It’s a Cape Town institution. For 15 years, The Big Issue magazine and the umbrella organisation have created jobs for 17 000 marginalised people, putting nearly R20-million into the pockets of the unemployed. But the future of the project is under threat as, like many other print media publications, advertising has dried up and funding is stretched to breaking point.
The Big Issue is no ordinary magazine. Half its cover price goes straight back to the vendor’s pocket. An appeal to business on its website reads, “We operate on a mix of grant funding, income from sales of the magazine and advertising revenues. As a direct result of the recession, advertising and magazine sales have declined and, at the same time, funding from national and international donors is drying up. You could say it’s the perfect storm of financial setbacks.
“But we are rallying hard to ensure we can continue producing this great magazine that helps hundreds of unemployed, impoverished vendors every month to support themselves and their families.”
“Our MD, Trudy Vlok, is currently filling two full-time roles as she is sole fundraiser on top of running the organisation. Despite her continued efforts, the funder’s budgets are getting tighter and tighter and, as I’m sure you’ve read, TBI is not the only NGO affected. Those of you in the publishing world will know that similarly advertisers are cutting their costs too. The crunch affects our readers too and sales are dropping despite the high quality, thought-provoking read The Big Issue has become.
“This appeal, however, is not for the organisation itself, nor its staff. I appeal to you on behalf of the vendors: the men and women who have come to TBI as a last resort when they had nowhere else to turn. They courageously brave the elements and the disparaging attitudes of some people to be at their pitch day in and day out, trying to put food on their table without having to beg.”
TheMediaOnline caught up with managing director, Trudy Vlok, to ask her why, on a real level, The Big Issue is actually worth supporting from an advertising and branding point of view. Vlok is also treasurer of the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), and speaks from a global perspective.
Why is The Big Issue a good vehicle for advertising and why haven’t media agencies and advertisers embraced it more fervently?
The Big Issue (TBI) is an internationally recognised brand. Brand association with this well-known good cause has a very positive impact on consumer perception and behaviour. A Big Issue reader survey showed that over 86% of readers will support a brand that advertises in TBI and 40% had already consciously changed brands as a result of seeing an ad inTBI.
Media agencies and planners tend to look mainly at numbers and demographics, and don’t seem to focus as much on brand association value.
What type of advertising works in TBI?
The most effective advertising in TBI is showcasing what specific brands are doing i.t.o. socio-economic development, both at a national and community level. TBI’s high credibility rating ensures that readers take this seriously.
Who are TBI’s readers?
TBI has a readership of over 50 000 people [the magazine is audited by the ABC], mainly urban professionals between the ages of 25 and 55, LSM 7 – 10. The commonality is their socially conscious mindset.
What impact has the magazine had on job creation/working with dignity etc?
In its 15 years of existence, TBI has provided legitimate jobs and social upliftment services for over 17 000 previously destitute people who have earned close to R20-million.
Has funding impacted on the social development aspect too?
Job creation is our first support intervention, allowing vendors to earn an income while they access social support and skills training. Without jobs the knock-on effect would be disastrous for vendors and their families.
Is Paarl Media still sponsoring printing?
Paarl Media Cape generously sponsors the full cost of printing the magazine, while TBI covers the cost of paper, however, with paper prices soaring, we still feel the pinch.
What has been the impact of the recession on the magazine?
Sales and advertising revenues are dropping while publishing costs are on the increase.
How has TBI’s online presence helped take the brand further out there?
Our online platforms have helped to raise our brand profile and consumer awareness, not only locally but also nationally, creating a growing demand for TBI in other South African cities. TBI is working towards capitalising on this with its planned expansion to Johannesburg at the end of 2012. However, we first need to resolve our current financial crunch.
How has the recession impacted on the international titles?
The global street paper sector has begun to experience a general downward sales trend, while the homeless/destitute population that they service is on the increase.
In your position as treasurer of the INSP, can you tell us what are some of the measures the INSP/international titles are taking?
The INSP is currently trialing an online magazine offering on behalf of member papers. These will continue to be sold by vendors as QR code cards, safeguarding vendor income while substantially cutting publishing costs. It will also be a first step in bringing the street paper sector into the digital age.
Trudy Vlok can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
[Disclosure: Glenda Nevill is a former editor of The Big Issue South Africa and a member of its board of directors.]