TV Guide certainly has gone through a transformation.
The publication — a division of Gemstar-TV Guide International, a leading media company based in New York — has morphed from a journal used by consumers solely to check TV listings into a full-on entertainment publication.
Today, the magazine is one of the most popular weekly magazines in the country, with 20 million readers and 3.2 million circulation. It features editorial about everything from broadcast and cable programming to syndicated shows and celebrities. What’s more, its advertising pages are up 23 percent this year. Other related divisions include the TV Guide Network, a cable channel reaching 82 million cable and satellite households and TVGuide.com, a Web site with more than 5.7 million unique monthly users.
Vice president of circulation marketing for Gemstar-TV Guide International Susan M. Allyn, who steers the company’s consumer marketing effort, says the major transformation happened in October 2005, “when we were no longer the Yellow Pages of TV listings, and we actually became an entertainment magazine.”
“That drove really strong, really fundamental change in our marketing efforts,” she says.
The magazine’s direct and interactive marketing, for example, began focusing on communicating to readers that TV Guide was, indeed, a brand-new magazine. In addition — since through market research the company learned that its audience was getting younger — it realized it would get more subscribers from the interactive arena and began focusing more heavily there.
However, Allyn — who was inducted into the DMA Circulation Hall of Fame this year — says interactive marketing follows the same best practices and common sense as traditional direct mail.
“How is having an e-mail that grabs you any different from an envelope that breaks out of the rest of the mail at home?” Allyn says. “It’s just the same rules.”
One interactive area TV Guide is focusing on is online promotions, especially since the Internet provides the magazine with a steady stream of highly sought-after consumers with excellent demographics, says Tom Augeri, executive marketing director for new business at Gemstar-TV Guide International.
To reach prospects online, TV Guide places advertisements throughout its Web site in various forms: banners, small header ads, larger form ads and links.
“We measure the response on each position within our site to make sure the creative and the offer is maximizing response,” Augeri says. “We are constantly testing offer and creative — both upfront creative and the order forms that follow the clickthrough — to maximize profitability.”
In addition, Augeri says, TV Guide regularly tests various online credit card incentives to close the transaction before visitors leave the site. It also is testing co-registration programs and targeted banner ads to outside sites.
However, while Augeri says all of TV Guide’s internal ad deliveries perform with sterling ROI, “the outside sites are harder to make work due to cost structure and the difficulty in finding the right audience.”
Augeri explains that within their offers, most outside sites offer competitive information that the audience perceives as being free, and when TV Guide promotes in that environment, “we are asking for trial and payment from a customer who is not in the right frame of mind for that type of sell.”
“In addition, we sell a [low-cost] product, which means our response rates have to be high to cover [cost-per-thousand] costs to produce an acceptable ROI,” he says.
Augeri also says that while TV Guide is not moving away from its traditional direct response marketing channels, it is “incorporating Web addresses into these sources, making it easier for some customers to subscribe, [which] lowers our costs while increasing response and ROI from these sources.”
One area of digital marketing that the publication is not too keen on is e-mail marketing, though it still engages in it. While TVGuide.com delivers e-newsletters, and the magazine promotes itself within the newsletter, “we produce low-volume, profitable orders via the newsletters,” Augeri says. “Deliverability issues and level of authorization are major issues in e-mail marketing.”
Search engine marketing, on the other hand, works much better for TV Guide because it can target ads to an audience based on keywords.
“By targeting the keywords, we are able to produce economical subscriptions,” Augeri says.
Social networking sites
So far, TV Guide magazine has not advertised on any of the social networking sites. Before it ventures into those waters, Augeri says, the magazine is trying to figure out how to advertise there without intruding on the customer experience.
“We see social networks as an important part of the Internet expansion,” he says. “[But] we are cautious to make sure that we are seen positively, given the ease [with which] negative publicity could hurt TV Guide if we are promoted incorrectly through word-of-mouth.”
Still, the company is looking into social media, especially due to the shift in younger readers.
“We don’t want to advertise on a social network,” Allyn says. “We want to create an event or a contest that people can work together on. We have very creative ideas that we are not ready to discuss yet.”
Online promotion tips
Augeri offers the following tips for successful online promotions.
1. Invest in your target audience. “Target your promotions to sites that are likely to match your target audience,” Augeri says. “That means you need to understand the demographics and the mind-set of visitors coming to a site [on which] you are promoting.”
He adds that online promotions can seem inexpensive until you realize that very few customers will click on your ads.
“If you are not reaching your target audience or reaching an audience open to your message, you will never have a chance,” he says.
2. Test widely, but limit your exposure. “You need to explore any way that a customer may interact with your promotional message, but you need to go into all tests with your eyes open,” Augeri warns. “Ad agencies are not in business to limit your dollar exposure; that is the client’s job. The reality is that many promotions will not work, [so] you must limit the pain while attempting to expand your promotional universe. You should test offer, creative and different marketing channels, but manage your budgets carefully.”
3. Understand your economic model. “This is a corollary to limiting your exposure,” Augeri says. “You need to understand the leverage points for every promotion.”
In a cost-per-lead environment, he explains, conversion of the lead is the key leverage point. In a cost-per-thousand program, however, clicks and conversions are both key leverage points.
“Setting benchmarks on key metrics for every program before it starts will allow you to get out of poor-performing promotions quickly,” Augeri says. “You need to understand the metrics behind profitable promotions, and limit your tests … before throwing major dollars at a promotion.”