Salt in the wound: fashion brands stealing talent from magazines, getting better content out of them

Top fashion brands for the past several years have experimented with supplementing traditional advertising in the hallowed pages of fashion magazines by publishing their own original editorial content in the form of “retail blogs.” The hope was that they would attract readers and engage consumers directly, cheaply and effectively. In 2012, we’ve even seen several admittedly big names jumping from traditional media to helm editorial departments at these cheeky brand blogs and retail start ups. Some see the talent poaching as a worrying sign.

But Laura Feinstein, a regular fashion contributor at PSFK.com, provides a calmer, cool headed assessment of the situation. “As the digital revolution heats up and more magazines move to digital, we’ll also be seeing a lot more writers leave their high status (but lower-paying) traditional editorial gigs for the relative comfort and stability of digital blogs,” she wrote in a recent article. She remains confident that in the long run, magazines “just might be the ones reading the help wanted ads.”

Apparently, it is that bad.

Or is it? Let’s turn once again to our own silver linings playbook and proceed to explain that while fashion magazines do indeed face several existential challenges, they are still better equipped in a fight to the death than many other types of magazines. Yes, it has come to that.

For one, it can be argued that particularly old fashion titles still hold a special, respected position in the fashion landscape. The brands are relevant to the fashion industry in a way that other consumer magazines are not. It simply doesn’t seem feasible that retail blogs could one day render large fashion titles utterly irrelevant. What would the fashion world be like without Vogue or Elle? Newsweek may have something to say about the supposed power of an iconic brand.

The difference between news weeklies and top fashion titles, while they are not as favorably positioned, is that they have no entrenched relationship with real money producing industries. Newsweek isn’t a party to the movement of any particular product. News weeklies, entertainment titles, and similar categories of magazines don’t have as clear revenue channels to tap into. inVocus suggested previously that celebrity weeklies offered nothing of value to the celebrity consumer dynamic. But what is equally problematic with the business model is that there is no independent revenue stream to profit from.

Fashion titles, on the other hand, are uniquely positioned to work directly with the brands they cover, or as Feinstein puts it, “bridge the retail/editorial gap.” No matter how the digital age shakes out, fashion magazines still have footholds in an actual product moving industry. It’s hard to imagine fashion titles not being able to find some sustainable habitat between brand, product and consumer, even if all the best original content is being produced by newfangled brand blog competitors.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Conde Nast’s executive director of digital marketing, Raman Kia, spoke about Lucky magazine at a fashion retail conference last year: “Lucky [magazine] is becoming more e-commerce. There is a major convergence between the two.” Chronicle Reporter Lorraine Sanders noted in the article that offering consumers the opportunity to buy products online or on mobile devices while reading their favorite rag is becoming trendier.

Meanwhile, Fashionista listed a number of big names who have departed their magazines, including former Lucky Fashion News Director Jen Ford, who has joined Kate Spade. Former Harper’s Bazaar UK Editor in Chief Lucy Yeomans also departed for the brand Net-a-Porter. And if these high profile cases are any indication, fashion titles might need that additional revenue simply to maintain their best writers, editors and personalities, who are increasingly finding homes with brands that offer greater stability, higher pay and more freedom.

As it becomes less expensive and more effective for fashion brands to reach and engage consumers directly online and through social media, fashion magazines—traditionally important facilitators between them—are being forced to reexamine their role in the industry. And while it may be troubling to see a related talent migration, fashion titles should ultimately be inspired by these new models of consumer engagement and, if anything, strengthen their special relationship with top fashion brands.

–Brent Treworgy