14 reasons to be optimistic about magazines

By Geoff Tan

SPH Magazines



In London 285 years ago, when Edward Cave launched The Gentleman’s Magazine, known to historians as the first modern magazine, little did he realise what shape or form his brainchild would become in the 21st century. Incidentally, Mr. Cave coined the term “magazine” borrowing from the French word “magasin,” which means storehouse.

For those who have been following my monthly blog posts, you will realise that I am the optimistic marketer who constantly sees the glass as half full rather than half empty, a media practitioner who challenges himself to not just think out of the box but to burn it, and an ad man who abides by the motto “ideate, investigate, initiate.”

This month, I take on a new role in the company as managing director of SPH Magazines — but these self-imposed frames of mind will continue to infect the way I contribute to future-proofing our business going forward.

I am hugely positive that the world of “magasins” contains a storehouse of opportunities, awaiting to be unlocked by an avalanche of innovative and disruptive strategies.

The future of magazines will rely on innovation, add value to readers, and embrace user-generated content.
The future of magazines will rely on innovation, add value to readers, and embrace user-generated content.

For sure, not everything we implement will work out, but if you don’t try, you will never know. Consider doing business today as akin to standing on a moving treadmill: If you come up with ideas intermittently, you could, at most, be running in the same spot.

If you innovate strategically and voraciously, you will be sprinting faster than your competition. But if you decide not to fix things just because they ain’t broken — in other words, you refuse to innovate — you will most surely be left behind!

Even as I embark on a journey of transformation for the magazine business, there is much to bring to the table from my applied principles, which I have been sharing at publishing conferences around the world.

I echo the sentiment of best-selling author and behavioural science academic Steve Maraboli when he said: “Change. Don’t just talk about it, go out there and do it. Don’t just meditate about it, go out there and create it. Don’t just pray about it, go out there and take action; participate in the answering of your own prayer. If you want change, get out there and live it.”

I count myself fortunate to be embarking on this phase of my career with little or no baggage. I have never been involved in the magazine side of things, nor delved into what makes this side of the business tick.

This, I believe, accords me the license to instigate and inspire change — not the gentle and comfortable sort that merely niggles, but the one that will get tongues wagging with statements such as, “But we have never done it that way before.”

Personally, I’m excited about where the magazines business is headed. If you ask me what my ideas blueprint will comprise of, it’s most likely to be a mash-up of these:

  1. I’ll be banking on digital as the catalyst to escalate our revenues.

  2. Marketing along the value chain is key for survival.

  3. Video is crucial in delivering the highest form of consumer relevance and engagement. 

  4. User-generated content must not be shunned, but embraced. 

  5. The importance of an “outside-in” approach should not be understated.

  6. All strategies must be validated by our targeted customers, both B2B and B2C. 

  7. We need to leverage on digital metrics to refine content deliveries in print. 

  8. Organic growth strategies need to be highly supplemented by deliberate collaborations and partnerships. 

  9. “Value adding” needs to evolve into “value creation.” 

  10. Concentrate on selling the “benefits” we can bring to brand owners and readers, rather than beating our chest and boasting about our “features.” 

  11. It should never be about us; it should always be about them. 

  12. We need to think and act like a start-up and make things happen yesterday. 

  13. The staid mindsets intrinsic of a legacy organisation must be permanently eradicated. 

  14. Think Steve Jobs when he insisted that we need 1,000 songs in our pocket with the iPod!

I am always reminded of what John Sculley, former CEO of Pepsi and Apple, said: “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” We need to strive to be futuristic trainspotters and leave nothing to chance.

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, was quoted to have said: “There are three types of people in this world: Those who makes things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.” If you’re thinking along the same lines as me, I guess you know who you want to be!

About Geoff Tan

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