FOCUS: CONTRACT PUBLISHING - Reading between company lines/The new wave of customer magazines are giving corporate groups a friendlier face and allowing them to strengthen relations with clients. Suzannah Strong reports

Contract publishing is a boom industry. The market is worth around #100 million and growing by around 12 per cent each year. According to an APA (Association of Publishing Agencies) survey 15 of the 20 biggest circulation titles in the UK are customer magazines.

Contract publishing is a boom industry. The market is worth around

#100 million and growing by around 12 per cent each year. According to

an APA (Association of Publishing Agencies) survey 15 of the 20 biggest

circulation titles in the UK are customer magazines.

Currently, the market is headed by specialist publishing houses like

TPD, Specialist Publications and Forward Publishing, but PR agencies and

business publishers such as VNU are beginning to see the potential of

the market.

PR agencies Citigate, Paragon and Dewe Rogerson all have distinct

publishing operations but contract publishing as part of agencies’ core

activity is still rare.

On the face of it contract publishing presents an ideal opportunity for

agencies to control a medium. So why are so few capitalising on it?

Graham Lake, managing director of TPD Publishing Ltd, best known for IT

titles and now Orange’s O magazine, has an answer. ’Contract publishing

is not PR,’ he says. ’And that’s the reason they haven’t entered the

market with any real vigour. It’s not their remit. Just as PR is not

ours. We are not natural bedfellows.’

To Lake, PR is about column inches while publishing is about building

customer loyalty. He says: ’It is about a tacit agreement with


While they know we are working on behalf of a company the message is

subtle.’ Of course, contract publishers think PR and publishing have

separate remits.

Perhaps surprisingly, PR agencies that have distinct contract publishing

operations tend to agree.

Citigate Publishing operates independently from the core group. Its

client list includes public and private agencies such as the Crown

Prosecution Service and the Caravan Club and is distinct from that of

the PR agency.

Managing director Barbara Burrow says: ’We have a high profile client

list but it’s not fed from the core group. Synergy is a lovely idea but

it doesn’t always work in practice.’

Burrow’s view is that contract publishing has too long been seen as PR’s

poor relation. She says: ’After PR and advertising clients look at

publishing, which is a great shame.’

But while companies are increasingly seeing the value of the print

media, says Burrow, PR agencies remain condescending towards


Lorraine Mills, director of publishing at Paragon Communications, part

of the Shandwick group, agrees. She bemoans the lack of cross over

between PR and publishing at Paragon although the two have several

shared clients.

’Our PR colleagues are not obliged to use us,’ she says. ’If they need

publications produced they can go elsewhere and that is how it should be

but I think we could make more of an effort to share any existing client


’PR used to think that we were all dyed-in-the-wool hacks, but the

situation is improving now, as people like myself with a background in

PR and marketing move into publishing and also as new starters join the

industry who may have done a PR course with a journalism option or vice


Contract publishers realise that clients are becoming increasingly


They want customer magazines to achieve marketing objectives. The name

of this new game is relationship marketing, where companies aim to treat

customers as individuals, for example by developing databases or, in the

case of supermarkets, offering loyalty cards. Magazines are seen as a

good way of attracting customer loyalty and have seen a boom in growth

over recent years.

Contract titles are also becoming increasingly personalised. Ink jet

technology means that it is possible to print copies of magazines with

individual customer names and personalised messages. Pensions and life

assurance group Eagle Star plans to segment its customer magazine by

producing different pages for different age groups. VNU, the business

publisher, which produces E magazine for PC company Elonex, is looking

at producing different versions of the magazine for different customer


Contract publishing teams utilise PR and marketing skills as much as

editorial acumen. Mills says: ’ Being good at writing is no longer

enough for us. Writers have to have the personality to get the client’s


Customer magazines are now part of the marketing mix rather than an

indulgence. Jim Addison, managing director of Specialist Publications

says: ’Publishing used to be seen as the soft option, now it’s much more

hard nosed than that.’

Julian Treasure, chair of the APA, the trade association for contract

publishers, says there has been a change in emphasis between customer

acquisition and customer retention. Churn rates are high and clients’

main aim is to reduce that. To do so, he explains, they are willing to

invest millions of pounds. ’Where the job used to finish with selling

the product now that’s where the job begins,’ he says.

Treasure sees a fundamental problem for PR agencies attempting to get in

on the contract publishing act. ’It’s a different discipline,’ he


’Public relations people are not geared up to talk to customers, they

are trained to talk to the media.’

Contract publishers are bound to protect their corner, but their view

seems confirmed by both PR agencies with separate publishing units and

by clients who want their customer magazines produced by specialist


While clients invariably utilise PR agencies they do not often involve

them in publishing activities. TPD publish Orange magazine O but

Orange’s PR agency Paragon Communications, despite operating a contract

publishing company, has no link with the publication other than on a

need to know basis.

Barbara Burrow of Citigate Publishing says links between agencies should

be strong. ’It’s of real value to contract publishing to have a good

relationship with the PR company and both should know what the other is

doing. It’s vital we know what an agency is saying about a client

because it’s all about extending their corporate image.’

Contract titles increasingly look like consumer titles. Some, such as

Sainsbury’s Magazine and The Mag, published by Specialist Publications

for Iceland frozen food stores are even for sale.

Contract publishers are dubious as to whether this is a growing


They feel contract titles are seen as being exclusive to the


The suspicion is that they were available on news stands they would

somehow lose that personal touch.

In many ways, contract publishing has come of age at a time when print

had been predicted to vanish altogether and already publishing agencies

such as TPD are experimenting with CD-ROM and Internet applications.

But as Citigate Publishing’s Barbara Burrow says: ’In the

diversification of work we, the publishers, have stayed the course. A

few years ago everyone wanted to be on video. Now it’s the Net. Each

move is about extending communication. But print will last because hard

copy these days means quality.’

And now that contract publishers have have added PR and marketing to

their skills mix, is it too late for PR to catch up?

As TPD’s Graham Lake puts it: ’ Ten years ago the public relations

industry had the chance to come in but they are three years too late now

to get into the words and pictures market.’


Eagle Star customer loyalty manager, Mike Cant, is frank about reasons

for the group launch of a customer magazine. ’We didn’t have a warm

relationship with clients before starting the magazine,’ he explains.

’They’d get a renewal notice with their motor or home policy and that

was it. We wanted to develop a much warmer relationship with them.’

Eagle Star saw that a customer magazine would help them retain customers

and also cross sell products between its pension and insurance


’We wanted to let customers who had bought pensions from us to know that

we also sell motor insurance,’ says Cant.

He says he went on a ’beauty parade’ of publishing agencies before

deciding on Specialist Publications.

He specifically wanted editorial strengths and says: ’I don’t really see

publishing as PR’s business. Just as I wouldn’t get a publishing

business to do PR.’ Specialist Publications managing director, Jim

Addison, says that one of Eagle Star Magazine’s strengths is the way it

explains complex financial products in a very accessible way. For

example, he says: ’Tessas and Peps are the kind of things everyone

should know about but are too scared to ask.’ At present, Eagle Star

Magazine carries a broad mix of lifestyle and finance related features

including articles on women and pensions, family life assurance and

understanding financial jargon.

The magazine is monitored after each issue and Eagle Star has also

commissioned research into reader views. The results were strikingly


After the first issue 74 per cent of readers said the magazine was an

effective way for Eagle Star to communicate, several issues later that

figure has increased to 82 per cent. Readers have also said they would

appreciate more finance related information.

Eagle Star is now looking at magazine segmentation - dividing the

magazine into sections aimed at readers of different ages according to

what kind of financial protection they may be interested in. As Cant

says: ’Under-45s aren’t interested in making a will but over 45s are, so

it’s a question of refining the product so that there’s something for


Title: Eagle Star Magazine

Pages: 28

Circulation: 200,000 - customers with Eagle Star pension or insurance


Editorial: Mix of specialist and known writers, for example, financial

writers from national newspapers Advertising: Yes, a mix.

Reader response devices: Competitions

Publisher: Specialist Publications (UK)


Orange (full name Orange Personal Communications Services) experimented

with customer newsletters in different formats at an early stage but

these were primarily for customer information.

Karen Mote, customer communications manager at Orange says the company

wanted a customer magazine to build customer loyalty.

The magazine was to reinforce Orange’s key brand values of simplicity,

innovation, being upfront and fairness. ’We didn’t want anything highly

technical. We know our profile. We want to reach as many people in one

go as we can,’ she says.

Orange interviewed ten agencies, shortlisted four and finally

commissioned TPD to produce O magazine. Mote says : ’We took a bit of a

risk with TDP because this was to be a consumer magazine. TPD produces

IT magazines but they said, ’ Yes, your product is technology-led but we

can make it easy to understand in a non-technical way’.’

Jacqui Gough,publisher of O at TPD agrees. ’Orange is a really exciting

client. We produce a lot of titles for the IT market, but this was a

real challenge. ’

Editorial and design are left with TPD, but overseen by Orange. Mote

says: ’We are difficult to work for. We are a very fast growing, fast

moving dynamic industry. We needed someone who could keep up with


O combines lifestyle and product related features but separates them

within the magazine so that readers can find what they are looking for,

be it prices or a good read.

Ultimately, says Mote, O aims to prevent customer attrition. ’We want to

stop customers leaving,’ she says.

Mote believes that the more information goes in the magazine the less

queries come in from customers. And, since the publication of O, calls

have indeed reduced.

As part of customer communications O is very much part of Orange’s

overall marketing strategy. ’Each piece of the puzzle fits together

here,’ says Mote. ’If a piece doesn’t fit then we don’t continue doing

it anymore.

If the value goes then we stop it.’

Title: O

Pages: 52

Circulation: 500,000 - all Orange account holders. Plans to reach all

end users.

Editorial: Exclusive items by known names

Advertising: Lifestyle and related products such as Nokia, Motorola

Reader response devices: Competitions

Promotions: No

Publisher: TPD Publishing


The Park Royal Estate is a 1,900 acre business park in North West London

which was established in the 1930s. Some 12,000 businesses employing

35,000 people are now based there, including Guinness, Heinz and United


They share the park with 700 residents.

By the late 1980s a number of major manufacturing and defence

organisations had moved out. The Park Royal Partnership was established

in the early 1990s to ’regenerate’ the park, attract new businesses and

encourage existing tenants to stay.

The estate is supported by government grants but, as strategic

development manager David Hoy explains: ’We need other revenue coming in

to keep existing businesses on and maintain them.’ Launched this month,

the Park Royal magazine aims to help the Partnership achieve that aim.

Hoy says: ’We want people to know what is going on here.’

The magazine will be distributed to local businesses and residents, the

three neighbouring local authorities and local colleges. ’We don’t just

want to go to the MD of each business ,’ says Hoy, ’we want everyone to

see it.’

As befits such a wide readership, the magazine will cover everything

from estate traffic diversions to business focus features and

encouraging residents - business and domestic - to look after their


The Partnership chose Citigate Publishing, whose portfolio includes

public and private sector clients, to produce the magazine because: ’We

wanted a professional publisher and we wanted to be able to hand

everything to them.’

Reader response will be monitored after the second issue. ’We want to

see if they liked the features,’ says Hoy. ’We need to ask if they

wanted to know that North Acton Lane was closed or whether it was of no

relevance.’ Keith Blogg is senior editor at Citigate Publishing. He

says: ’Park Royal came to us to do the magazine because we are a

publishing company not a PR company. We have a team of very experienced

journalists who know how to write to a particular brief.’

Title: Park Royal

Pages: 32

Circulation: 20,000. Residents of Park Royal Estate including

businesses, local authorities, colleges and prospective businesses.

Advertising: Yes, largely display Response: Not initially but to develop

Promotions: not initially

Publisher: Citigate Publishing

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