Strategic Planning: A Road Map for Magazine Executives

By Phillips, Reed,, III | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, February 1, 1994 | Go to article overview

Strategic Planning: A Road Map for Magazine Executives


Phillips, Reed,, III, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Magazine publishing is creative. Strategic planning is structured. Here's how to bridge the gap between two antithetical disciplines to ensure a successful future.

Where creativity is king, management jargon is the language of serfs. The magazine industry, of course, is not alone in this belief. Dawn Steel, the former president of Columbia Pictures, observes in her recent memoir, They Can Kill You--But They Can't Eat You, that when Sony was acquiring Columbia, the Sony executives "would refer to the studios as 'suppliers of software' even though we thought of ourselves as 'creators of culture.'"

To bridge the gap between management and creativity, I have created a six-step, jargon-free guide to strategic planning for magazine executives. But before we start putting together a plan, let's answer a few of publishers' most commonly asked questions:

WHAT IS STRATEGIC PLANNING? One senior executive recently challenged me to define--"in five words or less"--what, precisely, strategic planning is. Using just six words, I replied that it is the "road map to a company's future": It defines where a company has been and where it is going.

Managing a magazine company without a strategic plan in place is like driving a car by looking only in the rear-view mirror: You can see where you've been, but not where you are going. A strategic plan gives you the directions you need to get where you want to go.

ISN'T THAT AN OPERATIONAL PLAN? No. A strategic plan is like a map that shows you how to get from one city to the next; an operational plan is like a map that shows every street, park and public building. In fact, the task of developing an operational plan becomes much easier once the strategic thinking is done. WHY DON'T MORE PUBLISHERS HAVE STRATEGIC PLANS? There are a number of reasons, I think. First, many publishing companies are still run by brilliant entrepreneurs who have succeeded by following their own instincts, and who are therefore dubious about planning, which is a collective process.

Second, for small publishing companies that are struggling just to survive, there is no time for planning. Conversely, if things are going well, the CEO may consider the business impervious to change and see no need to plan.

And finally, a reason many magazine companies do not do strategic planning is that it's easier to see results from operational planning. With strategic planning, you often have to wait years to see the plan's full impact.

WHY SHOULD I HAVE A PLAN? The magazine industry is changing so fast right now that publishers who do not adapt to technological and market changes risk losing marketshare to their competitors. In my experience, companies without strategic plans are usually companies with flat or declining growth.

OKAY, SO HOW DO I PUT TOGETHER A PLAN? I use the six following steps:

1. Define the purpose of your organization.

The statement of purpose, or mission statement, should be no longer than one sentence. It should say who you are today and who you want to be in the future. And, except for minor refinements, it should not change much from year to year unless a significant change in direction is warranted.

Multi-title publishers, in particular, need strong, clear mission statements to focus the efforts of their companies. John Griffin, president of the magazine division at Rodale Press, told me that his company wants to be the number-one publisher of health and active-sports magazines in the United States and eventually in the world. With a single sentence Griffin tells us where he wants his titles to rank in marketshare, which markets he is in, and that Rodale has international aspirations.

Today, I see more and more publishers grappling with the question: "Are we in the magazine publishing business or in the information business?" This is precisely the type of issue the mission statement should address.

2. Decide on the planning process. …

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