Media: Behind the hype - Low-key B Happy launch leaves agencies sceptical

Northern & Shell will have to compete with NatMags and Conde Nast, Ian Darby says.

Things are hotting up in the women's monthly market. After the soaraway success of Glamour, launched in 2001, and the less spectacular but still impressive headway made by the likes of Eve and InStyle, the sector has been relatively launch-free of late.

Early next year that will change, with Conde Nast propelling its "practical" homes and style title Easy Living into the market and Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell planning to launch B Happy, a title heavily influenced by Conde Nast's US title Lucky, in the UK.

The approach of the two publishers couldn't be more different. Last week, Conde Nast hosted a series of lavish breakfasts at London's Berkeley Hotel to discuss in detail with retailers and media agencies the launch next March of Easy Living.

It was a statement of confidence and intent from Conde Nast, which feels that it owns the sector, as well as a further sign that the advertising recession is ending.

Northern & Shell, on the other hand, is playing its cards much closer to its chest. While we know Easy Living's ad rates, content and launch date, N&S is not revealing such details about B Happy.

We know it will be monthly, will focus on fashion and beauty and will have high production values. It will also have a multimillion-pound TV launch. Beyond this, Northern & Shell isn't saying anything, although sources confirm the title will be inspired by Lucky, which launched in the US in 2000 and takes a more real-life and less rarefied approach to fashion than the likes of Vogue.

The launch of B Happy is something of a departure for Northern & Shell, which specialises in weekly celebrity titles such as OK!, New! and Star.

The launch of a glossy monthly, with a reliance on advertisers ahead of cover-price income, is something new entirely.

Or maybe not. OK!, as Northern & Shell never tires of pointing out, is a more premium product than many of its rival celebrity titles and has attracted some illustrious advertisers, as well as building an impressive circulation of 553,777. But does Northern & Shell have the ability to break the stranglehold established players such as Conde Nast and The National Magazine Company have on fashion advertisers?

Agencies are sceptical, even to the point that some doubt whether B Happy will ever see the light of day. They argue reports have suggested Northern & Shell is launching a free London newspaper and a men's weekly called KO!, but nothing has been forthcoming.

Jane Wolfson, the non-broadcast buying director at Initiative, says it will be difficult for B Happy to impress advertisers if Northern & Shell isn't more open. "It tends to launch and not tell people, then come in and show us things right at the last minute," she says.

Relationships with agencies may also take a while to build up again, following the departure last week of Northern & Shell's ad controller for magazines, Victoria Hazell. Her responsibilities are to be split among other ad controllers.

Agencies see some logic in launching B Happy, arguing that its positioning will be very similar to Northern & Shell's Star, which launched with the idea of providing monthly style content on a weekly basis. Some expect the launch of B Happy could put the future of Star in doubt because of this similarity and a feeling that the content will work better as a monthly.

But agencies are still unsure what to expect. "Still nobody (at Northern & Shell) is talking to us and I will believe the launch of B Happy when I see it, or when Northern & Shell comes in with a dummy version," Wolfson concludes.


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