I’ve been watching with interest the number of journalists flitting over to the world of retail. At first I presumed that perhaps the demise of print media was fueling the change. It doesn’t take a genius to spot that news, which was once perfect fodder for the daily, weekly and monthly magazines, is now gradually being made redundant to the modern day consumer, who now has instant gratification through the Internet. By the time you pick up your magazine, it is more likely you’ll have picked up the story elsewhere, through an online news channel or through social media. This slow ebbing away has resulted in some magazine closures (More and Easy Living), and internal streamlining (Chat and Pick Me Up share the same team now). In August 2013, the only circulation figures released that displayed growth in the lifestyle sector was free publications of John Lewis, ASOS, Stylist and, a little surprisingly Women’s Health.
So it would make perfect sense that a leap over to the retail side would have more long term prospects, especially if you happen to be leaping over to a retail leader. However, that would be a simplistic view. For one, there is still money to be made in media. It may not look exactly how it used to look, it has started to transform and look for ways to grow, sprouting new avenues. Take the integration of selling platforms into the Daily Mail online where the news channel takes a commission on purchases via an affiliate scheme. Or how about Red’s reader events where they generate revenue through ticket sales by inspiring and entertaining their readers. Or for a revolutionary approach ELLEUK’s new #FashionCupboard where brands can sponsor 360 pop-up.
Secondly, whether a retailer or a media outlet, pureplay or omnichannel, we are all trying to adapt to the challenges and constantly redefine our business models to generate revenue. Retailers are no stranger to troubled waters. They don’t have declining circulation figures but they do have a declining footfall, and a more conservative consumer than five years ago – the inability to adapt has resulted in store closures (Woolworths, HMV, Internationale). Online has largely been the catalyst for these changes. Five years ago, where there may have been a token Online Editor on a media team, has now evolved to be a fully-fledged team dedicated to online. Or, the really advanced businesses (in retail and media) are fusing online and offline, taking an omnichannel approach with staff members laddering print, online and social media. Retail seems to have followed a similar pattern with businesses dipping their toes into Ecommerce before fully committing. H&M and Zara particularly late in creating their online vision.
To begin with, it was simply enough to have an online platform. Now, things are much more complex. We’re looking at online and social media to be the first touch point of your brand. The place to sum up your experience, the lifestyle and the heart of the brand. We’re not even necessarily buying online, we’re researching, engaging and sharing. So really perhaps the truth is that content is King. It is one of the most important elements of your business. You cannot afford to underestimate the power of content, it is leading the way. It doesn't matter which field you work in, you have to be relevant, engaging and a little bit clever in order to grow your reach and ultimately your business. No amount of poor campaigns, un-researched articles, lazy blogs or shortcut social media posts are going to be good enough to achieve your goals. The clever businesses, whether a media outlet or a retailer, are understanding the bigger picture, the google algorithms, the size of the investment and spark of creativity that turn a business into a brand.
This then, is why a journalist can be a good addition to a retail business. A journalist in this day and age is no doubt used to engaging people across every available platform. The journalists in mainstream fashion titles I imagine, will all be well versed in the omni channel approach. I would be surprised if they couldn't write an engaging article in their sleep, think of a clever headline, link it, tag it, tweet it, Facebook it and Instagram it without even breaking a nail. Influential journalists have been lured by big brands, taking with them a wealth of knowledge, fashion kudos and front row friendships to influence the creative direction of brands. Journalists moving to creative roles seem to be doing well, although less can be said, as Ana Santi in Drapers points out of the journalists moving to buying roles. She points out that two hires, for My Wardrobe and Harvey Nichols, have both ended abruptly. But then who is to say that the role was buying, and that the buying role is the traditional buying role we expect to see. Perhaps the retailer was looking to recruit a little fashionista magic, some razzle-dazzle, a touch of smoke and mirrors rather than a commercial Buyer. And that role, as we all know is much less tangible and measureable than more traditional roles.
If I was hiring, I'd be putting my money on the creativity of a Fashion Director. I'd be asking them to generate content and news stories that turn a fashion boutique, department store or an online platform into a brand, an experience. I'd look to the bigger picture, their wealth of insider information, the stacks of contacts and their social media clout that would add buzz to the business. I'd want brand link-ups, campaigns and events with big ideas and a good handle on the budget. In the creative or fashion industry, whether you're in retail or in a newspaper, you need to be a good storyteller, have a creative spark and good business sense. I'd leave buying to buyers, after all, we all know that a press worthy piece is likely to end up on the sales rack.
In the end it is content that is the real power player of the 21st century. The much over-looked magic wand which turns businesses into brands, cleverly weaving history, stories and lifestyles into a living, breathing organism and with that can hit multiple touch points.