Design groups take to magazine publishing

When creative agencies become publishers they usually do it as a labour of love, but Clare Dowdy finds that what starts as a hobby can soon turn into a creative success

They can be sardonically knowing, campaigning or business-like. But whatever their stance, creative agencies’ standalone magazines generally have certain things in common: a desire to raise the group’s profile, an element of overtime, and a much-sweated-over layout.

Creative agencies have long enjoyed turning their extra-curricular activities into quasi-business ventures. The people at Dutch group Kessels Kramer are the past masters, with their ‘Do’ range of products and quirky books of photographs.

The handful of UK agencies currently turning their hands to publishing have come up with very different offerings, though they all seem to be aiming at the visually aware and the design-savvy. It probably helps if your target market has something in common with your agency.

The different offerings range from Mother’s slim London-themed graphic novel, a chunky photo story-heavy production from Section-D, Saturday’s fashion-and-business men’s biannual, to Santamaria Design’s ‘ethical lifestyle’ magazine Sublime. This last is the least connected with its founding agency. The others are clearly hoping that the ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills shown in their magazine efforts will shine direct light on to their client work.

by Section-D

‘Every agency needs a hobby,’ says Alan Graham, director of retail design group Section-D. Wig magazine may take more effort than stamp collecting, but it also ticks lots of boxes for the consultancy. It gets to play client, to exploit its list of creative contacts, and to hone its alter ego. ‘I can’t see us producing a magazine all about us; the website does that,’ he adds.

Although the theme for each issue goes out to potential contributors (who do so on a complementary basis), ‘the unpredictable nature of submissions allows chance to play a greater part in the normal design process’, explains Graham.

Client work obviously takes precedence, but when the print deadline looms, it’s all hands to the pump to put together the 200-odd pages of quirky imagery and quaint text.

While Section-D acts as client, Wig clearly has an eye on the consultancy’s client base, much of which is in the fashion industry. Each Wig is themed, this fifth issue being American.

‘Quite frankly, we make it up as we go along,’ says Graham, who describes it as a hobby that, to the consultancy’s surprise, is in danger of making money and staying afloat.

As that’s the case, he admits that, commercially, the team needs to dedicate more time to it. ‘We’re putting together a financial person and someone on sales to tighten up roles and get ads in,’ he says. In fact, Wig already generates some revenue through ads. ‹

Man About Town
by Saturday

Huw Gwyther, the publisher at Visual Talent, approached Saturday’s co-founders Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson (both ex-Wallpaper) when he wanted to launch a men’s magazine. ‘At that point it was more of a traditional title,’ says Grede. ‘However, we had a very distinct idea of what we wanted to do and what excited us, and the result became Man About Town.’ It’s a collaboration between Visual Talent and Saturday, with Torstensson and Grede as joint editors. It’s jostling for position in the men’s biannuals sector, along with Another Man, V Man and Homme Plus. But, according to Grede, ‘It differs as it is not just a fashion magazine, it is a popular culture journal. We have a strong element of media coverage in it. It is also a slower read, fewer longer pieces with a fanzine quality,’ meaning that the content isn’t derived from press releases but the pair’s personal interests.

They do it because it’s fun. ‘That’s what it is all about. It really can’t be justified in any other way,’ he adds. But it’s fun that isn’t costing them, as it’s advertiser-funded. ‘We don’t put money in and we don’t get any money out of it. It is a passion project.’ The hope is that it gives Saturday a voice and an opinion on fashion and culture. ‹

Four Feet From A Rat
by Mother

This quarterly comic, with its four stories themed around London, is produced in lieu of payment. Last year, the advertising agency created some ads for Time Out ‘and they didn’t have a ton of money’, explains Mother creative director and co-founder Mark Waits. But, rather than seeing this as a barrier, ‘we worked for pages’, he adds, with Time Out paying for the printing and distribution.

So Mother had the medium before it had the idea of a graphic novel. That came about through an open brief that went out to the whole agency. Once the idea had been signed off, ‘they became a labour of love because people really do enjoy working on them’, says Waits, adding that the agency was out of pocket once it had paid the illustrators.

Waits hopes it’s a good example of the way Mother thinks. ‘There could be some junior brand manager somewhere reading it right now that might be thinking “This is fucking great. I really want to work with these guys”,’ he says.

And as for Mother itself, ‘There’s a part of the creative department that should be like art school, mucking about,’ says Waits. And there are benefits for staff from being able to tell longer stories than a 30-second spot. ‘People might bring that experience to bear on a campaign for a paying client,’ he adds. l

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