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A complete 360: Fashion Quarterly on its digital offering

Fashion Quarterly is a legacy title that has taken brand extensions to the next level. Jaime Breitnauer talked to editor Sally-Ann Mullin, and digital editor Kelly McAuliffe, about how they redeveloped the brand to win the Best Magazine 360 Award in 2017.

By Jaime Breitnauer | April 5, 2018 | Sponsored content

When Sally-Ann Mullin took over Fashion Quarterly as editor three years ago, the magazine was a strong, print-centric title that was in need of a re-think to reflect changing trends in an increasingly complicated market. 

Fashion Quarterly was, and still is, a New Zealand icon, a true heritage brand,” says Mullin. “We were still only putting out four seasonal issues a year, but we were aware of competition, the fact that digital was thriving, and we knew people were getting their fashion and lifestyle content in a myriad of different ways.”

In order to compete in an increasingly digital-first climate, Bauer knew it had to double down on a premium digital fashion offering.

“I came on board two and a half years ago as digital editor,” says Kelly McAuliffe, who had worked as social media manager for the likes of Net-a-Porter Group in the UK, as well as being an experienced fashion journalist. It’s fair to say that digital fashion content is her forte, and she turned her hand effortlessly to utilising that for FQ’s traditionally older but surprisingly tech-savvy audience.

“We were seeing stats that indicated the percentage of adults aged 40-plus using social media was on the rise, and in fact, was the fastest growing group around 2015,” says McAuliffe. “We’d be underestimating our audience if we didn’t accept they are evolving and growing into those channels.”

Of course, strengthening the digital offering was a way to engage with a slightly younger audience, too.

“We’ve been able to reach an audience that’s not only a bit younger, they’re also more tech-savvy and situated outside the main cities,” says McAuliffe. “The original audience, also, are busier and want information more readily. People still want to read the seasonal mag, but they want to be able to access news and content 24/7.” 

A reverse publishing success story

The closure of Cleo in Australia and New Zealand in early 2016 left a gap in the market for a brand to share curated, local content with female millennials about fashion, beauty, careers, well-being and entertainment.

Enter Miss FQ, the brainchild of Bauer New Zealand’s lead video producer, Georgia Bramley — then a 22-year-old digital content producer on the ‘To Love’ network — who presented the idea to the Bauer Executive team.

“She personified the Miss FQ reader and the proactive millennial mindset that the brand celebrates,” says Mullin of Bramley’s pitch, whose audience included Bauer Australia and New Zealand CEO, Paul Dykzeul, and general manager of publishing and insights Tanya Walshe and head of digital Michael Fuyala. “They listened, and they liked it — which says a lot about Bauer as an organisation.”

Following the initial pitch, a strategy group was formed to take a deeper dive into audience needs and further investigate the commercial viability of launching a youth-focused brand. This group determined there was tremendous scope for a digital-first brand to connect with style-conscious millennials.

They developed a digital look and feel for the brand, which was originally intended to be online only, launching quickly in June 2016 to close the gap Cleo left behind.

The engagement level and feedback went well above expectation, with 60,000 unique visits to the website by September 2016, 12,000 page views and an eDM and social media following of 45k. An epic achievement for just three months.

“The beauty of digital is that you can go to market quickly, get an immediate response and measure the success with analytics,” says McAuliffe — and the data was telling the FQ team they needed to go to print, in spite of the fact commentators claimed millennials don’t read print magazines.

“It’s a misconception that young people want to consume their content exclusively digitally,” says Miss FQ associate editor, Phoebe Watt, who notes that Miss FQ’s digital audience would constantly inquire about the possibility of a Miss FQ magazine. “In this uber-digital world, young people actually relish the opportunity to ‘switch off’ with a physical, tangible, thoughtfully designed product.”

And so the FQ team set about engineering what was to become a highly successful act of reverse publishing. Working quickly towards a November launch, they made decisions on the look and feel of the title, size, paper stock and content in a matter of weeks. What they came up with was a design, both visually and in terms of content, that was quirky and original.

To ensure Miss FQ would resonate with its audience, the team also forged ahead with a totally new, user-generated publishing model encapsulated by the tagline ‘for millennials, by millennials’. 

Leveraging Miss FQ’s existing digital audience to create hype around the launch issue, readers were asked to vote for who they wanted to see on the cover, and the team continues to draw on the talents and experiences of readers and involve them in the process of putting the magazine together. It’s a collective, interactive 360° strategy that has paid off with deep engagement and brand loyalty, and saw the brand recognised by the Magazine Publishers Association at the 2017 Magazine Media Awards.

As for the launch issue, the response was immediately positive, with it outperforming budgeted sales by 80 percent and completely outselling an established competitor. In a poll, 92 percent of readers agreed that Miss FQ has a different feel to a lot of magazines targeting a younger audience.

“One reader said, ‘I am very drawn to the ideas of a magazine ‘for millennials by millennials’. The team has a unique concept and really delivers,’” says Mullin. “What a great endorsement.” 

A 360 approach to advertising 

As well as introducing Miss FQ to the market and expanding their digital and social media activities, the wider FQ team have also introduced a number of physical brand extensions, including (but not limited to) their fashion week schedule in August, the FQ Swim Show in November, the Miss FQ Influence Awards in October and the Bauer Beauty Awards in May.

The team also run a number of one-off activations during the year including a speaker series, and use their own personal social media to be brand in influencers.

“A good example is we recently partnered with Clinique to launch their new range of exercise-friendly makeup and co-hosted an exercise class where readers could come along and try the product,” says McAuliffe. “Clinique flew in [well- known trainer and social media influencer] Kirsty Godso from New York, so in addition to our readers getting to engage with Kirsty and Clinique’s products, it was also a great opportunity to create video content and social engagement.”

It’s this supplementing of long-form content with video, social and experiential that keeps FQ’s offering to advertisers fresh.

“There’s always a risk that you cannibalise your print budget [by widening your offering],” says Mullin. “But you’ve got to make sure you’re complementing the existing editorial, not taking away from it. We add to the story with video and social, rather than replace it.”

When speaking to advertisers, the team look at every brief through a 360 lens.

“The vast majority of our clients take a 360 package across all our brands,” says McAuliffe. “Whether that’s a combination of print, online, social, influencer or experiential is completely dependent on their objectives. We work closely with our clients to break down what they’re after and how we can engage with our audience on different touch points. They’re not getting the same thing on each platform but the whole package provides one enriched message.”

Ultimately, says Mullin, the key to the FQ brand success is team-work.

“We work very much as one team across all the channels. A win for the digital team is a win for us too,” she says.

“Winning the Best Magazine 360 Award, well we felt so recognised for how hard we had worked over the last two years to bring this to life. It’s such an exciting time for Fashion Quarterly as a brand – in a declining print industry, we are in growth, and we just get bigger each year. There’s so much scope and possibility, where do we go next?” 

This story is part of a content partnership with the Magazine Publishers Association. 

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