Feature

Why Red's editor feels like she's coming home

Sam Baker explains why her departure from the editor's chair at Cosmopolitan to take over Red felt right.

When Sam Baker, the editor of Cosmopolitan, quit last month to take up the same position at Hachette Filipacchi's Red, a magazine with half Cosmo's circulation, many observers were surprised.

Despite slightly declining sales, Cosmo remains near the top of the tree of the women's glossy market, making Baker's decision to leave an intriguing one.

Baker explains: "If you ask any editor, they will say there are a handful of magazines they would like to edit. I've been really fortunate. Red came along, maybe not at the perfect time, but then I believe in taking opportunities when they come up."

Her move, after two years at the Cosmo helm, is also something of a homecoming because she worked on the launch of Red when it was owned by Emap. "I remember sitting at my kitchen table working on ideas for the original dummy. It sounds a bit schmaltzy, but I felt like I left a little bit of my heart on Red. So to be able to go back and edit the magazine for its tenth anniversary feels right."

And despite its smaller circulation, there was a pull towards Red because it is the market leader in the increasingly strong thirtysomething market and one of the few women's monthlies to show an upturn. Its circulation rose 1 per cent in the January-to-June period to reach 221,940 copies.

Baker, who has just turned 40, says a title aimed at slightly older women appeals to her: "People say 'you'll never sell magazines to that age group' but Red created the market with the whole middle- youth concept. People always think they're going to be younger and more fun than their mum and Red really speaks their language. The market has grown because someone had to put a foot in the water. Red did that."

Baker is keen to stamp her mark on Red, but at the same time argues that the magazine already has a winning formula. Its combination of fashion, health and beauty advice and tips on entertaining and interiors already shifts copies.

She says: "I definitely think 'don't chuck the baby out with the bath water'. I said to Julie Harris (Hachette Filipacchi's general manager of women's group UK), 'You'd be mad to let anyone mess with this'."

Baker comes across as engaging and down to earth, qualities that Harris found attractive in her. "Red's former editor, Trish Halpin, was a good leader and very inclusive," Harris says. "We saw this style of leadership and clarity of vision in Sam. She's a real team player. She will work well for Red and well for Hachette."

Hachette's plans for Red are clear. With its tenth birthday looming, the magazine now needs to be treated more like a brand. "We need to evolve Red. We now need to see what we can wrap around it and how we can grow it," Harris says. We need to look at how else we can reach our readers."

And observers believe that Baker is joining a strong title. Claudine Collins, the press director at MediaCom, says: "The market that is thriving is the over-35s and, as a title, Red is thought of as a really superb, glossy magazine that really understands it readers."

Ask Baker what she has achieved during her time at Cosmo and she doesn't hesitate: "The High- Heeled Vote," she says. "One of the briefs I was given when I joined Cosmo was to re-inject the journalism and campaign spirit of Cosmo and not lose sales."

So in March 2005, Cosmo rediscovered politics. After a 32-year crusade to locate G-spots and expose male flesh, Cosmo's readers were offered interviews with the least likely of pin-ups: the three main political party leaders. The High-Heeled Vote project gave Baker the opportunity to quiz the three leaders about unlicensed minicabs, abortion and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Baker says: "When you're a women's magazine journalist, people constantly underestimate you. They think you won't ask the difficult questions, that you're a soft touch. This is actually a great advantage. The High-Heeled Vote renewed Cosmo's credibility in that area. It was about ensuring that women's issues are on the political agenda and that politicians take this group of voters seriously."

Baker is certainly an effective operator. In the six months to December last year, she lifted Cosmo's circulation to 478,000 copies, a 24-year high, in the face of tough competition. Before that, she spent five years editing Company, where she boosted sales by 50 per cent - just as her earlier relaunch of Just Seventeen as J-17 was credited with achieving a 220 per cent year-on-year rise. And in the six months between leaving Company and joining Cosmo, she also managed to write a novel, Fashion Victim, reported to have earned her a six- figure advance on both sides of the Atlantic. Her second novel, This Year's Model, is about to hit the shops. Her husband, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, is also an author.

Baker says: "Everyone asks 'how do you manage to do it?' Well, I don't play golf or football, I don't have a season ticket or kids that get me up at 6am. My husband's a writer and a workaholic. For me work is pretty all-consuming."

Determination is one of Baker's main characteristics. This is due, perhaps, to a knockback from the London College of Printing, which rejected her at 18 from its journalist training course. Baker explains: "Their exact words were that I 'didn't have what it took to make it in journalism'. You can't get much better motivation than that."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 40 last month. I suppose this is the point when I should start
lying
Lives: Between central London and Winchester
Family: Married to novelist Jon Courtenay Grimwood, one stepson
Most treasured possession: Haven't really got one, but I guess if I lost
my wedding ring I'd probably go all superstitious about the
significance!
Favourite place for a holiday getaway: North Mallorca
Last book you read: A proof of an upcoming novel called The Thirteenth
Tale. I couldn't put it down
Motto: Never ask anyone to do something you haven't done/wouldn't do
yourself