June 13, 2019

NYU SPI Week One: Fail Fast, Fail Forward

By Kelly Auricchio, NYU Summer Publishing Institute 2019 student

Be confident, start strong, and don’t be afraid of the opportunities to come. This is only a snapshot of all the advice and lessons my fellow students and I have learned in our first week at the NYUSPS Summer Publishing Institute. After all the preparing and panicking over advance assignment materials, we were finally placed in a room with seventy-something individuals we could connect with over a love of books and magazines. We didn’t know a lot about the nitty gritty of the publishing business, but we did know we wanted to be storytellers. Now we’re in the midst of a six-week adventure that will be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.


We have so much more to learn as we continue into the next five weeks, but here’s some knowledge impressed upon us from the wonderful industry leaders and professionals we’ve met so far.



In the words of our keynote speaker, David Haskell, Editor-in-Chief of New York, "Magazines are a language with images and words." They are expressions of ourselves, an ecosystem of content that questions us about our identities and our lives. This attention to detail, to our likes, dislikes, and passions is what forms an undeniable connection between the reader and the creators of the magazine. Paulie Dibner, Director of Operations at Condé Nast Traveler, told us it doesn’t matter if a staff member’s job is to create the magazine or sell it: their goal is to be a storyteller. In the process, writers think about how the story can work visually, designers discuss the length and shape of the text, and everyone plans how to manipulate one platform to fit another.

Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Samantha Barry moderated the panel: "What exactly is a magazine…and what isn’t?"  She asked astute questions to her panelists, staff members of O: The Oprah Magazine, The Verge, BuzzFeed News, and Facebook, and also shared some crucial industry: "Everyone is your competitor. You’re competing for time and attention." In this fast-paced world of publishing, you either do "it" first or you do it best.



Every speaker, in one way or another, talked about how cultivating the reader’s experience is one of the core elements in a successful magazine. In today’s world, the consumer’s attention span is constantly shifting from one thing to the next. Because of this, brands are constantly trying different techniques to relay information and keep the consumer entertained for as long as possible. To do this, the magazine must present the unexpected. The editors must orient the reader with visuals and language, keep them interested with the right mix of content, and overall, make every issue an event that cannot be missed. Mike Schnaidt, Creative Director of Fast Company, ingrained in us that the experience is everything and that  members of your audience must be brought on a journey every time they view the magazine. This means brands must plan for the future, make hard and fast calls, and, most essentially, listen to the feedback of readers.



Every single piece of a magazine must be considered and work together to make the audience’s experience exceptional. There are no easy jobs in this business. You begin with the magazine’s mission: what are its goals and priorities, who is it for, and why is it different? After developing a brand identity, stick with it, because everything else associated with the magazine must support that brand. Additionally, the staff must understand the difference between platforms—a digital journey will be different from a physical one. What goes on a digital page versus a paper page? How will people interact with both? Michael Joseloff, Global CMO of Fortune put it this way: Consumers are buying a product that is geared toward a demographically-determined audience. They are buying a brand with insights, a product that is prestigious, good quality, safe, and trustworthy. The publishing industry demands a passion for creation, hard work, and the persistence to create something beautiful.



In the words of the wonderful Jessica Pels, Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan, the publishing industry is a constant learning curve, no matter when you enter it. If you’re going to fail, let it improve you for the future. As we learned from the head of content and creative for Iris, Lauren Lumsden, you learn more on the spot of a job than you could ever prepare for. She didn’t know anything about video production when she started in the business, but she increased Cosmo's digital platform from 9 million viewers per month to more than 110 million in less than a year. Joanna Saltz, Editorial Director of Delish, was also the first to say that she learned more about the publishing game a little every day with a lot of trial and error. The most important advice she gave us was "never be too comfortable." How the world takes in information is constantly changing, so the ways we’re entertained need to move with us.



The discussions about content and the exciting new platforms were amazing, but the truth is, you will fail fast and hard if you don’t look to multiple sources to keep the lights on and glowing. Money is essential in this industry, so you must plan ahead and take into account dozens of questions. What is the way your brand will make money? What is your business model? What digital business model will be the most influential and cost productive? These are just a few of the considerations a brand must keep in mind when driving revenue. One of the most important cost concerns according to Kurt Fulepp, Global Chief Product Officer at AccuWeather Inc., is how a brand will allocate funds between digital and print? He says, "The more data you have and more specific you are [in your financial models], the more value you have" to the consumer. Essentially, cover all your platforms if you can.

The week finally wound down with an app slam directed by Chris Sanborn, the Founder and President of Sanborn Agency. After a lesson in how to develop mobile apps and digital products,  Sanborn gave us three tips to develop our own: "Keep it simple, stay close to your brand authority, and consider how it will scale." We broke off into our seven designated magazines groups and pitched him our ideas. Every team had fabulous ideas and we all left that night feeling very grateful for the variety of opportunities and knowledge we’ve been given by SPI.


The speakers and lessons are unbelievable and there is still so much to come. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!

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