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It's a brave new world – so publishers should experiment

30 Jun 2020  |  Lucie Cave 
It's a brave new world – so publishers should experiment

It’s important that magazines adapt on all sides, writes Bauer Media's Lucie Cave – ensuring content is revised for both its readers and its advertisers

While picking up a copy of your favourite magazine wasn’t quite as tricky as getting your mitts on a packet of loo roll in the first few weeks of lockdown, the publishing industry has certainly had its challenges. Yet, despite it being harder for readers to physically go out and buy magazines, consumption has grown. Why? Because in an increasingly uncertain world, audiences are craving normality. They know they’re going to get what they expect from the brands they’ve got a relationship with.

There’s been a 13% increase in people reading magazines as they spend more time at home, but there are also those who can’t get out to shops – so we’re posting single issues of print to people’s doors and promoting digital versions, demand for which is soaring. In a survey, 70% told us they've read a magazine since lockdown.

Magazines are playing to their core strengths during lockdown providing audiences with connection and information, entertainment and inspiration, companionship and a much-needed escape. The impact of and feelings around coronavirus have been changing day by day, but as publishers we’ve used this as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Get inside your readers’ heads

We’ve been collecting insights from consumers across Bauer ever since lockdown to gauge their changing attitudes and consumption behaviour, and at Grazia we worked with Instagram on a study called ‘Life after Lockdown’ to find out what women were feeling about topics such as mental health, relationships, work, fashion, hobbies and money.

These insights have allowed us to shape our content – for example, as three quarters of women said that they wanted help and advice for anxiety, depression or loneliness caused by lockdown, we published a mental health special fronted by presenter and mental health advocate Fearne Cotton.

The study also found that over a quarter of women are stressed about their personal and family finances, so we partnered with investment company Share Centre to create a bespoke partnership to collaborate and produce helpful and relatable advertorials and branded content that spoke authentically to our female audience, to help empower them when it comes to their own personal finance and investments.

It’s a brave new world – so experiment

Insights have also shaped new features, ideas and offerings. Empire introduced a completely new section called ‘The Comfort Zone’ – a big old joy-fest with interviews with people like Stephen Merchant, Pixar and Freida Pinto about movie moments that make you feel good.

Recent issues have been curated to keep readers hopeful and engaged at a time when big-screen entertainment is temporarily AWOL – we interviewed the world’s most successful director James Cameron, reunited director Sofia Coppola and star Kirsten Dunst on Zoom, and Tom Hanks even took the time to write a six-page feature for us.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the puzzles sector has been the most successful since lockdown, outperforming all other magazine genres. We therefore launched a “Bumper Kids Activity Book”, a brand-new puzzle title for children, to help (in small way, at least!) with home schooling and keep the kids entertained.

Safely get back out there

Shooting glossy content is another thing we’ve had to rethink, especially with the physical barriers Covid-19 has presented. Magazine cover shoots have multiple people on set, so complying to social distancing is a huge challenge. We’ve learnt that sometimes all you can do is rip up your best laid plans, get creative – and do it fast. That was our approach to our first issue of Grazia made with the team fully working from home.

To celebrate the work of the NHS, we wanted to photograph four medics for the cover. This was done in extraordinary circumstances; in the car parks of hospitals, observing social distancing, all over in a matter of minutes before they went back to their day jobs of saving lives. The resulting four covers were our most engaged with covers across social media ever.

Follow your audience

It’s not just the what, but also the where. It’s never been more important to know where your audiences are – and what they want from you on each of those platforms. With communities galvanising on social media and looking for like-minded people, it’s vital for publishers to get involved.

We launched a series called Get Together with Grazia on IGTV – a schedule of live video content designed to provide a feeling of solidarity, escapism and fun. Over on heat we’ve honed in on nostalgia, producing hugely engaging celebrity quizzes like the All Stars Big Brother Quiz and the Love Island All Stars Quiz to feed the need for culturally relevant content.

Find the right tone

It’s important that magazines adapt on all sides – ensuring content is revised for both its readers and its advertisers. From our research we found that judgements are now being made daily on the behaviour of companies and not just the products and services they provide. For example, 60% of audiences said future loyalty will be driven by brands that treat their staff fairly and show good customer service.

Plus, it’s not just what you say, but the way you say it – 85% of audiences said messaging must not be exploitative. Continued, positive engagement with locked down audiences is important, but getting the tone of those communications right is vital.

We therefore launched a tone consultancy service within our Bauer Adventure team to help advertisers’ and their changing needs, from finessing existing creative to ensure it has the appropriate messaging and tone for lockdown to support for smaller advertisers on ad creative in absence of furloughed staff. Since launching in April we’ve helped some of our clients to launch campaigns across our magazine portfolio to great success.

It’s been a time of huge change and challenges, but the publishing industry has been evolving, learning and adapting. And we know we must be doing something right when we continue to get messages like this.. “Thank you so much for your latest issue, it was such a ray of light in an otherwise quite dark period in our lives. Please never stop Grazia - you are an essential service to us all!”


Lucie Cave is editorial director at Bauer Media

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