Navigating the Crisis | Mark Hedges on leading Country Life through Covid-19

“I think everyone is reflecting on the need for a five-day-a-week office life. This is potentially very interesting for the countryside, because it may mean that people will be able to live and work much more in it. The countryside will cease to be the dormitories – places people do little more than sleep in. To some extent it may even be a reverse of the Industrial Revolution.”

As the Editor of the 123-year-old Country Life magazine, Mark Hedges reflects on the impact of the crisis on the publication, and why the magazine has seen an extraordinary surge in subscriptions – 23% more than this time last year – despite now ‘being created on kitchen tables up and down the country’.

Country Life went into the crisis in a particularly strong position as the PPA Magazine of the Year. What we have sought to do is maintain the quality because the single most important thing for me is the reader. The magazine has also diversified in the past five years and has seen huge growth in luxury and interior advertising alongside the well-established property.

Although the magazine is being created on kitchen tables up and down the country, I want to ensure that it feels as good as it has ever been. I’m delighted that in the past few weeks, we have seen a surge in subscriptions – 23% more than this time last year – which is extraordinary for a magazine that’s celebrating its 123rd birthday.

What has the situation taught you about leadership?

I think, above all, it’s taught me to employ talented, self-starting individuals. And that I must then trust them—even without the daily face-to-fact contact—to do what they can to the best of their ability.

There is so much pride amongst the staff and I’ve been able to feel totally confident in their abilities.

And what has it taught you about your business?

As I said earlier, editors must put the reader first. This approach has enabled Country Life to weather World Wars, many recessions and this current challenge.

By putting the reader first, you ensure that you continue to have the most important ingredient in the success of any magazine‹an increasing readership.

How are you ­and the wider business ­supporting your people?

At the same time as the virus, TI Media has come under new ownership. This has added an extra level of work, as employees adapt to new processes, new systems and what will clearly be a very different working environment.

I think the most important thing I can do‹especially to those who have been furloughed or are facing challenging times is to speak to the team as a whole and as individuals, as often as possible.

What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?

I think everyone is going to reflect on the need for five-day-a-week office life. This is potentially very interesting for the countryside, because it may mean that people will be able to live and work much more in it. The countryside will cease to be the dormitories—places people do little more than sleep in. To some extent it may even be a reverse of the Industrial Revolution.

At Country Life, I don’t expect we will work a five day office week ever again. However, putting a magazine together is a creative process that demands some face-to-face collaboration. We may potentially work two or three days in the office.

I think this crisis has also highlighted the importance of subscriptions—which were, to a certain extent, the original home delivery. We must keep those numbers in mind, going forward.

How have you, on a personal level, dealt with lockdown?

Unfortunately, I caught and suffered from the virus badly. Luckily, I’ve recuperated and have since taught myself how to make lots of different breads. I’ve also learned the names of a dozen different wildflowers and all the birdcalls of the local aviation population!

countrylife.co.uk

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