Farrah Storr leads makeover at revived Cosmopolitan

The former Women's Health editor hopes to recreate some of that magazine's magic as she takes the reins at Cosmopolitan

Storr: 'I think people go to magazines for what we're good at: amazing journalism, great names that you recognise'
Storr: 'I think people go to magazines for what we're good at: amazing journalism, great names that you recognise'

Farrah Storr, dressed in black Lycra, is pedalling as fast as she can on a bike in a darkened room with neon lighting.

A fitness instructor shouts over the loud dance beats and a large leaderboard is projected on to the wall. As a first-timer, Campaign is struggling to keep up.

"That class definitely burns the most calories," Storr says after the 45-minute exercise. "Mainly because you’re competing with everyone else."

Having just left her role as the editor at Women’s Health – the Hearst magazine that has seen circulation rise 8 per cent year on year, according to the January-June ABCs – and growing up as a sprinter, Storr is no stranger to hard graft.

She set up the monthly well-being title in 2012 with just two others. "We used to work really late," Storr recalls. "The art director at the time was a breakdancer, so we used to get him – at nine o’clock at night – to do a breakdance just to give us some respite from talking about press-ups." 

It’s that work ethic that Anna Jones, the Hearst Magazines UK chief executive, will expect as Storr embarks on a new journey as the editor of Cosmopolitan and aims to get women "re-engaged" with the brand.

"At Cosmopolitan, we’ve got the trust there; it’s just getting people engaged again," Storr says. "It’s people from 26 upwards and those in their early thirties. They’re the busiest so are the trickiest people to get.

"I don’t think people have fallen out of love with the brand; it’s that there’s so much going on – so how do we stick out again?"

Cosmopolitan has had a hard time of late. Circulation in the first half of the year increased slightly against the preceding six months but was down 11 per cent compared with January-June last year.

Storr will be looking to inject some of the successful elements that she brought to Women’s Health. "It will be bolder, sharper and slicker," she says of the new Cosmopolitan. "Women’s magazines are brilliant at creating stories and creating an amazing environment in which to read, but I have always thought: ‘I want to read a magazine and know exactly how to go and get that lifestyle.’"

At Cosmopolitan, instead of a straightforward fashion spread on a colour trend, for example, Storr says she has encouraged the team to come up with several shades to suit different body shapes and skin tones. "Essentially, it’s like a personal shopper on a page – you’ve got to get people to stick to every page," she explains.

Storr adds that there will be more content about wellness ("this is just a part of women’s lives now"), travel, lifestyle and food. The copy and imagery will be bolder, much like in Women’s Health, and features will be longer. Cosmopolitan will look more "grown up" with less pink, fewer cover lines and more structure.

But Dominic Williams, the chief trading officer at Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi, warns that this could alienate current readers. "Twenty-four- to 25-year-olds are fickle," he points out. "Cosmopolitan will need to take them on the journey with it.

"When titles change their audience-targeting, they need to be careful. But this is Hearst – I’m sure they have done their research."

Rob Lynam, the head of display at MEC, agrees but adds that Cosmopolitan needs to think about what it wants by targeting a new audience – whether that is to slow down the decline in circulation or grow the overall figure.

It sounds like a necessary move to improve circulation of a brand that was established in the US in 1886. But Storr denies Cosmopolitan has "lost its way", pointing out that all magazines are changing in the digital age.

"In some ways, everybody in the magazine industry has to find a new way because we’re competing on so many levels," she says. "We’re not just competing against one another; we’re competing in digital, with video."

That said, pulling in the digital crowd is not something that Cosmopolitan is worried about, given its 6.5 million users. Storr is focusing her energy on developing the print product.

"I’ve always had a belief that you’ve got to work side by side with digital," she says. "We are getting eyes on our web pages that we’re not getting on our magazine, but you have to offer something completely different.

"I think people go to magazines for what we’re good at: amazing journalism, great names that you recognise and – I hate corporate speak, but – deep-diving into issues that I don’t think digital can really compete with."

Storr clearly wants to inject new life into Cosmopolitan as it looks to attract more readers. It’s a huge task but she’s determined not to put a halt on the exercise regime.

"When you suddenly suggest to people ‘Let’s go to a spin class’, it’s a bit scary," Storr admits. "But it’s an amazing equaliser having someone in Lycra next to you. It’s a bonding experience."

Campaign, on the other hand, is still recovering.

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