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Standing out from the crowd

It is often remarked that, for such a creative industry, it is surprising how badly publishers let themselves down at point of sale. Yet, says Colin Massie, taking steps to ensure your title is noticed at retail can make all the difference to the bottom line.

By Colin Massie

Creative point of sale can help products capture the full attention of the consumer through engaging them and converting them to purchase. Investment in creatively produced point of sale can impact on a product’s sale.

However, the well chronicled changes to the retail environment and the consolidation of large swathes of marketshare has led to a continuing rise in the cost of display at retail with supermarket and multiple newsagents becoming more and more aggressive in their control and pricing structures. The promotional spend at retail is expected to be in excess of £30 million in 2006 – up from £2 million a decade ago. The larger publishers are all fighting for the prime promotional space and paying these costs.

Trade marketing budgets

This massive growth in supplier funding, combined with the changing retail sales pattern, has resulted in an increased focus on retail display. Whereas publishing houses traditionally worried about the product and on-pack promotion, they now have to allocate budget to support a magazine at retail. And, having invested in this space at retail, publishers are under pressure to maximise their sales and ensure the best possible return on this investment. This is where point of sale can make a crucial difference, by effectively highlighting the promoted magazines. But limitations on what is allowed in-store vary across different retail groups.

Regular promotions

Tesco, WH Smith High Street, Alpha Retail and other groups, provide the point of sale placed in their stores for regular promotions "free of charge". This is, in fact, included within the promotional space charge (however Tesco then does charge a further amount for the design – although this amounts to little more than placement of the front cover on a pre-designed template). This point of sale provides little scope for publisher input and can best be described as functional. There is more scope where free-standing display space is booked, but restraints on the allowable footprint in-store limit this.


Publishers are investing heavily in point of sale, especially in more permanent display solutions that use metal and acrylic material as opposed to the more traditional cardboard. This move, albeit more expensive initially, has added a new dimension to magazine point of sale. This allows the publisher to brand the retailer’s shelf with a unit, the colour and overall design of which is an extension of the magazine. Through longevity of use in-store the initial higher cost is recouped over the minimum six month or, more normal, twelve month placement, giving focus and continuity of shelf position, familiarisation for the consumer and overall standout from the titles displayed adjacent to the unit.

Seeing point of sale, which is traditionally thought of as a short term display option to drive sales, in terms of more permanent display solutions is an area all publishers should research. You may ask "Don’t magazines get placed on the shelf anyway?" and "Why would publishers invest precious budget in permanent displays which are there already?" Many publishers have wisely acknowledged that that is not enough to attract a greater consumer audience. A good example of this is seen within WHS High Street where Emap has invested in a bright pink plastic hotspot unit, reserving space at the front of the shelf for Grazia. The unit shows all the hallmarks of an extension to the brand values, in design, colour and graphics. The magazine stands out, maintains a full face display for the whole selling period and enhances the overall category look.

Many other examples of innovation exist:

* FHM "high street honey" in-store promotions.
The campaign has developed over several years from cardboard stacker units, through lifesize cardboard model cut-outs to in-store metal and glass boxes to post your votes and interact with the magazine, the store and the promotion. Each year FHM has successfully reinvigorated similar type promotions with innovative display units to grab the reader’s attention.

* Psychologies.
The recent launch from Hachette also invested heavily on the in-store potential, fully co-ordinating the design of all point of sale as an extension of the above the line activity, with the same theme running throughout everything they produced. They invested that extra bit of budget to ensure this was the case – right down to t-shirts for the sampling activity run at airports and mainline stations.

* Puzzler Media.
They looked at retail display issues and succeeded in creating additional selling space which allowed them to expand both their revenue and their retailers through careful design and use of parasite hanging units for their small pocket puzzle range. These small handy magazines were invariably getting lost on display and thus were easier for retailers to not stock than to display. Puzzler Media successfully removed this objection with their branded parasite hanging units, which fix to the front of a shelf and allow the titles to be clearly displayed without stealing any space from the normal display.

Do not, however, underestimate the power of traditional point of sale – wobblers, posters and shelftalkers - to highlight a magazine or a specific promotion and thereby increase sales. They continue to be a strong medium to ensure that a magazine "stands out" that little bit from competitors.

By co-ordinating all promotional material for a title, publishers can extend their brand recognition, enhance all aspects of display in-store and increase sales. Don’t look at point of sale as a necessary evil, demanded by the retailer and therefore an extra cost, but rather as a clear opportunity to interact with your reader, stand-out and develop the final part of their relationship with your magazine, converting that one-in-three issue casual purchaser to every second issue or even to every issue.

But be careful. As with free gifts, point of sale must, wherever possible and subject to the retailers’ restrictions, always reflect brand values. If not, then you will end up turning readers away with poorly thought through activity, such as obtrusive free standing units with poor access to the magazines, loud colours which do not fit in with the subject matter or editorial tone of the title or poorly thought out placement in-store. Loud colours, for example, may make the whole display difficult for the consumer brain to assimilate quickly within the small time-frame where buying decisions are made – especially hitting the impulse purchase.

Launch activity

A further point to note is the difference between the high profile requirements of a launch compared to the ongoing requirements of an established title which has already built a relationship with its readers. A launch must grab the consumer’s attention, encourage sampling and drive overall awareness. Psychologies, by virtue of its title and editorial proposition, needed to gain this initial recognition, establish a point of difference and entice sampling. This was achieved by the co-ordination and subtle use of colour on all promotional material, bombarding the potential consumer consciously and sub-consciously through all media channels culminating at the point of purchase where re-emphasis of a simple message successfully achieved the goal of awareness and sampling.

PoS for established titles

Established titles, on the other hand, require point of sale to stimulate the regular, irregular and potential reader through recognition and point of difference. People tend to be creatures of habit and need to be jolted at the point of purchase to buy an additional title or switch from another title. All too often, fabulous magazines are published yet potential readers never become aware that they even exist. Good quality, innovative point of sale can help to bridge the gap – as long as it works with the title not against it. It is all too easy to produce point of sale quickly, to satisfy a retailer’s demands, which does none of this. Publishers must invest a percentage of their marketing budget to achieve this. Other FMCG manufacturers recognised this years ago and hence the majority now spend a higher percentage below the line than above the line. Invariably it is more difficult to achieve this with magazines as each has its own identity and individual needs. Planning is key.

Maximising investment

How do publishers plan the most effective use of their available budget? Firstly - traditional circulation planning such as market analysis, title promotional activity and seasonal peaks. Secondly - retail planning such as booking of space, display requirements and effective short or long term point of sale. By planning effectively, the investment at retail can be maximised fully, all activity produced and delivered on time, with follow-up support through merchandising investment to ensure compliance in all stores.

Finally, publishers and distributors need to ensure that they have the resource to plan and develop retail activity properly – everything from sourcing multiple quotes from suppliers, creating prototypes of display solutions and providing distribution and merchandising solutions. Specialist trade marketing agencies can assist here in managing the process.


There is no denying that it is becoming more difficult to ensure your title is displayed at retail. The cost of that display is continuing to rise and point of sale is becoming increasingly important, grabbing a larger share of the available marketing budget each year. It’s imperative that retailers and publishers work together to develop effective point of sale solutions, thereby helping to drive sales of the category as a whole.

Innovation has always been part of the magazine world and magazines continue to be vibrant wonderful products, but we must now bring this creativity to bear in our retail plans - at the start of title and budgetary planning, not as an after thought.