If all Country Life means to you is toffs in tweeds, then you need to take a closer look. Over the last year the magazine has undergone a radical overhaul, following the arrival of a new publishing director, Jean Christie, and editor, Mark Hedges.
Country Life is increasingly appealing to a broader range of people than its heartland readership of the landed gentry. According to deputy editor Jessica Fellowes, one of the biggest changes to the magazine is the humour and lighter touch that Hedges brings to the title.
As Fellowes explains: ‘It’s not about Lord and Lady Toffington hosting the event, but much more about the event itself. We want articles to be fun, with lots of pictures and comedy captions. Our event coverage certainly does not take a Tatler-style ‘posh people you ought to know’ approach.’
Hedges has also introduced a section which celebrates real people, rather than celebrities, who are doing interesting jobs. The chief librarian at the Bodleian Library and the oldest butler in Britain were the subjects of recent articles. ‘They all get asked the same three questions: what is their favourite building, what is their favourite place and who is their hero? This sort of feature would never have happened before when the magazine was taking itself quite seriously,’ argues Fellowes.
Another major change is the move to give the magazine much more of a campaigning voice. Country Life, more than ever before, aims to champion countryside issues and get them in front of politicians. The magazine is very proud, for instance, of its hand in the introduction of ‘countryside classes’ to schools on the back of a recommendation it made in its manifesto published last August.
‘Country Life now is less about doing big, specific campaigns and more about keeping up a general awareness of countryside issues. We’re doing more big features about life in the country, like our recent feature on people who keep chickens and another on the rabbit explosion,’ says Fellowes.
Following the revamp, there are also more opportunities for PROs. The news section has been bolstered from two pages to four and covers city-based stories that country readers would be interested in. Fellowes says that she is particularly interested in suggestions for columns such as the ‘must do’ and ‘must buy’ of the week, the food news page, which takes a local producer each issue, and the events section, called ‘out and about’, which catalogues countryside goings-on.
‘We are more open to PR pitches now,’ she says. ‘They can be useful with these sections with images. We’re also always interested in food news and things like restaurant openings.’
As well as these changes to the main magazine, Country Life relaunched its website in March (www.countrylife.co.uk). This now contains regular news updates and often breaks news, which is then covered in the magazine later.
The site has also added a ramped-up search facility and blogs, but the biggest change is its shift to focus predominantly on property. ‘It has undergone a transformation from being Country Life online and supporting the magazine, to being a property based website and quite a different experience,’ says Arabella Youens, website editor. The site has been designed for people who are thinking about their next house and researching their dream dwelling online. Consequently, the new site details not only the property but also provides maps, school information, train schedules and area guides.
Refining the angle
While most of the cultural content online is borrowed from the magazine, all the property coverage is original and this is where Youens welcomes PR input most. She cites property specialist Jago Dean as a PR consultancy that knows what the refreshed Country Life is looking for.
According to Jago Dean co-founder Alison Dean, the magazine is now much more flexible. ‘The houses it covers, for example, don’t have to be so architecturally pure, as long as they are good quality country houses. Price is not so important as it used to be. A nice country cottage with roses around the door is of as much interest now as an estate worth £5m. The magazine has definitely become younger and more approachable,’ she says.
Charlie Mason-Pearson, account manager at Intelligent PR has been pitching to Country Life regularly for the last five years. He has noticed a marked difference in the stories to which journalists are receptive and has been able to place stories that would previously have been considered too youth-orientated for the title. A recently covered client, Clarence’s Court free-range eggs, is a good example of this. The eggs are naturally coloured pinks and greens, so Mason-Pearson pitched them as the perfect companion for camping or festivals, riding on the back of the hype over Cath Kidson designed tents and outdoor accessories.
‘My advice would be to pitch with an open mind,’ he says. ‘Although Country Life has a gentrified look about it, it’s really taking itself out of the fifties into the 21st century and what wouldn’t have got a look-in may well do now.’
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