6 Ways the American Magazine Media Conference Got It Right

The who's who in the magazine-media world shared their thinking about their fast-shifting environment at last week's conference — and the way AMMC 2016 was structured allowed for maximum engagement.

Lesley Jane Seymore, Michelle Obama, Lena Dunham, and Julianne Moore at AMMC 2016.
Lesley Jane Seymour, Michelle Obama, Lena Dunham, and Julianne Moore at AMMC 2016.

When I attended last week’s American Magazine Media Conference (AMMC) in New York City, I was wearing two hats. As someone who covers the world of face-to-face events, my first role was to observe the conference from an organizational point of view. But my job straddles both the meetings and magazine publishing industries, and the publishing side of me was as interested in immersion as observation. I wanted to see how the consumer magazines’ big guns — Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rodale, and a host of independent publishers — are integrating print with other platforms in a constantly shifting environment, and how that speaks to Convene

I got plenty of insights that will help shape Convene‘s future — and took away some ideas about how AMMC’s meeting design might be applied to other events. Here are six takeaways, along with questions for meeting organizers to ask themselves.

1. The location made sense. I’d have to say there is no better place to hold a magazine conference than in Manhattan, the epicenter of magazine publishing, and at the Grand Hyatt, at New York City’s Grand Central Station, the center of Manhattan. The conference used to be held in resort destinations, but for the past four years, the conference has taken place in the same city where most of the industry’s work gets done — making it much easier for attendees and industry speakers to participate.

When you select meeting locations, are you thinking about where your industry is clustered?

2. The pacing considered attendees’ schedules.  The first day of the two-day conference, which began on Tuesday, offered three hours of programming, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. On the second day, the program ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and included a light breakfast. There’s something to be said for going for a dip before a dive, and I think we all benefited from getting acclimated to the waters before a full day of marathon sessions. Starting at 2 p.m. also gave many attendees who aren’t based in New York City the option to make the first day both a travel and a conference day.

Have you considered changing up the conference schedule to help participants pace themselves?

3. Organizers embraced change. When I said that magazine media is in a constantly shifting environment, that was an understatement. In fact, global media is among those industries that have been identified as “highly unpredictable,” AMMC chairman and Time Inc. Chairman & CEO Joe Ripp said in remarks during the Opening General Session. But AMMC 2016 embraced the fluidity of the environment, celebrating recognized brands’ solid footing in print, while highlighting their capability to serve as a springboard for other platforms.

Attendees don’t want conferences to play down their industry challenges, but it’s equally important to remind them of their strengths.

4. It included the industry’s end users in the event.  One of those exploding platforms for growth is video, and here AMMC walked the talk. Sprinkled throughout the conference before general sessions were “people on the street” videos, in which a diverse parade of New Yorkers were asked to describe their experiences with magazines, exploring how, when, where, and why they like to read them. The videos were unscripted and breezy, but underscored the important message of magazine media’s role in consumers’ daily lives. 

Are you using video throughout your event as a way to break up sessions? Have you considered reaching out to your industry’s end users to hear their impressions of the role your field or industry plays in their everyday lives?

5. The event design drew on the organization’s strengths. What do writers and editors do every day? Interview people, sussing out the compelling stuff. Nearly every AMMC session was set up so that a magazine editor from a major brand interviewed one person or facilitated a panel discussion. Not every editor is as comfortable before an audience as they are before a keyboard (I count myself among those) but many are. Those moderating sessions at AMMC were clearly at home on stage, and the exchange was much more dynamic than a solo presentation.  

Are  you capitalizing on the writers and editors in your field as facilitators, speakers, interviewers, and co-creators of your conference’s sessions? 

6. They brought out heavy hitters. The conference highlight was a panel discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama and actors Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore. In this session, as with every other session whose speakers might have had less star power (but cachet nonetheless), the conversation never veered off topic. Obama, Dunham, and Moore, led by More Editor-in-Chief Lesley Jane Seymour, explored how magazine media can spread the message about important humanitarian initiatives and critical issues facing society.

How are you working with your general session speakers to make sure that, even in a pre-packaged speech, they acknowledge your audience’s meaningful work with more than a few passing references?

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.