ink-stained wretches

Michael Wolff on the New Adweek, and Why the Tech Community Needs to Go to Lunch

This morning, the inaugural edition of the new Adweek — which emerged partially from the ashes of the recently shuttered Brandweek and Mediaweek — hit desks all over the city. It is heavier, glossier, more colorful, and packed with ads. Michael Wolff, the trade’s editor and the architect of the change, spoke with us about the changes.

My first thought when I was looking at it is, who is your audience for this new print edition?
It continues to be its core audience, and its core audience is essentially buyers and sellers. So, people who buy media space and people who are trying to sell media space. It’s really expanding the idea of who should be concerned with selling media and buying media. So that’s the technology community, obviously. In a sense that’s the big play — those are the people that I want.

I assume with the new website, that’s the same goal?
The website becomes even a more broad play. There are really three categories: It’s the professional audience, it’s the chattering class audience … anybody with an obsessive interest in media, that’s in itself a fairly large audience.

Do you think so? The audience obsessively interested in media is big?
I think it’s big. I don’t think it’s a massive market audience. But I think there are lots of people who see media the way a lot of people see politics. There’s a crossover even in those two areas. Everybody wants to know a backstory — and the media is the backstory. And then the third category is the search engine audience.

Talk to me about the inception of the idea for this kind of revamp. How much of it came from [Prometheus Global Media boss] Richard Beckman, how much of it was you?
Clearly, Richard called me up and wanted something new, for a lot of reasons. The trade-magazine model doesn’t really work anymore. While Adweek still continues to be remarkably profitable, it is less profitable now than it was five years ago, and five years before that. So the question was: How do you take a trade magazine and how do you position it for growth? My answer was Politico. I thought that was especially congenial to Adweek because, number one, there was already a magazine in place that worked. If you took the magazine and made it more attractive, appealing, better reporting, then you would solidify that base, and then have the opportunity to build out the digital side.

It’s funny you say attractive: It was not lost on me that you put a bra on the cover of your first new issue.
And it should not have been lost on you.

Sexy business is a brand that’s been tried before as a brand, not always successfully. Why do you think it will be a winning strategy this time?
First thing is, it’s already a winning one. We are in the luxurious position of having a business that is already very profitable. And now we will give our customers a better product. A better product costs more money. So will you be able to amortize that cost over with some growth? But we think it’s a pretty conservative move. In other words, good business, offer a better product, which will then expand the business.

What’s going to happen to the content that was in Brandweek and Mediaweek?
It’s going to merge into this business. Over the last number of years that content has been more and more the same. These magazines really had no reason at all to exist separately. Except inertia. It makes more sense to cover them together than it does separately.

Talk to me about the design and the layout. You had Luke Hayman redo it. It’s very colorful, obviously, and has a sort of Guardian-type feel to it. What did you want it to look like?
I think that’s it. I wanted it to be highly readable, compelling, and fun. I mean this is a business not inconsiderably about design. So I’m trying to create something in which form has something to do with content.

In your “Editor’s Letter” you started out by saying, “Welcome to the new Adweek — not your father’s trade magazine.” Is there such a thing as “your children’s trade magazine”? You said just before that the trade-magazine model doesn’t work.
Again, I would go back to Politico. Trade magazines are built on the notion of exclusive information. It was usually relatively low-quality information because there was nowhere else you could get it. Nobody really had to try too hard. There are a zillion verticals about the media business now. So, how do you stand out? How do you create an information source which can compete?

A lot of your “Editor’s Letter” was looking forward, but there were flares of the old school. You referred to your journalism as Tolstoy-like. And you closed with going to lunch. Is going to lunch at Michael’s still the model?
Well, I don’t go to lunch at Michael’s because we don’t speak. And I don’t like them and they don’t like me. But! One does still have to have lunch.

Right. But it did seem like a reference to older days of advertising and media.
Our cover story is about these new kind of shops that are opening outside of Manhattan. That’s part of one of our significant themes. At the same time, most of the money is still in Manhattan and most of the money is still going to lunch somewhere. Ultimately, the guys in Brooklyn are going to have to go to lunch — the culture is not overthrown in a day. And aspects of the culture are never overthrown. Do what you will, you have to eat lunch. It’s a curious thing and curious metaphor — because the people who don’t eat lunch actually are the technology people or they have those crummy little lunches in their horrifying and hermetic cafeterias. One of the things I would suggest is that, if they’re going to grow their businesses, if they are going to build advertising businesses and strong revenue streams, which are dependent on the marketing industry, then they better get themselves out to lunch.

I enjoyed the column about Arianna — although taking on Arianna in your first issue …
I would say we didn’t take her on. I would say it was a celebration of Arianna.

She is described as a courtesan a couple of times.
That’s not necessarily bad, especially if you’re a successful courtesan.

The book is pretty heavy with ads. What is the change in terms of ad sales for you guys? Do you have more ads in the book because of this?
Oh, definitely.

Can you compare?
I can’t. I can tell you this is the biggest Adweek that has ever published.

When I originally heard about this, I heard, “Oh, they’re doing an Hollywood Reporter-type change.” What do you think of that comparison?
I don’t think it’s true. What we are is what I’ve been calling a business vertical. We’re not a consumer book, we’re a business publication. You sort of can say that the problem with trade publishing is that it was too niche and the problem with business journalism is that it’s too broad. If you’re in the media business you don’t necessarily want to read about the oil business. So what we’ve tried to do is to create a business vertical. Our stuff ought to be as smart as the smartest business publications, but it’s about the media business.

Michael Wolff on the New Adweek, and Why the Tech Community Needs to Go to Lunch