City Am Publishing Media

City AM is forming an exclusive members' club to monetise itself as a lifestyle brand

By Ian Burrell, Columnist

City AM


Opinion article

May 31, 2018 | 8 min read

City AM is to create an exclusive members’ club and put it at the heart of its new business model.

City AM

The City AM Club, which will launch in the autumn, is aimed at monetising the free paper’s audience while still allowing readers to access editorial content without charge. The radical new model is intended to reposition the title as a lifestyle brand, as well as one that is focused on business and finance.

Its publisher, City AM Group, hopes that by persuading readers to supply their personal data in joining the club, it can help commercial partners to engage more deeply with a young and affluent audience by offering brand-related deals and lifestyle experiences. City AM says it has signed up 15 partners to the project, including financial services, food and drink, and luxury lifestyle brands.

Because City AM’s audience is easily geo-targeted, working in and around London’s financial quarter, this initiative in monetising readers outside of a paywall is likely to be viewed with interest by local and regional publishers.

The project is being overseen by Harry Owen, City AM’s chief operating officer, who says it represents a major step change in the title’s 13-year history. “We have never monetised the audience before,” he says.

'A curated experience'

Owen recently returned to City AM after a period working for the high-end Boisdale restaurant chain, where he says he learned important lessons in loyalty schemes and data collection strategy. He took the idea for the City AM Club to the paper’s founders, Lawson Muncaster and Jens Torpe. “This will be a curated experience, it will be events, access to things they can only get by being a member of the club.”

The approach is particularly relevant in a post-GDPR environment, he says, because of its transparency. “It’s explicit. It’s asking our readers, who we think we know quite well and can curate something for, to have a direct relationship with our advertisers. In a post-GDPR world you have to be very explicit about what you ask people and how you communicate with people.”

News of the club follows the launch of the new 100-page City AM Magazine (and the scrapping of the previous City AM portfolio of four magazine brands). “City AM is the halo brand and it’s now City AM Events, City AM Magazine and City AM Club,” says Owen.

The new magazine, edited by Steve Dinneen, is clearly focused on lifestyle, rather than business, and is published six times a year. City AM's team, Owen claims, are “experts” in understanding the ways of the Square Mile; the play as much as the work. “The back half of the newspaper has always been full of lifestyle content and it doesn’t always come to the fore but we have had great journalists working on that for years.” All lifestyle content on the City AM website will be grouped under a new vertical titled ‘City AM Club’.

City AM magazine

The lifestyle stance is also a response to the changing nature of the City itself, as the retail and restaurant sector has increasingly set up shop in the Square Mile. Owen cites as evidence the opening of The Ned hotel and private club complex near to the Bank of England, and the arrival of Fortnum & Mason setting up at the Royal Exchange. “That’s a West End brand coming to the City,” he says. “This whole environment has changed so much in the last 13 years. You look at the retail and restaurant offerings, it’s a totally different world. We have the most affluent female consumers in the country on our doorstep and you only have to look at the retail brands catering for them. The club is really an extension of that.”

Membership has become a buzzword in news publishing and models take different forms, from content-led subscriptions offers operated by the like of The New York Times and The Times of London, through to The Guardian’s scheme that encourages the paper’s supporters to protect its free-access model by making donations in return for benefits.

'We go to the same restaurants as our readers'

Owen believes the City AM Club offering has advantages in offering events because, unlike many free content publishers, its audience is tightly grouped. Circulation is targeted only at the City, Canary Wharf and Mayfair, all in central London. The digital audience is mostly similar. “We know where most of our readers work, and we go to the same restaurants and gyms they go to, that’s a compelling reason to do this,” he says.

“Our event programme can be almost running 24 hours a day; we can be working with a business school offering thought leadership at 11am and go through to a lunch time event at a partner restaurant with a speaker, followed by evening receptions of a boutique opening or a tasting.”

He says the City AM strap line of “Business with Personality” will be reflected in the ethos of the club. “We recognise that our audience work hard and play hard and the club is meant to be a reflection of their lives.”

This readership is more diverse than the historic notion of testosterone-charged trading floors and the would-be masters of the universe who like to spread bet on sports when they’re not buying shares. “Our audience is more complicated than ‘City boys’,” says Owen. “There’s lawyers, accountants, hedge fund managers; we are catering for people who have just started in the City. The bulk of our audience sits between 35-45 and they have higher than average incomes.”

The City has far more women than half a generation ago, and City AM’s readership reflects that, he says. “In Canary Wharf 50% of the workforce is female, and you look at our lifestyle desk and 70% of our journalists are female. You only have to spend 10 minutes in the City these days to realise that long lunches and that 1980s feel doesn’t exist anymore.”

City AM Club will charge a “low capital cost” for annual membership. “It’s quite an egalitarian club this, a bit like City AM newspaper,” says Owen. Corporate membership deals will be available.

Initially 5,000 member’s cards will be offered, with the launch backed by a “significant marketing campaign”, likely to involve outdoor advertising around the Square Mile. “Then we will scale it next year; the ambition would be to create different tiers of membership.”

Plans exist for a City AM Club members' Christmas Party and Summer Party, which will be added to a calendar that includes the established City AM Awards. But the key to the scheme’s success will be the offers that partner brands make. “From day one there will be a really strong event programme. Every single partner will provide something unique to the club that you could only receive by being a member.”

Owen says that some of the partner brands have been working with City AM as advertisers since the paper began as a feisty challenger brand to established business and finance media. “They want a relationship with our audience, and City AM Club is a new conduit between our readers that will have a unique City AM spin on it.”

The target audience is the 400,000 people who work in the Square Mile and 120,000 in Canary Wharf. City AM has a newspaper circulation of 91,000.

City AM Club is the latest innovation from a publisher that has gone out of its way to court its commercial clients, to the point of giving them opportunities for access to the content management system of its website.

The club idea, Owen claims, is in many ways a simpler proposition in the publishing sector than it is in the crowded food and drink market. “Essentially a restaurant like Boisdale is creating an experience and City AM is moving into that space,” he says. “When you’re working in a restaurant you are competing with thousands – the days of everyone wearing a suit and going to the same five restaurants they have all gone and everyone eats everywhere. I think I can name all my competitors in media.”

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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