London media should wake up to the power of the regions

Amid another UK election, Manor's founding editor argues those in a London bubble should wake up to the potential of regional news and magazine brands.

Once upon a time, where London led, everyone followed. The media world and much of its content revolved around the capital and the country was led by a London elite, be they Blair’s New Labour, or Cameron’s Conservatives.

Things now though look to be changing. Brexit has proved that not everything goes London’s way.

The Cameron elite is out, replaced by an arguably less London-centric team May, and, for some time, there has been a steady exodus of London professionals, yes, even media professionals, upping sticks for coast and country.

Indeed, the ONS reports that annual net migration from London has doubled to 80,000 over the last five years.

A high proportion – some 40% – of these "Lexiteers" are young professional families, many taking advantage of an increasingly flexible working culture that allows them to work more from home (bigger homes with more space), travelling back and forth to the capital when they need to.

I know because I’m one of them. You may be too. I worked as an account planner in London for a number of creative agencies, prior to that for national newspaper groups, before my husband (also a planner) and I decided to move out of London to Devon eight years ago and raise our kids in an environment where the cost of living didn’t require round-the-clock childcare.

We landed, looked around, and I noted a lot of types like us but a complete dearth of any decent media catering to us.

There was nothing aimed at the growing number of well-informed, well-travelled, city-savvy types who’d relocated to the regions, or who’d never felt the need to leave.

All that existed were Archant’s Life titles, which hadn’t changed in years, and the odd, thin, ad-packed rag, neither of which had any relevance for this group. 

We had both been part of the bubble, operating in a London agency world that viewed anywhere beyond the M25 as provincial and quaint. Chicken, egg. Regional print as a sector compounded this being, for the most part, tat.

Parochial, poorly designed and under-invested in for years, the result has been a lack of reader interest, consequent lack of advertiser interest, culminating in an endless circle of closures, decline and irrelevance.

A case in point is this week’s PPA Festival which has an impressive line-up of speakers and almost every sector of print and the print business well represented – except regional.

Yet with a discerning, upmarket audience moving to the shires, the beginnings of a distribution of wealth away from the capital and a confidence in the sustained appeal of print done well, we saw an opportunity in 2015 – an opportunity to create a magazine for regional readers that would give the nationals a run for their money.

After notching up investment capital of just £100,000 we launched Manor, a six-weekly premium lifestyle magazine with a print-run of 20,000, targeting AB(C1) readers 30-55 with a base or interest in the South West. 

We ensured it had the quality, look and feel of a national glossy, but would, for once, not be London-centric. Nor would it be like any regional that’s gone before.

Manor would do the regional job – ie. championing the very best of the South West, without being dismissed as "a regional".

Its name would be Manor which was aspirational, had country connotations and was not overtly regional i.e. not Devon Manor.

And it would have generic sections – beauty, fashion, design, interiors – for relevance, as well as the best in regional arts, food, property and features.

After two years with no additional investment, Manor has published its 18th issue and billed almost £750,000 in advertising revenue alone.

The title boasts Audi, Rolex, Bulthaup, Finisterre and Porsche as advertisers, as well as all the premium estate agents.

In a notoriously difficult market, Manor has proved not just the sustained role for print in a digital world, but, far more unlikely, the sustained role for regional print, by pioneering the concept of "premium regional".

It has done so by showcasing the level of creativity and innovation that exists beyond the capital, to a high journalistic standard.

The Manor story goes to prove that there is life, indeed enviable life, beyond London and the success that print can have in conveying that beautifully and intelligently, to the right people. 

Manor is placed on the shelf beside the international glossies, despite operating at a mere speck of their respective budgets and, in its positioning as The Premium Regional, it has disrupted a hitherto written-off segment of the print world.

A capital-centric media and agency world would do well to take note. London occasionally just might no longer be where it’s at.

Imogen Clements is founding editor of Manor 


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