MediaTel columnist Dominic Mills has had some harsh words for the magazine industry recently. So what would be better, we thought, than to ask him to launch our newsletter with some advice for Magnetic.
It’s Sue Todd on the phone: “You’re a bit of a sceptic about magazines,” she says.
Me: “Hmmm…[caught unawares]….well, you see…”
Sue Todd: “You’ve been around the industry a bit [thanks, Sue]. Why don’t you give us the benefit of your experience, and give us a few pointers about how to engage with the industry.”
This is nearly all true: I have been around a bit; I’ve seen a lot of media-owner marketing bodies arrive (and some fade away); I’ve seen how some have alienated their target audiences; and I have strong views on what it takes for them to succeed. But I wouldn’t call myself a magazine ‘sceptic’ so much as a friendly, well-intentioned, critic.
My first reaction, when I heard about the launch of Magnetic, was: “About bloody time too. What took so long?”
No matter. Magnetic is here, and I’m pleased.
You see, the thing is, I like media-owner marketing bodies. They are (or should be) a force for good.
They expand our knowledge of a particular medium; they force us to confront our prejudices; they shed light on the interplay between different media; and they help media agencies and advertisers do a better job with their media budgets.
Ok, that’s the background. Now here’s the advice. What’s not to like?
1. Be useful. The single most important thing Magnetic can do is be useful to its target audience of agency planners and clients. These two groups are time-poor, and they struggle to stay on top of an increasingly complex, and fast-changing, media eco-system. Give them stuff – information, inspiration, tools – that make it easy for them to put magazines on the schedule, and to justify it.
2. Engage with your critics. There’ll always be critics and nay-sayers. The temptation is to denigrate them as stupid or ignorant, or ignore them. Don’t let them get away with lies or mis-representations, but engage with them. Start a dialogue, not a shouting match.
3. Be co-operative. There’s no such thing as a solus media schedule any more. Magazines are part of the schedule, not the schedule. The trick is to explain how magazines work within a schedule, or how different media fulfil different tasks. So team up with Thinkbox or Newsworks to produce joint research that helps everyone. If that doesn’t work, take a stance that is open-minded and inclusive.
4. Be original. Yes, research is your best weapon. But there’s too much of it, and too much elicits the reaction: ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they.’ Focus on original research that throws new light on the big issues, research that is holistic and looks at the wider context. Thinkbox consistently does this; Newsworks’’ Truly, Madly Deeply’ is another example. You’ve made a good start with ‘The Rules of Attraction’.
(ii) Don’t become the default research arm for your stakeholders. If you allow yourself to become the default research arm for your shareholders, you’ll alienate your audience. If Bauer wants to do research into men, Hearst into women women or Haymarket into car buying, let them. That’s their job, not yours.
5. Get a pet anthropologist or neuroscientist. Neuroscience is hot these days, and from what I’ve seen, really helpful. Behavioural economics is big too. As far as I understand, anthropology is the discipline that can bring the two together. Hire one or the other, and get them to do something original for you. Then feed it to brand and media planners. They love it. It makes them look clever.
6. Be emotional. Rational argument, backed by stats, only gets you so far. If the audience feels like it’s being battered to death, it’s counter-productive. Focus on finding emotional reasons for magazines. Seduction opens the door, stats can close the deal.
7. Define your territory. Magnetic is a good name – it hints at magazines, but also at an irresistible pull of something else. This is good. You don’t want to be tied down to print. Thinkbox is more than TV, and Newsworks has successfully redefined its space to include digital. The decision by the AA/Warc survey of digital spend to break out the proportion going to digital extensions of magazines, radio, TV and newspapers, rather than grouping all digital spend as one amorphous mass, will help you in your efforts.
8. Focus on context. As they chase the connected consumer round their devices, media agencies are obsessed with context. It’s what you’ve got in spades. So focus on it. But be warned: you’re not the only medium that does context, so either find something new to say, or co-operate with other providers of context.
9. Content is a strong card. Play it. Along with context, everybody’s obsessing about content. As with context, you’re not the only medium that does content. But more and more entities claim they ‘do content’ (ie media agencies, digital shops, PR agencies etc), there’s a danger It’s viewed as one commoditised mass. Remind your audience that not all content is created equal, and tell them why your content is different. Show them how great content builds strong communities.
10. Hire a tough, independent-minded chairman (ok, you can tick that box because they don’t come tougher than this fella). The chairman’s job is to keep you out of the inevitable dogfights that occur with multiple stakeholders (not to mention your seven shareholders), and stop you getting dragged into stuff you shouldn’t be doing (see 4. (ii)) such as sector-specific research or JICS/NRS stuff. The chairman’s job is to clear the way and allow you to do your job.
That’s it. I, and many others, will be following your progress closely.
I’m confident you will succeed.
*Dominic Mills writes the Mills on Monday column for Mediatel and is a former Editor and Editorial Director of Campaign.