Why magazines are stretching out

Before magazine publishers move into the branded retail sector they need to think about the costs of alienating their advertisers.

As Debenhams is the latest retailer to launch itself into the glossy world of magazines it seems appropriate that publishers should retaliate by staking their own claim on the high street. National Magazine Company’s managing director Terry Mansfield’s idea for Cosmopolitan stores (MW April 17), is undoubtedly serious his most radical suggestion yet for extending his brands.

If nothing immediately arises from Mansfield’s suggestions it will undoubtedly stir the industry’s curiosity about the potential of the magazine brand and just how far it can be stretched.

Although NatMags has been a pioneer in brand extension it has never strayed far from its core business. None of the big publishing companies have done much more than promote their own magazines’ exhibitions, books, CDs and T-shirts.

Any forward-thinking publisher cannot, however, ignore the increasing pressure of competition from new media and it would not be surprising to find the magazine sector looking outside the traditional realm of print media. Efforts to persuade the Independent Television Commission to allow masthead TV, and the presence of established magazines on the Internet, suggest publishers are already actively seeking ways of keeping their brands alive.

Some of the most established titles, such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Elle, have names which effortlessly translate themselves as trusted, stylish and desirable.

Managing director of branding development consultancy CLK Michael Levy says because of these characteristics, magazines have a huge brand appeal. He adds: “Each of the big titles conjure up a certain set of values and imagery so people know what to expect. People like to be seen with certain magazines because they are a shorthand for a certain kind of lifestyle.”

However, branding experts warn about the dangers of magazines diluting their own brands if they try to do the same. Director of Interbrand, Susannah Hart, says magazines must stick to their original personality and be careful not to detract from what they are good at.

EMAP’s Elle has launched its own range of clothes in the UK but has been careful not to present it as a serious fashion platform which would compete with the high fashion content of its editorial. Through the clothing company Active Sportive it has put together a range of simple sporty casual wear which is sold through department stores and its own catalogue.

Euromonitor consultant Trevor Fenwick warns that by progressing magazine brands publishers must be very vigilant about how the names are used. He says: “The management of intellectual property rights has always been an important issue for publishers but once a name moves into new commercial areas the potential to exploit it becomes greater. Publishers must be careful not to lose control.”

NatMags’ rivals Condé Nast and IPC are immediately dismissive of taking their brands out of the media.

IPC’s director of business development Colin Reeves-Smith says it is only beneficial to extend the brand name into simple spin-offs which are purely designed to increase a title’s profile.

He says: “One-offs, such as the Options car, are particularly useful for us. However, it is dangerous to turn to commercial areas which impinge on the heartland of advertising space.”

Last year’s revelation by Marketing Week that financial service advertisers threatened to pull advertising from The Daily Telegraph if it launched own-label financial service products (February 16, 23 1996) was a sobering thought for publishers.

Stephen Quinn, publisher of Condé Nast’s Vogue, says: “It would be commercial suicide to try to compete with one’s advertisers. We earn 15m from Vogue’s advertising a year; we’re not going to do anything to jeopardise that.”

But magazines are responding to the threat from retailer titles, such as the Debenhams launch. Rachel Dolman, managing director of Innovate, says one of the reasons retailers launch their own titles is to rejuvenate their image. She says: “Magazines can emphasise the positive aspects of a brand.”

Although Elle has successfully opened stores in Paris and Chile, IPC’s Reeves-Smith says the UK has a unique retail system which would make it very difficult for a magazine to do the same. “Unlike on the Continent, the UK’s strongest brand names in clothing are retailers. The likes of Next, Miss Selfridge and Marks & Spencer would not respond well to a magazine in which they advertise trying to compete with them.”

NatMags, while not committing to any specific plans, is confident it can work with its advertisers and is not afraid to admit that it is keen to search out new profit centres.

Anne Melbourne, NatMags brand extensions director, says: “We are quite prepared to work with our clients as we do with the Cosmopolitan Show and with launching new ventures. We are confident our brands have the potential to go a very long way and still have a meaningful value to consumers.”

There are many questions that need to be answered before publishers can start to expand beyond magazines. They must work out where their priorities lie and how many risks they are prepared to take to be entrepreneurial.

CLK’s Levy says: “If publishers think they can earn more money from new ventures than they can from advertising revenue they must decide whether they can live with the risk of upsetting advertisers.

“It’s what businesses have to do if they want to expand. If a bank set up an IT business it would risk upsetting its IT customers. Maybe Cosmopolitan stores aren’t such an outlandish proposition after all.”

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