FEATURE 

Come rain or come shine

Despite our truly abysmal summer, Gardeners’ World, which relaunched its magazine in March 2011, has continued to build momentum this year. Publishing director Dominic Murray tells us why the brand is thriving.

By Dominic Murray

Earlier this year, Gardeners’ World magazine used an innovative lavender-scented cover to promote a garden scent themed issue as part of our annual drive for extra sales. Despite one of the worst summers for gardeners on record, it generated a great response and the best newsstand result for over a year.

As everybody contends with the challenges of making a successful transition to a cross media world, what can be learned from an established specialist business still pretty firmly rooted in print?

The scent promotion characterises our approach. We are insight-led, willing to invest in developing our products, and focused on our core customers and their levels of engagement.

In March 2011, we re-launched the magazine. Now owned by Immediate Media Co, and published under licence, we take a brand-led approach to growing revenues and profits beyond print with digital, mobile and transactional models. This year, we have migrated our website gardenersworld.com to a new platform and re-launched our club for subscribers, guaranteeing them the ‘best deal’. Response levels by subscribers on offers have increased by 8% and their average spend with us is now three times that of non-subscribers.

Insight

The BBC TV programme draws over 2 million viewers weekly, throughout the gardening season. Commercially, the Gardeners’ World brand has transactional relationships with over 500,000 gardeners each year, equivalent to a quarter of the regular TV audience and 10% of the UK’s active keen gardeners. Retaining and developing these relationships, and extending our market penetration, lie at the centre of our publishing strategy.

We have a long history of experience in consumer segmentation and remain focused on audience insight. New work in this area recently highlighted a core group of our consumers who were very knowledgeable yet wanted to continue learning and improving their skills, had the highest propensity to buy and use magazines, and, importantly, spend with us. This provided the foundation for us to re-focus on our most important audience segment, and develop strategies for retaining, acquiring and winning back like-minded gardeners.

The 20th anniversary of Gardeners’ World magazine, in March 2011, was the catalyst for a turnaround in performance, and the whole team worked together to revitalise the title.

We carried out extensive in-depth research with all segments of our audience to inform a complete redesign for the anniversary edition. Content was measured monthly by readers against three key indicators (enjoyment, value for money and relevance) and research on the first full issue after the redesign showed the best-ever reader ratings for all three indicators.

Subscriptions

With the 7th largest monthly subscription base in the UK, subscriptions are a long-term strategic priority for Gardeners’ World magazine. The 20th anniversary presented a great opportunity to create a unique marketing campaign and we developed a strategy around the philosophy ‘subscribers get the best deal’.

For new customers, we introduced a time-limited special offer price of 12 issues for £20 and rolled out an extensive multi-channel acquisition campaign that yielded over 25,000 new subscribers – double the expected level - taking the subscription file to an all time high of over 160,000.

At the same time, we re-launched the subscriber club and introduced a Subscriber Exclusive Edition of the magazine with a dedicated cover and alternative content including ‘money can’t buy’ events and extra savings on offers. This club is now just as much about our loyalty to our subscribers as it is about their loyalty to us. We brought the ‘best deal’ philosophy to life visually throughout the magazine and on every piece of communication with subscribers and newsstand readers alike to reinforce the strength of the offer and the new subscriber benefits package.

In terms of trying to build long term sustainable growth, the anniversary offer price point was a bold move, but combined with the re-launched benefits package, one that paid off. With a significant price step-up at the end of the initial offer period, year two retention has been very encouraging, at over 65%.

A direct result of the success of the subscriptions campaign was two successive periods of year-on-year ABC circulation growth, increasing Gardeners’ World’s share of the paid-for gardening sector to a record 68%.

Digital

The growth story continues online where we are experiencing strong traffic and revenue growth. An essential channel for welcoming new audiences to the brand, gardenersworld.com is also the natural complementary destination for our print audience looking for further reliable, trusted practical advice and answers to specific questions or tasks.

In late 2011, straight after the creation of Immediate Media Company, we migrated the site to our new (formerly Magicalia) digital platform in just 12 weeks. The intuitive, dynamic platform means that articles are now twice as fast to prepare so the team can change and update the site more often. Imagine how useful this is when contending with drought warnings and hosepipe bans one minute, then experiencing one of the wettest summers on record the next - the story of our summer. Traffic to key ‘task list’ and ‘plant finder’ sections has increased by over 40% since migration.

We introduced a new forum and registration process - signing up over 300 members a day – two and a half times more than on the previous platform. Overall, loyalty and visit frequency are higher than ever, with over 40% of the audience visiting at least weekly.

Interaction and participation

The loyalty of our readers and in particular our valued subscribers, provides the perfect platform to extend our relationship with them – and we have moved progressively into experiences and transactions. Long-established but now also revitalised, our mail order activity is the fastest growing part of our business.

Working with key partners, we plan integrated offers and support them with some of the highest profile positions in the magazine and online. Contextualising the offers within relevant editorial content is where we’re adding real value for our audience and this has powered the levels of growth we are now seeing. Beyond plants and garden product offers, which often generate over 10,000 responses, we’re broadening our reader offering to include related events and experiences.

As part of our anniversary celebrations, we hosted a successful round Britain cruise, featuring the editor and key presenter talent, for 300 readers. In the past year, we have taken 400 readers on exclusive escorted tours of the royal gardens at Highgrove, and joined forces with Radio Times on a subscriber exclusive evening at the Royal Academy for David Hockney: A Bigger Picture. In June, we welcomed more than 6,000 subscribers to BBC Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC. In addition to the best price on tickets, they enjoyed a number of benefits at the show including a dedicated subscriber lounge and a goody bag of free products.

Subscribers enjoy preferential discounts or exclusive benefits on every single offer we feature, as well as all-year-round at a number of eCommerce partners.

Giving our premium subscription audience a warmer welcome, making special effort to ensure they feel valued, and highlighting all the extra benefits of membership of this group is paying real dividends beyond copy sales of the magazine and digital traffic. Greatly improved signposting and delivering on the promise to give subscribers the ‘best deal’ on offers has increased response levels and basket sizes. As mentioned earlier, subscribers’ average spend is now three times that of non-subscribers.

We are capitalising on this kind of audience engagement commercially too. We have an enviable ability to bring the different formats of the brand together to create unique opportunities for other (often non-gardening) brands to interact with a gardening audience on this scale. Nissan partnered with us in 2011 as a key part of their strategy to launch the new Micra, and PG Tips launched the ‘New Ones’ range with a multi-platform campaign in print, online and at Gardeners’ World Live. The PG Tips campaign was shortlisted at the 2012 AOP awards.

Summary

Our approach to building an integrated cross media business has audience insight, product development, and customer loyalty at its heart. We’ve had a successful year but it feels like the start of something much bigger. We want to continue developing engagement with our audience, and we want to be more successful in broadening our reach. We have a firm foundation on which to develop the team, the skills and culture we require in order to remain at the heart of our community of passionate like-minded people.