A Good Read

The huge number of customer magazines launched this year testifies to companies’ growing confidence in the medium as a marketing tool. Jo-Anne Flack picks out some of the new entrants

Over the past year, at least 40 customer magazines have been launched by companies which have never used this marketing vehicle before.

This information has been supplied by the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA), so there may well be more magazines that have been launched through non-members. This high figure indicates that clients are investing a lot of money in the industry and proves that customer magazines are being taken seriously as an effective marketing tool.

Michael Potter, chief executive of Redwood Publishing, sums it up when he says: “Companies which wouldn’t have returned our calls five years ago are talking to us now.”

Some of the recently launched customer magazines were predictable – for example ONdigital, published by TPD – and many others only added to a solid stable of titles – for example, Shangri-La Hotels through Redwood, Ford Motorsport through Citrus, and Virgin Express through The Publishing Team.

But in all cases, the business decisions to publish were sound. Contract publishing is not a cheap option, particularly if you want it done well, so the decision to publish must be committed.

The Newcastle Building Society had very good reasons for communicating directly with its customers, which it started doing with the launch of NE1. Fraser Allen, editorial director at Brass Tacks, says: “As a building society, it is always vulnerable to being taken over and being turned into banks. There is a need for it to protect itself and its customers against carpetbaggers.”

In fact, the subject of carpetbaggers is explored in NE1’s first and second issues, and is an issue NBS wants its customers to be aware of.

Building societies tend to have a more loyal customer base than banks. Although it is a relatively small society, The Newcastle Building Society has a strong base in the North-east of England and its involvement in the local community is valued more by its customers than if it was a bank.

The decision to publish appears to have been the right one. Reader response to the first issue was 13,500, or 8.6 per cent – an enviable response when compared with direct mail.

NBS corporate communications manager Rachel Dodd says: “Like any financial services company, we were sending out lots of different communications to lots of people. We wanted one that was the same for all our customers – and the magazine was the best way to do that.”

Internal publications, otherwise known as staff newsletters, have never been inspiring. Even if the production values are good, they are never more than an update on what the company is doing – and always push the company line.

UDV took a different route, however, with the launch of Mix It, a magazine that goes to all its staff worldwide. The magazine is published by Premier Media Partners, which pitched against traditional internal marketing communications companies for the work.

Premier deputy chief executive Claire Broadbent says: “What we said we would do, unlike most internal marketing companies, was provide editorial credibility.

What we wouldn’t do was be the UDV mouthpiece. We said we would put everything in the context of the wider industry and get the UDV message across with independence.

“The trend in internal communication is to preach the company line. We wanted the staff to believe in this magazine. It was quite a risk for UDV to go with us.”

The publication looks like a glossy magazine and is produced in a number of languages – none of which is a translation of the English, but original material in its own right.

Competing in the luxury market

One surprise entrant to the market was Live It, the magazine published for Conran. Unlike many customer magazines, Live It has a cover price and is being sold on newsstands and in Conran shops and restaurants. It also competes in a crowded and ruthless market filled with the likes of Tatler and Wallpaper.

But from the response of the first issue, those living the high life can’t seem to get enough. Ellen Brush, publishing director at Axon Publishing, says the Conran database of 10,000 people were sent a mailing asking if they wanted to subscribe to the magazine. She says: “We sent the letter out two days ago and already the responses are coming in”.

The curtain raiser to Live It was a title called Eat It, which focused on food. “It was tested in a couple of WH Smiths and we were surprised at how many were sold.

People are interested in Conran, and it’s not just Terence Conran – it’s the Conran perspective of life.”

Another recent entry in the luxury market is Alfred, the magazine for Alfred Dunhill, published by Redwood. The Alfred Dunhill brand has undergone enormous changes recently, culminating in an ad campaign to be launched early next year through WCRS.

Peter Cross, marketing manager of Alfred Dunhill, says: “For a brand which is in the process of significant change and which has mixed consumer perceptions, we felt that a magazine would give us the opportunity to offer a more comprehensive and intimate dialogue with consumers. The magazine has allowed us to explore diverse facets of the brand and clarify our proposition to the market.”

Redwood Publishing creative director Rami Lippa says the magazine, which circulates 130,000 copies in eight languages, is designed to appeal to a younger, more modern audience.

“Dunhill is perceived as old-fashioned and has a close association with tobacco, when it hasn’t had anything to do with tobacco for years.

“It is a leading English luxury brand which is going through a major change, and the magazine has created a platform from which the brand can communicate this change,” says Lippa.

Health and fitness also saw new publications – particularly Boots’ Health & Beauty through Redwood, and, joining many other fitness club titles, Get Changed, the magazine for the Virgin Active clubs.

Neil O’Brien, managing director of The Publishing Team, which publishes Get Changed, says: “Most of the health and fitness magazines are so worthy, with recipes for carrot and peanut health drinks and dictating what kind of lifestyle you must have. That is the approach we are not taking. This is not about an adult talking to a child, but adults talking to adults.”

There is only one Virgin Active club open, in Preston, with a second due to open in Leeds. Another four or five are planned for next year. The concept of the clubs is different in a number of ways: they are huge – normally 8,000 to 10,000 square feet – and include sophisticated play areas for children and restaurants that serve burgers and pizzas.

O’Brien says: “The aim of the magazine is to get existing members to use more parts of the club – it’s a retention tool rather than an acquisition tool.”

Second-time success

The same could be said for Health & Beauty, the Boots magazine whose 2 million circulation makes it the women’s magazine with the highest circulation in the market.

This is not Boots’ first attempt at contract publishing. Back in 1995, it launched a magazine with a 95p cover price. It died soon after.

Matthew Prior, new business director at Redwood, says the difference this time is Boots’ “focused intention” to create the right kind of magazine. “At no stage did I feel any fear that Boots didn’t know what it wanted,” he says.

The magazine goes to the top 2 million spenders of the 10 million database of Advantage Card holders – and it is the Advantage Card that holds the key to the initial success of the magazine. The information stored on the card enables Boots to tightly target its products and consumers, who it knows an increasing amount about.

But the success of the magazine could contain a sting. The 8 million Boots customers who may not be high spenders but who are nevertheless loyal consumers, may feel slighted that they don’t get the magazine. Furthermore, if customers don’t maintain their expenditure to keep them in the top 2 million, they could get knocked off the circulation list – possibly doing more damage in the process.

Cost-effective alternative

Despite such problems, contract publishing’s star is rising – mostly because of its effectiveness but also, according to Redwood’s Potter, because of the high cost of above-the-line advertising.

He says: “If you have a big ad budget of about &£20m, 47 per cent of that goes above the line. It doesn’t take long to spend &£10m on advertising in this country. In six months, you will still need to be talking to your customers.”

It is for this reason that Potter believes the Internet will provide the main impetus for the growth of contract publishing in the future – and, in fact, many new contract publishing launches this year were Internet sites.

Potter says: “There are over 5 million registered Websites. The clever clients will have a combined strategy of a Website and a magazine. That is the story to be told in contract publishing.”

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