Cosmopolitan eyes 'evolution, not revolution' as it develops digital proposition

Editor-in-chief discusses non-gendered language and why digital is so important to the magazine.

Cosmopolitan eyes 'evolution, not revolution' as it develops digital offer

Claire Hodgson has about eight pages of notes she has pulled together for her interview with Campaign. It’s her "safety blanket", she says.

The editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan is well-prepared as she reels off statistics for the title: "The brand has never been bigger or healthier or more successful than it has been now."

Despite Cosmopolitan’s print sales falling by 23% between July and December 2019 to 139,000, its digital side has been growing – online audience is up 19% year on year to 5.5 million, according to Hearst UK’s Google Analytics statistics, and its social media following stands at 5.4 million.

In the context of women’s monthly magazines, Cosmopolitan is still leading the pack, with Condé Nast rival Glamour dropping publication to twice a year and Bauer Media-owned Grazia's actively purchased figure standing at 71,085 – down 11% year on year.

So, for Hodgson, who took over from Farrah Storr in April 2019 after four years as digital editor, the focus has been on developing the online audience and working on what she calls the next iteration of Cosmopolitan.

"The term we keep using in-house is 'evolution, not revolution'," she says. "We’re thinking about it more as a brand than a magazine – Snapchat, a website, online, social media, video."

This included a refresh – "not a complete overhaul" – of the print product for the November issue. "It still has the same sections, but it’s about refreshing some of the fonts we’re using, just cleaning up some of the pages and making it feel a bit more modern," she explains. "We’re not reinventing the wheel."

Hodgson also says that the team is working harder with interviewees, especially on how they can help Cosmopolitan’s digital growth: "We’re asking ourselves: ‘Who do we really want to be representing our brand?’ But also really thinking about what that person will do for us digitally – so will they do a video with us and is it going to work well? Do we think they’re going to create high engagement on social media?

"Obviously, as with any publication, circulation and sales on the news stand is of vital importance, but it’s starting to think about it in a bit more of a selfish way as a brand and thinking what are we getting out of it as well."

This vision extends to the Cosmopolitan team, whom she wants to work more efficiently. She explains: "When we’re doing stuff for print, we’re thinking: how is this going to work digitally? And if it’s something we’re investing a lot of time into, then that really should be working harder for us.

"We never want to lose the quality of what we are doing in print and we don’t want to lessen the quality of the idea, but if we can tweak that to work harder in more places, then that’s the direction that we’re going in."

One example Hodgson provides is a cover interview for the September 2019 issue with Jordyn Woods that came out of a partnership for a YouTube series on the model’s beauty products.

Around that time, Woods was involved in a public spat with her best friend and TV reality star Kylie Jenner, after Woods was accused of cheating with Jenner’s boyfriend, Tristan Thompson.

The interview was one of the most-engaged and shared social posts, and in the first week had 55,000 page views, "which is unheard of for us".

On the controversy itself, Hodgson calls Woods "one of the sweetest, nicest girls" and muses: "Tristan was a much older man and in a position of power. She’s a 21-year-old girl and yet no-one was really attacking Tristan [on social media]."

Building communities in a declining print market

With the decline in print over recent years – the latest ABCs showed a year-on-year drop of one million actively purchased magazines among the top 50 titles to 9.3 million – Hodgson says the key to survival in this tough market is to build communities.

"For media brands to be future-proof, you need your audience to feel loyal and engaged, and have a part in what you are doing," she says. "And it's authentic and you believe they actually care about it.

"In print, it's about how we build those communities. We built a plus-sized fashion vertical online last year and we've got an LGBT page too."

A new section that Hodgson launched in the September issue is called: "What I can learn about love from…" So far this has ranged from a man discussing what the loss of his wife taught him to monogamy thoughts from someone who has slept with 100 women (he feels quite empty, if you’re interested).

Non-gendered language

Another move that Hodgson has made is a move away from gendered language to reflect the change in society. "We shouldn't presume we're talking about a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and it's something we've been doing online for the past year or so," Hodgson says. "We’re really thinking carefully about images too. Why should it be a man and woman holding hands?"

Hodgson, who is 31 and began her career at Bauer Media, is clearly in touch with the Cosmopolitan audience. Charlotte Taylor, senior group trading director at Spark Foundry, points out that the brand has worked "hand in hand with social media platforms".

Taylor says: "They have a social-first strategy because that’s where their audience is. That audience is not going to a supermarket; they are on their phones. They are not being brought down by circulation declines."

The diversification in magazine brands is driving value to advertisers as well as consumers, Sarah Johnson, publishing business director at Havas Media Group, explains.

She continues: "It underlines the fact that magazine brands should be commanding a healthy share of advertisers budgets, as they provide quality, brand-safe and engaging environments for their audiences."