Readers’ editor: BMJ cruise, anyone?

David Payne Readers of the Radio Times can visit locations used in the filming of Sir David Attenborough’s Africa on a tailor made tour offered by the 90 year old UK listings magazine. The Africa trip is one of dozens of destinations listed on RT Travel page and the latest example of how publishers are increasingly thinking like retailers to offer their readers everything from holidays to horticulture.
The Radio Times sells 900 000 print copies a week. Its Christmas issue sells 2.2m, and the magazine’s website has 3m unique users. Its readership is ageing, but 60% are in social grade ABC1, with spare cash to spend on leisure pursuits such as travel and gardening.

Tom Bureau, CEO of Immediate Media Company, which has published the title since 2011, told the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) annual conference in London last week how Radio Times markets these “curated travel offers” to both print and web readers using an e-commerce platform and close collaboration between the editorial and brand teams.

Publishers aren’t just becoming retailers either. They are also joining the education sector. Susie Forbes, former deputy editor of British Vogue, is now the principal of Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, which opened a month ago and currently offers a 10 week course, leading to a Vogue Fashion Certificate, aimed at helping aspiring fashionistas enter the hugely competitive industry. From October, it will offer a one year Vogue Fashion Diploma. The college is also thinking about offering two year undergraduate degrees and partnering with a university to offer a Masters Degree programme.

When the college opened, there were 180 applicants for 45 places, many of them graduates in other disciplines rather than school leavers. She told the meeting: “We needed to refect the quality and excellence of magazine brands. If our students are engaged, brilliant, and highly employable, we will have been successful.”

The company needed to learn about compliance and accreditation before the college opened its doors. Students are taught by visiting designers, journalists, and stylists, including some Condé Nast staffers. How do they feel about taking time out from their Devil wears Prada day job to teach? Forbes joked that editorial colleagues run the other way when they see her coming since she took on her new role, but tutors are mainly drawn from the wider fashion industry.

Both Radio Times and the Condé Nast titles are unashamedly consumer titles. How are business publications diversifying? William Drew edits Restaurant. In 2002 the catering title ran a feature about the world’s 50 best restaurants. That feature has since spawned an industry sponsored three day annual event in London, an accompanying book launches listing the top 50 restaurants (as voted by 900 experts), and accompanying food festivals.

When the Danish restaurant Noma was named No 1 last year, it received 100 000 reservation requests in 24 hours. The website announcing the winners had 500 000 visits in the three days after the announcement of the 2012 winners.

Drew told the conference that the 50 Best Restaurants event was successful because it had strict voting criteria, was industry led but relevant to consumers, and a mix of print, digital, and face-to-face events. There are now offshoots covering Asia and Latin America.

What has any of this to do with the BMJ, I hear you ask. More than you’d think. The journal has extended its brand (horrible phrase!) in recent years.

The day after learning about the 50 Best Restaurants initiative I was in a packed London hotel ballroom watching comedian Dara Ó Briain present BMJ Awards to 14 winners. Categories in the sponsored event—the fifth to be held—include research paper of the year and team awards covering primary care, mental health, cancer, child health, diabetes, patient safety, renal medicine, technology, and cardiovascular medicine, among others. For the first time in the event’s five year history we awarded a “grand prix” medical team award to BRINOS, set up in 1988 to treat ear disease among patients living outside the reach of hospitals in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. As I mentioned in a previous blog, next year our first BMJ Awards for India will be held.

We don’t have a college like Condé Nast, but we do run a successful learning product offering online modules and Masterclasses. Also, instead of running paid courses about medical publishing we award £1200 grants to medical students who come each year for the eight week Clegg Scholarship placement. It’s very hands on and there is no formal training. Editorial colleagues also regularly get invited to run writing for publication workshops in the UK and overseas.

Would any of Radio Times‘s initiatives work on the BMJ? I’ve struggled to think of how a BMJ Travel division would work (disease hotspots of the world?!), but I do recall a colleague suggesting some years ago that print BMJ readers might like a wine club of the kind run by Laithwaites for The Sunday Times.

Can brand and product extensions of the kind described above damage your core product? This gets taken very seriously at the BMJ. We have a brand integrity group, led by editor in chief Fiona Godlee and Luisa Dillner, head of research and development. The group meets regularly to discuss sponsorship guidelines and other potential synergies (and conflicts) between our commercial and editorial outputs.

So all ideas for wine clubs, travel agencies, or gardening offers (perhaps tied in to the BMJ blogger Richard Lehman’s Plant of the week?) would probably face the brand integrity team’s scrutiny.

David Payne is editor, bmj.com, and readers’ editor.

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