Who'd be in men's magazines right now? Economic storms and online trends have hit the men's magazine market harder than most. Last year saw the closure of Maxim and Arena from different ends of the monthly market and a coinciding slump in the readership of the lads' weeklies Nuts and Zoo, their decline seemingly encapsulated in the recent depressing spat between Bauer's Zoo and its outgoing contributor Danny Dyer over offensive remarks that featured in his column.
Standing to one side in all this is ShortList, the free magazine distributed to men in London and other major UK cities (including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow) each Thursday morning. Though perhaps not entirely unrelated to the fact that readers don't have to pay for it, ShortList's circulation is in the ascendancy and, last week, the magazine's independent owners decided to introduce its first redesign since it launched two-and-a-half years ago.
Although ShortList's team hasn't extensively marketed the editorial changes to media agencies or readers, it has been a six-month labour of love overseen by the editor, Terri White. In addition, Georgina Turner, the magazine's commercial director, is now charged with converting the title's tweaked look and solid free circulation into revenue growth.
Talking at ShortList's cramped Holborn offices, where meeting and boardrooms have been turned into offices for newly arrived executives at its expanding parent company ShortList Media, White says that the changes amount to a natural and positive evolution for the title - "anticipating what readers want" and making it "more masculine, modern and cool".
She claims that the changes, which include introducing fonts that are "more masculine" and a new technology section, will reinforce its positioning as "intelligent, upmarket and targeting affluent executive ABC1 men". This confidence seems to be summed up by the magazine's Mad Men-inspired cover story last week headlined: "Why it's OK to be a man again."
So is ShortList heralding a return to the laddism of the early 90s? Hardly. It retains a resolute "no nudity" policy so that male commuters can browse the title at home. And recent in-depth features on issues such as depression coupled with the greater focus on technology (to capitalise, as White puts it, on "executive tech hunger") smack of a publisher taking great pains to appeal to the premium end of the advertising market.
Alistair MacCallum, the managing director of Omnicom's media agency M2M, says: "It seems a subtle redesign rooted in a desire to insure its position as a viable outlet for upscale brands."
1. ShortList launched in September 2010 and has built an audited ABC circulation of 513,148.
2. The editor, White, took over from Ross Brown a year after its launch. She is a former deputy editor of Maxim and member of the Nuts editorial team under its editor Phil Hilton (now the editorial director at ShortList Media). White oversaw the publication of its largest-ever issue of 72 pages last summer (last week's relaunch issue weighed in at 64). Turner joined ShortList last December from Associated Newspapers. Even before this, ShortList had built a strong commercial reputation - landing, under the advertising director, Chris Healy, the Print Sales Team of the Year award at last year's Campaign Media Awards.
3. The magazine is part of the ShortList Media group, which was created by the former men's magazine editor Mike Soutar to launch the title. Since then, the company expanded in October 2009 with the launch of the free women's weekly Stylist. Other senior figures at ShortList Media include Soutar's former IPC colleagues Karl Marsden, the managing director, and Hilton.
4. ShortList is backed by investors including GLG Partners, a UK hedge fund, the film producer Matthew Vaughn and the French Connection founder Stephen Marks. Its chairman, Sir David Arculus, the former chief executive of IPC, also has an interest in the business. Soutar attempts to preserve an entrepreneurial spirit at the business and has talked in recent weeks of further expansion. The focus is likely to be on launching an online version of Stylist (ShortList already has www.shortlist.com) while the company is also looking at launching other free titles in the UK and abroad.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Media agencies suggest that the changes are positive but relatively minor. While some find that ShortList now looks more "busy" and crowded, they generally welcome the tweaks as introducing a look that seems closer to that of its sister title Stylist.
- In addition to sports and entertainment brands, ShortList has consistently appealed to cosmetic brands such as Nivea and Wella, but the changes, including a greater focus on new gadgets, seem partly aimed at bringing in greater numbers of technology advertisers.
- Alistair MacCallum, the managing director at M2M, says: "What ShortList has done brilliantly is attract the grooming and cosmetics brands. It delivers large numbers of upscale men - there have been some small issues with distribution but because it's hitting so many men, it's delivering good numbers."
- While the majority of agencies seem reassured that ShortList will remain a relatively cost-effective way of targeting a large male audience, critics suggest that the title's grooming page, which in the first issue of the redesigned title featured a picture collage of soaps, is a bit too "girly" for comfort.
- Agencies praise ShortList's progressive approach and say that, like other "free" media properties, its sales team tends to work hard to maximise opportunities beyond traditional display advertising. Supporters back its collaborative approach and argue that the editorial changes will provide a strong platform for conversations about new "special projects" (recent content activity with brands has included tie-ups with Uniqlo, Nivea and Lucozade).