Creative Review & Mother
Following the news about Creative Review handing the editorship of it's February 2007 issue to ad agency Mother, I had the opportunity to talk with the magazine's editor Patrick Burgoyne about the project.
Guest editorships have drawn some criticism recently, not least here on magCulture. How do you justify ceding control to another party? Is this just a gimmick?
We haven’t ceded editorial control. We didn’t just hand over the magazine to them to do what they liked. We have full editorial control over the content – everything was developed in collaboration between us, some are their ideas, some ours. There are no articles about Mother themselves, no interview with them, and nothing that I’m not happy about. In fact a lot of the content is very damning about the ad industry itself.
Is it a gimmick? I guess anything that departs from your normal way of doing things, anything involving novelty, can be seen that way. What I hope though is that when people see the subject matter of the issue they will realise that there is a bit more depth to it than that.
Can you talk me through how the collaboration came about? Who approached who?
We approached them. We’d been talking about trying to do a guest edited issue for a while and Mother were one of the few people that we thought the readers would be interested in and who could carry it off. We also knew they had their tenth birthday coming up – often ad agencies do self-congratulatory paid-for supplements to mark this kind of thing (not in CR by the way) but we didn’t really see the value in that for the reader and we didn’t think Mother would be interested anyway.
So, about a year ago, we put the idea of guest editing to them. I have to say I was uneasy about the idea when we first discussed it – no editor likes to think that other people might have a say over what goes into their magazine. And then there was another aspect to the whole deal, which I’m sure, will raise eyebrows: we asked them to put money into the magazine too.
You say ‘no editor likes to think that other people might have a say over what goes into their magazine’. How will the editorial process work? Doesn’t the fact Mother have paid to be involved give them a client-like lead on decisions?
No editor likes it, but of course all kinds of people have a say – publishers, advertisers, sponsors, even readers... With Mother, as we’re asking for their input on content, it’s inevitable that they will lead that. If we didn’t want them to do that, we wouldn’t have asked them to contribute in the first place. Rather than a designer/client relationship, this has been more like two designers working together, or should I say, two editorial teams working together. We’re both putting money into this and we’re both getting benefit from it.
The way it has worked so far is that we have had weekly meetings interspersed with daily contacts. They have set aside a team to work with us although I think they threw the idea open to the whole agency at first. Once those ideas came back, the team presented them to us and between us we boiled it down to the ones we felt worked best. We have also come back with ideas of our own – sometimes building on theirs, sometimes going off on a new tangent. It’s been great actually – no big fights yet! I think it’s been interesting for them to think about communicating in a different way. It’s certainly been fascinating for us to see what people would do with the magazine given the chance.
The idea of the theme for the issue – selling your soul – came from them. It came out of the fact that they are paying to take part, which, of course, raises all kinds of questions about editorial integrity.
Sounds like it’s been an interesting process. Have your two worlds – publishing and advertising – been an easier fit than you expected? Are Mother making suggestions that are impossible/implausible, or are their ideas genuine editorial innovations?
It’s been much easier – but that’s mainly because Mother are a lot different from normal ad agencies, with different kinds of people. One of the principal team working on this with us, Stephen Butler, used to be an editorial art director and the two Swedish guys – who are known as “The Murderers”, for reasons I won’t go into – trained as graphic designers rather than ad creatives, so we’ve been working with people who already have the right skills and experience. And, although you might think, “he would say that wouldn’t he”, they’ve genuinely all been great to work with.
We talked a lot about the fact that they don’t need to grab the reader’s attention in the same way as with ads and that it’s important in a magazine to slow the reader down sometimes, but it wasn’t anything that they were unaware of. A couple of their ideas fell foul of the lawyers but the real difference on this issue was that working with them has provided the funds to realise their ideas. This is why I felt happy about the fact that they are effectively co-funding it. Virtually all the money that they are putting in is going toward making a better magazine – more editorial pages, more expensive paper, free posters, extra contributors and so on. If we were going to fund this on our own, the cover price would have to be something like £15.
£15 is almost triple the usual newsstand cost of Creative Review. What will readers get in the issue/with the issue that they wouldn’t normally get?
I should make it clear that the issue will still cost £5.70, as normal. None of this will cost the readers anything extra. Everything’s a bit up in the air at the moment – we don’t print anything until January – but among the things being discussed are 3 A1 posters with each issue, a sheet of stickers bound in to the issue, iridescent paper, about 20 extra editorial pages, special packaging plus some very interesting (and expensive) contributors.
Thanks Patrick; anything else to add or shall we end it there?
I think that about covers it. Both Mother and us are trying to be as upfront and honest about this whole deal as possible – especially the money aspect – so if anyone wants to ask questions, fire away.