Interviewer: Esther Kezia Thorpe

Esther: You’ve just launched a campaign called ‘Pay Attention’. Can you tell us about the thinking behind that, who is involved, and what you’re aiming to change?

Sue: In a nutshell, we felt last year we did a piece of work where we asked some of the ad communities and planners and some customers what they thought about magazines, and at the same time we saw a piece of work that Ebiquity and the Radiocentre had done. And it confirmed what we felt that there was a gap between what the evidence said, about how magazines deliver in terms of effectiveness, ROI for brands and clients, and what the perception was amongst some of the planning community clients. And we felt that we needed to, in a more bold and unified way, come together and share what we thought was the core proposition and a really, hopefully simplified answer to, why should magazines be on a modern communications plan. 

So, the Pay Attention work was based on some research that we did with PhD in Bournemouth University, that really supported what was true of printed magazines particularly, even 10 years ago, that we offer this undivided, immersive attention to the advertising. And it reinforced that.

But it gave us new context, because obviously the world’s changed in 10 years, and we all know that know the evidence tells us you know, in terms of the time we’re spending and the way we’re consuming content, there are probably less of those undistracted, undivided attention moments.

So, we thought it was a good time to reassert and tell, in hopefully a compelling way, with some advocates from the client and agency community on our behalf, that story. So, that’s what the work was about in essence and we used our own media, and we used trade press to tell that story, and we thought it was important to use print and also to support it digitally, and we ran a competition in agencies to activate it, and we’re on a long journey, a long term journey to try and change the conversation about the value of what we call, quality attention environments, of which magazines, in print particularly, perform really strongly.

I mean the advertisers are part of the experience, consumers love it. The product is weaker when you take the ads out as far as the consumer’s concerned, and we think we have to tell that story to all the people in the planning, buying, and client community in a much louder and more bold way, because I think it’s it’s time for a reappraisal.

Bournemouth did a whitepaper for us just to give us an appraisal of the current thinking, and then PhD helped us with the new piece of work and a new framework that we thought was a nice way of thinking about attention, to try and then consider the role the various channels of various media plays within it.

And of course, we’re only at phase one of this piece of work. We’re determined that we’re going to on an ongoing basis try and investigate more. At the moment we’ve taken no account of the power of creative within the channels because clearly, we can see from the research that magazines do perform really well, as  cinema does, and news brands to a certain extent. In terms of command and consumer’s attention, we know that cinema and magazines particularly do particularly well when it comes to attention to the advertising, but then of course, an amazing piece of creative can bowl through all of that, and grab our attention and perform really well, and get the consumer to really care and log that brand in their memory.

So, it’s only one stage so far, but we think it’s an important conversation, and I think the broad point about quality attention environments being undervalued, is where we would like to have the conversation ongoing with clients and brands, but this is a launch to say, ‘Look the world’s changing, and something about print, we think particularly, is being undervalued.’ 

And what would you say when you’re talking to some agencies about this, what are some of the misconceptions – well, I think you’d see them as misconceptions – that they have around, perhaps not deciding to put print on media plans?

Yeah I mean I think there’s been a few pieces of work that have told us different things. I think the Ebiquity and Radiocentre work showed that although magazines were third in their table on ROI, I think we were perceived to be bottom or second bottom on that particular metric by planners. So, we’ve clearly not told the story clearly enough about how and why magazines deliver.

Although we have created a wealth of evidence over the last three to five years, and I think we’ve done our own work, but so have all the trade bodies, and the IPA have really stepped things up in terms of effectiveness work too, so  across the board there’s more evidence than ever about how and why various channels perform, together and separately. So, I think there’s tons of evidence, but for some reason that’s that’s not quite resonating.

I think part of the challenge with print, which is why we sort of unashamedly focused on print with this piece of work, is that the narrative has been for a few years that print is in terminal decline, and some of the figures that come out from things like the ABCs, I think have grabbed a lot of headlines. When there’s a closure in the magazine print environment, you get NME, you get a lot of headlines of Glamour, or NME, or a very long standing and well-known brand does close its print channel.

The launches that are happening in magazines don’t grab as many headlines. We don’t see that. And although of course there is definitely changes in growth digitally for magazine brands, and PAMco are sort of gold standard audience currency, shows really well where, for some of the younger audiences that digital growth is coming. 

The reality is, I think perception-wise, people feel that the decline in print is happening faster than it actually is. If you look at the correlation between the decline in circulation and the decline in ad revenue, the gap is wider. So, the ad revenues decline faster than print circulations have.

So, I guess those facts drove us to think that some of the headlines are disproportionately, amongst some parts maybe of the buying and planning community, driving a perception that we don’t hold much value, yet the evidence says the ROI in the work, in the role we play is is still strong. So, it just felt that we needed to unify and come together, and tell that story as one sector. 

Magnetic as an agency is now three years old. What are some of the key things you’ve achieved in that time, and when you were formed, what were you set up to do?

Well, I mean, I think the key brief was, like it is for all of the various marketing agencies, was to ensure that we did have a unified voice, and to ensure that some of the commercial messages that are common to us all, were evidenced and resonated amongst the client and agency community.

Over the three years, the thing we had to do first was to genuinely build more evidence. So, we did spend quite a lot time making sure that the most obvious objection that we could face, there’s not enough proof, there’s not enough evidence, you haven’t invested enough in effectiveness research, we’re not sure what your purpose is anymore… was overcome.

We’ve done a lot of big research projects in collaboration with various agencies. We did a piece of work with MediaCom on trust last year. We did a piece the year before with Carat called Metrics that Matter, that really tried to get under the skin of the way that magazines supported driving brand KPIs. We did a piece of work with the IPA, which nearly all marketing bodies and trade bodies have also done, where we asked Peter [Field] to unpick and isolate from the IPA database what the effect was of the contribution that magazines were making, where we found out that customer acquisition was a huge strength in terms of the contribution we’re making, as was driving top line revenue for brands. But also, we found that we could, right at the other end of the funnel, drive activation as well.

We had to build that body of evidence, and I think that’s take us a couple of years to get to the point where we go, that objection which people used to level at us, of saying there’s not enough evidence, we don’t understand the role you play, we could say well, there’s tons of evidence. And there’s actually tons of evidence from other people about our channel too. ThinkBox did a piece of work last year, which was well recognized as being very helpful in the effectiveness debate, around profitability and the return that those channels offered for brands to profit… And print, which of course was newspapers and magazines, was second only to telly in terms of driving profit in the short term, according to ThinkBox’s work.

So, I think we wanted to get that bit done first, and although the job of proving to individual clients is never done, and obviously we can’t stand still because the world around us changes continuously, and we have to always evidence, and always support anyone who wants us to help them prove, or isolate, or better understand the contribution that we make, and that job’s not finished. I think we felt that we’d built up enough of a body of work to feel more confident about the role we play, which is why it feels like the right time for us to be a little bit more on the front foot with a campaign and a unified message around quality attention.

I think the second part of that campaign, is that we also wanted to remind people about the great value that magazines are. We’ve done some work in the report that we published on our microsite, around average cost per thousand, which is the bits of planning and buying that I guess no one really talks about, particularly publicly. But the reality is that we wanted to remind people that we’re great value, for this amazing quality attention the exchange is a good one.

After three years, make sure every publisher that’s a Magnetic member felt comfortable that that was something they could support, which they do. And get behind sharing it, and evidencing it, and continuously talking about and trying to change the conversation around quality attention and the role that we play.

So what would success look like for this campaign?

Well, I think in the short term, it’s about hopefully just getting some cut through because we’re a 3 percent media. So, there are lots and lots and lots of individual media owners and channels who are out telling their story too, rightly so. So, I think in the short term we’re just pleased that the engagement with the campaign has been pretty high.

But over the medium to long term, we’ve got a job to do to go in and talk to individual planners, and individual agencies, and individual clients, about how we can work with them on them potentially using the channel to greater effect, which we will do over the next six to nine months with the current research we’ve got from PhD, and the second phase which is coming out in June.

It’s a slow burn for us in the sense that we’re quite happy to accept that there’s a number of people we’d like to go and talk to. And ultimately, via the sales teams  and the publishers together, we need to go and knock on a few doors and say, ‘Can we come in and talk to you about this, what do you think’?

I guess the slightly bigger KPI around it is if we can start a debate amongst the industry about how we maybe move away from just thinking about reach, and eyeballs, and scale as being the most important way that we measure the performance and the value of channels. So, it’s really difficult because it’s never going to be one metric that says, quality of attention is X Y and Z. But there is no one single answer to this I don’t think. So, it’s not simple… But I guess, a good KPI for us would be if, what we call quality attention environments, and that debate, was being had a little bit more publicly throughout the industry.

And you said earlier that the big problem around this is that ad spend is dropping in magazine media. Where do you see that going, and where’s the problem with where that’s being funnelled away to?

I don’t think there’s one place. I think print has probably been the channel that has over the last 10 years, revenue wise and spend wise, seen the most decline and I don’t think it’s going to one place. I mean clearly, every individual planner and every individual brief is looking to address a different communication challenge. So, I don’t think there is one answer to that problem. 

But, we also know that an awful lot of revenue has swung into the Duopoly, into the big digital channels. Much of it, I’m sure, very cleverly planned, and for lots of good reasons. A piece of work we did last year with Enders,about short termism tried to take a holistic view of what was clearly going on in the industry in terms of  more money being funneled towards activation, rather than maybe what we would classically call ‘brand building’ and therefore the channels that were classically known as being strong at brand building, which print and magazines in print particularly, were always known for.

So, I think there’s dynamics are far bigger than just media, and media choices, and planning going on, that are driving some of those changes. And many of them I’m sure are very valid for individual campaigns.

And a lot of publishers on the back of this have made serious inroads into diversification. I think that’s been the big big word last year. And as part of that the magazine becomes part of a product mix rather than taking centre stage. Do you see this move to reduce reliance on advertising as problematic or positive?

I definitely don’t think it’s problematic, because I think what diversification in terms of both product and revenue shows, is that the consumer demand exists for that content for that brand. If you are a media owner, the most important thing before you even think about your ad revenue is, does the consumer want the content, are they willing to pay for it, will they engage with it, can we have a relationship with them in other places…? If the answer to that is yes, then you have a business, a brand, and you’re in rude health.

So, I think it’s really positive because it shows the strength of those brands with the consumer. And ultimately that’s what advertising relies on. It relies on the engagement and the relationship and the trust that that consumer has with that brand, regardless of the platform, regardless of the delivery mechanism.

I definitely don’t think it’s problematic. I think it shows a real strength of what the publishers do. But also advertising is still incredibly important to most of the UK consumer publishers. I mean it’s certainly not in any way, not still a huge priority.

So, even with diversification to different channels, and even with other revenue, e-commerce opportunities, which have obviously been really successful for a number of publishers, it in no way diminishes the fact that advertising is still incredibly important, and the support that they give to me and to the Magnetic team, is an indication of the fact that it’s still an incredibly important part of what we do and what we offer to brands.

Is that quite challenging? You’ve got a number of different publishers that have come together with a lot of these initiatives. Is that challenging to bring them together in that way, and do they ever really set aside their competitive differences?

Yeah definitely, they definitely do. No question. I mean it’s difficult, only in the sense that… If anybody who deals with multi stakeholder businesses is looking for the points of commonality. And once you’ve identified what people have in common, and where strategically and commercially they’re aligned, it’s actually really easy. This campaign has been evidence of that I think, because it has involved an awful lot people, it’s been an enormous collaboration.

For me, I keep saying it’s not really a Magnetic campaign, it’s definitely a magazine sector industry campaign, of which we have sat at the center and helped coordinate, and lead. But there’s no question it’s an enormous collaboration, and great evidence of how other publishers work together and have very common strategic goals.

And I think there’s other places where that’s true as well. There’s obvious places like PAMco, which is obviously relatively new, coming up to its first anniversary, a new audience measurement system, which again is obviously also a collaboration with Newsworks, news brands, NMA, IPA etc. So, multi-platform [jic].  Again it’s those sorts of projects, collaborations, investments, for me are evidence of more collaboration across the sector, than less.

And I think that’s because although, clearly on a day to day basis there is still competition, both on the newsstand with consumers and obviously from an advertising point of view, the reality is that we are better together when it comes to promoting the role that we play to planners, agencies, and clients.

And are there any other industry initiatives that you’ve seen that you think are making a real difference with the perception of magazine media?

Well, PAMco has definitely helped. So, I just mentioned PAMco, the new audience currency. That’s a huge collaboration and is definitely helping us show total brand reach and the way you can plan across digital and print, and that’s really important, because although this particular campaign we were just talking about, is led as a print campaign, the reality is that we know from other evidence and other research we’ve done that we also perform digitally really well when it comes to attention against industry averages. So, we clearly need to be able to show in totality what these magazine brands deliver.

So, one of the projects I think also shows collaboration, and has been a helpful initiative, is a project that Dennis, Immediate, Haymarket and Bauer did last year together, without us – this was it was not Magnetic driven at all – around the power of motoring environments for advertisers. It got nominated at the Media Week awards.

There are plenty of things that publishers are doing anyway together, and therefore taking those types of pieces of insight out to clients together that’s nothing to do with Magnetic. So, I think there’s plenty of stuff going on that shows collaboration, both on that kind of measurement side, like PAMco, but also just more specifically in verticals in certain sectors.

And Magnetic itself, it’s it’s a UK agency it’s working with a small group of UK publishers. If you’re listening in the US, Australia, Europe or other places we’ve got listeners, what can publishers do to try and get that message out to agencies that they need to be on their plans, and that print is valuable?

Well I’ve seen some of the work that gets done with colleagues in the States and Australia and they also do really good work, and I know they’ve unified around certain messages. What we have in common, and where I see most of the commonality despite market differences, is around the idea of engagement and quality attention, and why that is such a valuable commodity asset for an advertiser. I’ve seen really good work done around, because we’re so trusted by consumers, and therefore create a really safe environment for brands, why that’s a really powerful message. 

I think, also just relevancy and the fact that a lot of the content areas which publishers surround and super serve, which we in the UK talk about from a passion-based point of view, from food to photography, fashion to film, are growing.

We should feel really confident that the territory and the areas that we serve brilliant content around are really important to people. The delivery mechanism through which we do that are multi-varied, and clearly digital’s showing us the potential for growth in younger audiences. But print’s more robust than I think people perceive it is. And that what that results in for an advertiser is this enormous and amazing engagement, and fantastic quality of attention for exceptional value.


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