The London-headquartered publisher Ink says it has clinched a deal to produce Qatar Airways’ monthly in-flight magazine, which it intends to revamp as a more “premium” title.
Ink, which bills itself as the world’s biggest travel media company, will take over the production of “Oryx” magazine, with the first new edition set to appear on Jan. 1.
It plans to install a dedicated advertising sales team in the Arabian Gulf, helping drive revenues from the title, Arab News can reveal.
The revamped “Oryx” magazine will be available on board Qatar Airways’ fleet of 191 aircraft, the two companies said.
Michael Keating, joint CEO of Ink, said each edition of the magazine will be on a different theme, such as art, style or innovation.
“What we’re doing is massively upgrading the magazine,” Keating told Arab News. “It’s going to be much more premium in feel.”
Salam Al Shawa, Qatar Airways’ Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications, said in a statement: “We are delighted to be partnering with Ink due to its wealth of international experience in creating the most inspiring and award-winning content today. The newly designed magazine will be available in all cabins.”
Keating said that Ink’s wide geographical spread – from the US to the UK and Singapore – was one advantage to producing a magazine for a global airline like Qatar.
“What that means in terms of both editorial and sales, is that we already cover all of their network, which means that we can really maximize the opportunity in terms of ad sales and getting the best creative talent,” he said.
In the Internet age, many have warned of the impending death of printed publications – but Keating sees no sign of this in the airline media segment.
What he does see are greater connections between printed publications and the digital world. Some of Ink’s printed airline magazines, for example, have prompts to more content available via in-flight entertainment systems or over wifi.
“We don’t see (digital) as a threat at all,” Keating said.
“Our content proposition sits in the middle of all of the communications that an airline can have… So for example, we are producing a lot of video content these days – we are producing video content for all of Easyjet’s network.
“Really it’s just about getting great content to passengers on whatever channel they happen to be using.”
Ink did not disclose the duration or potential value of the deal with Qatar Airways. But Keating said the company typically sells adverts for magazines distributed on planes, with the airlines receiving some of the associated revenues. Each on-board magazine Ink produces has its own editorial and sales team, and all the articles are specifically commissioned for an individual title.
Qatar Airways is not Ink’s first client in the Middle East; the company worked with Gulf Air for many years, and still currently produces magazines for Jazeera Airways.
“We do know the region,” Keating said. “But the difference with Qatar is that it is global. So whilst there will be some ad sales coming out of the region, it’s not relying solely on the Middle East in terms of getting the advertising in.”
About 20 to 30 percent of the Oryx magazine content will be about the Middle East, Keating said. Ink plans to have sales people stationed in the Middle East, but currently has no plans for a large, fully fledged office in this region.
“We’re going to have probably to begin with just two dedicated sales people in the region. And then the rest of the ad sales we’ll sell out of London, the US and Asia out of the Singapore office,” Keating said.
Some have expressed concerns about the health of print advertising in the Gulf region, with the Dubai-based newspaper 7DAYS being about to close due to a “severely challenged” market.
But Keating said that he is confident about the association with Qatar Airways, which gives advertisers a prime opportunity to reach a valuable customer group.
Passengers on the plane are, after all, the ultimate captive audience – and highly prized by advertisers, Keating added.
“Passengers are in a different mindset when they’re on a flight. All the research shows that people are more receptive, they’re in a happier state of mind, and there’s nothing like looking at beautiful… photography and having a longer read in a print format,” he said.
“You’ve got an audience that is captive, is affluent, upwardly mobile, and hard to reach.”
Ink is a media venture that specializes in travel, but its own journey was a somewhat “random” one in the early days, Keating said.
The media company was set in 1994 in London by Keating and Simon Leslie. But the inspiration came after an unusual chance meeting hundreds of miles away, in Lebanon.
Keating was at the time working for television company ITV, and had travelled to Beirut to work on a story about how tourism was returning to the country after the Civil War.
He “randomly” got chatting to a man at his hotel, who turned out to be an air-travel entrepreneur. The man asked Keating to start producing the in-flight literature for the now-defunct British Mediterranean Airways. The airline became the first of Ink’s many partners.
“I met a gentleman who was starting an airline between Beirut and London and that was how it began,” Keating told Arab News.
Ink now produces 29 magazines in 10 languages for many of the world’s largest airlines, railway and travel companies. The total potential audience its publications can reach stands at up to 775 million passengers per year.
“We’re the largest travel media company in terms of the number of passengers or travellers we are reaching,” Keating said.
Keating, 45, is based in London but says he “lives on a plane”, often visiting the company’s 300 staff at Ink’s offices in Singapore, Miami, New York and São Paulo.
The publisher’s clients include Aer Lingus, American Airlines, Amtrak, EasyJet, Jazeera Airways and United.
Other recent contract wins include magazine deals with the Philippines flag carrier PAL, Silk Air of Singapore and Nokscoot of Bangkok. It has also renewed a deal with Cebu, the largest airline in the Philippines.
“In terms of our business, we’ve actually just had our most successful year,” Keating said. “The audience is growing.”