Mary Frances has abandoned the Titanic and is seeking solace on a
new vessel that has yet to prove its sea worthiness. As the editor of
Woman's Realm, which has finally been put out of its misery after many
years of languishing on retailers' shelves, she is hoping to carve out a
new weekly audience with Your Life, an upmarket magazine for women in
Her down-to-earth stance and sensible dressing do not belie the fact
that this woman seems to take on Herculean tasks that many would flinch
at. Frances beams: 'After years of being the Cinderella in the group
it's lovely to have the money, backing and support.'
IPC Connect, the weeklies division of IPC Media, must have great faith
in Frances' judgment, since they are throwing a hefty sum at this new
From final board approval to the magazine's launch has taken just 31
days, which is a record at IPC. Procter & Gamble has signed up as the
magazine's exclusive advertiser for the first eight issues. Twiggy has
fronted the launch and represents the magazine's ideal reader: the
financially independent, ABC1 woman in her 40s who is confident and
likes to 'seize the day'.
Frances, however, faces a tough task in persuading women who
traditionally purchase monthly magazines to buy into a weekly title. She
admits that Your Life will have to break habits: 'We're trying to create
the weekly buyer in this market. We found that they were reading a lot,
buying something every week, but not buying a weekly.'
Frances also faces a tough economic environment. Laura James, the head
of press at New PHD, says: 'I'd be very nervous about launching a
magazine in the marketplace at the moment when they're not having the
easiest of times in terms of advertising revenue. And in terms of their
target audience, to convince this woman to be a regular purchaser will
take a significant amount of investment.'
Although some may speculate that Your Life was cooked up in response to
H Bauer's new fortnightly title, Real, Frances says she has been working
on the concept behind Your Life for the past year after becoming
increasingly frustrated with Woman's Realm.
'At the beginning of last year I had begun to get really impatient. I
wanted to do something with Woman's Realm because the name, package and
formula didn't represent women now. I was more aware of the potential
market for Your Life and in late spring last year I put some boards
together with the treatments of what we could do,' she says.
While some magazine editors boast how at 13 years old they put together
their own magazine from a scrap book, Frances is endearingly modest
about her ambitions: 'I never wanted to launch a magazine for the sake
of doing it - it's awfully grown up. I was a features editor for years
and years and never dreamt of doing anything else.'
Terry Tavner, the editor of Woman's Own, who has worked closely with
Frances in the past and faces a potential rival to her magazine, says:
'Mary is fantastically driven. The idea for Your Life is entirely hers
and her dogged determination to go all the way with it has paid
Linda Lancaster-Gaye, the managing director of IPC Connect, adds: 'She
has a maturity in her approach, both in editorial and in business and
she understands the integration of the two.'
Frances has worked in the weeklies market since 1985 when she moved from
news editing the Coventry Evening Telegraph to become the deputy
features editor of Woman's Own. From there she worked her way through a
number of the weekly titles (with a freelancing gap when she had her
children) before finally moving to Woman's Realm in 1995 as its features
The magazine was already beginning to struggle against aggressive
competition and its dated image when she took over the helm.
'I knew what it was because I'd been the features editor, but I suppose
that every editor thinks 'I can turn this around' - the poor misguided
fools,' Frances laughs.
Despite her struggle with Woman's Realm, Frances has kept a sense of
humour about it: 'It was like hitting your head against a brick
I remember once standing in Harrogate High Street on a Saturday
afternoon handing out flyers and a copy of the magazine free. As one
woman took a copy she said: 'I'm an old fart now,' which summed it up -
you couldn't give Woman's Realm away.'
Frances admits she is nervous about her latest venture, but is convinced
it is the right thing.
'I wouldn't be human if I didn't wake up in a cold sweat. But I think we
can do it because Your Life is so different, and the market says it
wants it,' she says.
THE FRANCES FILE
1985: Woman's Own, deputy features editor
1987: Woman, features editor
1992: Woman, deputy features editor
1993: Best, features editor
1995: Woman's Realm, features editor
1998: Woman's Realm, editor
2000: Your Life, editor.