Media Headliner: It's a time of transition for IPC Ignite! and its MD

IPC Ignite!'s Eric Fuller hopes that hiring Dominic Smith as the new editor of Nuts will be a huge success.

Eric Fuller admits that the coming few weeks and months could prove to be the most important and critical in his career. Back in November, Fuller made his biggest decision since becoming the managing director of IPC Ignite! - the appointment of Dominic Smith, the editor of FHM in Australia, to succeed Phil Hilton as the editor of the division's biggest property, Nuts.

Fuller, 54, has been a director at IPC for six years, following stints spent at both Emap and Dennis. He was promoted from the position of publishing director of IPC Ignite! to managing director back in September following the departure of his predecessor, Tim Brooks, who left to become the managing director of Guardian Newspapers.

In turn, this move prompted Phil Hilton, the launch editor of Nuts and one of Brooks' closest collaborators, to do some soul searching of his own. He concluded that, having had his nose to the Nuts grindstone since 2003, the time had perhaps come to step back a bit - and IPC sources go out of their way to emphasise how amicable the whole business has been, with Hilton doing all he physically can to facilitate a smooth handover.

Last week, the transition phase began with Smith jetting in to London; Fuller will be anxious that all does indeed go smoothly - because the division has been through a period of unaccustomed upheaval. "This was an incredibly important appointment for me to make," Fuller says. "It's critical that we get this right. Phil Hilton had been here since pre-launch, and it was important we found someone as good as he (Smith) is."

Nuts is the market-leading men's weekly (its 304,785 circulation is well ahead of Zoo's, its Emap rival, which is on 228,024). However, Fuller says that it's not easy maintaining momentum at a title that leads its sector, not just in the circulation stakes, but in creative terms, too. But he is convinced that Smith is the right man to pull it off.

Fuller concludes: "Zoo tends to copy (most of) our innovations - which is in itself a measure of our creative leadership. We need to keep the margin of that leadership as wide as possible. You can never stand still.

"The real challenge is to maintain impetus without making change for change's sake."

There is apparently no truth in the rumour that Smith decided to return home because his Emap Australia colleagues were making life completely unbearable for him as the Ashes debacle unfolded. After all, his appointment as the new editor of Nuts back in London was announced on 29 November last year. This was two days after the end of the first Test, it's true - but, at that point, optimism, however deluded or ill-founded, was still an option.

Smith flew back last Thursday in more than good time to prepare for his new job, which he begins in mid-February. Unfortunately, we're unable to gauge his opinions on cricket, or indeed any other topic, because Emap, to whom he's contracted to until the end of the month, blocked him from talking to us. This, it is worth reflecting, is not the action of a confident publisher - and serves as a powerful reminder of Nuts' dominant position with regards to Zoo.

Despite Nuts' flat circulation performance across the first half of 2006, it is favourite to extend its circulation lead when the next ABC figures are published in February. And Fuller's move for Smith appears to be a shrewd one. He was seconded to Australia a year ago by Emap in the wake of Zoo's launch over there. Zoo had filched a number of key staff from its FHM stablemate, so Smith was drafted in to ensure that FHM didn't suffer as a result. However, he was at Emap in the UK when it launched Zoo and is said to have a keen insight into the UK men's market.

And, as Fuller points out, Smith's CV ticks some incredibly attractive boxes: "Dominic doesn't just have experience in the men's market, he also has experience on a market leader and (having been the managing editor of Heat as well as FHM in the UK) he has that magical weekly track record, too."

However, some observers argue that, whatever Fuller and his new editor choose to do, we shouldn't expect a period of fireworks where circulation is concerned.

The market has settled down a bit following a somewhat volatile 2006, in which men's weeklies continued to steal readers from their monthly counterparts.

That's certainly the viewpoint offered by Vanessa Clifford, a managing partner at MindShare. She adds: "There was a period when many people thought that the weeklies would continue to grow at the monthlies' expense, but actually, if you look at the monthlies now, they're doing OK - and they certainly remain attractive from an advertiser's point of view.

"I don't think we're going to see anything spectacular from the weeklies from now on - I don't think we're going to see a new editor doubling a magazine's circulation overnight or anything. I think we've entered a period now where we're looking for good sustained performance."

But Jane Wolfson, the head of press at Initiative, isn't convinced that the story will be that simple. She reckons that Zoo, which was managing to stay in touch with Nuts in 2005, but fell terribly behind in 2006, could find itself getting squeezed (although she's far too polite to make the obvious Nuts-based pun) during 2007.

Nuts, she reasons, will maintain its market leadership in the men's weekly market, leaving Zoo open and vulnerable to developments taking place on the web. Developments such as Dennis Publishing's online weekly, monkeymag.co.uk, and to the concerted efforts of celebrity weeklies to attract young male readers, especially when there are sexy contestants to be found on Big Brother.

So there could be plenty of opportunities for Nuts if Fuller plays his cards right and proves that he has made the right appointment with Smith. "Nuts has more of a personality than its rivals. That's one thing the new editor absolutely has to continue," Wolfson says.

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