Using language to build media business

Simon will be part of a FIPP World Congress panel discussion on the use of language to engage media audiences. The Congress takes place from 13-15 October 2015 in Toronto, Canada. He will be one of more than 60 international speakers at the Congress. Some 700-800 executives from around the world are expected to attend (register here to join them, if you haven’t yet).

• See the provisional programme here

• See more speakers here

Over the years Studio Classroom has taught hundreds of thousands of people in Chinese Taipei and Mainland China to speak English, enabling new worlds to open for them. Here he share their incredible journey with FIPP’s Cobus Heyl, including why Studio Classroom still has a place in the world despite the Internet opening up access to more English-based content anyone can ever dream to consume.

Studio Classroom ()

Above: screengrab

Please tell us a little about yourself?

I was trained in drama directing and production, and I taught those subjects at the universities. So when I’m doing my job, I feel like I’m on the performance stage. Since I’m used to organizing productions, I know how to choose the right people and put them in the right positions. 

Studio Classroom (SC) has a great founder in Doris Brougham, who is a legend and a very creative chief editor. I work with her and her staff, and we are a great team. We do our best to use the more interesting way to reach out to the right audience for our media.  

I’ve now been with SC for more than 40 years, and watched the staff grow from 30 to 300; and the magazines circulation from 20,000 to 600,000 copies a month. Of course, today SC is not just one magazine but three, and we also have radio, TV, web, apps, social media and so on…

Tell us more about the phenomenon that is Studio Classroom? 

In the 1960s, our founder Doris Brougham saw the need among people to learn English in Chinese Taipei. The society was changing from a rural, agricultural one to a modern, technological one, and people were studying abroad and doing international business.  

She initially used the radio to share information from leading English magazines. She invited people to come to the studio and ask questions, so it really was an “On-Air” classroom.  

Then people kept on asking if they could have printouts of the material and so we started publishing Studio Classroom magazine. It was just a few black and white pages at first.  

But it has grown into three, full color magazines: Let’s Talk in English, Studio Classroom and Advanced. Each section in the magazines has an accompanying radio programme. Let’s Talk in English and Studio Classroom also have TV programmes. In addition to radio and TV, as mentioned earlier we also have websites, apps, social media, as well as e-magazines, CDs and MP3 products. 

The Studio Classroom family of magazines and other products and services are greatly respected in here, and you can ask almost anyone from around here about it. They will be familiar with it, and likely have read the magazine and other content, have listened to the programmes and so on. 

You will be part of a panel discussing the role of language in building a media business. Studio Classroom is of course an example of not only the language in which you engage with your audience, but actually a whole business built on with language at its heart. What are your thoughts on the role of language in building a media business?

The major reason our readers read and listen to SC is learning English. Even today, there is a great need for English language teaching. We want to do it in ways that really help people. So we have done our best to make our magazines a “window on the world” to show people what is beyond their local experiences and to broaden their minds. People learn lots of new ideas, get information and other insights about what are happening right now in the world through our channels.

On a consumer psychological level, how does the language in which you communicate impact on the relationships you are able to develop with your consumers?

All of our readers and listeners are avid English learners. They come to us to hear quality English that they can use in any situation. The “perception” of the language we use is key. We want our audience to be confident that anything they learn from Studio Classroom can be easily used in many situations. We also reach out to our consumers in ways other than print and other channels. We visit schools and reach out to students about 100 times every year. Teams of teachers and performers travel to about seven cities each year to perform big rallies for Christmas. And of course we also communicate with millions of our fans with our Facebook, LINE and WeChat channels on a daily basis. The first language of our audience is Chinese, but all of them want to learn English and appreciate the quality of language we provide for them. 

How have things changed for Studio Classroom with the arrival of the Internet, and the opening up of an increasingly “border-less” media world?

When social media arrived at SC, we joined Facebook, LINE and WeChat and so on to connect with our fans in ways we couldn’t before. Another development was when our magazines got publishing permission from Mainland China, which also gave us the opportunity to work with MI Box and Alibaba Tmall Magic Box for TV content. In addition, we were also able to get our big teaching database “Web-English” into university libraries here and Mainland China. 

Overall, SC has always been a friendly environment for English study using all media, which of now course extends to mobile (including apps), video and social media. It has definitely helped our exposure and building of the brand overall. [But there are challenges too] People want to get free content and services. That’s why we still need to build a more mature business model and that could benefit everyone and bring in enough revenue to make it sustainable for all as well. 

How about your printed magazines – do they still work for you, and have you noticed big differences in how people aged say above 30 years old and those aged below 30 years old engage with them?

80 per cent of our income still comes from printed magazines. However, we must admit that in these past 10 years our circulation has dropped to a degree and this can be attributed to things like free content available online, via social and so on. 

Those 40+ years age group is still familiar with printed magazines, but younger consumers in the 20-40 year age group are definitely influenced by new media. Those under 20 in schools are like the B2B market. They follow teachers’ orders!

We continue to work on expanding our audience and getting our material into new channels to keep our audience. Our m-magazines, and e-magazines, have helped in this regard. 

So although it is true that print media has suffered a little since the advent of the Internet, [founder] Doris Brougham has always had a vision to change with the times and use whatever media becomes popular to continue to meet the needs of our audience.

Within this global environment, where a company in say the US can reach consumers in say Taipei, using English, how do you ensure that you remain relevant, and how important is understanding the local contexts, nuances and preferences in this?

Our readers can indeed access an almost unlimited supply of English language material on the Internet. But that volume is overwhelming.  

Also, as you know, just because you read it on the Internet doesn’t make it true. We continue to provide trusted content to our readers, and they know that. We are a “safe” place to learn. 

We try to be a window on the world for our readers, and introduce them to topics, new discoveries and inventions, interesting and influential people and events around the world. They need to be aware of what’s happening outside their immediate sphere. We help with that.

And of course we also know that people like to be able to talk about their daily lives and things that are familiar to them in English. So we strive to provide them with local topics as well, to meet that need. Like other media, we listen to our audience and solicit feedback from them to be sure that we are meeting their needs.  

Apart from participating as a speaker at the FIPP World Congress in Toronto, what else are you hoping to get out of the Congress otherwise?

I hope to meet more outstanding publishers from around the world so we can share ideas and experiences and could learn from one other. Networking is vitally important in our industry. 

What are the 3 things that excite you most about the future of media?

No matter what the future of media holds, we will be growing and developing and changing with the times. SC has a strong team with strong passion and a clear mission to serve the needs of our audience.  

We’re a group of people with educational hearts and creative minds that will keep us going for another 50 years. And yes, we will be watching closely what the next new technology will be and how we can use in our business!

The FIPP World Congress takes place from 13-15 October 2015 in Toronto, Canada.

  • If you haven’t yet, register here to join us in Toronto
  • See the provisional programme here
  • See more speakers here

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