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Insider Interview: Karen Cleveland from St. Joseph Media

Written by Michelle Kalman on October 15, 2012

Karen Cleveland is senior manager of marketing and communications at St. Joseph Media, publisher of some of Canada's most awarded magazines and websites. She is a guest speaker at York (her alma mater), Queen's and Ryerson universities. Fashion Group International's Toronto chapter named her "The Strategist" on its 2010 panel.

Cleveland tweets at

How long have you worked in media and what has been your career path to get to where you are today?  

I spent most of my career working closely with [media], but officially started in media when I joined St. Joseph Media in 2008. My first role at the company was a contract position on FASHION Magazine, Weddingbells and Mariage Quebec, and has grown since then. Prior to joining St. Joseph Media, I worked on the agency side of marketing and before that, I started my career in the non-for-profit sector. Peppered throughout the years, I’ve been lucky enough to do some freelance writing and guest teaching at Ryerson.     

'We focus first on building impactful brands - marketing a specific medium for each brand is ancillary.'

Like many in media, you wear multiple brand hats under one umbrella. Do your communications strategies vary substantially brand to brand or do the basic goals (build awareness/subscribers/sales) mean that you are able to duplicate efforts?  

Goals are always in flux, which keeps things interesting. Because media is so overtly measurable, we’re constantly evaluating strategies and readjusting the sails to stay on course. There can be the temptation to overreact to data, but we build marketing strategies that we have conviction in, and see them through. There is overlap in the tools and channels we use to communicate our brands, but how they are applied is always specific to the project.   

Do the print vs. digital communication strategies differ vastly?  

Yes and no. We focus first on building impactful brands marketing a specific medium for each brand is ancillary. The timelines of digital and print are unique, so that in itself affords some consideration. It is easier to be nimble with digital than it is the required lead times for print.  

How much of what you do is digital vs. print in your role?  

It is hard to quantify that divide. I continually go back to how I, and our target audience of current and prospective readers, consume media. There is the obvious consideration we’re competing for market share, but we’re essentially competing for people’s leisure time. That’s big. What makes someone read content on our sites, our magazines or our social media platforms, versus popping in their ear buds or texting a friend when they are commuting?  When you think about how we consume media, the lines between digital and print tend to blur in the overall context.  

What is the biggest challenge for you in terms of promoting the brands from a print perspective and a digital perspective?  

The challenges in marketing media brands aren’t unlike the challenges I faced in marketing consumer packaged goods. More resources, bigger teams and bigger budgets would always be nice. I’m sure I’m in good company in that hope.    

With the digital side of media ever evolving how are your plans/ efforts affected year to year? 

The nice part of digital is how nimble it is. So while annual planning is mapped out well in advanced, we can also act swiftly on digital opportunities that pop up. We have an entrepreneurial ‘why not’ attitude that fosters this. An example of that in action is our first Pinterest contest. Weddingbells and Union Wines launched a new “Pin to Win your Wedding Wine”. The opportunity presented itself and we moved swiftly to get it in-field because it made sense for the brand.     

'When you think about how we consume media, the lines between digital and print tend to blur in the overall context.'

How important is cross promotion between your brands and what are some of the successes you've had?

Cross promotion is incredibly important in media. Most people regularly consume more than one title (though fewer than past years brand loyalty is continually more important), so there is a captive, engaged reader to introduce other products to. Inevitably, as readers enter different life stages, their interests shift (we’ve seen many readers move from Weddingbells to Canadian Family, for example). There are certainly reader and consumer profiles that fit each title, but there is fluidity between them.  And of course a city magazine like Toronto Life is bound to have overlap with some of our national titles, like FASHION.  

Can you share a highlight (or two) of communications success you've had with your brands digitally in the last year?  

To launch FASHION’s 35th anniversary year, just now drawing to a close this month, we built a robust program that spanned every touch point on the FASHION Magazine brand. The kick off was a fabulous contest (a trip for two to Oahu Hawaii, valued at around $8500) that lived on It was promoted in the magazine, launched with an issue that featured a fashion editorial spread shot in Oahu, and across FASHION’s social media platforms (which we are very proud of, at just shy of 87,000 Facebook fans and 365,000 Twitter followers). The contest was one of the most successful in company history: more than 65,000 entries, incredible traffic to the site, and one of the largest spikes in e-newsletter subscriber growth we’ve ever seen.  


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