Editor who enjoys selling becomes bespoke publisher

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 30 October 2003 08:00AM

Peter Howarth appreciates editorial and advertising's needs. By Lexie Williamson

Peter Howarth is possibly the only man on the planet who could throw "I once asked Armani what he did for kicks," into a conversation and not come across like a pretentious git.

Yes, he name-drops for England but rattles off the Paul Smiths and John Hegartys as casually and confidently as you would a bunch of old schoolmates.

Maybe it's because Giorgio, Paul and John have been entries in Howarth's contact book for his three years in fashion and six editing Esquire, not to mention the stints at GQ and Arena. What's certain is that all are proving invaluable now that Howarth is no longer nestling under the protective wing of The National Magazine Company but running his first business: Show Media.

For the sake of categorisation, Show Media is a contract publishing company in that Howarth and his team of five are paid to make publications for clients. But Somerfield Magazine they ain't.

Some titles, such as Dad, published on behalf of the charity Fathers Direct, could be branded a contract title, albeit one with Pierce Brosnan on the cover thanks to a "hi, it's Peter Howarth" call to his publicist.

Moet & Chandon's Vintage also fits the contract bill although you see little of the brand -- bar a couple of ads -- and lots on vintage cars, clothes and films, the idea being that Moet & Chandon "owns the concept of vintage" instead of just flogging champagne.

But Show Media's latest offering, The Newspaper Magazine, a newsstand title fusing fashion and label-loving Premier League footballers, is financed by a company called Absolute, not a particular brand. The same goes for FashionWeek, a 64-page bi-annual supplement to BusinessWeek commissioned by its publisher, McGraw-Hill. Both are supported by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss and Armani. "I'd prefer to call us bespoke publishers," Howarth explains. "The idea is to hire ourselves out to people who want either contract or consumer titles."

One thing is obvious: Howarth won't need a new-business or PR person. "Peter was great to work with because he wanted to come with me to see advertisers, which is unusual for an editor," Tess MacLeod-Smith, the publishing director of Esquire, recalls. "We also came up with ideas together although some would say he got too involved in the commercial side."

But another source says this did the magazine no harm. "Peter's willingness to shake hands with the devil helped Esquire enormously, as did his contacts in the fashion industry," he says.

"He's an average editor but is very personable and this gift of getting on with people has taken him a long way. We thought he'd become a publisher as he's great at the meet and greet. In fact, his nickname was Peter Puff."

MacLeod-Smith is somewhat kinder about Howarth's forte for networking. "Peter is a people person,' she states. "If you're at a party, he'll stay until the end and work the room; he's charming and great at selling ideas."

Howarth's biggest selling job at Esquire was convincing media buyers of the wisdom of ditching the "birds in bikinis". "That wasn't a moral crusade, it was a cold business decision," he states. "We were the eighth-best men's magazine out of ten and everyone had Caprice or Gail Porter on the cover. We were losing sales and claimed to be upmarket but advertisers couldn't tell us apart. I thought it more sensible to be number-one in a market of one. That first year was vicious but our ad share increased and we charged more money; we also got Brad Pitt on our cover in a world exclusive.

"Walk into WH Smith in Victoria station and all magazines look the same, you can't even tell the men's from the women's now as they've all got girls on the front and bright coverlines."

"Peter doesn't follow the pack," Duncan Edwards, NatMags' managing director, says. "He has strong views on what makes a good magazine and it's contrary to the mainstream view which is why Esquire is not a me-too magazine but sits in its own category. He's also one of the best PR guys in the business."

Howarth decided to leave Esquire after six years. "When you've put Al Pacino on the cover, what more can you do?" he says. "Besides, magazine editors are a bit mollycoddled and I like the idea of taking your destiny into your own hands. It keeps me awake at night but I spend my time how I want; I didn't see my three boys for six years."

He's also halfway through writing a novel, a thriller set in the fashion world.

Howarth wants to expand Show Media but it's not clear how. One minute he's says "we'll do anything, the weirder the better" and the next talks of creating another consumer newsstand title if a bigger, richer publisher coughed up the cash.

"It makes sense," MacLeod-Smith says. "The only dilemma he'll have in growing the company is that clients are buying Peter; it's him they want, no one else."

The Howarth file

1986 Paul Smith, project manager

1989 Nicole Farhi, head of menswear

1991 Freelance journalist

1992 GQ, style editor

1995 Arena, editor

1997 Esquire, editor

2003 Show Media, founder

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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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