The print industry in South Africa is frequently criticised for failing to make the case for its medium to the media agencies and advertisers, says Britta Reid. Often too, print representatives are described as being little more than magazine deliverers and order takers. The Media24 Lifestyle Division certainly set out to counter these accusations last week when it presented a thought provoking double bill to a sizable media agency and marketing audience at Room Five in Sandton.
The opening presentation, given by b2 Strategic Marketing, comprised the findings of an extensive study about magazine audience engagement. Fittingly this research was initiated in direct response to media agency criticism that Media24 did not provide the media agencies adequate arguments for the magazine medium. Bridget Baalbergen and Sarah Bovim presented a lightening overview of their findings gleaned in over ninety hours of in depth discussions with magazine readers. The extensive use of video clips in the presentation, allowed their respondents to speak for themselves, often in the most amusingly passionate way. They certainly succeeded in demonstrating the close relationship that readers have with their publications, succinctly defining magazines as an “indulgent necessity”. Whilst magazines may be something of a treat, a gift to oneself, they also fulfil the roles of friends and mentors. For these readers, magazines are a quintessential part of “me time”, but also provide vital information, education and inspiration.
While these readers were fully engaged with their publications across differing platforms, there was clearly no substitute for the sensory experience of reading the real thing. Every element of the reading experience was highlighted from the touch and feel, to the smell and crackle of the paper and visual delights of the pictures and the pleasure of the gifts and samples. The credibility and trustworthiness inherent in the magazine relationship was also underscored.
Advertising is certainly an intrinsic part of the magazine reading experience, and these readers embraced it, going so far as to say that it felt as if the advertisements had been chosen by the editor especially for them. It would be difficult to better articulate the role of advertisements in the reading experience than that!
The second presentation was given by the irrepressible advocate of magazines, the adroitly named and trademarked ‘Mr Magazine’. Dr Samir Husni is the founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, and has been described by Forbes Magazine as “America’s Leading Magazine Expert”. While he has worked with the Media24 Lifestyle Division as an editorial consultant for some years now, this was the first time that they decided to expose him to the media agency and marketing fraternity. It was an inspired decision because he is both a learned and entertaining speaker. His message that print is not dead was reported by Michael Bratt in the Media Online on the 9 September, so my focus is on some comments he made around the role of the editor and advertising.
One of Husni’s themes was that editors and journalists should not view themselves as content providers, but rather as “experience makers”. He went so far as to suggest that editors should rather be called “Chief Experience Makers”. These Chief Experience Makers are the ultimate gatekeepers of their brands and as such have a very real role in taking their brands to the advertising market and selling their value. He is of the view that the days are long gone when the “church state” divide could be neatly maintained, and editors could separate themselves from the business of selling.
He cited a recent example where Redbook partnered with Dove for its September issue. Redbook claims the positioning of being “the only all-access pass to great style” and of “putting the tools for a happy life into the hands of every American woman.” Dove, of course, is the advocate of “real beauty”. Meredith Rollins, the editor of Redbook recognized shared DNA between her magazine brand and Dove.
It must be remembered that in America, the September issues of women’s magazines are the “fall” fashion issues and are usually especially glamorous showcasing the trends for the upcoming season. Rollins identified that for the majority of women “with jobs and busy lives and budgets—those magazines are pure fantasy.” She chose instead to focus her September issue on “style that lives in the real world”. It was the second year that the magazine was working with Dove to run the Real Women Style Awards. Rollins noted both “the ping of recognition” (and relief) when one sees an actual person in a magazine, and how much her readers love to see women who look like them in the magazine. It was then, a small step to actually putting the five Real Women Style Award winners on the magnificent gatefold cover, rather than utilising the customary celebrity. Clearly the support of Dove facilitated the dramatic cover format, but it certainly looked as if both the interests of Redbook and Dove were served in the making of this reader experience.
‘Mr Magazine’ has a remarkable turn of phrase. Later in the week at the Media24 Lifestyle Summit, he referred to finding the line between appropriate advertiser integration and selling out as the difference between “running an escort service or a prostitution ring.” Rollins efforts on behalf of Dove certainly fell into the former area.
Both of the presentations made passionate and convincing arguments for the magazine medium. It is exciting to see the Media24 Lifestyle Division rouse itself from its somewhat recessive stance of recent years. We look forward to more lively engagement from this publishing leader.
IMAGE: Real Women Style Awards 2015
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