The Big Issue vs COVID-19: How the iconic brand survived the pandemic

Published at, 15th July 2020

By the time Boris Johnson sent the UK into lockdown, Lord John Bird had already taken Big Issue vendors off the streets. Homeless people fall within the vulnerable category as they are unable to self-isolate and the decision was made to protect them. But how do you continue to sell a magazine that relies totally on active purchases by consumers on the streets, when no one is allowed outside?

The team at The Big Issue knew they had to act fast to ensure they could continue to create a product that made money to help the homeless. The plan of action took three main routes: 

  • Subscription Sales
  • Newsstand Sales 
  • The App

Following a significant marketing drive over 10,000 subscriptions were sold in the first seven weeks, with this number continuing to grow. Readers had the option to buy either a three or six-month subscription, or make a one-off donation to help the vendors and to keep the magazine going. Chris Packham and many other celebrities recorded short film clips that they shared on their social channels, helping to raise awareness and spread the message.

Newsstand Sales 
The awareness raised by Chris Packham and others helped with getting the magazine onto the newsstand, too. Many retailers offered premium space in their stores without the hefty price tags or long lead times that usually come with it. Retailers included Sainsbury’s, Co-op, McColl’s, One Stop, Asda, WHSmith, Morrisons and Waitrose.

The App
A paid for app was launched by the nation’s PE teacher, Joe Wicks, that allowed people to access the magazine and all its content digitally. People could support The Big Issue without having to leave the house. Joe Wicks pushed this across all of his social channels, with the posts receiving 60,000+ likes across the platforms.

Vendors returned to selling the magazine on the streets on Monday 6th July, but The Big Issue continues to need help from supporters and advertisers. To find out more about what happened in lockdown and how you can support the magazine read the editor, Paul McNamee’s, message here:

For advertising opportunities in the magazine contact Helen Ruane at Dennis.

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