Media: Country Living champions rural life

For 25 years, affluent, aspirational women aged from their late twenties upwards have been dreaming of rural escapism with the help of Country Living magazine.

This makes the title, which will publish its jubilee issue in May, a prime target for PROs whose clients want to reach a middle-class, upwardly mobile readership.

But PR professionals should not write off Country Living readers as bumpkins who are only interested in Agas and Boden. Susy Smith, editor of Country Living, says: 'We have two types of reader. Aspirationals are those living in the city who dream of a better life in the countryside, and authentics are those who are actually living out that dream. They have escaped the rat-race.'

That means the magazine offers a channel not just to the green welly brigade, but also to affluent urbanites who love rural pursuits. An ideal feature for Country Living would combine a feelgood factor, human interest and a subject readers can get on board with, says Smith: 'We try to draw people in with softer subjects, such as decorating, and then gently introduce some of the issues that affect the countryside - this could be rural schools closing or farmers being paid a fair wage.'

The challenge for Smith is to find a balance between the two types of reader, those living in the country and those still in the city.

'We want readers to feel they can do something about a topic, even if it is a bad news story,' says Smith. 'Those in the city will care about parts of the countryside being closed off, as they like going for walks at the weekend.

They will also care about country pubs closing because they like to go to a pub at the end of a walk.'

When it comes to PR professionals, Smith has few complaints other than tiring of those who do not read the magazine before pitching: 'PR professionals serve us pretty well. Ours is a desirable audience for them.' While Country Living's readers are sensitive to brands, Smith says this does not rule out opportunities such as sponsored features, as long as the fit is right.

An ongoing baking feature in partnership with Allinson is working well, she says, and the magazine has successfully partnered with Waitrose and Calor Gas.

Victoria Kyme, PR manager for Clifton Nurseries, says she has worked with the Country Living team on several stories. 'Find something original and make sure you have the best images possible,' she advises. 'The staff are helpful and very honest if a story is not going to work.'

The Country Living brand also includes events. The magazine holds three fairs each year: a spring and Christmas fair in London, and a Christmas fair in Scotland.

These events showcase independent British designers, makers and small producers who encompass the spirit of the magazine. Those who exhibit are introduced to potential customers from the magazine's readership.

Circulation: 197,891 (ABC, July-December 2009)
Subscribers: 79,987
70 per cent of readers: live in major towns and cities
40 per cent of readers: are aged 55 and upwards

A MINUTE WITH ... Susy Smith, editor, Country Living

- Who reads Country Living?

Although we do have male readers and men writing to us, our readership is mainly female, aged from their late twenties upwards. They feel they have had enough of the city.

They want a better life, more space, a sense of community and, if they have children, a good local school, all of which they feel can be achieved by moving to the country.

- What do you try to achieve with the magazine?

Country Living is both aspirational and informative. Readers are drawn to the magazine by the softer things such as homes, decoration ideas, gardening and food sections. We balance these with harder issues.

- How do you deal with fox-hunting?

We have covered fox-hunting in the past, from the perspective of a person who wanted to 'save the fox and the hunt'. But you will never change people's views on it, so I do not see the point in covering it, as it is only going to upset readers.

- How are you marking your 25th anniversary?

We have launched a campaign called 'Your Countryside Needs You' to encourage people to support British farmers and producers where possible. There will be a feature related to that campaign every month. We also have a jubilee issue coming out in May.

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