Mark Bricklin introduced the print version of Men’s Health in 1986 and just after 10 years, the magazine made its online debut @menshealth.com. Since its debut, Men’s Health has surpassed many great traditional men’s fitness and lifestyle magazines including GQ and Esquire.
Despite facing competition from behemoths in the market, Men’s Health managed to exist and thrive for more than 2 decades. So, we wanted to know how they’ve grown and especially, outpaced their established rivals. What are all the strategies they have been working on since the launch to become the #1 fitness destination for Men?
This study aims to include some of the interesting tactics the publisher used to grow its audience and revenue (not restricted to digital).
Discretion: Men’s Health isn’t just a website. It has multiple spin-offs, sister magazines (print), and has always been a part of a much larger print media company. At times, we’ve to extrapolate and cite the group revenue (advertising) to complete the story.
How it all started?
Rodale Inc. realized that it could reach the extra audience by launching the digital version of the magazine and that’s when Menshealth.com was launched. Though Mike was the founding editor of the magazine, it was David Zinczenko who made a way to grow and helped Menshealth.com to make its online presence across the digital ecosystem.
Where they are today?
Men’s Health started its journey in the late 90s; has gone through many ups and downs (recessions) to become the desired destination of fitness addicts. The site garnered close to 24 million page views per month, thanks to its 24 million social media fans/followers.
With over 6.7M+ monthly unique visitors, Men’s Health is now the #1 online magazine in the fitness category. To deliver its message in front of the right people, the publisher utilized various social media platforms that contributed 15.21% to the total website traffic (Src). Unsurprisingly, search sent more than 60 percent of the total traffic to the website.
The site alone is estimated to generate $30 million in revenue as per the company’s Owler page. The overall revenue of the group could be anywhere around $200 million.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into the growth strategies of Men’s Health.
Becoming Men’s Health
The Launch, Marketing, and Advertising
Despite scaling up the print magazine to a large audience base, the circulation of the Men’s Health was stable for the past few years. To increase the number of visitors and revenue as well, Rodale Inc. launched Menshealth.com. Initially, the magazine published the same content similar to that of the print magazine covering a wide range of topics from the best of health, lifestyle, and fitness industry.
Coremetrics Analytics Tool
Since the magazine published both advertising and premium content, it was important to bring back people to the site on a regular basis in order to increase engagement and hence, ad revenue. A visitor who left the website without completing the desired action can be brought back by retargeting or remarketing.
So, the publisher asked its marketing team to closely track users’ behavior on the web pages with the help of IBM’s Coremetrics analytics tools. Like Google Analytics, Coremetrics helped Men’s Health editors to collect different types of information based on visitors’ behavior, likes or dislikes to maintain a report on how the users visited the website.
Coremetrics allowed the publisher to categorize users’ data and do segmentation based on their interests and its marketing tools integrated with third-party vendors helped the publisher to bring back the audience to the site.
It is one of the many tools the publisher tried over the course of two decades. In general, Men’s health had a clear goal and it acted as a signal for the traffic acquisition team to follow.
Though Men’s Health had millions of users, the great depression was around the corner for all. Revenue, as well as the number of readers, were getting reduced for many digital publishers. Even Men’s Health wasn’t spared. So, the publisher thought sponsored advertising can accelerate the audience reach and revenue growth for the magazine.
In order to add more sponsored content to its site, the publisher revamped its website and launched a new website. Though the magazine started out as a fitness and lifestyle magazine, it introduced a section that would include technology-based news for the audience (Src).
Also, the publisher noticed that the audience preferred video content since it’s easy to understand, and engaging. And the modern generation prefers content in action. So, the editors of Men’s Health started posting and promoting video content more often than text content. And, to put it simply, it worked well for the publisher.
Video engaged the users and sponsored advertising content got better revenues (as it should). What’s noticeable here is, Men’s Health catered the content and the way it approached brands at the right time to mitigate the impact of the recession.
The publisher came to an agreement with Microsoft under which it would use the adCenter Platform of Microsoft. The Microsoft adCenter helped the publisher to do PPC (Pay-per-Click) advertising for the magazine. Instead of going for Google Advertising (which is what every other publisher did back then), the publisher struck a deal with Microsoft to utilize paid search and contextual advertising.
Since the health magazine was managed by Rodale Inc., it was pretty hard for advertisers to reach a particular magazine. In order to make it easier for the online advertisers, the parent company allocated separate editorial and sales teams for all magazines. Thus, Men’s Health got its own editorial and sales team working dedicatedly for the magazine (Src).
e-Commerce Strategy and Redesign
2009 – 2013
In late 2009, like other publishers, Men’s Health was facing challenges to re-invent and engage its community. The publisher tried to explore new methods to increase revenue. One such methods include selling its native products.
The publisher featured its native products like workout kits and other fitness equipment with the help of the EB Sports Group. These branded kits were available at retail stores and online for $50 (Src).
Also, to promote the products and lure more consumers, the publisher offered a free one-year subscription to the magazine along with a free three-month trial offer to the premium nutrition content available on the site (Src). This pushed the visitors to become subscribers and customers of Men’s Health at the same time.
Content Management System
Moving from print to digital isn’t easy. One has to cut his/her teeth to establish a website and then grow its presence globally. In order to redesign the magazine’s website, the publisher hired Brunello, a digital agency. Brunello Creatives helped the publisher to design and manage the Men’s Health magazine mobile site as well.
CMS has been known as a powerful and important tool in the competitive marketplace of digital magazines for decades. In 2007, the publisher switched to an open-source content management system and started working with Drupal, known as a content discovery platform for publishers (Src).
By the mid of 2009, the publisher launched Men’s Health as an iPhones app. Though the app had more of paid content, it helped the publisher to increase the eyeballs.
By this time, the publisher already had a huge editorial team that worked separately for print magazines and websites. But to designing the mobile apps and creating content for the same was the biggest challenge for Men’s Health team. They didn’t just convert the site into an app. The publisher realized the market potential of an iOS app and so spent time to come up with a working application.
As there’s no choice, the publisher agreed on paying 30% of ad revenue generated by the iPhone Men’s Health app to Apple (Src).
Men’s Health magazine on iPhone app charged users $4.99 for a single copy and $23.99 for an annual subscription (Src). In no time, 50k+ magazine downloads were achieved by the publisher which was a huge success irrespective of the fact that it didn’t promote any kind of ads initially (Src).
Image Recognition Tool
Since the website was generating a good % of revenue from advertising, the publisher left no stone unturned to better revenue. As a revenue-diversification strategy, the publisher acquired Snaptell, an image recognition startup and app provider.
Snaptell app came with a visual product search technology that lets viewers take a photo from anywhere – whether it is on DVD, CD, book, magazine, or app. Then the in-built tools would automatically identify the products present on the photo and display the price of products from various shopping websites including Amazon, eBay, Google, etc (Src). It’s an excellent affiliate revenue source at the time.
User Engagement Strategy
By the mid of 2011, businesses were getting introduced to Facebook and its role to engage visitors and bring traffic to their websites. Therefore, to engage its visitors, the publisher created a Facebook Fan Page and organized a contest that enabled the fans to upload their photos on the platform and get judged by other fans. This wasn’t it! To attract more people, the publisher announced that the winners of the contest would be featured as models in the upcoming issues of the Men’s Health magazine.
Today, it might look obvious or just another cliche. But Men’s Health did it nearly a decade ago when Facebook was just a fledgling startup.
Image Source – Statista
Advertisements & Promotion
Facebook Instant Articles
Since the launch of the magazine, the publisher never missed experimenting with new strategies to bring more revenue. This time, the publisher utilized Facebook not for promoting usual content from the magazine but earning revenue through sales and advertisements.
Direct Ad Sales
By this time, the publisher already had millions of followers on Facebook. Therefore, it utilized Facebook’s Instant Articles to directly promote ads such as videos, banners, and animated ads on the platform. Since Facebook didn’t charge for direct-sold ads, 100% of the revenue generated by the ads, went to the publisher’s pocket (Src). Facebook Instant Articles known for its cleanly designed format helped the publisher to display best quality ads and hence, more ad revenue from the advertisers.
In case, if the website had remnant inventories after direct-selling of advertisements, the publisher utilized Facebook’s Audience Network to programmatically backfill the inventories with ads (You can do so with header bidding). This ensured the publisher that ad inventories didn’t go unsold and the ad fill rate is at its best.
Weekly Radio Show
Men’s Health has been doing extensive marketing to connect with as many people as possible. After all, you need to improve your reach – to hit the revenue goals. And by the end of 2012, the publisher entered into a partnership with Entertainment Radio Partners to connect with more people.
The Entertainment Radio Partners aired an hour-long live show “Men’s Health” on its show that was hosted by the editors of the magazine. According to the publisher, the show aimed at making people aware of Men’s Health (Src). The monthly reach went beyond 9.4 million (Src) and advertising revenue stayed at $139.34 million (Src).
2014 – 2018
Supply Side Platform
Over the last few years, website readers have significantly grown and advertising has become a major source of revenue for the publisher. Therefore, to improve the ad revenue and experience on the site, the publisher came in partnership with a Supply Side Platform. The SSP tools helped the publisher to sell its ad inventories with the help of Real-time Bidding. The publisher believed in quality rather than quantity hence it presented fewer ads on the site with the help of its new monetization partner.
Since the ads were highly relevant, they were able to resonate with the users, thus preventing them from blocking the ads. Because of the fewer ad units, the ad viewability increased and the advertisers were ready to pay more to the publisher as they knew that ad impressions are highly performing and can help them reach their target audience.
Many of the big publishers have relied on native advertising for years. This blending of ads into the format of a particular webpage yields better results than others. In the third quarter of 2014, Men’s Health started selling programmatic native ads with the help of Sharethrough’s in-feed ad exchange.
Sharethrough’s ad exchange helped the publisher to directly sell its native ads programmatically. At the time, monthly page views are over 63M+ (Src) and monthly unique visitors passed 20M mark (Src).
Here’s something important that you need to know. Native ads Vs display ads is a tricky topic and you need to meticulously experiment before finding the ideal combination. So, don’t opt-in for native ads without any testing.
Measurement and Analytics
In order to measure marketing metrics in real-time, the publisher partnered with Moat, a Measurement and Analytics Company. Moat offered its tools (Moat Analytics and Moat Pro) to the team of Men’s Health that enabled them to keep a track of site’s viewability. Moat’s Heat Map is an add-on that helped the publisher to know about users’ behavior, their likes and dislikes on a particular page and which part of a webpage received maximum attention.
Also, Moat’s UX design tools helped the publisher to identify the performance of ads and differentiate between real clicks and bot clicks. Thus, it enabled the publisher to detect ad frauds. The takeaway here is the usage of ad fraud prevention tools and continual focus on ad viewability.
By the end of 2017, Men’s Health collectively reached 24M+ unique users and generated 45M+ page views (Src).
Ad Blocking Recovery
By the end of 2017, approximately 86.6M people were using ad-blocking software and applications in the United States. Since it’s becoming one of the major concerns for publishers and advertisers, the magazine publisher looked into other monetization strategies to increase ad revenue. And affiliate marketing is among those monetization strategies. Men’s Health joined Amazon and Flipkart to convert their commercial links into revenue-generating links (Src).
Commerce isn’t the only way to deal with ad blockers. Here’s what you could do to recover your ad blocked revenue.
Besides this, the publisher was already publishing/promoting sponsored content to expand their online presence across various platforms.
To extend the brand name, the publisher joined the United Talent Agency, a talent and literary agency. The agency worked with Men’s Health to expand the reach of the brand to a broader audience base. With this partnership, Men’s Health editors would broadcast its website stories into TV shows and movies (Src).
At the beginning of 2018, the parent company Rodale Inc. was struggling and it wasn’t able to find any new ways to hit its financial expectations. So, the company sold the Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazine for $225M to Hearst Corporation according to a report published by The Wall Street Journal (Src).
This acquisition of Men’s Health by Hearst enabled the magazine editorial and other teams to utilize the parent company’s technologies for publishing, marketing, and advertising.
Hearst OTT Private Marketplace
To target, the TV audience and the publisher utilized Hearst Anyscreen, its native Private Marketplace for OTT advertisements. Hearst Anyscreen combined with Dataxu, a TV advertising company helped the Men’s Health team to get rich audience insights and targeting capabilities.
So, it is apparent that Hearst had a clear idea of how to use Men’s Health when it acquired it for $225 million. If you look this from Men’s Health point of view, the magazine freed itself from the struggling holding company and also utilized Hearst’s technologies and brand recognition to grow its revenue and reach. A win-win scenario for both parties.
Though we have covered a lot of growth strategies of Men’s Health, we can summarize that the publisher never failed to experiment and go beyond the ordinary. The publishers implemented header bidding (when the programmatic technique started to gain steam) and partnered with SSPs, ad fraud prevention technologies, and viewability vendors. It took the risk and strategically invested in social media platforms and TV/radio advertising. Impressively, it didn’t allow the print circulation changes to affect its digital wing.
The magazine has also won many international awards including Digital Ellies Award 2010, Best Premium Site Award 2010, Digital Magazine Award 2012 for its iPhone App Edition, and Ad Age Magazine of the Year 2017.