MPA PLANS 'LIVELY' AGENDA FOR RETAILERS

WASHINGTON -- When retailers gather here later this month for the Retail Conference of the Magazine Publishers of America, New York, they will find a more high-powered agenda than in past years, according to Anne Finn, MPA's senior vice president of consumer marketing.At the opening festivities, an emphasis on magazines and books as entertainment will reflect this year's theme, "Print Comes to Life."

WASHINGTON -- When retailers gather here later this month for the Retail Conference of the Magazine Publishers of America, New York, they will find a more high-powered agenda than in past years, according to Anne Finn, MPA's senior vice president of consumer marketing.

At the opening festivities, an emphasis on magazines and books as entertainment will reflect this year's theme, "Print Comes to Life." During the conference, attendees will find out current business issues facing magazines, learn what consumers want from magazines, and hear from Craig Fuller, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va. A presentation by Gordon Erickson, senior vice president of general merchandise for Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., will conclude the show.

"We've taken the theme, 'Print Comes to Life,' because books and magazines are a very exciting, changing reflection of consumers," Finn told SN. Among the supermarket companies expected to attend are Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Kroger, Meijer, Wegmans, A&P and Hy-Vee, as well as Wal-Mart and Target.

Magazines, in particular, provide consumer entertainment in two ways: in-store as customers browse or wait on line, and later when they read the publications they've bought, she said. The book and magazine business previously did not focus on the entertainment value of its products, Finn said. "But as an industry, we have to look at it and exploit it."

The opening night's events on Sunday, March 21, are meant to be fun, she said. Along with the conference exposition, there will be cooking demonstrations, opportunities to have pictures taken on motorcycles, costumed cartoon characters, and authors signing their books. The MPA's Best Practices Awards will also be given out that night. Another social activity will be a Monday night dinner at the National Museum of Natural History, Finn said.

On Monday, March 22, the Retail Conference will get down to business with presentations by NACDS' Fuller; Dana Telsey, senior managing director, Bear Stearns, New York, on Wall Street's view of the retail marketplace; Robert Frank, associate principal, McKinsey & Co., New York, on McKinsey's report on value retailers; and Pete Abell, cofounder, ePC Group, Boston, on technologies such as RFID (radio frequency identification).

"Then on Tuesday, it is all about the consumer," Finn said. "We feel very strongly that the consumer has to come first, not just the bottom line."

A highlight of the sessions will be a "groundbreaking" research study of magazine readers by Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., she noted. The study is unique in that it was done with people who identified themselves as readers of specific types of magazines without reference to industry category terms like "women's service" or "men's lifestyle."