MEDIA FORUM: Can Emap regain its place in the women's sector?

Now that it is about to lose Elle and Red, Emap is surely going to launch new women's titles. But are the odds against it, Alasdair Reid questions.

For those experiencing it for the first time, the vigorous nature of Emap's corporate culture, with its irrepressible can-do spirit, can be pretty scary. What are these people on, for heaven's sake? Whatever it is, it's one of the reasons why there are clear grounds for optimism as regards the company's ability to respond to the loss of two of its flagship titles, Red and Elle.

Both were joint ventures with Hachette Filipacchi, but now that the Paris-based publisher has entered the UK market, following its purchase of Attic Futura, Emap will play no further part in managing the two titles. It's a spectacular setback - it's not every day that the flagships in your armada suddenly change sides.

But if any outfit can make light of this, it's surely Emap. This is merely a little local difficulty, a minor inconvenience. Everyone expects its response will be to launch new titles and Emap has a more than decent track record when it comes to new projects.

Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, isn't about to give away trade secrets to Campaign but he's clearly in a determined mood. He comments: "We will be competing vigorously with Hachette in this country - as indeed we do in France. But the situation will take a bit of scrutiny because the market is in so much flux currently. And you shouldn't forget that we already have a number of magazines that continue to compete aggressively. The notion that we are out of this market is wide of the mark. We are obviously excited about the prospects for titles such as New Woman, Closer, Heat and Pop to name just a few. Eleven years ago, before the Hachette joint venture, we had one title (in this market sector), New Woman. We built a strong business with Hachette and we'll do it again."

But is Emap about to discover that the rules have changed? As Hachette takes control of its own destiny in yet another territory, doesn't that merely underline that we've entered a new era, one dominated by a handful of global players? An era in which the global brands such as Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire have become so strong that it becomes hugely difficult to launch against them?

Keenan doesn't think so. "To launch and to compete successfully you have to cover all the bases. You need an exceptional editor with an exceptional vision, an innovative publishing strategy, a great team and strong advertising relationships. We are not innocent or naive enough to think that global brands count for nothing but it's certainly no guarantee of success. Ours will be a different offer. We can certainly compete in terms of innovation and we have developed strong relationships with high-end advertisers."

And it's certainly true that Emap can count on a multitude of friends and supporters. It's surprising how many people at London's top media agencies count themselves part of the Emap fan club. Well, actually, the surprising bit is to be found in the reasons they give. They cheer for Emap because, in agency terms, the company is a mainly UK-orientated hotshop which has resisted the culture of blandness that pervades some of its multinational rivals.

Which is perhaps ironic given that most media agencies are now outposts of multinationals and they are more than happy to give you chapter and verse on why consolidation is the only way forward for the media industry.

And surely the Hachette business shows more clearly than ever that Emap is stuck in that dreaded middle ground. It isn't technically a geographically challenged media owner. After all, it has subsidiaries in France, Australia and the US. But it doesn't possess any global brands. Nothing of the pedigree and pervasiveness of a brand such as Elle, at any rate.

The irony is that Emap realised several years ago the rise and rise of global media properties was inevitable and this clearly informed the thinking behind its ill-fated acquisition of the US consumer magazine company Petersen.

Even more ironic is the fact that the man who carried the can when Petersen began to fail, eventually being sold on at a huge loss, was Emap's then chief executive, Kevin Hand. After being forced out, Hand was snapped up by Hachette, and he has now returned at the head of the French forces. There's a plot of Shakespearean grandeur hiding somewhere in here.

But is Keenan right? Is it vision that counts? Unsurprisingly, some of his rivals are a touch sceptical. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, comments: "This is temporarily bad news for Emap and it may be permanently bad news. It is very difficult to launch a new magazine with a totally new name. It just takes much longer, because the international advertisers, particularly the Italians, the French and the Americans, take longer to make up their minds and to pay decent rates. When we launched Glamour, the title was an advantage as international advertisers understood the quality even before we'd launched. Emap has been clever with Heat but I suspect it will have a long haul with Closer - it isn't an international name."

And isn't Coleridge's point about advertiser inertia exactly the point?

Ian Rotherham, an international account director at Initiative Media, isn't so sure. He points out that although the theory is beguiling, in practice there are few multinational deals tied up between global advertisers and global magazine brands. "Unfortunately, the value isn't there on a tangible basis and research isn't consistent across different markets so it's difficult to measure the benefits of tying into a multimarket deal. It's not just a case of media owners coming along and saying, 'consolidate with us'. And it doesn't often happen that there is one single message on a single promotion across many markets," he states.

Steve King, the chief executive of Zenith Optimedia Europe, agrees. He isn't convinced that the issue is straightforward. He states: "Although the media markets appear to be dominated by big global players, most media is still organised on a local basis - and that's particularly true of magazines and radio. There's no reason why a publisher shouldn't be able to develop strong local products. In fact, there's no reason to suppose that a publisher who understands particular segments of the market can't be more fleet of foot than a big international media owner with their headquarters hundreds or thousands of miles away. But on the other hand it's true that the upmarket women's magazine market is slightly different. More than in any other category there seems to be cachet in having a consistent global title. Indigenous titles for women are rarely in the high-end fashion category. It may well be hard for Emap to come up with a unique new product in the Red area."

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