2010 September 12
The Amazing Mr. Monocle
Courtesy of Monocle View Gallery
(NEW YORK) He makes magazines! He sells ads! He builds brands! He’s learning Arabic! Is there anything Tyler Brûlé can’t do?
You’re a busy guy, Tyler! How do your magazine, Monocle, and your branding agency, Winkreative, work together?
For that, we need to rewind to 1998, when I was still doing Wallpaper. It was the starting point of what the Web would eventually mean to brands—a time of flux when we realized traditional advertising would have to work harder. We kept having clients come to Wallpaper and say, “We don’t just want editorial coverage. Is there another way we can work with you?”, which presented a variety of opportunities as well as conflicts of interest. That’s why we set up a completely distinct company alongside the magazine, which we called Winkreative. Now, fast-forward 12 years. Wallpaper is gone from the family, we have a new brand, Monocle, and the two companies sit very comfortably alongside each other, with offices in Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, and Zurich. There wouldn’t be a Monocle without Winkreative. It’s what’s allowed us to fund the magazine, along with our other investors. We’re joined at the hip!
How big is the combined team?
At the magazine, we’re roughly 50 staff, with 30-odd editors. The agency is also about 30. With freelancers, I’d say we write about 100 checks every month. Sounds like some serious synergy! How do you divide your efforts? Here’s a good example: I was in São Paulo last week to meet with some Monocle writers and take a series of ad meetings. During one, a client—a major retail store in Brazil—said, “Oh, by the way, who would we need to speak to at Wink?” I said, “Since I’m here, you might as well tell me what you’re interested in,” and walked them through our services. Seventy-two hours later, we were in the proposal stage. I’m always looking for opportunities for both sides of the business.
With such blurry lines, how do you manage everybody’s expectations?
It’s a constant battle. I mean, it’s great when we develop a product with a company for our retail stores, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to get a better advertising rate in Monocle. That’s a separate discussion. But the old argument of church and state is so tired—every day the lines become more and more blurred. I find the whole concept a complete load of rubbish.
About those stores: Is that an entirely separate division? And how did your whole retail concept come about?
Probably six or seven months before we launched Monocle, we were kicking around the idea of making a line of unique products. For example, I have a good relationship with Porter, in Japan, and buy a lot from them personally—why couldn’t we just ask them if they wanted to develop a line for us? So we did, they said yes, and everything sort of expanded from there. Around the same time, over in London, we had taken over a very sweet little flower shop after the woman who was running it retired. It was never in the business plan to do traditional brick-and-mortar retail, but the numbers were so low that if it just broke even, we’d be great. We opened our first store in the flower shop space in October 2008 and have had an incredible run. Suddenly, people were engaging with the print brand because they came to buy, say, the fragrance we did with Comme des Garçons. They didn’t even know there was a magazine behind it!
Sounds like a great marketing tool.
Absolutely. You can paper as many banners online as you’d like, but nothing competes with good outdoor advertising on the right street. But besides that, we’re selling enough products to cover our costs. They’ve also become live forums for our audience. If you have something to pitch, you can just walk in and talk to someone who works with the magazine.
How retro! How many stores do you have?
A little while later, we opened up Los Angeles, which has turned out to be the real bread-winner. That led to Tokyo, which opened two months ago; Hong Kong, which opened three weeks ago; and, of course, New York, which opened on August 30. We’re also looking at Brazil. For a brand that is very much not in the digital social networking space, the stores sort of answer the marketing question.
How important is the iPad?
I have trouble with that one. Either the iPad is going to be the most revolutionary delivery system for media ever invented, or it’s going to be a great presentation tool for PowerPoint. The main thing is that we shouldn’t confuse the fact that it’s a delivery device. It’s not media. You still have to feed the thing. Truth be told, I’m very concerned for publishers who have chucked a hell of a lot of development money into making something that works on the iPad. Listen, guys: If your magazine isn’t working at the moment in print or on the Web, this isn’t going to save you! Needless to say, I’m very keen to see everyone’s year-end results. Who ended up deploying way too much money on something they had never even budgeted for in the first place? At Monocle, I’d rather spend that $200,000 or $300,000 paying for more journalists. If someone from our company asked me if they could expense an iPad, we’d have a discussion. But no one seems to want one.
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