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An Experience Spearheaded by Print: Men’s Health South Africa

May 11, 2014

Men’s Health – South Africa – Keeping The “Experience” In The Experience… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editor-In-Chief Jason Brown…

“I think brands that will survive are strong brands that have a multi-faceted approach which offers the user or the reader an experience. It will be spearheaded by a print experience because people appreciate that.”…Jason Brown

JB_headshoulders Men’s Health, South Africa, is the epitome guide for men and what they need to know to have a well-balanced and healthy life. It is a magazine committed to improving each and every area of a man’s life – from diet to relationships; the magazine is there to shed light on any current topic that might interest them.

Jason Brown is the Editor-in-Chief of the South African edition, but has worked globally in his career. Recently I spoke with him on a trip to South Africa. From the States to the UK and now South Africa, Jason talked about the differences, culturally and locally in the markets and about how distinctive they really were.

After helping to launch various versions of Men’s Health magazine, Jason knows what a magazine needs to attract readership and keep them – provide the audience with an experience they’ll never forget.

So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jason Brown – Editor – Men’s Health, South Africa.

But first the sound bites…

On the differences between global markets: There is definitely a distinctive difference between all the markets, even though we’re all English-speaking and pretty much have the same background. I’d say the biggest difference is the connection to the cultures of the country.

On the biggest stumbling block in taking a title global: Not making it local enough. Not giving it enough local flavor and not giving enough credit to the audience you’re going to be addressing. People think if you have a big international brand it automatically means success.

On his most pleasant surprise when it came to the various launches of the magazine: The response to a guy with muscles on the cover. So whether it was in India, or Brazil, there was some initial skepticism that it was an American magazine.

On his thoughts about the future of magazines, print or digital: I think that it’s a combined experience.

On how he sees the glass when it comes to the magazine marketplace in South Africa – half full or half empty: It changes every month and I think that’s just the nature of where we’re at. I think it’s very easy to become despondent about magazines at a time like this, because we’re in such an age of transition.

On what keeps him up at night: Keeping ahead of my readership and understanding their needs.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Jason Brown – Editor-in-Chief, Men’s Health, South Africa…

CoverMay14lo-150x200Samir Husni: You’ve worked in the United States for two years as Editorial Director at Rodale International and now you are the Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health in South Africa. You’ve also worked with other magazines here and also in the UK. What’s the first impression you had about the differences in journalism in the States versus South Africa and the UK? Is it all the same or is there distinctiveness about the different markets?

Jason Brown: There is definitely a distinctive difference between all the markets, even though we’re all English-speaking and pretty much have the same background. I’d say the biggest difference is the connection to the cultures of the country.

Working at Men’s Health, we used to say so much is the same, but so much is different. So while many things that have to do with men are the same, men have the same sort of goals and a lot of the same ambitions, culturally how that magazine reflects its society, there is definitely a difference. And I saw it between Men’s Health, UK, the United States and South Africa.

And the biggest thing is the sophistication of the market and the influence of the other things in society. In South Africa we have a lot more of an outdoor society, more closely related to Australia. So the magazine reflects our lifestyle and also the diversity of the audience, 66 % of our audience is black. And that is a big economically growing and I suppose ambitious part of our society.

So the black middle class is growing and it’s reflected in our readership. Perhaps what we think are ideas that have had their time in the UK or the U.S. is still very valid here. Upwardly mobile, young men are looking for things in South Africa that perhaps still have strength and validity, whereas perhaps in the UK or the U.S. they no longer hold that same appeal, or they have to be evolved.

I think we’re probably about two years behind in that sophistication of the marketplace. But it’s caught up very quickly as more international brands have come to South Africa.

Samir Husni: You helped launch several editions of Men’s Health worldwide. What do you think was the biggest stumbling block in taking titles like Men’s Health or Women’s Health or Cosmopolitan and move them across borders?

Jason Brown: Not making it local enough. Not giving it enough local flavor and not giving enough credit to the audience you’re going to be addressing. People think if you have a big international brand it automatically means success.

I think it’s a great advantage because there are a lot of common lessons and a lot of common ground with many men around the world and certain brands are successful because they approach subjects in a universal way. However, not recognizing how much to localize and how important it is to create a local version that has a local flavor is a big mistake.

Samir Husni: And what was the most pleasant surprise with those various launches?

Jason Brown: The response to a guy with muscles on the cover. So whether it was in India, or Brazil, there was some initial skepticism that it was an American magazine. Our country is different is a phrase that we heard very often. But once we had localized, the basic premise of the magazine held true. And I think that was really the surprise, to see how this global concept, once localized well could be so successful and resonate with the audiences.

Samir Husni: Talking about local concepts, I interviewed one of your colleagues who had just launched a magazine about a very specific diet, the Banting Diet, Lose It! Magazine. And I see on the cover of this month’s issue of Men’s Health something like the questioning of this diet. Are we talking about the same market? Or does that diet only work for women or men?

Jason Brown: I don’t think we do it often enough here. Because it shows more than one angle to a story and I’m glad they’re having success with Lose It! but I think that our responsibility is to be slightly different and our angle, slightly more questioning.

When the Banting Diet was released here, we did an in depth report over a year and a half ago. We’ve now followed it up with a bit more of an investigative report and I suppose you could say we’re taking advantage of the trend toward this diet and our compelling newsstand cover line is the counterintuitive one, the one in opposition to what you are seeing on newsstands and what people are finding so popular at the moment.

So I think that there’s more than one angle to the story and we found our news angle in counterpoint to what Lose It! is doing. I think both have validity and that shows the health of magazines, that we can take one subject, investigate it and come up with different conclusions and only the reader benefits.

Samir Husni: What makes Jason tick?

Jason Brown: Great ideas. I love smart ideas. I love original ideas and whether I’m on Twitter or being sent a story idea or I find a magazine story and I say, wow…that is a smart, well-executed idea and I wish I had thought of that. And that is what keeps me in magazines and what keeps me inspired by what’s out there and gives me hope that great experiences and great content will keep on driving audiences to the newsstand.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the future of magazines? Print or digital? Both?

Jason Brown: I think that it’s a combined experience. We spoke about it earlier and one of my beliefs is that no one thing is the solution. I think brands that will survive are strong brands that have a multi-faceted approach which offers the user or the reader an experience. It will be spearheaded by a print experience because people appreciate that. They don’t have to click three times to get to their favorite magazine and they enjoy that lean back, but then you’re also offering them an app that can keep them on the go. Your social media is giving them a daily or hourly experience, but the magazine is giving them the longevity and the belief in the experience over the month, the week or over the year.

Samir Husni: As an insider, how do you see the magazine market in South Africa – is the glass half full or half empty?

Jason Brown: It changes every month and I think that’s just the nature of where we’re at. I think it’s very easy to become despondent about magazines at a time like this, because we’re in such an age of transition. And I think to be extreme or to write one thing off in favor of another is looking at it as a problem rather than an opportunity.

For me it’s about reaching an audience, quality content and a quality experience will always find an audience. And for me it’s an exciting opportunity to create more of a holistic brand. I think the future is in the entire 360. What we’re struggling to find right now is the balance between how each of those will work, and how we will create a revenue opportunity across all of them.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Jason Brown: Keeping ahead of my readership and understanding their needs. And I suppose anticipating the next move to always stay relevant.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, 2014 All Rights Reserved.
Truth in Reporting: Media 24 Magazines in South Africa, is a media company that I consult for. This interview is not related to my consulting role, but rather giving my readers a better understanding of the magazine and magazine media marketplace in South Africa. This is the last of the four interviews.

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