Canadian Business ups the ante

The magazine’s gamble of going twice monthly is paying off handsomely.

Marketing Magazine, September 29, 1997   

In mid-September, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto was full of people eating catered food and drinking martinis. Fashion statements ran the gamut from three-piece tailored suits to at least one guy dressed like Ernest P. (“Know what I mean, Vern?”) Worrell.


The guests were there for the relaunch of Canadian Business, which after nearly 60 years as a monthly has reinvented itself as a twice-a-month publication. Its new frequency of 21 issues a year (every two weeks, except for the summer doldrums and the Christmas holidays) is aimed at making it stand out from its two main rivals, The Financial Post Magazine and The Globe and Mail’s Report On Business Magazine.


A year from now, it’ll be intriguing to see which business magazines are throwing a party. And what kind of party will it be? A revel because times are fat? Or a wake at the passing of an established title?


Used to be the country’s three business titles were a lot more similar. All were monthly, and that kept them pretty well even in terms of the stories they covered, how they covered them and what their audiences and advertisers expected from them. But almost twice as many issues of Canadian Business every year may change that.


Even as CB is doubling its frequency, The Globe and Mail’s Report On Business Magazine has a new editor. Although Patricia Best is not being specific about her long-term plans yet, it’s clear she intends to change the magazine. That leaves The Financial Post Magazine, whose publisher contends there’s little room for improving on perfection.


Coming out twice a month makes sense for CB; it can be more timely, stay on top of breaking stories and offer investment coverage unhampered by the standard magazine three-month lead-time.


“It’s not so much to differentiate us as it is to say, ‘What can we do to make sense for our readers and our advertisers?’,” says Canadian Business editor Art Johnson of the increased frequency. “I think a monthly frequency is probably a great convenience for a publisher. I’m not sure how much sense it makes these days for a reader or for somebody placing advertising.”


Of all the G7 nations, Canada is the only one that, until the change in CB’s schedule, had only monthlies covering the business world. And two of the leading U.S. business titles, Forbes and Fortune, are every two weeks.


The magazine ramped up to its new schedule by introducing a quarterly called Canadian Business Technology, whose contents and mandate have now been subsumed by Canadian Business. That made for 16 editions per year, helping ease the transition. It also proved what CB was betting on: that reader and advertiser demand could sustain more issues, and profitably.


Johnson adds that from the readers’ perspective — and his as editor — fundamental changes in this country have made the switch more urgent: “Historically in this country, governments have played a huge role in the economy. Now — across every level — they’re withdrawing. As they do that, they’re creating potentially thousands of new readers for Canadian Business.”


There’s also the hope that the other two national business magazines will be seen as more similar by readers and advertisers: both are monthly, both are adjuncts to newspapers, and maybe differentiating themselves from their newspapers is more important than standing out from each other.


“The magazine business in the past year has been very healthy,” says Ann Boden, president of McKim Media Group in Toronto. “It certainly has grown. I think they all may be fine. I’m not as concerned about magazines as much as I am about newspapers.”


The tussle for a leading edge among the three business magazines, Boden says, is nothing compared with the dogfight among the four Toronto dailies. That struggle could turn into a five-way battle next year if Southam and its parent Hollinger, both based in Toronto, go ahead with their plan to launch a new national daily, which would likely have a strong business component.


“We differentiate ourselves by having the largest circulation (272,000),” says ROB Magazine publisher Steve Petherbridge. “We also have the largest readership and the largest revenue. In a commercial sense, that’s how we distinguish ourselves. Editorially, I think it may be true that there hasn’t been a clear enough distinction between the three magazines in the past. But now that we have a new editor, you’ll probably see more of a difference.”


Patricia Best is that new editor, replacing David Olive, who continues at the magazine as senior writer. Best boasts a distinguished business journalism pedigree — including several books and numerous awards  — just the kind of resumé you’d expect the Globe to look for at the helm of its flagship magazine. But, according to Petherbridge and Best herself, the reasons for hiring her have as much to do with change as tradition. “We’ll be fresher than we have been, and a little bit edgier,” Best says. “That’s the direction we’re heading in.”


So far she’s put out one issue, the September edition. But readers and advertisers should expect the process of putting her imprint on the magazine to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. “I’m not a fan of the big launch,” she cautions. “We’re going to be looking at everything and re-evaluating it all. The process will be continuous.” And she adds that even one issue has been enough for readers to send in their encouragement, both postally and electronically. “The response has just been wonderful.”


One of the “edgier” ingredients at Best’s ROB Magazine is “Loose Lips,” a compendium of intelligence that offers readers a glimpse of how brokers and other Bay Street poobahs really think and talk about investing. And it isn’t in the clinical, measured tones they use with clients.


“The reason for having Patricia Best as editor is that she’s about the best-informed, best-connected business journalist in the country,” Petherbridge says. Despite her reluctance to be specific about her plans, Petherbridge says she’s “a fount of ideas. You’re going to see a much, much livelier and quite different ROB Magazine in the future.”


The Financial Post Magazine casts a wider net than its rivals, according to publisher David Bailey. He says the title — whose editor Wayne Gooding is a former editor of Canadian Business and held the same post at Marketing until January, 1996 — illuminates the character of business people and their worldviews as much as it tells “strictly business” stories. And he maintains that recently the ROB Magazine has been following the FPM’s lead. “It’s kind of gratifying to see the ROB come around a bit more and enlarge their interests.”


Bailey says that running a business magazine in tandem with a financial daily strengthens both: “We can go deeper into a story, get at the other elements of it beyond the basic facts that have been covered on a daily basis in the paper.”


Best admits she’s a magazine partisan, and that while the Globe’s daily ROB section offers “quick hits” of information, the magazine is conceived and run as an environment, something readers can lose themselves in, rather than plundering it for “just the facts.”


Bailey also has high praise for Canadian Business’s expansion to 21 issues per year. But he qualifies that by saying he “expected it would be newsier.”


Canadian Business’s advertisers aren’t reserved; they’re lining up. After a hefty 136-page debut issue this month, the magazine’s editorial space expanded by a third or more in issues two and three following the twice-a-month switch to accommodate burgeoning ad sales.


That’s gratifyingly ahead of even optimistic projections. Johnson says that’s a sure indication the magazine is on track: “For the first three issues, we’re doing very well. The impact it’s had on me and my department is that we have to add a lot more editorial pages­far more than in the original plan. That’s an early sign of success, and we hope it keeps up.”


Ann Boden says from her perspective, there are pros and cons for each magazine. Higher frequency— as with Canadian Business — can mean shorter turnaround times and more immediate advertising with more impact. But CB is usually just one of the channels an advertiser will use to get a message across to a business audience. Boden says the final decision about which title to go with depends on the marketer.


“We don’t have a huge number of publications that cater to that audience,” she points out. “Some clients use them all. It’s a very focused arena that we play in, so it’s not as big an issue.”


Johnson sees his main competition not in either of the newspaper-owned monthlies, but in the other demands on his readers’ time: “Your son’s baseball game is probably more serious competition than another business magazine. Our readers already have extraordinary demands on their time. We have to make Canadian Business so indispensable that people will willingly spend a couple of hours every time the magazine comes out or they’re going to be at a severe disadvantage. The aim is to make it an absolute must-read.”