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Newsstand opportunities: 5 minutes with… Joel Griffiths

The pandemic has forced publishers to be more creative with their newsstand strategies. The good news is that sales opportunities still exist and that, as we emerge from lockdown, they will increase, says Marketforce’s Joel Griffiths.

By Joel Griffiths

Newsstand opportunities: 5 minutes with… Joel Griffiths

Q: How have publishers adjusted their newsstand strategies in light of Covid?

A: There isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question as publishers have seen a range of impacts on their newsstand performance based on the shape of their retail channel distribution. By this, I mean that those magazines with a broader reach across all retail channels have typically fared better to the disruption at the newsstand and changes in shopping patterns caused by covid.

Generally speaking, the first national lockdown saw publishers take a cautious approach to cost control as we all tried to forecast the impact of such an unprecedented event on the newsstand. However, we have learned much since then and saw a continued recovery across 2020. Fortunately, we are a part of the industry that is relatively blessed with a good range of data and that has allowed publishers to react in the right way for each of their businesses.

It shouldn’t go unsaid that the industry, supply chain, and retailers should rightly take pride in how the newsstand remained so effective in the face of such difficult circumstances.

Q: As we start to emerge from the pandemic, what should publishers be considering?

A: I’m optimistic that the recovery will continue over 2021 and therefore publishers should be considering a strategy and tactics to capitalise in a couple of areas.

Probably the largest shift we have seen is in shopping patterns. It is now well reported that people are shopping less frequently, more locally and more online of course. The newsstand has certainly seen a material shift in demand from traditional High Street and Travel channels to Independents and Convenience retailers, with the Grocery channel remaining robust and gaining share. The world has changed and I would expect some of these patterns to remain. Therefore, publishers should be reviewing their current retail channel strategy to capitalise on these changing shopper patterns.

Given we know that people are shopping less frequently, particularly within the Grocery channel, it means it is more important than ever to capture shoppers’ attention when they are in stores. Promotional tactics are vital and it’s really about re-focussing and reinvesting in a combination of tactics, whether that’s the basics of ensuring your product is shouting effectively about what’s essential about the latest issue, or calling out real additional perceived value. It is also worth considering taking advantage of promotional vehicles that help you capture a shopper’s attention within the category or gain a secondary siting in a more impulse driven area of the store.

Q: What can the industry do together to increase retail sales in the medium and long term?

A: The first point I would make is around in-store operations. It could probably be conceived as being rather dull in the context of the question, however, the emergence of the pandemic has accelerated the need for the industry to address simplification of the magazine category in-store. I believe this not only supports the sustainability of the space that the category currently enjoys but it should allow retail buyers and their colleagues to focus on a more sales-driven agenda at the point of purchase (rather than spending their time on the many processes associated with simply getting them in and out of the store). The industry has made progress here and, though these developments are in their infancy and need refinement, they should be the first steps towards a more progressive conversation in the future.

Secondly, and probably a little more of a creative take, is the need for increased collaboration on in-store promotional campaigns at category and sector level. When it comes to this area, retailers are looking for promotions that are consistent and simple for their customers to take advantage of in-store. I believe there is, and will always be, a place for strong magazine brand campaigns but we also need to find ways to work less parochially and deliver cross-category promotions that genuinely engage customers and move the needle for the retailer and us.

Finally, we need to explore new retailers to bring the newsstand to and support growth. Several retailers provide a perfect fit for magazines from either a demographic or shopper mission point of view. As an industry, we can work more cohesively to create a compelling case and simple solution for magazines to become an intrinsic part of their customer offer.

Q: Where do you see the main newsstand opportunities?

A: The pandemic is not only changing shopping behaviour, it has changed people’s lives and is shaping their interests. Sectors that cater to burgeoning interests because of the pandemic have seen material growth, such as Gardening, Adult Colouring, and Puzzles.

One of the real strengths of magazines is the ability to react very quickly to changing interests, be fleet of foot and cater to new audiences. So, consumer trends and insight are a key area for us to stay tuned and react to. Retailers are looking to provide their customers with products that cater to the latest zeitgeist, so a well-positioned proposition is likely to be well received.

I have already mentioned that carefully considering the retailer channel strategy is a real opportunity. As an industry, we are blessed with a wealth of data. This, alongside an increased ability to target stores specifically at retail based on the sales potential, means that we can prospect more intelligently and cost-effectively. This isn’t completely new but I still feel, if exploited correctly, there remains a genuine area of opportunity for specialist magazines in applying this methodology.

Finally, in this area, I would certainly add selling more magazines online at retail. Given the rise in online grocery shopping, it is perhaps one of the more common questions we are being asked in recent months. Whilst I am not going to pretend that this isn’t without difficulty or complexity, for those magazines fortunate enough to be ranged online we are seeing high growth, so I see it as a genuine opportunity.

Q: With everyone talking about subs, can you remind us why the newsstand is still so important?

A: The newsstand remains a key part of the publishing marketing mix, representing a cost-effective way to reach, engage and grow a publisher’s brand and audience, as well as being an important revenue stream in its own right.

Over the past year, newsstand customers have shown great support for magazines as the pandemic hit. They have changed their shopping habits and searched for our brands, which is real evidence of how print remains relevant in their lives and the newsstand an important vehicle for them to find it.

Moving forwards, there’s still plenty of opportunities to explore and the newsstand remains the number one way for publishers to engage and recruit new customers. With any luck, publishers will then be able to develop a deeper relationship with some of those customers who were won at the newsstand.

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