Team TMN caught up with former Heat magazine editor, author and media industry expert, Mark Frith, to hear his thoughts on the magazine landscape in the United Arab Emirates
What have you been working on during your time in Dubai?
I came over here to do some consulting for ITP’s celebrity weekly publications. Since giving up magazine editing as a full time role, I have been working with companies on reinventing and revamping existing titles. I look at great brands and work on making them super brands. The great thing about a super brand is that it leads the market and dictates the market. Super brands are strong and powerful and are very difficult to compete with.
What is your impression of the magazine industry in the UAE?
Out here there is a lot more positivity about magazines than there is in the UK. Back home it is more about trying to stem the decline and push things back up. It’s tough everywhere but it feels like a different environment here, which is why it’s so refreshing. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this market is because it still feels like early days. It’ll be very interesting to see how it develops.
You worked in the highly competitive celebrity magazine industry in the UK. Are you competitive and do you see competition as a good thing?
I don’t see myself as a very competitive person by nature, but my goodness, working at Heat brought that out in me. Competition is a good thing. It drives us to want to be better and I’m bringing that over here because it’s quite a small industry. I’ve been talking to some magazines who have no rivals at all, but it’s still very important to have that competitive spirit. That’s the kind of thing I’m doing. I’m trying to get that sense of competing and winning; outperforming what you’ve achieved before and building on that.
With so much competition in the market, how can magazines stay ahead?
You first need to identify what makes a good seller; how to see your editorial compared to others in the market and how to win those battles. At Heat, we had a fantastic rivalry with Now! magazine, which drove both titles to be better. Those are the skills that I’m working on with the editors at ITP.
What do you think of the talent pool in the UAE?
The UAE is a place for ambitious people; a place for confident people. People who might find that they are underappreciated elsewhere can find a way to further their career and stand out over here. What I have noticed in the competitive London publishing industry is that a lot of journalists have good ideas, but aren’t able to progress as quickly as they would like. Over the last 10 or 12 years, Dubai has attracted some of those people and they have flourished.
What are your thoughts on the Ad-driven commercial set up of magazines in the UAE, compared to the copy sales driven UK market?
What we’re finding in the UK is that although magazine sales are down, advertisements are still quite buoyant. This is why the free market model for magazines interests me. The UK has picked up on this over the past few years and there are very good quality free publications. You’ve got Time Out, which is now free on a Tuesday, Stylist on a Wednesday, Shortlist on a Thursday and Sport on a Friday – all of which are doing well. I think that it is a more obvious market to have an Ad-funded model, like there is here in the UAE.
What should magazine editors do when a rival title lands in the market?
You certainly don’t lose your head. In reality, yours is stronger than a new rival. The panicky thing that people do when a new title comes along is that they worry; they lose direction. You need to have the confidence to know what you’re doing is right. Stay close to your readers and be true to yourself and to them.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer editors?
My main philosophy is to make the most of what you have. Know what you stand for as a magazine, deliver it and make sure you deliver it better than the competition.
So what’s next for you? Will you be a regular visitor to the Emirates?
Well it’s the first time I have visited the UAE and I can definitely see myself spending more time here, although as I have a young family, moving countries is not a consideration right now. I will continue consulting and I enjoy working with Speakers Corner in London who book me to host events, chair panel discussions and present award shows. I love that side of things and would welcome the opportunity to do the same in Dubai also.
For booking enquiries, contact Nick Gold at Speakers Corner, London on +44 (0)207 7607 7070.