Media Headliner: Williams revels in being Bauer's 'king of cool'

After convincing Spielberg to guest-edit Empire, Stuart Williams knows he has the best job in the world.

When Stuart Williams had his first meeting with Steven Spielberg, it was hard for him to suppress his inner ten-year-old. In fact, sitting opposite Spielberg in Los Angeles on the set of his new movie, Williams felt as if he was about to have an out-of-body experience.

"I was talking to him, but in my head I was thinking Jaws, ET," Williams confesses. But he managed to keep his composure and admirably quelled a dark urge many of us would share; to ask Spielberg where he thought he went wrong with AI.

It was fortunate that Williams kept his feelings about AI to himself, because there was much at stake. Williams, the managing director of Empire magazine, achieved a major coup by getting Spielberg to guest edit the 20th anniversary issue of the title, out today (Thursday). For Empire readers, that's equivalent to God himself floating down to discuss flatplans and design tweaks.

And it's more than just a publicity stunt, Williams maintains. Between making his new film The Adventures Of Tintin and generally being the world's most famous film director, Spielberg found time to be very "hands on" as an editor, making phone calls, pulling in some A-list friends and approving layouts. Williams says: "He wouldn't have put his name to something he hadn't put his heart and soul into."

So what can we expect from the Spielberg issue? Everything, according to Williams: "This isn't just the best issue of Empire, I think this is the best issue of any magazine I have ever seen." Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Clint Eastwood appear, there's a first look at Tim Burton's version of Alice In Wonderland, and Spielberg's and James Cameron's new films and, also, in no small triumph, the cast of The Goonies are reunited. The issue also features the brands that advertised in Empire's first issue, such as Jack Daniel's, as well as new advertisers such as Jaguar.

Williams felt privileged to watch the director at work on set (apparently, Spielberg liked to wear four layers of clothing in the LA heat and put away an inordinate amount of caffeine-free Diet Coke). But for the Empire boss, hanging out with big names, actors and rock stars is all part of the job. He has been with Bauer, and previously Emap, since 1997, and been the managing director of media, music and film at Bauer (with a portfolio including the music magazines Q, Kerrang! and Mojo) since 2002. "I can't tell you the number of times I've been asked for drugs," he says.

While Williams firmly believes he has "the best job in the world", the fortunes of his titles have been mixed. Empire recently saw positive Audit Bureau of Circulation results, posting a circulation of 189,619, up 4.5 per cent on the year in the second half of 2008.

It benefits from the highest subscription rate of any Bauer title (43,000 at the last count) as well as a massive boom in cinema admissions and a magazine sector that has few rival big hitters - its main rival is Future's Total Film with a circulation of 85,891. Others are trying to get in on the act, however, and next month will see the launch of a new title - Filmstar from Blackfish Publishing. Williams is not perturbed: "Any launch into a market is a healthy thing."

His music titles have not fared quite so well. While Mojo was down more than 5 per cent, both Q and Kerrang! saw double-digit falls in the last set of ABCs. Williams counters that Kerrang!'s woes are cyclical and that its circulation rises sharply when a band it covers makes it into the mainstream. Andy Taylor, the head of magazines at Carat, believes the problem is more long term: "One of the challenges with music magazines is digital migration. The red flags will be out at Bauer for Kerrang!."

Q remains the market leader, however, and Williams is philosophical about its performance, which he believes is the result of weaning CD mounts from the covers over the past few years and the fragmentation of the music magazine market. He admits the title's revamp last year could have benefited from more marketing, but he extols Q's broad appeal. Q will also see the launch of its first international edition later this year.

A multiplatform proposition is, Williams believes, what advertisers want. Kerrang! has TV and radio channels as well as online and Q Radio relaunched last year. Brands also want an association with popular culture. "Film and music are two things which are always cool," he says. While he admits his titles are not immune to the current recession, Williams believes the strength of his brands will help withstand it - Q and Kerrang! are in their mid- and late twenties respectively, while Mojo is in its late teens.

His passion for the titles he runs is undisputed. He was a Kerrang! reader from the age of 14, bought every issue of Q and Empire as a teen and was a big fan of Mojo. Phil Alexander, the editor-in-chief of Mojo, says: "These brands are a reflection of the development of his own taste."

Paul Keenan, the Bauer chief executive, praises Williams' combination of commercial nous and his encyclopaedic knowledge of his sector: "He is one of the most knowledgeable people on film and music I have ever come across."

After 12 years, working with magazines he loves is still a novelty for Williams. He says: "I could never have dreamt when I was 18 that this is what I would be doing."

Age: 36
Lives: Bermondsey
Family: Partner, no kids
Favourite film: Airplane
Most played on iPod: Weezer's The Blue Album
Most treasured possession: A room full of CDs and DVDs Last book read
The Making Of The Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
Motto: Have a good time all the time