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In the wake of the Leveson inquiry, it is interesting to see that the tabloid press was overshadowed with this week's news that Tesco Magazine is more widely read than the Sun.
Whilst arguably the Sun enjoys greater audience engagement (being published daily, rather than bi-monthly like Tesco) - the retailer's triumph proves the power of mass distribution. In-store/in-flight magazines have long been considered niche, but Tesco's leapfrog proves that a free circulation model can command a similar audience to traditional print models. According to the National Readership Survey, The Sun still reaches a larger audience overall (due to its more frequent publishing) but the news certainly shows the strength of a free distribution model. Cedar, the content marketing agency that produces Tesco Magazine, also has a raft of titles including British Airways Business Life (which reaches 1.4m million readers a month).
Whilst Tesco Magazine editor Helen Johnston's claim that, "What's clear from these results is that right now, when it comes to print, branded content is king," may be a little bold, it's a testament to the strength of owned media. The in-store publications of Asda, M&S, Sainsbury's and Boots all scored higher readerships than the Daily Mirror. This conscious editorial investment by consumer publishers, with ex-newstand title staff heading the realms and the provision of content to rival paid-for publications has worked.
It's also evident that consumers are actively engaging with these magazines, rather than viewing them as annoying leaflets. However, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves when we say that branded content is king - for me, high-quality independent journalism will always win. The long-held split of church and state between advertisers' messages and editorial control by editors for so long is less relevant to consumers and brilliantly demonstrated by editorial-led commercial models such as pret-a-porter.com.
This news should impact on all brands – a view I've long held that they should be acting like media companies, by starting to produce and distribute their own content in editorial format. Tesco has leveraged its significant retail footprint and national distribution to create a successful print media brand extension. It shows the increasing impact of distribution models to continue to drive print circulation. This has been seen in the turnaround and success of the Evening Standard when it switched lots of paid-for vendors into an even higher, free footfall.
Branded content may be enjoying a growth spurt, but I would still insist editorial is king.
Warren Johnson is the founder of PR agency W Communications, which counts The Independent, London Evening Standard and Hearst Magazines among its clients
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