Local business-to-business (B2B) titles and free magazines have some catching up to do: They don’t quite measure up to South African consumer magazines, which are “world-class”, says Pica chief judge, Gisele Wertheim Aymes.
Like Wertheim Aymes, who describes the entries in key B2B categories as “light”, Wits Business School professor, John Luiz, was disappointed with the standard in some categories. “There were a number of magazines which are quite frankly looking tired, both in terms of look and content and (are) not reflecting the dynamic nature of our society and of their target markets.”
However, it’s not all bad news for the sector: The competition was “incredibly stiff” in other B2B categories. “We also saw the introduction of a number of new magazines often serving very niche and topical markets, and which provided excellent insight in their fields,” says Luiz.
For panellist Kassie Naidoo, the entries in the customer publishing excellence category were “a bit of a mixed bag” as well. “Many customer magazines have become wallpaper. People dump them and don’t read them. Some have become glorified catalogues, adding no value for their target market. On the other side of the spectrum, some customer magazines look more like consumer magazines, doing nothing for their clients’ brand; often looking like they are actually embarrassed to represent the brand that they are producing the magazine for,” she says.
Naidoo believes part of the solution lies in viewing a customer magazine as “another touch point for your client to interact with his/her customer in a personal, unique way”.
In general, publishers who invest properly in their titles and editors who are able to focus and interpret the needs of their readers, get the thumbs up from Wertheim Aymes. As do titles that show advertising sale growth above media inflation and a healthy circulation.
“Pica is a publishing award which is about the business of magazines; not just about the pretty pictures, sexy cover lines or great art direction.”
She was impressed by “brave” new entrants such as Destiny, INTIEM and Mind Shift, “who are carving out new publishing niches in their respective categories of the local market”.
According to Wertheim Aymes, the main shortcoming in the industry is the (in)ability to develop magazine brands into digital channels. “South African magazine publishers have to harness online and mobile proactively and relevantly, and this needs to live throughout their brand and sit as a natural extension to the relationship their magazine has with its readers. There are many who have websites, but they seem to exist for the sake of it and are not an integral part of the editorial plan. In many cases mobile doesn’t even feature.”
In contrast, Daniel Munslow, a judge in the online solutions category, is encouraged by the fact that “so many magazines” have an online solution. “This category is only two years old, and already attracts over a dozen entries in what is a new publishing field, as well as a new category.”
He adds: “I was impressed with the degree to which websites made use of some of the more ‘complex’ digital tools. There are publishers who not only include original content and basic blogging functions on their sites, but also source new technologies to create e-zines, podcasts and live feeds from other sources that enhance their target market’s experience. Others have ventured down the road of vodcasting and page customisation.”
One of the shortcomings he cites is that in some instances content ends up taking a back seat. “I believe it is important to remember that, no matter how advanced the digital tools are, people still visit websites for their content – in this respect, publishing fundamentals have changed very little.”
Munslow says most of the editors judged in the Editor of the Year category had a clear grasp of their business model, and displayed a broader approach to their business than merely focusing on the editorial content. “It is impressive that South African editors take on a personal role in promoting their publications, and are active in the marketing and public relations campaigns surrounding their magazines.”
He adds: “It was also encouraging to see that many of the editors we reviewed had been instrumental in increasing the circulation of their publications… The implication of this growth is that editors are deeply in tune with their target markets, and have a thorough understanding of their audiences.”
Munslow would have liked to see more entries from B2B and custom magazine editors. “Only four B2B editors entered this year, while there are literally hundreds of titles in this category – 419 to be exact. Customer publishing also lacked a strong presence, with just five entrants; while there are 103 such local magazines available.”
In the Magazine of the Year category, the standard was “pretty high”, says Naidoo.
“The best publications were able to grow circulation, adspend as well as pages in a difficult economic climate. They were able to stay true to their brand. Some were able to identify and explore unidentified target audiences and build on that successfully. (Others) were able to create touch points outside their publications (i.e. through web, events, etc.); thus building and increasing reader loyalty, value and interaction with their magazines.”
Naidoo believes magazines should be braver. “They should be more cutting-edge and have a greater South African identity (in terms of design and visual content).”
State of journalism
Wertheim Aymes says the standard of journalism varied per category. “B2B, customer and free titles can definitely improve and don’t compare with consumer magazines, where the standard is generally high… Consumer titles can’t afford poor journalism because consumers won’t buy them and advertisers won’t support them. Whereas in the other categories, there is less pressure on publishers to invest in good resources and editorial and hence it is easier to disregard journalism standards.”
Gus Silber, convenor in the Editorial Excellence category, says he was impressed that some magazines are prepared to give journalists “the space, the means, and the motivation to tell actual stories, instead of simply providing little bits of puff to justify a catchy coverline”.
Given the over-abundance of information, Silber believes journalists need to add “something more to the mix: wit, insight, perspective, the drama of real encounters with real people. “Journalists who sit at their computers and use Google and Wikipedia as their primary (and frequently, only) sources run the risk of making themselves redundant.”
Although the standard of the winning entries was “very good indeed”, he believes the industry should not be satisfied. “We need a standard that is up to drawing blood and slicing flesh through to the bone.”
Florence Modikwe is editorial assistant at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media magazine.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (January 2009).