In creating a new venture, knowing whom not to listen to is as important as absorbing good advice
Jack Yan is founder and CEO of Jack Yan & Associates and president of JY&A Consulting.
THIS WEEK is pretty important to me as a publisher (as well as a professional
brand consultant and typeface designer). In late 2003, I made an unusual decision:
to turn a web property I owned into a print magazine. It was, by and large,
unprecedented in the world of publishing (one other publisher had done it at
that point). In the days ahead, Ill personally work on a brand extension
to the print magazine, but, more importantly, see the launch of Lucire
in Romania. I didnt do it alone; the key was listening to the right people
and rejecting all that was wrong with 20th-century business.
I wont say the path was an easy one. The web magazine is number two in Google, slipping every now and then to third when Condé Nast has a good week, but we could have owned the online fashion category if we wished. To give up the title of the worlds leading online-only fashion magazine in favour of becoming just web-and-print title was not an option, either. Instead, Lucire had to become something special.
The story has been told before: the twenty-ﬁrst-century brand must have social responsibility. It is vital for a brands survival today.
Secondly, it is important today for a magazine, regardless of medium, to have constant contact with its readers.
Thirdly, while think global, act local has its merits, it is the era of think global, act global, and it matters not that one has a small business.
But the story is not complete. The rest of the story is about what we blankly rejected because it was démodé and irrelevant for 21st century business.
It may be very cocky to say this only after two editions, one in Australasia and one in Europe, but I like to think of Lucire as part of a global movement. We began it online, where global movements are commonplace. I refer not to Ebay or Google, but socially responsible groups such as TakingITGlobal. I am closely involved in one, the Medinge Group, which is made up of the worlds top branding authoritieswhere we do look at changing our part of the world by making brands more transparent and honest. I refer to those informal networks of people who band together because they see the opportunity to effect change. whether its privately hosted or on Yahoo!.
If you are in publishing and you didnt notice this, then, in my opinion, you are in trouble.
Its that spirit that, despite having come from the end of the 20th century, was a vanguard of the next century. In the 1990s, postmodern critique was fashionable. In branding, No Logo was the seminal moment, Something had to give, and I proposed the concept of moral globalization; I talked about how brands could become more human, even more spiritual. The consumer movement couldnt be ignored, either: it came of age in the last decade.
Those who suggest that we continue branding just as we always did, maybe by putting up an extra sheen and give social responsibility mere lip service, are misguided. I had to ignore them.
But there was one thing that I knew, but didnt want to believe. For years, I resisted doing a print edition. Print was seen by the digiratti as a retrograde step. But here we are in the 2000s and the allure of print is as strong as ever. Nearly all those people who said they would stop buying tabloids when Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were killed (or assassinated) have failed to keep their promise. Since were not going to change millennias worth of habits, we decided we had to be part of the print world.
However, that world had things I didnt like. Largesse, arrogance and formality. I am blessed to have never formerly worked in the industries I have chosen to work in: consulting, software and media. We joked about JY&A Consulting being the anti-McKinsey long before they were handing out books on their work for Enron. And in the months before Lucire approached launch, we heard that we were the anti-Vogue. Well, I was born on the anniversary of Condé Nasts passing, so perhaps there is some meaning there.
If I was to spend this much money, then some things had to be done in the way Lucire had evolved, never losing the character or the values we found in the 1990s.
That meant the lean structure of the web site had to stay. That meant that we did not complete three months worth of articles before launch, because that would not afford us any chance to adapt to consumers. It meant trusting your team to create articles and artwork that represented the magazines ethos. It even meant putting aside the idea of traditional demographics because based on my observation of consumer behaviour on the web, the budget-premium distinction had disappeared. It meant listening to everyone from advertisers to consumers, and treat them respectfully. And if this magazine was to have a chance in exporting, either in intellectual property or physical magazines, it had to consider New Zealand as part of a global society.
I cant say this was all laid out before me the months before October 4, 2004, our New Zealand launch date. Nor was I totally sure of my own capabilities. But I imagine most of us felt it deep down, and with hindsight, we can now see the bigger picture.
A lot of this came from the selection of the right people or just trusting that they would be there: Phillip Johnson has stuck by us through thick and thin, for a start. Lisa Tardrew, our director of advertising, contrasts her rivals and is, therefore, our ﬁnest ambassador in Auckland, New Zealand. Nicola Brockie, our editor-in-chief, has managed to maintain a level head during all the growing pains. For ﬁve out of six covers (and likely seven out of eight), Jessica Tarazi created world-class make-up. Doug Rimington, a photographer who doesnt distinguish between classes of people. Fiona Barnett, who understands global design. Printers who knew my record. Folks on our team who are too numerous to mention. All are internationally minded people, adopting an attitude that is a necessity.
Since then, weve had Americans tell us that its the antipodean version of W (we actually had Vogue in our sights rather than anything of Mr Fairchilds), and others believe we might be the benchmark, at least in our home country, for our sector. I hope so. Or that at least we lead in some ways, helping our readers, and helping our advertisers connect properly in an age of segmentation and consumer democracy and advocacy.
Our attitude remains, nonetheless, informal. And that is what drew the Lucire Romania team and head ofﬁce together. Mirella and Valentin Lapusca have done a magniﬁcent job of re-creating Lucire there, following the ethos of the master edition, our harnessing everything from FedEx to web servers. The magazine may be physically shorter there, measuring the same width but A4 in height, but there is no denying that, with its New Zealand-designed typefaces, it is Lucire.
I salute our Romanian team. Mirella and Valentin took a chance on our vision after we had delivered only two issues to the New Zealand and Australian public. That was when I knew that our relationship would be founded on trust ﬁrst. The contract we executed merely became a formality. In some countries I can name, mistrust would have come ﬁrst, the contract a document to live and die by. But I hold those values of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights dear to me: innocent till proved guilty are not only words, they are a good way to do business. Due process is in the Fifth Amendment, though on some days I wonder.
However, it is an underlying belief even in our coverage and the issues we get involved in. As a member of the media, I stand for what my company stands for: ethical solutions with the strongest awareness of integrity, rights and freedoms. Thats my declaration and Lucire, that organic brand, that global movement, is living proof of it.
One day, Id like to see more countries with their own Lucires. There is no secret that I would like to see it Stateside, run like a New Zealand magazine. Good business is a mixture of high-stress and Shell be right, that slogan beloved of antipodeans. There are other markets, too, ones that are willing to see how a 21st-century title can be run. Nationals in those countries I would like to connect with, and humbly await their consideration.