Customer publishing has had a sudden rush of blood to the head.
The Association of Publishing Agencies Advantage Study showed that customer magazines can lift sales by 8 per cent and consumers spend an average of 25 minutes reading them. Not bad for a sector that has long endured a reputation as a throwaway medium.
This supports Direct Marketing Association research that reveals that magazines are consumers' preferred form of communication. And growth is on the cards: Mintel estimates that turnover was £385 million in 2004 and will balloon to £531 million by 2009. But which have proved the cream of the crop in this fast-changing market?
Cedar was the publisher cracking open the Champagne at last year's awards ceremonies. It used to be Redwood, Cedar's big sister, that dominated awards, but last year, Cedar's NikonPro won the APA Customer Magazine of the Year award, while the Business Life editor, Tim Hulse, won BSME Editor of the Year in Contract Magazines (Business Readership).
Cedar lost no clients and had two significant wins: it joined the COI Communications roster and won a brief from the Bank of Scotland to produce an e-zine. Growth came from existing clients too: British Airways wanted a fourth in-flight title, Shopping The World, while Tesco appointed it to produce its Christmas Gift Guide and supplements about its non-retail services.
The editor's chair at High Life - which had been vacant for six months - was finally filled by the former Loaded editor Scott Manson, while Dawn Alford left the Sunday People to edit Tesco Magazine.
Cedar is seen as more informal than Redwood, but it displays similar professionalism. It's committed to editorial quality and measuring the effectiveness of its titles.
Last year saw the agency maximise PR value from its editorial. There is also room for Cedar to explore leveraging its content to greater effect on the commercial side.
Forward, owned by WPP, lost the AA last year when it ceased publication, but it made up for it by winning two chunky accounts in the form of Vodafone and B&Q. It also consolidated its relationship with Barclays by launching Talkmoney.
Forward also hired Liz Sinclair, who came armed with experience from two of its client companies, Tesco and Barclays. The agency redesigned the Patek Philippe magazine, which it has had for nine years. The title is now produced across 137 countries in seven languages. Forward is becoming something of an expert in publishing to international audiences: out of the three pitchlists it is currently on, two draw on this experience.
The 100-strong company, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, prides itself on its centralised planning team, data management and robust measurement techniques.
The company's chief executive, Sarah Wyse, comments: "We start from a marketing positioning rather than an editorial strategy."
While Forward is in a strong position with its clients, it appears to lag behind in its third-party sales, an area which is becoming a much more significant revenue-driver for publish-ing agencies. However, the company seems to be making some progress.
Wyse says: "B&Q Inspired Living and Talkmoney take us to a whole new range of advertisers."
Haymarket - Campaign's publisher - is a rare example of a successful customer publishing division (called Haymarket Customer Publishing) that has emerged from a traditional publishing business. The National Magazine Company's division shut down and the Conde Nast unit remains heavily reliant on its parent company. The younger players, VNU Client Publishing and Future Plus, are adopting a new approach by servicing clients in areas of existing editorial expertise.
HCP turned over £23.5 million in 2004 and has attracted a shelf-load of awards, particularly for Army.
The publisher didn't lose any clients and picked up nine accounts: Carcraft, Thomson Corporation, Visit London, Football Association, Americas Cup, Panasonic, London 2012, North West Development Agency and The Good Food Show.
It also picked up extra business from Manchester United, the Army, Rough Guides, Uefa, DaimlerChrysler, Demon, ITV, Sony and British American Tobacco.
HCP's managing director, Patrick Fuller, thinks Haymarket is "amazingly different from the competition" because it tends to attract clients who are new to contract publishing.
HCP created the post of editor-in-chief for the former IPC staffer Johnny Aldred, while account management was boosted by the arrival of Alison Nesbitt from Harrison Troughton Wunderman and Nicki Kieran from More Th>n.
Haymarket has worked hard to prove its editorial credentials. An obvious next step would be for it to innovate further on the sales front.
John Brown Citrus Publishing's big news was the management buyout in October 2004, led by its chief executive, Andrew Hirsch. The buyout signalled the end of the era of John Brown, the company's original founder. The venture capital company Bridgepoint now owns the majority share in JBCP, bought with an estimated £33 million, while Hirsch and other JBCP directors own the remainder.
The management buyout didn't distract the new-business machine. JBCP picked up a brief from Procter & Gamble to produce a household products magazine, which it entitled Mustard and distributed with the Daily Express. It also launched the glossy title Crystallized for Swarovski, as well as a magazine for Mothercare that targets new mums. JBCP also picked up John Lewis, which it had been woo-ing for some time. The publisher suffered no losses.
Bridgepoint will be looking for a sizeable return on its initial investment in five years' time, so JBCP is looking to grow fast. Its US operation last year launched B for Bloomingdale's, which was well-received, and JBCP is currently sizing up new markets alongside its indefatigable hunt for new clients.
"We have got very aggressive commercial targets," Hirsch says. "JBCP's challenge is to grow sensibly while taking care not to compromise on quality."
Publicis Blueprint's recent Prudential win, for which it pipped JBCP and Redwood to the post, gives the agency a foot in the door with financial services, a sector slated to drive some serious growth in customer publishing.
It also won Debenhams, Toyota, VisitBritain and Curves International and did not lose any clients. It also grew its involvement with Homebase and Asda; for the latter, it produced the health magazine Vitality and work for Asda's fashion brand, George.
Paul Trickey from Arcadia joined as the new creative director on George and other key appointments included Martin Cotterell from Ikea, the art director on Ideas, and Suzanne Carter from Real magazine, who edits Asda.
Staff levels increased by 21 per cent.
The managing director Jason Frost says: "We're planning-oriented and we do our best work when we talk about customer strategy across a whole discipline."
Frost becomes the new APA chairman this June, replacing The Illustrated London News Group's Lisa Barnard. During his two-year tenure, he intends to introduce creativity awards to complement existing effectiveness schemes.
Blueprint will have its hands full taking on the new Prudential account, but in Carol Bronze it has an editor with solid credentials in both consumer and contract publishing from Tesco, Eve and Cosmopolitan.
Rare Publishing hired Julian Downing as its managing director in August 2004. His background was at Redwood and NatMags' contract division, and it didn't take long for him to "refresh the Rare proposition". A restructure included stripping out the account manager role in favour of teams of publishers and editors.
Sarah Kermode joined from Holmes Place as the publishing and commercial director and Tim Hudson was appointed from Redwood to run Somerfield.
Carolyn Tree, Rare's original publishing director, survived the changes, but others weren't so lucky.
The new-look Rare didn't waste any time. Within weeks of Downing's appointment, Rare won bmi baby. It also picked up Moss Bross, Portman Building Society and a new magazine for Kwiksave, an extension of its Somerfield business.
Downing also brought the BAA Emporium magazine with him, Somerfield's magazine was redesigned and Overseas Trade was relaunched.
But there were losses too. The change of management at Airmiles resulted in a loss and Coventry Building Society decided to stop publishing.
Looking forward, Rare plans to extend magazine content across an array of media channels. With a trimmer structure, innovative ideas and new clients to work on, the coming months should see Rare fall rather more into the limelight.
Redwood turned over £92.9 million last year thanks to an impressive new- business performance. It won bmi's Voyager magazine, a project from the NSPCC, a quarterly mailout for Nectar Card-holders, Aston Martin, Co-Op Financial Services and the consultancy Arup.
But there were two big blows: it lost Safeway, owing to the Morrisons takeover, and JBCP snatched its Teachers magazine, produced for the Department for Education and Sport.
The publisher proved that it can still attract some first-class talent: Paul Kurzeja, formerly the group art director at Emap, joined as Redwood's design director and instantly got to work on Voyager and Your Family.
The NSPCC title clearly shows how customer magazines are evolving. Keith Grainger, Redwood's chief executive, comments: "It's not concerned with selling products, it's communicating a message about positive parenting." Some 800,000 copies of the magazine are distributed through Woolworths outlets.
Redwood's reputation precedes it and in this respect it resembles Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, its above-the- line equivalent within its parent communications group Omnicom. But losing Safeway is as dramatic as it would have been for AMV to lose Sainsbury's. The coming months will no doubt see internal resources devoted to wooing Morrisons or plugging the supermarket-shaped hole in the publisher's portfolio.
River likes to do things its own way. It is not a member of the APA, it has formed its own customer magazine council and has starting producing an industry magazine, Pulp.
Other launches included Honda's Dream magazine, two Co-op titles, a travel magazine for Marks & Spencer and Bullring for the Birmingham shopping centre. River managed to hold on to all of its existing clients.
The agency made some smart hirings over the past 12 months. Ed Grenby, the former deputy editor of Maxim, joined to edit the Sunday Times Travel magazine, Heather Beresford, a health writer on The Times, now edits Healthy, and Joani Walsh arrived from Essentials to edit Spirit for Superdrug.
Vicky Scaife from Emap became its group advertising manager and Ed Axon, the deputy managing director, joined from John Brown Citrus.
"All of our account directors and publishers have marketing qualifications," River's chief executive, Nicola Murphy, says, "and we're commercially minded. We sell our titles to media agencies and are taking more third- party ads."
Its success story was Healthy, Holland & Barrett's title, which recorded a year-on-year ABC rise of 32 per cent, boosting it to 280,075.
River currently seems to hold a certain charm for clients: this 11-year-old rebel is certainly making waves.
THE UK'S TOP EIGHT CUSTOMER PUBLISHERS
- Cedar won briefs for RBoS and COI and awards for Business Life and NikonPro. The former Loaded editor Scott Manson took over at High Life
- Publicis Blueprint deepened its involvement with Asda, while picking up Prudential, Debenhams, Toyota, VisitBritain and Curves International
- JBCP, Sky's publisher, picked up briefs from Procter & Gamble, Mothercare and John Lewis, and launched Crystallized for Swarovski
- Haymarket Customer Publishing turned over £23.5 million in 2004 and picked up titles from Uefa, Sony, Manchester United, ITV and others
- Rare Publishing won bmi baby's title, Moss Bros and Kwiksave, and bought BAA Emporium, but lost Airmiles and Coventry Building Society
- Redwood won bmi's Voyager and projects for the NSPCC, Aston Martin and Nectar Card, but lost Safeway and Teachers. It turned over £92.9 million
- River launched Honda's Dream, two Co-op titles and contract publishing's industry title Pulp. Healthy enjoyed an ABC rise of 32 per cent
- Forward lost the AA when it ceased publication but won Vodafone and B&Q, launched a Barclays magazine and redesigned Patek Philippe's title
HOW WE RATE THE UK'S TOP CUSTOMER PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER Total Innovation Innovation Strength of
score rating rating overall
(sales) (editorial) brand
Cedar 11 3 4 4
John Brown Citrus 11 3 4 4
Publicis Blueprint 11 3 4 4
Redwood 11 3 4 4
Rare 10 3 4 3
River 10 3 3 4
Forward 9 2 4 3
Haymarket 9 2 4 3
PUBLISHER KEY TITLES RECENT LAUNCHES
Cedar High Life, Business Shopping The World,
Life, NikonPro Tesco Magazine
John Brown Citrus Sky, Waitrose Food Mothercare, John Lewis,
Illustrated, Carlos Crystallized
Publicis Blueprint Asda, Toni & Guy, Desire (Debenhams)
Redwood Your M&S, Health & Your Family (NSPCC),
Beauty (Boots), Volvo Voyager (BMI)
Rare Somerfield Magazine, Kwikbreak (Kwik Save),
Ruler, Overseas Trade yeahbaby (bmibaby)
River Healthy, Spirit, Dream (Honda),
Sunday Times Travel You & Your Money (M&S)
Forward Barclays Talkmoney, B&Q Inspired Living,
Ford Mag, Vodafone Business Sense
Tesco Baby Club
Haymarket Army, Freedom Carcraft, Visit London,
(Chrysler), Gardens of the North West