Stephanie Philp
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What I learned at the 2015 FIPP World Congress

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FIPP, the International Federation of Periodical Publishers, celebrated its 40th World Congress last week. Here's what I learned

After squandering a few minutes in the lobby of the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel—so many elevators—I found myself deep in the bowels of the building facing a garish black and red plaid poster board archway that proclaimed “BEAVER LODGE.”

I turned to pick up my badge from the matching plaid poster board-clad registration booth and soon clipped the nametag to my collar. “Welcome to the 2015 FIPP World Congress!” said no one. Also, my last name was spelled wrong.

Once seated in the main session area, wedged so tightly between two men in suits that we had to syncopate our inhales, my time at FIPP had officially begun.

FIPP, the International Federation of Periodical Publishers, celebrated its 40th World Congress last week with a hoedown at Evergreen Brickworks, snazzy cocktail hours at the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium and, perhaps most memorably, peculiar skewered marshmallows rolled in powdered graham crackers available for the duration of the conference on isolated tables and trays in the gaudy BEAVER LODGE.

In between networking (read: snack) breaks where the strange marshmallow population hardly fluctuated, I listened to “fireside chats” with CEOs of media companies and panels on topics like the “enduring power of print.” That second one was sponsored by UPM, a paper supplier.

Marshmallows aside (because they were), here’s a breakdown of what I really learned:

The Editor as Equilibrium

Now, more than ever before, the role of editor demands you assume control and explore all outlets to retain a cohesive publication. Olivier Royant, editor-in-chief of Paris Match, illuminated this when he pulled up a photo of a suave boat captain during a panel. He said that this guy was what the editor of a magazine was like when he first came to Paris Match as a reporter years ago. Today, he feels he’s more like the second photo he shows: a plate spinner with several presumably porcelain dishes balanced on slim wooden poles on his arms, legs and feet. “Sometimes the plates break,” he said. But you spin on.

You Are a Brand

Take a look at Cottage Life. They’re selling furniture now. Yes, you read that right, furniture. When Al Zikovitz, president and CEO of the enterprise, noticed that Roots was selling sweaters with their brand plastered shamelessly on the chest, he saw a marketing opportunity: “People will pay us to advertise for us.” Sweaters lead to t-shirts and hats, to TV shows and trade shows, and today to candles and indoor and outdoor furniture. Since merging with Blue Ant Media, the magazine’s revenue has gone up 25 percent between 2013 and 2015, and merchandise and e-commerce revenue has increased 160 percent in the last year. The magazine is no longer the heart of the business: it’s the customer, the cottager.

You Can Go “Hyper Niche”

Like Spacing did, opening a retail store and selling subway stop buttons and Home is Toronto tees with back issues of the magazine stacked unassumingly and unimpressively by a pillar as if to say “what magazine? We’re just cool…”

But Keep the Goal in Mind

Unabashedly, that goal is money. Not money for the sake of itself, but money to keep the dream of the magazine alive. Revenue is so (and obviously so) vital to survival.

Craig Barnwell, head of customer knowledge at Dow Jones, suggested everyone try to create “members” out of their subscribers, making your magazine like a “club where everyone feels comfortable and shares a common attitude and values.”

Be that a club where there is an agreement on the best-scented Cottage Life candle or a common understanding of the hippest new button from Spacing, it’s time for Canadian magazines to think bigger business if they hope to stay above the surface in this rapid wave of changing media.

The next congress will be held in Warsaw, Poland, in October 2017. I hope no pierogies are skewered in any marketing campaigns.

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