This article first appeared in Press Gazette
Not so long ago, Louise Chunn and Marie O’Riordan were facing it off across the newsstand: Chunn at InStyle, O’Riordan at Marie Claire. Yet this year, they were competing for the contract to publish the John Lewis magazine.
For many years, customer publishing was considered the poor relation among magazine publishers. But publishing agencies were quietly building an impressive portfolio of titles: many would not disgrace the newsstand – indeed, the source of their funding means that their production values can be higher than their paid-for cousins. There are now over 1000 customer titles, with 92 launches in the last 18 months: two of these (I and Arise) have been nominated for BSME’s Launch of the Year category.
Such a proliferation of titles means a proliferation of opportunities for contract hire that a media search consultancy can help with. Because of the constraints of the business (pitches are often won on price) salaries can be tight, but there are almost always openings. Positions are not always advertised on the company websites, because they are often recruiting for secret projects: the best thing is to get in touch with the HR team leaders or editorial directors and send them your details.
So – what does it take to work in customer publishing? Sara Cremer, who joined Redwood as Editorial Director from Eve, says that the main requirements are those of traditional journalism: “You need to be a great writer and editor, a good ideas person, be able to think across different platforms and be a real master of tone of voice – for a lot of clients, this will be the longest conversation they have with their customer.” The client is what makes the difference: “You need to have a great understanding of a client’s business, their objectives, and the audience. You work in partnership with them; it requires diplomacy, and a willingness to listen and understand, and also the confidence to guide your client when necessary.”
It’s not for everyone, of course. The fact that the client has the final say puts many journalists off. Lori Miles, former editor of Mizz, TV Quick and others, was also editorial director of Cedar. “The crux, the make or break, is always the relationship with the client. You will soon find yourself defending your copy against a cocky piss-and-vinegar 20 year old from the company’s marketing department telling you how to do your job. You can ‘push back’, as it’s euphemistically called, but if they insist, there’s nothing you can do. They are the pay master.”
And to that age old charge of it being “just” marketing, Cremer has an emphatic answer. “Yes, it is marketing. But there is often more freedom here than on the newsstand, where people get very nervous about trying new things. Content agencies are driving some of the best creative work in the country at the moment.”
Louise Chunn is now back on the newsstand with Psychologies. Did she enjoy her brush with customer publishing? “I did” she says. “There is a lot of room for creativity, so it was a lot of fun.” Fun, and one of the few areas of publishing still expanding.