Star Power

July 28, 2016

Private-label magazines and other custom print and digital content shine brightly in an integrated marketing mix.

By Laurie Hileman

Star performer or supporting actor? There is debate surrounding the role of private-label magazines and other custom print publications in a successful marketing mix. They are, after all, a significant line item in any marketing budget. What’s not up for debate? The power of storytelling.

“That’s why more and more companies and organizations today are moving to an owned-media approach,” says Marisa Horak Belotti, chief strategy officer at Saginaw, Mich.-based The F.P. Horak Company. “They’re using classic storytelling techniques to reach their customers and prospects with relevant, engaging content that builds strong affinity.”

Consider Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin. Despite having one of the most sophisticated and successful digital content marketing programs in the world, every month the energy drink giant publishes more than two million copies of its men’s lifestyle magazine in six different languages and 12 different country editions. Likewise, online luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter uses its print magazine, Porter, to entice readers with the latest fashion trends, incorporating technology that makes it easy to purchase items seen on the page.

Belotti contends it’s this unified blend of print and digital marketing strategies—whether you’re a global brand, regional manufacturer, or local nonprofit—that delivers the greatest ROI and long-term success.

Here we’ll explore what makes these custom publications so powerful, how they can be used across industries and demographics, and how to tie your publication in to a broader marketing mix that leverages the strengths of print and digital media.

People learn from stories…telling them and hearing them. And storytelling is as relevant to business brand communications as it is to sitting around the campfire.

~ Mimi Bell, editorial director, The F.P. Horak Company


“Marketers have come to realize what generations of people from all cultures have always known. People are moved by stories. Moved to take action. Moved to make a charitable donation. Moved to make a buying decision,” says Mimi Bell, editorial director at The F.P. Horak Company.

As a custom content specialist who works with businesses and organizations to help them develop their private-label magazines and other print and digital content vehicles, Bell seeks to seamlessly stitch together topics and issues that matter to her clients’ customers and members, all within a distinct brand narrative.

It’s not always easy. “Compelling narrative is so essential to inspire some kind of action,” says Bell. “The goal is to inform but also engage in an entertaining way.”

That can be a challenge for organizations used to a traditional features-and-benefits marketing approach. Instead, the spotlight needs to shift away from the company and firmly onto the readers by addressing their interests and their challenges. “Content needs to really resonate with the readers,” Bell says.


The powerful thing about stories? Everybody’s got one. Perhaps it’s a manufacturer that goes far beyond the required corporate sustainability regulations, or a financial institution that believes in improving the financial literacy of its customers. Maybe it’s a nonprofit whose donor stories uplift heavy hearts, or a hotel that knows the best-kept culinary secrets in their area.

With compelling narrative at the core, custom publications can come together in a number of different ways. “For example, manufacturers incorporate these storytelling techniques into sustainability reports,” says Belotti. “Others might use custom publications to position themselves as thought leaders in their industry with trend stories and case studies.”

Versioning, or styling the content to meet the specific needs of different audiences, is another trend popular in the financial institutions, insurance, and hospitality industries. For example, a bank focusing on financial literacy may target Millennials with information about student loans and how to start a Roth IRA, while customers nearing retirement age receive wealth management tips. The bank might also customize each piece for the loan officer or bank branch from which it is distributed.

“The more you can build in editorial verticals for key audience segments, the stronger brand recognition and relationships you can develop over time,” says Belotti.


Private-label magazines and custom publications, powerful as they are at building brands and increasing loyalty, are even stronger when part of a larger, integrated marketing strategy.

“Digital is very much still a part of the mix,” says Paul Adler, business strategist and director of integrated marketing at The F.P. Horak Company. “The most effective marketing mix is going to be one that includes multiple channels including digital, print, and social.”

The mix is unique to each company’s targeted audience. An organization may use print to drive readers online for further engagement, or it may use digital and social channels to funnel more readers to an in-depth print piece.

Either way, to get the most return on your investment, Belotti says, “You should be leveraging your publication’s content across all of your digital marketing mix. You can break those custom pubs apart and push them out through e-marketing, content blogs, and social media.”

Articles can be broken down into smaller blog posts. Pull quotes can be used on Twitter or Facebook to start a discussion. Even visuals from your publication can be optimized on Pinterest and Instagram to draw additional readers to your publication.

The key is delivering relevant messages to the right people, at the right time, using the right platform.

“There’s never been a time when so many generations were working together in one workforce. Each one considers information differently. If you’re giving that same message on multiple platforms, you’re going to be the most effective at what you’re doing,” says Belotti.

And the real star of the show becomes your reader.