“Everything we’ve done from a reader perspective since going free has come back with a big thumbs up so far,” said NME’s editor-in-chief, Mike Williams. 

At an exclusive Gorkana media briefing, Williams, alongside deputy editor Tom Howard and NME.com editor Charlotte Gunn, revealed exciting new content plans and opportunities, explained why the music brand decided to make the momentous move to free and outlined what PRs can to to help with its broadened content remit.

The last 10 months have been among the most eventful in the music brand’s six decade history. In September 2015, NME successfully re-launched as a free magazine, with a widened content remit and a unique nationwide distribution footprint, aimed at reaching a Millennial audience.

“We had a choice – evolve or die”, Williams explained. “People liked what we did, but at the same time readers in our target audience [18 to 34] were not paying for content.”

Williams said he pushed for NME to go free for some time and knew that when it did happen, the title could build strong relationships with brands, while at the same time still give its readers what they wanted.

“Our mantra”, Williams added, “is to put the audience first.” The title may have gone free, but NME’s reputation still lies in being a champion for music the team believes in, he said.

This mantra seems to be working. Following the re-launch, NME has engaged a larger audience of 18-34 year-olds, online and offline, and in February, the brand revealed its first free distribution ABC of 307,217.

And while music is still the heartbeat of the brand, NME’s broadened content remit includes film, TV, gaming, politics and, now, food. “The key is young people”, said Howard who revealed the title is about to run a regular column on food. “Content needs to be accessible and achievable.”

Elsewhere, NME.com has continued to grow its global audience, with video franchises being a key content stream and last year also saw the launch of NME Daily, a new app sharing exclusive content.

The brand continues to run some of the most exciting events in the music calendar including the annual flagship NME Awards  -this year’s awards were the biggest in the brand’s history, according to Williams. Next year, the team is adding film into its events schedule, with an outdoor event with people able to watch films, listen to music and experience the NME brand in full. The team is looking to hear from PRs with ideas for this.

At the briefing this week, which was chaired by Gorkana’s head of news and content, Philip Smith, Williams, Howard and Gunn identified six key things PRs should know about the enhanced NME:

NME doesn’t just cover music…

While NME is famous for its music coverage, the team knows it’s not the only thing their readers are interested in. The magazine also covers film, TV, gaming and politics, and the new food column will tap into the food trends NME knows its young audience want to read about.

It’s picked up across the UK

Within the free magazine market, NME is the only title that has a “true nationwide footprint”, Williams added. As well as a massive London presence, copies are also available in all major UK cities, 300 towns and 45 UK universities (which has a 95% student pick-up rate). The team believes engaging the student audience will build the next generation of NME readers. The title is also available through brand partnerships, including TOPMAN and HMV.

“Free” doesn’t mean “easy”

Ironically, it can be tough to give something away for free, Howard said. The free magazine market is a crowded one, which means the title’s cover has to have immediate impact. While a reader browsing a newsstand will spend time deciding what to buy, deciding whether to take a free title can take a mere second. Covers, which are planned weeks in advance, need to stand out, be bright and be direct.

Content is digital-first

Out of NME’s 10-strong editorial team, only two are “print-only”. A lot of the new content that makes it into the magazine will have started off on NME.com. “The response that we get online will drive what goes into print”, said Gunn. That said, a lot of feature content is still for the print magazine exclusively.

PRs are vital and should offer access

The team says it couldn’t survive without PRs. “We rely on PRs to let us about exciting new things.” The most important thing to remember? Access is key. When getting in touch, be sure to find out who does what on the team, and pitch your idea to the right person. Email is best and they are open to third party content.

Dream interview…?

“We’d really love to sit down and have a deep probing conversation with Kanye West”, says Williams.

Agency and in-house comms professionals turned out for the briefing, which was described as “impressive”, “insightful” and entertaining and “exciting” by the Gorkana community.

Katie French, account manager at KPPR, said: “Gorkana briefings are always an insightful look in to how a certain media outlet functions and their overall content strategy. The latest briefing with NME and NME.com’s editors was of particular interest to me as I read the magazine avidly as a teenager and now work for the entertainment agency KPPR, who work with a range of exciting clients including a future NME cover star.

“It’s great to see that the brand is diversifying and covering a variety of cultural content alongside music, but their reporting still maintains that overall NME attitude. KPPR is keen to continue and build our relationship with them as they evolve.”