Brendon Hill is determined to transform the publisher of magazine titles, Woman’s Day and The Australian Women’s Weekly, into a broader media business with a strong digital presence after a string of crises and magazine closures.
But while Hill plans to make changes as Bauer Media Group’s new local boss, some things will remain the same including keeping Harper’s BAZAAR and Elle magazines which have been the subject of speculation in recent months.
Hill replaced former chief executive Paul Dykzeul as Bauer Media Group’s Australian boss in July amid intense revenue pressure at the magazine publisher formerly known as ACP, partly due to a difficult advertising year.
He says he has a two-year plan to reinvigorate the German-owned company, starting with attracting Generation Z – those aged 23 and under – and targeting advertisements to better compete with Instagram.
“We need to continually change because consumers demand that of us,” Hill says.
Bauer returned to the black in 2018, with its latest financial accounts showing a modest A$6.8 million (NZ$7.3 million) profit for the year after aggressive cost-cutting following a 14 per cent revenue decline. The business reported an A$11.2m loss in 2017.
It came after the company was rocked by an expensive defamation lawsuit by Rebel Wilson in 2016 who sued over articles about her in Bauer’s titles. The celebrity actor was initially awarded A$4.5m before the ruling was overturned.
Bauer published its last Australian print edition of world-famous Cosmopolitan in December. More than five print magazines were shut down in 2017, including Zoo Weekly , while 44-year-old Cleo stopped printing in 2016.
Despite this Hill doesn’t agree that “turbulent” is an appropriate way to describe the last few years and instead says it is an “evolution”.
“The business is in great shape … it feels a lot more agile, a lot more collaborative. There’s been some great innovations and new products,” he says, adding the overall audience for the company’s titles is up 12 per cent year-on-year and now reaches 7.5 million Australian women.
As part of the new strategy, he’s looking into online-focused content, comparison websites and new revenue streams for the existing brands.
This includes Harper’s BAZAAR two-day event Beauty BAZAAR in September, featuring skincare regimes of the rich and famous, sample bags and special guests like fitness guru Kayla Kitsines and model Jessica Gomes.
This was Bauer’s first major foray into ticketed consumer events, which Hill said was a “great success” they were keen to grow on in 2020. A cosmetics range from Elle is another potential revenue booster.
“We’ve just got to keep testing and trying new things and diversifying those brands,” he says.
He denies rumours that Bauer may offload Harper’s BAZAAR and Elle, saying they are “firmly part of our future” with a focus on multi-platform brands that hold up outside of magazines. Bauer will announce on Monday the re-signing of a multi-year licensing deal with Lagardére to continue publishing Elle.
While he declines to discuss a report Bauer was interested in buying Seven West Media-owned rival Pacific Magazines, the home of Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, New Idea and Girlfriend, he says acquisitions are on his radar.
“The Bauer Group is investing heavily in diversifying throughout the world, we’ve been buying up a lot of radio, a lot of online comparison platform businesses in Europe and we’ve recently started acquiring market servicing businesses,” he says.
A new comparison website under Bauer’s sampling business Bounty brand will launch in early 2020 with reviews, product comparisons and opportunities to sell services directly. At the moment, Bounty reaches 80 per cent of new mothers in hospitals by giving them a sample bag of products and collects their details into a database.
Improving the way the company uses data and technology is also on his radar. Bauer has signed a global deal with Apple News to help put its brands in front of audiences and is now looking at first-party data.
Partly, this is due to the major competition for attention and advertising dollars from US-based technology giants Facebook and Google. Instagram, in particular, has become a major competitor to luxury lifestyle-focused brands like glossy magazines.
While publishers, including Bauer, say their titles are brand safe and trusted making them better for quality advertisers, the better yields offered by the tech titans have increasingly attracted major brands.
“We need to catch up on our data abilities like they’ve got, we need to catch up on our personalisation of content like they’re doing,” Hill says.
Bauer is about to go head-to-head in the online world with a digital-first product Syrup, a youth-publishing website created by an internal team of 14 people that will be launched in early-2020 and aimed at Generation Z.
“They’re using all the different social platforms as that’s where Gen Z is and obviously there will be a website at the back of that, but I think the social products are key,” he says.
“Who knows, maybe there might be a demand for a really innovative print product.”
The most important shift for Bauer and one Hill is clearly trying to achieve is to steer away from being seen as solely a magazine publisher.
“I’d like us to be a media company,” he says. “And throughout the world we are.”
And although he does not see a future for Bauer without the print products, he refuses to rule out future changes in the titles within the company’s stable.
“I won’t promise that there won’t be change because there always is,” he says. “It’s a changing landscape but we should be bullish. The [audience] numbers are still huge.”