British women’s magazines leave little to chance. Millions are spent on reader research, give-away offers, promotions and high-profile editors in order to expand the precious niche they all occupy.
It is a sophisticated business and it must be all the more galling to the likes of IPC and the National Magazines Company that a title put together by the Sanchez family on their dining room table in Madrid is the best-selling upmarket women’s magazine in the UK.
In the July to December Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, Hello! achieved sales of 494,803, which is 6,500 copies more than the long-time queen of women’s magazines, Good Housekeeping.
Hello!’s circulation leapt from 150,000 a year after launch in 1988 to 450,000 by the end of 1991 and then hit a plateau. The company believes its circulation is now mature, with increases coming slowly. But that doesn’t mean it can’t creep up on the more sophisticated marketing machines that are women’s magazines.
Sally Cartwright, publishing director of Hello!, believes the title has made steady progress by not forcing its circulation: “There is a terrible temptation to force increases beyond a magazine’s natural level with extra promotional spending. You then get dependent on the spending.
“We prefer to let sales take their natural course,” she adds, although she acknowledges the title has been lucky not to have a direct competitor.
This will change when OK! Magazine, the monthly which copies Hello!’s format, becomes a weekly from March 15. However, Cartwright claims she will continue to eschew cover-mounts, ad campaigns or bulk sales – its only bulk sale is for Concorde passengers – to artificially boost circulation.
Hello!’s appeal is well documented. It aims to please the voyeur in all of us and is shockingly unchallenging in its editorial coverage.
The undemanding simplicity of the editorial product accounts for its success. Everyone reads it and can read it because the editorial is non-exclusive. On the other hand, you need to be a working mum or a young clubber to engage with magazines like She or Company.
On a basic level, the title appeals to advertisers and agencies because it has good figures. It has a high circulation, 60 per cent of its readership is ABC1 and its readers are highly loyal – 60 per cent of its total readership say they almost always read the magazine, compared with 38 per cent of Good Housekeeping’s readers.
However, certain elements make Hello! a harder title to sell to agencies. The very simplicity of the editorial that helps to build circulation works against Hello!’s advertising sales team.
“People buy the magazine to look at the pictures,” says Margaret Anderson, press manager at Leo Burnett. “It’s writing quality is lower than that of some other upmarket magazines and readers don’t get involved with the editorial.” And, if they don’t get involved in the editorial, she feels the title is only suitable for the most undemanding advertising.
The unique Hello! editorial environment causes other problems. Many long-term fashion and beauty advertisers in women’s monthly magazines insist that their colour ads appear facing a page of black and white text so that the ad stands out. However, Hello! is filled with lavish colour photographs, so some advertisers refuse to use it.
The wide-ranging nature of Hello!’s readership is a headache for the sales team. “We don’t have a core audience,” says Sarah Pearson, ad director of Hello! “The readership is more upmarket and slightly younger than the national average, but otherwise we are read by everyone. This means that we can’t be pigeon-holed by agency planners which can mean they don’t understand us.”
Hello!’s spread of readership also means the magazine will never come top of agency buyers’ cost rankings – lists of magazines’ rates against certain target audiences. “We always come in the middle which contributes to planners’ inability to categorise us,” says Pearson.
According to agencies, an average price for a standard colour page in Hello! is about 6,500 to 7,000, compared with Good Housekeeping’s 8,000 to 9,000. Hello!’s ratecard claims its standard colour pages are 10,050 and agencies confirm Hello! maintains a hard rate policy with only a little room for negotiations.
Hello!’s idiosyncratic management plays its part. The policy, dictated from Madrid, is that the title never carries more than 20 per cent of advertising pages. This can be changed if necessary, but the relatively limited supply of ad sites allows the sales team a strong hand in negotiation.
The title is uniquely placed. It has the upmarket profile that allows it to sell against monthly glossy magazines, but it can also supply immediate coverage because it is a weekly. A monthly magazine can take two months to build its coverage.
If Hello! suffers from not having a core readership, it is also able to soak up marginal money, says Pearson. It benefits from having short lead times and is able to take copy at the last minute from agencies which have perhaps left it too late to get into other publications.
Agencies have highly complex share-of-spend deals arranged with the main publishing houses. If an agency has money remaining after laying down a schedule in other titles, it will turn to Hello! to spend the extra so that it doesn’t upset the terms of its share deals.
Hello! is a single title and so is not considered a competitor for share-of-spend deals by the big publishing houses.
Hello!’s Spanish owners not only insist on designing the magazine on their dining room table, but apparently have an aloof attitude to advertising. They insist that everything the magazine does should relate to what readers – not advertisers – want, according to Pearson.
There may be problems when selling ad space, but overall the idiosyncrasy of Hello! is the source of its success.