The 2017 NME Awards takes place this evening (February 15) at The O2 Brixton Academy. Ahead of the ceremony, NME's editor-in-chief Mike Williams spoke about the evolution of the event in the new issue of Music Week. With the awards coming hot on the heels of new ABC audited magazine circulation figures revealing that NME’s reach grew 0.6% in 2016 – with a free distribution total of 308,938 – it also seemed the perfect time to speak to Williams about how NME is performing since its rebranding in 2015.
In your opinion, how is NME doing in 2017?
Mike Williams: “Yeah, great. We’re really proud of what we’ve done, and I’m insanely proud of NME for being brave enough to do it, and my team for being able to bring it all to life. We had to take a huge risk and it’s paying off for us because we’re able to get our brand and our content and what we think about things out to as many people as possible. The fact that that number is growing across all platforms is remarkable. It’s not just that we’ve got a higher print number now, it’s the fact that people notice what we do a lot more than maybe they had done in the recent past, and people talk about it more and share it more, and other media talk about what we do more. That just naturally markets the brand to way more people. It just means that every week more people pick up the mag, and every day more people come to the website. It’s great. Long may it continue.”
You previously told Music Week that you wanted NME's cover to spark debate. Has that criteria changed at all in the past year or so?
“I think the important thing is that the person, or people, or message on the cover has to be really culturally relevant to the audience, whether that's because it’s the hot topic people are talking about and we’re going to give you our spin on it, whether it’s the biggest people in the world and we’re going to give them the NME Interview, or it's people we feel really passionately about. We want to have that feeling of the days when you would trust a record label, in that [you would buy a record] because it was on that label. We want you to be able to look at the emerging artists that we’re supporting and say, I don’t know who this is, but it’s on NME’s cover so I’m going to give it a chance.”
What are the key challenges ahead?
“It’s a tough market out there, we understand that and we’ve been smart in the way we’ve done stuff and faced the challenges head on by being flexible and adaptable. We can’t rest on our laurels and think we’ve cracked it. I think the main thing we’ve learned in this whole brand transformation is that we stood still for far too long and that got us into a place where we had some pretty big obstacles to climb over, and we don’t want to ever be in that place again. We’re not going to stand still again. This isn’t us saying we know the secret formula now, this is us saying we’ve climbed over a huge obstacle and we’re going to keep on adapting and keep on evolving because things change. I think brands who struggle are ones that don’t understand how fast the audience move and assumes that if you’ve got somebody engaging with you today, they’ll be engaging with you tomorrow. New stuff happens all the time, people move really quickly, and there’s too many examples of the audience moving before the industry knows they’ve moved. That’s one thing we want to make sure of: that we never stand still, that we’re always looking at how we can evolve our print product, the digital output and new social platforms.”