Media Interview with Ryan O’Meara, editor of K9
Who reads it and how many of them are there?
K9 magazine reaches in excess of 200,000 people per month via the magazine itself and the website. Our typical reader has always been someone who is keen to improve their relationship with their dog, learn about genuinely useful products and services and is just as happy to laugh at a video of a puppy snoring as they are to read through a 10,000 word article on cognitive learning theories in dogs.
K9 magazine has never positioned itself as the publication for professional interest dog enthusiasts; it's always been geared toward modern pet dog owners who enjoy lifestyle media from a wide variety of sectors.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
We like to solve people's problems as well as the usual standards – entertain, inform, engage. So we entertain our readers by publishing genuinely interesting articles about the history dogs, dogs who have accomplished amazing things and curating video content from the best the web has to offer in that medium.
We inform by helping people overcome common behavioural and health issues – popular articles include items on how to reduce shedding in dogs, explaining what dog yawns actually mean (hint: it's not about them being tired!) and how to deal with dogs who constantly pull on their leash. Solving problems is the cornerstone of our content. We engage our readers by regularly asking their opinions on the controversial canine topics of the day.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
We always feature a cover with a celebrity dog owner. We've done this since 2002. We see other titles now feature a lot more in the way of celebrity dog owners but we always felt it would be a big draw for our readers to see that people like Mariah Carey or Kim Kardashian have exactly the same dog challenges that they do. We had (and to some extent still have) people complain that this celebrity-led approach made the magazine 'less serious'.
Personally, as a former dog trainer myself and consumer of many different magazines/websites, I have always felt that getting as many people to want to read the magazine in the first place was always the objective. So if it takes a cover featuring a well-known face to draw someone in who will then go on to read an in-depth article on how to spot the signs and symptoms of canine diabetes or understand how to teach their dog a new behaviour, then that's a good thing.
Dogs are not a boring, serious animal. Dogs are fun, funny and highly entertaining so it makes logical sense that a dog magazine should reflect this.
When and why did you decide to switch from print to fully digital?
I made the decision to go fully digital at the point where the print magazine was actually making its largest profits since we launched it. You'd think that would make it a harder choice, especially as we have invested hundreds of thousands of pounds into the development of the title. In reality it was, to my mind, a blindingly obvious course to take. Print was getting harder, more expensive and the sector was undoubtedly getting smaller.
Digital, which has always been our core platform, was growing and growing. I felt if we didn't hitch out wagon to the faster moving train, someone else might jump in ahead of us and eat our lunch.
That thought was all consuming. I believe a magazine is a brand. A brand that is founded on words and pictures. Delivering words and pictures to an audience that wishes to consume them is a lot easier (and more profitable in our case) via digital media than print. Our decision has been validated as profit margins, audience growth and every other metric by which we would measure a magazine has grown.
About social media
With regards to social media, K9 magazine and K9magazine.com are mainly focused on Twitter; why is that?
We have tested all social media and found, conclusively, that Twitter works best for us. I'm not afraid to say that, despite all the messages people often give to the contrary, we – as a media brand – don't really use social media to be social. We don't have the resources to spend all day chatting about dog topics on someone else's website. Our intent is to bring awareness to content on our channels and to incentivise people who use social media to come and have a read of what we're writing about. Some may argue that this is a one way "come and visit my website" relationship but I disagree.
On a medium such as Twitter, we can publish a link and description about an article or video and if people are keen to read it (I would hope they would be, otherwise we'd not be doing our jobs) then that is a two-way relationship, in effect. Facebook is very much a platform where people like to chat (and stay on Facebook).
Twitter is more of a conduit. People see interesting topics and they click them. This is the relationship we get the most benefit from as far as social media goes. If you'll forgive the obvious pun, we make no bones about the fact that we want people to come to our websites and read our content. Twitter is the more effective platform to that end.
How does it benefit the title?
It drives traffic. More to the point, it drives traffic from a diverse selection of people. We have nearly 100k followers on Twitter. At 9:30am we put up a link to an article about a major animal welfare story, 1,000 Twitter followers might find that appealing enough to their particular interests to click and read.
At 9:40am we tweet out a link to an article about how to make your own organic dog biscuits, it's more than likely that a totally different 1,000 people will find that interesting without us annoying or alienating the previous 1,000 people who are interested in animal welfare. Twitter is very non-invasive and you're not interrupting someone's day by tweeting interesting content about dogs.
And what about Pinterest?
I see Pinterest very much in the same light as Twitter, but with pictures. We have had some good early success with Pinterest but the mechanics of it are similar to Twitter, rather than Facebook. I can see us investing more in growing our Pinterest following, maybe for K9 magazine or maybe for our dog adoption site, DogsBlog.com, which is image-driven.
We appreciate how lucky we are being in a sector where most of our content can be promoted using images of puppies. If we were selling ball bearings for a living, we'd have to work a whole lot harder to make social media work for us, but puppies? It takes care of itself!
About you and freelance journalists:
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?
Yes, occasionally. We get a lot of submissions and I'd say around one in ten is of a standard and within a topic area that we would consider publishing. We don't struggle for content, we're lucky in that respect. Again, this is due to the popularity of the subject mattter.
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? How?
Yes. We're always happy to hear from people with good content ideas. People who read our content will tend to have a very good idea of the type of content we publish. I can instantly tell if someone is pitching a generic dog article vs those people who actually read what we publish.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
1. They read what we publish before they pitch.
2. They understand the sensibilities of our audience (dog owners don't need to be patronised with cutesy language just because they're dog owners. You wouldn't try and sell a BMW that way, so please don't assume all dog owners are going to respond to a cutesy approach).
3. Try and solve a problem that our readers are likely to encounter that we haven't already solved for them. If you can do this, you have a great chance of us wanting to publish you.
If you can, tell us about the best approach you've seen from a freelance…and the worst…
The best approach always comes from those people who have read our content and see ways to improve it or expand on it. When we receive submissions from freelancers who have taken the trouble to view our popular articles (that's not hard to do nowadays, social media is the ultimate third party endorsement vehicle) and who believe they have an alternative take on a popular topic or an expansion of something we've already covered that was popular, this is a great approach. We are a digital media publisher so we thrive on traffic/interest levels that are more guaranteed than speculative.
The worst approach? Cutesy alliteration. Don't do that. Too many people do that. It's not novel and has the potential to allientate some of our audience if it's not relevant.
What types of PR agencies do you work with?
All types. We have worked with small to massive because we have the ability to run stories, to planning and running a market research campaign with a mailing list of more than 60k dog owners who happily contribute and give feedback, to planning and executing education drives which are typically PR-driven with brands looking to connect certain messages to pet owners.
The pet industry by its very definition is made up of tiny, one man band businesses all the way up to the biggest corporate behemoths on the planet. The PR agencies we work with tend to reflect this.
Do you tend to work with the same PRs or do you receive contributions from a wide range of sources?
Every day we'll receive submissions from PRs who pitch to us on a very regular basis as well as a totally new PR we've never worked with before. The results of those pitches will always come down to the same thing; how does our audience benefit from this?
Of all the press releases you receive on a daily basis, what percentage of them make it to publication?
Our audience is sophisticated and intelligent. They want to learn about how to improve their pet's health, how to have a better-behaved pet or what a new product can actually do it for them.
With that said, when we do encounter PRs who understand our particular audience, we tend to see better engagement levels via a PR approach than a straight ad sell because we can create a campaign to get the message the brand and PRs want out to the best-fitting audience in a way it will be better received, and ultimately add fantastic ROIs to the PR's end-of-campaign results.
Do you find that your idea of what makes a story and a PR's tends to differ? How?
Often, yes. We sometimes encounter PRs who tend to think we should be jumping for joy at the prospect of publishing what is, effectively, a free advert for their client.
Free adverts neither benefit us or our audience. PRs who understand that incorporating commercial messaging within the confines of a genuinely interesting, helpful, entertaining piece of content will enjoy more success with us.
Simply telling us that you have a new pet food launching and that you have spent a fortune developing and advertising it doesn't offer our audience much in the way of entertainment or education. Explaining why your pet food is of value with data, facts and real insight into canine nutrition is a better way to go, which is why we try and work with the PRs to create a campaign because we know what our audience want.
How do you think the PR/journo dynamic will change in the future?
I honestly think it will be the same as it is now. Good PRs will always get their clients good copy in the right media because they work hard to understand the needs of the audience rather than the needs of their client. The client needs to get seen and heard, that's only going to happen if the PR understands that the media owner cares about its audience first and foremost.
I don't see this dynamic changing too much in the future other than hoping that bigger brands start to see the value of smaller PR firms. That's just a personal view, but speaking about what I see on a daily basis, the smaller firms tend to work a little harder on getting to know us and our audience. The bigger hitters tend to take a cookie cutter approach and we become just one of thousands of other media outlets to be asked to run generic content that has little or no value to our audience.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I left school at the age of 16 without any educational qualifications to speak of beyond a C in GCSE English. I wanted to be a dog trainer for as long as I can remember and when I was old enough to leave school, that's exactly what I did. I now appreciate how incredibly lucky I was to land a job like that because they don't come along very often.
For years I earned £45 per week and would spend every morning, six days a week, literally cleaning up behind dogs. In the afternoons though, I'd play with (socialise) puppies and would work with dogs, getting to know them and learning everything I could about them. I moved around the country and to this day, I have a genuine professional vocation that will never go out of demand and feel incredibly lucky to have been able to learn as I did, and get paid for working with dogs day in and day out.
I wanted to read magazines about dogs that were written for people like me. I couldn't find one, so I launched my own back in 2000. I'm happy to say that 13 years later I'm still doing it.
What interests you most about your job?
I love data. I love seeing how a piece of content can take on a life of its own, sometimes years after we first published it.
For example, I wrote an article years ago about what causes fatal dog attacks. It was well received at the time and then, as is often the way with all content, it eventually got buried under the weight of new articles. I recently decided to re-publish the piece on my own website and promote it on social media only to see it take on a life of its own all over again, reaching a whole new audience of people who never read it first time round.
This comes back to my love of digital media. It's easy to reinvigorate a piece of digital content whereas doing that with articles in a printed magazine is a far greater challenge and lacks that instant feedback that all writers crave. I'm pretty lucky in as much as I can pick and choose what I want to write about and what I want to publish from others. I find if something is genuinely interesting to me, then it's likely to be interesting to our audience because, after all, I have always viewed myself as an atypical member of that audience.
What's your idea of a relaxing day off?
Going to an Alice Cooper gig. I only have two idols in the world, Alice Cooper and Steve Bull (the former Wolverhampton Wanderers footballer).
Given the fact that Steve's retired, I get my kicks going to see Alice Cooper. In fact, one of the best moments of my professional life is when an original member of the Alice Cooper band (Dennis Dunaway) got in touch with us to do an interview about his family's passion for dogs. It's fair to say that was a thrill for me!
If you were stranded on a desert island, what one thing would you hope to have with you?
Would it be too obvious to say my dogs? Given that it can only be one thing, this is somewhat of a 'Sophie's choice' situation. Which one of my dogs, Mia (Rottweiler) or Chloe (Labrador), do I choose? OK, done. I choose Chloe. I hope Mia never reads this.
Look away, Mia! The team at K9 can be found tweeting @K9Magazine.