Jayne Ferguson, general manager for women’s lifestyle and entertainment at Bauer Media, says the time has come for magazine publishers to be brave again.
“We need to start producing new magazines for our readers. The industry needs to be more confident to launch new products and seek out that growth again in the market. The power of our brands also provides opportunities for additional revenue streams including licensing and events,” Ferguson says.
At Bauer, Ferguson oversees a stable of titles including signature lifestyle brands The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and TV Week as well as celebrity magazines and puzzle publications.
The role requires next-level juggling which comes naturally. “I’m also juggling three kids and a horse riding habit so I find it easy to switch between the brands,” says Ferguson.
The various audiences her titles appeal to are never far from her mind. She says, “I always think about who the audience is and what their motivations are.” This is echoed by the organisation she works for which Ferguson says emphasises the focus on the reader and the product being produced for them.
She manages the vast portfolio in terms of content output, brand and market presence which recently put her face-to-face with Bauer readers during a series of focus groups. The key takeaway for Ferguson was the enduring nature of the publisher’s titles, particularly The Australian Women’s Weekly, a magazine which has been in the lives of Australian women for generations.
“I’ve been in this business 30 years and I’ve never heard women talk about a product as positively as they talk about The Weekly. It’s incredible. Every brand in the country would give its last dollar to have that kind of sentiment,” Ferguson says.
At the heart of this is trust in the masthead with Ferguson adding, “I feel quite privileged to work on that brand.”
An evolving career path
Ferguson’s own career began on the commercial side of the business working in advertising for business press publications. She transitioned to consumer titles when she emigrated to Australia from the UK.
While her progression through the industry has been relatively straightforward, Ferguson sees those coming into the business today as needing more flexibility and a breadth of skills, particularly on the editorial side. She says, “The days of starting as a junior writer then becoming a staff writer and then an editor and so on are long gone. We all have to work across multiple mediums now.”
Regardless of the role, the ability to entertain, inform and inspire readers is what lures new recruits to work in the industry and equally motivates her colleagues to come to work every day. She says, “It’s always been about that connection with the reader, whether it’s to make them laugh out loud, or to learn something new.”
Curiosity has been the driving force of her career and she credits it with leading her to her current role. “I always had an insatiable curiosity for what was happening with the person next to me, what was happening in the next department. And I guess that’s how I came to be running this portfolio of magazine brands,” she says.
The long form resurgence
Ferguson says the industry is seeing a resurgence in long-form journalism which is benefitting the print products within her portfolio. Our hectic digital lives are leading to a retreat from technology as women, in particular, seek out ‘me time’. “People are being bombarded with so much content. Sometimes you just want to disconnect from the world, read, learn and absorb something,” she says.
She likens the renewed interest in the consumption of print content to the book industry which faced disruption from the introduction of e-books but has since course-corrected. “Back in the day, we thought digital magazines were going to be the great white saviour for magazines but it hasn’t necessarily resonated with audiences because it’s not the best way to read long-form journalism,” says Ferguson.
As for her own media consumption, Ferguson is flat out reading each of the titles she oversees but she occasionally finds time to expand her horizons. She says, “I’m not a big fashion magazine reader but I picked up Elle the other day and I didn’t put it down for a whole hour. There were so many good articles in it.”
More broadly, she is a fan of streaming and recently devoured TV series Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale. “I just love this idea of the consumer being in control,” she says no doubt also acknowledging the impact of this statement on her business.