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Publish and be damned - successfully

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25th May 2007
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By Julia Hutchison, COO, Association of Publishing Agencies

If an accountant's wife cannot sleep what does she say?
"Darling, tell me about your work."

I hate to add to the stereotype, but accountants really do have a hard time of it with reputation management – type accountancy jokes into Google and it instantly comes back with 22,300 listings (only taxman jokes bring up more items!).

But times are changing and accountancy firms are becoming more creative at finding ways to engage with their clients and move away from their dusty, dry image. For instance a number are now investing in customer magazines – magazines published by an organisation specifically for its customers, members or staff. BDO Stoy Hayward is one such company. It launched 33 Thoughts in 2005 with the sole objective of challenging the norm and making accountancy more interesting. And according to a number of experts this is exactly what it has done. Testament to this are the four major publishing awards it has won since its inception. Only last month it was named Customer Magazine of the Year at the Periodical Publisher Association Awards for Editorial and Publishing Excellence, known as the Magazine Oscars.

Not only is this the first time a financial title has won, the category typically being dominated by retail titles such as Waitrose Food Illustrated or Sainsbury’s Magazine, but it’s also a first for a business to business title. “Awesome for the brain” was just one of the complements used to describe the magazine. Furthermore, the judges believed it to show an intrinsic understanding of its audience through its unusual content and design. A selection of “thoughts” are presented through short features, interviews and single quotations making easy reading for time-poor senior business clients and BDO staff. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, it was deemed “outstanding at adding value to the customer’s relationship in the brand.” The judges comments reinforce new findings from the APA pioneering customer magazine effectiveness benchmark – The APA Advantage Study – which found that on average B2B customer magazines boost brand appeal by a quarter, with 25% of readers saying that a magazine makes a company more appealing.

The research also revealed some significant findings about engagement. B2B customer magazines are generally read for an average of 26 minutes (over 50 traditional 30 second TV advertisement slots) – something other media channels would be very hard pushed to replicate, particularly in the business to business market. However, 24% of readers spend between 30 minutes and more than 2 hours with a B2B customer magazine. Fifty-one per cent of recipients were found to retain their copies for a month or over and one in three people keep B2B titles for reference, whilst 8 per cent pass them on to a friend or colleague. Over half of people (53 per cent) were found to pick up their copy between one and four times and 55 per cent regularly read over half of the magazine. Positive opinion is also extremely strong for B2B titles with 42 per cent of readers agreeing that they liked it a lot or thought it was excellent.

Crucially, B2B customer magazines have also been found to provoke response. Twenty-nine per cent, or one in four recipients, visit a company’s website as a result of receiving the magazine and thirteen per cent go on to interact further with the company, such as requesting more information on specific products or services. In short, organisations with a customer magazine have more profitable relationships with their clients and prospects.

Customer magazines can also guarantee reach, unlike many marketing channels, such as telemarketing which has been severely affected by the introduction of corporate Telephone Preference Service. Royal Mail delivers to every business address in the UK ensuring that businesses distributing their magazine via the mail reach their intended recipients. Furthermore, posted titles are increasingly being versonalised for specific audiences to ensure that the reader receives the most relevant and interesting publication as possible – for example in the B2B market it would be possible to make different edition of the same magazine to appeal to different job functions.

It is therefore no wonder that the customer publishing market is flourishing. It is now worth £788 million, a 16 per cent increase on 2005. Moreover, Mintel predicts that the industry will reach £1 billion by 2011 and turnover will exceed £541 million, an increase of 54 per cent. Business to business titles currently account for 5 per cent of the market but this is on the rise as organisations like BDO Stoy Hayward and KPMG increasingly realise the retention and acquisition opportunities customer magazines afford. As a result of this growing interest in customer magazines APA ASK a free, new business service for anyone considering a customer title, was recently launched. It offers confidential, step by step support from initial qualifying questions such as “will a customer magazine suit my marketing model?” through to hands on advice to putting together a clear and realistic brief. A shortlist of publishing agencies based on the client’s needs, unparalleled knowledge of the industry and the culture of the different publishing agencies can also be recommended – although no part is played in the final decision making process.

APA, the trade body responsible for customer publishing, is currently working with 40 prospective clients and has already helped six companies put the wheels in motion to launch a magazine, this year alone. This isn’t surprising as not only can we measure the effectiveness of particular titles through the Advantage Study, making it one of the most accountable marketing communications channels available, but customer magazines have provable benefits relating to specific business objectives such as increasing share of market, stimulating brand loyalty, improving brand image and provoking response. Packaged together this makes the argument for a customer magazine extremely compelling. As a result the major question being asked by marketing directors is rapidly altering from “can we afford to publish a customer magazine?” to “can we afford not to?”

And finally, to end on another accountancy joke, my particular favourite:

What is the reading matter of choice of an accountancy firm’s customer and prospects?

It’s customer magazine, of course!

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