PPA Magazine Awards
Scottish Famer Collected the top awardPublishing a magazine in Scotland these days is no mean feat. Bringing out a regular title that makes money is not straightforward, and producing a publication strong enough to last for years is almost impossible. So when Glasgow-based title The Scottish Farmer, in its 111th year in business, picked up the Magazine of the Year title at this year’s PPA Scotland Scottish Magazine Awards, even its category rivals had to concede that it was deserving.
The magazine, part of the Newsquest (Herald & Times) group, was one of 125 titles entered into the 2004 awards. It scooped both the Best Business and Professional Magazine of the Year and the overall Magazine of the Year trophies, topping two of the 15 categories awarded on the evening.
With the wins firmly in hand, the magazine’s editor, Alasdair Fletcher, took time out to speak to The Drum about life at Scotland’s top title. It’s something he knows a lot about, having first joined the magazine over 30 years ago.
“In these 111 years I’m only the fifth editor,” says Fletcher. “So continuity’s a thing. Most people you see here have been here for some time. I started in 1973, the two photographers started in 1974, Kenny, my deputy, started in 1977. Dougie (MacSkimming), who was the runner-up for the writer award, has worked here about three times since he was a boy.”
Part of the title’s success at retaining staff, says Fletcher, comes from the fact that his team are passionate about what they’re writing about. He explains: “Most of the people here are agriculturalists rather than straight journalists. I would think if we were taking trainees we would find it easier to turn an agriculturalist into a journalist rather than turn a journalist into an agriculturalist. The other thing is it’s certainly not for the money. But it is a great job and the staff have great loyalty.”
Though the magazine has been in existence for over a century, the team is always keen to adapt and stay modern, as exemplified by a major change a couple of years ago.
“The big change happened when we redesigned The Scottish Farmer to have editorial on the front cover,” remarks Fletcher. “For the first 109 years of its life it had ads on its cover. We redesigned it, which led to a circulation increase for the first time that I can remember (the magazine now has a circulation of just under 22,000).
“There were some traditionalists at the time who thought it was the wrong step, because they had been familiar with the way it was. At the Highland Show one woman came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve made a dog’s breakfast of it!’ But she was in the minority.”
And, despite opinionated readers, the editorial team of 11 staff are constantly on the move, attending agricultural events around Scotland. Fletcher says: “I think one thing we are good at is having the personal touch. Our staff turn up at most of the big events, and there are a lot of them, believe it or not. If we have to go to Orkney, we go to Orkney, if it’s Caithness, we go to Caithness. The strengths of the title are our staff and knowing our readers and our advertisers.”
Reporting on the farming industry, The Scottish Farmer has seen some pretty turbulent times in recent years. From foot and mouth, through to a dangerous drop in the amount paid to farmers for milk to the continuing BSE trouble, the magazine has consistently championed Scottish farming.
And Fletcher maintains that, going forward, the magazine will continue to face the industry’s problems. He says: “The main challenge for the magazine is the same as the main challenge facing the farming industry, which is a move away from EU production subsidies to environmental subsidies and environmental rules and regulations, which is called the Single Farm Payment. It’s a huge sea change, which farmers are going to have to meet, and it will ultimately lead to lower production and, probably, fewer farmers. So we have to meet that and at the same time find more readers, because if there are fewer farmers we will lose some.”
One route to increasing the readership could be expanding outside Scotland. The Scottish Farmer already has subscribers in the North of England, Ireland and Wales. Could the magazine launch another edition at some point?
Fletcher says: “I wouldn’t say it’s on the agenda next week or early next year but it’s something we would consider, of course. We certainly get asked by some of our readers down south, who like what we do, why we don’t produce an English version, Welsh version or a UK-wide version.”
Trouble within the farming industry hasn’t been the only hurdle that the magazine has faced in recent years, either. Along with every other publication in the UK, The Scottish Farmer has had to maintain revenues in the face of slashed marketing budgets. Unlike a large number of other magazines, however, the title has managed to increase its profits through this tough time. “I would have said that the pressures for us are the same as for everybody else. We’ve had to adapt. For example, farm property advertising has declined a bit, as has some of our traditional auction market advertising. So we’ve just had to go out and find the adverts elsewhere. It’s just like everywhere else – we’re all having to run harder just to stay still or gain a bit. But advertising revenue in the last year is up about five per cent. Our market share of the agricultural market has risen over the last two years.”
After 111 years The Scottish Farmer is still increasing both its circulation and revenue. Is it any wonder the magazine took the top prize at this year’s PPA Scotland awards? Next year’s contenders have a hard act to follow.