Hooked on the Outdoors Magazine, published by ADventure, LLC of Atlanta, Ga., has decided that it will return to a quarterly publication format plus one annual issue, effective immediately. In addition to killing two of the seven issues planned for 2006, Jeff Espy, publisher of Hooked, told SNEWSÂ® that the company will be refocusing its efforts on other marketing platforms including retail-based events like the highly successful Shimano Fishing Tour, the Hooked On the Outdoors website (www.ruhooked.com), and additional broadcast avenues for "Gear Minutes" to provide more value to its advertising clients in the outdoor industry. Â
Espy told us that he takes full heat for making the decision in 2004 to expand to eight issues, which included a Fit for Life magazine issue to support the launch of a third mobile tour idea, also named Fit for Life, neither of which were market-driven responses. The Fit for Life magazine was already in the dumpster before this most recent decision to trim two more issues came down, we were told.
"It became very clear to us, very quickly, that we had strayed from our mission of being a media company that was event-based, grassroots-focused, and designed to directly engage the consumer both in participation and in product sales that benefit our advertisers and retailers," said Espy.
With the refocusing, Hooked also announced that it will be closing its Boulder-based editorial office at the end of March. Editor-in-Chief Nancy Coulter-Parker, Executive Editor Doug Schnitzpahn and Art Director Marshall McKinney will remain on staff, SNEWSÂ® has been told, to help Hooked through the transition, and to ensure that the editorial content and design remain consistent. It is not certain if the three will remain with the magazine after March, though Espy told us he remains very hopeful they will. The other three full-time Boulder-based employees and two part-time staff have been placed on a 1099 contract basis.
Hooked will publish four more issues in 2006, including the March/April issue which is at the printer currently; the 2006 Fishing Annual; the Summer Gear Guide which combines the May/June and July/August issues and will be published in time for Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in early August; and the Winter Gear Guide, which combines the September/October and the November/December issues and is slated for publication on Nov. 1.
Espy tells us that at this time, it is the intention to continue with the publication schedule, including a January/February issue through 2007.
The company will also revamp the Hooked tour to become more like the highly successful Shimano tour. Also, it will look at launching a third tour for later in 2006 that will replace the Fit for Life tour with one that is sponsored and owned by an endemic advertiser.
Espy told us that the model Hooked is re-energizing its complete focus on -- one that is retail- and event-based -- is a proven one. Espy confirmed that just over 50,000 of the magazine's 100,000 copies printed with each issue are distributed through direct contact at Hooked-run events, as well as over 525 other events where Hooked magazines get placed in goodie bags.
"The event model provides a proven track record of delivering measurable results that our event sponsors and magazine advertisers are demanding. These event programs drive sales and immediate return of investment for all involved," said Espy.
Case-in-point, Espy said, is a comment from Greentop Sporting Goods, which was a retail beneficiary of the Shimano Fishing Tour. In just three days, the store told Hooked, Greentop sold more high-end Sperry Top-Sider shoes than it had in all of 2005. Espy added that retailers have similar feedback wherever the Shimano tour has landed. Â
As disappointed as Espy is with having to make this decision to close the Boulder office and refocus his company, he told SNEWSÂ® that he is most gratified that many of the magazines major advertising supporters have already told him they remain committed to Hooked's model and are pleased to see the company doing what is necessary to remain a viable force.
SNEWSÂ® View: Well, this really isn't a shock to too many folks. SNEWSÂ® wondered how the magazine would be able to support the expansion to eight issues. With a failed tour, albeit for a good cause (the Fit for Life concept), and several issues that didn't draw sufficient advertising support, we'd imagine Hooked was bleeding money. By refocusing the company efforts on what Hooked obviously does very, very well, it allows Espy and team to get back to what made them such an attractive ad buy in the earlier years -- event-based, grassroots, in-the-trenches promotions that provided direct feedback to advertisers about ad and promotion effectiveness. It has worked very well with the existing Hooked tour, extremely well with the Shimano tour, and we would imagine it will work just as well with other tour ideas that are sponsor-driven, and retailer-focused.
OK, so that's the good news. The bad news is the closing of the Boulder office, and the way that was handled. As of Friday, we began to receive calls from folks around the country wondering what our take was on the closing of Hooked. Seems the company didn't exactly handle the communication with the editorial staff in the smoothest possible manner, and as a result, many were out shopping for jobs during and immediately after Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. Little wonder word got out that Hooked was in trouble.
While we don't disagree with the logic behind closing Boulder, we sure hope that existing staff in Atlanta doesn't start imagining they can do as well if not better than the Boulder team. Not a chance and quit dreaming. Espy's immediate challenge will be to ensure that the magazine's new design and increased attention toward focusing on editorial quality remains intact. And that means retaining some of the current team working out of home offices, as well as hiring new talent to be based in Atlanta. If the magazine returns to its old designâ€¦well, that will be a sad day indeed. Unless, of course, it likes looking like a consumer catalog.