While her staff are celebrating Hello!’s Exocet circulation
results, Sally Cartwright is busy trying to track down a few hundred
tonnes of paper.
A Spanish lorry drivers’ strike is threatening UK distribution and
printing here is the only solution - if enough paper can be found in
time. If not, more than half a million customers, according to the new
circulation figures, would be disappointed.
Not that Cartwright is showing any signs of panic. In fact, Hello!’s
publisher has all the poise and presence of a headmistress of a private
girls’ school. While the women’s magazine world around her is a mire of
politics, in-fighting and penis-feature envy, Cartwright seems a
throwback to a more genteel time, when women crocheted antimacassars and
made their own filo pastry. She also plays on her refined image -
catching you by surprise when she starts sucking on a cigar or reveals
that she’s learning to tango. Her clipped manner is often accompanied by
a mischievous glint in her eyes.
Elegant and charming but firm, Cartwright has steered Hello! from a
wavering start in the early 90s, through a 538 per cent increase in ad
revenue to last week’s triumphant break through the half-a-million sales
Average issue sales for the period July-December 1996 were 536,724, up
8.5 per cent year on year - the biggest rise of the women’s mag pack and
a victory flick to detractors who predicted that Hello!’s fortunes would
decline with the royals’ popularity. No Spanish lorry driver is going to
be allowed to soil Cartwright’s moment of triumph.
So what if Hello!’s editorial is hardly the most challenging or
incisive; its ABC1 demographic profile is a testament to its success
with a more upmarket reader. And if some advertisers aren’t exactly
waving wads of dosh in Cartwright’s direction, well, copy sales are
clearly healthy and a new-ish ad director - Jon Humphey, previously with
the Economist - has a brief to lure more fashion houses and financial
advertisers to the title.
Cartwright identifies her own contribution - in the earlier days, in
particular - as raising the title’s visibility among the advertising
community: ’I had to create an image for Hello! that made people more
aware of it, take notice of it.’ She has also taken a firm line on
distribution, honing the process until around 80 per cent of all printed
copies is sold each week - way above the market average.
The magazine’s sales history - from the early days of selling around
140,000 - shows that when new readers were attracted by a particular
cover story, a significant portion of samplers tended to stick with the
magazine and become regular readers.
Fergie and baby Beatrice take the credit for providing the first
significant upturn in Hello!’s fortunes, so perhaps the magazine can be
forgiven for turning Sarah into a permanent fixture. Bill Wyman and
Mandy Smith’s ’fairytale’ wedding and Hello!’s invitation into the Duke
and Duchess of York’s family home were responsible for similar
But don’t expect Cartwright to play the luvvie publisher. Does she live
the Hello! lifestyle? ’Not that I’ve noticed,’ she says. She met
Nicholas Parsons last week, has brushed shoulders with Diana a couple of
times and Terence Stamp came to the magazine’s Christmas bash - but as a
veggie teetotaller he wasn’t really up for a knees-up. Basically,
Cartwright prefers cocooning with her hubbie - the director of corporate
affairs at the TI Group - in the Wiltshire countryside at weekends.
Mind you, it’s not easy to escape the image of Hello!. ’Unlike any other
magazine I’ve worked on, Hello! inspires interest and reaction,’
Cartwright says. ’It’s not always favourable. I’ve had people be
extremely unpleasant to me at dinner parties. But everybody has a view
about it. Hello! has etched itself a place in the country’s
consciousness that I don’t think will ever go away.’
So where does she take Hello! next? Regular spin-offs, such as fashion
and travel booklets, are being considered, though Hello! TV looks like a
non-starter at the moment.
’We are very, very cautious about that, though we’ve had an awful lot of
proposals. It might work, but there’s no cable or satellite TV channel
at the moment that could give us the sort of audience the Hello! brand
name justifies. I think we would have to wait until a terrestrial
channel was allowed to carry masthead programming.
’But the one thing that’s certain about Hello! is that we aren’t going
to take it anywhere. It will take us.’
THE CARTWRIGHT FILE
1973: IPC Magazines, promotions and publicity manager
1983: IPC Magazines, publisher (portfolio included Ideal Home and
1987: Capital magazine, managing director
1988: Harmsworth Publications, managing director
1990: Hello!, publishing director.