It's been three weeks since Hello! announced its intentions to reposition itself as a lifestyle title, far removed from the "scurrilous" celebrity-driven weeklies, and for the first time rivals have spoken out about the move, brandishing it "absurd" and "confusing".
When Charlotte Stockting, publishing director of Hello!, told media buyers and analysts at the start of the month that the £2 weekly magazine will no longer be found in the Audit Bureau of Circulations ‘Celebrity' driven sector, but instead grouped within ‘Women’s Lifestyle & Fashion’, her reasons were made clear.
In addition to believing the lifestyle category better resembled Hello!’s "upmarket" values, Stockting said: "It also reflects a move away from the celebrity sector, and its obsession with made-up stories, scurrilous gossip, poor production values, real-life stories and low cover price."
The publishing director refrained from naming the individual magazines she damned with this definition, but in a weekly sector dominated by Northern and Shell’s New!, OK!, and Star magazines, and Bauer Media’s Closer and Heat! titles, it was abundantly clear which publishers she was railing about.
This week, Hello!’s top stories represent familiar fare, with a focus on Will and Kate’s triumphant tour in the face of adversity, and Martine McCutcheon's dream Italian wedding.
Jerry Wright, chief executive of ABC, says it is not up to the auditor to decide on subjective matters of classification. He notes market definitions are aligned with the magazines and newspapers wholesalers, and believes "it’s up to the market to decide whether titles are positioning themselves sensibly".
'You are what you are'
Paul Keenan, chief executive of Bauer Media, calls Stockting’s attempts to reposition the title by changing its classification with the ABC and its positioning on the newsstands "absurd".
He says: "By saying you are going to move where you sit on the newsstand because you are going to reposition your product without changing your product at all in the eyes of consumers is absurd. It’s absurd and pretty irrelevant.
"If you’re seven foot tall, covered in white fur, eat raw fish and live in cold places, the chances are you’re a polar bear. I think they can say what they like about what they think they are, the rest of the world may have a slightly different view."
Keenan believes the nature of Hello!’s actions are clearly geared towards changing the perceptions of advertisers, and it’s a ruse that will not work without substantial changes to its content.
"Why would this affect how it performs at all?," he asks. "You are what you are. The perception of the product will be shaped in part by its history and what it does week in, week out. If they are going to change the editorial content in a significant way, then there is a possibility they are going to reinvent the product.
"It’s about whether it’s a good product, about whether it’s relevant to an attractive audience and whether that attractive audience are engaged in the product."
'Sales must be a worrying situation for them'
Stan Myerson, group managing director of Northern & Shell, believes Hello! has been forced into such a move out of desperation to maintain relevancy in a competitive market.
He says: "I think the honest answer to this is that they have tried everything they can in this sector and it hasn’t worked for them.
"They [Hello!] have fortified their figures with bulks and free copies and we have done the opposite so our figures are totally transparent. If you strip out the free copies their sales it must represent a worrying situation for them.
"When it comes to monetising the audience they have found that incredibly difficult as well - their advertising share has decreased over the years.
"This rather odd move of theirs is designed to try and target a different market place and move into a different area. It’s a confusing message to advertisers and readers because they still continue to carry celebrities like Peaches Geldof on their cover."
Myerson also denies there are any notable differences between the production values of OK! and Hello!. He says: "We are an aspirational read and that is what the magazine represents to our readers. Our product is luxurious, the look and feel is fantastic – it’s an upmarket product.
"We have great art, we’ve expanded fashion and beauty with the new Fashionsta section, we cover lifestyle, travel and we give readers a great read."
Myerson accepts that OK! has started to feature more royal coverage within its pages, still the heartland of Hello!, but attributes this to "a renewed wave of interest from readers" in the Jubilee year and following the popular marriage of Prince William and Kate.
However, Richard Desmond’s right hand man does see a difference in the tone of the two rival magazines, believing Hello! to be "much older in its positioning".
Agencies yet to be convinced
If Stockting’s comments earlier this month were aimed at advertisers, the magazine still has considerable work to do in convincing the agencies of its relevance. Many press planners and buyers at leading media agencies appear to have considered her letter as little more than 'rearranging the deckchairs' and gamesmanship.
Rob Lynam, head of press at WPP’s MEC, whose clients include Chanel, Morrisons and Orange, says: "The celebrity weeklies sector is not doing as well as it was, so the desire to take yourself away from those negative headlines is understandable.
"However, in the last ABCs, Hello! dropped 21% year on year and once you strip out internaitonal sales and bulks, its figure of 293,597 represents its worst circulation performance in nine years. It has greater issues than which title it sits next to on the newsstands. There is a slight chance the move could help increase sales, but I doubt it.
"Essentially, it remains a celebrity title. It doesn’t change my perceptions of the magazine when we’re planning campaigns for clients."
Celebrity magazine circulation 2003 - 2012Source: ABC
|Title||Publisher||June end 2012||
|New!||Northern & Shell Magazines
|Closer||Bauer Consumer Media||430,918||-7.7%||-6.3%|
|OK! Magazine||Northern & Shell
|Heat||Bauer Consumer Media||290,003||-10.9%||-11.2%|
|Star||Northern & Shell
This article was first published on