Heat is on celebrity trendsetter

As C-list celebrity production lines grind to a halt and economic pressures bite, can Heat reposition itself as a multiplatform celebrity brand that is a cultural reference point?

Heat%20magIt almost kick-started the nation’s fascination for celebrity news and gossip. But as Heat magazine prepares for its tenth anniversary next year, the celebrations will come against a gloomy backdrop of a declining interest in Big Brother and the migration of readers either online or to cheaper celebrity “me-too” titles. However, Heat is ready to fight back.

The challenge will be to maintain both its cult status and its circulation, with Heat announcing that it is aiming to inject fresh impetus to its marketing strategy. Its first step includes the search for a new advertising agency to promote the power and the relevance of the brand (MW last week).

The weekly title currently sells fewer than 500,000 copies a week and, according to figures for January to June 2008, it fell 11.8% period on period and 15.8% year on year to 470,129 copies, allowing it to be overtaken by rival OK!, which attracts maximum eyeballs with its A-list celebrity exclusives including the features on Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin’s wedding.

Heat publisher Liz Settle says: “The celeb weekly newsstand market is maturing. Heat will fight even harder to prove it is worth its relative premium price.”

Backed by a budget of £4m, Heat was launched by EMAP in 1999 by the former Smash Hits editor David Hepworth, who now edits music magazine Word. The weekly was launched as a “sophisticated” unisex read with an initial print-run of 100,000 copies. But with sales figures of under 20,000 copies, Heat was relaunched four years later as a gossip magazine aimed at women. New editor Mark Frith, who has been on board since 2000, took control of the title, which adopted a strategy of focusing on the “more accessible” C-list celebrities, such as Big Brother participants.

Dan Pimm, head of press at Universal McCann London, says the brand enjoyed its greatest success when Frith, who stepped down early this year, identified a market within the celebrity segment. “By featuring Big Brother celebrities, Heat appealed to the new public obsession,” he says.

By its fifth birthday, Heat broke the target of 500,000 copies at a record ABCs of 566,731. Its milestone date remains the sale of over 600,000 copies in August 2002 when it featured Jade Goody (of Big Brother fame) on its cover.

Heat’s proposition of poking fun at celebrities has made it an influential brand, which has since emerged as a radio station and an online magazine.

Settle says: “Heat is not just a successful magazine, it’s a brand that sets the celebrity agenda; it doesn’t merely reflect, respond to or follow it.” The success of Heat started a trend in celebrity titles such as EMAP’s own Closer and the glossy celebrity weekly, Grazia. These titles now sit within the Bauer Media stable, after it swallowed up EMAP’s consumer magazines and radio division last December.

“Strangely, Heat is going through a nine-year itch, ” says Pimm, who adds that while the Heat brand is still premium, the magazine suffers from repetitive content. According to others in the industry, Heat’s value is declining because of new, cheaper entrants in the market.

Alison Black, press manager at Feather Brooksbank, says: “As a celebrity diet is available across the spectrum, Heat’s pricing could put people off.” Initiative Media head of press Jane Wolfson agrees and says that when Heat achieved success it catered for 16- to 24-year-olds – an audience that is today more at ease with YouTube or Facebook. “Heat straddles the middle, not appealing either to its older fans or the new generation,” she says.

Heat has continued to be in the limelight with its share of controversies. For instance, last year it came under fire after it featured glamour model Jordan’s disabled son, Harvey Price. Frith was forced to apologise, though observers do not think that such controversies have ever dealt a negative blow to the brand. “Heat plays in a fast-moving sector and its loyal audience have forgotten and forgiven,” says Black.

It is, however, the present economic downturn that appears to be making it worse for the already declining circulation numbers for Heat. “If I read three magazines a few months ago, today I only pick the cheapest one,” says Wolfson. She also points out that the craze for reality TV shows, which generated the overnight celebs that Heat built its success on, has come to an end.

Bauer definitely needs to “relook” at Heat, says Pimm, though he is unsure if it needs an overhaul or reinvention. Wolfson suggests that it either has to realign with its older readers or reposition itself to attract today’s youth.

Heat seems confident about its future, with new editor Julian Linley on board alongside new publisher Settle, who also joined this summer. “While there will not be an overhaul, we will consolidate Heat’s brand propositioning after the advertising review,” says Settle.

However, some hard work lies ahead if Bauer is to achieve its aim of positioning Heat as a multiplatform celebrity brand that is a “lasting cultural reference point for this generation”. 

Facts and figures

Heat 

1999 EMAP launches Heat in February as a general interest weekly entertainment magazine 

2000 Heat sells below its 100,000 copies target and does not prove to be an immediate success, unlike other EMAP launches 

2003 Heat is given its first major revamp, after it is turned into a gossip read aimed at women and a digital radio brand 

2007 Heat launches heatworld.com in May, edited by Julian Linley 

2007 In December, Heat becomes part of the Bauer Media empire 

2007 Mark Frith resigns as editor of Heat in May, and is replaced by Linley.

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