There’s not much precedent for separately owned titles going to market together, and they usually involve independents. (The Nation and National Review tried it last year to give advertisers a way to deflect backlash they might get from supporting just one of the politically leaning publications. New York and Dwell have joined forces on City Modern, an event series and joint publication.)
The big magazine groups often have directly competing titles and historical rivalries, though, making such alliances difficult.
But the Meredith-Wenner pairing shows how media companies have to get more creative as the competitive landscape gets more fragmented. Together, Fitness and Men’s Journal can guarantee advertisers a monthly average circulation of 2.2 million, putting it just ahead of AMI’s Shape and (combined circ guarantee of 2.15 million) and approaching Rodale’s Men’s Health and Women’s Health (3.3 million).
Eric Schwarzkopf, publisher of Fitness, said he got the idea about a year ago. He’d worked at AMI’s Shape, so he knew that the title bundled itself with sibling Men’s Fitness. “We have no men’s titles,” he said. “It hurts us. Then, I thought, ‘Hmm, Men’s Journal doesn’t have a female partner in its stable.’”
He cold-called Chris McLoughlin, his counterpart at Men’s Journal. “He said, ‘I have this crazy idea,’” McLoughlin recalled. “‘Can we have breakfast?’”
The two met at Naples 45, a common Meredith haunt in Midtown. McLoughlin immediately liked the pitch. “It gives us a solid chance to compete with AMI, Rodale,” he said. “By the time he got done talking, I thought, ‘This is fantastic.’” And a deal was born.
Schwarzkopf stressed that the titles aren’t just looking to increase ad share through rate cuts, as bundling deals often are perceived. Marmot, the first client to sign up for the program, committed to a year-long, multiplatform deal. Another advertiser, which asked not to be named, will run four-page units.
Discussing the partnership, Schwarzkopf often uses romantic terms. (“When I see Men’s Journal at events, it’s like we’re dating.”) And like all potential mates, they’ve inevitably had to broach the topic of money (or, ad rates). “We definitely had to lift the veil and have full transparency,” Schwarzkopf said.
The cross-culture dating experience has also been an eye-opener. Big, public and folksy, Meredith is the embodiment of mainstream America—the antithesis of Wenner, with its counterculture roots.
Schwarzkopf lingered at the Wenner Media offices during a visit there. “I wish our offices looked like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like theirs do,” he effused. “I could live in their building because I just love music.” McLoughlin also toured Meredith HQ, with its test kitchen for magazines like Every Day With Rachael Ray. He proclaimed it “interesting. They’ve got a lot of space over there.”