A 20-year perspective

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Fiona Hardie on Hardie Grant Media's position in the content marketing industry

Fiona Hardie

It’s no secret that the content and media industry has evolved considerably over the last 20 years, but having been at the forefront of the sector since 1997, Hardie Grant Media Chair, Fiona Hardie, can see that many of the fundamentals remain unchanged.

When Hardie Grant Media launched in 1997 it was just one of the marketing businesses that Clemenger was investing in. At that time, advertising agencies were seeing big changes, and Clemenger was looking to offer its clients new services.

“When we launched, advertising agencies were feeling the pinch from budgets moving below the line and Clemenger was diversifying,” says Hardie Grant Media’s Fiona Hardie. “I’d been working in London with the British Airways publisher, also part of Omnicom, and with the growth of customer data and emerging printing technologies for content segmentation, custom publishing was booming.

Fiona Hardie

However, at home, the custom revolution hadn’t really yet got off the ground.

In Australia there were only a couple of businesses in the sector. Fairfax’s BRW Media published the Qantas magazine, Peter Berman’s POL published the Ansett magazine and Eric Beecher’s Text Media published for Woolworths.

It wasn't long before the local landscape began to change.

A couple of years later ACP (now Bauer) and Pacific, launched custom publishing divisions, and quickly won some big accounts: Qantas, Virgin and Coles. These big consumer magazine publishers promised their clients access to their advertising networks, and built their custom publishing models to mirror how they approached their owned consumer titles.

While it took longer than I thought, I wasn’t surprised when earlier this year both Bauer and Pacific exited from or merged their custom publishing back into their consumer businesses. It seemed to me their priorities were always going to be their own mastheads.

Meanwhile Hardie Grant Media got off to a flying start. Within five years we’d won some major clients including Ansett, Mercedes-Benz, the Art Gallery of NSW, Coles, CPA Australia, the Australian Education Union, National Pharmacies, the Australian HR Institute and Bang & Olufsen,” Hardie concludes.

Hardie Grant Media has since gone from strength to strength.

Nick Hardie-Grant, Managing Director of Hardie Grant Media, says “Our history and core skills put us in a really exciting position to keep evolving and staying ahead of the industry changes. The growing competition makes things interesting, but we’re confident our strategy is setting us up to keep delivering great work for our clients and we’re looking forward to another 20 years.”

What’s Changed Over the Past 20 Years?

  • Content Marketing: Obviously content marketing these days is much more than magazine publishing, and that means creating strategy, video and digital content, social media marketing, as well as print. 
  • Advertising: We no longer just sell print pages; our commercial offerings are multi-dimensional and multi-media, including audience extension, digital, ambient, promotions, social and native.
  • Frequency: Monthlies are few and far between these days, and digital content is always on. 
  • Campaigns: There’s a lot more campaign work now. We’ve become less of a publisher and more of an agency.
  • Brand Partnerships: More companies are looking to collaborate, partnering with businesses that enhance their own audience, and utilising each other’s media assets to support campaigns.
Monthlies are few and far between these days,
and digital content is always on.
  • Skills: Our teams include much broader skill bases than before. We’re not just publishers and content creators, but strategists, social media experts and analysts, working in print, ambient and digital media. 
  • Our Competition: This used to be the big consumer publishers; now all agencies think they are content agencies; as does every in-house marketing and digital team.

What’s Stayed the Same?

  • Quality: If you want engagement, then your content has to be quality. That was true in print; it’s equally true on digital platforms. 
  • Engagement: It’s not all about reach. Your message has to reach the right people in the right environment and frame of mind.
  • Passion: When people love what they do, they produce the best work. 
  • Environment: You’ve got to love coming to work, and like the people you work with. 
  • Shared Values: The best clients are still those where there are shared values, and ours include respect and openness. 
  • Reading Time: People still like to relax and read. To read long-form content. And to do it at their leisure. This means magazines remain relevant.
  • Books: It might sound old school, but books work too as a marketing tool. We publish a lot of books for clients.

Our clients’ customers are highly engaged audiences who remain very attractive to third parties,
whether that’s through advertising or other forms of partnership.

  • Competition: While Australia’s two main consumer publishers are cutting back or getting out, the world’s biggest media business, News Limited, has entered the sector, chasing revenue outside their traditional business. 
  • Audiences: Our clients’ customers are highly engaged audiences who remain very attractive to third parties, whether that’s through advertising or other forms of partnership.
  • In-house v. Agency: When we started in 1997 our competitors were often in-house marketing teams doing their own external comms. Businesses like Hardie Grant Media brought a whole new level of content and commercial expertise to their businesses, with skills that were nurtured and continued to evolve in creative media environments. Funnily enough, we seem to be back in this space, as more companies set up their own content teams.
Fiona Hardie is Chair of Hardie Grant Media and co-founder of Hardie Grant. When she’s not in the office there’s a good chance she’ll be teaching yoga or working on the farm.