One lesson most companies have grasped in the past few difficult
years has been the need to nurture customers; keep ’em and grow ’em has
been the message.
This has been a very helpful environment for the producers of customer
magazines. At the last count there were more than 250 of these titles,
including several boasting some of the biggest circulations in the
Customer titles provide a means of communicating complex arguments, of
cultivating warm feelings, of cross-selling other products and
Their performance is very measurable, another must when so much emphasis
in marketing is put on evaluation.
Yet isn’t it likely that the digital revolution will at least slow this
boom? Home penetration of the Internet is growing, with Web sites able
to provide in-depth product information and the opportunity to buy
online. Coming next is digital TV, with all sorts of possibilities for
direct interaction between customers and firms.
Leading contract publishers see it differently. Several, including
Redwood and Premier Magazines, have electronic divisions. Redwood
chairman Mike Potter is convinced magazines will not be replaced because
they are the obvious way to communicate with customers. Digital TV will
be an interesting additional outlet, but not for five years.
TPD, specialising in IT customer titles, with a client list spanning
Apple, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft, is particularly close to the
issue. Its chief executive, Julian Treasure, says the firm has simply
repositioned itself as a ’customer communications agency’, in any
language and any medium. ’We don’t think of ourselves as just contract
publishers any more,’ he says.
Where many have talked about media fragmentation, Treasure points out
that this means content fragmentation too, on a massive scale. ’Within a
couple of years,’ he says, ’every TV set will arrive with a set-top box
built in, giving everyone easy access to these new media. Entry barriers
will be lowered, text, sound and visuals will be used both together and
separately, and the average ’what’s on’ guide will be the size of a
telephone book. It could be very frightening to the consumer.’
He believes a huge demand will develop for original and syndicated
Information from trusted brands will be required, giving those brands an
opportunity to lever their reputations. Potentially, there is a big role
for magazine publishers because they bring interesting material together
from diverse sources.
TPD has already provided Internet content for BBC and Which Online
It employs 28 people on interactive media and is investing pounds 2.5m
in the sector this year.
The idea that an opportunity is looming to provide editorial content for
the new media is well rooted. This is particularly true of material for
Premier Magazines, for example, already produces the Rolls-Royce
magazine, Queste, and was the joint developer of its new Web site, at
’Companies like us need to have an electronic side because our editorial
skills and understanding of marketing objectives will be increasingly in
demand,’ says Premier’s managing director, Craig Waller. ’I am a fan of
the Internet, in so far as it offers a complementary way of
communicating. But it hasn’t got all of the answers and it won’t replace
Several members of the Association of Publishing Agents (APA) now
include their ability to handle Internet or CD-ROM tasks in pitching for
new business, says Kim Conchie, APA chairman and managing director of
Brass Tacks. ’We are the communications experts, and we are the people
who will be employing the technologists who have been running the
Internet so far.’