MEDIA: Headliner - Former tabloid stalwart aims to give Hello! a touch of class - Phil Hall plans to rebrand the title with an upmarket image

Phil Hall's office at Hello! could be a potent symbol for starting anew. The floor, which previously housed the magazine's advertising department, has been gutted to make way for its new editor, an indication of just how much the owner, Eduardo Sanchez Junco, is investing in the former News of the World chief.

Phil Hall's office at Hello! could be a potent symbol for starting anew. The floor, which previously housed the magazine's advertising department, has been gutted to make way for its new editor, an indication of just how much the owner, Eduardo Sanchez Junco, is investing in the former News of the World chief.

A new start is what's required for both Hall and his latest charge. The circulation gap between Hello! and Richard Desmond's OK! has disappeared amid a wave of Posh and Becks exclusives. And despite Hello! edging ahead in last summer's ABCs, Desmond's purchase of Express Newspapers and the possibility of cross-promotion has further increased the pressure on the senior title.

All this at a time when the weekly market is becoming more crowded, with a resurgent Heat and Now as well as tabloid Sunday supplements competing for readers.

Hall has been the subject of broadsheet attention since he announced his move to Hello!. Much of it centred around the question: 'Can a celebrity poacher turn friendly gamekeeper?' It's a question he needs to answer in the affirmative if he's to prove that his talents and confidence have survived being shoved from the News of the World perch to make way for the young upstart Rebekah Wade.

'In six months people will all be talking about Hello! again,' he promises, relishing the task. 'I've got to make people sit up and take notice. I've got to do that for myself as well as the magazine.'

Strictly speaking, he doesn't. His pay-off from News International left him never having to work again, and it seems to have taken much of the edge off his shock sacking. 'I was devastated for about a day,' he recalls, before waxing lyrical about Rupert Murdoch, his former mentor and the man who gave him the boot so unexpectedly. 'He'll always be one of my heroes,' he says. 'I'd kill for the chance to work for News International again someday.'

For now, though, Hall is focused on re-establishing Hello!'s identity.

It's something the title desperately needs, according to media agency observers. 'They need to regain clear differentiation from OK! and the other celebrity magazines,' Carat's press director, Tim Kirkman, says.

'And to do that, they need to significantly improve their ABC1 profile.'

The word is that Hall is planning to take his title upmarket, restoring some clear water between Hello! and its rivals. However, this shouldn't be confused with a return to the traditional diet of minor European royalty. Hall is adamant on that point, even talking about getting rid of some of the 'Norwegian and Swedish princesses' and building a truly British focus.

For Hall, moving upmarket is all about the class of his publication rather than the nobility of its subject matter. He points to the current cover as an example, explaining how he demoted a tearful image of Daniella Westbrook in favour of US Vogue's stylish shots of George Clooney and Giselle Bundchen. 'All the magazines have got soap stars,' he says. 'All exactly the same. Hello! should have celebrities who have style, who are good looking and who are topical.

We need strong storylines about people that everyone is talking about.

There's a fine line between being cheesy and irrelevant, and if you make yourself relevant you can't be ignored.'

So how do you make Hello! relevant? For that matter, how can you talk about storylines when talking about a magazine that seems to have been edited as blandly as possible to avoid nuggets of criticism sneaking into its sugary profiles? Hall seems intent on introducing a more imaginative, news-led approach to the subject matter.

He talks about how he would love to do a shoot of Peter Mandelson at home. How his staff have just tracked down a revealing interview with Boris Becker alongside racy photos of his new lover. He sighs that he was unable to set up a photo shoot with Tom Hanks and the Taransay heartthrob Ben Fogle to mark the arrival of the Castaway movie. You'd think he'd just come from editing the News of the World. 'You have to be aggressive and go out and get these stories,' he says. 'You can't just sit and wait for people to bring them to you.'

In truth, the methods Hall now uses for bagging exclusives are not so different to those he specialised in at the News of the World. There are a lot of lunches, money changing hands and returnable favours. It's this last skill that Hall particularly prides himself on. 'I believe in the value of not stiffing people,' he says succinctly.

Hello! needs its own newspaper alliances to compete with The Express-OK! axis, something Hall's predecessor as editor seemed dangerously uninterested in. 'Maggi Kuomi was a complete idiot for newspapers to deal with,' says The Mirror's editor, Piers Morgan, who has already set up one cross-promotional piece with Hall, his former deputy at the News of the World.

'If Hello! is now going to be more Kate Winslet than Posh Spice, then that still fits with The Mirror and Daily Mail readers.'


The People, chief reporter

The People, news editor

The Sunday Express,

news editor

News of the World,

assistant editor, features

News of the World,

deputy editor

News of the World, editor.


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