A new woman climbs aboard Redwood stage

Sara Cremer has left the news-stands behind to focus on producing multi-platform titles for the likes of Harvey Nichols and the Royal Mail. Ian Burrell talks to her and finds out more
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The Independent Online

It must be one of the finest jobs in publishing, with a generous salary, an office in a building that overlooks Trafalgar Square, and the chance to put your feet up and watch a bunch of Aguilera videos.

Sara Cremer, the former editor of such consumer titles as New Woman and Eve, has been lured across the great magazine divide to become editorial director of Redwood Publishing, where her portfolio includes Your M&S, Zoom Zoom for Mazda, and the rather iffy-sounding Contact, which turns out to be from the Royal Mail.

And yes, she does get to watch a lot of Aguilera clips, though they do not feature Christina getting back to basics, but rather Redwood's talented video producer Katherine Aguilera, 28, who is assigned to filming the content that is rapidly changing the publisher's stable of magazines into multi-media offerings.

So Cremer talks of the magazine business, which is part of the advertising-based media giant AMV BBDO, "moving even faster and further towards becoming a multi-content agency" and she says she wants all her staff to be "thinking across platforms and be trained across platforms".

Redwood has its own video editing suite, where Aguilera hones her stuff for clients ranging from the online fashion brand, Oli, to big businesses such as BT. "She came to us through college and she has been with us for five years," says Cremer. "Her background is in design and she is particularly interested in the video side."

It would be wrong, though, to imagine Redwood staff streaming in and out of the building, video cameras in hand. Of the team of 10 working on the NSPCC magazine and website Your Family, none sees themselves as a future Ridley Scott. "I don't think any of them are trained in actually holding a camera," says Cremer. "But they are obviously trained in finding the case studies."

She cites the charity's website "it's all about positive parenting" as an example of how a brand can be developed in a combined print and interactive online strategy. The site has a virtual nanny who will respond to requests from parents for advice. "You will get back a personalised piece of advice saying, 'When Kevin is behaving like this, it would be best to...'," says the editorial director.

Paul Kerzeja, Redwood's creative director, has developed a fairground analogy to make sense of the way the company now markets to the public. Where once he saw himself in a bowling alley, trying to make maximum impact with a strike, now he is a pinball wizard, trying to ring as many buzzers and bells as possible and keep the game alive. "You build up a score by creating as much interaction as possible and extending that interaction for a long as possible," he explains.

But surely this means that Redwood's journalists must think of themselves more as marketers, and surely some of this video-making is encroaching on territory that is also coveted by advertising agencies, which increasingly offer clients viral content on new product launches to support more traditional ad campaigns?

Cremer says her journalists remain journalists. "They are having to think even more like journalists and be more creative. Now you have to think of more ways that you can get into the news cycle. If you are going to interview somebody, you can do a two-minute video and put that on as a chaser to the full feature coming up. It is quite liberating actually, they can think about all the places where they can get across what they want to say."

The switch from consumer to customer publishing has not been the culture shock she anticipated. For a start, the notion that consumer magazine editors are somehow divorced from the commercial world is outdated. "There aren't many editors in the world who aren't very conscious of themselves as marketers. Sitting in front of a client and pitching a new magazine idea does not feel much different from sitting in front of a fashion brand in Milan, wanting them to invest in your magazine with advertising. All magazines are, in the end, a business and I think consumer editors have become more and more aware of that."

There is also a far greater urgency. "It is much faster-moving here because we have new projects and pitches coming in and we need to move very quickly. Big consumer publishing houses will take a couple of years to launch something, whereas we can do it in a couple of months." And the nervousness surrounding publication of the bi-annual circulation figures is also a thing of the past. "There is a certain liberation from the news-stand," admits Cremer of her new company, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. "The news-stand is a tough place to compete and you are quite restricted in terms of how brave you can be with covers and with your brand."

Partly thanks to this liberation from the news-stand, she says, "some of the best creative work is coming out of customer publishing agencies" and the sector is no longer regarded within magazine circles as "being slightly second-best".

"I haven't felt any snobbery," Cremer adds, "all I got from people was congratulations on a fantastic job. People do not now go into customer publishing and that's the end of it, they go in and out of it. It is a very interesting experience and I think you would come out of here being a better editor and a better journalist because you would have more awareness and be able to move so much more quickly."

But before she gets too comfortable, the prospect of economic downturn threatens this sector more than most. Cremer is aware of the danger, as you would expect of someone who oversees not only the Harvey Nichols magazine, Small, but also Engage, the publication produced for Jobcentre Plus. "You would have to have not seen a newspaper for six months to believe that the economy is still in a healthy state," she admits.

"In those times people, look very hard at where they get their value in terms of their marketing budget. So it is incumbent on us to really show the value of customer communications across all the platforms, and to show the return on their investment."