How this media company turned a culture into a runaway, multi-platform success

For Cottage Life and Blue Ant Media, the deal has been a fusion of strengths. The Cottage Life brand is a powerhouse of print, consumer shows, licensed products and TV, reaching more than 4.5 million Canadians every month. Blue Ant Media distributes content across TV, mobile, web, print, events and consumer shows, and isn’t afraid to go big: establishing a global content division, investing in a YouTube video network, and operating 11 media brands, among them Cottage Life. 

Zikovitz and Blue Ant Media founder and CEO Michael MacMillan will speak at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada, which takes place from 13-15 October this year (see the provisional programme here, and register here to join them, some 60 other international speakers and 700-800 delegates in Toronto).

Magazines Canada contributor Kim Pittaway spoke to Zikovitz ahead of the Congress.

What is the most important factor affecting the magazine media industry today?

Diversification. People are getting their information through a wider range of media than ever before: print, digital, video, events. Magazines have to respond to that by being available on all platforms. We’ve probably responded better than anyone else in Canada. We realized early in our business that we’re more than a magazine, we’re a brand, and as a brand we think differently than a magazine alone. 

Differently how?

Our job is to know more about our market than anybody else. We take that knowledge and package it for anybody who needs information and help in our area of expertise, whether it’s a consumer or advertiser. You can only do that with a brand that people really respect and trust and feel proud to learn from. 

When I started the magazine, I said I was not interested in putting out a pretty picture magazine. I wanted the magazine to be something readers needed, something useful. I was surprised that not every cottager bought it—until I realized that not every cottager reads magazines. Some watch TV. Some listen to radio. Some read books. And so we expanded our content onto those other platforms. 

There were other cottage television shows—but they were produced by TV people, not by cottagers. There were other consumer shows—but they were produced by show people, not by cottagers. 

You can learn a skill, but it’s hard to learn a culture, and cottaging is a culture. We knew cottaging and we quickly learned to do consumer shows, radio and television—and our competitors failed because they knew how to do shows, radio and television, but they didn’t understand cottaging. 

Can you give us an example of your approach?

The consumer show is a good example. At one point, there were three other shows—and we exhibited in those shows rather than running our own. We and many other attendees were disappointed in the shows because they did not reflect the needs and interests of cottagers. The last straw was when we were at a show where an exhibitor displayed a massive yacht that no cottager would ever buy for the cottage. 

When we started our own show, we rewrote many of the rules of consumer shows. We set down so many new rules that exhibitors couldn’t believe it. We rejected exhibitors whose products were not specifically geared to cottaging—including major credit card companies. 

In other shows, if you booked early, you got first choice of the space. So you as an exhibitor dictated your placement and could choose to have the same booth space year after year. We said we’re not doing it that way because it leads to a boring, repetitive show. We set our own rules based on what was best for serving the needs of our consumers, and for creating an engaging and interesting show year after year—which ultimately served our exhibitors well too. 

What excites you about the industry?

What excites me? Brand extensions. We’re still looking at a lot of other brand extensions. Those in this industry who are just publishing magazines are going to have problems. We’re now into websites, social media, YouTube, books, digital books, digital copies of the magazine, branded and licensed merchandise, e-commerce, consumer shows and a television channel. 

We no longer rely only on reader and advertiser revenue. We have diversified sources of revenue. That’s how you stay in business. You have to have a brand that people trust and love and then you expand it into all of these other areas. You have to think big about your brand. 

Our aim is to be #1 in the cottage market. We want to be so strong that it is difficult to compete with us regardless of what medium we are in. We’re not just selling magazine ads. We’re selling the value of the cottager. If you want to reach the cottager, nobody can reach them like we do. Nobody can communicate with them better than we do. 

Join Zikovitz and others at the FIPP World Congress

Zikovitz will be speaking at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, Canada. The Congress, taking place from 13-15 October 2015, will bring together more than 60 international speakers and some 700-800 delegates (register to join us in Toronto, here).

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