Earlier today, the Twitter grapevine tweeted the news that UK construction industry weekly magazine Contract Journal (CJ) and its website, contractjournal.com, is to be shut down from the end of this month. The announcement by parent company Reed Business Information was made in an email (a tweet from Kirstie Colledge of Simply Marcomms prompted me to look in my old BIW inbox – bingo!), and – having written more than once about CJ’s online presence in my blog at ExtranetEvolution.com – I quickly cut and pasted the relevant paragraph into a blog post about the closure.
Contract Journal has been a fixture of the UK construction market for 130 years, but faced a double whammy. First, like many newspapers and magazines it suffered from dwindling circulation in the face of the digital onslaught (Laura Oliver’s Journalism.co.uk story points out that other RBI titles have also been forced into redundancies, in addition to the six at CJ; yesterday saw news of 100 redundancies at the Guardian media group). Second, CJ was also focused on an industry that has borne the brunt of the current recession. With too many firms chasing too few contracts at too tight margins, construction firms going bust daily, recruitment almost at a stand-still, and hard-pressed survivors cutting their marketing expenditure, it was perhaps inevitable that CJ – so dependent on advertising – would be at risk.
Not just the magazine
The closure also has repercussions for other CJ products. Brian Green’s almost unremittingly gloomy Brickonomics blog should, I think, survive, but other CJ efforts to embrace web 2.0 and build relationships with readers will probably disappear. (Update – 4 December 2009 – Brickonomics has been resurrected courtesy of UBM’s Building magazine – credit also to Reed’s Adam Tinworth who helped deliver the transfer.)
CJ’s two major awards programmes will also vanish from the calendar. Construction PR and marketing people will no longer spend hours each spring polishing entries for CJ’s Construction Industry Awards, or working out seating plans for the awards dinner each autumn (apparently the engraved trophies from this year’s event have just been despatched to the winners). And CJ’s Best Places to Work in Construction (which probably no longer include RBI) won’t be challenging AEC firms’ HR departments either.
The gut reaction from many industry PR and marketing people will almost certainly be one of sadness. We have lost a venerable title, six journalists (some of them long-standing friends and experienced industry-watchers and opinion-formers) stand to lose their jobs, and there will be one fewer weekly to which we can pitch our news stories and feature ideas, buy advertising space, or look for sponsorship and publicity spin-offs from events.
So where next?
Emap’s weekly Construction News clearly stands to pick up some of the advertisers but it is by no means clear how that publication is going to cope with the changing media environment. It is about to enter uncharted waters by imposing a subscription model on its online content, and UBM’s Building magazine’s recent reintroduction of reader registration hints that it may also bring down a paywall on some of its website content. Both publications are also investing in social media and in online and offline events and awards programmes.
But maybe, in the current media environment, now is a good time for us PR people and marketeers to rethink our focus on publishers and to augment some of the tools we have tended to rely upon (literature, events, hospitality, direct marketing, email, corporate websites, etc).
I would argue the recession makes this a good time to look at cost-effective ways of communicating our messages direct to customers, employees, influencers, investors, regulators and other publics. Instead of regarding the digital onslaught as a threat, perhaps we should see it as an opportunity to invest in social media tools and techniques, start conversations and take a more active role in helping people formulate their own opinions about us, our companies, products and services.