ITP’s Saudi expansion with Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar signals growing appetite for Kingdom’s publishing market

DUBAI: ITP Media Group’s launch of Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar in Saudi Arabia this month, under the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) license agreements, makes the two brands among the first international luxury fashion and lifestyle magazines to debut in the country.

Other than its media brands, ITP also has its business-to-business (B2B) offerings ITP Gaming and influencer agency ITP Live, both of which were launched in Saudi Arabia last year.

As Saudi Arabia continues its rapid transformation, more businesses are being attracted to the Kingdom and its massive young population, with nearly two-thirds under the age of 35.

“It is extremely exciting that we are launching historical fashion brands into what is probably one of the youngest markets in the world,” said Sue Holt, managing director of ITP Media Group and ITP Saudi.

“The reason that we launched Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire first was purely because of the wealth of fashion consumers that you actually have in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Although ITP owns other fashion and lifestyle titles such as Grazia and GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire already have a “strong digital footprint” in the Kingdom making their launch a “natural fit,” Holt said.

The print edition of Harper’s Bazaar will be published quarterly while Esquire will be published biannually. Both magazines will be bilingual.

ITP has been tracking digital readership in Saudi Arabia for nearly a year and it found that 46 percent of the audience preferred English and 56 percent preferred Arabic. This data, combined with insights from the local team in Riyadh, led to the decision to have bilingual content.

“We want to make sure that we are really tailoring the media offering to the Saudi market,” Holt said. This includes a “full social media plan” for both brands as well as the main digital platforms. Currently, both brands have regional social media accounts but Saudi-specific accounts will be launched soon, she added.

The launches of ITP Live and ITP Gaming last year followed by Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire this year are the first steps in ITP’s foray into the Kingdom.

Both magazines aim to have a higher purpose in supporting the fashion industry, with ITP working closely with the Fashion Commission and the Ministry of Culture to support the burgeoning fashion and lifestyle industry in the Kingdom.

The company has a three-year rollout plan that will include the launch of additional magazine brands as well as B2B offerings.

“What we are trying to do is align ourselves with Vision 2030 so some of the offerings that we bring in will be tying in with the sectors that are being activated by Vision 2030,” Holt said.

With the tourism sector having opened up relatively recently and forecast to see significant growth, ITP also aims to serve the tourism and hospitality industry with its consumer and B2B offerings.

Among the consumer brands ITP plans to launch, one of them is targeted at millennials, Holt said. Bearing in mind the young population in the Kingdom, the brand might not be published in print or even as a website; it may well be just a Snapchat channel, she said.

“It is for the Gen Z and millennial audience who consume their content on social media, so we are really determined to actually go where the audience is rather than try and fit the audience around the current business model.”

Currently, ITP’s Saudi operations are run by a 10-person team in Riyadh supported by the Dubai office. Over the year, the company aims to expand the team to hire more local talent and grow the Saudi office.

Growing the local talent pool is of great importance to ITP, Holt said, which is reflected not only in the commitment to growing its own team, but also the people it works with and features in the magazines.

Harper’s Bazaar’s launch edition is an ode to the Kindom and its women brought to life by a photo shoot in NEOM. Although it would have been easier to do a photo shoot in the studio due to COVID-19, “We didn’t want to a traditional shoot,” Holt said. “We really wanted to showcase different landscapes.”

From the outset, the brand wanted to work with Saudi creatives and models as a testament to its commitment to local talent. As a result, the NEOM shoot, shot by photographer Norah Al Amri, features the first Saudi model, Taleedah Tamer with contributions from photographer Hayat Osamah, and stylist and creative professional Latifa Bint Saad, among others. The models are all dressed in Arab designer wear.

ITP will hold internships, workshops and seminars to nurture talent in the Kingdom. Holt said that while ITP wants to encourage the use of Saudi creative professionals, it recognizes that there is an opportunity to be offered to young talent when the company brings over regional or international creatives.

“Using Saudi creatives for different areas in the magazine is going to be amazing. However, giving somebody that ‘money can’t buy’ experience would add so much value to the actual creative talents in Saudi,” she said.

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