marketing on a grand scale, and only by conducting a cost/benefit analysis could one begin to evaluate returns. In the car world vanity is everything with each reader scouring pages for their face and ride in the most prominent placements possible. Hagerty Magazine responds to this urge for discovery.

In conclusion, I’ll say the model of house-branded publications is a trend worth watching. It can be developed by insurance firms and publishers alike. Publishers, however, need to understand that their core assets are not in distribution, format, or fancy photo spreads, but in their unique energy to form opinions, influence and entertain readers, and put buyers and sellers together in the most efficient methods possible.

Imagine the possibilities?

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