It’s a tough time to be launching a glossy magazine, but the challenge is one that editor Robbie Stammers relishes. The former editor of Leadership magazine has struck out on his own, forming Insights Publishing and scoring a contract to publish The Intrepid Explorer for Cape Union Mart. Despite having a built-in distribution system through Cape Union Mart’s 71 stores, and a deal with the top-end Shamwari Group and Mantis Collection, Stammers is taking on a highly-competitive publishing sector with some strong and popular brands.
What decided Cape Union Mart on creating a custom magazine, and how did you get involved?
I actually approached Cape Union Mart about 7 or 8 years ago already with the idea of us tying up to create something special in the outdoor adventure magazine market. They loved the idea but the timing was not right and I then also became fully entrenched with Leadership magazine. However I stayed in touch with Cape Union Mart’s Head of Marketing, Evan Torrance, as the idea of having a dedicated Cape Union Mart magazine only grew bigger and grander for me over the years instead of dissipating. Last year, after many fruitful discussions, we finally signed a contract to produce The Intrepid Explorer magazine.
No expense appears to be spared in the production of this magazine in terms of quality, paper etc. At the same time, it has strong advertising. What are the numbers you’re playing with here in terms of investment, ad to editorial ratios? Are you personally invested in the magazine?
As South Africa’s oldest and favourite outdoor store that dates back to 1933, it seemed like a natural progression to offer their upmarket discerning customers their own dedicated magazine showcasing the best that the outdoors has to offer, and feature inspiring tales from real-life Intrepid explorers and adventurers.
The name of Cape Union Mart has taken decades to gain a loyal following so I was determined that we would make dam sure our content was up to the task of keeping the bar very high. I wanted The Intrepid Explorer magazine to deliver what we claimed we could offer ‘ the best of the best’ in the outdoor adventure and travel. Many custom publishers in the past have made the grave mistake of thinking that the good name of the custom partner they are producing the magazine for/are associated with will carry the magazine alone and that content comes second or even third to the brand of the custom partner and to advertisers, but I completely disagree. Content is not just stuff you stick between adverts, content is king. ‘Build it, and they will come!
Readers and advertisers have more than enough titles to choose from between all the different sectors and genres/niches of magazines out there, so one needs to treat them with the respect they deserve and that means making sure your offering ticks all the boxes. So content first, then quality and presentation in design, layout, photos paper stock, the right writers and contributors and the right partners in advertising that reflect the same ethos as the Cape Union Mart brand. That is why we are blessed to have had incredible brands like Landrover, Mercedes, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Tom-tom and MasterCard, to name but a few, involved in our launch edition. I want to keep the editorial to advertising ratio at approx. 70% editorial to 30% advertising so we can maintain our flow of nice long visual treats on each feature.
Yes, I am personally invested in this magazine. I have everything riding on it to be honest, but I have the utmost faith in our ability to deliver the goods and in my partner in Cape Union Mart. Naturally we rely on the advertising to cover all our costs but with the contributors we have involved, the distribution channels and the support of the advertisers, hopefully it will continue from strength to strength. This is Tier 1 of our plan for The Intrepid Explorer, we are going digital with an App from the 2nd edition in March and have much bigger and bolder plans ahead with Cape Union Mart from the end of 2014. The first 12 000 copies of the magazine have almost all gone from nationwide stores and the feedback has been better than our wildest ambitions.
Are you an intrepid traveller? Can you give me some examples of some of your adventures? Where haven’t you been that you would kill to visit?
I am certainly nowhere near the league of the contributors that have been in The Intrepid Explorer but I aim to be one day! I love the outdoors, in particular hiking and have travelled extensively. I really want to see more of Africa. One of my most recent trips was to white-water rafting down the Zambezi and the top of my bucket list is the Inca Trail in Peru, the Okavango Delta and the Serengeti migration!
How much of the content is driven by Cape Union Mart? Give us a rundown on the process of your editorial meetings.
We have an editorial board that is in constant contact and plan each edition in editorial meetings well in advance. Cape Union Mart have been incredibly supportive in allowing me to take the magazine in the direction I believe it should go and have given suggestions and input in numerous ways that has been helpful. We both believe that the content should speak for itself and believe in not hard-selling Cape Union Mart or trying to push the brand too hard onto readers. I believe we have accomplished this very well in our launch edition.
What skills should travel and adventure writers have? What advice would you give to someone who wants to cover this beat, so to speak?
Tough question. only because it seems it is a beat nearly everyone would love to cover. So first off be aware that the competition is fierce and some of the die-hards have been in this game for a very long time with valued reputations. On a skills level, you need to be just as good or better than the next writer, with usually a thicker skin than most. Adventure and travel writing is not all about staying in five-star Big 5 game lodges, be prepared to rough it in stinky bog-infested backwaters when you first get going and then for sometime yet before you get any ‘good gigs’ – well worth it on both ends of the spectrum though.
What are you never without when you travel?
With my sense of direction? A dam fine GPS! Then a head torch, mozzie repellent and now days, a GoPro action camera so one can catch all the action in motion.
Kingsley Holgate. What a man. Your overriding impression of him? Your personal takeouts from the interview, lessons learned?
Kingsley is truly a humble, bubbly greybeard of Africa. He is the epitome of the last of the great adventurers and explorers, who does so much good across our continent. His wife sadly past away this last December and Kingsley has honoured us by writing a tribute to Gill (called Mashozi in Zulu, which means ‘the one always in shorts’) Holgate in our next edition. Gill has been the rock on each and every expedition that Kingsley has ever done and we are honoured that Kingsley will be writing a tribute in her recognition in The Intrepid Explorer.
The use of photographs in the magazine is powerful. Is this an ‘editorial pillar’, to really shout about visual impact?
Very much so! We wanted the layouts to sweep your through the different locations as if you were really there. Big opening double page spreads that hopefully draw you in. Our Art Director, Stacey Storbeck-Nel, has done an incredible job in bringing this to life. Our next chapter is to take it even further with the digital version as the sky is our limit there – we can add loads more photos and video footage that will really enhance each feature by an incredible amount.
It is a really tough time for the print industry, yet you’ve forged ahead with this magazine. And there is some pretty stiff competition out there Your fears? Your challenges? Your hopes?
Yes, I admit it is a tough time for the print industry, and I know that many titles are struggling to keep their heads above water. However the outdoor adventure and travel segment is one of the only ones still showing growth and I am thrilled to be involved with such a strong name as Cape Union Mart, who have a fiercely loyal following. As far as competition is concerned, I value good competition, it keeps everyone on their toes. My biggest hopes and ambitions are taking The Intrepid Explorer to the next level digitally as I really believe that is going to open up a massive amount of exciting content possibilities and then to go to our next level, at the end of 2014, which will be something completely new in the publishing world. My fears? Only the same as Chief Vitalstatistix in the Asterix books, that the sky may fall on my head but the Mayans seemed to have got that one wrong so far so for now I will just try live the life of adventure!