Q&A with Cara Wagstaff, Associate Publisher, Signature Media

“While Australia was in lockdown, we used the time twofold: to ensure our product offerings are as strong as possible, and to talk to our clients to better understand their needs going forward. Now, as the travel market does begin to return, we’re in a strong position to deliver successful campaigns for our advertisers.” Signature Media Associate Publisher Cara Wagstaff talks about how the travel publisher has supported its readers and clients through the COVID-19 lockdown.

Signature Media is a boutique publishing house producing family and travel media titles, including three B2C print titles, two print annuals, two e-books, and a B2B weekly update for advisors in the luxury travel space, LATTE Luxury News. 

The company’s flagship title Holidays with Kids was the first family travel magazine in the world. Signature Media recently acquired Australia’s longest-running travel magazine Vacations & Travel from Morris Media Network, cementing its role as a leader in producing travel content. 

Signature Media Associate Publisher Cara Wagstaff
Cara Wagstaff, Associate Publisher, Signature Media.

Associate Publisher Cara Wagstaff looks after the marketing and publishing of all Signature Media’s brands, including social media, web content and distribution of the magazines. She’s a keen traveller and loves inspiring the company’s readers about the wonders of the world. 

TMSN Editor Lyndsie Clark caught up with Wagstaff to chat about how the publishing house adapted its offering to serve its readers and clients during the COVID-19 isolation restrictions that put a halt on the travel and tourism industry. 

Lyndsie Clark: How are you making sure your content is relevant right now?

Cara Wagstaff: To ensure our content remains relevant, we’ve developed strategies to put both our readers’ and advertisers’ needs first – we want to inspire travel, while supporting our clients, many of which have been seriously impacted by the events of 2020. 

To do this, we paused the publishing of print magazines when COVID-19 first hit, forcing the closure of domestic and international borders. It was a difficult decision, and one that we made in consultation with key advertisers and partners to ensure we were still able to meet their needs. 

At the same time, we launched two new digital titles/ebooks, Family Matters by HWK and Signature@home. As everything was changing so quickly (and still is), we wanted to be able to keep our readers informed in a timely manner. These titles have also given us the flexibility to weave in lifestyle content to keep our readers entertained and inspired while self-isolating – think DIY home beauty routines in Signature@home, and the best online classes for creative kids in Family Matters by HWK. 

We’ve had such a great response to the ebooks that we’re planning to keep them running, even as we ease back into print, which we’re now doing.

With domestic travel restrictions easing, we’re firmly focused on spotlighting domestic and select international travel destinations: the places most likely to open to Australian travellers first.

On top of all this, we’re continuing to use analytics across our digital platforms (Facebook, Mailchimp and Google Analytics) to measure what content our readers are finding most engaging and inspiring – this, in turn, helps us adapt and amend our digital editorial plans for the future. 

LC: How are you working with your advertising clients to get through the pandemic?

CW: Our advertising clients range from multinational hotel chains to family-owned, regional farm stays – needless to say, each is dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 differently. 

For those who’ve wanted (and been able) to continue advertising, we’ve included them in our ebooks, focusing on telling brand stories rather than promoting travel offers. For example, in Family Matters one of our Fijian resort advertisers promoted a colouring-in print-out, and in Signature@home, Orange’s tourism board created a sponsored content piece focusing on the destination’s upcoming events and attractions, to inspire future travel. 

For our advertisers who are currently unable to spend, we’ve continued to support them editorially wherever possible, whether that’s through sharing their news across our digital titles and platforms or conducting an interview with their general manager for our travel trade title, LATTE Luxury News. 

LC: What is your message to your readers and clients during these times?

CW: Our message is, and always has been: when it is safe and permitted, get back out there and travel! After the devastating impact of the summer bushfires and closed international borders, Australian domestic tourism needs you now more than ever. 

The tourism industry accounts for one in 10 jobs globally, and 10.4 per cent of the global GDP. So we’re urging our readers to travel within their home state (continuing to practice safe hygiene of course), and encouraging them to stop and support small businesses along the way, giving back to local communities in the process. When state borders open, venture further afield, and explore all the wonders that Australia has to offer.  

For our clients and any other tourism marketers, we’re always interested in hearing about, and supporting, good-news stories: the hotels and resorts welcoming guests again, state borders reopening, government tourism restrictions easing, tips on how to travel safely… anything that will inspire and inform our readers to plan their next holiday. 

LC: What are the short-term goals that you want to accomplish for your brands during the pandemic?

CW: As always, our goal as a publisher of multiple travel titles is to inspire and engage our readers. Coronavirus has put a particular emphasis on the need to keep people constantly updated and informed about developments in travel and tourism, so when restrictions ease they’re able to get out into the world again, supporting the industry in the process.

While Australia was in lockdown, we used the time twofold: to ensure our product offerings are as strong as possible, and to talk to our clients to better understand their needs going forward. Now, as the travel market does begin to return, we’re in a strong position to deliver successful campaigns for our advertisers. 

We’re continuing to create content for all of our digital titles, are planning our next editions of Signature Luxury Travel & Style and Holidays with Kids print magazines, and are focused on fully integrating our newly acquired publication, Vacations & Travel – Australia’s longest-running travel magazine – into our portfolio.

LC: Where do you think the special interest/niche magazine sector is heading beyond COVID-19?

CW: Niche publishing has an advantage over mainstream magazines as it attracts loyal and passionate readers who actively seek out content of specific interest to them. Niche titles also offer brands a highly targeted audience, so when they advertise they know exactly who they’re reaching.

This is part of the reason we believe so many of the larger print titles are closing down: they’re not targeted enough for advertisers, nor specific enough to create a connection with their readers the way special-interest titles do. 

Niche magazines have shown strong growth in both readership and distribution in recent years, and we’re confident this trend will continue post-COVID-19. In an increasingly digital world, people still want to be able to take time out and disconnect from technology with a great magazine in hand. 

LC: How do you think the relationship between print and digital channels will change?

CW: I think niche publishers will need to work even smarter so that the content they’re creating for print magazines will also be usable on, and relevant to, digital platforms – to complement rather than merely replicate. 

It can be a timely process to transform stories that have appeared in print into a digital-ready format (replete with SEO). We have a team in place to manage this process, ensuring we’re selecting the stories that represent the brand best and that we can add value to online, and also the content that best matches what readers are searching for, and will want to share with friends and family. 

Even before COVID-19, Signature Media was not a ‘just print’ publisher – the company has always recognised the importance of having multi-platform networks allowing our audiences to receive information, inspiration and entertainment across a variety of mediums, whether that’s direct to their inbox, from social media channels, through search-engine results and, of course, in print magazines. 

Ensuring digital offerings complement and promote print products (for example, by having subscription offers and calls-to-action) can help grow print audiences and future-proof titles – you’re continuing to reach new readers online, while protecting the commercial viability of magazines.  

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