MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: FRANK. Why Frank launch is fighting to capture its target audience. Is the gap in the women’s market lucrative enough? Alasdair Reid investigates

’Still sexy’ was one of the coverlines of Frank’s May issue. Wishful thinking, perhaps. The line was flagging an article about 57-year-old Julie Christie but it could have been about the magazine itself. This, after all, is Frank’s patch - it’s for women who’ve grown up but have no intention of losing it just yet. Sophisticated women in their late 20s and 30s (and beyond) who’ve lost none of their energy, style and attitude with the passing of the years.

’Still sexy’ was one of the coverlines of Frank’s May issue.

Wishful thinking, perhaps. The line was flagging an article about

57-year-old Julie Christie but it could have been about the magazine

itself. This, after all, is Frank’s patch - it’s for women who’ve grown

up but have no intention of losing it just yet. Sophisticated women in

their late 20s and 30s (and beyond) who’ve lost none of their energy,

style and attitude with the passing of the years.



They are tired of reading advice in Cosmopolitan about how to give blow

jobs, but they’re not yet ready for membership of the Women’s Institute.

(Not quite - but, perhaps revealingly, Frank’s main May coverline was

’country life’ and there was also ’hot wax’ about ’hip’ Barbour

jackets.)



The gap is there. And there has to be a market in the gap. In theory,

Frank couldn’t fail. Especially as it was the brainchild of Wagadon, the

publisher whose Arena and Face titles defined 80s cult style.



Problem is, practice isn’t matching theory. Frank’s in trouble.



Last week it lost its editor, Tina Gaudoin, who adopted a strategy

pioneered by disgraced Cabinet ministers and decided to spend more time

with her family. The rumours are that she jumped from an unhappy ship,

and of differences over long-term strategy - Wagadon wanting to push

Frank more into the mainstream; Gaudoin resisted.



Launched in September last year, Frank’s first issue sold 140,000.

Advertisers struck deals on a long-term circulation guarantee of

100,000, which the publisher, Lou McLeod, reckoned was ’very

achievable’. Many agencies believe its circulation is now below 40,000 -

though they are being offered new guarantees of 60,000 until the end of

the year.



What’s gone wrong? Was the theory wrong in the first place? Or has

Wagadon merely failed to produce the right product? Can it be turned

around? Wagadon is not prepared to comment. But Catherine Timberlake,

media manager at Mediapolis, is unshaken in her belief that there’s a

market for a magazine like Frank. ’With Wagadon, the expectations have

been high. I think some people were talking about a circulation of

130,000 plus. On the other hand, this is not a mass market - and I hope

they’re not going to push it in that direction.’



To Timberlake, Frank is the only real cult style magazine specifically

targeting women - and that’s why it been supported by advertisers. ’They

like it. It’s different, unique. It’s on the right lines. It catches the

right temperament,’ she adds.



Tim Kirkman, the head of press at Carat, says: ’Fundamentally, we like

this magazine and we believe there is a market for it.’ The problem, he

believes, is one of marketing. ’Wagadon is not selling the magazine

properly to agencies, it’s being a bit sniffy about what ads it takes,

and so they don’t have the revenues to market it properly to

consumers.’



It’s not hard to find people who were - still are - desperate for Frank

to be a success. People who so wanted this to be their magazine. They’ve

found it impenetrable, self-referential and ’up its own fundament’, as

one critic put it last week. ’It’s aimed at a narrow clique of

high-fashion Londoners. They are in a minority. For the rest of us, it’s

inaccessible.



It’s trying too hard,’ another buyer argues.



Laura James, the press director of New PHD, is prepared to question

whether there is a gap in the market. ’If Frank repositioned itself as a

cross between Emap’s Red and Vanity Fair, it might work.



But another problem it faces is the fact that Vogue has become not just

a fashion bible but a well-written title, able to spark debate and cover

women’s issues in an articulate and intelligent way. That’s what Frank

is up against.’



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