#SYPmags: Revolutions and Evolutions in Magazine Publishing

Written for SYP Scotland blog | For our August event, we were thrilled to be able to host our first magazine publishing event supported by PPA Scotland – and what a panel we had for it!

Chaired by Nikki Simpson, Business Manager of PPA Scotland, attendees were able to learn about the magazine industry through four diverse panelists: Laura Brown, acting Editor-in-Chief of DC Thomson’s girl’s magazines including Shout; Eric Campbell, Managing Director of White Light Media and Creative Director of Hot Rum Cow; Andrew Burns, Digital/Social Media Editor for the Big Issue, and Katie McQuater, Features Editor for The Drum. A few little things you’ll learn:

  • Know your brand and what platforms work for it.
  • A magazine can be more than just a print publication.
  • Have a strong voice and identity.

Nikki knew the panelists and their companies like the back of her hand, so we dive in immediately with targeted questions and topics.

“Get the right format for the right audience.”
For girl’s magazines, many have diverted to being pop magazines, but Shout remains a lifestyle one. “It’s okay to be you,” explains Laura, on what the magazine sets out to say. “It’s a safe, private place.” The internet is so full of everything and is “difficult to curate, but you can trust Shout.” It’s key to give them content that they enjoy and trust, to be a kind of matey presence.

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In growing a brand through trust, Katie says it’s vital. “People look to [The Drum] as a source of industry knowledge. In a constantly connected media age, everyone has an opinion, but you need to be right and help people, have direct, solid features that people can identify with and rely on for industry knowledge.”

The natural topic arises – the industry shift from print to digital. “Digital is a good thing and opened a lot of doors,” explains Katie on The Drum’s growth. “It expands markets and reaches new audiences.” Trade publications for ad agencies now appeal to a broader range of people via social media. “You can share creativity from strange places and grow a readership.”

White Light Media are leaders of digital publishing. “We do magazines for brands, banks, and universities, for their customers,” begins Eric. “For digital, there wasn’t many people doing it. We have a reputation for the quality of the stuff we put out. It’s important to get the channels right. Get the right format for the right audience.”

Laura expands on digital, with Shout having won Online Presence of the Year. In February, they launched Shout Social, a one-shot Vlog magazine, which was recently replicated by others. They tapped into the trend that Vloggers are the new celebs for teens very early, giving posters, stickers and interviews – fans want that despite the digital climate. They’re cross-media: adults couldn’t understand the idea of taking something from online and putting it in a magazine, but they saw the need.

The Big Issue have utilised social media, largely to shake preconceived notions of the publication via #celebrateyourvendor. This was sparked by the murder of two Big Issue vendors and the subsequent outpouring of grief. People were sending letters, speaking out on social media, and they wanted to collate that. “We wanted to share positivity,” explains Andrew. “It was an online community of advocates, dispelling myths and fighting prejudice.” That was their goal, and it hadn’t always been done well, but they decided to address it by bringing people together who can celebrate what the Big Issue is.

“You cannot just be present, but have a strong tone of voice.”
So, social media: Why Twitter? Is it about bringing personality to a brand?

They all agree. Katie notes that “Twitter was huge [for the Drum]. It’s our biggest platform, and our industry is a digitally engaged one, so it was a no-brainer to develop.” It’s important to be using different platforms, but you have to ensure that your content is good and worthwhile. “You cannot just be present, but have a strong tone of voice.”
The Drum
For the Big Issue, Instagram is great. It allows them to showcase illustrators and photography – they get great reactions on such a visual platform. “You can’t work across all platforms, so focus on what will work and add value,” says Andrew. “There’s also a different way of writing per platform,” Laura picks up. “Different girls go to each. Create it fresh each time.” For them, Twitter has lots of YouTube fans, Facebook is more fashion and memes. Find your feet, it’s all trial and error.

For months the Big Issue spent months trying to get an exclusive with Jose Mourinho, and they put it across all platforms. But on Facebook, a photo of a vendor with keys to his first home was far more popular – that photo blows everything out of the water, even though Mourinho was a massive draw for the magazine.

They also won the cover of the year with PPA earlier this year. It was of a soldier, Rick Clement, who said it gave him a sense of pride to be there, as it will open people’s eyes. This cover beat the cream of the magazine industry, and it was just by a couple of people in an office in Glasgow.

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Eric is very complimentary of the cover, adding it’s quite resonant to beat the big brands. He says the Big Issue’s covers work as posters, and indie publishers have the creative freedom to do the covers they like, not that they need to. Many of their competitors have a template that they work to, limiting the creative possibilities.

Hot Rum Cow are also celebrated for their exciting design. “It’s a visual feast,” says Eric. “We wanted to do something different, something fun and colourful.” The indie magazine market has its own style and voice, and needs to have original content, creating something that is absolutely original. “That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

Next, we consider crowd-pleasing vs what you actually want to create. Nikki is excited by the idea of a week where magazines just publish what they want, how they want, to see what would happen. “Nothing would sell,” someone quips.

“It’s all pink,” laughs Laura. “Really pink. Part of me wants to make something that looks different.” The Jacqueline Wilson magazine does have a distinct look that bucks the trend, but the brand behind it allows them to do so. Shout may look the same each issue to the average shopper, but they make a conscious effort not to fall back on simple templates.

Previously, people would just by their local papers or magazines, but it’s a much more global climate. How does that impact business?

For The Drum, they were a Scottish magazine with a focus on UK regions, but not London-centric. Going to London was a big leap as they didn’t have the readership there, but their trade-magazine-with-consumer-approach really set them apart. They’ve just moved to New York, but haven’t branched into print yet. It’s all online at the moment, garnering a digital readership first. It raises unexpected issues: do you change your style guide across the pond, for example.

White Light Media have World Whisky Day rights, which is the 3rd Saturday in May. They had three months to prep for this year, which was a learning experience. It’s about brand extension and the right tone of voice. They were blown away with the interaction with just a three month lead, talking to brands, getting it involved with David Beckham on Jimmy Kimmel. The possibilities are exciting this time around, now they have a full year to prepare.

zoella shoutAs for vlogging and Youtube sensations, Shout were canny to strike while the iron was just getting hot. They got in at the very beginning and haven’t had to pay quite so much; it’s a symbiotic relationship. One mention in Zoella’s video can see sales spike. It’s the classic journo-client relationship. They’re considering Periscope, but are worried it might smear their reputation if a swear accidentally slips out!

The Big Issue use Vine a lot. They partnered with Russell Brand and were given full access to his book launch, and it was hugely successful, one of their most engaged days on social media. It offered more insight and interactivity, you just have to know what suits your brand. The Drum use Periscope and Vine. It’s good for Advertising Week Europe in London, able to capture interview and vox pops for those wouldn’t attend, creating more immersive content.

This insight is vital in an audience, giving them something new, something different. Drum Live saw them create a whole issue in one day. “It’s a terrifying concept,” laughs Katie. “It had talks and workshops. People could come talk while making the magazine. It was not easy to pull together.”

“If your magazine goes there’s more to live on.”
Magazines are no longer stand-alone media items, instead part of a larger brand identity. We’ve touched on social media, but live events are also another footprint they can leave. Shout have been working on their first event in London, with 50 attendees, with Youtubers, activities, cookery demos, make-up tutorials, goody bags, authors, bands. “It expands your brand that bit more,” says Laura. “The climate’s not great, so if your magazine goes there’s more to live on.”

The other integral point to the magazine industry is the move to free-distribution. Commuters will have read several titles for free: Metro, Stylist, Shortlist. Others are now following suit, with NME being the surprising newcomer to the model.

“I love free mags,” says Laura. “The audience is everywhere, and this is totally free of the newsstand constraints.” It means they can work more on their own terms.

“We’ve been adversely affected,” says Andrew. “[The Big Issue] is the pioneer of street papers. But we need to rise to the challenge.” He thinks that the difference between free magazines and others is that there’s no brand loyalty, no interaction of the purchase and the desire not to miss an edition that comes with the weekly or monthly purchase.

“As for the NME,” he continues, “I wrote a dissertation on how they spearheaded punk sub-culture.” There’s no money in music advertising, he adds, as it’s starting to get very saturated.

“I think it depends on the title,” adds Katie. “Timeout has an established audience, NME is niche. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.” She believes the Stylist’s photoshoots are equal in quality to that of Vogue, so free doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper feeling content.

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“The free magazine thing doesn’t affect us,” says Eric. “Hot Rum Cow escapes from the digital world. It isn’t always time sensitive; it’s informative and an experience. The site is a tool to reach out to new readers, it’s a vital cog in getting content out.

As for final passing pearls of wisdom, Katie notes that platforms are important and you must constantly be learning from your audience and stamping your own voice and opinion on what you do. Eric says that you don’t make money overnight, so, “View the long game.”

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