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narrative work

What’s On (Sage Gateshead)


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The client had published an A5 leaflet known as “What’s On” in a fold out format for many years to promote their gigs and concerts which was produced on a bi-monthly basis. The client felt that the publication was beginning to feel stale and was also keen to commercialise it by introducing advertising into the product. They weren’t sure what format would be best received by the audience and whether there was, indeed, any appetite or demand from advertisers.

Any changes to format had to also remain true to the existing brand guidelines which had been established internally. Narrative’s challenge was to overhaul the look and feel of the publication whilst not deviating too much from the guidelines.

Another challenge was that the internal guidelines were not complete, so we worked with the client to come up with a design which was on-brand, which interpreted the incomplete guidelines and which was relevant for the target market and advertisers.


Narrative’s research was two-fold. Firstly, we tested alternative formats of the brochure (within the brand guidelines) with focus groups comprising current What’s On subscribers, results of which informed the decision to change to an A5 booklet format as opposed to a foldout. The audience feedback was such that the original foldout format was both cumbersome and difficult to follow, which resulted in lower open rates, shelf life and dwell time. At the focus groups it was also established that the introduction of relevant and non-intrusive advertising to the product would be well-received by the target audience. The design received positive feedback and was not disconcerting for any segment of the current subscribers – meaning it was appealing to the target audience as well as being ‘technically’ on-brand as per the guidelines.

Secondly, we went out to establish whether there was demand for advertising space by liaising with corporate partners of Sage Gateshead and with wider potential advertisers we sourced ourselves. Following positive feedback from these sources, we produced a media pack to send out to potential advertisers.

The fully researched proposal was then presented back to the client: a larger print run, improved content and increased pagination – and all offset via advertising revenue.

Due to the depth of research and the positive response to the A5 booklet format by readers, the proposal was signed off by the client. They agreed that it was on-brand whilst pushing the format further creatively and functionally. Once signed off, Narrative led on both the advertising sales as well as the print and design of the product. Due to the success of the work to date, the client also briefed Narrative to organise the print and distribution of the booklet each quarter, whereas previously they had organised this themselves.


The booklet has been very well received by both the recipients, local businesses, advertisers and the client’s team. A good metric for success of this new format is the volume of advertisers and the value of advertising revenue for each issue; which we are pleased to report has outstripped the initial target every issue.

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