As the leader of a publishing group comprising 19 magazines with nearly 200 international editions in more than 100 countries, Cathie Black clearly believes in the durability of print. At a New York University awards ceremony in her honor last week (Nov. 14), she predicted that for the next ten to 20 years, magazines will continue to offer readers an experience that remains unique among the media.
“There absolutely is a future in the printed word,” said Black, the president of Hearst Magazines and the former publisher of USA Today. “But we have to be completely agnostic about content.” She added that magazine publishers will have to be “nimble and flexible” if they want to keep readers connected with their content in a multichannel world.
Black made the comments in accepting a Prism Award from NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), which administers the university’s Master of Arts Program in Graphic Communications Management and Technology. Now in their 22nd year, the Prism Awards recognize those who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in graphic communications and related fields. The annual Prism Award luncheon—held this year at The Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City—is a gala event that attracts hundreds of industry luminaries. It also is the centerpiece of a fundraising program that has collected more than $2.5 million for scholarships.
A student edition of the award goes annually to an outstanding graduate of the M.A. program. The Class of 2007 recipient was Elias Kakomanolis, now a project manager at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.
Black was introduced by Jerry D’Elia, Jr., vice president of manufacturing and distribution at Hearst Magazines, who saluted his boss for showing that magazines can be profitable and relevant in a digital age. Black, he said, both “turned up the brand power” of existing Hearst titles and launched successful new ones like Oprah. He also credited her with strengthening the appeal of the titles’ Web sites, which together with the print publications helped to generate record revenues for Hearst Magazines in 2007.
Black told the audience that thanks to the digital revolution in publishing technology, “you now hold the world in the palm of your hand” in the form of wireless devices that represent a wholly new publishing medium. Because today’s publishing content can have many different outlets, she said, content must be adaptable to all of the platforms that will host it. Editors, according to Black, have gone through “an amazing transformation” in the last few years as they have risen to meet their new multichannel responsibilities.
“We all must be agents of change,” she said, noting that advertising sales will “morph” along with content as publishing’s digital options multiply.
At Hearst Magazines, printed periodicals will continue to drive growth. “We want to acquire, and we want to expand our international platform,” said Black, citing Cosmopolitan as an example of a publishing brand with a global reach. The title, available in 59 countries, distributes 1.1 million copies per month in its Russian edition with almost no unsold returns.
Black urged every NYU student of graphic communications to be “a game changer and a rule breaker” in the new world of multichannel publishing. If that sometimes means playing the maverick, then so be it: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” she said.
The Prism recipient, who distributed autographed copies of Basic Black, her bestselling memoir and management handbook, to all of the attendees, added that the M.A. program was doing a good job of preparing its students for careers in the industry. “You have trained them very well,” she said.
The degree is a part of the newly formed Division of Media Industry Studies and Design, an SCPS graduate program emphasizing media convergence and multiplatform publishing. Under the direction of Bonnie Blake, the division also includes the Center for Publishing and the Center for Advanced Digital Applications, each of which offers a master’s degree of its own. The division also provides continuing education in publishing, digital imaging and design, film, digital arts, and design.