Don’t toss out the brand with the bathwater

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Sometimes, when I tell young people where I work, I add a little explainer. “TIME. It’s a magazine. Sold on newsstands. It’s got a red border. No, not the Times. No, not Newsweek, you little cretin. TIME.”

Turns out I was wasting my breath. A new survey by Anderson Analytics finds that TIME is among the best known and liked brands among college kids. I’m serious. Even Ad Age, reporting the survey, was rubbing its eyes:

While in some cases the results were predictable, there were a few surprises. Time magazine, for instance, ranked as the No. 1 magazine, unseating perennial favorite Cosmo and jumping ahead of last year’s No. 2, People.

The results are all the more interesting when read alongside another Ad Age article by Simon Dumenco titled, “Hey, Magazines, Are You In or Are You Out?” He writes:

I’ve got a few questions for American magazine publishers: Are you in or are you out? Do you still believe in the very act, the very business, of publishing? And do you still believe in presenting carefully selected words and pictures — expertly produced information — for a targeted audience?

Dumenco takes my employer, Time Inc., to task for shuttering some very successful brands, including Cottage Living and Teen People. He continues:

Retrenching during an economic contraction is one thing. But starving and killing off your brands one by one — and refusing to invest adequately in the transition from print to web — suggests that you’re simply abdicating. You’ve lost faith in what you do. You’ve lost faith in publishing.

I think what happens in times of economic crisis is that employers panic and jettison every fixed-cost item they can lay their hands on, including and especially employees. One sure way to squeeze costs is to lop off a division altogether. Those of us who work for the marquee divisions once thought we were immune. But that’s all changed now.

We do still believe—passionately, even desperately—in presenting expertly produced information for a smart, curious audience. The mode of delivery must and will change. But here’s to hoping our commitment doesn’t.