"Sorry for the slow response." Some emails take longer to reply to than others. Workload, priorities or simply a task less favourable, we've all been guilty of sending the above. Our first email exchange with Will Harrison was a little different. What quickly turned into a phone call, followed by a meeting in London saw the formation of a partnership that made all too much sense.
As Founder and Editor of Oceanographic Will is bucking the trend for declining print publications with a bi-monthly marine lifestyle magazine focused on conservation, exploration and adventure.
We sat down with the man behind the mag to discuss their founding principles and how community engagement is the way to turn the tide.
In an age of digital dominance, what first inspired you to start a print magazine?
Readers engage with print in a different way to digital. It’s more immersive, more of an experience, and I wanted Oceanographic to be more than just a provider of information, more than something people speedily flicked through on an iPad. The magazine’s mission is to bring the ocean to life, to tell important stories - both beautiful and hard-hitting - that harness stunning imagery to transport readers to the heart of our blue planet, its wonders and the many plights it is facing. That connection, I felt, could only truly be achieved through a premium print product - a beautiful magazine that affords readers the opportunity to leave everything else behind, pull back that front cover and descend into a world of wonder. I hope the magazine can almost be seen as something of an antidote to digital.
How has the response been thus far from both readers and contributors?
We’re a year in now - six issues over 12 months - and the response has been incredible. We knew we’d created something there was appetite for when people started committing to annual subscriptions before we’d printed a single issue. That sense of excitement from readers has never abated and our readership continues to grow worldwide. Most gratifyingly our community is comprised of all kinds of ocean-goers - divers, surfers, sailors, and so on - which was always our ambition, to build something that brought all those largely separate communities together around that singular, shared passion: the ocean.
At this stage, still being a relatively small enterprise, I think readers really feel a part of something and many of them get in touch to let us know how much they love the work we’re doing. It certainly feels like a community. A lot of emails have a “I’ve been waiting for a magazine like this for years” sentiment, or tell us to “keep up the great work”, which is energising for the team. In amongst those are some particularly special messages - teachers who have used the magazine as an engagement tool in the classroom, for example. My personal favourite was a father who emailed to say what a positive impact the magazine was having on his disabled daughter, how each new issue brought a sense of captivation and calm he rarely saw in her. It was an email I never imagined I’d receive as an editor.
As for contributors, it’s been a privilege to work with some of the world’s leading ocean adventurers and conservation photographers. Getting positive feedback from those people - along with a keenness to continue working with us - tells me we’re doing things right.
‘Communities create change’. Your own words. How does Oceanographic best serve its community?
At this stage, with a beautiful product built on authenticity. While we’ve only been going a short while, our core values have remained consistent, which isn’t always easy as a small business. Editorial integrity is key - in a world of sponsored content and advertorials, we don’t run any paid-for stories within the magazine, so our readers know what they’re reading is real. Alongside that integrity is our editorial-advertising ratio. How could we expect readers to truly connect with our stories if they’re punctuated with a relentless stream of adverts? Each issue of Oceanographic is 116 pages, with 100 of those editorial. Honest editorial and lots of it - as a magazine, it’s the least your community deserves.
More than just a media outlet, what pivotal role does Oceanographic currently play and how do you perhaps see this evolving over time?
Currently, our primary role is on the amplification of important ocean stories. We’re proud to have already shared some hugely important stories, working with experts in ocean conservation, science and photography. Beyond the magazine’s pages, Oceanographic is also a fundraising platform: we raise money through in-store sales and donate 20% of profits to ocean conservation charities. We’re incredibly proud to be partnered with the likes of Project AWARE and SeaLegacy, organisations that passionately fight for improved ocean health. Obviously, we’re still at the start of our journey, so in terms of role evolution, that will centre around increasing brand reach and increasing the amount we donate to ocean conservation.
How do you communicate all this beyond the immediate pages of the magazine?
Our brand partnerships are hugely important. Just as we value and admire the work of our partners, they think the same of us, which makes us very lucky. Our work gets shared by partners such as the aforementioned Project AWARE and SeaLegacy - two huge communities of ocean defenders - as well as well as by many of our more commercial partners, which allows us to communicate with people who perhaps aren’t as engaged with the ocean’s biggest issues as charity supporters. We do also have a beautiful website and growing social media channels where we share captivating ocean stories that are separate from the print magazine. The print product is what we’re about, and it’s how we’d like people to engage with us as a brand, but we don’t want to shut the door on people who aren’t print readers.
With a prestigious list of contributors and content rich pages, do you have a moment that is stand out so far? A favourite piece perhaps?
In terms of pieces, Tavish Campbell’s on the salmon farming industry in Issue 01 is a special article. Born and raised in British Columbia, Tavish works to expose the madness of fishing industry practices within the state’s waters. He writes eloquently, factually and with passion regarding the ludicrousness of farming imported and diseased Atlantic salmon in open net pens in Pacific waters. His relationship with the BC coast and salmon is powerful: “their flesh and bones literally built mine,” he writes. I think that connection will have influenced a lot of readers. There’s an excerpt of it - The fish that feeds the forest - on our website.
Our lead story in Issue 05 - Cinematic Conservation: film on the frontline - was also exceptional, both in terms of the story being told and the images used. West Papua being declared the world’s first Conservation Province - Provinsi Konservasi - happened as a result of the unwavering commitment of a select number of people and organisations over several years, and a grassroots media campaign that engaged local communities in a way that hadn’t been done before. To run that article just as the new legislation was ratified was an honour, particularly as such a young title.
In terms of a moment, featuring the formidable Cristina Mittermeier in Issue 02’s Behind the lens was of great significance personally - I’m a huge admirer of her work as a photographer - but also a big moment for the magazine. She loves what Oceanographic stands for and the way we approach storytelling and ocean engagement. As co-founder of SeaLegacy, she wanted the organisation to be a part of that and green-lit a formal partnership - it’s an association we’re enormously proud of.
Can you tease us anything for the year ahead? Who would you love to feature across the pages?
I can certainly tell you we’ve got an exciting 2019 planned, with one particular project that could be especially impactful, but I’m afraid I can’t share details at this stage. Our partnership with you fine folk at Finisterre and the talk nights we’re planning together is hugely exciting, particularly with the first having been such a success.
In terms of who I’d most like to feature, I’ll bypass the obvious (though of course I’d absolutely love to work with David Attenborough), and say Paul Nicklen instead. Paul is one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers and the work he’s done for the ocean and the many species that call it home is, in my view, unparalleled. As Cristina Mittermeier’s partner and co-founder of SeaLegacy, it might actually happen too!
YOU CAN FIND THE LATEST ISSUE OF OCEANOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE FOR SALE IN ALL FINISTERRE STORES NOW. FIND YOUR NEAREST AND DIVE INTO ISSUE 6 NOW.
PHOTOGRAPHERS (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)