Media Analysis: Drapers still cuts a dash in fashion

With London Fashion Week just around the corner, Robyn Lewis assesses Drapers' influence and how it is coping with international online competition

As autumn approaches, most of us - fashion-wise, at least - are not thinking much further ahead than retrieving our jumpers and coats from the back of the wardrobe and maybe investing in a new pair of winter shoes.

Not so for those in the fashion industry, however, who, with London ­Fashion Week (18-22 September) approaching, are already starting to contemplate what to buy for spring/summer 2007.

In such a fast-moving sector, trade publications providing insider knowledge can prove invaluable, and Emap-owned weekly fashion trade ­title Drapers is certainly that.

But, like all trade titles, it is facing competition from online rivals. So what role does Drapers - originally Draper's Record until it merged with Menswear four years ago - now have?

‘It's definitely still influential,' says Charlotte Thomas, recently appointed global comms director at British luxury brand ­Aquascutum.

‘Drapers is still considered to be the industry bible and there aren't any ­contenders to that really. We ­actively target it with our business and product news, and recently we gave it an ­exclusive on our board restructure and an interview with our CEO.'

The Drapers Awards (which each year recognise the most innovative and passionate fashion retailers and brands, from the big players to small independents) continue to be taken very seriously in the industry.

Wide audience reach
The title's target readership is fashion retailers, from the large chains to independents - or ‘from the Arcadia Group to a boutique', as marketing manager Clare West puts it.

She adds: ‘We are also read by ­students, designers, wholesalers and wider industries with a connection
to fashion - manufacturers, shop­fitters and the property industry, for ­example.'

This June, ABC put Drapers' circulation at 14,264 - a level at which it has been pretty steady for the past couple of years, according to West.

‘We have around 2,500 news-trade readers, and that is declining, but what we lose in newsstand sales we gain in subscriptions, which are going up,' she explains.

The weekly edition covers news and features, which encompass new products, marketing campaigns, company news, people moves and trends.

‘We cover all the different categories now - women, children, men and ­lingerie, and are always in touch with PR professionals,' says executive editor Lorna Hall.

‘We do a big interview each week, and brand profiles, and look at industry issues, all of which is arranged through the features desk. I work about a month to six weeks in advance for things like that,' Hall adds.

She explains: ‘We have a fashion desk that deals with any new products or product news, and the newsdesk covers industry, financial and corporate news - people moves, campaigns and so on.

‘Obviously the lead-time on that is far less, more like a few days, as it needs to be topical. We go to press on a Wednesday.' When asked how PROs can help, she points out: ‘Our readers work six months or more in advance so we are not working to the same time­table as a consumer fashion title.

‘There's no point ­ringing us with news of a product that is already in the shops or an advertising campaign that has already gone live because we don't target consumers.'

Competition for Drapers comes in the form of titles from Yorkshire-based RAS Publishing, such as WWB (womenswear), MWB (menswear) and CWB (childrenswear), though many people perceive these publications to be aimed at the independent and smaller ­retailers. Other titles include Women's Wear Daily and WGSN.com (‘the world's leading online research, trend analysis and news service for the fashion and style industries').

The internet threat
Adrian Clarke, now fashion director of IPC's Loaded magazine and ­editor-in-chief of Fashion Inc (‘the thinking man's style bible'), previously worked at now-defunct Emap title Fashion Weekly.

He believes that despite the lack of genuine print rivals, Drapers is losing relevance among fashionistas: ‘The threat to Drapers comes from the rise in the internet, which can ­provide information much quicker and archive it much more efficiently.'

‘I think it isn't just Drapers that is suffering from this, it's an issue for any trade title in any industry, but it is ­particularly true of fashion where it is imperative to stay ahead of the game.'

Thomas Bunn, MD of Mission Media, agrees that the rise of ‘e-tailing' and sites such as vogue.com has increased the pressure on Drapers: ‘Some clients increasingly want ­instant dissemination of news internationally and probably wouldn't think Drapers is the ideal ­vehicle to do this.

Drapers is still an important port of call, but fashion is now becoming increasingly competitive and Drapers is perhaps perceived as being a little "old" and not quite at the cutting edge,' Bunn adds.

Drapers is only too aware of the threats and opportunities of the internet and has recently launched an e-newsletter and its own blog at drapersblog.com.

‘Drapers Fashion Fix is a free weekly newsletter that goes out to 50,000 ­subscribers each Tuesday,' explains Drapers publishing director Natasha Christie-Miller.

She adds: ‘The blog is written and updated daily by our fashion editor Khabi Mirza and it gives subscribers the opportunity to give feedback and post comments. We had 12,000 visitors in its first week.'

These two new developments provide further opportunities for PROs above and beyond the 50 issues a year published by Drapers. Rest assured that during the usual media scrums at London Fashion Week, Drapers' journalists will be working around the clock in the battle to keep ahead of the trends.

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