How Highlights Magazine is Innovating with Digital Channels

As a legacy brand, Highlights offers a solid example to publishers striving to remain vital to a modern audience.

“It is a legacy brand, certainly, but it’s also a brand that believes in creativity and innovation, evolving perfectly with the times, becoming globally successful, while remaining the beloved companion of children across the U.S,” writes Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni.

For many of us, that issue of Highlights was a staple of our childhoods. I remember me and my siblings taking turns with it, and woe to the one who smeared peanut butter on the pages.

Now, the magazine is all grown up, and it’s getting a Hollywood style close-up, as the 90-minute documentary “44 Pages” premiered at a recent film festival. Husni recently interviewed CEO Kent Johnson, the great-grandson of founders Garry Cleveland and Caroline Clark Myers, about finding relevance in the digital age.

“Our belief is that as we look out into the world, many of us feel that we’re living in times that are filled with some contention, trouble and challenges in our society,” Johnson explains. “Our belief is that the conditions in the world today, the pace of change and the disruption, makes Highlights even more relevant than when we were founded.”

Part of that relevance is carefully extending their brand beyond the pages of the magazine, with an unwavering focus on the audience.

“We don’t have advertisers, so the people we listen to, in terms of relevance, are our readers and our subscribers,” Johnson explains.

“And we tend to think of our magazines as products, but there’s also an audience associated with each of our magazines to the progression from infants and toddlers, up to preschool, and then our Highlights readers,” he continues.

“So, we’re constantly working to think about new ways to serve those audiences and that might be with digital products that we hope our subscribers would buy, and we do sell digital subscription products. Or it might be with our clubs, where we have people join who want to go deeper into a specific content area or really want to get into puzzling as opposed to something else. To move beyond and extend from a general interest magazine.”

Johnson reports they are seeing strong growth internationally, especially with English-language learning content and products. One such innovation is their “talking pen,” which helps young Chinese readers learn new English words easily.

“The kids in China are reading Highlights and High Five at the same time kids are reading them in the U.S., but they will have a pen where they can touch on anything and it will read them the article because we’re trying to help them learn English,” Johnson notes.

Highlights offers a great example of a legacy brand that is still firmly grounded in their print product, yet understands how their audience wants to engage digitally. The innovative ideas coming out of this brand stem from their continued belief that their audience – not the technology itself – is where the best new ideas will blossom.