Tuesday, August 30, 2005


"Think about the conversations we have with our women friends: what do we talk about? We may not call it 'psychology' but that's what it is." Thus launch editor Maureen Rice on the new title from Hachette Filipacchi UK (Indy media section) Well, I don't have those conversations, of course, but to judge by the typical content of other women's magazines it looks as though there will be more Jimmy Choo than Micky Foucault. Then again I haven't yet seen a copy and, let's face it, if the nearest comparison is Emotional Intelligence in Easy Living then the bar has not been set very high.
And anyway, why is it that only women have 'psychologies'?
The female students on Cardiff's PG Dip magazine course insist, year after year, that there is a need for a new kind of women's magazine, but this, different though it may or may not be, does not look like anything they have created. Take a look at this sports magazine for women, for example.Or even better, this.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ashlea's MA questions: 2

Thanks so much for agreeing to answer a few more questions, your responses thus far have been very valuable to my research! So, it would be great if you could just comment further on a few more questions:

1. Do you think that magazines need to practice distinctive forms of PR because magazines are media? Do you notice that they do or not?

This is an intriguing question which I will start to answer with another question. Do PR or advertising agencies practice distinctive forms of PR because they are media?
The principles of PR apply, surely, to any brand or product. There is a well established, but constantly developing, set of practices which can be applied to more or less anything, and it is my observation that magazines make use of any practice which seems appropriate.
Having said that, there are certain recurring practices which I referred to in my earlier answers. The use of surveys or polls is one frequent practice, with the results being syndicated to or picked up by other media. It is also sometimes the case that a magazine will syndicate an interview with a particularly hard-to-get celebrity or other figure of public interest.
A magazine's editor should understand what makes a good story for other media and may be able to direct PR staff to fruitful possibilities.

2. Do you think that it is an important part of an editor's job to get their title talked about in other media? How do they liase with PR people to this end?

I think that any editor who paid more attention to getting PR than to directing their magazine would soon be out of a job. I honestly believe that PR opportunities must arise out of the magazine's normal remit.
Take, for example, Mark Ellen's regular slot on Mark Radcliff's Radio Two night-time show. Mark Ellen is the editor of Word, and he appears on the show as each issue appears on the news stands. This is fabulous PR but it only works because there is a large overlap between the demographic and interests of the radio show and the magazine; it also works because Mark Ellen has a deep and broad background in music journalism and because he comes over very well on air. His blatant plugging takes the form of a rambling conversation about music, musicians and the vagaries of show business.
I doubt very much there was a PR person involved at any stage here.

3. Do you think that a desire for PR coverage affects what kind of stories are written/the editorial content in magazines?

Again, I believe that a magazine will only be successful if it focuses on its readers' hopes, fears, aspirations and needs. A magazine does not succeed by PR, it succeeds by attracting and retaining a particular readership which advertisers will pay to reach. If the magazine starts to focus on stories which will make good PR it will lose its way and the readers will not stay with it.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for newspapers to steal material from magazines (and other media) with no acknowledgement at all. One example: several months ago the Observer Music Monthly ran a small piece about Bruce Forsythe's taste in music. Somewhat surprisingly he praised the bass player of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for his musicianship. The following day (a Monday) either the Mirror or the Sun (I forget which) ran a page two story, headed as an exclusive, about Bruce Forsythe being a fan of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist. No acknowledgement of the original source. In one sense this was excellent PR (the OMM got something which the Sun thought worthy of an "exclusive" story early in the paper) but as there was no public acknowledgement it was not really PR at all. This goes on all the time.

4. How does doing PR for a magazine affect the stories its journalists write? Are stories written with the express purpose of generating media coverage for magazines? (Yes, I know that questions 3 and 4 are quite similar - please feel free to answer them both as one question!)

The answer above probably does cover this but I think it is worth stating very clearly that a magazine MUST concentrate on serving its readership, and if any PR-worthy material comes out of that all well and good. Any other approach is likely to lead to a loss of focus and readers pick up on this very quickly.
However, I am not privy to every business meeting in every magazine and I imagine that there are occasions when a PR person will succeed in exerting a degree of influence over some decisions made by an editor. If the result succeeds as an appropriate piece for the readers, fine; if not, see above.

5. When I asked: How do journalistic ethics affect questions 4 and 5?
You responded: If the decisions are being taken by business managers, in what ways do you see this impacting on journalists? I am perfectly willing to give you a more detailed answer to this question but I need to know more about why you are asking it.

So, basically, I am wondering if as a journalist, is there some sort of ethic that would dictate that you shouldn't write a story just to get PR for your magazine, or to bad-mouth a competitor or to help a magazine that is from your parent company if the story itself is purely there for that purpose. Is the journalistic responsibility to the readers or the business side of the magazine? (I hope that this clarifies the question a bit!)

There are two answers I can give you here.

As a journalist I would be very unhappy about being expected to write stories which simply generated PR or promoted another title. I suppose it is a form of ethic but I would expect to be writing "real" stories for the readers. If I was asked to or expected to do this as a matter of course I would look for another job. There is no journalistic satisfaction in this kind of work and if I wanted to work as a PR I could probably earn more money.

As a journalism educator I make it very clear to my students that they MUST write for the reader. Again, I suppose you could call this inculcating a set of ethics about their behaviour as journalists. But it is also good business practice for the reasons I have tried to make clear above. Magazines stand or fall by their ability to attract and retain readers, and this they do by their whole editorial approach. PR activities may have an effect at the margins but the core has always been and must always be the editorial offering.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sun + House = Front-age

So, after building up a 15% share stake, ( MediaGuardian ; PressGazette ) Kelvin MacKenzie seems to be getting further involved with magazine publishers Highbury House TelegraphOnline . Apart from making some virtual money on the transaction – the price jumped after his stakeholding was announced, leaving him with a tidy profit – the question has to be ... why?
Some commentators think that he wants to turn his hand to a new challenge, others that he will try to force HH to sell him Front, the ladmag, so that he can pursue Nuts and Zoo to an (apparent) fortune. The latest theory seems to involve a convoluted business ploy which will allow him to take charge. ( Guardian )

So one answer might be "money". But Highbury House is not a well company. It has sold off its best titles to Future Publishing and it is about to downsize to Bournemouth – home of Paragon Publishing which it swallowed earlier. Since he is not buying into a thriving concern, what are the options for improvement? In essence, there are three ways to make money from a publishing house
o improve income;
o cut costs;
o raise the share price and sell out.

Improve Income
This means selling more copies and/or getting more paid advertising. In either case there must be a product which people want to read/buy and the more of them there are, or the better targeted they are, the more advertisers will want to advertise. As noted above, Highbury has already sold its best performers but there is one magazine left which other pundits have focused on – Front.
Front was launched as a junior Loaded (ie it was meant to be aimed at a younger readership) but it quickly became a full-on ladmag. However, it has never been a star performer, despite getting a television documentary to itself early in its life. In the latest ABCs ( ABC.org.uk ) it lies 7th in its market sector, behind FHM, Nuts, Zoo, Loaded, Men's Health, Maxim and GQ. Seventh is not bad, ahead of titles like Stuff, Esquire and Arena, but with an audited circulation of 88,154 it would have a hard time catching GQ (125,050), never mind FHM (560,167).
If the idea is to build the brand, it will take a long time and a lot of hard work. If the idea is to take it weekly (jumping on the Nuts and Zoo bandwagon), then it will take very deep pockets - each of those titles launched with an £8million budget. And quite frankly anyone who wanted to use that much money on a languishing brand like Front clearly deserves to lose it all.
Given Mr MacKenzie's track record, perhaps the idea is to launch a stable of dull, blokey magazines. This would be another difficult and expensive project given how crowded the market is already. Is Richard Desmond a mentor?

Cut Costs
Several former students of mine work at Highbury and I do not get the impression that it is a place which lashes out money left, right and centre. Are the directors rewarding themselves over generously? I don't know but I very much doubt that there is much to reward themselves with. There are always costs which can be cut but after a certain point the result becomes self-defeating as the best staff leave or are driven away. And if cuts drive down the quality of production so much that it begins to show in comparison with the opposition then that is also self-defeating.

Raise the share price and sell out
It is thought that Mr MacKenzie will act in concert with a venture capital firm. One of the few things I know about venture capitalists is that they are not in it for the long haul. Plus, the briefest brush with accountants shows there are many different ways of presenting figures to make them look better or worse.
The quickest way to "expand" a company is to buy up smaller or weaker companies – which is exactly what Highbury House did (and what Nexus Media did before becoming the backbone of Highbury, and what whoever sold Emap its massive kennel of pups in the USA did). It is possible that KM and associates will use the shell of Highbury to try this again.
Doubtless there are many other mysterious ways to add value to shares, and since the price/value is largely based on the confidence of investors the whole things becomes pretty subjective. This is an area for business bloggers to watch.

Newspapers, Radio and Magazines
There's no doubt that when he was editor of the Sun, MacKenzie hit the tabloid zeitgeist perfectly. But times have changed, he's no longer there and what has he done since? His foray into small scale tv was amusing, but hardly successful. His radio venture started well and TalkSport certainly developed a style of its own (downmarket, pretty dull despite its pseudo shock-jocks) but it was not quite successful enough to keep him in the job as boss of the Wireless Group. So Kelvin MacKenzie is looking for something to do, a large amount of cash jingling in his pockets.
Why not magazines? He knew nothing about tv or radio before venturing into those territories and I dare say that like many "print" (ie newspaper) journalists, he thinks that magazines are a piece of piss. I just hope he has talked to Eve Pollard, the last big name "print" journalist to try this path to publishing riches. She launched Aura, a magazine for older women, amid a buzz of self-hype and fatuous statements about massive gaps in the market and untapped advertising. It soon folded and none of her other ideas reached paper.
The thing is that most newspaper journalists have completely the wrong idea about magazines. They look at the lead times, at the publishing schedules, and decide that with all their 24-hour hyped up scoop-a-rama experience they can fill those pages in no time.
I was quite surprised recently to be told by a newspaper journalist (and quite a thoughtful one) that his new big idea was to think of the reader first . This was before Rupert Murdoch gave his latest internet-revelation speech and asked if papers were offering stories which people wanted to read, so he thought it was original.
The reason for my surprise was that as a magazine journalist I have been putting the reader first all my working life. Magazines are predicated on that; they owe their very existence to that. And on top of that, they need to have scoops, top stories and access to information which other titles don't have – but only as long as it is what the reader wants, or needs, to read.
TalkSport seemed to be trying to access the listener with its incessant phone ins, but the trouble with that was only dullards seemed to bother to call. There is a difference between running an asylum in a lunatic-centred way and letting the lunatics run the place.
There are still some very good magazine people at Highbury House (Sally O'Sullivan comes to mind) and if Kelvin MacKenzie is really going to get involved he would do well to seek them out and listen to them carefully – before carrying on in his own inimitable way.
Doubtless it will give us all a good laugh as he blusters his bad-tempered way to whatever outcome awaits. He is already said to be "furious" with the Highbury Board and we can only wait with bated breath for more Kelvinisms to make their way into the prints.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


A random example of how useful blogging is – I discovered this link as a result of registering for and customising my.yahoo.

Nothing earth-shattering but a good reinforcement and some tidy tips:

Dan Gillmor's interviewing tips

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ashlea Reece is doing a Masters at the University of Westminster. She sent me some interesting questions about magazines and their PR. These are my answers:

I was intrigued to get your request, not least because I think I have detected a disctinct whiff of anti-magazineism coming from the University of Westminster over the last year or so. But perhaps that's my imagination.

Anyway, you raise some interesting questions.

1. Do you think that magazines are getting the most out of the PR that they currently do? What and how do you think they could improve?
If you mean PR in its broadest sense, my answer is that the best magazines get the most out of it and the worst the least. That sounds self-evident, but magazines which are really switched on to their community-like functions explore a huge range of PR options. These include syndicating stories to other media (especially national newspapers); generating media interest by using polls or surveys and feeding the information to other outlets; organising, sponsoring and attending events at which their readers will be present; using their websites to capture interest; forming, maintaining and monitoring digital feedback sites and reader forums, and possibly using data captured from these for viral-type marketing. Then there are the stunts which some magazines pull, for example some years back one of the lad mags projected a picture of Gail Porter's naked backside onto the House of Commons.
To go back to the self-evident part, PR-savvy magazines are not necessarily those with the biggest circulations or deepest pockets. A small magazine can use many of these channels just as effectively as a big one.

2. As a journalist, do you think that it is necessary for journalists and/or editors to become experts in the field of the publications they write for?
Yes, to varying degrees. Magazines work by catering for very specialised readerships and the journalists who work for a magazine must have a clear understanding of that readership's hopes, fears, needs and wants. This is somewhat less true of production journalists but a subeditor with a good knowledge of the subject area is more likely to pick up errors and thus safeguard the title's authenticity and authority.
Journalists who try to bluff a specialist readership soon get caught out.

Is being seen as an expert in the field of the magazine and getting media coverage as such now a skill requirement for being a magazine journalist/editor?
I am not entirely sure what you mean here. Journalists and editors must be accepted as experts by the magazine's readers, or the title will lose authority and authenticity. This applies as much to fishing or motorcycling magazines as it does to style or fashion mags. Getting media coverage is less of a necessity but you do not have to dig very far to find regular and repeated instances of magazine journalists or editors being called on for expert commentary or background by other media. For example, the editors of railway magazines are much in evidence when there are rail problems; the editor of, say, Jane's Defence Weekly may appear on TV or radio to support defence or security stories, and so on.
Clearly this is good for the magazine's kudos and publicity but I do not think it is a requirement, as such.

3. How has the recent proliferation, market fragmentation and increased popularity of magazines affected the way that they do business?
The magazine market has been fragmented for over 100 years. If you look at Muddiman (Muddiman, JG (1920); Tercentenary Handlist of English and Welsh Newspapers, Magazines and Reviews; London: The Times) the sheer multiplicity of magazines is astonishing - but this is one of the key characteristics of the magazine as a media form; it adapts very rapidly to changing social, cultural, technological and economic conditions.
I am not sure that there has been any great change in the way of doing business but there may be more known about it now, and there may be more of a general appetite for stories about business and the media. There have been refinements in the way that magazines are ordered, stocked and distributed and there are ways of securing shelf space which may not have existed 25 years ago but I don't see many underlying changes. Do you?
Magazines still rely on finding a readership and selling that readership's interest and purchasing power to advertisers.
I have seen suggestions that some magazines now use product placement techniques to raise revenue but I have not yet found the research or evidence to support those claims (which is not to say it doesn't happen). That might signal a change in the relationship between magazine and reader, but readers/consumers aren't stupid. They know about product placement in films and on tv shows and they will be able to see what is going on.

4. How has competition between titles changed? Do you think that magazines engage in negative PR against their competitors?
Magazines have always engaged in negative PR, not all of it in public view. For example, I worked for EMAP for a time then left to start my own magazine. I know for a fact that there were people set to work on trying to persuade the businesses which advertised in my magazine that they were wasting their money. I am sure that this still goes on everywhere and it's just part of being in business; everyone is looking for an advantage.

If you mean the kind of childish stunts which Greg Gutfield (editor of Maxim) tries to pull, or his apparent feud with Dylan Jones (GQ), then I don't think this has any effect on the wider public, or even the readers of the magazines, at all.

5. As major publishing houses own many titles and different types of media, do you think that there is favouritism or reciprocity at work in terms of media coverage given to titles owned by the same parent company?
Of course. Success will be rewarded and failure will not be. This is another normal aspect of being in business. If someone comes up with a convincing plan to make a less successful magazine more successful, or to make it successful again, then it may be favoured with more resources. But if you were the boss of IPC would you be favouring Nuts or Loaded at the moment?

You must also consider the "fortress" aspect. A publisher may own several titles in the same field to raise the cost for any competitors trying to enter that market by covering all the angles. It is likely that there will be one major title (the most profitable) and the others are there to protect it.

How do journalistic ethics affect questions 4 and 5?
If the decisions are being taken by business managers, in way ways do you see this impacting on journalists? I am perfectly willing to give you a more detailed answer to this question but I need to know more about why you are asking it.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Then there is the question of authenticity. This term sparks reams of debate in other academic areas, such as music studies (eg Keith Negus, Simon Frith), and it has an obvious relevance to journalism and the media. I need to investigate whether there is a general theory of authenticity which underlies everything, but in this context there are some primary questions which come to mind.
• What does authenticity mean in journalism?
• What constitutes authenticity for journalists/producers?
• Is this the same for audiences/receivers or are there other considerations?
• How is it assessed by either party?
• How is is connoted within media texts?

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