Media Headliner: Giving Marie Claire a much more relevant edge

New editor Trish Halpin, a longtime fan of the title, believes her revamp will reconnect with readers, Anne Cassidy writes.

Relaunch fatigue, that debilitating condition to which magazine editors have become increasingly prone, hasn't affected Trish Halpin yet. The prospect of last week's Marie Claire relaunch was enough to make the IPC title's previous editor Marie O'Riordan quit (after overseeing four relaunches, O'Riordan said she "couldn't face" another).

Halpin, O'Riordan's successor, prefers to think of the relaunch trend in Darwinian terms: "For me, it's about evolving. If you find a formula that works, it's about evolving it rather than thinking 'Right, how can we change it this month?'"

The petite 42-year-old exudes understated chic, as is customary, perhaps obligatory, for a woman in her position. But despite having a stellar magazine career under her designer belt (she was previously the editor of the sister IPC title InStyle and, before that, Red), she is still girlishly excited about being in a job she has always aspired to.

What makes the magazine stand out from the rest, Halpin believes, is its ambitious mix of high fashion and provocative features. This, despite the new editor's revamp, doesn't change, she insists. It's just that the upscale glossy, which last year released an ecological edition wrapped in a recyclable brown paper bag, has lightened up a bit. "I wanted to put more fun, warmth, excitement and entertainment into the mix," Halpin explains.

The title, which vastly upped its celebrity and shoe count in the wake of the launch of Glamour and declining sales five years ago, and then under O'Riordan's editorship tried to strike more of a balance between its playful and polemic sides, has now had to put the focus back on the reader. Marie Claire's sales have been down recently, selling an average of 314,259 copies a month in the second half of last year, down 4.8 per cent on the same period in 2007.

Following an extensive research and development programme, which involved quizzing women across the country on the pros and cons of the title, Halpin discovered that the magazine's emotional connection with readers was missing. Recreating this bond required Marie Claire to become friendlier and more entertaining.

Following the relaunch, the features focus more on readers' own lives and experiences. "Marie Claire often tackles subjects that other glossies don't and it's very important that it does that. The features continue to be provocative but they are warmer and more inviting," Halpin says.

Some key changes have been the introduction of a sex and relation-ships section and entertainment news pages. But the sex in Marie Claire is distinctly grown-up. A subtle approach to style and imagery means it passes the "public transport test". "If you can read it on a train without worrying that some weirdo is looking over your shoulder, then that's good," she says.

Naturally, fashion remains a large part of the offering, and in keeping with the purse-string-tightening times, there's a focus on high street as well as designer items.

Marie Claire targets ABC1 females aged 25 to 40 and so competition is broad, ranging from Vogue and Elle at the fashion end to Red, Easy Living and Psychologies vying for older readers. Halpin isn't too fazed by the latest pretender, ShortList Media's soon-to-be-launched free women's weekly, Stylist: "With a brand such as Marie Claire, with 21 years under its belt and the circulation we have and the markets we've survived in, I'm not losing sleep about it at this stage."

Halpin, a two-time winner of the British Society of Magazine Editors' editor of the year award, started in magazine production. She began her career at Construction News. Ironically, as her career progressed, she was hired by her predecessor, O'Riordan, to sub-edit on More! magazine, and subsequently went on to become O'Riordan's deputy there. Colleagues note her keen attention to detail which, she says, is informed by her sub-editing background.

Jackie Newcombe, the managing director at IPC Southbank, praises Halpin's clarity of vision: "She has a singular ability to get the best out of people. She worked her magic on us at InStyle and so it was, in truth, a very easy decision to ask her to take the Marie Claire helm."

With this month's ABC results likely to reveal just how tough the market has become, Halpin still holds confidence in the longevity of the women's glossies: "I think it's a hugely important sector and shouldn't be underestimated. Magazines need to stick to what their core values are and focus on craft."

Her relaunch has been broadly welcomed by the industry and there's much support for the change of tone which had previously been deemed a bit worthy by some. Lindsey Wolfryd, the head of magazines at Mediaedgie:cia, says: "The changes Halpin has made have been generally very good. She has made the fashion look good and the products stand out."

The new Marie Claire also got warm reviews from the female guinea pigs in its research programme. According to Halpin, when presented with the finished product, the women surveyed said they felt it now spoke to them and understood them, as well as retaining its intelligence and sophistication.

But the proof will be in the numbers. Is the revamp enough to make Marie Claire a natural selection on the newsstand? Halpin is expecting nothing less: "It's all about getting women to re-engage with Marie Claire. With all that work, there would need to be a sales increase."

Age: 42
Lives: Wandsworth, London
Family: Married to the photographer Neil Cooper; five-year-old twins,
Esme and Kit
Must-have item this season: Marni's flower necklace
Most-treasured possession: A photo of my twins when they were first born
Last good book read: Couples by John Updike
Alternative career: Doctor
Motto: It's better to be loved than to be right