Magazine article Marketing

Consumer Passions

Magazine article Marketing

Consumer Passions

Article excerpt

The customer magazine has become more sophisticated in identifying its marketing targets, writes Cathy Bond

When the Department of Trade and Industry recently put one of its house magazines out to tender -- circulation 33,000 -- 28 publishing agencies lined up to pitch. Brass Tacks, which came out on top, was lured, like all the others, by the chance to climb on board at a time when the Government is trying to communicate more effectively with the general public.

For the 27 unsuccessful agencies it was time to be thick-skinned, empty the flipchart folder, slip in the next project and hop into a taxi. A week's work in today's climate in even a moderately-sized agency could include five or more pitches and presentations.

The publishers are chasing a slice of a fast-growing market predicted by Mintel to grow by 10% to [pounds]100m in 1995, and by more than 30% over the next three years. But the going gets tougher when clients begin to wise up to the potential of what's on offer.

"There's been a sea change in clients' attitude," says Barry Bliss, publishing director of the BLA Group. "They didn't really understand until quite recently what a magazine can achieve, but now they are extremely keen to know how it can meet their marketing objectives."

Publishers may insist that the key issue is the advantages of a customer magazine and not its costs. Nevertheless, clients are eager to shop around for the best deal. "The mood is: if the current publisher can't deliver enough, maybe I should see if someone else can," says Brass Tacks publishing director Steven Quirke. And attempts are being made to spread costs.

Omnicom-owned Premier Publishing is forging a deal between British Airways and an unnamed partner airline to cover routes where each complements the other's services. It is also talking to a German publisher about several joint developments.

Over the next six months, meanwhile, some major brands will join the rush:

* Tesco is to launch the monthly Tesco Recipe Collection in January. This has not been announced officially yet, but media packs are being distributed to advertisers. Forward Publishing is the publisher.

* The Boots magazine debuts in February, through Redwood, arguably doing for health and beauty what the Sainsbury's Magazine has done for foodies.

* In the same month, Classic FM aims to take its winning radio formula onto newsstands through John Brown Publishing -- a head-to-head challenge to the BBC Music Magazine.

* Ford has put 11 publishers through the mill before picking BLA to launch its new customer title in the new year -- a quarterly with a circulation of 600,000.

* Other significant launches in the spring include a revamped Asda magazine from River Publishing; Mediamark's new title for InterCity and The Publishing Team's relaunch for Barclaycard.

"Clients recognise a relatively cheap and waste-free way of communicating direct," says John Brown of John Brown Publishing. "They see people making it work for them."

It's true that customer magazines do rather well when it comes to justifying cost. The research needed, using direct-response methods plus tracking of image and customer behaviour, is straightforward.

Effective, certainly, but cheap? That depends on how much of a showcase the company wants it to be; on whether the magazine has to be mailed; on circulation and publishing frequency; on advertising policy; and whether it is free or paid-for.

While most publishers claim to be turning down more work than they take on, the concepts they reject are often little more than glorified mailshots.

But contract publishing has become the place to be for both clients and media wunderkind -- in fact, the most accurate assessment of how a new magazine will be pitched is a quick glance at the CVs of staff drafted in to handle it. Boots' magazine, for example, will be edited by Jan Henderson, latterly with Good Housekeeping and Options, while River recruited the art director of Bella to relaunch Asda's Hi-time, as a bi-monthly with a 1. …

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