DIRECT: ISSUE - Consumer magazines recognise the value of DM/Paid-for titles are keen to adopt the techniques used by contract publishers, Richard Cook writes

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the contract publishing industry should be positively blushing at the blandishments it is starting to receive from its consumer magazine rivals.

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the

contract publishing industry should be positively blushing at the

blandishments it is starting to receive from its consumer magazine


For years the established, paid-for magazines have moaned that the free,

contract titles have plundered their looks and ideas. However, it seems

that the traffic is no longer one-way because, finally, the consumer

giants are starting to admit that there is at least one thing that they

can learn from the arriviste contract titles. Suddenly, everyone in

publishing wants a piece of the direct marketing skills, such as

database management and niche targeting, that have been the exclusive

preserve of the contract magazine industry for years.

Now, magazines from Good Housekeeping to Golfing Today are being

influenced by these very skills. Contract publishers may have been the

first to make advertising agencies reach for their lexicons and dust

down a new language of integration and through-the-line advertising, but

consumer publishers are catching up fast. They too now appreciate the

value of having both a good editorial product and a powerful relational


’Contract publishing has thrived largely because we have always

understood about direct marketing. Marketing managers - when they

thought about contract publishing at all - got used to thinking of it as

an adjunct to their marketing plans,’ explains William Sieghart, the

chairman of Forward, the contract publisher. ’What we say is that

clients can combine our database expertise with an editorial package

that reflects their brand personality to get the best of both worlds.

That we are in fact less of a publisher and more of an integral part of

the company’s direct marketing arm.’

The mainstream consumer press is waking up to the fact that,

increasingly, it has to think in the same terms. It too can use direct

marketing skills to attract advertisers, build circulations and plan

brand extensions.

’The fact is we already have so much information about our readers, and

so much information about their tastes and spending habits,’ explains

Anne Melbourne, the director of National Magazine Enterprises, the

division responsible for developing brand extensions and added-value

products at the glossy magazine giant. ’But it’s only relatively

recently that we started to make use of this information. And of course

to discover just how much research we really have. It’s not just the

readers of our magazines that we now know about, it’s also the people

that attend the spin-off shows and exhibitions. For instance with the

Cosmopolitan Show, we know how many people attending are regular

readers, how many are occasional readers and so on, and how the

show-goers’ spending habits differ from those of the core magazine


In the case of Cosmo, this sort of information has already been put to

good use in developing its considerable range of brand extensions, which

stretch from hosiery and swimwear to bed linen.

’Obviously, you try to develop products that you think will fit in

naturally with the core brand values of the title, but access to the

research patterns allows you to predict likely demand much more

accurately,’ Melbourne explains.

At the moment, though, the companies which seem most slavishly devoted

to their data are, unsurprisingly, those which have spent the most time

and money building up their databases. Typically, that means the

contract publishers and the business press. VNU Business Publications,

for example, is using a combination of standard database analysis and

new media to get to much closer grips with its readers.

Using its database as a starting point, VNU interrogates that data and

then uses the internet - specifically the immaculately documented

records of customers who log on to its websites - to cross-reference its


Another business publisher that is firmly committed to direct marketing

techniques is Reed Business Information, which launched Computer Weekly

Xtra in response to a demand identified solely from its customer


However, the pace of developments relates to the size and quality of

publishing companies’ databases and the most straightforward way of

collecting information - via subscriptions - only accounts for eight per

cent of UK magazines sales.

’I think it’s the principal reason that UK publishers have lagged behind

their US equivalents in developing direct marketing techniques,’

explains Julia Porter, business enterprises director at IPC. ’The fact

is that there is a virtuous circle whereby you get information from

subscribers to build a database and then use the direct marketing

information that you acquire from this in turn to drive subscription

sales. You can then encourage trial of magazines and shift customer

perception as we have done successfully with the TV Times. But

subscriptions have long been more important in the US than here because

of our resilient news trade business. That is changing because it is

becoming more difficult to get shelf space and so publishers are again

looking at direct marketing to drive subscriptions.’

IPC has been one of the most pro-active of the big publishing


It first dipped a toe in these waters with a test mailing to 750,000

lifestyle magazine subscribers two years ago.

The 750,000 questionnaires generated 84,000 responses. Readers were

asked to provide information on their profession, income, family and the

range of magazines they purchased. The survey also focused on consumer

attitudes towards the marketing and promotion of IPC’s portfolio,

particularly the equestrian, golf and yachting titles within the Music &

Sport and Country & Leisure groups. At the time, the rationale for the

survey was that it would give a sharper focus to IPC’s marketing

initiatives for these titles, particularly in driving subscription


In fact, the feedback enabled IPC to combine a wealth of lifestyle

information with its existing data. The questionnaire was judged to be

so successful that it was subsequently rolled out extensively to allow

more tailored offers to the 2.8 million readers of IPC magazines,

ranging from rugs and walking sticks for Horse & Hound readers to

adventure package holidays for Loaded readers.

IPC then offered the results of this national reader survey to

advertisers seeking information about the effect of lifestyle issues on

media consumption.

’We’re not yet anywhere near the sophistication of the likes of Tesco,

which segments its database into different spending models and targets

each of them with different offers, but we really aren’t so far off,’

Porter says. ’The magazine industry has always had examples of

successful database management, like Saga or Reader’s Digest, or The

Economist, but what we are seeing now is the spread of these sort of

direct techniques to all levels of consumer titles. We are already

starting to get into cross-selling across the database, for example. I

know, for instance, that we have more golfers on our 2.8 million strong

database than the number that actually subscribe to our golfing titles.

Once we have identified exactly how many then we can leverage the

database to target likely subscription prospects and offer suitable

merchandise to a sufficient number of customers to make the whole

process worthwhile.’

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