Media Analysis: Cashing in on home improvement

The British obsession with home improvement shows no sign of abating. As leading titles fight fiercely for readers and advertisers, Mark Johnson reports on how PROs can make an impact on this vibrant sector

There is no doubt that low interest rates and spiralling house prices have fuelled the British love affair with the humble abode. And just as the value of our homes has risen in recent years, so too has the value of the home interest magazine sector, which boasts more than 30 million copy sales a year and commands £100m in adspend.

With this in mind, Highbury Publishing has just redesigned its Inspirations for your Home title and widened its coverage. Features, according to the editor Andree Frieze, range from moving to the country to handling debt and employing builders.

From tips on tiling to colour co-ordination for curtains and cushions, the home improvement glossies are brimming with suggestions.

In the scramble to differentiate themselves from rivals, home improvement magazines are broadening their content, and it is here that the PR opportunities lie, says GCI head of brand communications Richard Medley.

'It's a good way to showcase brands,' says Medley, who works on the Homebase PR account. In this climate they can be presented as products or lifestyle propositions, he adds.

B&Q PR adviser Jin Kaur agrees that competition does provide opportunities, but adds a note of caution.

'You have to keep in mind that particular titles will always use retailers and brands aimed at their target readership,' Kaur advises.

Either way, a survey last year found that Britons spend 23 per cent of their income on the home.

It seems we don't just want a roof over our head, but one that suits our personal taste.

Ideal Home; Publisher IPC Media; ABC 273,489 (to June 2003); Editor Susan Rose

'Our readers are middle-England homeowners with a deep love for their homes. They used to be the classic safe decorators, but now they want to experiment. Having said that, they don't want wacky, they want real.

'Our readership is dominated by women and our target age group is from 35 to 55.

'We produce content that first and foremost inspires, presented in an accessible way; articles like where to buy something and how to put it together.

'Second, we tackle consumer issues and other topical issues, but it's about the whole lifestyle.

'The sole criterion when pitching content is: what's in it for my readers?

'The best PRO I have ever known never sent press releases; he simply called up with a great idea that didn't just plug his client.'

House Beautiful; Publisher National Magazine Company; ABC 170,200 (to June 2003); Editor Kerryn Harper

'House Beautiful's tagline is: 'All you want from where you live'.

'It's not just a decorating magazine; it's about getting the most out of your home and it's aimed at anyone between 28 and 55. We try to reflect that demographic, from first-time buyers to empty nesters.

'There is an argument that home magazines are always fluffy, but we take a more journalistic approach with "newsy" stories, such as how increasing burglary rates affect homeowners or how to become a property developer.

'I also introduced a Made In Britain feature series, which launched in the February issue.

'We get lots of press releases every day but I think it's crucial that we know our PR contacts, and I encourage the industry to get to know us. It's a symbiotic relationship.'

Country Living; Publisher National Magazine Company; ABC 170,137 (end June 2003); Editor Ben Kendrick

'We devote 20 to 30 pages a month to home improvement but we also cover fashion and food. Our (mainly female) readers are between 35 and 60. Their interests are homes and gardens and they spend their money on them.

'The home interest pages cover everything from shopping to home decorating.

We're also very seasonal and more rustic than other titles.

'We do our own shoots, a lot of which are a year ahead, so that makes it difficult for merchandise placement.

'Subliminally, we're probably triggered by press releases but we tend to come up with all the feature ideas ourselves - again, a year ahead.

'People pitching ideas must be clear and concise and focused on country living as we have very little time. Pictures are vital because we are visually led.'

Inspirations for your Home; Publisher Highbury Publishing; ABC 50,119 (to Dec 2002); Editor Andree Frieze

'The magazine has just been refocused to look at a broad a range of styles.

'We have colour-combining and style-combining features to show how to introduce a particular look, as well as where to find ideas. We also look at "dream" homes and ask readers to describe their ideal places. Our readership is about 75:25 women to men all over the UK.

'The magazine offers plenty of opportunities for PROs because we don't do a lot of our own shoots. We have some good relationships with the PR industry, but maybe not as many as we should.

'We don't do celebrity homes, but usually feature inspirational people in our careers section. If Handy Andy or Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen were promoting a product, then that's as far as we'd go.'

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