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Always integrated: Mindfood magazine blows out 10 candles, reflects on its beginning

Setting up a media business during the global financial crisis might sound like a recipe for disaster but Mindfood is this year marking its 10th anniversary. To learn how it's evolved over the years, we sit down with editor-in-chief Michael McHugh who reflects on the past, the present and the future of the celebrity endowed local and global content-machine.

By Findlay Buchanan | April 10, 2018 | features

Integrated magazine title Mindfood has reached its ten-year anniversary and it’s not showing signs of slowing down. In some segments, print has been dealt with the hard end of the selfie stick, with recent news of print mastheads getting the axe or down-sizing to smaller formats, many have expressed a grim future for the industry. However, it’s not the case for all print brands and magazine titles as others have maintained sustained growth. MindFood magazine is an example of the latter. Its latest March issue is the bulkiest yet; a 288-page birthday celebration with global matriarch Oprah Winfrey posted on the front cover. 

The launch of publishing company McHugh Media and subsequent brand Mindfood came to fruition in 2008 when McHugh (ex-founder of Delicious and Notebook magazine) and partner Michelle forged the website and magazine. The pair took a risk, timing the new business with the global financial crisis, but despite the seemingly futile business environment, McHugh knew he had the right product at the right time.

“I felt there was room in the market for a brand that thought about smart thinking. With the GFC coming, I knew people were going to move away from buying individual specialist magazines, so we combined a strong mix under one brand, while also respecting our audience.”

Mindfood operates in the New Zealand and Australian landscape and has a range of editorial platforms; community, culture, health, beauty, style, décor, travel, food and drink. The range of chapters is the point of difference that McHugh alludes to, as well as the range of integrated platforms that are used as a vehicle for its content. In 2014, it ‘laughed in the face of magazine doomsayers’ and launched brand extension Style a bi-annual fashion magazine, before launching Décor a year later, which targets the home and living environment.

McHugh says when it launched Mindfood ten years ago, there was no social media. It created engaging content and gradually spread that content across the different media platforms as the years went on.

This is seen in its social and digital metrics: a Facebook reach of 279,000, an e-newsletter circulation of 360,000 per week as well as 18,900 Instagram followers. Mindfood managed to adapt its style of content to new emerging platforms, however, it has retained the same chapters throughout.  

“As an editor, I’ve learnt over the last 10 years that it’s a different reading and viewing experience, our content is still based on smart thinking with an emphasis on incredible visuals and well thought out and well-researched content, it’s just a different platform. We didn’t wake up one day and think we have to do things differently because we’ve always been integrated.”

Despite managing supporting digital platforms, Mindfood has shown continued growth in its print circulation and print readership. According to ABC, Mindfood's latest six-month print circulation figures have remained stable at 38,208 (ABC ANC to 30/09/17) following 38,203 (ABC ANC to 31/03/17).

McHugh reiterates that he has sustained investment in key areas to serve both its readers and clients. He reassures that there is no decline in the paper stock, nor a decline in budgets to seek out worthy content, he also says Mindfood editors aren’t having to work across different titles.  

As a result, its print readership has seen growth. The Nielsen annual print readership figures show that the latest financial findings from the year 2017 are 238,000 (Nielsen CMI Q1-Q417) – up from the year prior, which saw 226,000 (Nielsen CMI Q116-Q417).

Keeping its authenticity

The anniversary issue features the calibre of people Mindfood has interviewed over the years, shown in its list of chosen favourite cover stars; Adele, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie.  While some would argue social media has opened up the gate for free access to celebrity news, McHugh doesn’t believe it is a burden for his publication as Mindfood will always put its flair into the content to keep its authenticity.

Mindfood has been noted as one of the 'local publishing industries biggest success stories' and for McHugh it’s because his organisation invested in places other publishers haven’t.

“As markets change, perhaps they didn’t move and develop quick enough, for us we are still investing in expensive print stock, and expensive cover stock and expensive photo shoots and it works for us because that’s what our audience expects from us.”

And that audience is one of a high ilk. Its reader profile represents an average annual income of $114,000, aged between 30-59, with 67 percent of readers owning their own home. It’s an affluent lot and Mindfood's discerning bunch of local and international advertisers featured on the latest birthday edition reflects that; Coco Chanel, Rolex, Tiffany and Co, Marco Bicego and many more.

“We are very good at talking around the table with a client to see what they want and who they want to attract and then coming back with really strong creative solutions. What we do well is that our solutions and content is really targeted,” says McHugh

He adds the integrated approach has affected the solutions for his clients as the content now includes video, social, events, print, in-store, logos and more.

“Over the last ten years it has really changed, it’s no longer simply taking an ad but stepping back and thinking what else can we do to activate an audience, and I think we are really good at that.”

He also notes the biggest change in dealing with clients needs is the changing nature of media agencies.

“I remember going in and having to present for the magazine side of the business and then we would have to go in and present to the digital side of the business, which was crazy because we are talking to the same audiences but we have all these crazy meetings.”

Reflecting on this, he says media agencies have started realising that they have to change.

Widening the scope

As a small player flying under the radar, McHugh shares his thoughts on some of the bigger beasts in the industry. He says the possible NZME and Stuff merger would be a disaster for the consumer who will suffer from limited news sources and that the companies are coming together for financial reasons rather than the right reasons.

And looking into the future, McHugh believes that Australia’s ailing magazine and newspaper environment will move towards New Zealand’s landscape with more cases of good people losing their jobs and leaving the industry. However, in the same breath, he believes that clever people will find niches and continue to create great products and brands with potential for world-class success out of New Zealand. 

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