A magazine marathon

Creating London 2012’s daily magazine was no easy task, but publishers Haymarket put in a gold medal performance

Like most of us, I was caught out by London 2012 despite the seven years build up. The emotion of the opening ceremony shook me out of my default scepticism and made me fall for the whole shebang. I’d been lucky in the second ticket ballot and the humble basketball and hockey tickets I’d long held suddenly advanced in our family consciousness from intriguing summer sideshow to much-anticipated days out.

The reality didn’t disappoint; the transport system was smooth, the volunteers and military presented a genuinely happy welcome (G4S who?), and inside the Olympic Park the physical environment was as pleasant as such a space can be. The overall mood was extraordinary. I’m used to big crowds at football matches, but I’ve never seen as large a collective smile as this one.

At the park, the main 2012 logo seemed to have been quietly relegated to a secondary role behind the typographic London 2012 alternative, though vivid pink remained central to all signage and wayfinding.

It was among the hawkers selling sponsors’ beer and ice cream that I found one of the highlights of my visit: the daily programme publication in the form of a magazine. Every day across the 16 days of competition, a 68-page publication was available, looking back on the previous day and highlighting the comings day’s events. I’ve discussed the idea of speed publishing here before (those one-off, 24-/48-hour magazines), but this took the concept to an altogether more significant level.

Something often overlooked when comparing print and the internet is the lead time required by monthly magazines. We all appreciate magazines are slower than the internet, but most are bound by two to three month production schedules, meaning all content is by definition only as current as their creative teams can manage into the process. They are really slow – up to eight weeks behind at publication. Producing magazines on a daily basis would have been a logistical nightmare for publishers Haymarket.

Being subject to the tight contractual rules applied by LOCOG, it’s difficult to get a precise picture of the commercial side of the publishing operation, but we can assume that Haymarket paid LOCOG for the rights to produce the magazine, and in return took a share of the sales income. Such deals put the whole business risk onto the shoulders of the publisher, and so are not popular in the customer publishing industry. They encourage a ‘good-enough’ approach in terms of creative quality whereas the more usual fee arrangement presumes a level of care and attention. That unfocused glossy travelogue magazine at your hotel bedside? The publisher is paying to be there and is selling ad space to earn a profit. Are they really going to pay for good content and design on top? It’s the print equivalent of online content farming.

It is to Haymarket’s credit that they not only exceeded that ‘good-enough’ level of quality but managed what all good magazine projects seek to achieve: they brought the subject brand to life. This is the holy grail of magazine making, whether you’re creating your own magazine or publishing on behalf of a client.

For the visitor, buying a magazine numbered according to the day sets an appropriate immediacy. The use of white as a main cover element allows the many parts to fit together well, with the use of athletes’ first names as the main headlines providing a personal touch that fitted perfectly with the general mood of the Games. All we talked about for those two weeks was how Wiggo, Jess, Victoria and Mo were going to do. A complete bias towards Team GB was spot on, too, matching the passion of the primarily British crowds.

Inside, the London 2012 typeface works surprisingly well as an editorial character font (perhaps better here than anywhere?) and structuring each issue around a single timeline for the day was a masterstroke. This meant every event got a mention (regardless of venue) and the reader felt part of the larger festival rather than just the event they were attending. With the exception of the full-spread images from the day before, every piece of content – even the four page cover interviews – ran to this timeline structure. Limiting in some respects, but a vital parameter to help deal with the deadline.

Haymarket relied on getting much of the content prepared up front, and even had several test runs ahead of the games. With final team squads being confirmed very late in the day they produced more content than they could ever use, so the design challenge was to create something modular that could be rebuilt at the last moment. The magazines were produced from their Teddington offices, where art director Chris Barker led a team of three designers. Much of the editorial was written there, though several people were also based at the Olympic Park. One unexpected complication arose when the cycling road race prevented access to the team’s offices, so they had to relocate to an alternative space in Hammersmith.

On our way out of the Olympic Park we paid the obligatory visit to the London 2012 megastore, a huge warehouse of branded souvenirs. I reluctantly picked up a gold Wenlock toy (I collect mascots) but otherwise there was nothing I wanted. Our event tickets and copies of Day 10 and Day 15 magazines were all I needed.

Jeremy Leslie blogs at magCulture.com

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