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A winning approach: how modern day magazine editors have adapted to the digital age

The modern media environment is characterised by new tools, new channels, new metrics, new audiences and new opportunities. But it’s also characterised by less time, less resource, less expenditure and, in many cases, less readership of the traditional print products. So how has the modern-day magazine editor had to adapt? How are they using their influence and harnessing opportunities? Findlay Buchanan talks to some of the country’s best.

By Findlay Buchanan | April 18, 2018 | Sponsored content

While the modern-day magazine editor continues to wield their influence on what appears in print, the role has changed vastly in recent times. Back in the good old days, publishers were happily floating down the ‘rivers of gold’. But the rise of digital has necessitated evolution and, increasingly, magazine publishers have been forced create a range of different revenue streams aside from print advertising and subscriptions, whether that be events, sponsored content, e-commerce or video production.

The latest Magazine 360 12-month print metrics show that while the print audience is relatively stable, the shift away from print has continued, with 72,000 readers departing overall. But that has coincided with the rise of online platforms and events for magazine brands, with an additional 15,845 unique website users per month, email newsletter reach rising by 28,999 monthly viewers and event attendance increasing by 11,577 using the latest Magazine 360 data from the month of January.

According to the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) annual ad spend figures, magazine revenue increased from $210 million in 2015 to $221 million in 2016. But Standard Media Index figures that calculate media agency spend (and are primarily made up of display advertising) showed spending with the magazine industry fell by 14.3 percent. These figures don’t include direct spend, however, which, according to some of the major publishers, has increased significantly, in part because clients understand the value of a popular, trusted media brand and are increasingly searching for the skills that a good editor can offer to create content that engages audiences and gets their messages out.

These statistics unearth a useful inference: that editors are being forced to do more with less. So how are magazine editors riding the digital wave and adapting? We spoke to some of the Magazine Media Award-winning editors from 2017: Sido Kitchin from Woman’s Day, Jo McCarroll from NZ Gardener and Sally Duggan from NZ House & Garden

Entertainment, information and escapism

Sido Kitchin had ink on her fingers at a young age, following the footsteps of her father into the journalism business. 28 years later, she is editorial director of Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly and Australian Women’s Weekly, as well as being day-to-day editor on Woman’s Day, a role she has held for 12 years. It’s a full plate, but she loves every minute of it. She says the largest impact on the magazine industry – and her own job – is the increased consumption of digital news and entertainment.

“To stay relevant, we have a vibrant website, digital editions and social channels – we have increased our audience touchpoints dramatically thanks to our digital platforms. But the challenge is always monetising that.”

This is reflected in its digital efforts; Magazine 360 touted Woman’s Day as New Zealand’s second largest social following, with the highest Facebook reach of magazine titles: 377,486 New Zealand users on an average three month period.

Kitchin says Bauer’s strategy of creating hubs like Homes to Love and Food to Love and Now to love – where content from titles like Woman’s Day and New Zealand Women’s Weekly are housed – are examples of moving digitally while keeping the brands distinct.

The biggest challenge for Woman’s Day is managing an audience, which has celebrity news at their fingertips on rival media platforms. It means Kitchin is more tactful, implementing puzzles, recipes and real-life reads in the content package to engage readers.

Kitchin adds that the online hub has been very successful for advertising, while harnessing its key social platforms, Instagram and Facebook.

On the brand engagement frontier, Woman’s Day is one of the few magazine media brands that advertisers above the line, using radio, television, outdoor and in-store retail activity to drive sales. Kitchin also notes the success of bringing magazines to life at events, where the brand was recently a partner for the NZTV Awards.

“We ran a people’s choice vote on our website for the favourite TV Personality of the Year – which Toni Street took out. On the night we had a huge presence on the red carpet doing Facebook Live chats with the stars and swamped social media. Then we turned around a flip cover and eight-page special for the print magazine. I want to do more of that.”

Similarly, for its advertising partners, solutions have moved beyond the page and Kitchin says it’s always creating content, both native and branded, that it distributes across its digital platforms and brand social media channels. She adds it’s also exploring opportunities around podcasting this year.

But no matter the platforms looking into the future, she says the heart of what it delivers – entertainment, information and escapism for busy Kiwi women – will still be relevant and treasured. 

Using all the tools in the shed 

Jo McCarroll began her journalism quest in Whakatane’s humble community newspaper. She continued her career in news, working for the Daily Mail in London, before venturing back to New Zealand where she worked as editor of View magazine at the Herald on Sunday and then, in 2010, took over as editor of NZ Gardener.

Today, she remains at the helm and she describes the most rewarding parts remain the same: the creation of the product and the relationship with her readers.

“Readers often describe themselves to me as a ‘member’ rather than a subscriber, like a magazine is a club we all choose to belong to because of a passion that we share.”

McCarroll links the current disruptions and distractions to the publishing duopoly of Google and Facebook.

“Their existence has driven a lot of change in how people consume content, means we have to change how and what content we create. When I started in journalism, the
print product was the end goal, now the magazine is part - a significant part but just part - of an integrated web of digital content, social offerings, one-offs, spin-offs and events that we drive.”

She says NZ Gardener is performing well across multiple media platforms (it’s on Stuff, property channel Homed and the community networking site Neighbourly) and remains at the centre of the country’s gardening community, as evidenced by the success of creative campaigns that have asked its audience to do something, rather than just consume something.

“I aim to bring the magazine to life for our audience so there’s often a call to action for an activity in the real world in NZ Gardener, like sowing seeds to help bees or signing a petition against Auckland Transport’s ban on gardening on your berm.”

Creative, engaging ideas like these are the thing that clients are often looking for to get their messages out there and McCarroll says the modern editor needs to look at things with a commercial lens.

“I think our clients are increasingly looking for more sophisticated alternatives to brand ads from us, but that’s because their consumers are increasingly looking for more from them than the
static information that a brand ad can convey. We’ve had some great successes by collaborating with our commercial partners on campaigns that deliver information, entertainment, inspiration or experiences to our audience, where a brand is woven into a wider story.

She thinks consumers are looking for what is engaging, relevant and useful to them– and commercial messages can be all of those things when done right.

“It’s hard not to over-use the words ‘story’ and ‘content’, but journalists and editors have useful skills when it comes to shaping information to make it engaging and relevant to a desired audience.
Those skills can be deployed to help our commercial clients meet their goals without ever undermining the experience for the magazine’s audience.”

McCarroll tracks back to her first job when she was forced to paste up with a scalpel and glue, and the staggering rate of change that her media career has undertaken since then.

“As the environment in which we consume content becomes increasingly noisy and uncertain, I think consumers will become more likely to seek out brands they trust. They just might seek us out
on new platforms, or engage with us via events or brand extensions”. 

Time is of the essence

Sally Duggan has spent 30 years in New Zealand’s media industry, with stints at The Dominion Post, New Zealand Herald, Metro, North & South and many more. A winner of the Magazine Media Awards Editor of the Year multiple times, and eight years into her role for NZ House & Garden and still loves the creative, curatorial exercise of modern magazine editing – and the challenges of embracing new technologies.

“The day that we get the first copies of NZ House & Garden, I take one home and lie on my couch and leaf through it, slowly, with a glass of wine. I try not to look for mistakes but just sit back and enjoy the images and stories, like our readers do.”

Through Duggan’s eyes, the biggest impact on the industry is undoubtedly that audiences are spending more time online. As the editor, she is required to drive the brand across multiple platforms, including the creation of entire new online brands for Stuff, including new online destination Homed.co.nz, which integrates videos, polls and photo galleries.

“We create a raft of new, daily, ever-changing content for Homed. We know that social drivers are hugely important for Homed traffic so we put a lot of effort into building both brands across Instagram and Facebook.”

Duggan says the biggest challenge is managing the different cadences of print and online, as magazines require care, polish and finish to execute.

She gives the example of the magazine, in which on-trend homewares are used to create beautiful styles pages. It involves stylists, studios, photographers and days
of scouting stores—something that can be hard to reconcile with the 24/7 demands of digital and social.

Duggan has also been instrumental in bringing the magazine to life and finding new revenue streams outside of print that can attract sponsors, and she gives the examples of the NZ House & Garden house tours and the Interior of the Year Awards.

“I believe in a high-tech environment our readers crave these high-touch experiences.”

Duggan believes there will be a shakeout as a result of the digital disruption, but magazines will continue to thrive, especially those that are about inspiration rather than information, and that maintain high polish.

“The magazines that do well will be the cherry on the top of their brand cake.” 

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

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