AGENCY 2003: Customer Publishing Agency of the Year - Publicis Blueprint

Publicis Blueprint's client workshops mean all its work is underpinned by an insight into customer needs.

As industry legend has it, Publicis chief operating officer Rick Bendel criticised his client Asda's customer magazine for years, until eventually he was asked if he thought he could do a better job himself.

And that's how Publicis Blueprint came to be born - just over four years ago.

Headed by chief executive John Wisbey, the former chief executive of Forward, and managing director Jason Frost, a former publishing director at Redwood, Blueprint was consequently the first contract publisher to be truly integrated into a bigger agency structure.

The agency's ballsy, confident culture means it strives to innovate - and its directors rightly say that 2003 has been "a year of firsts".

Blueprint claims to be the first customer publishing agency to handle advertising sales and marketing for a newsstand consumer title. The first of these was Jaunt, a women's travel and lifestyle title launched by Sibella Publishing in July, for which it created TV and cinema ads and a viral campaign.

The agency also signed a contract to handle the media sales and commercial relaunch of The Big Issue. It will help the magazine to maximise its commercial potential, taking over the management of its media sales teams and providing other forms of publishing consultancy.

This multi-faceted approach links to the agency's decision this year not to take part in pitches for business, preferring to help companies formulate their approach at a strategic level. Nine of its ten new clients in the past 12 months have been won outside tenders and pitches.

Focusing on developing its intellectual property within the industry, Blueprint has adopted a fresh way of working, based on a series of collaborative workshops with clients, which mean that all of its creative output is underpinned by insights into its clients' businesses and understanding of their customers' needs.

The ebullient Frost claims that Blueprint's agency connection has served it well - enabling it to see beyond the magazine solution and offer its clients a media-neutral perspective with services such as books, radio (for Asda and all:sports) and in-salon advertiser-funded TV for new client Toni & Guy.

But Blueprint's diversification into customer radio and television does not detract from the agency's ability to deliver results for its clients through magazines. Indeed, if you are a client of Publicis Blueprint, you should be feeling rather smug right about now. As a result of what directors are calling the agency's "customer-centric strategy", your customer magazine has delivered the sort of numbers usually only promised in optimistic pitch presentations.

For Toni & Guy, all:sports, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft Business Solutions, Channel Five and Allied Domecq, all of which have joined the ranks of Blueprint clients this year, the outlook is bright. And they only need to look at the work that Blueprint has produced for clients such as Homebase and Asda for reassurance.

For Homebase, which is investing in a massive store redevelopment programme, Blueprint created a magazine that has enabled the retailer to shake off its image as a DIY shed and become a 'home enhancement destination'. In the seven months since the launch of the quarterly Ideas, more than £30m in sales has been tracked through the magazine in three issues, and more than 250,000 new store visits have been made as a result of reading the magazine. Ideas carried off the Grand Prix at this year's Association of Publishing Agencies (APA) awards, as well as the prize for Launch of the Year.

A turning point in Asda's publishing strategy came when research revealed that shoppers were disappointed at not always being able to find the magazine.

Since then, Blueprint has delivered a 30% increase in print run and a 25% decrease in production costs, by reducing the size and format of the magazine, changing the print process and challenging suppliers' costs.

With ABC figures up by 16% in 2003, Asda magazine is now the leading women's monthly, and a significant sales uplift has been seen across beers, wines and spirits, household products, grocery products, health and beauty.

It is now the supermarket's sole communication used to drive secondary customers, and is a major element in Publicis Group's integrated marketing for Asda.

In addition, Blueprint has built a strong relationship between its sales team and suppliers' national account managers to develop a range of advertised promotions that benefit all. "One national account manager described this as the best thing since gondola ends," says Frost.

In short, 2003 will go down in Blueprint history as the year that it firmly established its reach beyond the Publicis client base to develop itself into an effective customer publishing house in its own right, with the added benefit of a media-neutral approach and backing of the agency group.

Jennifer Hiscock is features editor on Marketing. 020 8267 4401, jennifer.hiscock@haynet.com.

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