CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - MAGAZINE MARKETING. Hachette and Dennis have taken on communications planners, Ian Darby writes

Everybody should have one, they're the new black. A trendy communications planning agency appears to have become the essential accessory to any self-respecting marketing strategy.

Last week, the publishing groups Hachette Filipacchi and Dennis each went out and got themselves one. Hachette hired Unity to work across a portfolio of brands including Elle, Red and B. Dennis appointed Naked Communications to work on its men's title Maxim.

While neither Hachette nor Unity will talk about this on the record, it seems that the terms of the relationship are still being thrashed out before ink is put to paper.

Hachette undoubtedly has a pressing need to assess its titles and their marketing support.

Last year, Hachette, a French publishing giant, acquired Attic Futura as a launch pad for its UK operations. It then dissolved its joint venture with Emap and is now the sole publisher of the former Emap titles Elle and Red. Still in the nascent stages of development, Hachette has not yet put advertising support in place for its new titles.

Unity was well placed to work on the business having worked previously with Kevin Hand, Hachette's UK chairman, during his time as Emap's chief executive.

Claudine Collins, the press director at MediaCom, says: "Hachette has strong brands and it needs to advertise and promote. We all know the strengths of Elle, Red and Sugar but it obviously wants to try to do things in a different and better way than Emap."

Unity's task is likely to encompass everything, from looking at the publishing frequency of Hachette's titles to devising an advertising strategy for key magazines. However, the scope of its role has yet to be fully defined.

While Hachette's communications needs are linked to its new portfolio of titles, the issues that Naked faces with Maxim relate to the vagaries of the men's market as well as identifying what to do with a £3 million cash pile pushed Maxim's way by its owner Felix Dennis.

Sales of men's magazines generally stabilised in 2002 after large falls in 2001. Publishers concede, however, that the market is pretty close to saturation and there is not much to be chased in the way of new readers. Maxim, with a current circulation of 270,159, is expected to lose a few thousand readers in its next Audit Bureau of Circulations figure.

According to Andy Semple, the publishing director of Maxim, it has revamped its editorial during the past 18 months and now wants to communicate this.

It is not necessarily looking for a huge circulation lift but an awareness campaign might achieve this as well as the ultimate goal of moving the profile of the Maxim reader slightly older and more up-market.

Amelia Hibbs, a strategist at Naked, says: "We are undertaking a research project to get to the heart of what the brand is about. Dennis knows the audience very well but it's useful to have objective input. The issue is to identify how Maxim should stand out and distinguish itself."