Tim Ewington, Co-Founder & Strategy Director at ShortList Media, talks to Figaro Digital about the daily email newsletters Emerald Street and Mr Hyde and explains how brands can develop deeper relationships with their audiences
Traditional publishing, like the music industry, has felt the full impact of the digital revolution over the last decade. The entire content cycle – from conception to distribution and consumption – has been radically reshaped by social media, mobile technology and consumers’ own expectations. Between 2011 and 2013 there was a 10 per cent fall in the number of UK print magazines on newsstands. As high profile casualties including Nuts, Zest, Word and More! will attest, it’s tough out there for publishers.
High Frequency Brandwidth
One of the success stories in this sector has been ShortList Media, publishers of the ‘freemium’ titles Stylist and ShortList. The latter currently boasts the biggest circulation of any men’s lifestyle magazine in Britain.
Founded in 2007, ShortList Media have married technological innovation and engaging content to create a loyal audience of young urban professionals whose demographic credentials make them highly desirable to advertisers.
Co-Founder and Strategy Director Tim Ewington was there in 2007 when the magazine was launched from a borrowed office in London, and remains on board today. With a career stretching back to the early 1990s when he ran R&D projects for EMAP, he happily describes himself as ‘analogue’ in his thinking, but ShortList’s digital strategy has brought 150,000 subscribers to their two daily email newsletters: Mr Hyde for men and Emerald Street for women.
“One of the things we’ve been obsessed with is frequency – how often you talk to people and how you build strong relationships,” says Ewington. “We’ve always had a very regular relationship with people via print but we wanted to think about something we could do daily, which really fitted into people’s lives.”
With 100k subscribers to Emerald Street and 50k to Mr Hyde, the daily emails have slotted into users’ inboxes very neatly. And because this is email, every interaction can be monitored, tracked and reacted to, enabling the editorial teams to deliver more of the stuff people actually want.
This, notes Ewington, has thrown up some valuable – and occasionally unexpected – insight into readers’ cultural interests. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy has proved highly clickable among Stylist’s female readership. But so have articles about cats. The huge popularity of burger related content among Mr Hyde’s male readership led to the launch of National Burger Day last year and a meaty meet up of readers in Hoxton. All of this information, explains Ewington, makes it easier to tailor more relevant content and deepen the relationship with users.
“When you think about a modern audience you need to think about what state they’re in,” he says. “You need to think about what’s going to get to them quickly, but you need to be clever and amuse them too.”
The power of (m)email
Given the responsive and interactive nature of ShortList’s relationship with its community, you’d be forgiven for assuming that social media would be the focus. So why the decision to launch the dailies on email?
“Email is simply where our target audience spends more time,” says Ewington. “It sits at the centre of our readers’ lives. Yes, you can do lots of wonderful things with social media, but it tends to be very short form. We had this idea about coffee breaks in people’s day. Particularly readers of Stylist. We wanted to create that moment when you sit down with a coffee or a sandwich and have a moment to yourself. We wanted our communications to go directly into our audience’s lives. Social media is a pull medium. It’s something people choose to engage with. We wanted to do it the other way and push into people’s lives. Email is the best way of doing that. At 11 or 11.30 every morning Emerald Street will arrive in your inbox. Social media can go so far but it can’t recreate the daily habit you used to get with print newspapers or magazines. We wanted to interact in people’s lives and learn about them on a daily basis.”
The inbox, then, is a less competitive, more intimate environment than social media.
“Email is bigger than Facebook,” says Ewington. “Obviously our audience is on Facebook and Twitter as well. But they’re spending several hours a day looking at emails. It fits into their working life much more easily. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to open Emerald Street in the middle of the day without being noticed by the boss than it is to get Facebook up or to go through Twitter. Working life is hard so if you can provide people with five minutes in which they can have some light relief, they’ll really enjoy that.”
Listen for loyalty
The key, says Ewington, is to make content easy to engage with and to forge a habit. “After that it’s about generating loyalty. People can unsubscribe anytime. It’s a constant battle because you have to make it interesting all the time. You may not be able to manage that for every person every day, but if three days go by and people haven’t found anything interesting to them, they’re likely to unsubscribe. You have to react. Otherwise you’re just letting them down. We constantly listen to what people are saying – every email, text, Tweet, post – and we react to those very quickly.”
Stylist in particular is notable for the depth of coverage it gives to books and writers, from Tolstoy to Fifty Shades of Grey author E L James to Granta’s Best Young Novelists. In fact, says, Ewington, this was something the editorial team stumbled across accidentally.
“We saw that people were really looking at book-related content for a long time and that it got very high open and click-through rates. We learn fast and we react: we do more of what works. Remember, we make money through advertising, and the book trade has followed us because when readers click on Emerald Street, they’re likely to go on and buy.”
Data, of course, has a vital role to play in this equation and ShortList have studied their audience in precise detail. Even simple address information can tell you something about consumers’ habits. But underpinning both Emerald Street and Mr Hyde, says Ewington, is a very simple idea: to provide users with permission to spend five minutes of the working day doing something they actually enjoy.
“Our audiences are young, professional, busy people. A lot of marketers who want to keep people engaged on a daily basis use email and social media, but my perception of a lot of the marketing material I get is that it tends to be quite boring. What’s interesting when you do things on a daily basis with email is how much you learn about people and how quirky they really are. If you do things that are intelligent but a little offbeat, if you get under your audience’s skin and tap into things they’re really interested in, you’ll get an incredibly rapid and powerful response.”
Four Rules of Engagement
- ‘Old’ digital channels like email still work very well. Behaviour patterns in these channels are well established.
- Study your subscribers in detail. Find out what they like and give them more of it.
- React to people’s passions, but not just digitally. Think about live events.
- Keep evolving. People get bored quickly.
As featured in issue 21 of Figaro Digital Magazine.
Article by Jon Fortgang