PROFILE: Women's worker - Dawn Bebe, managing director, Hachette Emap Magazines, women's media - Emap Elan

Think of the top execs of women's glossies and images of back-stabbing in Jimmy Choo shoes, and Prada handbags at dawn spring all too easily to mind. Annoyingly, Emap Elan's managing director of women's media fails to conform to type. Despite her aptly exotic name, her stylish appearance (70s-style linen blouse and skirt, and trendy pointy shoes) and the fact that her portfolio includes style-bible Elle, Dawn Bebe, (pronounced babe) 36, is resolutely approachable, down to earth and funny.

Speaking of her brief spell as a Blair babe in 1998 when she advised the government on how women's titles could be used to help it improve its communication with the fairer sex, she jokes: "I told them everything I knew. They used me and then cruelly cast me aside."

Joking apart, four years on she feels her advice has had an effect on New Labour's approach to women's magazines. "Before then, they had by and large ignored women's magazines but now they're much more alive to using women's titles as a means of talking to women in a trusted environment."

And according to the latest set of ABCs, the role that glossies play in women's lives has rarely been more important. Emap's figures suggest that between July 2001 and June 2002, average newsstand sales per month were up 1.7% year on year. Bebe attributes the health of the glossies to the launch last year of Conde Nast's Glamour and Time Inc/IPC Media's InStyle.

"Since the launches of Glamour and InStyle, media spend in this sector has quadrupled year on year. Both titles invested heavily in TV promotions, which has driven women to the newsstand and made them buy more magazines per person, she says.

The newsstand is the primary battleground of the women's glossies with extensive use of cover gifts. From January to August this year, Bebe estimates that there were 55 covermounts or gifts across 13 titles. Cover gifts such as flip flops (Elle) or a glossy health-and-fitness supplement (Red) have helped the key titles in Bebe's portfolio to what promises to be a respectable performance in the ABCs out this week.

According to Bebe, Red, New Woman and Top Sante are expecting to post their "best ever ABCs year on year and are up slightly period on period.

Elle, down 6% period on period and year on year in the last ABCs, is down year on year and up slightly period on period. Glamour has overtaken Cosmopolitan by 500,000 copies. Marie-Claire is in a "punch-up with New Woman, and Company, Eve and InStyle are "struggling to find a positioning".

When I interview Bebe, the ABCs have yet to be released and she refuses to speculate about rivals' performance.

Bebe's involvement with advertisers and the business side of publishing is a recent development. The majority of her 12-year stint at Emap has been on the editorial side, first editing teen title Bliss then, in 1998, as editor of New Woman, relaunching the title whose circulation had been in free-fall. The relaunch resulted in a 24% year-on-year increase in sales and led to a clutch of awards including the Periodical Publishers' Association Consumer Magazine of the Year Award and Emap's own internal award for best-improved magazine.

Believing things couldn't get any better, and wanting to have a bigger say in driving the future of the title, she accepted Emap's offer to become publishing director of New Woman.

In 2001, she was promoted to managing director of Emap's women's media division with responsibility for eight titles including Elle, Elle Deco, New Woman, Red, Top Sante and Elle Girl. Her colleague, Emap Elan's editor-in-chief Ian Birch, says that Bebe's balance of editorial and business skills really works both for advertisers and for the magazine.

"Dawn is able to take editorial insights and suffuse them into the business side. She's managed to forge relationships with advertisers and go to them with big ideas - there's not much difference between a great idea for a front cover on a magazine and an idea for a great advertising campaign - it's about what's different, innovative and what benefits both brands."

Looking ahead, Bebe faces numerous challenges. Emap has plans to launch "one or two magazines in the women's sector in the next few years. Shorter term, there is the issue of what will happen to Emap's joint-venture publishing agreements with Hachette, which covers Elle, Red, New Woman and Top Sante, and has been affected by Hachette's purchase of Attic Futura. But her passion for the women's market and women's issues in general suggests this is where she is likely to stay. "Women's magazines are incredibly influential in the way women are perceived, their place in society and what they are able to achieve. They reflect and affect what is happening in women's lives by providing the right information to support what women want to achieve. It's one of the most interesting and rewarding areas to be in."

1990-1991: Reporter, Just 17
1991-1993: Launch editor, BIG!
1995-1996: Launch editor, Bliss
1996-1998: Editor of New Woman
1998-1999: Publishing Director New Woman
1999-2001: Women's media director, Emap Elan
2001-date: Managing director, Hachette Emap Magazines, women's media,
Emap Elan