Awards Case Study - Andrea Thompson

By : PPA Communications

Andrea won the Consumer Magazine Editor Award at the Scottish Magazine Awards 2014 in December

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Published by CN Group Magazines, Dumfries & Galloway Life is edited by Andrea Thompson, who won the award for Consumer Magazine Editor at the Scottish Magazine Awards 2014. We talked to Andrea about  the magazine and how its become her way of life.

Holding up a mirror to all that is good about Dumfries & Galloway

From the outset I said that Dumfries & Galloway Life would “hold up a mirror to all that is good about the region, and fly the flag for Dumfries & Galloway all over the world.” It was immensely rewarding when, at a special celebration to launch our redesign (in 2013, starting with the August issue, no 69), the magazine was described by one of our guest speakers, Alex Fergusson MSP, as “an institution” and by another, Cathy Agnew, as a “true friend”- the friend standing for: “Fun, Respect, Integrity, Enlightenment and Entertainment, News and Diversity”.

It means that we are achieving what we set out to do: to be at the heart of this incredibly vibrant community, and be regarded as the must-read publication which readers want to be featured in and advertisers want to be in as they know it offers a quality platform to promote their business.

But it’s not just about producing a high quality magazine, packed full of fascinating features and stunning photography, that people want to buy each month – it’s more than that. It’s about being that much-loved household brand, which readers feel they know and have a relationship with, and that’s why being out and about as much as possible in the community is so important.

Connecting with the community

Myself and my two staff writers Anne Armstrong and Carol Hogarth aren’t desk-bound journalists. We all have backgrounds as ‘old school’ (and I mean that, most sincerely) newspaper journalists, who honed our craft in the pre-internet, pre-social media days, where you went out and about and talked to people to get the stories, to find out what was going on in your patch. We still do that – priding ourselves on in-depth features which only come from interviewing someone face-to-face, as well as attending all manner of events across the region. We’re also proud to be brand ambassadors for Dumfries & Galloway Life – as are my team of freelance contributors.

Editing Dumfries & Galloway Life isn’t just a job for me; it’s a way of life. My home is in the region and I attend as many events as possible – and, pretty much as it was back in my days as a district reporter, I’m never off duty. Someone always has a story to share, an event to promote, or feedback about the magazine, and it doesn’t matter whether I am in a café or a supermarket queue or at the football or in church! It’s great to be seen as approachable and that people really value the magazine’s support for their projects, stories and events.

Much of my reader engagement – being the face of the magazine at everything from fundraisers to festivals, to giving talks to community groups/rurals/college students/schools, to taking part in a ‘Strictly’ fundraising calendar and dance show as a ‘local celebrity’ – has led to me becoming involved in various committees and groups, from Business Mentoring at Dumfries High School to being a board member of Young Enterprise Scotland D&G.

I’m also on the board of the Big Burns Supper festival, Europe’s largest winter festival; Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival; the Crichton Gala Committee, and even my hobby [acting] has led to another voluntary committee role with the Guild of Players (Theatre Royal Dumfries).

To further develop links with the business community, following the launch of our dedicated Business section in the magazine, I have recently joined the board of Dumfries & Galloway Chamber of Commerce. While being on these committees means there’s usually only one (or, at most two) evenings a week when I have a free night, it does also mean I’m very much involved with and part of the community the magazine serves, and giving back (in terms of time and expertise) as well as having an endless source of stories.

One of my other volunteer roles has been invaluable in making the magazine a ‘3-D’ experience and, literally, giving a voice to some of our great features and people featured in the magazine. I host The Friday Magazine Show on award-winning community radio station Alive 107.3 (aliveradio.net), which is a great way to engage with readers and promote the magazine to a much wider audience. And again, it’s a great way of re-enforcing the brand, and making people ‘Dumfries & Galloway Life’ aware.

Facebook has been another excellent way to engage with readers, giving us the opportunity to carry breaking news, promote events, magazine content and advertising platforms. The page regularly has a reach of over 50,000+ and readers love to comment on everything, from what the latest issue looks like and who’s in it, to posts about the big news stories of the day and, especially young peoples’ successes.

Keeping content engaging

I’ve always wanted the magazine to have a ‘universal’ feel, with something for everyone, and this is reflected throughout the magazine. Readers will always know someone in the magazine, whether it’s to do with a news story or main feature, to our immensely popular Out & About social section, which covers all sorts of events – from balls and charity dos to sporting events and corporate celebrations.

Among the most frequently asked questions from readers are: “how do we find enough material to fill the magazine?” and “how do we do it?” We are truly blessed in Dumfries & Galloway to have a wealth of stories and one of the hardest parts of my job is what to leave out! That and keeping to within a tight freelance budget.

As for the “how do we do it?” part – I don’t know! I’m full-time and have two part-time writers. We have two full-time designers and one part-time designer, who are shared across the other magazines in the CN Magazines stable (including Cumbria Life and Carlisle Living) – so, with the three core titles and all the specialist publications the department produces, the designers are effectively on a deadline all the time.

The quality of the magazine belies the fact that we really are a tiny team, and external designers who have come in to work with us in the past have been amazed at the volume of pages the designers get through every day; every week.

Another challenge of my job is not having enough hours in the day to respond to everyone immediately. Technology is 24/7 but us mere mortals aren’t… yet! We aren’t yet at the point of being hard-wired, Cybermen-style, into our computers, so it’s a constant juggle between out and about sourcing stories, doing interviews, attending meetings and functions, commissioning copy, sorting photographs, proofing pages, writing and subbing copy, working on the front cover, talking to the team, updating the Facebook page, sorting freelance payments, planning with the ad team and keeping on top of those emails.

Looking to the future

My aim is to ensure that our readers’ love affair with Dumfries & Galloway Life continues, to develop our audience even further – while our subscription offers have had a great impact, we are now looking at a new marketing strategy to increase copy sales across the region – and to keep offering something new and exciting.

We’ve recently upgraded our website (a much-needed improvement), and while new technology hasn't really impacted on Dumfries & Galloway Life (to misquote Ikea's 'The Power of the Book Book', the magazine comes fully charged, pages are always fully uploaded and there's no lag moving forward and back, it's easy to share etc.) ... it would be great to move forward and add a digital offering to our readers and advertisers and ways of delivering enhanced content.

We’re also about to start planning for our sixth annual Dumfries & Galloway Life People of the Year Awards, which celebrate all those local heroes who make a difference to the community, and those flying the flag  for the region in areas of enterprise, sport, art and leisure and food and drink.

The awards ceremony, at the end of November, is one of the highlights of the magazine’s year, and indeed, is now established as one of the highlights of the region’s social calendar. It’s a true celebration of our readers and our community.

Email: andrea.thompson@cngroup.co.uk

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