Awards Case Study - Robert Outram

By : PPA Communications

Robert won the Business and Professional Magazine Editor Award at the Scottish Magazine Awards 2014 in December

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Published by Think, The CA is edited by Robert Outram, who won the award for Business & Professional Magazine Editor at the Scottish Magazine Awards 2014. We talked to Robert about  working on the magazine and what's next for a title first published in 1897.

From The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) is the professional body for more than 20,000 industry-leading businessmen and women. Created in 1854, it is the world’s first professional body for trained accountants, who are all qualified chartered accountants (‘CAs’). Almost 65% of members work in business, many in some of the world’s largest companies. Others work in accountancy practices.

The CA is the membership magazine for ICAS and one of Scotland’s oldest professional publications, tracing its origins back to predecessor title The Accountant’s Magazine (‘TAM’), which was founded in 1897.

I haven’t been editing the magazine all that time – honest! – but even during my tenure, ICAS has seen some significant changes, which have been matched by evolutionary change on the part of the magazine.

When Think won a competitive tender to publish the magazine, it provided an opportunity to revitalise it, with a brief to create a publication that:
• Better represented the breadth of membership;
• Told stories that would engage, inspire and educate;
• Delivered a must-read monthly publication; and
• Secured top-name interviews from CAs in a range of fields.

Along with designer Mark Davies – who had been with me on the title previously – I worked with the Think team to creatively engage with every aspect of the magazine for a relaunch in 2013. We addressed everything from the structure and variety of content to photographic styles, design concepts and feature subjects. Feedback from The CA’s readership has proven the redesign to be hugely successful and we have continued to develop the magazine over the last couple of years.

A Changing Readership

One of the biggest challenges for The CA has been the changing geography of ICAS. The CA qualification is eminently portable, and ICAS members have always put their skills to use elsewhere in the UK and around the world. With the gathering pace of globalisation this trend has become even more apparent, and there are now members in more than 90 countries.

Some years ago ICAS saw a dramatic increase in the number of students trained outside Scotland – mainly in England, although there are training centres in the Channel Islands and Luxembourg. Now, more students train with the CA qualification outside Scotland than in Scotland.

For the magazine, that represents a fundamental shift. Our readership base is still defined by the Scottish accountancy qualification – the ‘CA’ – but many of those readers, as individuals, could not accurately be described as ‘Scottish’ chartered accountants.

A major milestone was reached this year when the number of ICAS members based outside Scotland finally exceeded the number in Scotland. Our focus has shifted to reflect that changing balance. That has included, for example, including more articles with a UK-wide or international perspective, and also ensuring that we feature profiles of ICAS members that reflect the breadth of the membership today. Recent examples include members in key roles in Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Morocco and Vancouver.

We’ve also extended our series of “round table” events – which bring together expert panels to discuss a range of business and professional topics – which were previously Scotland-based. Recent venues have included London and even Hong Kong. Operating over a much wider area presents logistical and cost challenges, certainly, but it is essential if we are to fulfil our prime role of helping ICAS stay connected to its membership.

Scotland remains the heartland for many of our members. We continue to cover Scottish issues and the many CAs in senior roles in leading Scottish businesses. Some recent examples include craft beer rebels Brewdog; and Skyscanner, rapidly becoming one of the big players in the travel price comparison sector.

With last year’s referendum on independence and the subsequent promise of further devolved powers for Scotland, Scottish political and financial issues have come to the fore, and ICAS has played its part in informing the debate while remaining politically neutral. It has been a fine line to follow but it has established ICAS as a respected, independent commentator and a source of unbiased information.

The CA has, of course, also followed the line of neutrality. Recent and current events have given us a great opportunity to tackle some serious issues around Scotland’s constitution and finances, with commentary from experts like Vernon Bogdanor and articles from Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Darling.

Engaging With Members

The connection with readers is crucial for any publication. Much of our content derives directly from reader engagement, from the ‘People’ pages reporting new appointments and other member news, to the round table events and the surveys we carry out, such as the annual CA Salary Survey or our survey of finance directors.

We also carry out a periodic online survey of the ICAS membership to gauge how well we are meeting their needs, and what they would like to see more – and less! – of in the magazine. Feedback so far has been very positive. The latest membership survey has shown an increase of 23% in those rating the magazine as ‘excellent’, with high agreement with the statements ‘The CA represents the profession well’ and ‘The CA offers me relevant information’.

One reader described the magazine as  ‘Succinct, sharp, quality – like the vision for what ICAS should be...’

In 2014, we increased the pagination to cover more stories in greater depth. The average readership of 1.2 people per copy and reading time of 36 minutes means that each edition delivers 10,000 hours of engagement time.

The delivery of a high quality, hard copy magazine every month is a significant element in the Institute’s communication with its members, but ICAS also follows a multi-channel approach. The magazine’s team works closely with ICAS’s in-house web team to present content across a range of media, mainly through the ICAS website, which has itself been radically revamped this year, and social media including LinkedIn, Twitter and the photo sharing site Flickr.

The multi-media approach means not only that magazine content is available online, but also that it can be enhanced with, for example, video segments of top speakers or audio clips from interviews. It also means that the Think editorial team and the ICAS web team are increasingly working together as one multi-media editorial operation.

While none of this would be possible without the online connection, there is no substitute for personally getting out and about, and connecting with members face to face. ICAS hosts a packed programme of events, from conferences and seminars to purely social gatherings, in Scotland and further afield. It’s important that the magazine has a presence in at least some of them, and from my perspective, attending them and meeting members provides insights you could not get any other way.

The Commercial Imperative

The prime purpose of The CA is to help ICAS connect with its membership. It is also important, however, that the magazine pays its way, and advertising revenue is an element in the ICAS business model.

Commercially, the response to the new magazine has been strong, with issues seeing a year on year improvement in sales revenue. We’ve seen, particularly, new categories of advertisers like cars and luxury goods increasingly appearing in the magazine.

B2B media has had to work harder and harder over the years to attract advertising and, like most editors in this sector, a key task for me has been ensuring that sponsored editorial and advertisement features are (a) helping us to meet our targets while (b) not diverting from our prime purpose. This can sometimes mean turning down a proposal or, more constructively, persuading an advertiser to accept changes.

I have worked closely with Think’s London-based sales team to ensure that the magazine’s revenue is maximised without compromising either quality or our duty to serve the reader and ICAS.

What's Next?

Jim Pettigrew, ICAS President for 2015-16, has stressed three key themes for his presidential year: ‘globalisation, ethics and diversity’. For the Institute’s magazine, that underlines the importance of our mission to create an increasingly international magazine from a Scottish base.

The magazine’s editorial team will also continue evolving as content providers, not just for the print edition but for all of the ICAS channels across a range of media. In practice that means, for some content, a ‘digital first’ or even ‘digital only’ approach. Already some of the articles I write each month are web-only.

I don’t think that makes us unique in the magazine sector. Magazine publishing is, first and foremost, all about content and engaging with our readership. The technology we use today is very different from what was available to ‘TAM’ in 1897; but, I would argue, the aims and principles underpinning what we do remain very similar.

Email: robert.outram@thinkpublishing.co.uk

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