Print or digital, it's all about the content
Manchester United circa 1992. Photo © Action Images / Roy Beardsworth
Twenty years ago this week I launched the first issue of the official Manchester United magazine. Two years later it became the UK's most successful sports monthly, selling 160,000 copies and spawning editions in 11 languages.
Today I run an agency that helps brands and causes connect with their audiences in an always-on digital world.
At first glance it looks like a giant leap from the world of print runs, flat-plans and shelf-wobblers to social media monitoring, information architecture and content management systems. The terminology may be new-fangled – and equally arcane – but it's striking that the fundamentals of what we do have not changed. The channels and the execution are different, of course, but the methodology and logic we employ today is the same as it was back then.
In 1992, Manchester United approached us with a business problem. How could they sell their products most effectively to fans who rarely, if ever, visited Old Trafford?
The answer could have been a traditional advertising campaign. A series of tactical adverts in football magazines and newspapers, for instance. Instead, we wanted to create a direct line of communication between the club and the fans, which would be ongoing, sustainable and hugely impactful. We wanted to create something that fans cared about, that made them feel closer to the brand and, as a result, would increase sales. Advertising that didn't feel like advertising.
So, we developed a 'content proposition' for Manchester United in much the same way as we do today for clients such as Coca-Cola, Tesco and BT. We helped them to think like a media owner. The central challenge is to marry the interests of the audience with the needs of the business, and to find a distinct and unique point of view that produces revealing, useful and entertaining content.
We find that uncovering this content proposition first gives you the confidence to make the right decisions – about execution, technology and distribution, for example. In the 90s we used the network of newsstands around the country as our distribution platform. Today there are new kinds of networks, and more appearing all the time, each with their own benefits and nuances to be understood.
But the principle remains the same: to be successful, you need to keep discovering, designing and creating what your audience cares about.