Media Headliner: How FHM has gone from lads' mag to 4D man

The editor, Colin Kennedy, tells Ian Darby about FHM's more mature target market and how the Bauer title has grown up.

In a business not short on labels and positionings, Bauer Media has unleashed yet another: "The 4D man." Extensive research from the publisher has revealed that young men, as the result perhaps of freakishly accelerated genetic evolution, are infinitely more complex than they were a few years ago.

Bauer claims that the "lad" attitude has been "squeezed out" by men who are "confident, individual and have varied interests and passions". A trend that will undoubtedly benefit a publisher that owns such individual and varied male-oriented properties as FHM, Zoo, Empire, Q and Mojo.

But perhaps Bauer's attempt to reinvent the context of the men's publishing market should be applauded. At least its actions demonstrate a genuine confidence that its products will weather the storm of the downturn. Even the manner of the unveiling of the 4D research, at a swanky do for media planners and buyers at the top of London's Centre Point tower, suggested that Bauer is striving hard to recover some of its swagger.

Joining in with Bauer's attempt to start a "debate about the condition of manhood" is Colin Kennedy, who has been the editor of its monthly lifestyle title FHM for a year now. Bauer's new-found confidence must be especially welcome for Kennedy, because the comment surrounding FHM has seemed relentlessly negative for that year. Last summer, it lost its longstanding crown as the bestselling men's lifestyle title to Men's Health. And FHM's circulation has since declined further (albeit at a slower rate) to 231,235.

Since then, Kennedy has been accused in some quarters of tinkering with a doomed format - based on some early tweaks being overhauled again for a redesign in March. However, talking to Campaign after the 4D event, Kennedy says that the process of change has been deliberately painstaking: "It's been 12 months in the making, a year of constant refinement.

Our research shows that the market now wants consistently great execution month after month. It's important that people talk about FHM - it's about creating a bit of buzz maybe we've lacked. Perhaps we were taking it for granted, so it's about getting this back."

Kennedy has form as a successful editor - during three years at the helm of Empire, he built its reputation and increased its circulation to break the 200,000 barrier. He moved to take a wider role at Bauer as the digital creative director but says the chance of replacing Anthony Noguera as the editor of FHM - a job he describes as "the most exciting and demanding job in men's entertainment media" - was too good to pass up.

He refutes suggestions that he was handed a turnaround job but did feel that changes needed to be made. FHM now has three easy- to-navigate sections, longer word counts on features and (this is perhaps where Kennedy deserves the most credit) "platforms with plenty of mileage". He is especially proud of "The Editor's Challenge", a Top Gear-inspired stunt where he gets two FHM writers to compete against each other to complete a challenge (this month "to become famous in a fortnight"). Kennedy explains: "Top Gear, the TV show, was very influenced by FHM the magazine; it's become famous for its stunts, so we wanted to find a magazine equivalent."

In common with most magazine editors, Kennedy is obsessive about the cover of his title, and believes that this is where FHM most lost its way in a bid to compete with others in the market. He says his focus moving forward is: "Covers that people talk about. We've experimented with it but Kelly Brook was a breakthrough in delivering sexy appeal with wit and flair. I want sexy covers, not sexy covergirls. Girls as you've never seen them before."

The Brook cover he refers to (this June) featured the model-cum- actress on a beach with a lion. The coverline read: "Come on Boys! Kelly Brook roars for England." It's definitely a twist on the usual sharply airbrushed shots of mod-els. August's issue features "the Earth's sexiest woman", Marisa Miller, pushing a lawnmower. It remains to be seen if this slightly tongue-in-cheek approach will deliver circulation results but, in any case, Bauer is intent on talking of FHM as a "multiplatform lifestyle brand". But what about the circulation? Is Kennedy bothered that he's being beaten by a title (Men's Health) that specialises in six-packs of the workout kind?

He says: "If people think it's a share battle between a couple of titles, then they're missing the bigger picture. For certain ad campaigns in specific sectors, I suppose we are in a battle but I think of Men's Health as a specialist title. We're an entertainment package and I don't think many men are arriving at newsstands to make the choice between Men's Health and FHM."

For what it's worth, FHM under Kennedy seems to be stabilising its circulation and its content has acquired some kick and spark. Gone are the days of the title selling 500,000 but Kennedy's ambitions are that the magazine remains relevant for at least the next decade: "FHM almost became a broadcast medium in the 90s and that's not a sustainable role going forward; it's about building relationships and depth. I absolutely believe that we have crafted a position and created a product that we can build for the decade to come. The magazine will be at the heart of it and will remain market leading in its class."

If twentysomething man is truly 4D, FHM may have a chance.

Age: 37
Lives: Muswell Hill, North London
Family: Wife, Caroline; expecting our first child
Most treasured possession: Rufus, the whippet
Interests outside work: (are you really a '4D man'?) I have the standard
interests many men share (movies, music, football), plus a few private
quirks (military history, comics, US politics). Does that make me 4D?
Motto: "Beer. The cause of - and solution to - all life's problems"
(Homer Simpson)