The South African thread of British Airways’/Comair’s High Life, produced and published by Cedar Communications, scooped two gold accolades at the Pearl Awards in New York and three prestigious prizes at this year’s PICA Awards back home in South Africa. With a zesty South African disposition, High Life SA, launched in early 2012, is easily considered one of the best customer magazines in the business, and now with the awards to prove it.
The PICA awards recognises excellence in the magazine industry and is run by the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa. A PICA award is one of, if not the most, sought after prizes in the publishing and editing field. In the customer magazine division, Janine Stephen took home the award for Feature Writer of the Year for her compelling depiction of Limpopo’s livestock guarding dogs. The second PICA was awarded to High Life SA’s vibrant May 2013 cover, which claimed the Customer Cover of the Year title. The final PICA prize was clinched by Craig Baxter, the creative director for Cedar SA, who was crowned Designer of the Year in the customer magazine section.
At the Pearl Awards New York, High Life SA was presented with gold awards for its May 2013 cover and its use of typography, both in the circulation under 50 000 division. To be recognised on both the local and international stage has left High Life, and as an extension, Cedar Communications SA, in the spotlight, and rightly so.
Lin Murray, the editor of High Life, gives us an inside view of what shapes such a successful magazine and how High Life differentiates itself from other customer magazines.
TMO: The High Life brand is so distinct, how do you, the South African thread, differentiate but still “belong”?
LM: High Life magazine, having been published for British Airways for 40 years, is a much-loved and distinguished brand worldwide. An excellent read, but not one that necessarily catered to British Airways/Comair travellers within South and southern Africa specifically. Similarly, the client was missing out on the opportunity to promote its destinations within the global context. The solution? High Life South Africa, published by Cedar SA, a content marketing agency with both print and digital products. High Life South Africa is a first-of-its-kind magazine that combines the best of both worlds – regional relevance plus the brilliant international content that has made High Life famous. While sticking to the brand’s visual and editorial DNA, High Life South Africa speaks to local readers in their own voice.
TMO: Is it the design or content that distinguishes High Life from the other High Life magazines?
LM: Content, mostly, though our design does incorporate fun, fresh African elements – such as the winning Maputo cover, for example. High Life South Africa focuses only on the destinations to which British Airways flies in southern Africa, as opposed to the rest of the world. These destinations therefore determine our content (made up of people, places, events, ideas), and this forces us, the HLSA team, to be creative in our approach and in finding unusual stories with fresh angles. How do you promote Victoria Falls, for instance, when it’s a story that’s been done many, many times? We also feature a monthly interview with a high-profile person on their travels in Africa and their insights gained from the experience. It offers a unique view of places in Africa that is largely missing from mainstream media.
TMO: What are passengers looking for in an in-flight magazine and how do you as a team go about satisfying that?
LM: A good read: infotainment with soul and personality. Recent research conducted by British Airways shows that today’s travellers are an international, democratic, knowledge-thirsty tribe. Competing for their attention against tablets and other devices onboard is harder than ever before. Plus, readers have become jaded – no one wants to hear about a journalist’s perceived ‘freebie’ any more. As a result, in November, 2012, High Life and High Life SA underwent not only a radical redesign but a shift in editorial approach. The aim? To reinvent the inflight magazine. Readers were redefined as ‘Generation Curious’. They’re people who travel not to get away from it all but, on the contrary, get immersed in it all – the culture, politics, social life of a place. They feed their curiosity with all the information they now have at their fingertips. With a view to providing ‘huh, I never knew that’ moments on every page, both text and design emphasise a different take on events, products, people and places. The magazine now delivers quirky, concept-driven content in a beautiful, high-standard package; stories contain tangible ‘knowledge jolts’.
TMO: You have won several design awards. What is more important, design or journalism?
LM: As a words person, I’d like to say journalism but I really do think that the two go hand in hand. Really good, intelligent, informative, thought-provoking writing is hugely important (more so than ever, seeing as it’s become somewhat of an endangered species) but the reality is, you can have the best copy in the world but if it doesn’t look good, or the page is not designed in an inviting way, no one’s going to read it. The same applies the other way round: if it all looks very beautiful but the words don’t have any substance to them, it’s too easily discardable. We don’t believe in design for design’s sake – like journalism, it needs to have integrity.
TMO: You have won an award for a magazine cover. What are the elements that make a good cover?
LM: It’s a full package: arresting visuals; resolved design; very strong, carefully considered and intelligent coverlines. A good cover is intriguing. It should, ideally, catch the eye and allow it to travel around the page. An excellent cover grabs the reader – makes them think, or laugh – but most importantly, makes them want to open up and read what’s inside. We are fortunate, in a sense, that we don’t have to compete on shelf so we can afford to take more risks, push more boundaries, and have a bit more fun in the process, and I think that speaks for the rest of the magazine. That said, we still have to compete hard for readers’ attention against books, magazines, iPads, laptops, even sleep. At High Life we pay close attention to fresh, unusual conceptually driven stories and our covers need to reflect that – without losing sophistication.
TMO: What was your brief? How did you set about achieving it?
LM: When British Airways launched a new route to Maputo in May 2013, we decided to herald it on the cover. But the big question was: how do we break away from the clichéd ‘prawns and palm trees’ depiction of Mozambique’s capital? Our solution was to opt for an illustration inspired by the hand-painted signage of barbershops in southern Africa, which allowed for strong colours, typography and a distinctly local flavour. The play on words ‘Capital’s letters’ links to the use of the alphabet in the lead story (‘The A-Z of Maputo’). We commissioned illustration team Muti to create a bespoke font – which would be used in the actual feature – and incorporate illustrated elements, such as a dhow, a ‘Dosh Em’ beer, Maputo’s famous cathedral, a prawn. The result is a cohesive cover that gives an instant visual reference to a local destination, while providing a fresh approach to a potentially formulaic subject. In the end, yes, we did show a prawn and a palm tree but in an entirely fresh and different way.
TMO: How do you balance coverage for a first time visitor with locals who want something fresh?
LM: We live in such a connected, information-overload world, that barring language differences (which we would translate or explain in the text), there’s no need to distinguish between first-time visitors and locals anymore; our tagline, ‘Change your view’ applies to both. Both sets will know all about the expected sights; our aim is to provide info or insights on the unexpected. Knowledge is the new social currency, and that applies to anyone.
TMO: How is the custom publishing sector performing in a difficult sector?
LM: Custom publishing within the print business is still a strong growth sector when compared to consumer publishing and newsprint. In South Africa circulation for custom titles outperform that of consumer titles. But we are seeing a marked decline in consumer circulation as well as in newspaper circulation figures every quarter. It is actually no longer about distinguishing narrowly between consumer and custom publishing – it is about content marketing and how content is delivered to customers when and how they prefer it, whether it is in print, or online, or in social media. Content remains king but understanding where your customer consumes content and on what platform is crucial to meet the needs of a whole new breed of consumer. That is where Cedar SA makes a difference – we understand brands and the content that brands want to deliver to consumers. We also know where a brand’s customers consume content and can devise strategies to reach customers online, in print or on social media. And we listen to consumers to be able to deliver brands’ stories in such a way that the content can be shared and curated by customers to their networks. It is about a content journey and creating various touch points for consumers to interact with a brand.
TMO: What do custom magazines offer a client that they do not get from other consumer magazines?
LM: High Life South Africa works to enhance British Airways’ southern African routes for the global brand. Locally, High Life South Africa supports British Airways/Comair’s marketing initiative by providing a free magazine that’s aligned with the brand, and packed with engaging content that effectively delivers a key promotional message directly to where it matters most – the customers.
TMO: Is it important to differentiate yourself between other airbus magazines? How do you do this?
LM: No. What is important is delivering an excellent product that’s aligned with an excellent brand, thereby enhancing the customers’ experience of the brand overall. That should speak for itself.
TMO: Do editors of custom titles differ in any way from editors of consumer magazines? Do they require different disciplines or editorial codes?
LM: No. The same disciplines and editorial codes apply, the same drive for excellence should apply. At all times, it is the reader/consumer who should come first.
High Life is undoubtedly a publication to watch. With its articles and images intriguing enough to distract any uneasy flyer, the magazine has been a soaring hit. What is next for Cedar Communications SA and High Life? Whatever it is, we are sure to see them waving from great heights.