FEATURE: Brand tiger - The National Magazine Company uses its PR function for brand support and strategy. Maja Pawinska reports

The National Magazine Company is something of strange animal in the UK publishing arena. It’s too big, and its roar too loud, to be called a small specialist, yet it is too compact to be bracketed with mega-publishers IPC and EMAP. It has a portfolio of 14 consumer magazines, all of which are strong brands or spin-offs of strong brands, and maximising these is the gospel for managing director Terry Mansfield.

The National Magazine Company is something of strange animal in the

UK publishing arena. It’s too big, and its roar too loud, to be called a

small specialist, yet it is too compact to be bracketed with

mega-publishers IPC and EMAP. It has a portfolio of 14 consumer

magazines, all of which are strong brands or spin-offs of strong brands,

and maximising these is the gospel for managing director Terry

Mansfield.



’I’m passionate about branding. When I took over here, so many people

were talking about brands, but not in relation to magazines. Our slogan

is that we have the best magazine brands in Great Britain. We’re not in

the magazine business, we’re in the branded magazine business,’ says

Mansfield, who joined the management of the 90-year-old company 18 years

ago.



Mansfield started his magazines career in the early 1960s as an

advertisement manager at Conde Nast, joining NatMags in 1969 on the

sales side of Harpers Bazaar, and becoming publisher of Harpers and

Queen in 1975. He was made managing director in 1982.



His emphasis on producing and marketing leading brands means that few of

the titles remain only as magazines. The brand extensions cover

everything from Cosmopolitan bedlinen and eyewear, to published

offspring such as Good Housekeeping Having a Baby.



NatMags also works to extend its brands where they are published

abroad.



Cosmopolitan, for example, is published in more than 30 editions, and

this spring there are plans to launch a 24-hour TV channel in Spain

which will appeal to readers of Cosmopolitan. Mansfield is keen,

however, that the extensions do not water down the original

proposition.



The key to the branding of the core titles and their extensions is the

creation of a distinct ’personality’ for each magazine. This makes it

easier for the communications department to put NatMags editors forward

as authorities in their fields. Director of communications Siobhan Kenny

says emphasising the brands, their personalities, and the editors is

crucial to making the magazines stand out in a crowded marketplace.



’We will go out of our way to establish our people as opinion leaders -

it’s about spotting opportunities,’ she says. When Cherie Blair

announced her pregnancy last year, NatMags made the editors of Having A

Baby and Good Housekeeping available for interview, which resulted in

appearances on the ITN lunchtime news as well as Sky and IRN.



Campaigns such as Country Living’s matchmaking initiative, The Farmer

Wants a Wife, are also used as hooks for the nationals, and help raise

the profile of the magazines. This campaign won the BSME award for the

Innovation of the Year at the end of last year, and there are plans to

take it further as a TV programme - a kind of rural Blind Date.



Media-to-media relations can be tricky, however, since many of the

nationals and their supplements are competing directly for content with

NatMags titles. There is no point in plugging a particularly good

feature or a celebrity scoop to the papers, to the extent that no-one

needs to buy the magazine.



’There is a limit to what is good PR and what is giving away editorial

to the newspapers. We’re walking a fine line the whole time to establish

ourselves, and to create a buzz around what we are doing to make sure we

are always in the news,’ says Kenny.



The communications department is a differentiator in itself, as the fact

that PR is taken so seriously sets NatMags apart from most publishing

houses. Kenny was recruited to head the department from Downing Street’s

Strategic Communications Unit last June after working with NatMags’

editors on a project to involve consumer magazines in the presentation

of Government policies.



Kenny has just recruited a head of PR, Tania Littlehales, as the final

stage in the restructuring of the function (PR Week, 4 February).

Littlehales will manage day-to-day running of the ten-strong

communications team, as well as working on developing the department’s

role further. The department is split into two teams which handle five

or six brands each, but there is a real effort made to stop the teams

becoming tunnel-visioned.



’We are trying to emulate what an agency can do. We have a sparky

meeting every week so everyone knows what is going on,’ says Kenny.



This weekly round-up of PR activity and coverage is also used as an

internal communications tool, and is an example of the greater emphasis

now being put on measurement and evaluation of the PR function.



’It means everyone in the company knows what everyone else is doing, and

it focuses their minds on why another magazine is getting more coverage

than them,’ she adds.



’This allows us to be part of the decision-making process of the content

of magazines - editors are now coming to us with feature ideas and

asking if there is a PR angle, and we can help to build in elements that

might get coverage. You can never make the correlation between lots of

coverage and sales instantly increasing, but it does increase brand

awareness.’



There is another, longer-term reason for the PR team endeavouring to be

seen as active consultants. Kenny can envisage a time when each editor

controls their own purse strings completely, and may decide to hire a PR

agency to manage a specific aspect of their offering, such as a fashion

specialist. ’We have to prove we’re the best and to be prepared for

competition,’ she says.



Mansfield says the communications strategy is to constantly try to

convey the value of the content of the magazines, as well as the brands,

and emphasise where appropriate that NatMags is the UK arm of the Hearst

Corporation in the US. He also points out that another PR objective is

to attract high-calibre people to work for NatMags. ’We’re a private

company so we don’t need to spend time attracting interest from the

City, but we’re in a very competitive market, and we have to spend time

selling ourselves to young people as a company that will enhance their

CV,’ he says.



’We are overwhelmed by people wanting to work for us, but we know we

compete with other magazines and newspaper supplements, and increasingly

the internet.’



It’s an area Mansfield is also working on in his capacity as the

chairman of the Periodical Training Council. The comprehensive NatMags

web site helps, with a background briefing for students, as well as the

facility to apply for vacant positions on-line.



The internet is also looming large for magazine publishers as another

competitor for consumers’ time. Mansfield says this will affect the way

the company markets itself.



’It’s a challenge as we have to re-think our behaviour, but it’s

exciting for brands, and I think any of our brands can move across to

the internet.



I can see in the future that we will be a communications company with a

bedrock of magazines.’ In the meantime, NatMags’ latest set of increased

ABC figures shows the printed medium is still strong.



Mansfield may be busy with the long-term strategic development of the

company, but he’s not too far removed to think about keeping his

employees happy. Before Christmas, NatMags held a company conference for

editors to talk about their vision of the future. Mansfield’s

contribution to this internal communications exercise was to announce a

new incentive scheme. He chose to do this in the style of a film star

absent from the Academy Awards, with a video link from his office to the

assembled throng.



When the link was made, Mansfield was lying on a chaise longue in a

Hawaiian shirt and shorts, and opened his presentation saying ’It’s

tough on the fourth floor.’



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