Wallpaper’s Tony Chambers and Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman featured in the BSME’s first ever conference. The audience at Central Saint Martins in London heard plenty of tips about how to make brilliant magazines and how to keep those brands up to date in the digital age. Here are some of them.
Session 1 Keynote: Tony Chambers, Wallpaper*
Facilitator: Simon Mills, Wallpaper Bespoke
7 steps to making a magazine into an iconic brand – and even an adjective:
1) “Design is crucial to the business we work in,” he said, “now more than ever”. Tony made the move from the design department to editorial. His first job was on the Sunday Times magazine, “bringing words and pictures together to create visual stories” to inform and entertain readers. “Art departments didn’t get the credit then that they do now.”
2) Take the magazine off page. Go beyond the print magazine. When he joined Wallpaper it was in the early days of brand extensions – there were Wallpaper Puma trainers tumbling out of the office cupboards. It was in a strong position to go further. Tony showed some slides from his 2007 pitch to be editor. ‘Wallpaper* is not a magazine!’ one stated, ‘Wallpaper is a brand’. “Now everyone realises they have to do more than ink on paper.” Tony ran through the extraordinary range of Wallpaper products from events like the Festival and special ‘influencer’ salon dinners for brands, through to travel guides that don’t make you look like a tourist. There are now guides to all the coolest cities in the world – “even Liverpool”.
3) “Being hated is better than being ignored”. Wallpaper was avant-garde. It was elitist but “in a good way”. People loved it or loathed it.
4) Add surprise. Wallpaper was becoming “a bit of a parody of itself” and there was a worry it could become an albatross. “People started to refer to things as very Wallpaper”. So Tony decided to start doing things that were not very Wallpaper in that people didn’t expect them – to shake them out of the comfort zone.
5) Grow digital – but not at the expense of print. Wallpaper launched online back in 2003 but it used different content to avoid cannibalising the magazine and giving it away for free, unlike the newspapers which made the great mistake of just “transferring print to online”. Investing in new material for the web site “cost money, time and effort but it was one of the first magazine web sites to turn a profit early on.”
6) Print still matters. “Print is still the flagship – now more than ever.” he has had guest editors like designer Dieter Rams and artist Jeff Koons, allowed architect Zaha Hadid to ‘cut a hole’ in the magazine and even made a scratch and sniff cover for the design awards issue. Wallpaper bespoke is “upmarket advertorials basically” that make the magazine look good as well as bring a revenue stream. Will print ever die? “It’s different in different markets but it will survive because it delivers content in a different way to a digital platform.” In print the “message is more resonant and reaches people in a deeper fashion.” However, he said the biggest fear for print comes from fear itself. Printers and paper suppliers are under threat and the method to actually produce it could be in danger.
7) “Never ever be normal,” he insisted. “Avoid normalness. You don’t want to be normal – you have to produce the extraordinary.”
Session 2 Panel: How to future-proof you and your brand
Conor McNicholas, AllTogetherNow
Abba Newbery, Creative Solutions & Commercial Strategy Consultant
Noel Penzer, Time Out Digital
Moderator: Lucie Cave, Heat
1) There is a danger of trying to do too many things in our rush to catch up with consumers, even if the average consumer is scrolling 14 miles per day. Focus on the business model not the technology platform first, says Conor. We tend to approach the platform first, testing and learning. “Zoom in on what works,” he says, “but finding out what works is the key thing.”
2) The magazine product is not the problem, says Conor, it’s adjusting changing behaviours. The problem is footfall in the newsagents, not the magazines on the shelves.
3) Editors are so good at focusing on their audience. They put people first and respect them, said Conor. “They have a massive edge to move into that space…They have the keys to the castle because they operate in a truly audience focused world.”
4) Editors know how to tell great stories. Advertisers talk about story telling and brand advertising, said Abba. They spend millions on audience research but editors know how to do those things. “Brands + stories + audience is a powerful combination and it’s surprising we’re only getting to that point now,” she said.
5) Advertising production budgets allow editors to present great content to the reader that might otherwise be too expensive. Think about the opportunity to produce something brilliant rather than ‘Oh no, I’ve got to write some advertorial,’ explained Abba. Shape it before it becomes solid and it’s a done deal, says Conor
6) Editors know how to draw the lines in the sand. Readers need to know where a message is really coming from says Conor. Signpost it so the readers don’t have to unpick where it comes from. Don’t blur the lines, said Abba, because journalists still need to be journalists and may later need to criticise that brand.
7) Print is still powerful. Eye-tracking technology shows people look at print ads around three times longer than digital ones, said Abba. People like layouts and they like curation. People can’t cope with thousands of articles a day designed in an ugly way. User experiences need to improve and editors can help
8) Treat Facebook and Google as friends but be careful. Mobile is the fastest growing channel, said Noel so social media and search can be useful in many ways, “as long as you understand what you’re giving up.” Conor recalled the day he discovered at his first Arctic Monkeys concert that NME’s readers had been “talking to each other without our permission.” That phenomenon isn’t going away, he said.
9) Editors could make the digital experience more ‘human shaped’ said Conor, and we should develop the confidence to say we “don’t have to fit ourselves into Facebook and Google shaped worlds.” We got excited about navigating by search and ended up allowing Google to shape the whole experience, he thought. Editors have been designing the user experience for 150 years.
10) Magazines are brands too so stay true to them. The audience is the focus for Time Out, said Noel, and its readers love fancy food markets, silent discos and screenings of Jurassic Park in the Natural History Museum. “But stay true to who you are.” If it only warrants two stars, then you have to give it two stars.
Session 3: Sam Baker, The Pool
Interviewer: Zoe Williams, Guardian Columnist & Author
Sam Baker left Red magazine after 6 years to set up a new site for women. “The aspiration gap was starting to become unbridgeable,” she said. “The audience loved the content but couldn’t get past the advertising.” Noticing how the agile, digital-only brands were quicker to capitalise on new ideas, she made the “insanely arrogant” move to start an online-only women’s magazine. She talked about the unwritten ‘rules’ of the male-dominated tech and finance worlds that she had to break to do it, as well as how she had to bring the best from the ‘analogue’ world of print.
Here are the ingredients that went into the launch of The Pool:
1) A little bit of ‘Old Media’ – the knowledge of how to write stuff that will appeal to the audience rather than the ‘scatter-gun’ approach of digital content: throw as much as you can at the wall in the hope some sticks. Let’s not do that, she said. Let’s ask people what they want and then we’ll make the thing. “All I did was to take people who know how to make good content in ‘old media’ and put them in a new world. The people making hay in digital weren’t that good at content.”
2) The habit of radio. “There are women who say ‘I don’t know what I used to do in the morning before I had The Pool – that’s what we set out to do,” Sam explains.”Our number one objective was to create habit.”
3) Just enough from a one-day coding course to hold your own as a ‘knowledgeable buyer from the code-writers – the “mechanics of the 21st century” in terms of their attitude to clients.
4) Not too many words, not too few. Digital media companies say people want to read very short pieces of under a minute or much longer pieces of 15 or 20 minutes. Yet The Pool found that its most popular articles were those that take around 4 minutes to read around 800 words.
5) No comments on the page. If people want to comment they can do it in social media and spread the word at the same time. She got stick for being the old media trying to control the agenda, but women online have had enough of abuse so why provide the platform for more? Sam pointed out Twitter’s done little to control the trolls and has paid the price in losing Salesforce as a major potential investor.
6) Donald Trump. The Pool’s articles go to opinion fast. And Donald Trump opinion pieces always does well. Leather jackets worn to The Oscars took only a few minutes to write but did even better. And while a Calais camp story got 1.5m retweets, she reckons only thousands actually read it – the rest just ‘wanted to be seen to care’.
7) Don’t be creepy. Build a picture of what the users are interested in to serve them targeted things, but it’s “important to not be creepy”. The Pool spoke to several hundred women to build a pattern of their day – not just what they read but where – and built the content delivery around that. Sam said she’s often asked at digital media conferences what algorithms she used to launch The Pool. “Well, we talked to people,” she says.
Session 4: Alexandra Shulman, Vogue
Interviewer: Louise Chunn, welldoing.com
Q: About 10 years ago a newspaper editor said to me: “I hope to get out of the business before the Internet took over.” Clearly, it has taken over and of course he’s no longer a newspaper editor but you’re still here, having had a long period of being the editor of Vogue. How do you feel about a digital future? Do you think there will always be a print edition of Vogue and do you ever imagine there will be a Vogue that will be given away free at a tube station?
A: No. That is not going to happen. That I can safely say. It would make no sense for the business model of the magazine. It’s not given away anywhere at the moment and it’s not going to be. In terms of will there always be a print magazine, I mean I don’t have a crystal ball, I couldn’t answer that but certainly, I can’t imagine in the next decade or so why you would not have a print magazine. It might not be monthly, it might be more expensive and a bigger magazine, lots more print, I don’t know what it’ll be but I think that the thing that we’ve got is very important. I often talk to students, and you can get an app of the magazine and obviously you can go on the map for free but they like to buy it because it’s the real thing, it’s an object Vogue.
Q: And that’s more so for Vogue than other magazines?
A: Well I don’t like to talk about other magazines because I don’t know them but I think there are other magazines that I think that’s true of. I think where magazines are finding it hardest can replicate the content of the magazine so easily on something disposable and free or on the website for free. Don’t get me wrong; the Stylist, which is a fantastic magazine, is free. I have endless admiration for what they do; I don’t think ours is the only way.
Q: What’s the interplay between the print Vogue and the website on a daily basis? For example, when you’re commissioning a cover feature, are you also spending a lot of time thinking how it might work online?
A: In all honesty, not a great deal. I know that’s what we’re meant to be doing. When it comes to a cover, I’m thinking about what cover I think’s going to sell the magazine and I make those decisions on that basis. Once it’s been decided who’s going to be on the cover, we will then set about seeing how we can work online, in particular with video and then that will go into play, and then nearer the time, then we’ll start working about the social media program and working with people’s agents on that but the original idea of the cover, is still really driven by what I think will sell a magazine at a news stand for £3.99.