CLOSE-UP: ADVERTISER OF THE WEEK/EMAP DIGITAL - Can Mother convey brand status to Emap Digital? A successful magazine is not a guaranteed winner online, Alasdair Reid says

Catch, if you can, the documentary running on Sky One about the evolution of the disc jockey. Actually, evolution isn't really the right word here - we're talking about the awesome quantum leap that takes you from Tony Blackburn to Chris Evans by way of Smashy and Nicey.

Catch, if you can, the documentary running on Sky One about the evolution of the disc jockey. Actually, evolution isn't really the right word here - we're talking about the awesome quantum leap that takes you from Tony Blackburn to Chris Evans by way of Smashy and Nicey.

Sky doesn't make much original programming, but this one is a little gem. And if you ever doubted the extent to which the great British public is indebted to Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse (their Smashy and Nicey satire killed a whole genre of cheesy radio output stone dead within months), then pay extra special attention.

It also gets you thinking about how threadbare the music radio programming business actually is. If media owners in general are a proverbial nightmare, then commercial radio must really be the ultimate brief from hell. Brand, what brand? You have a number on the dial, a playlist and someone to make noises over the dead air between tracks.

In recent years, the only agency to make a decent fist of this challenge is Mother in its work for Emap's Magic and Kiss brands. With Magic, in particular, Mother has succeeded in turning a radio station into a state of mind and then transformed that state of mind into appropriately bizarre moving pictures.

Which is why, presumably, Mother has been given the job of propelling Emap Digital's brands - for the most part, online versions of offline magazines - into the 21st century. The brief could be just as challenging.

Many of Emap's magazine titles have had a long history online, but now, under the auspices of the new Emap Digital division, there is going to be a more considered, co-ordinated approach.

Music appears to have been the sector judged most appropriate for online expansion.

Mother will handle campaigns for the relaunch of Q magazine's web presence, followed by new online extensions for the rest of Emap's music magazine portfolio - Select, Smash Hits, Mojo, Mixmag and Kerrang - next year.

Stef Calcraft, a founder of Mother, says: 'Emap is getting very switched on to what gems their brands are. Everyone talks about how online is all about content and no-one has better content than Emap. It now has the marketing pieces in place and the digital pieces in place.

'Emap is a great client - always looking to be innovative. It recognises great ideas and know how to get the best out of them.'

The online industry has mixed views about the merits or otherwise of Emap's web presence. Emap was one of the first publishers to show willing - its Emap Online division was visionary when it launched - but, as one source puts it: 'The content of some of their sites has needed a lot of attention. At one stage, they were forward-looking, but Emap did what many publishers do initially - merely bung some magazine-sourced material up on web pages. The market's moved on from that and Emap has been left behind.'

But John Owen, the head of Starcom IP, believes there are some powerful online brands here. He says: 'You have to embrace the medium in its entirety and through that build a community. Some of the interactive stuff it's done in the past has been gimmicky at best. Now it looks as though it might be taking a more intelligent approach to brand extensions, using the strengths of the medium. It's a sign that Emap is prepared to build genuine online brands and that has to be good.'

Nigel Sheldon, the managing partner of MindShare Digital, agrees. 'It's true that in the past it has not had the presence on our radar that it might have done. I think it's clear, though, that it now intends to take a strategic leap forward,' he says.

Of more concern in the marketplace, however, is the structural model that Emap seems to have adopted. Don't the 'dead tree' manifestations of the various music mastheads have existing ad agency arrangements?

Philippa Brown, the marketing director of IPC Media, feels that this is one pitfall you must avoid. She says: 'The way we do it, Duckworth Finn is the advertising agency for the NME brand, whatever platform it uses, whether it's offline, online or if we're talking about the NME awards.

'It's a total communications brief and the agency is the brand guardian, ensuring that there is a consistent message. I think it's dangerous to take the online part away from the offline brand. We have always believed that that would cause tension between the drivers of the online initiative and the editor of the ink-on-paper brand.'

Is Emap about to make just this mistake? In the past, the various music titles have been represented by a rich and varied stable of agencies, plus in-house expertise.

Stephen Palmer, the marketing director of Emap Performance, can set the record straight. He says: 'Mother is now the agency of record for the music titles, in all their online and offline manifestations. It is now clearly established as 'brand guardian' as the titles continue their evolution from magazines to broadly based media properties.'

Calcraft finds this an exciting prospect. He says: 'Emap realises that in the digital age, Q stops being just a magazine and becomes a media brand. We are now the brand agency - we will help distil what that brand means, define Q-ness and launch it in its various formats. That is what is so exciting about what is happening. Media brands aren't defined by distribution anymore. People have stopped thinking in terms of whether they are in radio or paper or TV format.'


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