Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Magnetic begins mission to prove mags still matter

Welcome, Magnetic - we've been expecting you. Finally, the UK's magazine sector has made a bold, collective step towards combating falling circulations, retreating ads and a generally bleak prognosis by launching the first marketing agency dedicated to promoting the industry.

Action from Magnetic, first tabled as "Project Orange" at the PPA’s annual conference in May last year, cannot come soon enough. Agencies have started to ask a very simple question: are magazines still relevant? Anyone passing bulging newsstands or looking at the social media footprints of some brands could be forgiven for thinking the question absurd. But last week’s ABC figures, coupled with advertisers retreating from the sector faster than any other, means that it demands our attention.

The problem with trying to talk about the magazine market as if it were one coherent entity is that it really isn’t. From business titles to fashion bibles, hobbyists to celebrities, weeklies to monthlies and everything in-between, the medium is both expansive and diverse.

It means that, while titles such as The Economist and Stuff are focused on digital migration, others, including Radio Times and Vogue, are confident that print will remain their primary platform for many years to come.

The delicate situation was highlighted when Marcus Rich, in his first public address as the chief executive of Time Inc UK, talked last summer of needing to transform magazines from a "burning platform into a growth business". His dramatic terminology was not welcomed by some, but it was the kind of candour the sector has been crying out for.

'ABC figures, coupled with advertisers retreating form the sector fast, means that it demands our attention'

It’s no coincidence that the most successful titles in terms of circulation growth in 2014 were either those handed out for free through vendors (Foodism, Stylist, Sport) or published under contract with alternative distribution models (Sainsbury’s Magazine, Forever Sports, Lego Legends Of Chima, Slimming World).

Meanwhile, in the same period, cosmetics and personal-care brands reduced spend on magazines by almost 20 per cent, food advertisers dropped by a similar amount, and household FMCG and finance sectors were not far behind. Lessons from the past decade suggest these double-digit falls are not cyclical blips. Advertisers leaving the sector are not coming back.

Magnetic clearly has its work cut out. Its name reminds us that magazine brands can still attract and influence. Not just in print, but through events, retail and, of course, digital. And you only need to spend a few minutes talking with its chief executive, Sue Todd, to realise she’s on a mission. The appointment of the sage former Dentsu Aegis Network leader Mark Cranmer as its chairman should ensure she at least gets her foot in the right doors.