MEDIA ANALYSIS: Mortgage advice: cheap at the price

Changing interest rates and increased public interest have moved mortgage matters into the mainstream. Patrick Dye asks if specialist titles are still relevant.

    Ed Bowsher: editor of Motley Fool
Ed Bowsher: editor of Motley Fool

Rising interest rates mean that home-owners are increasingly keen to source good advice on how to minimise their growing repayments. Media covering mortgages are trying to rise to the challenge of a volatile market. Last week saw the relaunch of Your Mortgage magazine after 21 years in the market, continuing its mission to offer access­ible information to borrowers clinging to all rungs of the housing ladder.

Your Mortgage publisher Incisive Media hopes the relaunch will ensure its success in the face of stiff competition from growing financial coverage in the nationals and online portals.

The magazine claims sales of about 21,000 per month with a pass on rate that ensures a readership of closer to 60,000. This is not an ABC audited figure, as the magazine is an occasional purchase for most of its readers, explains deputy editor Donna Werbner. ‘People don’t really buy the magazine every month, but rather every two or three years, and demand is driven by the number of people looking for a mortgage that month.’ The title also has an online incarnation with a claimed 60,000 unique users every month.

User-friendly design
The relaunch is designed to keep the ­title user-friendly and provide essential information to a readership that is not always comfortable with financial matters. The new design allows the concerns of key market segments to be addressed, with sections on first-time buyers, remortgaging and buy-to-let.

Regular reinvention is a necessity in a market where readers are being inundated with financial advice. Stacked up against Your Mortgage is an obvious competitor in the shape of What Mortgage, plus a range of personal finance titles such as Money Week, Moneywise and Money Observer. Online sources include the likes of thisismoney.co.uk, motleyfool.co.uk and myfinances.co.uk. Beyond these lie the nationals, with their burgeoning financial pages.

With an understandably disengaged readership, journalists have to work hard to provide editorial that will spark readers’ interest. ‘We are after something that makes you sit up and take notice, products that are genuinely unusual and innovative, such as a 45-year fixed-rate mortgage – although that’s a little unlikely,’ says Ed Bowsher, editor of online service Motley Fool. ‘We do produce longer pieces, but rarely about mortgages because people never send stuff in that makes you go “wow”.’

Slavish concentration on rates and new product launches does little to ­excite a personal finance journalist looking to present the broader picture to his or her readers. ‘Rates don’t make good copy and it’s not why people buy the magazine,’ says Rachel Williams, acting editor of Moneywise. ‘It’s so easy now to find out about best buys from the national press or online, our readers are more interested in the quality of service they are going to get.’

Getting that broader picture can mean talking to those who have no vested interest in championing one particular brand. ‘We won’t go to the mortgage companies for comment, but to brokers because they have widespread knowledge,’ says Williams. ‘Readers want to know who might rip them off on fees and brokers will know that because they know the market.’

Generally speaking, any products or approaches that help first-time buyers will stand a better chance of gaining coverage, as this is a key segment of the readership. Savvy PROs long ago realised the folly of the direct approach when it comes to seeking editorial column inches for their lender clients and have adopted more stealthy approaches. ‘Offering hints and tips tends to work quite well,’ says Elspeth Gilroy, account director on Standard Life Bank at Consolidated Communications. ‘For example, we worked in partnership with [Location Location Location presenter] Kirstie Allsopp to produce tips on knocking down walls in a property and the effects this can have on prices.’

The decision by journalists to focus on the bigger picture may help to huma­nise the mortgage marketplace for readers, but some PROs argue that this approach runs the risk of missing vital details. ‘They don’t always ask the right questions,’ says Martin Allen, senior consultant at Trimedia Harrison Cowley, which represents the Dunfermline Building Society.

‘There are lots of products out there, but it is the nitty gritty that differentiates them. We are all stuck with the rates; it is the nuts and bolts of a product that make all the difference and they rarely explore these.’

Entering the mainstream
Interest rate changes – either up or down – bring the promise of more readers to the financial press as people scout around for better deals. Unfortunately for niche titles such as Your Mortgage, increased public interest means mortgages move up the media agenda and enter the mainstream.

‘Our target media have become broader, as our client’s potential customers are more likely to be reading the financial sections of newspapers,’ says Helen Thomson, account director at Lansons Communications, which represents mortgage brokers John Charcol. ‘The rising interest rate market means that mortgages are now front-page news, so we have the opportunity to place stories and achieve brand awareness in a mass market space.’

Coverage in a daily newspaper provides an immediate and measurable spike in lead generation that an appearance in a monthly magazine, particularly one with a sporadic readership, may struggle to replicate. Competitors are quick to point out the floating nature of magazine readership. ‘People only review their mortgages once every few years, so there’s no loyal reader base,’ says Moneywise’s Williams.

Werbner is quick to dismiss the suggestion that competition from the nationals and irregular purchasing patterns render her title irrelevant. She argues that the scale of the financial commitment involved will always drive people to seek specialist advice: ‘If people are contemplating spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, they are not going to shy away from paying £3.95 to get the information they need.’

CONTACTS

Your Mortgage Donna Werbner Deputy editor
donna.werbner@incisivemedia.com T 0207 484 9856

What Mortgage Amanda Jarvis Editor
ajarvis@ccplcemail.co.uk (Switchboard) T 0207 827 5454

Moneywise Rachel Williams Acting editor
rachel.williams@moneywise.co.uk (Switchboard) T 0207 680 3600

Motley Fool Ed Bowsher Editor
ebowsher@fool.co.uk T 020 7297 8141

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