Media Forum: Can IPC put glamour in its DNA?

As it prepares to launch Look, Alasdair Reid asks if IPC can move into a new area.

If your life depended on the successful launch of a glossy women's magazine (not an everyday scenario, we admit, but bear with us) you might not, in the best of all possible worlds, choose IPC Media as your publisher of choice.

Conde Nast has glamour in its DNA, The National Magazine Company earned its spurs in the Swinging 60s and liberated 70s, while Emap successfully evolved a pop glamour of an even more youthful vintage.

So it's no surprise, really, to find sources at some of those rival publishers prepared to damn IPC's latest project - a "fast fashion fix" glamour weekly called Look - with faint praise. This may well be IPC's biggest-ever launch, with a budget of £18 million earmarked for its first two years. And it may well be one of the most thoroughly researched publishing projects ever - its editor, Ali Hall (formerly the editor of More), began development work 18 months ago.

But when all is said and done, we are still talking about IPC, aren't we? True, the company knows a thing or two about weekly women's magazines - but only if they're practical and homely like Woman's Own. Or celebrity focused like Now.

And, yes, InStyle and Marie Claire may have enhanced IPC's fashion credentials in recent years. But Look is a different proposition. When it hits the streets on 6 February, it will have to be exceptionally good to cut through the morass of weekly titles currently aimed at young women. What are the odds?

IPC cultural issues are certainly a factor, Dominic Williams, the press director of Carat, agrees - but they are by no means definitive in this case. "IPC has spent the past two years analysing this market. The advantage it now has is being able to assess what its rivals have done - what they've got right and what they've got wrong," he points out.

Williams argues that IPC can be relied upon to make the right investment decisions - editorially as well as on the logistical and marketing sides. But even so, Look isn't going to get an easy ride.

He explains: "What media owners don't realise sometimes is that just because they are launching a new title, that doesn't mean there will be an extra pot of ad money around. So it will be tough - but I'm sure IPC can deliver."

Lindsay Weedon, the media director at PHD, agrees that this is just far too important for IPC to get wrong. And the popularity of celebrity-led weeklies suggests that there is a significant potential audience out there. "So, yes, there's a gap there as long as the focus remains on fashion and as long as it's targeting a younger audience to Grazia, and a younger, more downmarket audience to its own stable of glossy fashion monthlies. They don't want to cannibalise share from, for example, Marie Claire," she reasons.

But, she adds, it might take deep pockets to establish this newcomer. That's perhaps the biggest issue for IPC. She ponders: "Who is going to advertise in Look? Traditional fashion brands and high-street retailers have shrinking budgets as online shopping continues to grow, so looking towards FMCG advertisers will be important."

Nik Vyas, the group press director at ZenithOptimedia, points out that young women's disposable incomes are growing in step with their consumption of magazines. And this new title seems to be exactly in the right groove. He explains: "The main engine fuelling growth throughout the entire magazine market is the weekly sector - in particular, the celebrity and hybrid-celebrity magazines.

"The weekly sector has grown from the situation six years ago when there were two titles selling 900,000 copies each week, to the situation now where we have ten titles shifting a combined total of four million copies. This, added to advertiser support and the huge investment IPC is putting behind this launch, means it'd have to be handled incredibly badly from now on in for it not to be a success."

Simon Mathews, the founder of Rise Communications, says Look can certainly find a role for itself as Grazia's slightly younger and naughtier sister. "The fast fashion idea and the concept of a decade of decadence is based both on consumer reality and the kind of clarity that means that even I understand what Look is all about," he says.

And he concludes: "Can IPC do it? Well, it certainly has the budget, it has clearly done the thinking and it has the track record in this (weekly) arena - the successes of Pick Me Up and Nuts indicate that Look is here to stay."

MAYBE - Dominic Williams, press director, Carat

"IPC has to get this right - and probably will. I think the market has more generally been a bit nervous about IPC. After all, it hasn't launched anything for a long time, while companies like Emap seem to launch about two titles a year."

YES - Lindsay Weedon, media director, PHD

"With huge spend, tons of research and Hurrell and Dawson behind it, Look should establish itself as the high-street bible it aspires to be. Aside from Grazia, there's no real weekly title meeting the fast-forward fashion retail trend."

YES - Nik Vyas, group press director, ZenithOptimedia

"Women's consumption of magazines is growing alongside a rapid growth in their disposable income, so Look is a marriage made in consumer heaven. It would have to be managed really badly for it not to be a success."

YES - Simon Mathews, founder, Rise Communications

"The beauty of Look is that it doesn't have to reshape the fashion magazine stereotype because Grazia has already destroyed that particular myth and consumer choice is all the better for it."

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