On cloud nine: Mindfood celebrates nine years of innovation

The brand, published by McHugh Media, has evolved significantly from its launch in 2008. During the peak of the GFC, the magazine has endeavoured to create content to inspire and engage its carefully selected target audience, with constantly moving ever-changing technology.

The integrated media company’s main focus has always been its flagship magazine Mindfood, but it extended its portfolio to include bi-annual glossy fashion magazine, Style and home and lifestyle magazine Décor.

While McHugh Media has modelled itself as a completely integrated media brand from the get-go, editor-in-chief and owner Michael McHugh says the platforms have developed during that time.

“Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest didn’t exist in the way they do now when we started so the brand and platforms have evolved. Increasingly clients want a creative solution and more and more there’s a blurred line of what media companies do.”

Mindfood’s content appears not only in the magazines and on the website – which features video and podcast – but also in electronic newsletters, its iPad app and daily news updates. The content on each is carefully targeted to suit the individual platform.

McHugh Media’s real innovation comes in its approach to advertising solutions. Traditionally, companies approached advertising agencies for specialist campaigns. Mindfood side-steps that process to provide a unique advertising platform for clients looking for a holistic approach.

“Our key business in Mindfood is content, but small creative media companies like ours work with clients who want to reach Mindfood’s audience and we create content and campaigns for them.”

Silver Fern Farms

One crucial relationship has been a part of Mindfood’s story for more than half the magazine’s nine years. McHugh says the company’s work with Silver Fern Farms is a stand-out example of what can be achieved by this type of collaboration.

The company is New Zealand’s leading procurer, processor and marketer of lamb, beef and venison and formed a partnership with Mindfood in 2012.                                                                                  

Mindfood works with Silver Fern Farms to produce more than just creative content. The team has also been involved in packaging, food photography, competitions and advertising campaigns reaching not just a New Zealand market, but overseas too.

“They have been with us for five years and as the time has gone on, that relationship has developed. [Our work with] Silver Fern Farms is the gold standard. It’s an exciting thing and there will only be more of it in the future,” McHugh says.

Silver Fern Farms general marketing manager Sharon Angus says the people and quality of Mindfood’s work has made the magazine an appealing company to collaborate with.

“Great partners make great work, and ultimately [working with Mindfood]is giving us depth of engagement with our segmented target. We see ourselves and Mindfood being partners well past the traditional supplier level.”

“We create stories together on our farmers, and share knowledge and information locally and internationally to the benefit of both partners. The combination of both parties is better than the sum of two parts,” says Angus.

Working with Mindfood helps Silver Fern Farms’ consumers have an emotional connection to the brand, she says. As the consumer climate shifts, it is becoming increasingly important for consumers to know where their food comes from.

Through partnering with Mindfood, Silver Fern Farms is able to tell the human-interest side of the brand. Angus says the relationship remains strong after so many years because both companies are passionate about maintaining an engaging brand.

Mindfood is the best [company]we have come across to [help us]connect with our farmers and share a passion for food.”

Destination Queenstown

Clients are just as enthusiastic about collaborations as McHugh is. As big fans of Mindfood, the team at Destination Queenstown knew a partnership with the magazine would be a good fit for both brands, but it wasn’t until the first meeting when they realised just how much potential a collaboration had.

The Regional Tourism Organisation is responsible for the marketing of Queenstown as a premier destination for domestic and international tourism. Mindfood’s broad audience in local and overseas markets made the partnership a perfect fit.

Destination Queenstown marketing and communications director Sarah O’Donnell says what started as a discussion about a Queenstown travel feature quickly turned into an even more promising collaboration.

“Once we met with Michael and some of the Mindfood team we saw the synergy and realised the potential of a much bigger partnership and opportunity,” she says.

Mindfood worked with Destination Queenstown on Queenstown’s autumn campaign, with an integrated focus across multiple platforms and including stories about what makes Queenstown a special destination.

Right from the beginning, the relationship has been a collaboration to ensure the content across both Mindfood and Destination Queenstown’s channels are integrated, and O’Donnell says she couldn’t be happier with the result.

Mindfood really understood integrated content and we are excited that the stories created have a long life that can be utilised widely, and leveraged by Destination Queenstown, to continue to position the autumn [campaign]and share our stories.”

“We found [the team at Mindfood] very energetic and enthusiastic with lots of great ideas. The team are experts at finding authentic stories. They are quick to respond to opportunities and keen to deliver truly world-class content.”

While the campaign has yet to launch, O’Donnell has high hopes for its success and says Mindfood was such an appealing choice for collaboration because of its extensive reach into a demographic that aligned with Destination Queenstown’s and their innovative approach to storytelling.

By the numbers

Mindfood’s evolution is far from complete, with McHugh foreseeing the company continuing to change with the times. When the magazine launched nine years ago, its integrated approach was unusual, but McHugh knew his key demographic – smart-thinking high-earners with disposable incomes – needed a publication to serve their interests.

While some publications have struggled to stay afloat in the digital age, Mindfood continues to grow despite being launched during a severe economic crisis.

Sales and subscriptions are trending up with a total readership of 241,000, according to Nielsen, and the New Zealand Audit Bureau of Circulation says Mindfood’s total domestic circulation of 38,188 (September 2016) makes it the fastest-growing magazine in the country. What started as a New Zealand-only magazine has also found success across the ditch, with two editions of Mindfood released each month to best serve the differing markets.

The magazine’s website attracts more than 280,000 visits each month and its app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times and was awarded ‘Best New Apps’ status by Apple in 2012 and 2013. Social media platforms continue to grow too, with Mindfood currently having more than 279,000 likes on Facebook and nearly 7000 followers on Twitter.

And the demand is still there. The ninth birthday edition hitting shelves on March 6 is the biggest birthday edition in Mindfood’s history. 

McHugh says they are proud of the numbers but the team knows it has to keep working hard to sustain its audience.

“Our content has to be relevant and creative and it has to talk to the audience. Our brand is something people want to be part of so we’ve got to make sure that level of quality is there. The production value of the magazine and the design of the website have always been hugely important.”

When he had meetings with advertising agencies before Mindfood launched, the reaction was largely that he was crazy to start an integrated media brand. Nine years on, with three magazines and multiple platforms attached to the brand, it still surprises McHugh how well it’s working.

“In some ways, the industry has had to catch up with the times. Now, most publishers realise that to exist in the current environment you have to be integrated across multiple platforms. Most people now access our online content on their mobile phones, and that’s something we could never have predicted when we launched.”

Extending the brand to include the Décor and Style magazines was something that even McHugh couldn’t have anticipated.

“We didn’t predict that would happen, but we know our niche and we’ve learnt how we can expand on it so we’ve got more plans for that.”

Looking ahead

In 2016, Mindfood’s online shop became an important part of the brand, with the magazine trialling products to test the water of peoples’ interest. The shop, serving both the New Zealand and Australian markets, stocks not just magazine subscriptions and books, but also Mindfood merchandise including notebooks, spoons and candles.

Looking to the future, McHugh says the growth areas of the business will be extensions of systems already in place, including increasing events and mobile interaction.

“The consumer is what drives us. About 88% of Mindfood users come to the website on mobile devices, so things have changed and we’ve got to make sure we’re there for those different experiences. It’ll be constant investment and evolving the current brand and offering.”

Mindfood has found its strength in collaborating with clients and sharing the brand’s creative mindset, an all-important quality in this changing world. As marketing budgets decline across the board, businesses are seeking new ways to get content to their audience.

As McHugh says, “Mindfood is the right sort of brand for the times and I’m really proud of what we’ve created.”

“It’s been nine years of trial and error, but we’ve had nine years of good creative ideas, and what we’re doing is working. I’m as surprised as anyone. It feels like in nine years we’ve become an overnight success.”

About Author

Caitlin Salter is a freelance writer who contributes to various publications at ICG Media.

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