Campaign Report - European Media - The pan-European magazine - Europe is proving something of a magnet for magazine publishers, with Eurosceptics rapidly becoming Europhiles. But is there more than one way of taking a title across the Continent, Karen Ya

Given the tidal wave of TV across Europe, magazines are still managing an impressive showing. Zenith Media estimates that while adspend in newspapers will fall 0.4 percentage points by 2000, magazines will remain constant, or even increase in constant price terms. The fact is that a magazine’s ability to swiftly colonise a variety of different markets and yet still be talking to consumers - literally - in their own language, means that they are delivering the kind of tightly targeted audience advertisers seek but can’t find so widely elsewhere.

Given the tidal wave of TV across Europe, magazines are still

managing an impressive showing. Zenith Media estimates that while

adspend in newspapers will fall 0.4 percentage points by 2000, magazines

will remain constant, or even increase in constant price terms. The fact

is that a magazine’s ability to swiftly colonise a variety of different

markets and yet still be talking to consumers - literally - in their own

language, means that they are delivering the kind of tightly targeted

audience advertisers seek but can’t find so widely elsewhere.



Quite how do magazines achieve this? It’s certainly true that advanced

technology has improved quality and made economic print runs

possible.



But there is something else - a delightful ingenuity and variety in the

ways in which magazines can transplant themselves across different

markets.



John Cabell, a former head of international press at the US-based

publisher, Rodale, and now a consultant, has identified six different

routes to hegemony in the magazine world. The simplest and cheapest, he

says, is to ship out magazines to export markets. If this is not

appropriate, you can set up agreements to supply information or articles

under licence - a route favoured by technical publications such as

computer titles. Those wanting tighter control on their brand can

license the whole idea from name to format, while the more cash-rich can

set up a joint venture in each country.



If the market warrants it and you are in for the long haul, you can

always buy your way in, either by making a full acquisition, or - the

bravest of all - with your own start-up. Finally, however - and this is

the best bit - since there are no rules in this game, you can choose a

mixture of the six different ways. Here, Campaign looks at three

examples.



MARIE CLAIRE



Marie Claire publishes in 26 different countries - a figure that will

rise to 27 when it launches in Poland this autumn. On the face of it,

this may seem an unwieldy number for a modestly sized company to run

successfully, but Groupe Marie Claire, the magazine’s Paris-based

headquarters, operates a mix of joint ventures and strict licences that

it believes serves it well.



The responsibility of delivering on the brand values of the upmarket

women’s title outside its original home of France, and making sure it

looks and feels as constant as possible across the Continent, falls to

Laurence Hambert, the executive director of international editions at

Groupe Marie Claire. It is she who decides which arrangement is suitable

for which market and then makes sure that each one operates

smoothly.



In large, sophisticated markets close to home - and thus ripe for brand

extensions - she has gone for joint ventures with respectable local

publishers, such as IPC in the UK and VNU in the Netherlands. Elsewhere,

notably Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, the licence agreement is

king.



License agreements have a lot of things going for them. They’re quick to

set up, demand little money upfront and, as long as you choose the right

partner with the right agreement and operate strict controls, they offer

little risk. Even better, since licences can be granted for as little as

three years, if the landscape changes, you can move on, either to

another partner, or into more direct ownership. The key, a spokesman for

Marie Claire stresses, is to choose carefully in the beginning and then

to keep a careful watch.



Groupe Marie Claire employs a team of Paris-based specialists who comb

every single issue produced around the world to make sure it complies

with both the word and spirit of the licensing agreement - from the

weight and feel of the paper to the positioning of the logo. The fashion

editor will check that the appropriate standards and breadth of the

fashion world is being covered, for example, while the features editor

will make sure Marie Claire sticks to its promise of being a ’serious’

women’s magazine. Editions may be ’encouraged’ to use a particular

feature idea, a spokesman says, but they are never dictated to. ’The

ultimate decision is entirely local.’



The licensing agreement for the Marie Claire name is quite a tight one,

because the group wants to keep a consistent look as far as is

practicable throughout all its markets. The agreement embraces such

areas as the cover, typeface and layout of the magazine, right through

to the colour schemes used. To start with, these items are monitored

before a particular edition is published, with head office staff

checking as much as possible, including front covers, colour schemes and

broad outlines before the magazine goes to press. However, once a

relationship is established and sales settle down comfortably, each

country is allowed pretty much to go its own way. Only if sales start to

flag will headquarters step in.



’It varies a lot,’ the spokesman says. ’Some magazines say ’well, this

is what we really want’. If they have sales to back it up, then fine. If

they don’t then we’ll move in pretty swiftly.



’It’s a constant dialogue. If we are happy or unhappy, we tell them. If

things get really tough then there’s always the licence

agreement ... but it never gets to that.’



VNU



It has been a good few years since sticking JR Ewing on the cover was

able to lift consumer magazine sales in the West. But things are still

very different in Eastern Europe, and his appearance on the Czech

magazine, Story, was enough to raise its flagging circulation by a

startling 35,000 copies. The idea to do so came from Story’s creator,

the venerable Dutch publisher, VNU. It was, executives confide, a very

good example of why you should keep as much ownership as possible of

your titles when they move overseas.



Being a cautious company - some would say conservative - VNU decided

that when the fall of the Berlin Wall left former Eastern Bloc countries

ripe for the picking, it would not expand by the common, quickfire

method of licences. Instead it decided to buy into individual markets

More specifically, it would start up a joint venture and then buy out

its partner.



In 1992, it set up a joint venture in the Czech Republic with Mona

Publishing, and bought out its partners a year later. Scouting around

for suitable titles to transplant from its flourishing stable of

consumer magazines, VNU decided to move with Story, a successful

celebrity ’soft gossip’ title.



Koos Guis, the chairman of VNU’s international division, says the Czech

debut of Story in April 1995 went swimmingly at first but that after six

months there was an inexplicable downturn in sales. Locally hired staff,

with little experience of this type of magazine, were at a loss. So they

turned to VNU’s cadre of ex-pat experts who discovered that the problem

was television. In particular, the advent of commercial TV and the

resultant influx of old US soaps into the Czech television diet.



All of a sudden, the carefully agreed mix of local celebrities and

Hollywood names was not enough for readers, who wanted stars from

Dynasty and Dallas.



Old photos of Larry Hagman were duly wheeled out and sales of the

magazine rose again. It now has a settle-down circulation of

260,000.



Guis, who is responsible for all VNU’s consumer titles outside the

Benelux countries - mainly in Eastern Europe - considers that the kind

of close ties which helped solve this problem are very effective.

Employees and managers hired in the country, he says, bring local

knowledge to the party and VNU brings the cash plus 40 years worth of

experience. And to make sure it remains in the driving seat, VNU keeps

strict control over the name, editorial concept and general structure.

Such things as the amount of local versus international gossip, the ads

to editorial ratio and general layout have to be agreed by head

office.



Nevertheless, local subsidiaries do have a surprising amount of freedom,

even over the magazine’s design, according to Mona’s managing director

in the Czech Republic, Ivan Chocholous. He says local versions of

magazines can vary quite markedly, since VNU headquarters allows them to

re-engineer for each market. For example, the sort of people who buy

magazines in the Czech republic are more affluent than their Western

European counterparts, and they prefer a diet more rich in literary

figures than their Dutch cousins. ’If you compare the Dutch and Belgian

editions of Story they are very different,’ Chocholous says.



WALLPAPER



There were those who sniggered openly when Time Warner paid a cool

pounds 1 million for Wallpaper last year. A million pounds for a bunch

of fashion freaks headed up by a ’boy’ (the editor, Tyler Brule, was

only 28 years old)? Twelve months later, however, the mutterings have

subsided as the telephone book-sized style magazine thuds on to

newsstands around the world.



Brule, now the editorial director, is the first to admit that running

and writing an international magazine from just one city - London -

would not work for every category. But given that Wallpaper’s readers

are the new breed of 90s urban style junkie, the choice of ’swinging’

London as its headquarters is ideal. A bi-monthly, it published a record

number of pages for September/October and is now available in 40

countries. Detractors, of course, point out that the latest Audit Bureau

of Circulations figures put worldwide sales at only 81,300, but that

beats the Face, Arena and Elle Decoration. More importantly, for Brule,

he has demonstrated that his particular audience is a truly

international one.



Brule is fond of saying that his readers know all about Fedex and Amex

so it doesn’t matter whether the sofa they want to buy is in New York or

Stockholm. If they want it, they’ll get it, and he’s thrilled the latest

issue carries ads for individual stores as far apart as Dallas (Nieman

Marcus), New York (Saks Fifth Avenue) and London (Harrods).



The idea for a global style magazine originally sprang from Brule’s

observation that his style-conscious friends were pretty similar the

world over. So he decided to gather the kind of information they were

after and print it from a single ’centre of excellence’ - and with some

success. Since the Time Warner deal provided Brule with better

distribution and relieved him of the frustrations of day-to-day

administration, he has more than doubled the number of pages to 334.



But don’t international magazines have to descend to bland Eurobabble to

be understood by all their readers? Brule is definite on this point: you

don’t have to dumb down for his audience. Just make sure all your

references are international - don’t quote a character in Emmerdale, for

example - and hire lots of different nationalities.



’The biggest problem is to stop ourselves being too British,’ Brule

says, although he does concede that international hiccups do sometimes

occur.



’We get banned from Muslim countries all the time,’ he admits. ’Only

three months ago we were banned in Egypt for showing two girls and a boy

in a bed.’ Luckily, though, this is not a problem that affects his key

markets of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Sweden.



In fact, so confident is Brule of his growing band of internationalists

that, with his pockets bulging with Time’s cash, he’s looking to

expand.



For the moment, he will not be drawn on what other areas would work

using an international format. Not cars, because the global market is

still too fragmented, and not food because he already runs 20 pages on

it in each issue. There could be a clue, however, in Brule’s, latest

initiative - a Wallpaper CD. Is music the next step? Watch this space,

he promises. Very soon, all will be revealed.



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