Media: All about ... The National Magazine Company

Recent acquisitions signal NatMags' digital intentions.

It has been a busy time in the svelte but relatively sleepy world of glossy magazines - or at least in that corner of the market called The National Magazine Company. Two of its more iconic titles, Cosmopolitan and Esquire, have appointed new editors in the past couple of weeks; and if November was about editors, October was definitely a digital month, with NatMags acquiring Handbag.com from the Barclay brothers for £22 million, and inviting its managing director, Nancy Cruikshank, to take up an enhanced role as the managing director of a newly created division called Hearst Digital Network.

There's a certain symmetry about the management set-up at NatMags these days. When Duncan Edwards was promoted to chief executive in the UK back in May 2005, he retained the managing director's job, too, but Jessica Burley was promoted internally to relieve him of that role six months later, handling the print side of the company (the monthlies at least; the weeklies, housed in a joint venture with ACP, are managed by Colin Morrison).

With Cruikshank's appointment, we now have a print managing director and a digital managing director both reporting to Edwards - a structure that reflects the renewed importance of digital at NatMags.

Much, of course, will depend on the success of Handbag.com - and the omens are good if you believe that the likely winners in Web 2.0 are those brands that survived the dotcom crash.

1. Cosmopolitan's new editor will be Louise Court, currently the editorial director of ACP-NatMag, the joint venture division housing the weekly magazines Reveal, Best and Real people. She will replace Sam Baker, who is soon to take up the editorship of Red. Esquire's new editor is Jeremy Langmead, currently the editor-in-chief of Wallpaper* magazine. He succeeds Simon Tiffin, who, in time-honoured fashion, is leaving to explore new avenues.

2. These are just the latest in a long line of senior editorial appointments this year - Burley has had a busy start in her new role, working in conjunction with the group editorial director, Lindsay Nicholson. Sian Rees was poached from Burda to be the new editor of She back in June; in April, Julia Goodwin landed the editorial hot seat of House Beautiful; and in March, Louise Chunn became the editor of Good Housekeeping.

3. Even more significant, arguably, were Burley's commercial appointments. In July, Simon Foster arrived from Burger King NW Europe to fill the position of marketing director; and in September, James Hayr was poached from Emap, where he was the creative media director, to be NatMags' strategic sales director. He will also head a new division called NatMag eNgage, set up to offer cross-platform solutions to advertisers.

4. Handbag.com was launched in 1999 as a joint venture between the Telegraph Group and Boots. It was the only significant women's portal to survive the dotcom crash of 2001 - but only just. In October 2001, its founding managing director, Dominic Riley, departed by mutual consent to be replaced by Cruikshank. She offered impeccable new-media credentials, having been the commercial director of Conde Nast Online, as well as the managing director of the (now defunct).tv channel at Sky. Handbag.com, with Cruikshank still in charge, was one of the assets acquired by the Barclay brothers when they bought the Telegraph in July 2004.

5. As well as the flagship Handbag.com site, there are now three sister sites: Getlippy.com is aimed at 18- to 24-year-old women; Allaboutyou.com is for 35-plus women; and Gomamatoday.com is a specialist pregnancy and birth site. One in three British women currently reads a NatMags product, but the newly acquired sites offer large numbers of users in the remaining two-thirds of the female population. There are clearly cross-promotion possibilities here.

6. Handbag joins NatMags' expanding and recently revamped portfolio of digital assets. In March, it acquired Netdoctor.co.uk, a consumer health website founded in 2000; and this year it has also launched Youandyourwedding.com and Babyexpert.co.uk. In recent weeks, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Country Living have relaunched their sites, and with Cruikshank's appointment, the company's digital content creation structures will now be revamped.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

NATMAGS

- Most publishers are currently revisiting the question of how best to sweat their existing print assets in the digital arena, but their focus so far has been significantly more on the content, as opposed to the sales and marketing side. However, agencies say that NagMags' blend of digital assets is potentially an attractive one. The heritage sites such as Cosmopolitan.co.uk speak for themselves, and, in Handbag.com, the company now has an established and compelling generic brand, too. It has a track record with most of the significant advertisers in this space.

ADVERTISERS

- However, on the ad sales side, if NatMags (and indeed the whole publishing sector) is to get the best out of advertisers, it has to take a more integrated approach in conversations with advertisers and their agencies. Unfortunately, many agencies across town aren't yet ready themselves to have those sorts of sophisticated conversations.

- Mark Gallagher, the press director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says these latest NatMags moves are encouraging. "Handbag in particular will achieve greater synergies than it did in the past - both in terms of content and ad sales," he says.

- Vanessa Clifford, a managing partner at MindShare, agrees. "These developments are all signs of a company thinking more outwardly," she says.

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