Magazine article Marketing

Contracting Out

Magazine article Marketing

Contracting Out

Article excerpt

Lexie Goddard asks why journalism's elite are switching to customer titles

The pay is not always better, the hours are not guaranteed to be shorter and the publications are seen to be less prestigious. So why is it that a growing number of heavyweight journalists are ditching glamorous jobs on glossy magazines and top newspapers to edit customer titles?

One answer is that the standard of customer publications has improved so dramatically over the past ten years that it is no longer considered a downward move. Far from being mere glorified brochures, many now deserve serious comparison with news-stand titles and some, like John Brown Publishing's Classic FM, compete successfully on the newsagents' shelves.

A more surprising reason is that moving to customer publications has given these journalists a chance to edit without the number crunching, public relations activities and schmoozing of advertisers which are now part of every top editing job.

The trick for clients is to give such editors the freedom to use their experience to create credible titles, instead of treating the magazines as just another promotional vehicle.

"We don't lie down and let the client walk all over us," says Francine Lawrence, editor of award-winning customer publication Dulux Colour. "We use our professional skills to show them how it can be done."

To get a better idea of how the industry is tempting higher-calibre journalists into the fold, we spoke to a few who have made the move.

Judith Parsons Editor of Livewire magazine Illustrated London News

Judith Parsons spent more than ten years at The Times editing its special reports, overseeing features on specialist subjects ranging from financial, business and management to consumer and travel.

Before joining The Times she was covering the energy sector for the Financial Times' Business Information Newsletters in Rome, New York and London. Parsons has also worked for a range of publications in Africa and Asia, including the South China Morning Post and Asian Finance.

Two years ago she took a drop in salary to become launch editor of Livewire, an onboard customer magazine for the Great North Eastern Railway (GNER). It is published by The Illustrated London News Group and has a readership of about two million.

"All newspapers have this pyramid structure and the number of jobs available after you reach a management position diminish," says Parsons. "You have a lot of good writers and editors but nowhere for them to go. People might have thought what I was doing was a bit odd but I could see the potential there."

There were a few tough challenges to tackle. One was the public perception of the average pre-privatisation rail journey as a "badly run, dirty, unpleasant experience to be endured". She also missed the clout of a big paper like The Times. "Working on The Times did mean that doors would open quicker," she says. "People were queuing up to speak to you. With customer magazines you have to work a bit harder to get where you want to go."

However, two years on Parsons feels she has helped GNER improve the quality of rail travel by producing a magazine to rival any news-stand title, thanks partly to a book full of old Fleet Street contacts. "I have used only top writers from The Times, The Observer, The Economist and Telegraph, and the quality of the product speaks for itself," she says.

Instead of missing the freedom of newspaper journalism, Parsons feels she has more space to be creative at Livewire. "It is such an open and unstructured industry," she explains. "I have complete freedom to generate my own ideas, the look, the feel and the whole life of the magazine. It's a chance to show what you can do."

Francine Lawrence Editor of Dulux Colour magazine Redwood Publishing

"The most irritating thing is trying to explain to people why I have 'crossed the line'," says Francine Lawrence, former editor or Country Living. …

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