PARK CITY, Utah — What do Glamour, Gwyneth Paltrow and a bunch of snow have in common? On the surface, not much. But all three came together at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The Oscar winner's directorial debut, the short film "Dealbreaker," was produced by Glamour and competed in the festival.
These days, all manner of magazine titles have expanded into full-blown multimedia machines. The era of simply hosting a party for an A-list cover girl is dated. Now, savvy marketing involves taking existing content or creating content based on the title's philosophy and channeling it into everything from television specials (like In Style's one-hour, prime time "In Style: Celebrity Weddings" on ABC and Country Living's "House of the Year" on the A&E channel), to series (Real Simple's new weekly show on PBS), to reality shows (Seventeen's "Miss Seventeen" skein on MTV, which chronicled the selection of this month's cover girl-scholarship winner), to satellite airwaves (Cosmopolitan is launching a radio station on the Sirius network next month; Martha Stewart and Maxim already have stations on Sirius). Still other titles, such as Esquire, have sponsored short-film competitions based on their editorial content. While these moving picture projects have yet to hit a cineplex near you, several could be well on their way.
"Magazines are shrines to gather together to worship in the name of a subject, but you've got to pass the collection plate to stay in the mix," said Michael Levine, a veteran Hollywood publicist and author of books including "A Branded World." "What they're doing is creating multimedia opportunities to pass the collection plate. If they don't, someone else is going to."
Up on the snowy slopes of Park City, Glamour publisher Bill Wackermann was trying to stay a step ahead. Where Glamour's marketing effort, christened "Reel Moments," differs from Esquire's "Reel Talent" or Marie Claire's "No More" contests, is that the magazine actually owns the five short films in the series, produced by Moxie Pictures. The funding came in large part from advertising partners on each film, brands from Nokia (for "Dealbreaker") to Elizabeth Arden and Bebe. The magazine itself gains by expanding its brand image into the film world."We all know how celebrity works," said Wackermann at the private party for Paltrow and her co-director, Mary Wigmore. "It's like, 'There's Kate Hudson. Kate Hudson's got Uggs. You want to be like Kate Hudson, so go buy Uggs.' That was never what we were about. We were always about the reader being the star, so we flip-flopped it and we said to our readers, 'Instead of being inspired by Kate Hudson, Kate Hudson is actually inspired by you. And you have a story to tell.'"
After receiving boatloads of reader submissions, Glamour took them to a panel of entertainment executives and actresses including Lucy Liu and Katie Holmes, to narrow down the stories, then approached Hollywood stars about writing, acting and, in Paltrow's case, directing the shorts.
"I had never thought of myself as a director, nor thought it was something I would do," said Paltrow, who agreed to the project if she could do it with Wigmore, a close friend who has a masters degree in film from Columbia University. "We read a bunch of stories and this one was so funny and we laughed so hard. It wasn't originally called 'Dealbreaker' but it totally ties into our vernacular about what happens when you are dating and a guy does something where you are like, 'Oh my God. It's SO not going to work out.'" Now that she's had a taste of life behind the camera, Paltrow said she's game for more projects. "I love it and I'll probably do it again at least once. I may do a commercial or something like that," she mused.
But Wackermann has other plans for 'Dealbreaker,' including possibly expanding it into a series or a feature-length film. Whether or not Paltrow will be involved "is still in the discussion phase," he said.
Glamour already has plans to produce three more films in 2006, and Wackermann added that word of mouth has traveled so far on the 2005 series that he's already been approached by "major A-list talent." Wondering who? Think about some of Paltrow's pals.
While the four other films weren't selected for festivals ("Dealbreaker" has since been submitted for the Cannes Film Festival), the magazine has made plans to feature them on Verizon's wireless network and it's not stopping there. "Our ultimate goal someday would be an adjunct to Sundance all about women, and we could be a catalyst for more than just a marketing idea, but for really helping women in film," said Wackermann. "Savvy marketers understand that owning and managing content is key to providing value for advertising partners. Whether you are the publisher of a magazine or the manager of a brand, this is the future."The future may also involve having more than one title on a business card. With hands in every pot, the traditional publisher role appears to be morphing into multihyphenate territory, which is, after all, very Hollywood. "Having done publishing for 15 years, I realize it's not so different from producing films. We're there to raise capital, help manage the process and to bring interest to the project," said Wackermann.
The print-to-movies crossover isn't limited to women's titles. Keith Blanchard, former Maxim editor in chief and director of programming for Dennis Publishing, executive produced television shows for the brand, including "Maxim's Hot 100" on NBC as well as shows on VH1 and ESPN. He also managed to write an episode of ABC's "The Drew Carey Show." Blanchard believes a magazine's only advantage over content from nonbranded Hollywood producers is its preexisting brand value.
"When someone's clicking their way through the online cable guide and they see your name on a show, is your brand an added inducement?" asked Blanchard. "Is 'Gourmet's Top Ten Restaurants On Earth' more appealing than the gourmet-free version? If your title promises something to viewers, it can exert Ouija-influence on their clicker thumb and translate to higher tune-in audience numbers. But then you have to be careful to fulfill those expectations, or viewers will feel gypped. The mistake some people make in trying to translate a magazine brand to TV or film is that they try to bring the content directly over, rather than importing the ideals and soul of the magazine brand. If you want to move into TV or movies, you have to forget the mechanics of your magazine, boil it down to its core principles and deliver. Everything else is gravy."
But what about profits? Will extension into films make magazines as rich as studios one day? "When a magazine decides to brand-extend in this way, profit is not usually a motive, at least not directly," said Blanchard.
It would seem, in part because magazines tend to canonize them, that celebrities already have enough pull to get projects made on their own. (In fact, many do.) So why partner with a magazine?
Blanchard had several guesses. "Maybe they believe if they climb into bed with the Fourth Estate, potentially critical media types will go easier on their next flop. Maybe a magazine deal is a new status symbol. But I think it's really because the deal-makers and brokers who put these things together believe complex media events are the road to salvation. You need to cross platforms to get noticed these days. Or lose your s--t and hop all over Oprah's couch."
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