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One company’s ‘blueprint’ for magazine media to thrive

Immediate-Francois-Regis2 ()

Yes, magazine media companies can thrive at a time dominated by large platforms sucking some 70 - 80 per cent of digital advertising spend out of the ecosystem leaving countless others scrapping it out over the rest.

It boils down to strength of connections allowing brands to monetise across an increased number of touch points, leaving it less exposed to the uncertainties of an ad market stacked against the original, quality producers of content. 

In order to achieve this, they need to do a few things well, including:

1. Building strong vertical (special interest) brands with a ruthless focus on building relationships of trust with consumers around prime interests 

2. Providing consumers with opportunities to connect around, express and revel in their passions

3. An understanding that “magazine media” does not only mean developing media content brands, but also the platforms that support the monetisation of said brands

A case in point is the UK’s Immediate Media, a magazine media company only launched in 2011 when the digital disruption of media was already well, well underway.

Immediate media multi-platform ()

Within the space of 6 years, the firm, describing itself as “a special interest content and platform company”, established its credentials sufficiently to be acquired by Germany-headquartered Hubert Burda Media – itself a “media and technology operation”, but with legacy stretching back more than 100 years – for an undisclosed sum.

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Part of Immediate’s appeal lies in the company’s ruthless ability to engage and deliver to special interest audiences, maximising the chain of value opportunities each and ever consumer presents. In a world where monthly audiences are often measured in the hundreds of millions, if not billion plus, Immediate Media shows what can be achieved with an audience of 19 million on the basis of the strength of connections between audience and brand and among the audience itself. 

The bottom line for magazine media with this in mind: Quantity of relationships does not trump quality of relationships in each and every instance, provided you are smart in how you go about developing your model. In the case of Immediate, it is built on three pillars (we mention a fourth, crucial one below):

1. Special interest content

2. Special interest platforms

3. Technology infrastructure in support of the above

To achieve the above, Immediate set about building the business through a combination of organic development supported by smart acquisitions aimed at exploiting opportunities brought about special interest brands’ ability to connect at a deeply emotional level.

In doing so, it enables the business to monetise across a range of consumer touch points, making it less exposed to the vagaries of the advertising market. FIPP asked Immediate Media Co’s Francois-Regis Coumau (pictured above), group managing director of consumer revenues, three questions about the group’s thinking around monetisation “direct from consumer” (rather than, or more specifically, on top of advertising). These were:

1. What are the key “direct from consumer” monetisation opportunities for you?

2. How do you go about developing these?

3. How do you move people through the purchase funnel, from awareness through to purchase and repeat transacting?

Special interest content; special interest platforms

To the first question, Francois-Regis said the group hopes “to capture the strategic opportunity from our customers” through the definition of being a special interest content and platform company. Thinking with ruthless focus in these terms, it appears to allow the company to consider media not as “legacy versus new”, but with 100 per cent focus on the consumer first, then building the opportunity from there.

According to Francois-Regis, Immediate Media’s “print business continues to thrive – we’re actually growing retail sales value and have launch over 25 magazines in the last five years. That’s because we play in special interest sectors where we absolutely understand the passions of our audiences. 

“From TV and entertainment to food, weddings, crafting to parenting, gardening to cycling, we have created brands which are powered by world-class content creators and trusted implicitly by our super-engaged audiences – who add up: in total we reach over 19 million UK consumers each month.”

The above, then, is the special interest content component.

“The platform element of the strategic mission is all about utilising our consumer engagement and our deep insights into those special interest economies to offer new products and services. 

“That trust which is so important between our brands and their audiences means our customers give us permission to develop new ways to meet – and hopefully exceed – their expectations. That could be through partnership transaction models, digital marketplaces or direct e-commerce through our TV shopping channels JewelleryMaker and The Sewing Quarter.”

Immediate-studio image ()

Owning ‘retail moments’

“Our platform strategy means that we have been absolutely focused on optimising our customer database of over nine million UK consumers while at the same time developing a technology infrastructure which means we can move with agility to exploit new business model opportunities,” said Francois-Regis, responding to the second question. 

“A good example is our TV shopping brand, JewelleryMaker. Immediate was already the number one publisher of craft magazines, with a strong and growing digital footprint. So we already had a dialogue with millions of active crafters, entertaining, educating and inspiring them. Which is what magazines do so well. But we were too far away from the retail moment in the sector, which in the UK is worth over £3bn annually. 

“The strategic acquisition of JewelleryMaker gave us not only a great brand and a great business model, but it also gave us two new platforms: TV shopping and e-commerce. 

“Very quickly we ensured that the technology set was absorbed into our overall technology infrastructure and we started to apply the platform opportunity elsewhere – and obviously given our cross-marketing capabilities our first new TV shopping and e-commerce launch was in the craft sector. The Sewing Quarter launched in January and is already gaining real traction. And with models like TV shopping and e-commerce we’re able to own the retail moment that we have inspired through our fantastic content.”

‘Laser targeting’ to move consumers through the funnel

In answer to the third question, Francois-Regis refers to Immediate’s “super-engaged” consumers (again), the ability of magazine media brands to develop relationships of trust and the willingness of loyal consumers to share insights (i.e. data) with their brands.

“Our super-engaged consumers tell us a lot about themselves – they trust us. And that means that we can tailor services to their needs. That could be through introducing them to relevant suppliers through digital marketplaces like hitched – the UK’s premier digital wedding brand reaching over one million brides and brides-to-be. 

“Or it could be via transactional models like Your RT, the hugely popular section of Radio Times which offers our readers holidays, books and financial services products via trusted partners.

“A very focused data strategy means we’re able to laser target communities of interest with the right offer at the right time, and that’s driving real growth in our direct-from-consumer revenues.”

Immediate-JewelleryMaker ()

In addition to the above – the 4th pillar

Over the years, Tom Bureau, CEO of Immediate Media, has several times highlighted the importance of culture, talent and management of change as a crucial pillar – perhaps the most critical – for success. Below is an excerpt from what he told FIPP ahead of speaking at the 40th FIPP World Congress in 2015, about building the company. He explained that Immediate thinks about culture, talent and change in two ways. 

“The first way is to acquire the skillsets, particularly from a senior leadership perspective, that we lack – and there are lots of examples of us bringing talent into the business that we historically probably wouldn’t have. For instance our most recent hires [in 2015] to the leadership team from Tesco (CIO Toby Hoon) and eBay (Francois-Regis Coumau, quoted above).

“Secondly, we are very focused on developing the talent we already have in the organisation and thinking about how we move people into new roles. You have to get the right balance, and you have to be careful you don’t break the machine by changing too many of the parts at once. But if you don’t change it enough, then you don’t change the central gravity of the business and, while it’s always a work in progress, we are pretty committed to that.”

Immediate’s ‘blueprint’, then, for magazine media, in summary

1. Special interest content

2. Special interest platforms

3. Technology infrastructure

4. Culture, talent and management of change

5. Lazor-sharp customer insight (data); “owning” multiple touch points

Also read:

1. Monetising direct from consumer: Three tech experts share their thoughts

2. Hearst and The New York Times: emphasis on the subscription business

3. HBO chief on factors underlying subscription growth

4. Vindicia whitepaper: Nine essentials for capturing subs and recurring revenues

5. How Hearst UK is developing ‘Events-as-a-Service

6. Cvent: How tech innovation enriches (and will enrich) event experiences

7. Shueisha general manager: Print audience fuels e-commerce model

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