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
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
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
’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.’
CASE STUDY: THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
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
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)
CASE STUDY: ORANGE EDITORIAL EFFORTS BEAR FRUIT
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
If the value goes then we stop it.’
Circulation: 500,000 - all Orange account holders. Plans to reach all
Editorial: Exclusive items by known names
Advertising: Lifestyle and related products such as Nokia, Motorola
Reader response devices: Competitions
Publisher: TPD Publishing
CASE STUDY: PARK ROYAL - THE ESTATE WE’RE IN
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
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
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