Michelle van Breda doesn’t think of herself as an editor any longer, although she has been awarded the title of South Africa’s editor of the year. She believes she’s more of a brand director, the person who has a “bird’s eye view” of the “brand language” – the ideals and style and content and direction – of each of the titles under her care. She doesn’t look at SARIE magazine’s other offerings (Bruid, Kos, Gesond, Woon, Kreatif) as mere brand extensions. They’re titles on their own, “beyond supplements”, she says.
“Only 35% of readers of Kos (the magazine’s food title) read SARIE too,” she says. This month, Van Breda and her team took Kos to a new place, an English place. “We were inundated with requests by English-speaking South Africans to publish recipes from Kos in English. Afrikaners can eat. We’re very good at eating. We get round the table and sort out the world’s problems,” she says, laughing.
The result is SARIE FOOD, a “best of” compilation of some of the best recipes in Kos from its launch in 2007 until now.
Van Breda has a few guiding principles that drive the content of her titles – the pillars of which are to be “relevant, useful and inspirational”. She gives herself “fully” to the magazines. “You can’t be on the periphery,” she says. Secondly, she believes they must be beautiful. “You’ve got to make it beautiful. Even on the web (the biggest women’s magazine website in SA). Women love beautiful things.” She also thinks the magazines must “speak in warm tones”, be a friend to the reader. And of course, her key ingredient is passion. “After 10 years, I still have passion.”
It was difficult for her in the beginning. A former news reporter on Die Burger, magazines were a whole new world. “I felt I belonged to the readers. They would tell me exactly what they thought, even about what I wore or how I did my hair.” Now, though, she believes that “intimate relationship” is a key driver of the magazine’s success.
SARIE’s readers, she says, are generational. “It’s not about age, its’ about mindset,” she says.
The magazine now has a combined annual print circulation of 200 462. The latest ABCs show SARIE at 93 473, SARIE Kos with 50 496 readers, Woon at 27 783 and Bruied at 14 395.
At the same time, Van Breda and her titles have pushed the boundaries in a modern technological age by being the first to launch a successful e-commerce platform. “We had to take the brand into the future,” she says. “We’re not reticent about embracing new technology and new media.”
But launching the e-commerce platform wasn’t a simple exercise. Her success or failure would drive Media24’s thinking on future developments in the area. “I got the call at 3am, telling me SARIE needed to start an e-commerce enterprise. What the hell? What can we sell? I knew nothing about it. Ut the more we looked, the more we realised it was going to be huge,” she says.
The platform had to be developed from scratch. Then retailers brought on board. “It’s like a shopping mall,” Van Breda says. Goods are delivered within 48 hours of being bouht through On the Dot, the magazine distribution service. There’s a call centre whose staff deal with issue. Consumers can talk to fashion editors to ask for advice. A ‘how to’ video takes the mystery and fear out of buying online.
And SARIE paved the way for Media24’s other titles, from Grazia and Fairlady to You, Huisgenoot and Drum to join the party. Fashion seen in any of these magazines can be bought online. “Our consumers came to the party,” Van Breda says. “Clothes on the site have our stamp of approval, they’ve been chosen with you, the reader and the consumer, in mind.”
Three years ago, SARIE went on what it calls a “360 degree strategy” that aimed to combine all its elements into what Van Breda the “SARIE world”. She believes the strategy has been a major success.
“Reaching so many consumers on average in 2012 is precisely what our 360 brand strategy is all about. It gives us the unique opportunity to engage with our readers wherever they may be and across a multitude of platforms.”
And the industry has recognised its innovation, with “brand SARIE” winning four gold and three highly commended awards. Top of the list was the Rossi-trophy for Consumer Magazine of the Year, and the Pica’s for Best General Interest Magazine (male & female), 360 Degrees of Innovation, as well as Best Online Solution.