A Minute With: Peter Hunsinger

Peter Hunsinger is President of the Cond‚ Nast Bridal Group, which consists of the two leading bridal magazines in the United States, Bride’s and Modern Bride, as well as 17 regional magazines and two web sites. Mr. Hunsinger became the first President of the division when it was formed in February, 2002.

Mr. Hunsinger is a versatile publishing industry veteran with over 20 years of experience spanning four highly successful magazine titles and corporate-level marketing for Conde Nast. Within the company’s stable of titles, Mr. Hunsinger has held the Publisher post at Gourmet, Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair, leading each to consistently strong advertising performances.

Mr. Hunsinger began his national magazine career with 16 years at Gourment, rising to the position of Publisher for his last three years there and helping the magazine become the country’s leading food and lifestyle magazine. Immediately prior to taking the helm of the Bridal Group, Mr. Hunsinger served Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Cond‚ Nast Publications.

Mr. Hunsinger is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio. He lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his wife and their four children.

Harbus: How did the Bridal Group develop as a new business unit, and how does your role as President compare to your experiences as Publisher of individual titles?

Peter Hunsinger: To define what I do, you have to define what we’ve done with the Cond‚ Nast Bridal Group where we’ve reinvented the whole process of managing a magazine group. We had Bride’s magazine, and when the Modern Bride Group became available for acquisition, we saw something that was scalable by combining the two. We now have two totally different magazines in the same field, with two separate, complete editorial teams, plus a series of seventeen regional publications and websites that we’ve rolled into being marketed by one sales, marketing, promotion and PR team that is pretty much the size of what we used to run Bride’s with.

A Publisher runs the business side of the magazine-sales, marketing,
pubic relations, promotions, the circulation strategy, editorial coordination and overall conceptualization of the magazine and dovetailing editorial plans with strategic growth plans.

My job as President is really the overall strategic direction, to manage the coordination between the division Publishers, Editors and web General Managers who form my management team. I also chart our future growth plan and acquisition strategy. No matter what you do in business, you never get away from sales. That’s how you learn what’s going on, both in selling magazines to consumers and selling advertising to clients.

Harbus: How has the unique structure and scale of the division factored in the competitiveness and performance of your titles in the market?

PH: Normally a sales team goes out to sell their magazine and gets caught up in the dog-eat-dog, hand-to-hand combat of ‘my magazine circulation is this’. For instance, when I was at Gourmet we used to say ‘we publish 101 recipes a month versus Bon Apetit which is only doing 97 and those four recipes is exactly why you should buy us’.

All this is to say, a magazine often operates on a tactical level, but now the fundamental advantage is we can go in on a strategic level, and what we do is talk about the market. It’s a much bigger conversation that allows you to climb to the higher-levels within a potential advertiser. This is the fundamental difference of how we’re organized, where we operate almost like an advertising and marketing consultant. By offering clients marketing information they can use, this group of magazines becomes something we can dedicate to the growth of their business.

Bridal is very significant right now because every advertiser, marketer and retailer is looking as the Echo Boom Generation [children of the Baby Boom Generation] moves into that engagement zone. The number of weddings has held consistent at about 2.3 million [per year] for the last fifteen or twenty years. For the first time in a long while, the number of weddings will increase, the same way it did when the Baby Boom Generation went through this stage, albeit at a younger average age.

There’s always been a lot of growth and a lot of money spent on weddings, and that’s been continually increased by people’s escalation of the quality and how much they spend on weddings today. With that factor, plus the number of weddings increasing, we’re seeing exponential increases in expenditures on weddings. So, we go in and talk about these broad trends with our clients.

For instance, the ‘prestige market’-Movado, David Yurman, Givenchy, Este‚ Lauder and Victoria’s Secret- are all coming out with dedicated bridal lines and products, and we can offer information to build those businesses, on top of just delivering traditional print advertising. For the retail stores as well-Crate & Barrel, Williams & Sonoma, JC Penny and Target (which is the largest Bridal registry company in the world with its Club Wed program).

Yesterday we had a meeting with a cosmetics company and they were asking ‘what should we do?’, ‘how do we address the market right now?’. So that’s how we’re different, we get to present the market, then we talk about the magazine because people want to tap into our knowledge base.

Harbus: The difficult advertising and subscription markets of recent years are well known. How challenging has this been for your titles in particular?

PH: You know, our business has been very robust. It would be better if it wasn’t for the impact of 9-11, and now the war, on the travel advertisers who are very prone to cash flow problems when there’s nobody booking hotels. One good thing about our market that they do see is that the people that don’t cancel [travel] are honeymooners. So our business holds up, but it would be a lot better in that particular segment.

Our jewelry business is incredibly strong, our retail business is very healthy, our beauty and fragrance advertising is very strong because people see our magazines as a way to develop a customer now and a customer for life.

Harbus: Putting this strength in broader context, how do you see print and the media industry as a whole evolving? With the growth of newer media outlets-the Internet, Cable, etc-what is the future of the glossy magazine?

PH: Whenever a new form of media comes out, some great downfall is predicted. You know, newspapers and radio are still very, very healthy. I think its never been more exciting.

First of all, you can’t do what we do online. Nobody wants to look at eleven-hundred pages on the internet. That’s what you can do with a magazine. Nobody wants to read a ten-thousand word article on the Internet. That’s what you can do with Vanity Fair. The nuance of an Annie Liebowitz photograph doesn’t come out on everybody’s computer screens the way it does when it’s beautifully printed and you can look at and hold it.

What’s really charged-up about our world is how the magazine and the Internet work together. The dialogue that the Editors can have with readers, the way you can serve your readers, the way a magazine acts as the springboard and inspiration, and the Internet allows further exploration of an editorial topic or advertiser. I think we’ve just cracked the surface on that relationship. Every ad we carry has a URL on it, and that’s our advertisers saying ‘I can’t get people to my website without the print ad’. You see it in every editorial page now as well, for readers that want to know more. So, combining mediums provides a great service to the reader.

There was a great article by Michael Wolff in New York magazine about getting people to pay for content, and his central point was that you have to build a relationship with somebody. Getting people to pay on the Internet is hard because people have been getting it there for free for far too long. But you can make online a relationship-builder that c
an work for you in many, many profitable ways. So I’m real excited about it.

A lot of what’s going on with Television- between the fragmentation of audiences, the proliferation of Tivo, and the variety of channels that are available, magazines actually become a way to get your word out more quickly and to a bigger group. There are advertisers that are increasingly saying ‘I can accomplish more with magazines than I can on television’, so its really a cool time for us. The one thing that happens in all media, it’s the people that were there first- the one-of-a-kinds, the alpha-dogs- that will be richly rewarded on the new frontiers.

Harbus: What advice might you offer MBA’s interested in pursuing careers in publishing and media?

PH: The woman who is the General Manager of our Internet properties, she’s an MBA. And I see how it works for her big-time, because there you’ve got to be part Editor, part Publisher, part salesperson, part creator. You have to manage all these disciplines at the same time. Her skills as an MBA-she’s got the IT background, the financial background, the business background to manage this thing and she’s done a great job. You know, nobody wants to ‘black-hole’ their internet operation’s expenses, and now our Internet business is exploding. It’s a profitable business already, and the joke is that Amazon, Yahoo! and us are the only ones making some money on the Internet route.

My advice would be, be Internet-savvy because its going to be there. Go for a broad range of experience because the innovators in the media business have that. I think you need the sales experience, but experience that melds a lot of the disciplines-including content creation, editorial or art direction-is very valuable.

Familiarity with all forms of entertainment delivery is where a lot of the big action is. It’s really a great time because everything is in such flux.

Finding ways, for instance, to leverage media rights for a film in your archive with a cable operator you can strike a partnership with.

Understanding how to develop new forms of media usage, that’s what its all about. You look at the Forbes 400 that used to full of oil and real estate people, now there a lot of media folks in there.

I’m sure if you get your MBA, the lure of Wall Street is always going to be there, although its different now from what it was even two years ago.

It seems like that’s where the big money is, especially right away. But this is a fun business. And there is always a need for smart people.

People want information, and everyday people come up with things that make you hit your head and say ‘why didn’t I think of that’. The concept of People magazine would have worked in 1940, but nobody did it until 1975. How many People magazine ideas are out there, waiting for somebody to find?