No more casual Fridays: McHugh Media laughs in the face of magazine doomsayers, looks to replicate Mindfood’s success with Style brand extension

McHugh Media’s Mindfood is getting set to celebrate its seventh birthday next year and it’s been one of the local publishing industry’s biggest success stories. Now it’s welcomed its first major brand extension to the family: a bi-annual glossy fashion magazine called Style

Following Paul Catmur’s recent presentation to MPA members and his ensuing article on the parlous state of the magazine industry, there’s been some heated discussion about the medium on this site recently. And while the mass market weeklies have certainly taken a punishing in recent years, a number of special interest magazines have grown in circulation and remain compelling options for advertisers. Fashion has always been pretty solid, because, unlike many other media channels, the ads are often of similar quality to the content and print still does a good job of ensuring premium brands are giving off the right signals. 

Founder and editor-in-chief Michael McHugh says Mindfood has always focused on fashion and beauty, but when it was looking to hire a new beauty editor for Mindfood around two years ago, it conducted some research that showed it already attracted a big chunk of the fashion market, its audience had high disposable income and they were big consumers of luxury products. He says Fashion Quarterly has been around for about 30 years, Simply You has been around for about 15 years, and there are a handful of other local mags and some high-profile international titles. So it concluded there was a gap in the market for something a bit different.  

There’s been a whole heap of planning involved to get to this point, he says, and a big part of that involved talking to some of its big advertisers in the early days and seeing if they were interested in supporting it. And they were, with advertisers including Chanel, Geurlain, Kerastase, Audi, Working Style, Laurent-Perrier, Yves Saint Laurent and many others featuring in the first issue, which clocks in at around 350 pages and had to increase book size top cope with demand. 

He says it’s always a two-way relationship with its advertisers and it works with those brands closely to understand what they’re trying to sell. 

“It’s all about relationships. We’re a small, family-run media company, so we can be very nimble. We can sit around a table and activate very quickly.”

The title is purposefully broad, he says, which brings in opportunities to cover other subjects like architecture, design, interiors, culture and art, rather than just fashion. And he points out that 20 percent of Mindfood’s audience is male, so there’s also a men’s section. 

So could this new title cannibalise its existing audience? 

“I think it sits very comfortably alongside. But I think it will attract a different consumer.” 

McHugh says part of Mindfood’s success (in terms of circulation, it’s up from 10,823 average net paid sales in 2008 to 30,215 in the latest results, and its readership is 228,000), has been its ability to combine domestic and international content. Its covers generally feature international stars, and it has writers all around the world, but even as its international audience has grown, he says it’s probably moved more towards focusing on the “many local stories that aren’t being told”. And the same rule applies to Style, he says, which has a good mix of local and international content. And while it’s “very visual and beautiful”, he says there’s more emphasis put on the editorial content.

“There needs to be something to read as well.” 

Fashion magazines like this certainly aren’t cheap to produce. And McHugh says there’s been a lot of time spent on the abacus ensuring it would be able to get enough revenue to create the type of magazine it wanted. That’s a constant balance with a small company that’s focused on cashflow and reducing costs and it’s a very different mindset to working for a big company, as you’re “spending other people’s money”. As an example, McHugh says his recent trip to Paris Fashion Week, while seemingly glamorous, was also bloody hard work and it needed to be justified financially (it as run as a special insert in the magazine and features a Chanel ad). 

But that formula seems to be working out so far. He says the magazine, which went on newstands this week, has distribution in supermarkets (and at many checkouts) and newsagents. It’s also going out as a free trial issue to all Mindfood subscribers. And demand has been so great that it’s set to do another print run (its first was 45,000). The title also exists under the style vertical in the main Mindfood website, it’s already signed up 18,000 newsletter subscribers and it’s set to launch a tablet app in December. 

“The response has really been overwhelming,” he says. “We’ve had full support from the retailers. And that’s great to see. Being able to build on the success of Mindfood has really helped us because they’ve seen the growth of that product.” 

After many years of growth, circulation went down slightly in the latest survey compared to the previous quarter. So is the Mindfood audience plateauing? 

“As a publisher you have to be constantly tweaking it so that doesn’t happen. I still get emails from people saying ‘I just discovered your magazine and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for’. That just shows me that there’s still a lot of people that haven’t heard about it. Perhaps we just get too close to it.” 

While McHugh wouldn’t give specifics about the company’s revenue, he says every element of it is growing—whether circulation, digital audience, ad revenue or event attendance—and it now employs around 12 staff in Auckland and 12 in Sydney. 

In September 2014, the website saw 215,000 unique users access over 495,000 pages; it sends out 330,000 newsletters each week, including 171,000 food newsletters, and it’s closing in on 50,000 likes on Facebook. It has also had over 70,000 downloads of its app and won The App Store’s ‘Best of Newsstand’ for 2013 and 2014

And being able to offer a sought-after audience across a range of platforms is certainly an appealling proposition for advertisers. For example, he says Chanel has been advertising with it from the start in print, and it has also sponsored its tablet app, but a recent win means it is now advertising online and, in keeping with its strategy, it’s run of site. 


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