Recession marketing for magazines
Author: Georgina Guedes
Publish: 27 May 2010
The heads of publications who have weathered the storms of recession, credit many factors other than marketing for keeping them afloat
The economics of magazine publishing are such that as soon as you start to yank at one income thread, the whole thing unravels in a messy tangle. Editorial content equals readers, readers equal shelf sales, shelf sales equal advertisers, advertisers equal salaries, salaries equal decent editorial content... and so the cycle continues.
In spite of this, the decision-makers at most publishing houses abide by the time-honoured tradition of slashing their marketing budgets at the first whiff of economic downturn. The result should be that the editorial message fails to reach readers who are turning out their pockets in search of enough copper to buy a Kit-Kat, but according to the publishers who made it through the recession relatively unscathed, it was other factors in addition to marketing that kept their businesses ticking over.
Quality staff, quality copy
"It's been tough and we take nothing for granted," says Gary Lemke, publishing director at Highbury Safika Media (HSM). "I honestly think that where HSM has been able to maintain momentum is the quality of staff, whether it's in the excellence of the designers and our editorial team members, or the sales team or the production division. The work ethic here is phenomenal and we're blessed to have quality people who have responded fantastically during the recession."
In spite of the tough economic climate, HSM's titles have done well, in some cases because of editorial reworking and title revamps. Cape Etc was given a new direction to make it more "passionately Cape" and Wedding Album was tweaked, which the public responded well to. They report that SA Rugby thrives and SA Cricket remains the only cricket-specific magazine in the country, ensuring its market share. They received recognition at the PICA Awards for Signature, Business Day Sport Monthly and JSE, which was given a design makeover.
"We don't do anything deliberately differently, but I think the readers themselves appreciate the quality of the content and what they get for their money," says Lemke.
The value proposition
A commitment to providing quality editorial seems to be at the heart of most successful strategies, which is an encouraging reflection on the commitment of media heads and the discernment of the market. In fact, in certain publishing houses who have committed to delivering quality content, sales figures have grown despite the state of the economy.
At Associated Magazines, both Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan increased their readerships over the last year, by 28% and 13% respectively. The combined readership for all titles in the stable has increased from 1 780 000, up from 1.6 million a year ago.
"While many magazines invested in cheap cover-mounts and others dropped their cover prices, we continued to invest in excellent content," says Andreline van Tonder, Group Publisher of Associated Magazines. "We learned many lessons and one of them was to go back to evaluating our marketing spend and to ensure an even better return on investment - not only for our own brands, but for our clients too."
Providing value was also at the heart of Avusa Media's magazine publishing strategy. Shelf sales figures were down for most of their titles, with the exception of Stuff and Avocado magazine, which they credit to the perceived value delivered by the titles. Their editorial strategy therefore focused on building on that perception and catching their readers' attention at the point of sale.
"Trends indicate that readers were reducing the numbers of titles purchased, and tended to go with publications that were perceived as value for money," says Sally Hudson, business manager for Consumer and Specialist Titles at Avusa. "The decision to purchase magazines is, in most cases, made at the shelf. The idea was to make the titles stand out of the clutter and draw attention to unique feature stories or value-add within the titles."
This was particularly prevalent in Elle and Elle Deco, which are licensed international titles, and took their content strategy from their parent company. "We have followed the Elle and Elle Deco international directive which is now leaning towards special sections inside the magazine, therefore providing the reader with the value of a thick 'thud factor' magazine, which appears to have higher perceived value and be more appealing to our reader," says Hudson.
Avusa learned from this and provided thicker magazines to garner shelf sales across all titles. In addition, they offered two-for-the-price-of-one specials, with magazines like Avocado and Longevity being bagged together, which Hudson says was effective in certain outlets.
Making it with a media mix
ITWeb, which publishes a range of online and print titles in the ICT space, put its people at the core of its marketing activities. "We were never particularly focused on traditional marketing channels like print, radio and television, but the effect of the recession has been that we came to rely more on other marketing areas." says Ranka Jovanovic, editorial director at ITWeb. "We relied on our own channels, which is what we always do - maximising editorial relationships and requesting that our editors make special efforts to be available for interview opportunities, which worked very well."
At the same time, Jovanovic acknowledges that ITWeb felt the impact of the recession, but was able to rely on other areas of its business to ensure that the company maintained profitability through the crisis. "No one was spared in the media industry," she says. "We were hit, and we needed to adjust. Because we don't only publish print titles, we could push our online and events divisions, which were not hard hit, to keep our heads above water."
Associated Magazines also focused on the media mix as a strategy to stay current, as much as to beat the recession. "We are no longer just magazine publishers," says Van Tonder. "We are content providers across multiple platforms with various channels to our advertisers. Our readers interact with us via mobile, web, events and magazines. Strong brands that have these platforms will survive the recession."
The PR factor
This is a strategy that is endorsed by other players in the publication marketing arena. Headlines PR, which provides solutions for magazine publicity, finds ways to leverage clients' content beyond the traditional marketing and PR channels.
"It's not new that PR is known as a more cost-effective way of reaching your target market," says Simone Lipshitz, MD of Headlines. "New technology presents new opportunities and more creative ways of establishing brands and reinforcing messages that do not have to be a costly exercise. They provide opportunities to engage with the reader and encourage dialogue, so where print is a one-dimensional medium, the social networking forums are an opportunity to create a community where people can engage with the title and others in the community."
According to Lipshitz, this makes sense, because competing titles in the same genre are unlikely to carry stories pointing readers to other magazines, so complementary media are the key.
She says that marketing budgets have been cut in the past year, and greater pressure has been placed on the specific deliverables of any campaigns she has carried out. "All clients are cutting costs because the old cliché that ‘the first thing to go is marketing' is true," she says. "I am finding that our media clients are more concerned about how and where ther budget gets spent, and of course, measuring the return is becoming ever so important. What is happening as a result of this is that retainer-based just for the sake of it anymore; it's measured, focused and strategic. And the messages are targeted and timed with specific objectives in mind."