At last Friday’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala, the NMAF presented Penny Caldwell, publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media, with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, the highest individual honour presented in Canadian magazines.
We asked Penny to compose a message to the industry, which was presented in the 40th anniversary NMA gala program and comprised the basis of her acceptance speech at the gala. Here are Penny Caldwell’s complete remarks.
The Space Between
Our urgent need for innovative ideas and talented creators
by Penny Caldwell
I am honoured to receive this award and extend my sincere thanks to the National Magazine Awards Foundation, to my colleagues who nominated me, and to the many people who have contacted me since the news was announced.
Recently, a student at Cottage Life asked me what I have learned over the nearly forty years that I have worked in publishing. The best advice, I told her, was to manage your expectations but keep dreaming, work hard, be patient, and be adaptable.
That advice came to me from Doug Creighton, the founding publisher of the Toronto Sun when, fresh out of university, I was looking for a job. A family friend had arranged the interview, and Doug said he could probably get me a job on the copy desk working the night shift. What a thrill to imagine being part of a big daily newspaper, even as a proofreader on the night shift. Then he advised me not to take the job. Go out, he said, and find a place at a small newspaper where you will learn to do everything. So I went home and applied to every community newspaper across Canada, and I got a job as a sports reporter and columnist at the Whitby News Advertiser in Ajax.
The newspaper’s editor and senior reporters taught me a lot about crafting compelling stories. When one of the girls on the basketball team was fatally attacked by another student, I even covered a murder. But I recall the day I heard some surprising news: that the purpose of the stories we poured our hearts into was to fill the space between the ads.
If only it were that simple.
Fast forward. Most of us here tonight are still inescapably seduced by the power of storytelling. And while we can’t lose sight of the reality that, yes, in our legacy business the stories have traditionally been what fill up the spaces between the ads, we comfort ourselves that good content comes out on top. Content is king. Our readers pay for the content. Our advertisers pay to be close to the content. How close? Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
Ads are no longer simply adjacent to content,. Now they pop up in the middle of the stories—online and on our TV screens. Not that this is new. Who here remembers the issue of Saturday Night magazine in the late ‘90s, in which an excerpt of Mordecai’s Richler’s “Barney’s Version” was typeset to wrap around a vodka bottle? “Absolut Mordecai.”
While the business model for paid advertising evolves, so does our distribution method. Our world now includes an audience that doesn’t expect to have to shell out for content. And so, in an effort to attract the big numbers—not to mention big data—we give away our valuable content for free on our websites, on other digital channels, and in e-newsletters. Our advertising partners, who in the past clamoured to be close to the content, now want to be the content. Our industry has survived the inventions of radio and television, but I don’t know of a time in which magazines have been under more pressure to reinvent themselves—because with new technology we can, and because with new technology we have to. We now compete in more places and in more ways than ever for our customers’ time and money.
My twenty-year-old, idealistic, sports-reporter self says, what has the world come to? My present, practical business self says disruption happens, get on with it. The magazine industry must adapt—all of us here—in order to keep growing. We are going to have to find new sources of revenue, new innovative ways to engage our audiences that they will pay for. And that means learning everything possible about our customers. We’re going to have to find out what’s important to them, and tap into that passion.
My optimistic self says, we can do this. Yes, because we don’t have a choice if we want to survive. But also because as magazine creators we are very, very good at captivating audiences with compelling stories. Magazines are still a highly authentic, trusted platform whose halo has already enabled our industry to expand far beyond print into mega media brands comprising digital, social, video, audio, events, stores, merchandise, and even restaurants. If we continue to tell compelling, relevant stories, in whatever form, the audience will be there and they will pay. We still need good, high-quality content and the talented creators behind it. We still need to recognize its value in our business.
Tonight, we celebrate excellence. Tonight, we celebrate the creators. And tonight, I offer congratulations to those of you—editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, and publishers—who know how to tell the powerful Canadian stories that have such a profound influence on our society.
Finally, I would like to end with a thank you to Cottage Life, and particularly to Al Zikovitz, my mentor, friend, and long-time boss, who every day teaches me something new about hard work, being adaptable, and chasing your dreams.
Penny Caldwell (@PennyCaldwell) is the publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media. At this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards she was presented with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement. Read her complete National Magazine Awards bio here.
ABOUT THE OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
The NMAF’s most prestigious individual prize is the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, an award that recognizes an individual’s innovation and creativity through contributions to the magazine industry.
The award is open to circulation experts, editors, marketing, sales and promotion professionals, publishers, creators, designers, production managers – in short, to everyone in the industry. It cannot be given posthumously. The annual deadline for nominations is March 1.
For more information and previous winners, visit magazine-awards.com/oa.