Media Headliner: The 'Pocket Rocket' who became a Cosmonaut

NatMags is hoping new Cosmo girl Justine Southall can help sales of its celebrated women's title take off.

Justine Southall, the new publishing director of The National Magazine Company's Cosmopolitan, is in an upbeat mood when she sits down to talk to Campaign.

"I'm eight working days in, so obviously I'm an old hand already," she laughs. Yet, as the energetic 45-year-old continues talking, you're left with the sense that she might not be joking. She's the sort that can pack a lot into one week.

Southall, known as the "Pocket Rocket" around NatMags' Soho hallways, has stepped into some sizeable stilettos by taking charge of one of the most iconic magazine brands in the UK. She replaces Jan Adcock, who last month stepped down from the role after six years having contracted pneumonia. Filling her shoes will be tough, but Duncan Edwards, the chief executive of NatMags, says Southall was the obvious choice.

"Justine is one of the country's best operators in the women's publishing market," he says. "She has an enormous amount of energy and passion, she's very driven and she's superb at what she does. She has worked in women's magazines for a long time and I don't think there is anyone with a better CV for the job."

Southall's magazine career is extensive: she was the launch publisher of Eve magazine for BBC Worldwide; she also served as the group advertisement director for BBC's lifestyle group and was the group advertisement director for IPC's fashion and beauty group, a role that included responsibility for Marie Claire. She arrived at NatMags in 2001 as the publishing director of the young woman's group, comprising the women's glossies She, Company and Zest.

Southall says: "I've worked in glossies for 20-plus years and I just love them. It's fascinating to be working on such an iconic magazine; Cosmo has a really powerful relationship with its audience and readers that other titles don't have. The brand is just so encompassing. It's a phenomenally challenging marketplace, but Cosmo has managed to pretty much stay at the top of the game for 35 years, although you can't stand still."

While it's a stretch to describe Cosmo as still "at the top" given it lost its circulation leadership of the women's glossy sector to Glamour six years ago, Southall will work closely with the title's recently installed editor, Louise Court, in a bid to consolidate its position.

Southall plays down the "subtle tweaks" the pair have made to the magazine, which will roll out with the July issue this week. She adds: "We are guardians of the brand, but it isn't about us - the brand DNA of Cosmo is all about empowering women to be the best they can be, and we need to make sure Cosmo continues to embody that while also being fresh and evolving along with each generation.

"Our challenge is to make sure we are not making changes that undermine the brand. Louise and I are not coming in to make huge fundamental changes, it will be more subtle than that. But we do recognise that we need to up the ante, and part of that is telling people how great Cosmo is."

The next step in Southall's strategy is to launch advertising and marketing campaigns that will target both the industry and consumers, a move that is long overdue according to some critics. This activity will begin with a TV campaign that launches this month to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

From the market's perspective, the biggest challenge for Southall is to drive circulation. It is currently 455,649, a mark it has hovered around for the past ten years. Sales were down by 1.3 per cent over 2006, but they bounced back up in the second half of the year.

It's fair to say that Cosmo retains a loyal readership in a market flooded with choice: of its readership of 700,000, 300,000 don't read any weekly titles, and it has a successful online presence, which attracts 250,000 unique users a month.

Observers credit Adcock with delivering this stability, but argue that the task is now to take things to the next level. Vanessa Doyle, the acting head of press at Initiative, says: "Circulations have remained stable and its sales consistent, the challenge is to try and grow rather than stay around the 450,000 mark. It's a key title for NatMags and there's a lot of competition - it's got to start growing more."

Steve Goodman, the managing director of print trading at Group M, says: "The Cosmo brand is such a powerful brand, but I feel they probably haven't taken full advantage of that lately. There is so much potential to develop the brand further across a number of platforms. If they can do that, I see Cosmo's future as very positive."

Dominic Williams, the press director at Carat, agrees. "It needs more innovation. NatMags needs to use the strength of the brand across other platforms: the market is crying out for cross-platform deals, they really need to push that. It's a strong brand, but they need to keep investing in it to keep it strong," he says.

While the market acknowledges Southall's "phenomenal experience in the magazine marketplace", there is concern about her lack of online experience. Yet, there is a sense that what Southall doesn't already know about digital, she will soon master.

"Our online offering is already very strong, but we need to keep developing this," she says. "We are all working at a rate of knots; it's very challenging, but you have to do it going forward. If we are going anywhere, we're only going up."

Age: 45
Lives: Richmond
Family: Happily married, with two sons aged 15 and 11
Most treasured possession: Not really a "possession", but my children
Interests outside work: Friends and family; anything involving talking
and eating - not at the same time, clearly
Favourite magazine: I just don't have one - I have loads!
Favourite TV show: Boston Legal
Favourite ad: Citroen "Transformer"
Last book I read: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
Motto: "Work hard, have fun ... if in doubt, apply more lipstick!"