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
’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
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
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
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
’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
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
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
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
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.’