Media Headliner: Just don't let Jones hear you call GQ a lads' mag

GQ's editor explains what puts his upwardly mobile Conde Nast title in another league to its competitors.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron are smiling up from Dylan Jones' desk. They're both looking surprisingly stylish, but then they've been given the David Bailey treatment. The GQ editor is proudly perusing shots of the two political adversaries, taken by the legendary photographer, as part of an ambitious political portfolio to feature in the title's June issue.

"It will be a brilliant examination of politics in this country in 2008," Jones says. "Being able to do this type of thing and shoot Gwyneth Paltrow at the same time, and have that sort of juxtaposition of earthy domestic politics and international Hollywood celebrity, is great fun. I don't think there are many magazines in the country that could achieve something like that."

Celebrity is a major selling point at Conde Nast's GQ, both on and behind its pages. Big names not only flock to the GQ awards, but also to its roster of writers. AA Gill, Boris Johnson, Tony Parsons, Piers Morgan and The Independent editor, Simon Kelner, are all contributors. Jones even signed up Naomi Campbell, who's been interviewing socialist dictators for the title between catwalk shows. But an enviable contacts book alone does not a successful editor make, he says.

"I have a lot of friends in the industry, but I have very clear lines about what is business and who my friends are. I don't network. Why would you have to? It's about having ideas and having the ability to make those ideas happen," he says.

Jones has been editing GQ for nine years now: tantamount to a lifetime in the fickle world of magazines. Its readership has steadily risen for each year of his tenure, and its ABC figures revealed last week showed no stemming of that growth. Sales of the magazine, which celebrates its 20th birthday in December, were up 1.6 per cent in a tough market, especially for those at the smuttier end.

To say that Jones will not be mourning the demise of the "lads' mag" is something of an understatement. Loaded he deems a "porn magazine", and he dismisses FHM's relaunch, claiming it looks exactly the same except for "a few less severed limbs". The markets for FHM and GQ, Jones believes, have become mutually exclusive over the past ten years.

"I was reading a piece about the men's magazine market the other day and I felt offended that we were talked about in the same breath as those magazines because I despise them, really. Nuts, Zoo, FHM, Loaded and Maxim - they're all the damn same. We don't get them in the office anymore because, I'd say, editorially, there is no crossover. It's like comparing The Daily Telegraph with the Daily Star."

Jones, formerly the editor of i-D, The Face, Arena, The Observer Magazine and The Sunday Times Magazine, says he has aimed to bring newspaper journalism values to GQ. He believes GQ is far more political, more upmarket, has more current affairs than other titles on the market, and is operating in a "sort of competitive vacuum". Esquire, he acknowledges, is in GQ's market. "But," he says, "I don't want to bang on about the competition."

Jones' attitude to his competitors has not gone unnoticed among colleagues. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director at Conde Nast, says: "He has a maniacal and entirely commendable desire to beat his rival editors at every turn. He has a big collection of scalps now ... you wouldn't want to go up against him."

The GQ editor has a similarly unyielding attitude to advertising in the magazine. If you're not a GQ brand, you're not getting in. The magazine regularly runs sponsored supplements, all written and compiled by the GQ editorial team, on topics including travel, restaurants and the most powerful men. Shoehorning inappropriate brands into the title for short-term gain doesn't work for the client, the magazine or the reader, in Jones' view.

"To their credit, the commercial department don't come in here every five minutes and say: 'We've been approached by Lil-lets or Mars and can we do this thing?', because they know those sorts of things won't work," he says.

Covermounting is another strategy Jones has concluded doesn't work for the title. Giveaways, by their very definition, are not something of quality, and quality is what the GQ reader expects, he says.

The latest craze for going compact, embraced by FHM, Esquire and, more recently, Men's Health, is lost on Jones. Compact, he claims, is a "silly idea" for a luxury men's title. However, he does admit to some abortive experimenting with a compact-sized GQ shortly after the launch of Conde Nast's compact women's title Glamour. "We did a very small run, to see what it would be like, and it looked hideous and we burned them all really quickly," he explains.

Jones says that, rather than making radical changes, he concentrates on perfecting the title and keeping his focus on its core readers, who he describes as "21st-century yuppies".

Piers Morgan, a friend of Jones, describes him as a "proper editor" who never settles for second best. "Which is why GQ leads the pack by a comfortable margin," Morgan argues.

Even after almost a decade at the helm, Jones, who has written several books and is working on a biography of David Cameron, has no desire to eschew his editorship at GQ for other pursuits. "The most important thing is the magazine. I'd be mad to go elsewhere," he says.

- ABCs, p21

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 48
Family: Wife, Sarah Walter; children, Edie, nine, Georgie, seven
Lives: Paddington
Last book you read: Good and Faithful Servant by Robert Harris
Most treasured possession: Bookmarks made by my children
Motto: Big smile, short memory.