'Magazine media must act as a bridge between audience and sector'; report from the PPA Festival Editor's Panel

A panel of media experts discussed the changing role of the editor during a panel at last week's PPA Festival, which offered insights and advice on the use of video, the effects that the change in a commercial strategy can have in publication's outlook, engagement strategies and the pressures the role entails.

Presented by Heat editor, Lucie Cave, the panel was made up of Sam Barcroft, founder and chief executive of video producer, Barcroft Media, Chris Hewitt, news editor of Empire, Caroline McGinn, editor and chief of Time Out London, Mimi Turner, marketing director of The LAD Bible publisher, 65twenty.

Barcroft offered his insight on the rise of video content for media companies and highlighted the value of the content that quality video could offer, however he warned companies against the idea that journalists can simply take on writing scripts, advising the professional producers be consulted and learned from.

"At the end of the day great journalism is about spotting great stories and telling them really well and if you are patient enough and you work hard enough you can learn to do it well enough," stated Barcroft.

McGinn discussed the problems Time Out faced when it changed its commercial strategy to drop its cover price all together which meant a change in mindset to the covers it used.

"We are no longer reaching out to readers in a crowded newsagent’s who are thinking quite hard whether to buy something, we are reaching out to this huge traffic of commuters and trying to grab their attention...covers are now much simpler and faster. We've gone from a 10 second window of engaging with people to perhaps a half a second window."

She continued to say that despite this change, Time Out’s content had remained much the same in order to retain its established brand values.

"Inspire, attract and intrigue is what we have to do now to gain interest...this is much more in your face and quicker which has more of a twist to it...it's engaging people with the same topics and themes that we have always engaged them. It's much faster, it's much more immediate and the pace of innovation is faster in the print/freemium market as well because people expect you to do something different and new. They are taking in so many pieces of information and this is a challenge we all share - how to make your media stand out in an increasingly fragmented world," added McGinn.

Turner concurred that tone of voice was crucial to her online company’s success also, stating that it was the reason why readers returned to its content; “We're the guardians of tone and that becomes more important when brands come to us. As the business has gotten bigger we have to be more careful about being more inclusive so we have to be careful about how we treat women and anyone who comes into our environment has to feel comfortable and that is a progressive change. Everything else is going to change because we will learn more and more how the content works. If your content is built for those levels of engagement then that is what you are looking for and then you reverse engineer into that type of engagement because that is what you feel is most important."

Turner also described the role of media as being ‘a bridge’ between subject enthusiasts and the sector they hold a passion for.

“You have to be in the bridge business,” she stated. “Every platform is a bridge; Facebook is a bridge, your website is a bridge, YouTube is a bridge - these are all connections. You can only hope to adapt to the different forms of connecting those groups of people. That's the business we're in."

Speaking from his experience of running the Empire Podcast, Hewitt advised that it was about “trial and error” in order to make it work and that; "you evolve as you go. Not everyone will do it, some people at Empire will run a mile from a microphone. It's trial and error but really you have to be a shameless ham."

McGinn added that Time Out had decided against podcasting as it felt it wasn’t a media expansion that was correct for its audience, the same was true for video, however it was keen to expand its offer, such as events; "That for us was more natural for our brand because the passion people have in any of the cities is for discovering amazing things in their cities so that is a natural fit."

She continued to explain the need for such a brand extension; "We've gone from the age of the exclusive where we would have an interview with John Lennon on the cover to the age of the inclusive where we come to readers through search where you bring content that people are, through sharing and through trust or knowledge of your brand and surprise them by taking them somewhere they haven't been before which works because our core brand value is about inspiration...that has translated seamlessly into an events business."

Barcroft said of media expansions involving video content that he believed that there was “a definite lack of ‘quality video’ inventory on offer despite the desire from advertisers to access it.

“The message I would offer is to be authentic. If you're Heat just be showbiz and try things and give people what they want. They are not stupid. If you have somewhere they can engage with you then listen to that qualitative feedback,” he concluded.

Other panels during the PPA Festival included a CEO panel on the future of Magazine Media, an interview with GQ editor Dylan Jones and Big Issue founder, John Bird.

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