Media Innovation Awards 2014: Green Star Media

Coals to Newcastle! Carolyn Morgan looks at how a Surrey-based publisher took a new basketball magazine to the US.

By Carolyn Morgan

UK niche publisher Green Star Media join the 2014 Media Innovation Awards shortlist with their audacious launch of a weekly into the US market using a clever combination of e-publishing and online marketing, showing that digital media can remove borders.

Andrew Griffiths, MD, explains their journey: “After six years successfully exporting advice to the US on how to play the English games of rugby and football, it was the thought on everyone’s mind at Green Star Media – could we do the same with the all-American game of basketball?

Six months after the launch of Basketball Coach Weekly, the publication has been warmly welcomed in the US and is trading ahead of budget with subscriber numbers 20% ahead of projections. By using e-publishing and e-marketing methods Green Star Media is penetrating a competitive market and successfully taking market share from incumbent magazines and websites.

The challenges faced by Green Star Media publishing director Kevin Barrow and operations director Toby Curthoys were threefold. Would a primarily US audience of more than 1.8m basketball coaches accept the idea of a product serving their sport being published in a small village in Surrey, England? How would the publishers overcome the inability to deliver a printed product (not viable given print and postage costs), and how would the marketing messages reach the audience?

The company sought support from UK Trade & Industry, which part-funded a fact-finding mission to the US by Barrow. His research led to a clear understanding of the market needs including seasonal trends and the market sectors in basketball.

Key decisions were to bring on board Michael Austin, an experienced basketball editor based in Portland, Oregon, and to make the publication US letter format, rather than A4. The team was also successful in sourcing email lists of basketball coaches, which gave the green light to Green Star Media’s preferred permission-based email marketing approach. Basketball Coach Weekly was also immediately available on tablet through Apple Newsstand, where single issue and subscription sales are encouraging.

Before launch in September 2013, a significant section of the target audience had been identified and could be targeted by email with the launch offer, resulting in ahead of target new subscribers. With layout and production of the PDF format publication outsourced, costs have been kept tightly under control and the product is expected to make a contribution to profits 18 months after launch.

More than 80% of subscribers are US-based, with the balance mainly in Canada and Australia. Reader reaction has been positive. James Doepke of Southwestern High School Varsity Girls, said: “I am in the process of rebuilding a [training] program. This is where I find your weekly updates most helpful.” Wade Wolff, Colfax Youth Development League Director said: “I highly recommend this magazine to any and all coaches to keep their practices fresh.”

The project has more than proved that the Green Star Media business model can be extended to other sports where the main audience is outside the UK. Now the company is looking at developing similar products for running, fitness and other team sports.

The Media Innovation Awards are designed to recognise innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in publishing and media businesses, both large and small. Launched in 2010 as the Media Pioneer Awards, and supported by InPublishing, they celebrate new ideas and experimentation across print, web, mobile and events.

Read about the rest of the shortlist here.

Winners will be announced and awards presented at the Digital Media Innovation Conference on 8 April.