Media Headliner: Psychologies editor offers a personal insight

But will it be enough to attract the big-spending advertisers to its pages, Ian Darby asks the title's editor, Maureen Rice.

Hachette Filipacchi seems to have been playing its own elaborate version of the hare and the tortoise in recent years. Since its UK chairman, Kevin Hand, said - soon after its UK launch in 2002 - that the company would become the third- or fourth-largest publisher in the UK through launches and acquisitions, it appears to have done precisely nothing.

No launch, no acquisition. You could be forgiven for thinking that, unlike rivals such as IPC Media, Emap and Conde Nast, which have been launching magazines with gay abandon, it has decided to adopt the tactic of staying in its shell, waiting for its rivals to run out of steam.

But now there are signs of Hachette rising to the challenge. Last week, its first UK launch, Psychologies, hit newsstands to a generally good reception.

Maureen Rice, the editor of the new title, which is based on a French magazine of the same name also published by Hachette, has been on board since January, plotting the launch. The magazine was shrouded in the usual secrecy and was handed the obligatory project name, "Project Alfred" - a reference to the Psycho director, Alfred Hitchcock.

A former editor of magazines such as Options and 19, Rice worked on new-product development for IPC until 1998, when she went freelance, contributing re-gular features to The Observer Magazine and The Mail on Sunday's You magazine.

Psychologies is aimed at women aged 30 to 55, and eschews the fashion-led approach of many women's monthlies in favour of more in-depth features that probe, in Rice's words, "what we're like, not just what we look like". Features in the magazine carry headlines such as "Break the grip of negative thinking" and "The day my life changed". Its central "Dossier" section probes the largest question of all: "Who are you?"

Hachette wants to build a circulation of around 100,000 for Psychologies, pretty niche in the general scheme of things, but a useful adjunct to sales of its Elle and Red titles. So what tempted Rice away from her pretty fulfilling freelance career? Certainly not the money ("I was earning as much as a freelance as I am now," she says), but because she felt challenged by what Hachette was trying to do.

"I was freelance and happy doing it, but Hachette was proposing a magazine with no fashion," she says. "It wasn't going to be a fast glossy but slow and wordy. So I said: 'When can I start?' It's a really interesting project."

Rice says that the time is right for the UK launch of Psychologies, eight years after it appeared in France, because there has been a mood shift among women. She argues that some have "paid too high a price" for work success and that many are at a more reflective period in their life. "Fulfilment means more to women than work; they want to focus on other things. It's time for people, relationships and a focus on ourselves," Rice says.

To launch a magazine that contains no fashion but long features on mental wellbeing might be risky, but there are signs that it can offer something different to advertisers. Its core target in terms of advertising is premium beauty products, and the first issue contains ads from Estee Lauder, Chanel, Lancome and Givenchy. Rice says premium advertisers from the car and financial sectors will come on board in the second issue (American Express has taken a page).

And the title has some support among media buyers. Claudine Collins, the press director at Media- Com, says: "I think people will hate it or love it. I personally hate it because it plays on women's insecurities - you're either into self-help or you're just not, and I fall into the camp that thinks it's mumbo jumbo.

However, the editor has done a great job and it's put together well and offers something different to the market. The only question is how they will sustain it month on month."

Rice answers this by saying that the magazine won't put everything in one feature on, say, shyness, but will pull out one strand and then keep revisiting the subject to sustain it. She says that there will be improvements on the first issue in terms of picture use but that each issue will feature a celebrity on the cover (Meg Ryan is the first cover star).

Rice and her team, which she recruited from scratch, are already working on ideas for the fourth issue, so she no longer sees it as a new launch but as an established title that will improve each month.

But does Rice worry that, given the niche nature of Psychologies, it might fall by the wayside in a competitive market? "I was very worried," she confesses. "Prior to launch, I didn't know or think about whether it would work in terms of sales but now I'm quietly confident."

Much is riding on the launch for Hachette and while on its own it won't propel the publisher into a bigger league, it should prove a useful learning experience. "It's another string to Hachette's bow," Collins concludes.

"It is a good-quality magazine that brings something new to the market."

Although Psychologies is hardly the most conventional launch, the Hachette tortoise has stirred and the race is on.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 46 Lives: Ealing Family: Husband, two children Most treasured possession: I don't own anything I couldn't bear to lose Describe yourself in three words: A bit geeky Alternative career: What career lets you stay in bed all day and read? Last book you read: Don Quixote Motto: Try again, fail again, fail better