Media Analysis: Regional mags seek lifestyle input

Glossy local magazines are flourishing thanks to heavy investment by publishers such as Archant Life. Hannah Marriott looks at some prominent titles, which allow PROs to add value to regional stories

From Inside Cornwall to Cotswold Weddings, The Kingston Magazine to Lake District Life, there is a regional glossy magazine for nearly every corner of this green and pleasant land.

The biggest publishing group in the sector is Archant Life. And it has just added a 49th title to its portfolio with the bimonthly Pure Cheshire magazine. It is billed as the 'younger sister' to stablemate Cheshire Life, which has been in print since 1934, and joins an already crowded marketplace of local magazines in the North-West, including property-centric freesheets such as Moving Manchester.

But Pure Cheshire editor Louise Taylor insists the title fills a gap in the market: "It is for people who drive, say, a Mini Cooper, but who might one day drive a Porsche." She says it is less formal than Cheshire Life, with listings, celebrity interviews and social events.

High local demand
The regional magazine sector appears to be in rude health, despite the general decline in print media. Cheshire Life, for example, saw its average circulation steadily grow from 15,110 in 1999 to 17,661 in 2005. And while Archant recorded a 12 per cent reduction in profits for 2005 (from £36m in 2004 to £31.6m), profits for its magazine section rose by 49.9 per cent to £5m.

And according to business data supplier BRAD, the local magazine sector shows steady growth - in December 2000 there were 230 local titles; by December 2005 there were 293.

Archant MD Johnny Hustler says: "While regional magazines represent a much smaller sector than newspapers, they are quickly growing in terms of revenue and readers. The latter love the beautiful, glossy format, and the fact that they carry exclusively good news and reflect the finer things in life. They are the perfect antidote to the stresses of everyday life."

Typically, non-Archant regional magazines, which are either independently owned or produced by small publishing houses, have few in-house editorial staff. However, while they might not have huge budgets, their influence should not be underestimated.

As Staniforth MD Emma Chadwick points out: "They can be hugely influential, and are especially well read in the North. People really want to be seen in their social pages - the magazines are very much part of local society."

Hustler says that localness has power: "Our greatest selling point is our localness. There are lots of lifestyle magazines on the supermarket shelves, but how many are actually targeted to the local area?"

Plus, he argues, even the free titles can have cachet: "The distinction between free and paid-for content is not so relevant now. People respect what they read depending on quality and relevance, whether it is free, paid for, in print or online."

Bryan Morel PR partner Anna Morel says regional magazines are 'incredibly important' when trying to create buzz around store openings for clients such as Asda and Mexx: "People look to their regional magazines for inside information on their area."

Unlike regional newspapers, the magazines tend to be wholly positive, and are very keen to be as colourful and glamorous as possible.

Clementine Communications director Clémence de Crécy says: "We usually see the results from a piece in a regional publication almost instantly. But unlike regional newspapers, magazines allow space for beautiful images and photography." Considering the magazines' limited budgets, this space and desire for photography can open doors for PR professionals.

Local and regional magazines are as different as the counties they serve, and they must be read and examined before an approach is made. Some, such as Cheshire Life, are typical ‘county magazines', featuring social events, with a countryside bias.

PR people can invite such magazines to cover launch parties or charity events, although Cheshire Life editor Patrick O'Neill warns his staff are ‘inundated' with invitations.

The presence of a major celebrity or a significant charity aspect might encourage attendance of journalists, but the priority is always community stories. "We also cover village fetes," says O'Neill.

Aspirational readers
The London-based titles tend to have a more fashion-based, ‘edgy' agenda. Some of them - such as The Resident, for those living in Kensington and Chelsea - go to the wealthiest areas, and as such are desirable targets for luxury-brand PROs.

But across the board, editors are united in saying they would appreciate more celebrities being put forward for interviews - as long as they have a connection with the area. For example, cricketer Andrew Flintoff recently opened a restaurant in Cheshire, and duly appeared in Cheshire Life.

PR practitioners would be well advised to think regionally rather than locally in respect of certain stories. For example, Lancaster Life and Cheshire Life often share fashion and motoring articles. And the Surrey-based titles published by Sheengate - including The Richmond Magazine and The Kingston Magazine - often share health, art and film columns, with added localised tweaks.

Archant's London titles also tend to share fashion articles.

So, with almost 300 titles out there, each with their own agenda, distribution and readership, this is a publishing sector that takes time to understand. But with almost every reasonably affluent household receiving a local magazine, it is worth the effort.

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