When Michael Olivier first launched Crush! food and wine digital magazine three years ago, it was evident that he and his team had no experience in the design and publishing of a magazine generally, and a digital magazine specifically. We wrote critically about the first few issues, but no feedback was accepted nor reacted to, and Olivier appeared to have lost advertising revenue as a result, thus leaving the magazine about a year ago. His departure appears to have rejuvenated the magazine, and it has improved vastly!
The response by Olivier and his Crush! writers David Cope (@Foodie_za) and Andy Fenner (@JamieWhoSA in those days) to our feedback about the magazine at that time was to create the Whalespotter Twitter defamation account led by Cope, and condoned by Olivier, who never denied that he and his team of writers had created the account. This was Olivier’s way of retaliating to our feedback about the digital magazine (Crush! 1, Crush! 2, Crush! 3), feedback which was not personally aimed at him at all.
Recently I saw a mention about issue 31 of Crush! on Twitter, and had a look. I was blown away by the radical improvement of Crush!, almost unrecognisable relative to the early issues. I was so impressed that I called the company (I found the telephone number in the magazine), and founder Petal Palmer answered. She knew exactly who I was, and was delighted with my positive feedback. She explained that initially she and her son Matt Ibbotson, representing Petal Design, had got together with Olivier (to generate editorial) and Red online (selling advertising). She said that the three partners spent a large amount of time on Crush!, with little financial return, and that Olivier left Crush! as ‘he needed more money‘, not being able to live off the revenue. The ad sales team left as well, and now Petal Design is the sole designer and publisher of Crush!
Leaving Crush!, Olivier focused his attention on his blog, and started selling wine estates his communication packages, misleading his clients in respect of the number of Twitter followers he had on his @FoodWineGuru account, potentially even buying Followers, and grossly overstating the listenership of his FMR radio slot. He closed down the Twitter account when we started writing about his marketing deception, and created a new Twitter account @ManmetdiePan, now with a mere 800 followers. We discovered that he does not disclose on his blog that he is paid to write about his clients’ wine brands, and even worse, that he copies and pastes PR companies’ media releases word for word, including the content as well as the headlines, without disclosure to his readers!
But back to the latest (issue 32) Crush! Relative to the first ten issues or so that we reviewed three years ago, the magazine
* opens easily and almost instantly
* the cover page is clean and well designed. There is no type over photographs anymore, and an amazing photograph taken from one of the articles in the issue makes one’s mouth water, and one is eager to see what is inside the issue.
* the issue is themed, and sub-titled ‘Green food, green wines, green vibe‘, and the content relates to sustainable foods and healthy eating, organic wines, and urban farming, with lots of beautiful and healthy food spicing up the 25 pages.
* the description of the magazine has changed from ‘Food and wine digital magazine’ in early days to ‘Food & Drink online magazine‘
* it is easy to navigate forwards and backwards, the arrows now clearly guiding one to move right or downwards to continue reading an article.
* while the editorial introduction by Olivier has disappeared, for obvious reasons, the first two pages are clean and contain the content list. Photographs on these two pages make one drool! The Col’Cacchio Hollywood Scene pizza ad is well positioned here.
* for those who are new to a digital magazine, a handy ‘How to use this Mag’ section explains how to move forward and backward inside an article, and inside the magazine, and explains how one downloads printable recipe cards. This was not explained in early days. We noted that every page has extra devices alerting one on how to access further information, as well as arrows showing one that there is more information to read.
* the Crush! team is detailed, with Matt Ibbotson identified as Creative Director, with his team members and their duties listed. Not all eleven contributors are known, but Petal, Tina Bester, and Carey Boucher-Erasmus are, the latter having been involved from issue one. Columnists Cope, Fenner, and JP Rossouw are no longer linked to the magazine!
* ads are well placed, usually on the left side of a page, and do not irritate or annoy, usually matching the theme of the article alongside it, opening well and quickly, including those for Le Creuset, AMC Cookware, First Choice milk, Siemens, Willow Creek, Miele (there is far too much too small copy to be able read this ad), Knorr, Credé Natural Oils, and Montsia Paella. Noticeable is the lack of wine advertising, perhaps all being under Olivier’s control and instruction to not advertise on Crush!
* the value of less-is-more design has been recognised, and the pages are much cleaner, with less copy used to entice one to click and open articles and snippets of information, for e.g. the ‘Crush says‘ column of new books, new services like Dapper Trapper, and new products like Beerguevara.
* the products on the ‘Essentials’ page are still difficult to read, but it helps that there are fewer items on the page, making each product somewhat bigger and the brand names (which most don’t have on the products) somewhat clearer. Each product name is written below the product, but they are difficult to read, in grey on white background.
* some pages were slow to open, which may be partly due to internet speed, which is irritating, as one tends to blame the magazine for it. The first page of the craft beer article did not want to open at all.
* photographs of Societi Bistro’s Chef Stefan Marais’ fish dishes in ‘Hooked’ are amazing, but the Stellar Winery ad gets in the way. The Simply Elgin free-range ‘Simply Chicken‘ feature has equally excellent photographs, as has the page on interesting vegetable and fruit smoothies.
* the wine and food pairing recipe section is confusing, as one clicks onto the bottles of wine on the left, but no information appears. One has to click the recipe buttons on the right to obtain the wine information paired with each recipe.
* in the ‘Midweek Meals’ page, three photographs make one expect three recipes, but there are in fact five when one opens the page.
* the block technique is still used, but only in the article on Reyneke organic wines, with 14 photographs and copy blocks, too many in our opinion, making one lose interest in the content.
* artisanal bread from the Woodstock Bakery is featured, which supplies The Test Kitchen, Pot Luck Club, Vergelegen, Superette, and Cassis.
* ‘Perfect Paella‘ looks like a recipe feature initially, but is in fact an advertorial for the company’s paella pans.
* the August events calendar page is surprisingly boring relative to all the beautiful pages preceding it.
The Petal design team is to be congratulated on the beautiful good-enough-to-eat food & drink internet magazine, and in how Crush! has evolved over three years to attract quality advertisers. It shows that it has accepted reader feedback in vastly improving the navigability and readability of the magazine!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage