Media Headliner: Unorthodox Manson has to keep High Life flying

The ex-Loaded editor will bring fresh ideas to High Life, but will he be able to deal with the BA client? Emma Barns reports.

Fresh off a plane from Thailand, where he has spent the past two weeks indulging his passion for Thai boxing, Scott Manson is about to walk into the contract publishing ring as the new editor of British Airways' High Life magazine.

The one-time editor of IPC Media's men's monthly Loaded, who has a reputation for cutting-edge, youth-culture journalism, is perhaps a strange choice to head an in-flight customer magazine.

However, Jules Rastelli, the managing director of Cedar Communications, the publisher of High Life, doesn't seem to think so: "Scott's CV is not orthodox, but he has shown he can turn his hand to different subject areas. We were incredibly impressed by his enthusiasm and by the strength of his ideas to take the magazine forward."

Appearing far from jet-lagged and talking 19 to the dozen while also screening a barrage of other calls, Manson enthuses about the role he's walking into in a few days' time. "High Life's such a great magazine. Compared with other titles I have gone on to, it's doing so well there's not all that much I'm going to have to do."

However, it's unlikely he's going to be standing idle; some tinkering is certainly on the cards. Following the title's relaunch in August 2003, which saw a redesign and a major content shift, placing a greater emphasis on fashion, travel and lifestyle, Manson's brief is to refresh the magazine, rather than to instigate huge change.

He already has some plans for the title, the kind you'd expect from a former editor of Loaded: "I want to make the magazine more accessible and modern for readers. There will be more box-outs and more navigation and I want more humour and fun in the features. It probably won't be noticeable over the next six months but after that there will be a definite shift."

This could be where Manson's first challenge lies and it appears BA has its own ideas about exactly what changes should be made. Alex Finer, the former editor of High Life and the leader of its relaunch, left the title last July, reportedly following clashes with bosses at BA about the future direction of the magazine.

The restraining hand of a client could well be an issue for Manson, who has spent much of his journalistic life working on consumer titles and who is emphatic that he will not be a "caretaker editor".

Manson is not fazed, however, and feels that the customer magazine experience he has gained over the past six months as a consultant for the contract publisher Square One will stand him in good stead. "I'm very comfortable talking to clients," he says, adding: "BA is great to work with. It isn't on top of you - it trusts us and it's very happy with the product."

Eric Fuller, the IPC ignite! group publishing director and Manson's former boss, agrees that crossing over from a consumer magazine background will involve its challenges, but says: "Scott is very personable and, as a capable and experienced journalist, I am certain that he will cope very well."

Manson's career has involved a two-and-a-half-year stint on Loaded, including editing it for a year, before he left in 2003 to work on a youth-travel project that never came to fruition.

Before this, he edited the dance magazine Ministry, reversing its fortunes and turning it into the third-biggest music magazine of the time. As the editor of these good-time magazines, Manson admits he was more than happy to lead from the front, whether this meant clubbing hard or running from the boys at MI5 after projecting a picture of Kelly Brook on to their Vauxhall Cross building.

Such antics suggest that Manson is well equipped for the challenge he has set himself of raising High Life's profile.

After Loaded, Manson returned to Square One, where he had spent two years after graduating, to launch and edit Player, the magazine for Gala Casinos.

Landing the High Life job is a step up; as contract publishing roles go, it's the cream of the crop. As well as the great travelling opportunities inevitably involved, Manson will be walking into a successful operation. The grandaddy of customer magazines, High Life launched in 1973 and became the first really successful title of its kind. Still the biggest in-flight title, it now has a circulation of 199,173 and an enviable profile of 90 per cent ABC1 men and women. Its advertisers include all the main hotel groups, Sunseeker yachts and various luxury brands.

However, the magazine did see a 4.5 per cent circulation dip this year.

Rastelli says that in the face of increased entertainment opportunities for people on board, the magazine's main challenge is to be the first thing people pick up. "There must be new reasons why readers want to spend time with the magazine and Scott's job will be to develop these," he says.

Rastelli even goes as far as to suggest that the magazine could be developed in such a way as to make it a paid-for title.

Despite Manson's initial assessment of there being "not all that much to do", it looks as if he may have his work cut out. With his wealth of experience in consumer publishing and recent forays into contract publishing, he seems well-placed to meet the challenge and to put High Life on the map, if not on the shelf.


Age: 34

Lives: Clapham, south London

Family: Single

Favourite newsstand magazine: GQ - Dylan Jones has done a fantastic job

Describe yourself in three words: Inventive, driven, calm

Most treasured possession: 70s Omega Seamaster watch, passed down to me

by my grandad

Interests outside work: Thai boxing, gig-going, travel (obviously),


Best holiday destination: Maldives - as a scuba diver, it's a dream


Biggest professional achievement: Lifting sales of Ministry from 20,000

to 100,000 in the space of six months