Achieving success in magazine publishing: The story of Couture Africa

Oilve Gachara

PwC’s latest Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2016-2020 report values Kenya’s entertainment and media industry at US$2.2bn in 2015. Total consumer magazine revenue is expected to reach $79m by 2020, up from $68m in 2016, driven by the growing middle class as they refer to magazines for information on various topics.

Despite these somewhat encouraging numbers, Kenyan businesswoman Olive Gachara knows all too well that building a media business from scratch is no mean feat.

She is the founder of fashion and lifestyle magazine Couture Africa, which is currently in its fourth year of operation. The publication has a monthly print run of 16,000, with 70% of copies distributed in Kenya, and 20% and 10% in Uganda and Tanzania respectively. An issue retails for about $3.

Last year Gachara was an investor on Lions’ Den, a Kenyan TV show – part of the business series that includes Dragons’ Den in the UK and Shark Tank in the US – where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of business leaders.

She says that raising capital for the magazine was one of her major hurdles. However, based on her past business experience, an investment company eventually agreed to invest in the venture. During negotiations, Gachara requested an amount that could meet the magazine’s operating expenses for the next two years.

“You need to print every month and… you have to pay salaries every month. The OPEX in the magazine publishing industry is very high,” she explains.

Generating awareness

In the early days, she used outdoor media to generate awareness about the magazine. But this didn’t generate the expected results, prompting a shift to more experiential marketing activities. Leveraging her experience in image consulting, Gachara started giving ‘Couture Africa Style Talks’, targeted to women across various organisations, where after each session, attendees were given a copy of the magazine and offered an opportunity to subscribe.

For the launch of each issue, the company also hosted social functions, dubbed ‘Couture Africa Mixers’, in partnership with hotels and other service providers. Each gathering had different guests, so as to reach out to as many people as possible.

The fact that the magazine came out on time every month, also helped in establishing credibility.

A home for luxury brands

Couture Africa magazine generates revenue from monthly copy sales and advertising, as well as producing product launches and fashion shows for clients such as HP and Nivea. “Since we are strong on fashion and style, we use that edge to be able to get activities on the ground,” says Gachara.

She explains the magazine’s unique positioning has made it an attractive advertising platform for luxury brands. Before the publication’s launch there weren’t many outlets for these brands to promote their offerings.

Although the company strives to ensure a steady revenue stream through long-term advertising agreements, managing cash flow is an endless challenge, which Gachara says is handled by maintaining good relationships with suppliers and clients.

Ensuring the brand has continuous visibility is another difficulty Gachara and her team has to deal with. “Tomorrow you wake up and you realise there is no visibility on the shelves in Mombasa. It’s an ongoing problem.”

In the future, Couture Africa plans to franchise the magazine to other countries with vibrant fashion markets, such as South Africa and Nigeria. “We will get in through a franchise model, as we choose to focus on a market which we understand, which is east Africa,” she explains.