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The Best is Yet to Come

Despite a rapidly changing publishing landscape, Canada Wide Media is positioned to make its biggest impact in the years ahead

It started with a business opportunity, a borrowed desk and a magazine called TV Week. Over the years it has grown into an established media company that is home to a diverse portfolio of proprietary- and custom-publications, has an exceptional reputation in the marketplace and is celebrating 40 years of excellence this summer.

Nevertheless, the road for Canada Wide Media hasn’t always been smooth. Credibility was hard to come by in the early years, the economic downturn of 2008 had to be weathered and the always-changing publishing industry is a challenge the company faces each day. But through it all, the company has remained steadfast in its mission to serve its audience with quality engaging content.

Now, with the first 40 chapters of Canada Wide Media’s story written, chairman and CEO Peter Legge reflects on what it’s taken to reach this moment in the company’s history, the keys to its longevity and why he is optimisic about the future of print.

Without TV Week, Canada Wide Media would not exist. How did acquiring that magazine come about?
I was working for a radio station in Langley (1974-76). I was fired and heard about Al Davidson’s This Week magazine; he went broke and left the printer with a $72,000 bad debt. I assumed that bad debt, in return for ownership of the magazine. We renamed it TV Week.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while trying to establish Canada Wide Media in the marketplace?
The biggest struggle we had until we acquired Westworld and BCBusiness was to get the business community to take us seriously as a publisher. That took at least 10 years.

Who are some individuals that have helped shape Canada Wide Media’s identity over the years?
Karen Foss has been here almost the entire 40 years, and has done virtually every job at one time or another. She’s smart, clever, a great thinker and a great resource, and has been instrumental in the building of this business. Karen was previously the president of the company, and did an absolutely exemplary job. She remains as a member of the board of directors and a strategic advisor. We could not have built this company without her.

Neil Soper came along—Karen actually convinced him to come here—and he was vice president of sales for 25 years, maybe even longer. He did a great job, and helped us grow our businesses and our relationships with our clients. He came from the radio business and was able to adapt the way that radio people do things into print. He attracted lots of good sales people, kept them motivated and was highly respected—and still is.

Heather Parker, who is still on our board of directors, was in charge of finance and operations. She did a terrific job and was very valuable.

There are other people but I would say those three people have meant the most to me, personally, in building this company.

The publishing industry has gone through challenging times over recent years, but through it all the company is still standing. What have been the keys to the company’s longevity, and what does it need to do to ensure relevance in the future?
The publishing industry worldwide is somewhat challenged. But there are many advertisers and readers who still like magazines. Case in point: the magazine you are reading today is 180 pages. In order for us to continue, we are going to have to look at the various available platforms that we can integrate into one another so that we continue to be a meaningful content provider of good, significant stories that are appealing to a broad cross-section of readers.

We need to keep exploring the digital age, but I’m not sure exactly what that means for regional publishers. I don’t think it means the same for a regional publisher as it does for a national publisher or global publisher. So, it’s trying to decide which is the most effective for the audience, for the advertiser to reach that audience and how we should invest our money. You can never take your eye off the ball. As the communication industry changes, Canada Wide will change with it, and the future looks bright and positive.

What aspects of the company give you the most pride?
The fact that we’ve been around for 40 years and have an impeccable reputation in the marketplace, have no skeletons in our closet to be afraid of and have a lineup of blue-chip companies. These include BCAA, AMA, B.C. mortgage brokers, hospital foundations, two universities and, most recently, BC Cancer Agency and Brian Jessel BMW, and it’s a credit to our staff and our reputation that has allowed us to attract these people.

The fact that clients feel comfortable doing business with us is the joy of my life. If you go to the front desk [of our office], and look at all the magazines and all the people they represent, there isn’t a publisher in North America, in Canada and certainly in B.C. that wouldn’t give their eye-teeth for all of those titles. We don’t keep them by accident, and the number [of publications] continues to grow.

What are your thoughts on the future of print?
A little company started in the backroom of a printer shop, on a borrowed desk, on a borrowed phone with half an editor. And 40 years later, we’ve got 50 magazines, websites and newsletters. We’re profitable, we’ve weathered many storms and now we’re weathering this digital battle that’s going on, which I don’t think affects regional periodicals nearly as much as it affects national periodicals. We’re not news anyway, and I think you go to digital to look at news. So what the Economist does, and what Time magazine and MacLean’s do is completely different than what we do. If I look at the magazine this story is in, it’s 180 pages and is filled with advertising. You can’t trick them all. I think people still like regional magazines.

Beyond the numbers, how do you measure the company’s success?
When I go to a lunch, a cocktail party or I’m just downtown at the Four Seasons, the regard this company has in the media business, in this marketplace, is the greatest success that we can have. How people talk to me, how they talk about our products, how they talk about what we do and how we service them, that is our success.

Why Agencies Wish They Were in the Magazine Business

Or: why Canada Wide Media is feeling pretty good these days 

It’s not news that the ad-business-as-an-assembly line has been obliterated. The model whereby the client paid an agency’s account executive who briefed the brand planner in charge of media insight, who briefed the media planner, then punted it to the creative team to create content for all channels (including the juicy TV spots) and then handed off a brief to the producers and directors to shoot, is just an AMC memory.

The reasons are many: the Internet’s elimination of the middlemen; corporate belt-tightening as the recession slogs on and marketers are looking to do more with less; and, of course, human nature and the fact that we all ultimately want to consume media on their own terms. We’re control freaks and proud of it.

So why would clients throw big dollars on mass-produced TV spots on rented platforms, when they can just convince their target audience to share their message with friends who trust them? Don’t get me wrong. A big TV spot is still highly effective (as is a gorgeous glossy print ad, and much cheaper, too), but increasingly Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are looking to complement, not interrupt, their target’s media consumption. (See the briefing about the “Native Advertising” trend on page 152.)

But despite knowing that the end game is a one-to-one, customized relationship built on the utility and value that a brand can provide, more often than not, marketers violate the covenant of this new reality: trying to sell too hard on social media or not offering anything of value and just adding to the noise that we all retreat to our curated social channels to avoid.

Small wonder, then, that an average tenure of a CMO in the U.S. has dropped from 22 months two years ago to 18 months today.

Many marketers don’t know where to turn. Their incumbent agencies share in their confusion about how to operate in the chaos while new upstarts—content marketing agencies, brand journalists, social media whisperers—are promising a better way.

Kraft, for instance, works with about 75 marketing service providers. The AOR still exists, but there are increasing hedges against it.

Consumer behaviour is also changing, of course. As Ian Schafer, founder of digital agency Deep Focus and the real-time marketing service called Moment Studio told Ad Age in 2012, “People are being drawn to content not through publishers and pages but through carefully customized people and feeds. We rarely ask ourselves which website should I visit now? Content finds us through our densely connected social networks. We explore content because it is relevant to us topically, personally and culturally. And nothing is more relevant to a consumer than right now.”

This point is a big reason why interruptive advertising is being written off. A brand’s proposition needs to naturally attract its target market.

This means, Schafer goes on, that marketers will need to put out original content that “consumers genuinely want to engage with and pass along to others. This content entertains, amuses, informs, serves a function or satisfies a consumer need. It’s welcome instead of annoying or interruptive.”

Dig deeper into the buzzwords that you hear around ads these days and you hear how a brand’s messaging needs to be authoritative, transparent and trustworthy.

Sounds a lot like your favourite Canada Wide magazine, doesn’t it?

Magazines, after all, don’t overtly sell things. They either add value to people’s lives or they’re ignored and go out of business. It has to be useful, entertaining or informative. Or, ideally, all three.

Now, does it start making sense why all you hear these days is that all brands—from car companies to toilet paper brands—need to be media brands?

Exacerbating this flight to utility and content is the recent display/banner ad blowback and froth over “native advertising,” whereby a brand’s messaging lives in an editorial context of the site, resembling stories and news feeds and not the tiny illegible banner ads that look so sad on mobile screens.

And since every company needs to be a media company now, there are plenty of service providers willing to help that happen. And that’s why ad agencies want to be in the magazine game: the potential for them to lose market share not just to other agencies, but to a multitude of “storyteller” subspecies is unprecedented.

What is inevitable is the coming competition between the content creators—those set up to create content quickly and distribute it cheaply—and their traditional partners in accessing the client’s media spend: the ad and media agencies.

This, of course, gets really awkward given that publishers still depend on these agencies to buy their media. But how long this treaty holds—especially as publishers continue to battle flat print ad sales and only marginally profitable CPM sales—will be fascinating to watch. Or, if you’re a 40-year-old media company trusted by clients and audiences, capitalize on.

We Admit It: Native Ads Are Not a Silver Bullet

But done right, they can enhance your precious credibility

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with a box set of Mad Men, you’ve likely been overrun with breathless marketer chatter about content marketing and, more recently, “native advertising.” And if you’re like most marketers, the ubiquity of those terms has done squat to help you understand them any better.

Lucky for you, Canada Wide Media has been offering in-stream native solutions (we call our units “promoted content”) for more than a year. And while there are not enough pages in this Canada Wide Media 40th Anniversary report to properly and thoroughly explain long form, editorially based marketing, what we can do is provide a list of top-line pitfalls and opportunities about migrating your never-clicked-on, interruptive banner ads into contextually sound, engaging stories about your brand’s validity in your customer’s lives. Well, we’ll try, anyway.

First off, why the rise in native ads?
Back in the mid ‘90s, banner ads had click-through rates of 30, 40, even 70 per cent. Today, those rates aren’t even a fraction of what they used to be. A famous analogy by a hyperbolic Buzz Feed exec estimates that you have a higher chance of summiting Everest than clicking on a banner ad. Banner blindness is very real. Just try to remember the last three banner ads you saw (never mind clicked on). Go ahead, I’ll wait… See?

Overall, native ads engage us more than banner ads
The theory with ads is that in-context advertising is much more useful at capturing intent. For instance, the reason why Google Search ads (those highlighted first results that pop up when you Google something) pour millions into the company’s coffers every hour is that they are effective: it’s contextual advertising that’s there when people are looking for something specific.

Also, banner ads (at least most of them) can’t be shared, which is a real shame. Native formats, on the other hand, rise above because if built properly, they can be shared, ranked and rated just like a piece of editorial. On several occasions on, our native ads ranked higher than many solid pieces of editorial. On, a native ad describing the iPhone 5 that had launched that week was the most popular piece of content for many days on the site.

Native ads are a brand’s baby steps into brand journalism
Brands want to be publishers. They ultimately want to own their channels of distribution, create their own wonderfully engaging content and try as much as possible to build their own audiences—relationships that will avoid the need to chase endorsements from those pesky tastemakers and gatekeepers known as journalists and the earned media gates they guard.

For marketers unfamiliar with the whole “becoming a media company” promised land, or lacking the funds to launch their own branded newsroom, native advertising provides, at an atomic, inexpensive level, experimentation into that transition of becoming a media company.

Native ads also provide that rush of engagement that a solid content marketing product delivers: time-on-site approaching two minutes (as opposed to the industry average of five seconds for banner ads) and the ability to comment on and share a thoughtful piece of brand journalism.

Lastly, native has worked initially because it’s presented in a trustworthy environment—one where the media outlet has effectively vouched for the quality and integrity of the advertiser due to its deeper leniency to interact with the reader.

But native ads can also annoy your customers…

… by shilling your brand in media that is off-brand
Sure, you can make your bank look cool in a youth culture magazine. After all, what marketer wouldn’t want to engage the under-30 crowd early. But if your native ad on a skate and surf site is all rad and sick in-stream on the youth site yet appears as a lame old dude in dad jeans on the other side of the click-through to your site, then you’re just confusing everyone. The lesson: ensure continuity in all your marketing. That includes the media outlets with which you place native ads.

… by forgetting about the call to action
It’s all well and good if you tell a great story about your brand in 400 words (and better yet if your prospects actually finish reading it) but you have to make direct response a priority. Think about it: you’ve hooked someone to stay a while and drink your Kool-Aid. Are you going to just let them walk? Get them to take a sample package of powder. Or leave their business card for a chance to win a free jug. Or get them to share their own Kool-Aid mix. You get the idea. Provide value for your prospect’s time with your native ad.

… by being boring and irrelevant
Too many publishers create dry marketese for clients and call it “native.” A sales pitch at 500 words is still a sales pitch. Publishers are increasingly devoting more time and craftsmanship to native ad creation. It’s the only way for this nascent ad unit to grow. A boring and irrelevant shill is a waste of your ad money and your prospect’s time. Ensure that your ad appears in a host media outlet’s proper vertical and complementary context. In-stream and contextual is why you paid way more for a native ad, after all.