As competition for consumers’ time increases and the threat to print media is supposedly imminent, Vanessa Raphaely explains what Associated Magazines is doing to reinvent itself in a story first published in The Media magazine.
I have a big mouth. This much cannot come as news to anyone who has encountered me, either professionally or socially, over the years. As a result, as bad as I am at keeping my own counsel, I have become excellent at recognising a “did she just say that? Is she mad?” expression, as it flickers across the faces of people who find themselves in conversation with me.
These days, the most surprised of all these expressions often occurs when I say that “Associated Magazines is not a magazine company”.
Any casual onlooker would be totally within their rights to think that I have taken leave of my senses. Because, of course, what we are is a company with an unchallenged record of producing pretty good magazines for the South African market. We are a legacy business, built by the doyenne of SA publishing and managed by her very able and excellent daughter. (That would be Julia, not me, for anyone who is currently thinking, “Did she really just say that? Is she mad?”)
But around the time that doom merchants started predicting the death of the print industry, we had a small, but significant epiphany.
We are not printers! The future of paper is not core to the ongoing success of our business. What we are, of course, is a content company. A brand business.
And as a brand business, suddenly, the future – which, according to paper-hating conventional wisdom, apparently should have looked like a short ride into the sunset – suddenly looked sunny instead.
Good brand businesses, as I see them, are dynamic hubs around which consumers gather; sharing similar values, passions and pastimes, finding like-minded company, common likes and dislikes. Cosmo, with its massive and loyal tribe of Fun, Fearless Females is a worldwide powerhouse and example of the strength of a tribe.
Once you’ve captured the attention, imagination and trust of a tribe, the possibilities of what you actually can do with them are endless. So why would a traditional magazine company continue to do nothing but make our printers wealthy?
Of course, we weren’t going to stop making magazines. Here’s a secret that may surprise you… magazines are still a pretty good business, but – with a shift in perception – we realised we could also be doing so much more.
As a result of this new thinking and from the solid and successful platform of Cosmo – our Petri dish – we started to rebuild our own perception of who and what we were. The traditional model of total reliance on above-the-line (ATL) circulation (plus a tiny bit of woefully underpriced below-the-line) revenue had to be relooked: a crashing recession and a number of other factors we identified ensured that we would not see the stonking circulation figures of three years ago. Well, for a while, at least.
And yet, thanks to hard work on the part of the team and our management (and some native Lithuanian cunning), Associated Magazines has just turned in its most successful financial year yet.
We have done this by marshalling our tribes. Finding new ways to engage with them – finding new ways to make money and build a future for ourselves.
For example: in 2011, we see our company as an events business (28 very profitable workshops, fashion shows, awards and other parties in Cosmo alone, annually.) We see ourselves as a digital business – Cosmo is number one in the female market in Twitter and Facebook, and is one of only four Cosmo websites worldwide to turn a profit.
We have sites and blogs up and running, or about to be launched, for all our other titles. We are busy building digital baby brands like Cosmo’s Twitter Kings and Queens, which we have already leveraged for PR and profit. We see ourselves as producers of special projects and activations, launched off our own platforms, but adding value to our clients in ways unrelated to our own brands.
That Trevor Noah speaking ad that ran in all our titles – the one that irritated some of you and made others laugh? That was our idea and our production. It also brought in extra profit.
I see a future that, for example, includes House and Leisure paint, sold from our own HL online retail space.
We have a host of brand new projects and new developments for 2011/2012 – and guess what? Not all of them are new magazines.
For a company working in an industry with such a gloomy prognosis, we are very, very busy. For, as well as having an editorial director with a big mouth, we at Associated have big dreams.
Why not dream big if you have confidence in your brands? The truth is that even if there were no trees to be found on our planet, I am pretty certain one thing will not change: in 100 years’ time, young women will still wonder why the man they met on Friday hasn’t called them by Monday; couples will still want to look at another couple’s home for inspiration; women will still care about the world around them and want to discover new, inspiring things they didn’t know before. Oh – and where to find whatever passes for F*** Me Shoes. The nature of human beings won’t change.
These truths makes me feel extremely confident about the futures of our messages, no matter whether women receive those messages on paper, plastic, through a handheld device or through a chip implanted into their forehead.
And of course, there will still be a big mouth making a living talking to all of them.
Follow Vanessa on Twitter: @hurricanevaness