Media Headliner: Hughes to give his old mag a run for its money

The charming yet grumpy publisher tells Emma Barns why Easy Living can thrive in Good Housekeeping's market.

After 12 years at The National Magazine Company, the last four as the publishing director on the national institution that is Good Housekeeping, you could forgive Chris Hughes for having become institutionalised. But his decision to defect to Conde Nast, as the launch publisher for a magazine that is set to give Good Housekeeping the first real run for its money in its 83-year history, suggests otherwise.

You get the impression he's loving every minute of the challenge of launching Easy Living (which hits the shelves this week). Behind the calm, urbane exterior, there seems to lurk a mischievous character delighted about the impact he's sure Easy Living will have.

Hughes says: "How could I say no to Nicholas (Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast) when he called me about the job? The prospect of working on a Conde Nast launch, on which they had obviously done their homework thoroughly, was hugely exciting."

And after becoming so familiar with Good Housekeeping, a bit of excitement was probably just what the doctor ordered. Hughes admits that it was a solid job, with the emphasis on steady growth. "You just hope that it doesn't all go tits up on your watch as, frankly, that would be embarrassing," he says. But that's not to say that Hughes was coasting at NatMags. He was more than willing to go the extra mile at Good Housekeeping and once delivered Easter eggs dressed as a chicken for the cause.

But is he right to be so excited about the launch? Conde Nast believes Easy Living's colour-coded sections are innovative. The front cover flap on the 304-page title signposts the eight sections (which include "real life", "food" and the US-styled "emotional intelligence") and enables more content to be showcased on the cover.

Hughes explains that the low cover price is also tied in with the idea of sectioning. "For £1.90, readers can justify buying the magazine for the one section they are attracted to," he says. "The price and our subscription rate (£12 for 12 issues) show how serious we are - we want to provide as few reasons not to buy the magazine as possible."

As appealing as the sectioning may be for readers, it could be argued that the diverse content is problematic - an all-things-to-all-women approach that might fail to ignite the interest of advertisers who have access to more specialist home or fashion titles. Hughes disputes this and says the sectioning has enabled his team to sell more ads by ensuring that they are placed in relevant sections next to appropriate editorial.

Paul Thomas, a managing partner at MindShare, is impressed with the quality of the advertisers in the first issue. "As expected, there are fashion and beauty advertisers in spades, but there's a good showing of other upmarket brands. In the future, I think they'll get more food, car and health advertisers in," he predicts.

Claudine Collins, the press director at MediaCom, believes advertisers will be impressed with the magazine. "The advertorials are hard to identify in the editorial as they fit in so well, and advertisers will love this," she says. "It's very rare that a product actually lives up to the publisher's concept, but this has and it's very hard to criticise."

Former colleagues of Hughes argue that Conde Nast has made an astute hiring because of his passion for creating a successful product. Tony Long, the sales director at Hachette Filipacchi, used to work with Hughes.

He says: "He was an evangelist for the trust readers had in Good Housekeeping's editorial and he would never allow advertisers to compromise this."

Jan Adcock, the publishing director of Cosmopolitan, is another admirer, and she credits Hughes with being the man who could sell coal to Newcastle. "He's a brilliant presenter - very charming and funny - but he's also not scared to stick his head above the parapet if he thinks there is something wrong," she says.

But by all accounts, Hughes can display a tendency to be a grumpy bastard (the BBC2 programme Grumpy Old Men is required viewing for him) and he isn't happy unless there's a good pub around the corner.

Hughes' 23 years' experience in the industry suggests that he's fully prepared for the task ahead. Starting out in 1982, he spent 11 years at The Times and The Sunday Times before exchanging Wapping for Soho and joining NatMags as the ad director on Good Housekeeping. His 12 years at the company also saw him becoming the publisher of Esquire and Country Living before returning to the whiff of homemade cakes at Good Housekeeping headquarters in 2000.

Certainly, his two shifts on Good Housekeeping will stand him in good stead for Easy Living, which is aimed at the same middle-class, 30- to 59-year-old female target audience. However, he is keen to point out that going head to head with the NatMags title is not Easy Living's intention.

"That magazine (Good Housekeeping) has survived world war, flood and famine. I think it will survive Easy Living's launch," he says.

With the media agencies on side, Conde Nast now has to convince the punters.

With a £6 million marketing budget and 608,000 magazines in circulation this month (it is aiming for an ABC of 200,000), Easy Living looks to be well on the way to success.

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 45

Lives: Ewhurst, near Cranleigh, Surrey

Family: One wife, three teenage children

Describe yourself in three words: Lucky, optimistic, thoughtful

Most treasured possession: My new Gabriel Ash greenhouse

Favourite magazine: The Garden Person most respected in the industry

Robin Wight

Greatest extravagance: Richard James

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