MEDIA HEADLINER: Publishing director provides style for Harpers and Esquire - Tess MacLeod-Smith needs to liven up NatMags' luxury magazines, Ian Darby says

The Luxury Group sounds like a great place to work. Its name has connotations of exclusivity, wanton idleness and self-indulgence. But this masks the reality - it's a hard-working division of The National Magazine Company.

Tess MacLeod-Smith, an erstwhile associate publisher of Vogue who is not unused to a spot of luxury herself, has just been made the publishing director of the Luxury Group. This means she is responsible for Esquire and Harpers & Queen, two of the lower circulation titles in the men's and women's market respectively.

The thing you notice about both titles is that they're not as successful as they should be. Esquire may be a cracking read compared with some of its competitors and it may have put on 1.2 per cent at the last ABCs, but its circulation of just 62,000 is well down on its heyday peak of around 100,000. Harpers & Queen suffered a fall of close to 2 per cent to 86,039, maintaining a narrow lead over Conde Nast's competing society title, Tatler.

MacLeod-Smith will now take on bottom-line responsibility for Esquire and Harpers & Queen. She is relishing the chance to have more influence on the business side of things, which she says she enjoyed when she left Vogue for the property dotcom Smove: "A lot of people were surprised that I left Conde Nast. But I enjoyed the entrepreneurial buzz of the dotcom world. It was raw and a test of my sales and business ability."

Since joining NatMags, the 37-year-old has already been involved in some big changes for Esquire and Harpers & Queen.

Esquire has beefed up its features coverage and the editor, Peter Howarth, has bravely moved away from scantily clad cover girls in every issue toward black-and-white photos of men and women. However, the August issue sports Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the covergirl and a pack of Esquire playing cards as a give-away. Hardly stimulation for deep thinking chaps in their mid-30s.

Harpers & Queen has been through a big editorial shake-up in the past 18 months and now MacLeod-Smith says the time is right to communicate this change. "Harpers is now about meritocracy. It's less obsessed with society issues than Tatler. The readership is a broad church but we need to let women know it is about elegance and being fashionable."

Agencies suggest that MacLeod-Smith is the right person to do this. Claudine Collins, the press director at MediaCom, says: "Tess is great. She completely understands the luxury market, and she is very dynamic, young and bright."

This might strike some as surprising, given that she was schooled in the very different Conde Nast culture, known for its standoffishness with media agencies. Another press buyer describes it being populated by "tall, blonde, horsey, very attractive women who are difficult to get to know. They are only interested in yield, whereas NatMags is focused on both agencies and advertisers and at least tries to do something different."

But is MacLeod-Smith the right woman for the job? "She's been taking the titles forward for the past year, Collins says. "Three years ago I'd have said she'd have a fight on her hands but Esquire is going well and is attracting some good brands. Harpers looks great and is stable."

Some argue that perhaps things are too stable and that NatMags is not inventive enough in its editorial product or its approach to advertisers.

Mark Gallagher, the press controller of Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "Harpers is stable but I don't see much innovation from them. There's a huge possibility for them if they understand their readers and give us some brave and insightful research."

MacLeod-Smith argues that there are examples of innovation with its advertisers.

On the Road, a recent joint venture supplement on classic cars between Esquire and Harpers & Queen, was developed in association with Louis Vuitton.

Harpers & Queen is planning an October supplement called Harpers Means Business to focus on working women.

"I'm thrilled to be given the chance to take the magazines further," MacLeod-Smith says. "There is an atmosphere here of energy and dynamism."

Enyi Nwosu, a managing partner at Optimedia, has known MacLeod-Smith for several years. He says: "NatMags' luxury position is perfect for Tess. She will bring much needed panache to go head-to-head with Conde Nast. She combines an understanding of the brands she works on with great commercial skills."

So it seems that the Luxury Group might mean serious business after all.

THE MACLEOD-SMITH FILE
1988: The Economist, account manager
1994: Conde Nast, World of Interiors, ad director
1996: Conde Nast, Vogue, ad director to associate director
2000: Smove.com, commercial director
2001: National Magazine Company, commercial director, Luxury Publishing
Group
2002: NatMags, publishing director, Luxury Publishing Group

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