Media Headliner: I am not here just to revisit the 'good old days'

Back in the hotseat at FHM, Anthony Noguera is determined to restore the title's original brand values, Ian Darby writes.

Anthony Noguera, the editor-in-chief of FHM, is fired up about relaunching the title. Even to the point of creating a bullish coverline that states: "Under new management." He's even excited about presenting the changes to the media world.

Talking Campaign through a presentation that has been honed for media agencies, he is enthusiastic, yet serious about his task and occasionally venomous about FHM's rivals. He hopes this approach will pay off commercially.

Much of this involves extended fashion, style and technology coverage, and the (re)introduction of travel to the pages of FHM. Key areas for advertisers. As Noguera puts it: "Advertisers still love FHM. It really does contribute to sales of their products. Any editor who says they don't understand ad revenue is not doing their job. It's 50 per cent of a magazine's revenue."

Noguera, 37, has been in the FHM role since February, an appointment which marks a return to the publication he joined in 1996, and edited between 1999 and 2001. Emap corporate issues aside (FHM, along with Emap's other consumer titles, is effectively up for auction as it considers offers), is this a case of "back to the future" and investing in a safe, proven talent? In some ways you can't blame Emap. When Noguera edited FHM, it burst through the one million sales barrier (albeit only twice).

However, Noguera counters suggestions he has returned to the title to relive the "good old days". There are new challenges ahead, and he will retain overall editorial responsibility for other Emap men's titles that include Zoo and Arena - both of which he has previously edited.

"I wouldn't have come back unless I thought I could do something exciting that would surprise people," Noguera says. "Looking at the next ABCs (released next week), FHM will be down obviously (its current ABC is hovering just above 500,000). But there is no reason why we shouldn't stabilise and get it going again. We're never going to do 1.2 million again, but we will be by far the largest men's magazine. Loaded and Maxim don't appear to have a business plan."

On the downside, doubters say that bringing Noguera back is a risk. While sales did increase during his tenure at Arena, Zoo's plummeted by more than 21 per cent in 2006, the first full year he was in charge there.

However, he does have some big qualities. One is a strong eye for design - he says he does all the covers himself and the first gives an indication of what is to come. It features the former FHM poster girl Rachel Stevens, yet amazingly she's wearing a T-shirt. Compare this with covers for Loaded, Maxim, Zoo and Nuts (all boast examples of glamour models in various states of undress) and it does look very different on the newsstand.

There are a couple of reasons for introducing this more subtle coverage of "girls". He says: "It's not going to be too long before Tesco or someone says 'We've had enough of this' and pulls titles off the shelves." But more fundamentally, Noguera believes that an attempt to steer the magazine firmly into the men's mid-market will pay off. He says the trouble for FHM has been that it has stripped out all the "sticky bits" (an incongruous statement, given the overriding presence of girls with large breasts over the years). What he means is that, over a five-year period, he wants to reinstate the original FHM brand values of "funny, sexy, useful".

Over time, he says, FHM reacted to the market by downgrading the useful stuff (technology, fashion, food, etc) to overemphasise the funny and sexy elements. Now, in the relaunch, readers get a section from women, agony advice from "The Centurions" (three men who are over 100) and fashion coverage that features real men (such as mountaineers and athletes), rather than "17-year-old models".

Noguera says: "FHM used to be social oil, getting the sexes to interact. We want to take it back to the time when girlfriends were reading the magazine with their men. Now it will be a title that men won't be ashamed to read on the train or at home."

The project also involves the development of and its mobile service. Plans are still being worked on, but FHM has already evolved its weekly e-mail bulletin. "We want to turn it into the fastest-growing men's brand on Earth," Noguera reveals.

As to the market around him, Noguera, who is regarded as one of the more stylish and thoughtful of men's magazine editors (a bit different to his time spent on the rock title Metal Hammer, according to some sources), says there are reasons to be cheerful. And he feels there is room in the men's market for the launch of an upmarket paid-for men's weekly. He was working on such a project before Emap's problems mounted and launching went out of the window.

Overall, despite the threat of free titles and online offerings, he says of the men's market: "It's still selling 3.1 million magazines a month, there is the launch of Short List (the working title of the new free magazine developed by the former FHM editor Mike Soutar), and changes are happening at FHM and Esquire, so there is at least something positive to talk about instead of 'the death of the men's magazine'."

For now, Noguera faces an uphill battle in restoring FHM's print fortunes and ensuring it remains one of the largest global men's brands around. This will be as much about staving off the online threat from outside the publishing world as trying to kill off Maxim and Loaded.