Innovation drives change

The climate of gloom surrounding traditional print media is not shared by its digital and customer publishing counterparts which are embracing creativity to drive change. By Matthew Valentine

Creativity has always driven the growth of media brands, but the speed of change in recent years has left some familiar names reeling in shock. As nimble new players accelerate away from the pack, there is evidence that lumbering old timers are spluttering on their dust.

Many media brands are suffering; earlier this month, 22-year-old men’s title Arena announced its closure. Figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABCs) show that traditional magazines are no longer those filling the spots at the top of the most-popular lists. The top 20 is now dominated by Sky’s TV guide magazine and supermarket publications such as those from Asda or Tesco.

Car enthusiasts

In specialist publishing sectors, such as magazines for car enthusiasts, it is easy to find former readers lurking on web forums, bemoaning the fall in quality of automotive titles. While general motoring titles have seen a 0.3% year-on-year fall in circulation in the 12 months to the end of December 2008, niche titles that deal with high performance cars and motorcycles have seen a 29.7% fall.

These figures can make uncomfortable reading for media owners and begs the question: how can they become more creative?The team behind the online publication Drivers Republic claims it is about being more interactive. This not only gives consumers a voice but helps advertisers better target people as a result. More targeted advertising leads to better return on investment for brands and ultimately, a healthier media sector.

Drivers Republic managing director Steve Davies argues that car manufacturers know who has bought their products previously but not who is thinking about buying them next. “It’s all about behavioural targeting, so you can get the right message to the right people at the right time,” he says.

Drivers Republic suggests that through its digital format, it can offer better creativity than some of its struggling print competitors. By using high production values, photography, a lot of video footage and numerous online community aspects, it hopes it will be able to adapt better to offer advertisers new ideas and survive a recession.

“I found all the magazines were preaching to us readers and not listening, especially car magazines,” says Davies. Having worked in management consultancy with companies such as Experian and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and for clients such as Microsoft Xbox and Skype, Davies became convinced that interactivity was essential to success for media brands in the future.

This isn’t just a case of cutting print overheads with no strategic agenda, he claims. It is about finding better ways to reach car enthusiasts. “Digital is not a cheaper route to market; it can even be more expensive. It’s about interactivity,” he says.

“There were masses of people out there on forums, talking about cars. They are not geeks, they are real people who go out there and buy cars, but they had become disenfranchised.”

Interactive forum

While Davies is savvy about how an interactive forum can help car manufacturers better target potential consumers, he is clear that brand advertisers must not abuse editorial relationships. He points to the recent outcry about Facebook’s user privacy settings as an example of where things can go wrong.

“The backlash against Facebook shows you can’t abuse people’s trust online,” says Davies. “Bad news travels very fast.”

But various events that extend the Drivers Republic brand can be used to bring readers and car manufacturers together in situations where the editorial of the magazine is not compromised but advertisers can offer extra value to car fans.

Brand immersion events

Drivers Republic is inviting readers to attend integration or brand immersion events supported by manufacturers. These will see between 30 and 50 readers invited to a race track to enjoy a range of cars, with demonstrations by professional drivers, filmed laps and direct experience of the manufacturer’s brand values.

These events don’t just target those consumers immediately in brands’ headlights either; an event for the forthcoming Porsche GT3 – a high-powered specialist variant of the classic 911 model – would aim to appeal to a wider group than those who could buy one at the list price of 81,914. It might also try to keep those motorists who might buy a more junior Porsche model in a few years’ time interested in the German marque.

As well as giving car enthusiast readers a genuinely appealing day out, such activities give consumers direct influence over manufacturers, and that makes Drivers Republic a far “stickier” proposition for its fans, says Davies.

Further innovations, such as reports on online update service Twitter from the Geneva Motor Show, will further emphasise the interactive nature of the brand and distance Drivers Republic from its main competition, which still comprises traditional motoring titles and their related websites.

“The reality is that publishing online means there are about ten to 12 revenue streams you can take advantage of, without just relying on advertising,” claims Davies.

Digital publishing

Titan Outdoor marketing director Steve Cox agrees that digital publishing is becoming increasingly important even in the outdoor area. Cox says that because so many people have busy lives on the go, without the time to absorb detailed media, digital outdoor can help get across a brand message quickly and in a timely manner.

“Digital printing means we can accept creative with a much shorter lead time,” he says. Cox adds that it is even possible to use website and newspaper content and bring it to life outside in ads. “With digital screens, the growth is phenomenal. It currently accounts for about 8% of poster spend, but that figure is growing very fast.”

While customer magazines and digital services may be those brands thriving in the current climate, there are clearly lessons to be learned by all companies aiming to find new business models in 2009.

Case study: National Geographic
While customer publishing brings to mind retailers such as Tesco, Asda and Ikea moving into media, one magazine brand is moving from printed pages into retailing.

National Geographic has been a magazine for more than 100 years. Published in 32 languages around the globe, it has moved into brand extensions such as children’s versions, a “green” variant and its own TV channel, launched in 1997.

But now the brand has opened two retail outlets, one in Regent Street, London and the other in Singapore. The Regent Street store, rumoured to have cost close to 6m, covers nearly 20,000 sq ft.

Run by a franchise partner, the store aims to build on the publication (and its parent organisation, the National Geographic Society) by featuring unique products and services, including a sub-zero testing chamber for outdoor gear and self-DNA sampling. More stores are planned in capital cities around the world.

While building what the company calls “curated exhibits” to create a physical representation of a media brand might be a trend at the moment – business magazine Monocle also opened its first retail store in December 2008 – it may take more than this to reinvigorate the publishing world. But it certainly makes a good tale.

Case study: Ikea Family Live
It isn’t just online magazines that are putting traditional print titles under pressure. Publications from supermarkets and other retailers such as Ikea are seeing their circulations and revenues increase.

Indeed, Ikea Family Live, which is published quarterly in various languages, has a worldwide print run of about 8.5 million and is sent direct to members of the retailer’s loyalty scheme.

Mark Lonergan, managing director of August Media, which creates the magazine for Ikea, says: “It is absolutely huge, and that is one measure of the success of a title. But it can also be misleading.” Lonergan says the point of a customer magazine is to meet the requirement of its client, not just produce big circulation figures. “You would expect the Tesco magazine to have a bigger circulation than the one from Waitrose,” he says. “But which best meets its objectives is the subject of debate.” The work of August Media is measured by its clients on a complicated set of criteria that is clearly set out in advance. “It is driven by brand values and what the client wants us to achieve. There are no grey areas,” says Lonergan.

Because the recipients of the Ikea magazine are loyalty card holders and their transactions will be registered, the impact of the magazine can be measured in terms of its effect on the bottom line. “We’re measured by our ability to increase brand loyalty, drive store and website traffic and prove an uplift in sales,” says Lonergan. It is relatively easy, for example, to check the number of readers who go on to visit an Ikea store or its website within a week of receiving their magazine or how many buy featured products.

The business model of the title allows the editorial team at Ikea Family Live a lot of scope for creativity, adds Lonergan. “We’re not driven by the need to placate advertisers. We’re not constrained by having to get people to choose the title over others from a newsstand. It allows you to be more creative.

“Clients trust you once you have worked with them for a while. Our creative director has a far wider remit than she would in consumer publishing.” He argues that customer titles with minimal reliance on external advertising revenues demonstrate a long-term commitment by brands to their customers that can only help build relationships.

This extends online, an area Lonergan says is increasingly important for customer publishing. Ikea’s website in its native Sweden hosts pictures readers have sent in of their own homes, a degree of interaction that impresses Lonergan. “You can’t underestimate the passion with which people feel about some brands,” he says.

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