Features: April 20th, 2007

The Customer Magazine Going from Strength to Strength

By Bill Jenkinson

Organisations in the public sector have arguably a far more difficult task in communicating with their external audiences than their commercial counterparts.  The very nature of public sector organisations means the messages they need to convey are potentially more complex, and yet they will often have limited marketing budgets compared to commercial brands.

In addition, we now live in a media savvy environment, where time is a precious commodity and many are quick to switch off to marketing messages and other types of communication.  Furthermore, media fragmentation has to be taken into account when attempting to communicate with the public.  Specifically, during the last 15 to 20 years, the proliferation of new media outlets has been high.  Since 1990 there has been an increase of 560 per cent in the number of TV channels, 120 per cent in commercial radio stations, 80 per cent more cinema screens and 40 per cent more consumer magazines.

While the rise in the number of new channels, from internet to email and SMS, means there are more ways of reaching consumers and more scope for creative and engaging executions, technology has given consumers more control over their media consumption and irrelevant marketing messages now can and will be simply ignored or even actively edited out. However, even with such pressures, public sector organisations are making progress in cutting through the fragmented media landscape by embracing one communications tool which is currently going from strength to strength – the customer magazine.

Magazine growth

Customer magazines sent by the public sector now account for 6 per cent of the total customer publishing market in the UK, which Mintel predicts will become a £1billion industry by 2011.  In essence, customer magazines are produced by or on behalf of organisations for their customers, consumers or other stakeholders. They can be advantageous for organisations, especially where budgets are tight, as they can cost-effectively deliver on a range of marketing objectives while deepening brand engagement, including providing information and news, increasing loyalty and entertaining readers.

The majority of customer magazines are delivered through the post, meaning that they can be versionalised to maximise appeal and reach different audience demographics. As Royal Mail can deliver to every address in the UK, customer magazines distributed through the post allow organisations to tailor content to increase relevance to individual recipients while also taking advantage of the power of the magazine. They can also be easily integrated alongside other communication methods such as direct mail, to build awareness and provide more details on complex matters.

Measuring success

The Association of Publishing Agencies (APA), the trade body which promotes the customer magazine medium, has undertaken extensive research into the channel and its effectiveness. One example of this is the Advantage Study, undertaken through Millward Brown, which measures customer magazines as a marketing tool and allows marketers to compare the performance of their titles against others. Although the Advantage Study findings tend towards a commercial perspective, they undoubtedly show the medium to be a powerful tool as a means of consumer communication, educating readers and developing relationships with their audiences.

The Advantage Study found that brands employing customer magazines have seen an average increase in market share of approximately 8%, enjoy increased loyalty to their brand (32%), see a 9% improvement in their brand image, and are even able to provoke a greater response from their readers, with 44% found to interact with a brand as a direct result of reading the customer magazine they publish. For councils seeking to promote paid-for services such as parking permits these results are hard to ignore. Additionally, in a time when engagement with individuals is proving increasingly elusive, the average consumer voluntarily spends 25 minutes reading a customer magazine, the equivalent of watching 50 traditional TV adverts.  And over a quarter of customer magazine recipients pick up their copy to read three or more times before they finish with it, with nearly two thirds keeping a customer magazine for a week or longer with a third passing it on to friends. Clearly, the customer magazine medium engages with readers, who respond positively to the ‘soft-sell’ through well-written, relevant and entertaining editorial.

Army magazine is a perfect example of this.  For the third year in a row The British Army’s Army Magazine has been awarded Most Effective Public Sector Title at the APA Awards.  Giving a positive image to The Army at a time when recruitment is hard is of vital importance, and is the prime objective of the ‘Camouflage Programme’, launched in 2000 with the single objective of nurturing a database of army-interested 13-17 year olds.

Army Magazine, published by Haymarket Network, is an integrated part of this campaign.   The magazine focuses on the key recruitment triggers – rewarding career structures, training, travel, glamour, adventure, camaraderie, responsibility and diversity, and presents them in a way that’s accessible and exciting to this age group.  Its exceptional energy, a consistent tone and real confidence were all championed by the award judges; as was its extremely enthusiastic call to action, encouraging young people to seriously consider an Army career.

Another success story within the public sector is Teachers, the bi-monthly magazine from The Department for Education and Skills, produced by John Brown Publishing.  The magazine has a number of challenges to meet as the Government’s primary tool in communicating policy information to teachers throughout the UK.  It aims to achieve this goal by creating a balance between clearly delivering information and advice from the DfES relevant to today’s Teachers, whilst at the same time offering content they want to read.

For the second year running Teachers has won the prestigious APA Award for Most Effective Internal Communication, demonstrating how a carefully crafted customer magazine can engage, involve and encourage teachers via lively, compelling copy and clean, simple colourful design.  Reader research has shown that four out of five teachers rate its content as relevant, 73 per cent find the magazine informative and 95 per cent have done something as a result of reading the magazine – impressive statistics to say the least.

Delivering the message

The public sector faces many of the same issues as commercial organisations when planning and implementing communications strategies.  The objectives may be different, but the need to deliver successful communications programmes which make the best use of available budget remains the same.  Customer magazines can play a central role in public sector communications because of their versatility, targeted nature, and simply because they can deliver a wealth of relevant and engaging information right onto the audiences’ doormat.

Bill Jenkinson is Market Development Manager at Royal Mail.