Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hitting the Right Note: 2

No wonder The Economist has such a unified tone of voice (see previous entry). There is a policy of promotion from within the publication, ensuring that everyone involved has a highly developed sense of what the title is all about and how it addresses its readership.

More info in Press Gazette

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hitting the Right Note

How do you instill the idea of a magazine's "tone of voice" when the editorial staff has no such concept? This was the question I was chewing over with a very senior magazine publishing boss recently. His problem was to devise training workshops which would get the concept over on a magazine in India where the separate sections were all too separate. The title, a 100% local production, is successful and long established but it is coming under increasing pressure from international titles which have been licensed to local publishers. (See Brands As Content)

Such licensing deals always come with very clear guidelines (or instructions) to ensure that the brand values are retained in every territory, give or take a little tailoring for local sensibilities. It's exactly like a franchise, and as with all franchise operations, the franchisee has to present the corporate face – the "tone of voice" is part and parcel of that and is set up from the start, along with systematic structures to ensure quality control.

But what if the features, news, reviews and fashion departments of a title have entrenched values of their own? How can you get them to come together under a unified approach to writing and presentation?

In the UK tone is often set by the editor, sometimes quite literally so. When Gill Hudson was appointed editor of Eve one of her first actions was to ensure that everyone involved in editorial understood the voice of the magazine. This even extended to a list of forbidden words and phrases.

Some of it is systemic. UK magazines have a strong subediting tradition and this process is crucial to the transmission of a uniform tone, starting with a house style guide to ensure that alternative spellings are coralled, punctuation is either open or closed but not mixed, abbreviations are homogenous and so on.

The most brilliantly unified tone of voice, for my money, was exemplified by Smash Hits in the 1980s. I have no idea whether it reflected the slang and neologisms of its readership or moulded them but there was rarely a false note sounded; the magazine created its own universe and hundreds of thousands of young people wanted to be part of it. At the other end of the scale, The Economist does an exceptionally good job of presenting a highly uniform facade, aided in no small measure by the tradition of un-bylined contributions.

On a practical level, a consistent tone of voice might be assisted by the following exercises:

• Five Words Which Describe Our Magazine

Workshop/brainstorm this with all staff

• Five Words Which Will NEVER Appear in Our Magazine

Workshop/brainstorm this with all staff

Once the positive and negative summaries have been agreed on:

• One section subs or critiques another section's work. This must be carefully managed to avoid the giving and taking of umbrage.
This exercise could be extended so that each section critiques all other section's work.


Agree and then implement a subediting/production system which prevents people from subbing their own work.
Training for above (even a couple of workshops would be a start, along with a recommended textbook, hem, hem).
Institute a post-issue post mortem, to be called and run by the editor, with a very clear remit to increase consistency.

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Two Plus Two Makes Lots

One the one hand we have Conde Nast in the States running out of ad spaces (see WWD) and on the other we have Spanish Vogue publishing its biggest heaviest and presumably most ad filled issue ever, according to . Go, as the saying is, figure.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Rupert does "small"

In today's Independent media section Camilla Rhodes gives an ever-so-humble insight into News Magazines Ltd, the new offshoot of News International. The company launched its first mag, love it! , last Tuesday. This addition to the weekly real life sector ticks all the standard boxes for this genre, with some strong as-told-to stories from "ordinary" folk and a sprinkling of celebrity, including Michael Barrymore, Jordan - and Cilla Black figure-heading their problem page. Ignoring the fact that new launch letters and problem pages are always a fix, there can, of course, be no doubt that Cilla reads every single plea for help which arrives and answers them all herself. Just as Kerry Katona would have done had she accepted the gig (see Max Clifford's column in Press Gazette for more details of why she didn't).
Ms Rhodes is very keen to emphasise that this is a lean operation: "We are a very, very small start-up company ... We are low cost publishers ..." Well, up to a point Lord Copper. love it! has an advertising and promotion budget of £8.5 million, according to Media Week, which is not exactly small potatoes even if some of this figure is accounted for by house ads in News International titles.
Plus, the first issue has a nice varnished cover with some tasy flouro, and the main paper stock seems a cut above what you might expect. This is slightly surprising but perhaps there's a reflection of Rhodes's previous magazine incarnation; she helped to launch Elle in the UK.
More launches are promised over the coming weeks, the next linked strongly to the Sunday Times brand (to add to ST Travel then).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


After yesterday's meditation on the possibilities of global branding working its way inward as well as outward, here's another launch into Britain from the Burda corporation of Germany: Living and Gardens.

In a recent issue of Magazine World, Burda was praised as an example of forward thinking. His vision for magazines sees the printed versions diminishing in importance: "Printing will not go away, but I do not plan to open a single new printing plant," Burda said. "We now concentrate on using social software to build closer relations with the communities of readers around our magazines." (Magazine World, Dec 2005, p26)

In another development, Media Week reports that GQ, Time Out, Glamour and OK have signed up with Refresh Media (hmm, is it this one, or this one or a different one altogether?) to produce "mobizines" – versions of the titles for mobile phone platforms. The initiative does not quite seem to match at least one of the criteria for mobile magazines posited by Giles Richter, MD of Mobiwave, "Producing a large volume of ephemeral content on a daily basis", but it's an interesting step. More of Richter's thoughts here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Brands and Content

David Hepworth always comes up with interesting ideas about the magazine industry and his columns in Media Guardian are required reading. Sometimes the crux is the main point of his discussion, as when he proposed independent content production companies for magazines; at other times it lies in a more or less throwaway sentence.

The idea that "the magazine industry of the future [could] be more like the TV production industry of today" (MediaGuardian 23/01/06, p8) has, from a business point of view, certain merits. Outsourcing is recognised as a way of controlling costs and exposure, and provided that the content provided met all the branding requirements, there's no reason why it couldn't work.

In fact, it already works because this is the exact model for magazine brands which have been licensed to overseas territories. The December 2005 issue of Magazine World, house magazine of FIPP (International federation of the Periodical Press), contains a number of features which make this point.

• Last October Geo, the German equivalent of National Geographic published by Gruner + Jahr, launched six international editions simultaneously, in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Turkey, Hungary and Croatia. Content is created in Hamburg and "is the same for all markets, but it is translated and local editors contribute additional information such as data boxes and relevant website addresses." (Magazine World, December 2005, p14)

BBC Magazines launched Good Food magazine in Romania: "A third of the content will originate from Romania" (op cit p10), which means two-thirds won't.

National Geographic launched in Bulgaria: content "will follow closely the editorial content of the English-language original." (ibid)

Decanter, IPC's upmarket booze mag, launched in Taiwan: "The edition consists of around 80 percent translated UK content and 20 percent generated locally by Asian partner ...". (ibid)

These examples, it may be thought, come from lands which have no great magazine industries; the putative readers will, surely, be glad for something - anything - to read. Could it happen here (as opposed to "there")? Of course it could. At the moment big examples of what might be called "inwardly licensed" titles, by which I mean mags like Hello (UK-Spain), Grazia (UK-Italy) and Vanity Fair (UK-USA), are full of UK content. And in two of those cases markedly less successful than the originals.

The UK is acknowledged as a powerhouse of magazine production, and quite rightly so. But don't forget that the UK was also a powerhouse of motorcycle and car production, and if magazines are treated as brands, they are subject to the same consumer whims as brands. There is no reason, in theory, why a successful magazine brand which originates elsewhere should not succeed in the UK. There will probably be plenty of work compiling local fact boxes and websites.

An example of a Hepworth throwaway comes in today's article about the demise of Smash Hits (MediaGuardian 06/01/06, p3). He writes: "This was no longer a pop magazine read by girls. It was a girls' magazine. Then it was a girls' magazine read by girls who liked the groups built for girls. What had begun as a broad church turned into a narrow sect and then became less appealling even to that narrow sect ..."

This raises a massive point, and one which he has discussed before, about the way in which magazine managers like to focus their titles ever more tightly. "Know thy reader" is one of the prime directives of magazine journalism, for good reason. But know thy reader down to the brand of soft drink he or she prefers is, perhaps not such a great idea.

Good editors have a particular kind of reader, or even a particular person, in mind when they make their magazines. James Brown knew exactly who he invented loaded for – someone very like himself. That gave the magazine a very clear focus, just like the content filter that drove FHM, second into the new market, beyond loaded: Funny, Useful, Sexy.

The fact that this reader may, in reality, be somewhat idealised (see Ben Crewe's excellent book Representing Men for loaded personnel's reaction when they actualy met their readers) doesn't matter if the generalisation works. But when you research extensively and narrow the focus excessively you run the risk of being left behind very quickly when fashions or whims change.

Max Power spent a great deal of time in carparks and cruise routes, pinning down precisely what it was the hop-up merchants desired in a magazine. Then gave it back to them, with immediate effect on the circulation figures (154,503 last ABC). Now those figures are heading downward again and my guess is that whatever Max Power is offering is the last generation's thing. Trying to hit a moving target is never easy and Fast Moving Consumer Goods have never moved so fast.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Smash Hits Honoured ...

There must have been a lot of journalists and editors with found memories of Smash Hits to judge by the enormous coverage given to its demise.

Broadsheet coverage included The Times and Daily Telegraph as well as MediaGuardian's continuing obitublog. The Independent hadn't put anything on its website this morning but take a look at this, Rubettes fans.

Surprisingly the tabs didn't seem to go much for the story, with only the Mirror putting anything on its website.

Online it was a major item: BBC Online and the whole kit and caboodle located by Google News.

There was even a double page spread in the Western Mail, though it doesn't appear to have made the website yet. The Scotsman also covered it.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a cliche – this really is the end of an era.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why Cardiff Journalism School is So Good

Take yesterday. In the morning we had a two hour session with Nick Pollard, head of Sky News. In the afternoon we had an hour and a half with Paul Addison from Bloomberg. For anyone with the remotest genuine interest in journalism as it is practised today both of these were pure gold. And if you thought that Bloomberg was just about finance you clearly haven't looked at the extent of of their coverage. Plus they produce the Bloomberg Markets magazine which has the financial understanding of The Economist and a lot more visual interest.

Smash Hits Hits Smash

Truly this is the end of an era. Smash Hits, the print version is no more, whereas brand extensions such as the radio channel will continue. The teen market has changed and the publishing market has changed. How we hardened bikers in the Bike (surely you can do better than this chaps) office used to wait for EMAP's internal mail to deliver each new issue. How excited dear Steve Rapid became when Kate Bush was on the front cover (probably in her vest). How we gasped as the circulation figures (ABC Data/Magazine Data/Consumer Magazines/Teenage - Lifestyle) came in. How Lord Emap rubbed his hands as the revenues (go to Bloomberg for more) came pouring in. God bless all who sailed in her.

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