Sector Spotlight: Publishing


Creative Director at Ashville Media Group Jane Matthews explains why a balance of artistic license and commercial sensibility has been the key to success at the innovative Park West firm.

Companies engaged in the publishing industry have faced innumerable challenges over recent years as the sector has increasingly moved away from print. Today the landscape continues to evolve, as audience attention spans shorten due to the huge amount of highly specific, easily accessible digital content.

This has resulted in significant challenges for publishers when it comes to monetising their product offerings, and those still in operation have survived by finding new opportunities to exploit beyond the traditional business models.

Industry stalwarts Ashville are just one of a number of contemporary publishing firms operating from the comfortable surrounds of Park West.

Jane Matthews, the company’s creative force whose role involves managing a team of talented creatives, has experienced the publishing industry’s dramatic shift and has played a significant role in the evolution of the Ashville’s output.

“As little as ten years ago, people acquired most of their information from print sources,” she explains. “Although print is still a significant part of information dispersal, it is no longer the only source; digital platforms offer a service to the customer which is based on a self-affirming bias and, because you have searched for something particular, the algorithms know where your interests lie and therefore show you more targeted content. This programmatic advertising means you get exactly what you want.”

Matthews believes there is still huge relevance in print media and considers it to be more disruptive than its digital counterpart. “Print media can introduce you to something you didn’t know existed, let alone wanted,” she says. “After all, if a prospective client doesn’t know your product exists, how can they search for it on the web? Customer publishing is the happy marriage of both print and digital options, and at Ashville we aim directly at a niche market by profiling both the reader and advertiser and then supplying relevant content, while also creating a valuable advertising space.”

“While the digital space is not yet self-sustaining for many publishing houses, we have future-proofed our organisation by offering solutions which go hand-in-hand with each publication, such as websites, ezines and digital issues embedded with hot spots and rich media.”

New approaches

At a time when practically anyone can generate online content, today’s media companies need to be opportunistic when it comes to their own business development and adopt an integrated view of the businesses.

Matthews strongly believes in the importance of engaging copy. “In the rush to ‘get the message out’ in as few characters as possible at insanely high speeds to as large a group as possible, the reader is often forgotten,” she explains. “The belief that influencers can bring a huge number of clients to your doorstep in one Tweet is overstated. We need to respect the audience. The old adage of not being able to fool all of the people all of the time still holds true.”

The ad-funded model is, in many cases, no longer functioning and leaving many consumer and lifestyle magazines struggling to survive, according to Matthews. “Ads cannot be relied on as a sustainable revenue source,” she stresses.

“Inroads into the digital space have not yet proved to be self-sustaining. While customer publishing has been reliably stable over the years, margins are quite tight. Top-heavy organisations, doing things the way they have always done them, will suffer more than others. Publishers need to take an agile approach to the business in general, but in particular to staffing. Embracing new technology is wonderful, but technology for technology’s sake is wasteful. Know your audience, know your client.”

Minimising disruption

In the current climate of uncertainty and political unrest, having a reliable home at Park West has been pivotal in the progression of the company. Matthews believes the company’s relocation to the business park was an inevitable one.

“Brexit has been held accountable for the sudden and startling rise in rents in the city centre,” Matthews states, “but with the bounce-back in the economy, we would most likely have arrived at the same point in any case.”

“Competitive pricing was definitely a factor, but so too was space. Reasonably priced square footage and parking facilities combined with easy access to the motorway and transport options minimised the disruption to staff here at Ashville.”

Introducing flexi-time to allow employees to better manage their commute has also had a positive impact. “We’ve been able to attract employees who wouldn’t have been interested in commuting to the city centre, as the journey would have been too arduous,” adds Matthews.

New wave artists

The next wave of innovation within the publishing realm will certainly lead further into the digital space, with leading publishers developing strategies that continue to disrupt the industry.

Looking to the future, there will of course be challenges for the company, but Matthews believes the team will continue to prosper in this new world of media. “Our strength lies in the clarity of our offering and we’ll continue to have effective dialogue with current and future clients, while also establishing – as well as meeting – our collective goals.”

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