Taking on the world: Together Journal’s founder on breaking into the international market

Despite the various wedding titles available on newsstands, Kenyon saw a niche left unoccupied – and the opportunity for a wedding magazine with broader scope.

She drew inspiration from curated lifestyle publications that are thriving globally such as Kinfolk, and Together Journal was born.

Kenyon’s background is the perfect cocktail of experience for the venture: She’s worked under the founders of two start-ups, as a fashion house brand manager and founded her own photography business, where she spent her time shooting creative, non-traditional weddings all over the world.

She says she knew what she was getting herself into when she dipped her toes into entrepreneurial waters.

“I understand what it’s like to start from nothing and what is involved. I work best under pressure and I love the excitement and challenge of entering a new market,” she says.

“Start-ups are hard work and they push you to your limit, but it is exciting being new and nimble and having a strong passion for what you are doing. You learn so much as you have to spread yourself across the whole business when it’s a new product or service and a small team.”

She also knew it was a shaky prospect to venture into the magazine market. There are big costs and risks involved – in the US and Canada, 35 percent fewer magazines were launched in 2015 versus 2014, showing the difficulty of getting one off the ground.

Kenyon acknowledges this bleak outlook on the industry, but says there’s a space being carved out for a certain model.

“Mainstream print has suffered with online platforms, but a small number of clever and innovative, well curated and thoughtful niche – and often global – lifestyle publications are thriving,” Kenyon says. “Magazines like Kinfolk, Cereal and Suitcase are all pushing back and have huge following and are very successful businesses. I looked at these publications and thought a similar model could succeed within the wedding sector.”

Kenyon also had big ambitions for the publication right from the very start.

She says she was always focused on harnessing an international audience, as in order for the Together Journal to be successful, she needed to tap into a bigger market.

She believed the creative minds in Australia and New Zealand were leading the way globally in terms of wedding trends, and the rest of the world would want to draw inspiration from them.

“I knew we had access to lots of talented people and we would have the ability to easily create quality, trend-leading content that would appeal to a global market,” she says.

She says her experience of founding a magazine was “crazy” having never worked in the industry before.

“I had to learn everything from scratch about printing and distribution, as well as planning and deciding on the content format and the design,” Kenyon says.

“But sometimes not knowing can be an advantage. I had no pre-conceived ideas, nothing to compare Together Journal to.”

One of the key contributors to the Together Journal’s success is its look and feel, which is strictly adhered to from start to finish. Every page, including the ads, must fit the magazine’s design-orientated aesthetic.

This ties into Kenyon’s vision of creating a publication that is more permanent than most.

“I think because we are well curated and designed and because our photography is to such a high standard we appeal, we are tactile, beautiful and almost cross over to being a book,” she says.

“I think we stand the test of a certain period of time. But we also bridge the gap between fashion and weddings and are very focused on showing and creating trends so we have a shelf life too, but it’s a long one compared to a lot of other magazines.”

The magazine’s mix of inspirational and lifestyle content also means there’s a growing segment of readers who aren’t getting married, or have already gotten married but have stuck around.

“They buy us because they have some other kind of event coming up or because they enjoy travel, fashion, food, flora or photography,” she says.
“So we capture people from the wedding market and hold onto them afterwards, as well as the lifestyle market.”

The past year has been peppered with highlights for the business. One was the Together Journal winning Best Designer and Best Photographer awards at the 2016 New Zealand Magazine Publishers Awards, while another has been breaking into international markets.

Thanks to the power of social media, the American market came knocking before Kenyon had thought to expand there. Early last year, US clothing retailer Anthropologie got in touch on Instagram and asked if it could stock the magazine.

Kenyon obliged and figured if Anthropologie wanted to stock the Together Journal, other US stores would too.

She got in touch with Barnes & Noble’s head office and negotiated a two-year contract with them, resulting in the Together Journal being stocked in over 300 of its stores around the US.

This, coupled with its Australian market, means the magazine is now a global title – all sparked from a message on Instagram.

“It’s a great business tool,” she says.

Kenyon says in terms of profits, the Together Journal’s sales and print numbers have been steadily increasing.

“Together Journal has grown by advertising and magazine sales alone, no owner funds or venture capital has been introduced. The business is in healthy shape and we are investing in new markets,” she says.  

This is only the beginning, Kenyon says. There are plans to expand into more countries, as well as a complementary publication in the works – all this in an industry that is considered to be on the decline.

She says the biggest lesson she’s learnt along the way is that if you are serious about being a successful start-up, you, the founder and owner, have to make it happen.

“You can have many talented people helping and being a part of it, which we do have and I am so grateful for – I could not do it without them. But at the end of the day, you have to rise to the challenge,” she says.

“It’s up to you to make the big sales and close the distribution deals, to meet the deadlines, to motivate staff, to keep the clients happy, to fix the problems, to negotiate the contracts, to handle the stress late at night and to keep it all together.

“It’s a huge challenge, it’s tough, it’s scary at times, but it’s also incredibly exciting and rewarding.”

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