MEDIA HEADLINER: Men’s Health boss practises what his magazine preaches - Tony Long faces the task of taking a hit title to new heights, Julian Lee writes

While most of us call the journey from lad to man ’growing up’, at Men’s Health, where they pride themselves on their intimate knowledge of 90s men, they call it an ’epiphanous moment’.

While most of us call the journey from lad to man ’growing up’, at

Men’s Health, where they pride themselves on their intimate knowledge of

90s men, they call it an ’epiphanous moment’.



It’s then, they say, that your average 30-year-old begins his search for

something more substantial in life, something that the likes of Loaded

or FHM could never offer, something like a ’six-pack’ stomach, for

example.



You may laugh. And they did. When Rodale Press - home to an exhaustive

list of fat-free, hi-cal, ’activ’ magazines in the US - announced it was

launching Men’s Health in the UK, the news was collectively greeted with

a derisive snort.



However, Rodale’s decision four years ago to bring its distinctive brand

of healthy active living to a country with the second highest

cholesterol count in Europe has proved a sound one. Last week, MH picked

up the Periodical Publishers Association’s Consumer Magazine of the Year

award. The judges were impressed with its distinctive style, its direct,

intelligent voice and its defiance of conventional British wisdom by

putting hunky men and the word ’health’ on the cover.



The morning after receiving the award, Tony Long, MH’s publisher, is

pleased, but does a good job of concealing it. Could it be that last

night’s celebrations have muted his jubilation? ’I made sure I drank

plenty of water and took two vitamin pills before I went to bed,’ he

says, as if to prove that he does indeed practise what he preaches (the

idea was one of MH’s top tips for preventing hangovers).



But that’s about where it stops. Long is, by his own admission, someone

who needs to lead the MH lifestyle a bit more. Like many of the

magazine’s 283,359 readers (ABC July-Dec ’98) he would love to lose a

few pounds. But he’s still not desperate enough to call his local gym

home-from- home.



MH was the first magazine to tap into a late-90s male zeitgeist of

keeping healthy and trim. It boldly ventured into territory other

magazines avoided and has been rewarded handsomely as a result. The last

ABCs show a 25.9 per cent increase in sales.



Advertisers have welcomed the addition of MH to their schedules; in the

past year its share of the display advertising market in the men’s

category has risen by 3 percentage points to 11.2 per cent, according

MMS. Media agencies are also relieved to have an antidote to

testosterone-fuelled titles such as Loaded and FHM. MH has succeeded in

creating a new publishing genre, and for that, the industry loves

it.



The question is, will the readers keep coming? Long, a quietly spoken

man of 35 who favours golf over sky-diving, thinks that in time the

magazine could have as many as half a million readers in the UK. The 1.5

million men who have acquired the habit of buying magazines each month

for the past eight years will eventually have to cast around for a title

more in step with their lives.



To date, MH has had this niche all to itself. But for how much

longer?



It has already seen off XL, Emap’s offering which closed down last year,

and GQ Active has been forced to retreat to the sidelines as an add-on

to its higher profile parent.



Yet publishers are already planning to revisit the genre with renewed

vigour. The National Magazine Company’s ZM has increased its frequency

from quarterly to bi-monthly and Mollin Publishing is launching Men’s

Fitness next week. As the competition increases, the pressure on MH’s

new editor, Simon Geller, formerly of Maxim, to continue the upward

sales trend started by Phil Hilton (now at Later) will doubtless

intensify.



Not that Long appears particularly worried about the competition. He is

not complacent, but neither is he arrogant about MH’s success. ’He’s

never been a boisterous type or someone who makes a lot of noise mainly

because he doesn’t have to,’ Peter Stuart, GQ’s publisher and Long’s

boss of six years, says.



Although Long could not be further removed from the smiling beefcakes

that adorn MH’s cover month after muscle-bound month, he is part of that

very audience who aspire to keep their life and liver in check. ’I think

he’s one of the calmer and more logical thinkers,’ John McLoughlin,

Optimedia’s media account director, says. ’He knows what is right for

our business and he knows what is right for the audience.’



Like many men his age, Long wants to lose a couple of stone, but he also

wants today’s men to be able turn to MH for guidance.



’I’d like to think that we deal with a lot of things that men would not

normally talk about, but which are actually quite important to them.

Reading MH is a way of saving them the embarrassment of discussing it at

the pub,’ he observes. But then, if they’ve been following MH’s advice,

they probably wouldn’t want to go to the pub anyway.



THE LONG FILE



1988: Cosmopolitan, ad manager



1990: GQ, ad director



1993: GQ, associate publisher



1997: Men’s Health, publisher.



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