Maxim obstructs FHM's path to global domination

FHM's celebration of British laddism is both a fault and a strength, Alasdair Reid says.

Emap's official history of FHM doesn't actually mention the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre - not surprising, really, for an organisation that, in the general course of things, has little difficulty in accentuating the positive. But for good or ill, this was arguably one of the biggest landmarks in the title's development and, indeed, for the men's magazine sector as a whole.

We're not talking about the notorious events in Chicago in 1929, rather the circulation figures released on 14 February 2002, which seemed at the time to herald the demise of lads' magazine culture. The biggest casualty was FHM, which showed an 18.5 per cent decline year on year in sales figures covering July to December 2001.

Reports of the magazine's imminent demise have since proved to be exaggerated.

But although the decline was effectively stemmed (both for the sector as a whole and for FHM in particular, which now hovers around sales of 600,000), the high-water mark in circulation terms, 775,451, recorded over the January-to-June period in 1998, now seems a distant dream.

The blip, however, helped to refocus attention on the need to diversify and to accelerate the title's expansion. The latest move is the appointment of David Pullan, the marketing director of five, to the newly created role of FHM worldwide managing director.

Two thoughts spring immediately to mind. First, that in appointing a marketing strategist with no experience of publishing, Emap sees FHM as a brand property in as wide a definition of that term as possible; and second, that FHM is going to be doing a lot more TV of one sort or another.

Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, says we shouldn't exaggerate the importance of the latter. "I haven't recruited David for his specialist TV skills alone," he says. "He's an outstanding leader and entrepreneurial general manager and in that context we expect him to do great things with FHM."

Keenan adds that Pullan's core focus will be in the UK and in its relatively new market of the US. New and, of course, overshadowed by Maxim, the Dennis Publishing title, which trades off a circulation of 2.5 million in the US.

Actually, Maxim is pretty much an all-round fly in the FHM ointment.

Its recently launched Hong Kong edition was launch number 22 and its mainland China edition, which is planned for later this year, will bring the total to 23. Total worldwide aggregated circulation of the Maxim titles is 3.9 million. Pullan has his work cut out but, actually, there are more FHM titles globally (26 editions, with combined sales of around three million) and it too plans to launch this year in China.

Dennis sources always maintain that to call yourself a true global publishing phenomenon, you have to be a powerhouse in the market that matters, the US. FHM, they add with great subtlety, is number four in the US. They also argue FHM, with its focus on British laddishness, doesn't travel well.

Agencies agree with some of that. Sarah Dorward, the group account manager at Starcom Motive, says: "There are markets in, for instance, Asia that might be hard to crack. It might (currently, only) have things such as Penthouse at one end and Esquire at the other, so it will be about creating a new market. It's true also Maxim is seen as a stronger international proposition because of its strength in the US."

But for most observers it will be the UK market that will be the true crucible for the brand's ambitions. And the UK now poses unique challenges, what with the emergence of men's weekly magazines such as Nuts and Emap's own Zoo.

FHM has been busy pursuing new avenues, from books and magazine publishing offshoots (such as FHM Collections, a biannual fashion title) to TV programming (such as High-Street Honeys on Sky). It has plans to attach the FHM label to a diverse range of products from watches, sunglasses and games - for instance, a box of drinking games called Pub Olympics.

But will it work? Sometimes, as a brand expands ever outward, it develops behind an increasingly hollow heart. And after all, it's not hard to find those who will tell you that lads' magazines face a future of diminishing returns.

Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, isn't so sure.

"Of course, it will be interesting to see what impact the weeklies will have," he says. "But, for me, FHM still appears fresh. It invests a lot in content and it tends to pay off - I thought that High-Street Honeys was fantastic for it as a brand. That could be replicated around the world and there are lots of other brand-extension ideas they could pursue. Why not sportswear, for instance?"

Gallagher also believes FHM's British heritage can be a real positive for it as a publishing property and as a broader brand. He concludes: "The truth is that men in their twenties the world over like looking at women, like drinking and like sport. FHM catches the spirit of that and, by and large, it gets the tone of voice right. The great thing about Emap in general is it is good at reinventing itself."

BRAND EXTENSIONS

Cosmopolitan: Spirit bars (cocktail bar, cafe and beauty services);

Cosmopolitan Collection product range (haircare and beauty products,

handbags and lingerie); various other branded products

Marie Claire (US): Marie Claire Clothing, sold via a programme on Home

Shopping Network called Marie Claire Recommends

Glamour (UK): Branded compilation CD released through record stores,

featuring the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

Elle (across Europe): Shoes, leather goods, outerwear, underwear

Vogue (US): Teamed up with the Viacom music channel VH1 on fashion

awards event

National Geographic: Shoes

Playboy: Sensual clothing

Good Housekeeping: Gardening tools

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).