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Content that Connects: Auto Express’ Steve Fowler

  • Date:

    16 December 2020

Content that Connects: Auto Express’ Steve Fowler

This article originally appeared on Campaign Live

Magazine content – especially online – has seen increased engagement over lockdown. What is it about magazine content that consumers will always identify with?

We’ve always felt a great connection with our readers but over the past months, we’ve grown even closer – our email and social-media interactions have grown exponentially, and I love that they chat to us as like-minded friends. That’s down to the relationship you can build with a magazine that you can’t get elsewhere – there’s a warmth and engagement that comes from sitting down with your favourite mag to enjoy expertly curated content, not least because it’s something you’ve actually invested in. 

How have events of 2020 impacted your editorial direction?

We’ve tried as much as possible to make Auto Express a Covid-free content zone. As one reader told us, “If I want bad news, I’ll turn on the TV.” Our job is to share a like-minded passion, feeding our readers’ enthusiasm for cars and encouraging responsible and enjoyable use.

At times of tightest lockdown, we had to get creative with content and take a different approach. Those ideas went down incredibly well with readers – including a greater focus on used cars and more lavish use of photography – and that will change the way we put the magazine together in future.

We know ads are more effective when in positive, relevant and high-attention media spaces – like yours. Which advertisers turned to Auto Express during the pandemic?

With the industry in trouble earlier in the year, our team came together to devise Get Britain Moving Again, giving away advertising space across our portfolio through May. We had 16 out of the top 20 manufacturers support the campaign and saw a great uplift in digital performance alongside print. As our client Richard Chamberlain, head of sales at Fiat Professional said, “The emotional and financial impact of Covid-19 has been a huge challenge… and the automotive industry is no exception. The backing of the #GetBritainMovingAgain campaign from Dennis Automotive is a huge benefit to the industry as it begins to rebuild.” We helped advertisers who weren’t able to spend when they still needed to, while opening up conversations with new clients, many of whom have seen the benefit of advertising with us and stayed.

What can consumers and advertisers look forward to from Auto Express in 2021? 

Because we’ve built a closer relationship with readers, we’re able to better understand what content works best – the feedback gives a huge amount of insight into consumer behaviour. We’ve noticed a greater mindfulness from readers, being more careful about how they spend their cash and doing more research to ensure they make the right choice, with sustainability and ethics more important than before. We’re already seeing huge increases in online traffic with our new website – launched just before lockdown in March – showing an average year-on-year increase in unique users of 43% over the past four months. Similarly, Auto Express’ sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric have seen massive growth, while online retailers like Buyacar are becoming increasingly popular. Dealers still have a big part to play on an experiential level, so our content will increasingly highlight the pros and cons of all buying options.

Give us the inside track on what we’ll all be doing by Christmas 2021?

Hopefully celebrating in a Covid-19-free world. I’ve got no doubt there’ll be more people enjoying a subscription to our magazines by then – home delivery is one of the biggest consumer trends of the 2020s. While the idea of more cars on the road might fill some people with fear, we’ll be using technology to help us plan and take journeys in vehicles that are safer and cleaner.

What’s one new lockdown habit you don’t want to give up?

The increasing amount of contact with our readers is something we’ve grown to love and find really useful. They help us better shape our content and give valuable insights that car makers would love to know – telling us things they wouldn’t tell the manufacturers! One good thing to come out of the pandemic is the need (and willingness) to talk – there is nothing more important than our physical and mental wellbeing, and we’re now more aware of having to look after ourselves and each other.