MEDIA: CELEBRITY MAGS - Celebrity produces its own headlines. Last week's sale of the Express newspapers to Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell is set to give the titles access to sister publication OK!'s links to celebrities

Given the preponderance of celebrity coverage, indeed the way it dominates even broadsheets like The Daily Telegraph, the purchase of the Daily Express and The Daily Star by OK! publishing house Northern and Shell should only be surprising in that it took so long to come about.

Given the preponderance of celebrity coverage, indeed the way it dominates even broadsheets like The Daily Telegraph, the purchase of the Daily Express and The Daily Star by OK! publishing house Northern and Shell should only be surprising in that it took so long to come about.

Paul Ashford, the millionaire businessman who secured OK!'s market dominance through buying rights to celebrity weddings like Posh and Becks and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, has reportedly promised investment of up to pounds 10m in the group.

While this announcement has been greeted with some joy by journalists at the Daily Express - who believe under investment by United News and Media's Lord Hollick has contributed to the paper's woes - staff are concerned that initial evidence does not suggest this money is on its way. Courier accounts have already been cut and only senior editors are allowed to agree bike pick-ups. 'This doesn't look like a big investment,' said one staff member.

Meanwhile, OK! battles it out with it's rivals Now and Hello! with remarkable success. After years of dominance by Hello!, OK! has pulled ahead in the circulation game. OK!'s ABC is now 551,901, ahead of Hello!'s 495,349 and Now's 396,303. Now editor Jane Innes, on the other hand, has just picked up the British Society of Magazine Editors' editor of the year award for the third year running and is seen by many in the industry as a threat to her two rivals.

'We've found in the past that Now can be the more bitchy title and we've sometimes decided to steer clear of them,' says one celebrity PRO. 'With Hello! and OK!, the staff are always very nice to deal with and you are guaranteed glowing acres of praise. If there is a difference between the two, it's that Hello! will often do people who are less well known than in OK! - they may do the queen of a country you've never heard of, for instance.'

PROs point out, however, that the decision to do an 'At Home With' feature is not always right for the star. 'Basically, the magazines pay you money,' points out a celebrity agent. 'If they didn't do that, we wouldn't advise clients to appear in them. It's a time consuming business - usually a day at the celebrity's home - and they don't confer any credibility if you are seeing your client as a brand. In the end, we leave the decision down to the client and the decision is - do you want the money?'



OK!

Martin Townsend

Position: editor

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: ABC 551,901

'Things are going well for us at the moment. We've been getting first place in circulation terms on specific issues since 1999, but this year we went on top for our full ABCs for the first time. We tried TV, and had our own show on ITV which was a partial success. It was great fun too, but didn't do much for the magazine so I don't think we'll do that again. We've put up a website and we've gone on to interactive TV with Open.

'And then of course we've bought the Express papers. I think the Express thing is going to work out well. Obviously it's early days, but we want that paper to be number one just like the magazine is. If they ask for our help we'll help them and if we want their help we'll ask.

'Given the interest all papers have in celebrity there's an obvious area we can help them out and that's relationships. The magazine has done well out of real relationships with celebrities, their agents and their PROs and we can help the papers with that.

'Our staff are really young. There are no egos on the magazine and I think the PROs appreciate that. When they call us up they don't get any arrogance or any 'couldn't possibly' attitude. I think they totally get us and the way the magazine is so we don't really have any problems with them.

'The long-term relationship thing helps that too. It's always been a feature of the magazine to build relationships with stars and that's paying dividends in circulation terms.

'My background is in music journalism so when I came in two-and-a-half-years ago with all those contacts with record labels and bands we were able to open that out to a much younger group of stars and readers. I suppose that's a strong point of difference between us and Hello!.

'We'll never be complacent, but I don't think we have too much to worry about from the competition at the moment, whether that is other magazines or the tabloids which keep trying to nibble at our heels.'



Hello!

Maggie Koumi

Position: editor

Frequency: weekly

Circulation: ABC 495,349

'It's a funny time on the market because, on the one hand, it's booming but, on the other, it's pretty tough. When we launched in 1988, all the papers were snooty about us. At that time, their celebrity interviews were a head and shoulders shot above a couple of columns. Now it's completely different. The in-depth interview at the celeb's home is common currency and everyone is copying us.

'The papers obviously have one advantage in that they can cover a story the next day, as we saw with Jade Jagger's car crash, but we can take a deeper look at the story, run more pictures and take time with things.

'We also try to cover more than just celebrity in Hello!. For instance, when Prince Phillip's mother's tomb was about to be bulldozed we did some in-depth reporting. I think it's important for us to keep the balance right.

'There is so much celebrity coverage around now that I fear a backlash is on its way. We're preparing for that - working on the visuals, making sure our harder factual stories are strong.

'That's also the way to get round some of the more outrageous bidding wars going on at the moment. You have to calculate how much the picture is worth in terms of cover sales. Fortunately the price of paparazzi shots has returned to a reasonable rate.

'It used to be pounds 100 a shot, spiralled to around pounds 5,000 a few years ago but it's back down now. In many ways Princess Diana's death changed that. The greedier paparazzi had to change the way they did business.

'The other thing that's changed is the presence of celebrity in everything. Charities, health and beauty products - almost everything really. We find their PROs ring us to see if we want an exclusive in exchange for a donation to a charity. We're happy to talk to them, but that can be a bit dangerous as recent press reports have shown. So we have to be very careful. Hello! is not in the business of prominently featuring products in pictures of a wedding.'



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