A new editor and the prospect of a redesign in the next few months would usually be the symptoms of a magazine in trouble. And there are plenty of reasons for thinking that pressure could be building on the management of Emap Elan's Red.
The 'middle-youth' market that the title pegged out as its territory when it launched in 1998 has recently attracted a lot of attention from rival publishers. BBC Worldwide's Eve is regarded by many as having launched itself successfully into a similar demographic. Now Bauer's Project Helena, set to arrive in the spring with a broad 25- to 40-year-old target market, looks ready to square up to Red.
However, in the eyes of much of the industry, Red shouldn't be giving its publisher sleepless nights. The nine-month editorial reign of former Elle launch editor Sally Brampton has seen circulation consolidate at around 180,000, with a much-needed injection of seriousness into its editorial. As a result, Red has drawn in top-end advertisers such as Mercedes-Benz, Cartier and Dolce & Gabbana.
A significant difference of opinion appears to have opened up between Emap Elan's top brass and media agency observers as to what constitutes the best strategy for Red. Brampton herself was sent back to the literary world in late October amid reports that Emap management felt her mix of 'serious' interviews with the likes of Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam was taking Red away from its target audience. Red's rivals seem to agree. Simon Young, the head of Bauer's ad sales house The Publishing Consultancy, trumpeted the arrival of Project Helena with a reference to the 'ersatz-intellectual silliness' of middle-aged women's titles.
Now, all eyes will turn to incoming editor Trish Halpin, who is stepping up from deputy editor to take over the Red hotseat. The 33- year-old is a product of Emap, spending stints as deputy editor of More! and New Woman before moving to Red two years ago. She seems to have been brought in with a mandate to restore Red's broader, lifestyle focus.
'Trish understands intrinsically who the middle-youth reader is and she has some exciting ideas to take the magazine to the next stage,' Dawn Bebe, Emap Elan's women's media director and Halpin's former boss at New Woman, says. 'The current issue offers a glimpse of what's to come. We will produce a beautiful lifestyle magazine using our core values; fast, youthful and glamorous.'
Halpin herself seems keen to stress a broad-church approach to editorial content. 'I will be developing the lifestyle content across the whole of the magazine,' she says. 'I think Red's success lies in the balance of content. As well as fantastic fashion, inspirational interiors and easy entertaining ideas, there should be great writing about the issues and trends relevant to the lives of thirtysomething women.'
The new editor has already earmarked one area where she believes Red's 'Every-woman' appeal can be enhanced. 'One area that I will focus on in particular is health,' she says. ' I intend to commission great health journalists to write ground-breaking stories.'
Halpin seems to feel that a step down from the intellectual high-ground Brampton aimed for could also result in new types of advertiser being drawn to Red. 'Increasingly, with our homes, health and shopping content, we are keen to attract premium interiors, motoring and health advertisers,' she says.
But could this attempt to track back to a one-stop, 'middle-youth' lifestyle title revive criticism of Red's blandness?
Marie Oldham, managing partner for strategy at Media Planning, believes that any change must be carefully researched to ensure that it is, as Emap claims, moving the title back towards its core audience. She believes that what is crucial is a change in approach to the marketing of the title. 'Red is one of the few titles that is trying this but it hasn't done enough,' she says. 'They should talk to some major creative agencies about how to talk to consumers.'
Halpin seems in no hurry to set the ad industry straight on this matter. However, she hints that Red's response to the wave of spring launches will echo the TV campaign that greeted the launch of Eve this summer.
'Our above-the-line campaign has been consistent, though clearly you do more when you launch,' she says. 'Because Red is a premium product, it doesn't want a mass or downmarket audience but clearly we won't take the new launches lying down.'