Harrowsmith moves into a new medium

In a move that its readers would no doubt admire as resourceful, Harrowsmith Country Life, the magazine, will soon start spreading its country living message on television.JanuaryHarrowsmith Country Life, the television show, will hit the airwaves in January as the flagship...

In a move that its readers would no doubt admire as resourceful, Harrowsmith Country Life, the magazine, will soon start spreading its country living message on television.

January

Harrowsmith Country Life, the television show, will hit the airwaves in January as the flagship program of Life Network (formerly You:Your Channel), one of more than a half-dozen tv specialty services licensed in June by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Fred Laflamme, publisher of Harrowsmith Country Life, says the idea for the tv show came about a year ago last May from its producers, Anne Pick, Janice Dawe and Susan Fleming, partners in the Toronto-based production company Stone Soup Productions.

‘They approached us and said, `We are avid readers of Harrowsmith, we practise the lifestyle, we think there is a great opportunity to put it on tv. Would you entertain the idea of us doing it?’ ‘ Laflamme says.

Their timing could not have been better.

Extend franchise

For months, Laflamme had been considering ways to extend the Harrowsmith franchise into electronic media.

The magazine has already lent its name to about 70 books in the past 15 years, on everything from gardening, to food, to shelter, to workshop and country living in general.

And, it will continue to do so.

But, as Laflamme says, the books reach only a sub-segment of the Harrowsmith Country Life audience; a reader who subscribes to Harrowsmith for its editorial on shelter, for example, might not be interested in a book on perennial gardens.

Laflamme says what Harrowsmith wanted was to create a more general interest vehicle that would expand the audience for the Harrowsmith Country Life message, without chasing an artificial circulation level or compromising the editorial thrust of the magazine.

‘If [Harrowsmith publishing company] Telemedia said to me, `Fred, we have to find a way to make Harrowsmith bigger,’ I could spend a lot of time doing that,’ he says.

‘But, sometimes, you can’t or shouldn’t make things bigger. What you should do is have by-products or spin-off products that will, in effect, make the product bigger.

‘Because Harrowsmith, as a magazine, could probably never be much larger than 200,000 circulation, maybe 225,000.

‘But, as a tv show, it could potentially have an audience of up to five million, because the cable licensees will be reaching as many as 5.5 [million] or six million homes.’

‘The 64,000 question’

Laflamme says how many of those five million or so will actually watch the show is ‘the $64,000 question,’ adding, he would be surprised if there are fewer than 300,000 viewers and believes there may be as many as 500,000.

He says an extension into television would also allow Harrowsmith to capitalize on the strength of the medium..

‘Television’s strength is distribution,’ Laflamme says.

‘That’s not to say that its content isn’t great, but, by and large, magazines are a better editorial product than television shows,’ he says.

‘[Magazines] are not in control of our distribution. We have to pay horrendous amounts of money to get the product distributed via the mails, and we are always in jeopardy of losing those [government] subsidies.

‘So, I thought, if we could take the editorial strength of the magazine, and marry it to a medium that has distribution strength, namely tv, wouldn’t that be a good way to take Harrowsmith Country Life, the magazine, to a much broader base of people, so that the loop, in effect, closes on itself?’

Same characteristics

Laflamme says the proposed target group for the television show shares many of the same characteristics with the target group for the magazine.

‘The crossover is perfect because specialty channels tend to attract magazine readers and magazines tend to attract light television viewers,’ he says.

‘The people who watch specialty channels are not your heavy tv viewers who watch 35-40 hours a week. They use their tv guide to determine what they want to watch.

‘The magazine’s audience, when we look at the [research,] tend to be light viewers of tv, and heavy readers of magazines.

‘They are joiner-activists on the psychographic profile, they are better-educated, they are well-positioned in the workforce, likely to be in a family formation, with a strong propensity to own a second home – and their second home is not an investment property, it is a leisure home.’

In the same way that the tv show is going after a similar audience to the magazine, the content and format of the show will reflect the magazine’s flavor.

The editorial and production teams will share research and story ideas, and, much like the magazine, each 60-minute episode will be broken down into short bits and more substantial features.

A typical program might open with the host introducing items on the show and chatting about what is to come up next.

Segments might include: how-to items on organic gardening, cooking and shelter, plus features tentatively entitled Country Roads, in which the host will visit a small town; Home and Hearth, in which the show’s resident handyman will provide tips on anything from composting to installing a toilet; The Forces That Be, in which experts are interviewed about a problem typical to country living, and The Rites of Passage, in which the host might speak humorously about the rites of spring.

Almanac spots

Woven throughout will be 15- or 20-second spots called Almanac, which could explain just about anything to do with home, garden, weather or the seasons.

Laflamme says the show is very much in the tradition of ‘practical service journalism,’ and reflects what the Harrowsmith team has been trying to do more of in the magazine.

The Harrowsmith salesforce has already met four key advertisers, ones who are already in the magazine with what Laflamme calls ‘fairly hefty advertising schedules.’

‘They believe in what the magazine stands for, they sign onto its editorial premise and are convinced that the tv show will mirrow that premise,’ he says.

Type of buy

The only question is, should they participate as regular advertisers, as sponsors, or through product placement?

While it is too soon to have signed any orders (the meetings have taken place only in the last few days), all four advertisers have requested written proposals.

As well, Laflamme says he is working on a sales package to link advertising in the magazine with advertising on the show and vice-versa.

As for other forays into extending the Harrowsmith franchise, Laflamme says he is working on a consumer/trade show.

He says the hardest thing is to find the right venue at the right time with the right show manager, in order to avoid being smack up against competing shows that attract potentially the same audience and the same exhibitors.

‘There’s no point trying to steal from each other,’ Laflamme says. ‘That’s futile.’

Asked whether a Harrowsmith Country Life show might conflict with The Cottage Life Show, a consumer show sponsored by Cottage Life magazine, Laflamme says he doubts it.

According to figures from PMB Print Measurement Bureau, there is only 15% to 17% reader duplication between the two titles, so he does not feel it will be a problem attracting different exhibitors or attendees.

Laflamme says he would love to be able to mount the first Harrowsmith Country Life show in 1995, but suspects the reality will be sometime in 1996.