Coasties Magazine burst onto the scene in New South Wales’ Central Coast six months after Australia first experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, borne out of Founder Amy Nelmes-Bisset’s vision to create a marketing channel that encourages people in the region to support local businesses at a time when they needed it most. Here, Amy chats about why people thought she was crazy, the importance of knowing your audience, and a community-first approach.
When COVID-19 hit, Amy Nelmes Bissett, a successful freelance writer with a long career working for media brands worldwide, found that her work dried up overnight.
“As freelancers, we were the first to go. I went from essentially a six-figure wage to two or three commissions if I was lucky – and having to fight for them. It was depressing – watching the print industry pretty much crumble. So many people were made redundant and still haven’t found jobs.”
But when Amy started thinking about a new direction for her career, she couldn’t quite let go of her print journalism background.
“I literally just could not bear the thought of not doing what I do – of not making content and not storytelling. I kept seeing it posted everywhere that print was dead. Mumbrella published an Op-Ed about it. But I just couldn’t come to terms with that.”
So Amy decided to start her own print media brand – a niche magazine aimed at supporting local businesses in her home region, New South Wales’ Central Coast.
“When I told people I was going to launch a magazine, people thought I was losing my mind.”
Fast-forward to six months later, and Coasties Magazine has a readership of approximately 40,000 and editions that sell-out with advertising.
Being “something for someone”
Amy felt that a magazine that supported local businesses could do well, particularly at a time when COVID-19 had, on the one hand, put a lot of pressure on small businesses, and on the other reinvigorated feelings of community and a support-local movement.
Before launching, she spent a lot of time researching how print media was evolving around the world.
“The biggest thing that I could see was publications that were hyper-focused, and free, were doing well,” she said.
So she set about defining the target market of her regional magazine. The Central Coast already had a much-loved magazine that serviced the area, focusing on high-end businesses and an older audience.
How would Amy’s be different?
“I felt like there was an outpouring of Sydneysiders to the coast – young mums who still like to socialise. Cool mums who don’t want to necessarily talk about the best playground to go to, or where to take the kids for baby chinos.”
This became Amy’s market – young, busy mums based on the Central Coast. She spent a lot of time connecting with mums’ groups in the area, running focus groups and getting feedback on magazine concepts, content and the design elements required to draw them in.
While this took time, Amy credits the magazine’s success with this research.
“People are super engaged with it because they know what we’re about.
“For a very long time, mainstream media has been targeting everyone, focused on reaching the biggest audience. But it’s actually better to talk directly. For me, I would prefer an engaged room of a 10 people rather than 100,000 people who aren’t really taking any notice.
“We really know who we are, and know who we’re talking to. The idea has always been: be something for someone, rather than be everything for everyone.”
A community-first approach
Coasties launched in September 2020 at a time when small businesses had experienced a tough six months thanks to COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions.
In its first edition, Amy offered all the magazine’s ad space for free to local businesses, and hand-distributed 15,000 copies of the magazine once published. It’s a strategy that many wouldn’t view as commercially sound, but Amy says that this move gave her an unrivaled “leg up” in launching the magazine.
“It got us noticed,” she said.
“We were on radio shows before we even launched, people were talking about us because it was a community-first move, during a time when the morale was low.
Amy also received recognition from the Central Coast Council, being named as their Australia Day Ambassador for her work helping local businesses.
“It felt good to give companies free advertising space, especially to those that had been struggling through the pandemic that couldn’t have afforded to pay for the promotion.”
Amy said that it made Coasties’ ethos of supporting local businesses clear from the start. And in return, small businesses have been supporting the magazine by selling out the advertising in each edition since – with no concerted sales outreach on Amy’s behalf apart from hand-delivering each magazine edition.
“Hand delivering 15,000 magazines is hard. But it is also joyous because I go into these businesses and straightaway they know who I am, I know who they are, I know about their dreams, what they want to do, their family. I’m invested in them succeeding – mainly because losing my job at the beginning of the year was really hard and upsetting, and I would hate for anybody else to go through that.
“Yes, the magazine means I’ve created a job for myself, but it’s also about making sure that others have the means to promote their businesses so they have the best chance of succeeding.”
The Coasties card
Fostering close relationships with local businesses has also led to brand extensions for the Coasties Magazine. During her magazine deliveries, Amy recognised that many of the local businesses were busy on the weekend but not during the week.
“It made me think – there has to be a way to inspire the community to visit these businesses during the week. The community wants to do it – they’re super engaged with supporting local businesses. They just needed a sweetener,” Amy said.
Amy created the Coasties Card, a membership card for locals that gives them discounts at participating businesses. It worked perfectly with the magazine – Amy explains: the magazine shares the best places to eat and explore on the Central Coast, and the Coasties Card inspires locals to step into them by offering exclusive savings.
The Coasties Card launched with 100 participating small businesses, and today has nearly 150.
“It grew into something much bigger than I anticipated,” said Amy. COVID-19 had changed the feel of the Central Coast communities, with large numbers of tourists visiting from Sydney each week because of restrictions on out-of-state and international travel.
“So there has been this mass influx of tourists and the locals wanted something that made them feel special. In the end, a lot of the participating businesses didn’t actually need the extra traffic – but they were doing it as a thank you to locals for supporting them during a challenging year.”
Balance and dispelling myths about media brands
Despite Coasties’ success, the path to launching had its challenges. As a mum of two young children, Amy said that getting the balance right when launching a business is really hard.
“There’s always a sleepless night; there’s always teething or sickness; there’s always a call to make. And then in the early days of any start-up publication, you have so many titles that you’re doing yourself – content, marketing, social media.
“I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day. I have so many ideas to grow the brand, and I suppose I’m very impatient – I want it done yesterday.”
Amy explains that the other challenge is dispelling the myth that Coasties is run by a large media company.
“Coasties is funded with my own money. Sometimes people don’t realise that. So a lot of our wording around social media is about the fact that we are a small business – we’re supporting local businesses, but the local businesses that are supporting us are also supporting a local business.”
Growing digital and full-service marketing help
Now that the Coasties print media is well-established, Amy is focused on growing its digital channels. She views the magazine as the backbone of support for local businesses, and the Coasties digital channels as providing immediate news about local businesses on the Central Coast.
“I do believe it has to be a double-pronged approach. You have to have print and digital work together,” she says.
Outside of its print and digital channels, the Coasties brand now provides general marketing support for local businesses.
“There’s a growth in people starting businesses since the pandemic, but starting a business isn’t having an idea and then just putting it out there. If nobody can hear you, there’s no point.”
So Amy now offers affordable social media, website and SEO services to local businesses who are skilled in the service that they provide but struggle with the marketing elements.
“Marketing is expensive and often out of reach for your one-man and one-woman business. It’s a daunting overhead. So offering affordable marketing help is a potential area of growth.”
Amy’s advice for those looking to start a regional magazine
Amy says that coming onto the scene as a new publication is really hard.
“There’s a lot of noise – everyone is a content creator now. A lot of people on the Central Coast lost their jobs because of COVID-19, so all of a sudden regional blog sites and social media accounts started popping up.
“And part of the reason for launching a magazine rather than going straight online was about standing ourselves outside of the crowd. I’m a journalist with extensive experience. I didn’t just one day decide to do a food blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I wanted Coasties to be seen as a leader, from the start.”
So, if you are looking to start a magazine, what are Amy’s tips for a successful launch?
“If you want to do it, stop thinking about it and just do it. Know your audience. Spend time to really know them and then jump in. Because if you hesitate, someone else will beat you to it.”
“And most of all, keep it hyper-focused, and be confident in your messaging. I’m super confident with the Coasties brand in six months, and it pays dividends.”