Why we launched our own magazine
Ahead of hosting the BSME’s panel event How to Your Launch Your Own Magazine, eric’s content director Alex Mead explains why he decided to launch Rugby journal…
It was a packet of Tabs (the Pez-like sweets of the 80s) that caused the first editorial casualty of my career. The scene took place in our office, technically a shed in my parent’s back garden. It was cramped, but there was a roof and a typewriter, and a solid collection of felt-tip pens. We’d squirrelled away the sweets to stick on the cover of Friday Times – free gifts were always a hit at Eden Park Primary School, a most discerning audience – until we made the shocking discovery that one third of our editorial team had eaten them. With working relations destroyed beyond all repair, Friday Times was forced to fold. We weren’t the first title to close, and we wouldn’t be the last – it’s the kind of lesson every editor has to learn, even at eight years old.
Some time later (no need to talk specific numbers here), and with a few more successful editorships under my belt (spanning sport, fashion and food), I launched the second title of my career, Rugby, in 2017.
Why launch Rugby? It made sense. Not necessarily from a business-plan point of view, we’d just launched our creative agency eric, and our focus was and still is, on multi-platform content marketing for brands. Also from a commercial sense, putting out a high-end print product focused on one sport with no commercial backing, sponsors or advertising, isn’t exactly what the most astute of financial advisors recommend.
On the plus side, it did, however, show what we could do in print. And with our in-depth, long-form articles (every feature at least 3,000-words plus), it showed we could tell a good yarn too. Choosing to dispense with headlines and standfirsts, replacing them with novel-style intros, emphasised how Rugby was about genuine storytelling too.
Ironically, while we always make a point of furnishing every client with every stat and fact to support the creative we put in front of them, with Rugby I just had a hunch that it would work, and that if we weren’t the ones to fill this gap in the market, it wouldn’t be long before someone else did.
I thought it could be work for four reasons:
Market. Aside from a quite beautiful French title with very few words, there was nothing like this in the rugby sector. You can find great heritage titles the world over: Rugby World, NZ Rugby World et al, plus avid fan mags full of stats, but there wasn’t anything like this. I felt the world needed a rugby title that told timeless stories in that much-loved coffee-table format.
Print. Google ‘print is dead’ and, generally, up pops page after page of articles explaining why it isn’t. Because it isn’t. Sure in some sectors it has declined, and in others it’s almost disappeared, but its death has been grossly misreported. Fake news. It just needs to be used in a different way. The proof is the 100 or so independent titles that launched last year in the UK alone.
Team. I’m very lucky to work with a creative director that is nearly always on exactly the same page as me (in every sense), and I knew his art direction would bring this project to life. Perhaps over-riding all of that creative compatibility was that we also work very quickly, so I knew we could handle it on top of a growing eric workload.
Friends. Not only within eric, where our business director has become a master of newsstand sales, but collectively we had an incredible network of photographers, sub editors, writers, printers and even a distributor (actually a client), who were willing and, indeed, eager to get involved. Even my mother-in-law offered to proof read pages, which I accepted because, if you’re looking for someone to pick holes in your work…
We still didn’t know it would work, but, as I reasoned to my two eric co-founders while we stumped up an eye-watering first print bill, whatever happens we’ll have a great bit of print to show what we could do – it’ll be an acquisition tool, it was win-win.
We gave more than 1,000 away to prospects and corporate clients at The Varsity Match with the hope of hooking commercial interest/clients. A further 200 were put up for sale, with zero promotion aside from a few social posts from newly-formed accounts, via our client Aropec’s website. We needed to see if there was interest in a £10 rugby magazine, albeit quite a posh one with lots and lots of words and amazing pictures.
The response was nothing short of miraculous – at least in my eyes – the comments on social, from people we didn’t know, gave us an inkling we had something, that it wasn’t just us who thought it was great. One describing it as ‘Monocle for rugby’ was probably a favourite. Our launch issue cover star James Haskell, shot by the incredible Rick Guest, and his partner Chloe Madeley – who had been very much part of the story – gave it a huge push on social and we were off.
A month or so after it came out, we still didn’t really know what to do with the response. We may have had a business plan for eric, but not for an independent magazine. And as nice as the comments and sales were, it wasn’t going to be enough to get multi-million pound investment.
While we debated the merits and costs of an issue two, a phone call from the owner of a sports retail firm wanting to thank us for giving him ‘something to read on a Sunday’, helped to twist our arm. And just like that we had an advertiser.
Now, a year and four more issues later, we’ve just made our debut in WHSmith, and all revenue aspects, subscribers and advertisers, continue to grow.
Whether or not ‘it works’ is more about how you define a magazine working. None of us are planning early retirement, but it’s helped us add a client or two, we’re getting award nominations and, best of all, we’ve fashioned something that’s truly ours, creatively and literally.
What’s more, it’s all about a topic that we love, centred around great people and places (like Rotherham) that go far beyond the rugby field. That’s pretty much all we could ask from our magazine launch.
And just as long as we don’t go down that Tabs giveaway route, I can’t see any reason why it won’t continue to work for us.
Alex Mead is chairing a BSME panel event on How to Launch Your Own Magazine at The Bloomsbury on Monday 4th March.
Tickets cost £20 (free for BSME members), click here to book.
For more information on Rugby, visit therugbyjournal.com