Feature

Media Headliner: The most influential editor on the UK high street

Our readers are everything, according to Ali Hall, the editor of IPC's phenomenally successful weekly Look.

Ali Hall is, most definitely, one of the girls. When out shopping, she is often accosted by excited young Look readers bursting to give her a running commentary on the magazine. But rather than run in the opposite direction, she happily engages in impromptu editorial meetings on the street.

"I've been sat in changing rooms with girls going through the magazine because they have it in their bag and they want to talk about what they like and what they want more of," Hall says.

And Hall doesn't think of Look as just a magazine. The title is probably one of the most talked-about in the market right now due to a series of innovative events to excite its readers' imaginations. In the midst of the recession, the magazine launched a Fashion Swap on Carnaby Street, where girls came to exchange their clothes.

Earlier this year, the title held its very own catwalk show at London Fashion Week, the first magazine to do so, with the likes of the model Erin O'Connor modelling high-street fashions in front of an audience of Look readers. The event was a pioneering one and brought Fashion Week, the playground of the fashion world's movers and shakers, down a peg or two. "I felt like if we could open up Fashion Week, that would be an awesome aim for me," Hall enthuses.

With fashion and celebrity magazines swamping newsstands, all adorned with the same coterie of cover girls - Jennifer, Angelina, Posh et al - you could assume most young women find them interchangeable. Not Look readers.

"I've never seen such passion," Hall enthuses. "They'll say they can't wait until Tuesday because Look is coming out. That makes me feel brilliant."

The 35-year-old Northerner has edited Look since its inception three years ago. The IPC Media title, which sells an impressive 313,013 copies a week, seemed to gel with readers right from the off. Its target circulation was 250,000 at its launch, but it racked up 318,000 weekly sales after only five months.

When it started out, half of the title's content was fashion-focused and the other half was celebrity news. But after listening to pleas from readers (probably in the nearest Top Shop changing room), Hall has significantly raised the title's fashion quota over the years.

The title's democratisation of fashion is a big part of its success. The clothes in Look are affordable and from the high street, rather than aspirational and designer. Hall prides herself on the fact that the magazine helps women of all shapes, sizes and budgets enjoy fashion. Its readers (who have an average age of 26) can learn how to dress like their favourite celebrity but for £30 instead of £3,000.

Hall points out that the title launched in the middle of a "revolution" on the high street. "We've been very good at capturing a moment," she says. It came on the scene just when celebrities began to create their own ranges and designers started to make clothes for the likes of H&M and Top Shop.

Items that feature in Look, online or in print, become very sought after, which is good news for retailers. "If you put something in Look editorially, it sells out," Hall affirms. The editor believes this power to drive people in store is a big reason to advertise in the title.

"The thing readers love about Look is everything they see in there they can afford," Hall says. "We've edited the high street down for them, so when they go shopping on a Saturday, they know exactly what they want."

Upmarket rivals can be a bit sniffy about being bracketed with Look, perhaps because it unashamedly prizes the high street over haute couture. But Hall, who seems to put her readers' opinions above everything else, doesn't see Look as having a direct competitor.

She is tired of comparisons with the Bauer fashion weekly Grazia, arguing that Look is unique in what it does. In addition, she says: "We sell 100,000 more copies than Grazia." Claudine Collins, the joint head of investment at MediaCom, notes that the title has successfully carved out its own niche on the newsstand. "It does incredibly well for a weekly. It's a phenomenon," Collins says.

Hall, who knew from the age of ten that she wanted to be a journalist, started out on regional newspapers. She has developed a habit of turning around the fortunes of the titles she works on. When she became the editor of Emap's Slimming magazine in 2000, she managed to get the magazine its first ABC rise in a decade.

She then launched the title Celebrity Bodies, a diet magazine, and then moved to Bliss as deputy editor. Before IPC came calling, she was the editor of More! magazine and implemented a relaunch there that boosted the title's circulation by 12 per cent.

Mike Soutar, the co-founder of ShortList Media, who hired Hall to launch Look when he was a board director at IPC, says she knows what readers want. "She has an intrinsic understanding of what girls in their early twenties get excited about, and the ability to translate it into engaging editorial," he says.

Hall might have been with Look from the beginning, but she shows no desire to move on now that she has secured its place in the market. Launching Look from scratch has been the highlight of her career, she says, and she plans to continue to find innovative new ways of engaging her audience. For Hall, Look revolves around just one thing: "It's all about the reader."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 35
Lives: Highgate
Most treasured possession: A sense of humour
Must-have item: My new Reiss jumpsuit
Last book read: The third book in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg
Larsson: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest. I was addicted to all
three books along with everyone else on the Tube, it seems
Favourite cover girl: Jen (Aniston) for her long-standing service to
cover sales
Motto: No drama

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