Press Pass: Julia Raphaely on finding the sweet spot in a disrupted world
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Declining circulation figures, diverted adspend and changing consumer expectations may be destabilising traditional media models, but publications can thrive if they’re are prepared to reinvent themselves, reckons Julia Raphaely. The ticket to success, says the CEO of women’s magazine media house, Associated Media Publishing (AMP), is remaining relevant.
“You’ve got a disrupted world,” she says. “Each media business needs to understand what they do really well, what their sweet spot is, and they need to keep creating exceptional work.” In the case of AMP, she says, its strength has long been in building brands and audiences. “For 35 years, we’ve created content that does exactly this, and we’ve driven conversations that really matter — that’s why we’ve remained relevant. I think that our job is to continue to look for the relevance.” Established in 1984, AMP is the company behind Cosmopolitan South Africa, as well as House & Leisure and Good Housekeeping/Goeie Huishouding, among other household magazine brands. AMP also published Marie Claire South Africa until December 2018.
To be relevant means addressing consumer needs, whether they be entertainment, shopping or advice, says Raphaely — and this is something that women’s magazine media are well placed to do. Cosmopolitan is a good case study of how this may be achieved over the long term, she says, with the flagship title having successfully transitioned from being a brand in just one medium to a multiplatform name with an audience that is largely millennial and on the move in terms of how they engage with media. “Over the last 365 days, we have created approximately 6253 pieces of original content, which generated 85m in views,” she says. The team is focused on creating content that carries global relevance and drives perception of the brand: Raphaely mentions February 2018’s Laverne Cox cover as an example of how the magazine is doing this.
Relevance is not restricted to the realm of progressive editorial decisions, however, and she emphasises the importance of shifting perceptions — both within the publishing company and within its readership — away from an outdated, artificial division between digital and print, towards an integrated, holistic content model. This extends to revenue strategy, perhaps best exemplified through AMP’s Ready to Shop feature, which adds QR codes to print magazines for a shoppable experience. Ready to Shop won Bronze at this year’s IAB Bookmarks Awards.
Consumers, not readers
“In the past, as a magazine publisher, we used to think of readers, readers, readers — and obviously everyone does read, whether you’re on a digital or print platform — but, at the end of the day, you’re not talking to readers, you’re talking to consumers,” says Raphaely. “You have an ability, through reframing your focus, and utilising your brand platforms as shop windows, to encourage and help online shopping — and we do need to do that in South Africa, as publishers.”
It was previously the case that “people created content, and we put it out there, and then it sold, and we carried on in the next issue and next issue,” she says. Nowadays, the entire team “knows exactly what work is coming in, for which client, how quickly it gets turned around, whether it converts or not, and what everyone’s doing.” Moving towards a model perhaps more akin to those traditionally found in agencies, AMP has rolled out a workplace management tool, Chase, across the business — and the 72-strong team has embraced it, she says.
The trick to embedding new ways of doing business into legacy media companies is finding partners and clients who want to collaborate, and then monetising that in a way that allows you to remain authentic as a brand, says Raphaely. “I don’t think that digital platforms or publishers have got it all worked out yet but, at AMP, we’ve realised the importance of creating content that is relevant, that our audience relates to, that resonates with them.”
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Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her column, “Press Pass”, is a monthly feature spotlighting media leaders and their responses to the trends and tribulations in the industry.