When we talk about multi-platform, how many platforms are we talking about? For many of us, it’s probably a couple, but for Bauer Media it’s loads: print, TV, radio, website, mobile, Facebook, events; all of which, of course, present mouth watering commercial possibilities. Meg Carter talks to Bauer’s head of magazine sales, Abby Carvosso, about life in a truly multi-platform publishing environment.
Cross-platform content is proving a valuable engine for growth at Bauer Media, the publishing business formed in its present form by the £1.14bn acquisition by German publisher H Bauer of Emap's consumer magazine and radio divisions three and a half years ago. For while traditional ad revenues remain under pressure in tough trading conditions, 'creative revenues' from integrated, cross-platform 'commercial solutions' enjoyed double digit growth during the first half of 2011.
Launch of Bauer Access
"It's a shift which we first saw last year and one that has been quite significant," according to head of magazine sales Abby Carvosso. "This is why Bauer Access, our recently launched cross-platform service for commercial partners, has been so exciting for us. And it will become even more so moving forward." Bauer Access is a mechanism to enable better communications between Bauer's content brands and its advertising clients. Comprising key representatives from across the business's product portfolio, it is a virtual department bringing together Bauer Media editors and programmers with advertisers and agencies at a series of regular, 'open access' events.
"There was a clear opportunity to break down walls between departments", she explains. Before Bauer Access's launch there was too little sharing of knowledge and values across the business, and too much duplication. Building better communications with clients and improving communications within Bauer between different brand teams has helped the business build a stronger sales culture. "To create a strong sales culture, you need to focus on the sales requirements of the business as a whole, rather than brand by brand."
As a business, Carvosso says, Bauer's strength in the marketplace lies in the degree of differentiation that exists between its different brands, and the extent to which they are truly cross-platform. "The offering is markedly different to that of other companies because we don't just have printed magazines and accompanying websites, but magazines and radio stations, TV channels and live events," she believes. "And this has been the case not just for months but for the past eleven years." Take Q - a totally multi-platform 'content experience', because that's how consumers now consume music: in a total cross-platform way. "Our approach to the marketplace is all about creating brands that engage and connect with audiences in ways those audiences want to connect with content, and we are increasingly finding like-minded brands wanting to work closely with us to do that, too."
A case in point is a recent campaign created by Bauer Media for Orange to enliven the brand's 'I am' marketing strategy for 16 to 24 year-olds. Bauer developed a proposition called ‘This is Who I Am’ which both straddled and tapped into the diverse in-house talents and 'star name' contacts of its portfolio of music, film and entertainment properties. Editorial and programming teams then worked together to produce a wealth of original, celebrity interview content. The This is Who I Am campaign ran in Empire, Q and Heat magazines and in 52 hour-long radio shows that aired on Kiss, Kerrang!, Q and Heat radio stations and websites. It was also supported online with a website featuring an interactive tool that allowed users to engage with the content more deeply. This is Who I Am reached more than seven million of its target audience over the five-month period during which it ran.
Bauer Access is also a mechanism to ensure that insight gleaned from one side of the business isn't lost but shared internally and, where appropriate, acted upon by other Bauer brand teams or departments. Discussion amongst the presenting team on radio station Kiss concerning the popularity of BlackBerry instant messaging amongst its audience, for example, led to a tie-up with the brand that has since extended into BlackBerry sponsoring celebration of 25 years of Q magazine cross-platform, including sponsorship of a celebratory iPhone app.
Given Bauer Media's Emap legacy, the cross-platform approach is hardly new, of course. "In its broadest form, we've always done it. But in its purest form, however, it's enabled us to develop further those deals where our editorial teams closely and intimately work hand-in-hand with brands to create great new content, that's way more ambitious than traditional advertorial," Carvosso says. "And what we have learned is that if you create great content, it doesn't matter whether it is a piece of advertiser paid-for content or if it has come out of one of our editorial teams - consumers simply don't draw those distinctions any more. So long as the content's good, that's all that counts."
'Cross-media' can mean delivering commercial solutions across multiple platforms for more than one Bauer brand, multiple platforms for a single Bauer brand, or creating opportunities that are totally new. An example of the latter is a recent initiative for Cornetto for which Bauer produced a TV dating show to be hosted on social network Facebook. This was accessible either via Cornetto's, Heat's or FHM's Facebook pages. The recent launch of Grazia TV, meanwhile, was co-funded by Estée Lauder through a partnership Carvosso hopes will be a blueprint for working with other brands. An initial series of weekly, five-minute 'web-isodes' were available on Grazia's website and on YouTube. In each, original content was produced using the theme ‘10 Hot Stories’ - a regular feature in the print edition of Grazia magazine.
"10 Hots is a feature that absolutely articulates what the Grazia brand is all about: a platform that allows you to go from a story on haute couture fashion to the latest celebrity love crisis to the awful problem of rape in the Congo," says Carvosso. "Ten completely new stories were produced each week for Grazia TV, one of which was an Estée Lauder story - not advertorial about a new product launch, but a story that leveraged the Estée Lauder partnership. For example, a peek behind the scenes with Bobby Brown."
Grazia is a brand especially close to Carvosso's heart as she was launch publisher before becoming deputy managing director, women's lifestyle titles in 2007 - a post she held until taking up her current role in early 2010. And, more recently, she has taken over specific responsibility for further research and development of Gaz7etta, the Grazia spin-off men's weekly which Bauer tested with a pilot launched last autumn. Though an announcement is yet to be made publicly confirming launch plans, work is understood to be now underway reworking the pilot's format for further market testing.
"We have a deep understanding of men and men's interest from our lifestyle and music portfolio," she explains. "The men's market is very different to what it was ten years ago, and the current marketplace is challenging. But we are in no doubt: it is still an extremely powerful market to be in. The big question is: how best to unlock the opportunities there still are in print." One way is further mining men's lifestyle - what led to the launch in July of a new men's title called Outdoor Fitness. Another is constantly evolving and deepening existing product.
With FHM, for example, expectations are high of new editor Joe Barnes who oversaw the re-launch of Front, which he edited from 2006. In June, meanwhile, Bauer launched the first in a series of FHM-branded destination guide apps developed in partnership with Rough Guides. Elsewhere in the Bauer portfolio, Empire is gearing up for a major launch in August. Empire Presents ... BIG SCREEN, a live event for movie fans developed in partnership with Clarion Events. Taking place on August 12-14, it will be staged at London’s O2 and give visitors behind the scenes access to major entertainment properties as well as preview screenings, premieres, master classes, merchandise and star appearances.
The power of insight
Consumer insight is what powers all such product development, of course, and in the current media marketplace, it has become more important than ever. "Bauer is home to some of the UK's most influential brands and that's because consumer understanding is at the heart of what we do," Carvosso explains. "Insight is what's essential to create truly great products, so we are currently working to understand better the precise influence of our brands and their consumers."
One of Bauer's ongoing research studies, for example, is Phoenix - a proprietary in-depth survey of music consumers which has been running since 2003. The findings of the latest wave are now helping editorial, sales teams and Bauer's advertisers better understand and tap into the music influencers who consume its music brands. "What is the true value and potential of a Q reader?" Carvosso asks. "That's the kind of question we must now explore. As sales people, it has to be all about bringing our brands to life. Irrespective of whether it is a display ad or an integrated campaign we are talking about, the focus must be on helping clients unlock the best way for them to get involved."
Engaging with readers
Increasingly becoming as useful as formal insight studies, however, is direct engagement and interaction between Bauer teams and their end user: the reader. At a time when some still see bloggers and social media as competition to traditional media brands, Bauer's belief is that only by engaging with them head-on can its content remain compelling and relevant. A case in point was the June 14 edition of more! which was co-created by more! readers via Facebook. The magazine's 100,000-strong Facebook group is highly active and engaged, so editor Chantelle Horton put in place a social media-led approach to planning the issue and recruited and invited five 'super fans' to come to the editorial office and work directly on the pages.
It was, Carvosso says, a natural extension of the daily social interactions the more! editorial team already have. And it is with this kind of open and continuous dialogue with readers that sales teams are increasingly expected to engage. "It's no longer enough to understand TGI and NRS on a magazine, and training is no longer just about negotiation, sales and presentation - our sales people have to be plugged into what's going on with Facebook or Twitter," she says. "Increasingly, all of us are working more collaboratively. At the heart of this is the need to keep up with our consumers and translate this understanding into great new products for our readers and our clients. Moving forward, the better we do this, the better our business will be."