Interveiw: Samir Husni, magazine professor

Samir Husni has been dubbed Mr. Magazine for his fanatical pursuit of the printed periodical.

Samir Husni has been dubbed Mr. Magazine for his fanatical pursuit of the printed periodical.

He is a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, where he heads the magazine service journalism program, and has authored Samir Husni's Guide to New Consumer Magazines, in its 19th year, as well as Launch Your Own Magazine: A Guide for Succeeding in Today's Marketplace and Selling Content: The Step-by-Step Art of Packaging Your Own Magazine. Husni spoke to about the successful magazine launch, pitching media to the media, and where he stands on ads in the middle of content. With so many magazine titles, how does the PR professional know what to target and how to find a niche in each different publication? That's why [PR professionals] charge the [big] bucks. For example, I'm working with a new magazine, Conceive, for people who are trying to start a family. It will be launched in September. Now I can send a press release to all of the media saying, "Hey, this new magazine is coming up in September." Or I can start thinking about who will be interested in covering topics or writing articles about some of the articles that are included in a magazine like Conceive. Then you start thinking about women's magazines - like Lady's Home Journal - that might be interested in writing an article, saying, "Hey, this magazine is going to help you get pregnant." Rather than just say, "Hey, Conceive is coming out," give them an exclusive feature or tip. Every PR piece must include a proper tip for that newspaper or magazine that the readers will benefit from even if they don't buy the magazine or the product you're selling. That's why I want to become more a benefit provider than just an information provider. What do you need to do when you're promoting a new magazine? I firmly believe a new magazine needs the backing of a good PR firm or someone that is willing to spend the time and energy to promote it. By the same token, I tell all the editors and publishers that the best promotional work you do cannot help the magazine survive if you don't have good content. One of the things I tell PR people before they accept the job and agree to promote the magazine is to make sure that they are happy with the uniqueness of the content and the publication. Make sure that there is content good enough to sell and promote. The fastest way to bring down a bad product is to have a good promotion. Look at Talk magazine. They got more publicity than I had ever [seen]. Yet, they lost $55 million and closed their doors because there wasn't really any content that benefited the readers. The first step is to get a good PR agency to work with you. The second step is agreeing upon a unique selling feature that the content is going to provide. The third is asking the question, "What's in it for the media outlets?" Before you send out the press release, you should think, "Why should The New York Times or USA Today carry that press release?" Is it tough pitching media to media? Not really. We [in the media] love reading about each other. It's a bit of an ego trip. Once you can get Keith Kelly [of the New York Post] or David Carr from The New York Times to refer to your magazine, you say, "Wow." The media people have learned how to get Carr or Kelly to talk to them - by providing exclusivity. There are so many opportunities now. The PR people have more potential to have an impact on publicity. I know Hearst does its own PR for Shop Etc. I received [so many] phone calls from newspapers in the last week about that magazine, which means they must have done something gimmicky to get their attention. And it's not even the first [shopping magazine]. With a situation like getting Ladies' Home Journal to write about Conceive, isn't it difficult getting a publication to write about your publication when they may have intersecting audiences? No, because they will cover [that topic] on one page or in one article. It's not devoted to that [topic]. Once you get someone to read something, it's addictive. That's why I say you have to give them a unique experience. Even if you just read about Conceive in Ladies' Home Journal, you're going to benefit. You're going to learn something. Ladies' Home Journal will be true to its call by being a service magazine for women and providing them with everything else that's going on. They have to view [their roles] as gatekeepers. They are looking at the 100 magazines out there that are, for example, trying to address pregnancy and saying, "This is the one we want to write about because it best benefits our readers." [The spread of media] is what is making the job of PR people harder and that's why agencies are charging $5,000 or $6,000 retainer per month to handle a new magazine. When it comes to the casual reader at Barnes & Noble, what do magazines need to do to promote their magazine to get it from perusal to purchase? They need a cover line or sell line that will give me an answer in less than 2.5 seconds that [demonstrates] that there's something in it for me. Whether it's Britney Spears' 55-hour wedding or 17 ways to lose weight or three easy steps to re-do your kitchen. The image will stop you for 2.5 seconds, but the cover line will be the thing to make you pick it up. has caught some flack online for linking words in its articles to ads. Is the line between editorial and advertising crumbling? This is one of the biggest myths in our industry. I laugh every time I read about this topic. Why do people buy magazines? The advertising in the magazine is an essential part of the package that readers are getting. As long as I am not prostituting myself and selling articles for ads, then I don't see any problem. Editors are well aware of when they do and don't cross the line. If I buy Dog Fancy magazine, I expect to see ads for dog food. If I am reading a shopping magazine like Lucky, I expect to see ads for some of the products that were reviewed. But as long as my reviews are not based on a "give me an ad and I will publish the review" scenario, I don't think the readers will mind. As long as we are not cheating the readers by selling our content, I don't think that readers are going to be so mad that you've placed an advertisement in an article. Is this something that's dredged up by the media and is not necessarily about the readers? I think the readers are smart enough. This is hypocrisy at its best. We want to be an advertising-driven medium. We wanted to be sponsor-driven; we accept to sell our magazines for $.50 or $.35 or whatever, and get the money from the advertisers to help sponsor it, yet we say we have complete editorial freedom. Who are we kidding? Until we start charging the real price for the content of the magazine - $5, $6, or $8 - we have to dismiss this myth of complete separation of advertising and editorial. Considering the fact that we depend on advertisers to survive, are we biting the hand that feeds us? Where are there new magazines starting up? It's not the entrepreneurs that year after year have had the dream of becoming the new multimillionaires from their magazine ideas, it's all of the big guns: Time, Hearst, Conde Nast, and Meredith, without exception, putting new titles in the marketplace. What about trade magazines? Some have said that Google search will be the death of the trade magazine? Any magazine that can provide the role of the gatekeeper and provide information that I cannot get in any other place at the same amount of time is not going to die. Try to do a Google search on chemical engineering and look at the difference in reading a chemical engineering magazine. Think of how long the Google search would take. All of these predictions are based upon the assumption that people have so much time on their hands to do the searches and find what they are looking for. We are busier than ever before. We are looking for more information, we need more information, but we want it in less time and less space. We want it now. That's what the good publications - either b-to-b or consumer magazines - do. We have to do the searching and provide the readers with what they are looking for. It behooves media companies to pursue all channels, and there have been recent software developments that have made e-magazines possible - a PDF that looks like the print edition. How do you think this technology will fare? It may do the trick for some people, but there is no way it will replace the print magazine. I've seen those things, and they look good, feel good, look like a magazine, but it's reminds me of the old Parkay ad. It tastes like butter, looks like butter, feels like butter, but it ain't butter. Try to go to the bathtub with your laptop and flip through the pages of Rolling Stone, and see what happens [Laughs]. Just like some people will always collect books and LPs, do you think some people will always want that magazine in their hands? We, as humans, thrive on the sense of touch. As long as we are human, we will have printed magazines. I don't know what the future holds. Only two people can tell you the future - God and a fool. But I do know that there will always need to be someone doing good editing, reporting, and good packaging. For the foreseeable future, the best way to do this is through a printed magazine.

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