On 12 May, the PPA held its annual festival in London. The Marcus Morris Lecture, now an annual fixture at the event, was given by Condé Nast MD Nicholas Coleridge, who listed his ‘seven deadly sins of magazine publishing’ and his ‘seven golden rules for survival’. James Evelegh listened intently.
Nicholas Coleridge at the PPA Festival 2016.
Nicholas Coleridge doesn’t beat about the bush. He gives it to you straight and delegates at the PPA Festival were given a crystal clear insight into the magazine publishing philosophy of the Condé Nast executive.
Nicholas’ 7 Deadly Sins of Magazine Publishing:
1. Holding onto a dud editor or art director
Reasons for doing so might include the expense of paying them off; you might like them; it might be disruptive. All understandable reasons, but invariably wrong. A dud editor is like a “fog hanging low over a beautiful view – lift it, and everything clears”. Get rid of them – it’ll be a kindness to you both.
2. Beheading the talent
If you’ve got good staff, hold on to them. They might be more expensive, but they’ll be worth it. It’s not a commoditised market – not all art directors are the same!
3. Constantly degrading the magazine experience
If your partner became progressively 5% less attractive each month, you’d notice! So too will your readers notice the continual downgrading of paper stock. Glossy magazines need top quality paper.
4. Not reading magazines
“You’d be amazed how many top people in our industry don’t read their own magazines, let alone the competition. All our advertisers read our mags, so should you!”
5. Not turning up
“Our industry is 50% showbiz and you’ve got to turn up to industry events. It’s the easiest way to sell ads. Showing up at lipstick launches is part of the job, so if you like being on the 5.30 train home each evening, it’s not the job for you.”
6. Over-dependence on focus groups
An over-reliance on focus groups can lead to bland, sameish titles. Employ great editors to make the big decisions.
7. ‘We’re all doomed’ attitude
“I’m bored of experts banging on about this. We’re adapting and our print business is certainly not doomed. Three of the last ten issues of Vogue have been the fattest ever.”
Condé Nast International has apparently launched 35 magazines since 2011 and Nicholas listed a few of them. It would probably be churlish of me to note that most of these were overseas licensed editions of long-established Condé Nast titles and not new brands as such...
Nicholas’ 7 Golden Rules of Survival:
1. It’s the sizzle not the steak
Punch above your weight by building your brand equity.
2. Keep the tactile nature of magazines
“No-one collects websites!”
3. Have a smart reception area & board room
It helps the client feel that there’s something special about the magazine brand, and predisposes them to pay special prices.
4. Keep it personal
Nicholas confessed to being only marginally interested in the health of the magazine sector as a whole. What he cares about is ‘us’. He derives great pleasure when Condé Nast titles succeed, and almost as much pleasure when Condé Nast’s rivals don’t!
5. Don’t employ bores
If there’s a trait worse than being a bore, I think Nicholas would struggle to name it. “If you find someone tedious to talk to”, he said, “then so will your clients!” He, for one, prefers to be surrounded by amusing, witty, interesting people. If you’re going for a job interview at Condé Nast, or find yourself seated next to Nicholas at a dinner party, be warned.
6. Keep expanding
That’s what Condé Nast has been doing, with its fashion college, expanded video output, international licenses and a soon-to-launch e-commerce business.
7. Be excited about what you do
“We are all immensely fortunate to do what we do. We all work in a highly desirable industry, so don’t get spoilt, lazy or complacent. Keep turning up to the parties. Working in media is a blessing!”
It was a tour de force, a rousing call to arms from a man whose first article was published in Harpers & Queen in 1973 and who has been working in glossies ever since – the last 25 years as MD at Condé Nast.
It’s perhaps easy to point to the mega brands, like the 100-year-old Vogue, and the big budgets he’s lucky enough to manage and ponder how successful his philosophy would be in a struggling medium sized publisher, but then again, passion, dynamism, hard-work and a can-do attitude will make a difference anywhere.
“We all work in a highly desirable industry, so don’t get spoilt, lazy or complacent.”