Flight of fancy: Bauer and Air New Zealand's publishing partnership above the clouds
It’s one of the most widely read magazines in New Zealand and yet its cover spends most of its life hidden from public view. So what is it about KiaOra that gets hundreds of thousands of Kiwis digging into seatbacks of Air New Zealand planes every month?
A flight attendant informs passengers to turn off electronic devices in anticipation of take-off, temporarily forcing everyone to disconnect from the digital crutches that they rely on to kill time whenever they have a few moments to spare.
In lieu of the digital escapism on which they usually rely, over 330,000 Air New Zealand passengers (according to Nielsen readership data) reach to the pouch in front of them and pull out the latest edition of the airline’s inflight publication KiaOra.
“We’ve got a really captive audience on the plane,” says Carly Wigley, masterbrand manager at Air New Zealand. “We find that even when customers are travelling for work, the magazine offers them some time out. They can be self-indulgent and spend some reading the magazine.”
With a distracting push notification only one beep away and with second-screening growing in prominence every year, there are very few instances left during which a single channel is given the full attention of the audience to this extent (the cinema would perhaps be a comparable example). And this level of cut-through is part of the reason why most major airlines are willing to invest in the production of such magazines.
“It’s a really, really important touch point and a reflection of who we are and what we represent,” says Wigley. “It’s [predominantly] an entertainment piece, but it also give us the opportunity to engage with our customers and share our stories with them.”
Wigley points to last year’s ‘Surfing Safari’ in-flight safety video as an example, saying that a feature in the magazine expanded further on the locations and the surfing celebrities involved in the project.
“It’s about giving customers the behind-the-scenes story, so they don’t just see the end product. It’s about showing how it all came about.”
To tell these stories, Air New Zealand commissions Bauer to produce each monthly edition of KiaOra.
“Bauer produces enough for our domestic flights and we top them up as they get low. From there, we also have some available for our international flights.”
Made from scratch
Bauer’s Brendon Hill, publisher of the premium titles, women’s lifestyle and specialist and custom brands, says the reason KiaOra does so well is because advertisers are drawn to the quality of the audience and, when it comes to affluence metrics, he says it tops every category.
“[The KiaOra audience] has the highest average personal income, highest household income and the magazine has the highest reach among business decision makers $100K+.” [Source: Nielsen CMI, Oct 14- Sept 15]
Combined with the fact that the magazine enjoys a relative monopoly of in-air media space, this would in itself be enough to attract advertisers to the publication, but Hill says that the reputation of Air New Zealand also plays an important role because “advertisers want to be associated with their premium brand”.
But producing a magazine that essentially serves as the inflight face of one of the most-loved brands in the New Zealand market also comes with its challenges. In many ways it places an added onus on the team behind producing the publication, because every feature, column and ad must fit with the Air New Zealand brand while simultaneously meeting the high editorial standards set by Bauer.
“You have to make sure you’re reflecting the Air New Zealand brand in everything you do,” says Hill. “[For this reason] every single piece of content you see in KiaOra is original (apart from one Home magazine feature house). We don’t purchase any stories from third parties. Everything is written by our reviewers, with 100 percent bespoke travel, food and lifestyle content. It’s quite unusual for any publication or media channel to be 100 percent unique, but it is very important to Air New Zealand that their customers have an exceptional experience with this brand touch point.”
Hill says Bauer will also be looking to take this approach to the broader market in the new year by offering bespoke content marketing to potential clients looking to have their stories told.
“We’ll be a content creation hub for clients, and it may not run in any of our Bauer brands,” says Hill. “We’ll create content, give it to clients and they can use it on their channels or pay to put it in other titles.”
But if there’s one thing Hill has learnt from working so closely with Air New Zealand it’s that finding this balance between content that is both editorially interesting and on-brand requires a continuously collaborative process between the publisher and the client.
“We take a holistic approach to content marketing strategy, collaborating with brands from the conception of an idea all the way through to its development, delivery, amplification and ongoing measurement across print, digital, social and mobile platforms.”
KiaOra magazine may not have a cover price, but the value of the publication can be measured in the willingness of airline customers to take the magazine with them as they disembark from the plane. And in September last year during the Rugby World Cup, the demand for the magazine reached an all-time high.
“On one flight down to Queenstown there were only a dozen left on an A320, which was carrying over a hundred and fifty people,” Wigley says.
Wigley admits that this level of interest was largely attributable to the fact that this edition of the magazine focused on the All Blacks and the Rugby World Cup but says the publication has a following of loyal readers “who collect every issue”.
The popularity of the articles among customers has led Air New Zealand to conduct research into the possibility of now also extending the brand across the airline’s other available channels.
“It’s something we’re still working through. It’s really a case of determining how best to deliver KiaOra in the digital space. It’s about finding out how our customers want the information delivered.”
Wigley says customers are particularly interested in having digital access to the features that appeared in back issues of the magazine, and that Air New Zealand is looking into the potential of distributing some stories via its website or app (it does offer the magazine for download via an iPad and iPhone app).
The prospect of extending the brand in this way is also appealing to Hill, who says Bauer is fully committed to adapting the brand to the changing media landscape.
“We continually research and test to ensure the content reflects the evolving Air New Zealand brand,” Hill says. “Air New Zealand has amazing consumer touch points across many channels and the KiaOra content can be used in varying ways on that customer journey”
While plans are yet to be finalised, Hill says that he is already thinking about the ways KiaOra could be taken beyond the confines of the magazine.
“There’s a lot of great bespoke content that Air New Zealand may choose to surface through its digital channels,” he says. “One example could be when you check in online you get a city guide emailed to you from KiaOra on the destination you’re going to in terms of top restaurants and top tourist attractions.”
And should this come to fruition, then the flight attendant’s voice over the intercom at the end of a flight won’t necessarily coincide with the end of the KiaOra reading experience. It could, in fact, serve as invitation to switch over to the region-specific tips served through a mobile phone.