MEDIA HEADLINER: Taking Your Life into the lion's den of the magazine business. Changing women's buying habits is the task for Mary Frances

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

their mid-40s.



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

venture.



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

off.'



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

editor.



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

wall.



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



1989: Freelance



1992: Woman, deputy features editor



1993: Best, features editor



1995: Woman's Realm, features editor



1998: Woman's Realm, editor



2000: Your Life, editor.



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