Motor Sport magazine stands on its own. An independently-owned business over 90 years old, it is a labour of love to bring the best writing about motorsport to fans around the world. However, it cannot exist just as a print brand. In 1967, Motor Sport magazine had its highest print circulation at 164,000 copies but times have changed just a little since then.
Motor Sport is now a multi-platform brand with a growing website including a fully digitised archive and racing database, interactive digital magazine, bookazines and special projects, and, importantly, events.
We have led with a strategy focused on quality content across platforms. We will never compete with the big players on size of audience, nor do we boast a large portfolio we can sell against, but we can compete with the best in terms of quality trusted content. Our database of readers is very loyal and 23% of subscribers upgrade to a bundle version of their subscription or buy a further product from our portfolio.
So we have focused on what we do best. The online archive includes over 100,000 pages of articles since 1924. A metered paywall has been introduced to increase data collection and conversion and enable us to monetise one of our key editorial assets, the Motor Sport archive. Our new Motor Sport database has been live for a very short time (still a beta version) but aims to bring the best and most comprehensive stats to the web. Covering 121 years and just under 10,000 results, this is the go-to place for everything you need to know about motorsport and the introduction to the Motor Sport brand for the wider international audience.
We believe we are on the right track with these parts of our business. It takes a large amount of long-term investment, but it makes us stand apart in our sector - and we are starting to see commercial partners coming on board to invest in being part of the community engaging with this unique quality content.
Alongside these developments, we were interested in achieving growth by further extending the reach of our brand and strengthening our points of engagement with our target customers. There is an increasing demand from advertisers for live events and experiential offerings, and we wanted to create an event which was something special - just like our own prestigious magazine. However, getting to the right product has been a long and winding road.
Launching the Hall of Fame
Over the years, we have built strong relationships with the greats of motorsport, from well-known drivers to engineers and team bosses. We also employ some of the world’s most respected journalists in their field, and so it seemed a natural move to create the Motor Sport Hall of Fame awards – another avenue of rich content to engage readers and an additional revenue stream.
The inaugural Motor Sport Hall of Fame evening took place in February 2010. This was conceived for three reasons:
* as a key way of expanding to reach a broader audience and grow awareness of our brand
* to collect data to monetise via our own products or affiliates
* to create and build a new profitable revenue stream for the business
In some areas over the last five years, we have achieved our aims. We have successfully established the event as “must-attend” in the glittering merry-go-round of motorsport awards and attracted the attention of the top drivers and teams. We aimed to differentiate our awards by creating a more relaxed cocktail event format, where key players in the motorsport world could network, and we have welcomed some of the most famous names in the industry. However, supporting the awards purely through sponsorship has proved to be a challenge. We have gained a significant amount of investment but not enough to cover the event’s bottom line. We also didn’t maximise our connection with the wider audience as involvement was limited to reading about the event in Motor Sport editorial. We have, on paper, received a large amount of consumer PR but, in reality, this didn’t create the true engagement needed to grow our brand and support sponsors’ campaigns.
Fundamentally, as a consumer magazine, we missed a key element of the mix: getting our audience excited and involved.
Having established our position in the market and attracted the attention of key partners, it seemed a wasted opportunity to let the Hall of Fame awards disappear. So we took the decision to take a year’s break to rework the structure of the awards concept, and turn it into something that could potentially deliver everything that both our sponsors and Motor Sport needed. We believe we have come up with something fantastic to build on our hard work and create a really impressive proposition to potential partners.
A key part of this plan is placing the Hall of Fame at the centre of our marketing and engaging with our audience across all platforms. As an overview, the new concept revolves around reflecting our rich editorial content and relationships by creating five categories across the key motorsport sectors rather than picking four winners which do not necessarily reflect the breadth of the sport. This new strategy engages our audience and advertisers according to their area of interest, and allows us to create bespoke content around the categories.
Importantly, we have opened up the choice of who should win to a public vote. This has been launched online via a voting area on our Hall of Fame microsite. It allows us to offer readers the chance to vote (by picking from a list suggested by our Motor Sport panel), comment on their choice and choose to get involved by opting in to receive a Hall of Fame newsletter. So far, we have had over 3,000 votes in the F1 category after going live at the end of July and over 1,500 of these people have chosen to receive the newsletter. Suddenly, 10,000 votes seems an achievable target!
In terms of editorial content, we have a multi-platform approach, creating bespoke editorial around the Hall of Fame in the print and digital magazines, on the website, through social media and, importantly, by harnessing the power of our unique podcasts. The Motor Sport podcasts have been on the air for several years and have been building a solid following via iTunes with over 50,000 listeners. Newly introduced for the Hall of Fame, each of our category shortlists is preceded by a podcast (also on video) which allows the audience to hear a respected panel of Motor Sport editorial, other well-known journalists and potentially key names associated with the sport talking through why they have chosen their top list. The choice of winner was previously shrouded in mystery but now our readers can hear how their shortlist was chosen and get involved by commenting and placing their vote.
We do not want to just wait for our audience to find us - we aim to reach outside our usual core readership. As part of placing the Hall of Fame at the core of our brand, we built the coming year’s marketing strategy around taking the Hall of Fame on a roadshow and bringing the brand to life through displays of award winners’ cars and memorabilia. We have become feature partners at two of motorsport’s major events and it has turned out to be a very successful way of introducing a wider audience to our products. We have invested in stand collateral which allows us to incorporate interactive voting on the stand (which supports our data collection targets) and bringing this quality content to exhibitions has allowed us to improve our relationships with organisers who are always on the look-out for ways to enrich their event. We have planned eight events across the year with more to come.
In order to grow our audience and the recognition of the Hall of Fame, we decided to move away from employing a traditional PR company and instead increase engagement by building our partner network. Again, we were looking for a way to approach the challenges of being a single independent brand and this is a key element of our plan which will take time to put in place. We have reviewed each of our categories and looked for appropriate media or event partners to launch and support the voting. For example, the rally category will be in association with Wales Rally GB and the motorcycling category will have one of the sport’s most respected websites pushing its readers to vote. In exchange, we will supply bespoke quality content around the Hall of Fame shortlist and push voters back to our partners’ products.
Finally, we need to look at the holy grail of monetising the Hall of Fame. We feel that we have created a more attractive product for potential sponsors, including changing the format of the event in 2016 to a sit-down dinner. With this tried-and-tested format, we can introduce table sales and underpin the event with a new revenue stream. In addition, of course, our readers can now attend the star-studded event they have read so much about.
This is work in progress: we feel confident that our reworked strategy is on the right track. Certainly, response from the industry has been encouraging. Not every brand extension works first time, and we hope that we have now got the right formula. I look forward to reporting back next year!