On the 20th of October we were joined by two seasoned publishing professionals — to examine modern opportunities for brands in print.
As you’re currently demonstrating, we spend increasing chunks of our day finding things out on screen. Whether it's via websites, applications or inboxes, screen-based media do a great job of giving us what we're looking for quickly — and a working day without such resources seems unimaginable.
At our latest Member event we took the time to explore the richer, slower and altogether more sensorial ways that organisations are engaging with audiences in print. We were joined in the YCN Library by two complementary speakers, generously sharing their past and present relationships with print. First to speak was Jeremy Leslie — an authority on magazines and publishing, and himself the publisher of popular website and events platform MagCulture. Jeremy has designed, art directed and consulted on a plethora of print projects — from re-launches at scale to independent efforts. He most recently launched Fiera magazine with Katie Treggiden, with a second issue currently available on newsstands. Jeremy was joined by Seb Emina, editor of The Happy Reader, a new publication for Penguin that serves the dual purpose of promoting the company’s classic titles, whilst also building a devoted readership at the newsstand. Produced in partnership with the team behind Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman, The Happy Reader (now on its third issue) has built a loyal following drawn to its smart editorial, beautiful typography and lovingly commissioned photography and illustration.
With an audience hailing from influential publications such as The Gentlewoman, Ride Journal, WIRED and the Guardian, YCN's Head of Insights Sheena Patel set out to uncover how brands are smartly building print into their plans, how they’re combining print and digital communications — and playing to the strengths of both.
Things we learned:
1. No agenda
When brands produce printed matter, their goal in part is to advertise their products or services. Interestingly, it's when the focus is on the creation of excellent content, a delicate balance between the creative direction and the brand objectives, that branded publications really cause a stir. Jeremy named Benetton's iconic Colors, and more recently One Fine Stay's Guestbook magazine, as prime examples of brands attaining a readership based on carefully curated content for their customers, accompanied by beautiful illustration, photography and editorial design. Although both publications include gentle product placement, neither make it their primary objective — and have flourished because of it. Jeremy gave us an insight into a project he directed for Virgin Atlantic, their upperclass in-flight magazine Carlos – ironically named after the famous plane hijacker — which was sadly axed due to the tragedy of 9/11. Carlos took its inspiration from the simple fanzine and was purely illustrated, with its first issues printed in just one colour. This innovative approach gave Virgin Atlantic unprecedented kudos and press coverage, and signalled a new era of customer communication.
2. Be upfront
People are smart, and not easily fooled by sneaky product placement. Native advertising works best when presented in an honest, open and credible way. Naming Rapha's newly launched Mondial magazine as a prime example, Jeremy highlighted how aspirational design and photography can be applied across both editorial and product advertising — working together to communicate a holistic brand experience. "People want brand messages," Jeremy said, "or, at least, they expect them. Take a magazine like Vogue — advertising is part of what it is."
3. Build a connection
The Happy Reader is a quarterly publication led by subscription (£8 for the year) which dictates its smaller size, although it's also available on the newsstand. Choosing one of Penguin's classic literary works as a starting point for each issue, editor Seb Emina and his team curate relevant and contemporary content "almost as if a book were to come and edit a magazine." Each issue includes one long-form interview (approximately 7,000-8,000 words) exploring the reading habits of someone from a non-literary background — the latest issue features Alan Cumming. This, along with the wide variety of subject matter covered, ensures the publication is accessible and interesting to people of all professions and preferences. The writing is smart, not cerebral, as the audience is not expected to have a degree in English Literature to enjoy their read. All in all, a clever and subtle way to gently introduce Penguin titles to new readers, and in turn, new customers.
4. Distance yourself
To achieve this subtle communication, it is important for the content to have a certain distance from the product or brand. As with several of the aforementioned magazines, content in The Happy Reader has only a loose connection with Penguin and its products. Although publications such as this will often come out of a brand's marketing budget, Seb is careful not to let brand objectives get in the way of his efforts to create a good read. The writers and editors seek out sideline stories to investigate, teetering on the edge of the original subject matter. There is a seasonality in the content too, and Seb ensures a unified atmosphere for each issue.
5. Quality is imperative
It's not just content of The Happy Reader that has been so carefully considered, it's the look and feel too, from size and length to paper and ink. Five years ago, Jeremy pointed out, it's unlikely that a magazine editor would have gone to the effort to talk about their choice of paper stock for a new publication. But today, there are few who leave these details out. It seems that in a digital age where so much content is available online, the role of the print publication has evolved. While five years ago everyone was clamouring to launch a new website, the independent magazine is now seeing a resurgence. And this time, tactility is more important than ever.
We would like to thank Seb Emina and Jeremy Leslie for joining us, and to Sam Bush for taking photographs.
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:20th October, 2015 at 6:30pm
End:20th October, 2015 at 8:00pm