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Industry news – healthcare magazines

H&HN becomes a monthly magazine; will readers and advertisers accept changes?

Hospitals. What a great name for a magazine. For most advertisers, it was the place to advertise medical and surgical supplies and medical devices in 1976, when I became editor of Modern Healthcare and Chuck Lauer became publisher. I left Modern Healthcare almost 13 years ago; Chuck has built it into the industry’s weekly news magazine from a dying monthly, and he’s still going strong.

Modern Healthcare, market force changes

Modern Healthcare, the place to advertise in 1999, has forced many changes in Hospitals Magazine over the last

23 years.

The latest change in Hospitals was another redesign, repositioning and downsizing in January. Once a healthy semi-monthly and the market leader with some 45% of the market’s ad revenues, Hospitals & Health Networks, as it’s now known, has retreated to a monthly with four quarterly supplements.

When a major industry publication changes, its advertisers have to reconsider their ad spending plans. Will the magazine’s new strategy bring in more readers and help sell products and services advertised? Or will the change be taken by advertisers as a sign of weakness?

Having helped revamp and turn around a lot of magazines and newsletters since Modern Healthcare, including this one, I know that change can be very positive. At the same time, change also can lose readers and advertisers.

Refocusing Modern Hospital was a disaster

When Crain Communications bought Modern Healthcare, it was a shadow of its predecessors, Modern Hospital and Modern Nursing Home, which were merged into Modern Healthcare in 1974. That name change and refocusing produced a bland feature magazine that no one was reading only 24 months later.

Rance Crain, president of Crain, and I sat down with an art director and in three hours refocused and redesigned Modern Healthcare into the hospital industry business publication it basically is today. Crain bought Modern Healthcare to give the hospital industry a business magazine that covered hospitals like an industry instead of a cause. The change immediately won the attention of readers, but advertisers waited four years before finally deciding we were here to stay.

By 1986, my last year as editor of the magazine, we had gone from a struggling monthly to a bi-weekly publication schedule. We were number one with about 45% of ad revenues. The secret to our success was professional business reporting, lots of exclusive surveys like the magazine’s 22-year-old survey of multihospital systems, selective publishing of articles contributed by industry leaders and a willingness to take on controversial issues. And we published lots of briefs and half-page stories, which were read better than any cover stories or longer features. Our goal was to help hospital executives do a better job for patients, not to muckrake or serve as the industry’s boosters.

H&HN is the more forward looking magazine

As a weekly, Modern Healthcare has become much more focused on hard news and a bit more of a muckraker than we were, but it’s still a solid publication.

This has left an opening for Hospitals & Health Networks, which, as a publication of the American Hospital Assn., could never be as timely or hard hitting and independent as Modern Healthcare.

H&HN, as it now wants to be known (more about the name changes below), has evolved from the magazine known in 1976 for publishing boring articles by AHA members to a cross between Forbes and Fortune magazines. Actually, the magazine has had a good mix of staff and contributed articles as long as I’ve been reading it, but that only shows how long it takes to live down a reputation.

Today, H&HN is the more thoughtful, forward looking magazine, while Modern Healthcare reports on politics, court cases, earnings, mergers and acquisitions and the big story of the week.

H&HN seeks to be “a place” for passionate readers

Although Mary Grayson, acting publisher and editor, continues as editor, H&HN’s new editorial look and feel definitely reflects the influence of Kathryn E. Johnson, (distant acquaintance, no relation) president and CEO of Health Forum.

Health Forum was formed last year by the AHA and Healthcare Forum, the San Francisco-based publishers of the bi-monthly magazine Healthcare Forum (now Health Forum). Over the years, Johnson has demonstrated an ability to anticipate industry trends, promote management and health care movements (such as healthy communities) and to talk 3M and other companies into sponsoring her organization, magazine and causes. She has the vision a magazine needs.

In her January column, Grayson introduced the redesigned H&HN with a restatement of its mission:

“H&HN will be written and edited for people who are passionate about the future of health care and its important role in American Society and the lives of everyday people.

“H&HN will engage you by appealing to your mind through your heart…

“H&HN will be less like a magazine and more like a placewhere you can meet new people, hear new ideas, react to opinions and rekindle your creativity.

“H&HN will be interactive.”

We’re all passionate about healthcare. Too many institutions make decisions with their hearts instead of their minds. And it’s still a magazine.

H&HN is publishing important industry data

Indeed, despite some major quibbles that are noted below for the record, this could become a stronger magazine, if readers and advertisers give it a chance to settle into its new role.

What gives the magazine some hope is not the too flashy and somewhat cluttered new design but the AHA’s decision to use it as the medium for publishing its exclusive industry surveys nitty gritty, decision-makers’ data. Modern Healthcare’s surveys have helped it become the industry leader while the AHA historically has reserved its best stuff for other publications. The January issue of H&HN carries not only AHA data but also reports based on data provided by other database owners. “Not invented here” is not a problem at H&HN or the AHA. Readers will love it, and industry suppliers should study the data as well.

H&HN brand is no substitute for Hospitals Magazine

The new H&HN has been given a new logo that emphasizes “H&HN” with “Hospitals & Health Networks as a subtitle. H&HNreal catchy? Rolls off your tongue? Memorable? Means something? Big mistake in branding.

“Hospitals” was a great brand. At Modern Healthcare, we were envious of the “Hospitals” brand. It took years for us to make “Modern Healthcare” stand for something, after the previous publishers gave up a 60-year-old brand, Modern Hospital. Outside the field, after almost

25 years, Modern Healthcare magazine still means little. “Hospitals” magazine means something. Change the product, change the mission, change your design, change your staff, but be very careful about giving up a valuable brand.

But several years ago some AHA committee decided that integrated health care systems were the future for the AHA and therefore for its magazine. So came the name “Hospitals & Health Networks”, which furthered the association’s mission but has done and will do little for a valuable publishing property.

Although integrated systems are important, most of H&HN’s magazine’s readers run hospitals. That is where the money is. It will interesting to see whether the editors keep that in mind or allow themselves to be diverted into “more interesting” subjects.

Business Week is the world’s largest weekly magazine because its frequency and approach make it must reading. Its competitors, Fortune, Forbes, Inc. and Fast Company, are entertaining and useful, but not must reading. Modern Healthcare is the field’s Business Week, and H&HN is not. But it can succeed as a useful advertising medium and trade association publication if the editors put more into the editorial and less into the expensive graphics and printing. r

Health Industry Today Staff

(303) 290-8500

www.BusinessWord.com

Donald E.L. Johnson, Publisher

Susan J. Alt, Executive Editor

John Dalton, Editor 303-967-0170

john.dalton@businessword.com

Cassandra Simmons, Subscription Services

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