Penske Media, founded in 2003, has made significant investments over the years in over 18 trade and consumer brands including Variety, WWD, Robb Report, Deadline, Beauty Inc. and HollywoodLife among others. In December, the company announced a strategic investment in Wenner Media, and with it, a controlling stake in the iconic music and culture bible Rolling Stone.
Since December, Penske Media has been putting resources into growing content and editorial teams at Rolling Stone, evolving the famous brand, which was founded in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph J. Gleason, for the competitive digital media landscape.
Among the changes, the revamped Rolling Stone will have a raised cover price, heavier paper stock, and a larger page format. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will also cut back circulation and production costs by only publishing once a month.
Penske is also developing new revenue streams for Rolling Stone, including events, ecommerce and brand licensing. The company brought in Amber Mundinger in March, as the new senior vice president, live media and strategic partnerships responsible for overseeing ideation, sales, and execution of events at Rolling Stone.
“Events give us the ability to bring our editorial content to life and give subscribers, fans and the industry a fresh way to connect with Rolling Stone,” Mundinger explained. “Events live beyond their in-person experience, with extensions across platforms that give us new content to share. They often also generate breaking news with compelling conversations or experiences and we can bring our social following there in real time with live social and streaming.”
In February, Rolling Stone hosted their annual Super Bowl weekend fete, the Rolling Stone Big Game Party, at International Market Square in Minneapolis. In April, they also hosted The New Classics, a live performance event in New York City featuring 20 creatives from the worlds of music, movies, TV, sports.
Mundinger said there are more live events planned across the second half of 2018. Rolling Stone is planning a more significant presence in the next 18 months, up to 10 events annually. “We will create new events around core areas of editorial content focus and work closely with our editorial team to ensure alignment across music, politics, entertainment and pop culture,” she said. “As we see opportunities that are a fit for our brand, we will delve into new areas as well.”
Into the next year, Mundinger said they plan to create Rolling Stone signature events around key cultural moments, in music, in politics and in entertainment. “The areas we go deeply into as a brand we want to have a presence at across verticals,” she said. “For example, with music, we will be expanding around key cultural moments such as The Grammys in addition to fostering a stronger presence at festivals and being the thought leaders’ forum for discussing the future of music amongst peers in the industry. In politics, we will house the space for conversations about pivotal issues that allow for communication on every side, all discerningly moderated by Rolling Stone editorial talent. And with entertainment, we will ensure we are creating and supporting experiences during key moments in film, TV and the arts.”
The New Classics
But there are also new areas beyond culture, politics and entertainment Rolling Stone will expand events into, Mundinger said. “I am excited to see us bring the brand to life experientially in a deeper way,” she said. “Second, I am excited to create a strong presence around moments such as The Grammys as well as around key initiatives in politics and entertainment.”
Events, as an extension of Rolling Stone's content, will live beyond the live experience as content across its channels. And while in-person, live events are a major focus for Rolling Stone going forward, live digital and social events are a “natural connection,” according to Mundinger, “at times when it doesn’t make sense for us to build out a full event production.”
Events are a significant part of the brand's revenue diversification, but they're also a channel to create further brand loyalty, community and brand recognition, she explained. “They should be opportunities for individuals to share in a moment, learn something new and get closer to the brand,” Mundinger said.
Taking a page from other luxury titles in Penske's stable, some Rolling Stone events will provide premium experiences with exclusive guest access. “Every event has its own strategy, but yes we will create exclusive guest access and work to give people an experience they would not normally have access to – both in person and, for those who cannot be there, via the distinctive content we create from that experience,” Mundinger explained.
Rolling Stone, has from its earliest days, told compelling stories that defined and illuminated pop culture. The magazine also helped launch the careers of many prominent journalists, authors and photographers, including music critic Lester Bangs, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, literary icon Tom Wolfe and photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Into the future, this rolling stone won't be gathering moss, if this insight into their strategy is any indication.
Mundinger offered: “It’s important to be where your subscribers and consumers are as well as listening and talking to the industry on a regular basis,” she said. “I have learned that the best event concepts come from working in collaboration with editorial; there are many events in the market and we need to deliver experiences that are authentic for the Rolling Stone brand.”
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