St. Joseph’s CEO on what’s next for Maclean’s, Chatelaine and more

Tony Gagliano talks about his game plan for the near (and distant) future.

Tony GTony Gagliano, St. Joseph Communications CEO and executive chairman, says his communications company almost missed the opportunity to purchase Rogers Media’s many storied magazine titles.

When the media and telco giant first put its magazines on the market in mid-summer St. Joseph Communications wasn’t ready, Gagliano says. Canada’s largest privately owned print, media and communications company was just coming off its acquisition of content agency Totem, and was anxious to begin integrating that into its own offering.

When Rogers came back to the table closer to the New Year, Gagliano says things had changed.

“At that point, we had nicely integrated the Totem product, and we were really glad that [the magazine slate] was still available,” he says.

After a few months of planning, St. Joseph announced the official acquisition yesterday. On top of its own publications, including Toronto Life, Fashion and Wedding Bells, St. Joseph now owns Maclean’s, Chatelaine (English and French), Today’s Parent, Hello! Canada and digital-only brands Flare and Canadian Business. The deal is expected to close next month.

Those titles have some gravitas, and Gagliano knows that. But he admits that after a strong streak with its flagship lifestyle publication Toronto Life, which he says has seen double-digit growth in revenue every year for the last three years the company was feeling “pretty bullish,” pointing out “most publications these days, even single-digit growth is a story.”

“We were moving into new lines of revenue, from our events business, from our membership program. A lot of the things we were doing resonated really, really well with subscribers and with our advertisers.”

So adding a new slate of magazines, while a significant move, seemed like a no-brainer, he says. “The new Rogers brands of magazines, we want to come at them with the same viewpoint [as we have with our own magazines]. How do we take brands that have been in the marketplace for a long time, they’re recognized and established brands, but they’ve not seen the growth they need? How do we reinvigorate them?”

Custom content will play a big part, no doubt. St. Joseph has found success in a time of turmoil for most print publications thanks largely to its increasing investment in Strategic Content Labs, its custom content unit. What began as a department to create custom editorial for brands has grown into a full-fledged event and experiential business. Gagliano says the company already has 300 people creating activations and interactive ad opportunities for major retailers. “That business works hand-in-glove with our ad business.”

Where Rogers Media’s offering comes in is the clientele it helps attract.

“We tend to be very good when it comes to [work for] major associations such as CPA and CAA, whereas Rogers tends to focus more on retail.” With more magazine brands on hand, Gagliano says there will be certain advertisers that pair better with the former Rogers brands.

Gagliano feels like it’s a rare “good news” story for the magazine industry, which has seen a number of reductions, layoffs and buyouts. TVA recently let go of a number of staffers for publications including Style at Home and Canadian Living. And, before it sold its magazines, Rogers Media laid off 75 people, or one-third of the unit’s workforce. Gagliano says it was crucial to offer all of Rogers’ magazine staffers jobs with St. Joseph – and more hiring is in the cards.

“We’re going to need everybody,” he says, adding that because of the structure of Rogers, St. Joseph will be bringing over editorial teams, not support staff such as accounting or other service departments. “We’re going to be needing to hire even more people as we transition.”

The Rogers and St. Joseph editorial brands will operate under separate units, both reporting into Gagliano.

There are no intentions to cut brands, although that might not be set in stone. Gagliano says “the plan is to make these brands better, more engaging, more successful,” and that every single brand has growth opportunities. He added, “That doesn’t mean it always works. But we’re going to do everything we can. We’ll let our readers take the cue.”