CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CLOSER - Emap's Closer seeks niche in already overcrowded market

Closer must find its place in an increasingly volatile market, Ian Darby reports.

Emap Consumer Media has had a busy time of late. While fighting its corner in heated talks with Hachette over the future of Elle, New Woman and Red, it has also been laying plans for its biggest launch since Heat.

The hope is that the launch of Closer will go more smoothly than that of Heat, which came within a whisker of being closed down before being relaunched under the stewardship of Louise Matthews, its managing director.

Matthews has overseen the rapid rise of Heat (its circulation has increased by more than 100 per cent in the past year to 478,924) on the back of a boom in celebrity titles. She is also behind the launch of Closer. Along with Ian Birch, Emap Consumer's editor-in-chief, she has been working on the concept for more than a year.

Matthews says: "It was originally an idea of Birch's to offer a fresh and contemporary take on the women's market. It will have two key staples - real-life stories and celebrity news and gossip. That mix will be unique in the market."

Closer's editor is Jane Johnson. Latterly the executive editor of the Sunday Mirror, she has also been the assistant editor at the Scotsman and the Daily Record.

The feeling at Emap is that Closer can capture a share of the £300 million women's weekly market by luring readers from rival titles such as IPC Media's Now, Chat, Woman and Woman's Own, as well as H Bauer's That's Life and Take a Break.

It is aimed at women aged between 30 and 50, older than Heat' s target market of "sophisticated twenty-somethings". It's a changing market, and while the celebrity-focused titles, including Heat and Now, are enjoying circulation booms, the likes of Woman and Woman's Own have seen theirs fall by 4.4 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively in the year to June.

Matthews draws an unusual profile of the Closer reader: "She'll be very middle England, attend family gatherings, watch Comic Relief, and probably likes car booting. It's aimed at every woman."

Closer will contain celebrity coverage but will be less obsessed with the minutiae of celebrity lives than Heat. It will try to be warmer in tone and less waspish than Heat. Closer will offer a lifestyle section, puzzle pages and a TV listings section. Emap claims that it will be a "step above" other weeklies and its price point, £1, reflects this.

"We're creating something fresh in that market," Matthews says. "At the traditional end it has become a little tired. Take a Break and Chat are delivering with a focus on real-life stories, but many of the weeklies are stuck in a rut."

IPC's attitude to the launch is very much wait and see. Jane Ennis, the editor of Now, says: "There's always room to come in and do well, but there's also room to come into the market and lose millions. Launching a magazine is not a risk-free business. Once you've created a winning formula you're prone to somebody copying that formula. I hope Closer isn't going to get closer to Now than Heat already has."

Emap has high ambitions for Closer and expects it to achieve an early circulation of 300,000. It is backing the launch with £10 million of advertising through BMP DDB, as well as promotional support. Quiet Storm is Heat's agency, but Matthews picked BMP for a different approach.

"I think it's a more grown-up product and Quiet Storm is spot on for Heat. Trying to juggle two big beasts is a tough job week in week out," Matthews says.

BMP's approach has been to work on concepts that plug into the name of the magazine. Phoebe Bryans, the board account director at BMP, says: "We've taken our clues from the name of the magazine and are motivating readers with the idea that they are getting closer to the lives of celebrities and ordinary people."

Matthews has been busy assembling a launch team of 30 for Closer and admits that the past few weeks have been hectic. But is the nation's fascination with celebrity, fuelled by a constant stream of reality TV shows, set to wane?

Matthews says: "There's no sign of this. With Closer there are two key staples, so even if the celebrity fascination wanes we're protected and can boost the real life stories."

Emap's strategy with Closer is to build a strong circulation and attract advertising on the back of it. However, Matthews says the policy is to keep advertising volumes low and sell at good rates.

But will it work? Greg Grimmer, the executive director at Optimedia, says: "It took them two attempts to get Heat right. Speak to any magazine publisher and getting a launch right first time is almost impossible. Glamour did it, but they were importing a successful concept. I'm sure Emap has a sound business plan to make it work on a less-than-record circulation."

Mark Gallagher, the press director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "Now targets the older reader. There's celebrity but also fashion and real people. With Closer you have to have a point of difference from Heat because otherwise they'll cannibalise its readership. I don't think there's a need there for Closer - I think they're creating one. All publications are shoehorning celebrity coverage in, but consumers don't necessarily mind and Emap is capitalising on this."

It's no surprise that Emap is attempting to emulate the success of Heat.

But that title's success has been in a market that has seen lesser celebrity-focused titles decline. Finding an audience for Closer without cannibalising Heat's readership is a tall order.


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