A year ago Phil Hall might have been considering running a story in
the News of the World dishing the dirt on a big celebrity. Six months
ago he might have been on the other side of the fence, pitching a story
about said celebrity to the tabloids.
Now, in his latest incarnation as Hello! editor-in-chief, he probably
has that same celeb on his front cover, inviting us into their lovely
From editor of NoW to a consultant for arch-publicist Max Clifford and
now to celebrity glossy, it's been a rollercoaster few months for Hall,
not least as his wife gave birth to their second child in January.
He sees the hot seat at Hello! as a challenge, and it is - according to
the latest ABC figures, Richard Desmond's arch-rival OK! is continuing
to push its margin as market leader in the celebrity magazine sector,
and Hello! is lagging behind OK!'s sales of 586,000 by around 80,000
But before we get down to discussing his plans for the magazine, which
even a few issues into his leadership is starting to feel his touch,
what we all want to know is, what was it like working for uber-publicist
Crossing from journalism to public relations - 'the other side' - always
raises eyebrows among hacks, but his brief sojourn with Clifford seems
to have made sense for Hall, even with his pedigree. He and Clifford
often worked closely together on stories for the newspaper, and he
understands what editors want from a story.
There were rumours that Hall was bored with the pace at Max Clifford
Associates after the frenzy of a tabloid, but he says the opposite is
true: 'I wasn't bored working with Max - I loved every second of it. We
got 15 scoops in six months I was there and innumerable spreaders across
the spectrum - not just the tabloids.
'I was working for Max in the mornings and Al Fayed (on Punch magazine)
in the afternoons - there was so much stuff to do. If the Hello! job
hadn't come up, I think I would have stayed there for a long time.'
Hall says those months were valuable, and funnily enough they also
underlined one of his strengths as an editor. He seems to take great
pride in doing things the right way, with grace and manners, and he says
the experience of not having his calls returned by editors confirmed
that he's pretty good at that sort of thing.
Working with Clifford was also a lesson because 'he doesn't lose his
temper very often - he's urbane and pragmatic. I may have been cheated
and let down, but Max doesn't worry, since he has such a huge bank of
stories. If he is treated badly he just won't go back.'
His spell as a publicist also encouraged him to think about the
relationship between press and PR: 'PR people and journalists totally
need each other.
When I was with Max I talked to a couple of cub reporters and they
turned their noses up at PR - but if they had listened they may have got
a story for nothing.
It's a back-scratching exercise, and it's about helping not hindering
each other. PR isn't about bullshit, or not telling the truth. There is
that arrogance on the part of journalists.'
So what does Clifford think of Hall's attempts at being a PR man? The
two had built up a close working relationship while Hall was at the NoW,
and it's clear that Clifford has a great deal of respect for him.
'He's one of the journalists that I rate very highly, and I knew he'd be
a great asset because we get on so well,' says Clifford. 'When the News
of the World job ended I was staging a big charity golf championship in
Spain. Phil and his family came down and during the week I made it clear
that he was very welcome to join me. It turned out very well - he
obviously has a good grasp of newspapers and what makes them tick, and
it was a very natural relationship.'
Clifford thinks that Hall is more suited to journalism, though, and he
says Hello! is one of the few things that would have tempted him. 'It's
gentler and more suited to Phil's personality than some of the other
things he was offered - he'd rather be writing nice things about people
That's not a weakness - it's a strength. It's a special and rare thing
in a hard, competitive business but Phil Hall can still be tough.
Most senior journalists are cynics, but Phil is one of the few friends
I've made in the national press in 40 years.'
No doubt Clifford's pleased as punch that his close friend is running a
magazine that's so suited to his own line of work - the two are
continuing to work together.
'I've had a very good working relationship with OK! and found Hello! to
be a total shambles - now I'll be dealing with Phil all the time. In the
six months he was with me he made a lot of contacts, including some of
the managers of major stars, and that's already paying off.'
So what could possibly have tempted Hall away? He seems unsure himself:
'This job was totally out of the blue, and it intrigued me.
I met Eduardo (Sanchez, Hello!'s Spanish owner) and we completely agreed
on ideas about the magazine - upmarket with proper stories and proper
writers. It was an easy decision to make.'
Hall believes that Hello! is a sleeping giant with immense potential:
'There's a whole new dynamic in the market, with Hello!, OK! and Tatler
competing for the same stuff. I've always been competitive.'
He adds, however, that there is a real need to rebuild the relationship
the magazine has with its content suppliers: 'Hello! has lost its place
in the market. PROs and freelances don't feel kindly towards it, because
their calls weren't being returned. I have an ethos of calling everyone
back myself, trying to repair wounds.'
Hall warns, however, that PR people should not expect to take Hello!
for a ride under his leadership: 'I think PR is starting to bite the
hand that feeds it. PROs are coming to us saying they'd love us to
promote this charity or ball or whatever, and then they ask what we will
pay for the story. Sponsors of events need a media profile, but the PROs
are asking for astronomical sums of money for people who are not at the
peak of their careers. Their clients need the profile and we can give
them the best profile on a glossy platform.
'It's a dangerous situation if they keep demanding huge payouts - it's
crazy. There is a perception that we are a bottomless pit, but it's not
about paying for wedding pictures, it's about the value of the publicity
that those pictures will bring to the magazine. PROs have to be
sensible,' he says.
Hall has very strong ideas about how he wants to reinforce the Hello!
brand through his editorial policy. It's a tricky balance between
keeping it upmarket, but also making it sexy and a must-read. There are
likely to be fewer minor European royals between its covers, and more
big, newsy stars.
'It's a distinct brand and 80 per cent of our readers are ABs. It's
about presentation, but it's a difficult line. We're not going down the
Corrie route. It's about people with class, style, who are attractive.
The ideal person for Hello! now is a celebrity, who is good-looking, has
style, and who is topical. It has to have the hook, and be about what
people are talking about in wine bars and restaurants and at dinner
'We want to do sharper fashion, not haute couture all the time. I want
to do Jimmy Choo shoes and Lulu Guinness handbags and Earl jeans. It's
what the celebs are wearing, and it's more relevant to people.'
One of the first things Hall did was create an 'in and out' list of
celebrities to act as a guide to the ideal Hello! profile: 'If you look
at EastEnders, Martin Kemp has real style but Adam Woodyatt wouldn't be
in Hello!. It's about understanding the Hello! Factor. We've got to get
the Grade A, first division celebs.
I've been inundated with e-mails from freelances suggesting stories
about people who I just don't care about - we don't want the brother of
someone who was famous years ago.'
Hall says the magazine is also becoming more proactive: 'We used to wait
for stuff to come in because of our brand. Now we have a news conference
every morning and we target people.'
He has big plans for the magazine - he's spending money and has been
given a free hand by Sanchez.
He plans to expand the magazine by 30 to 40 per cent from next month,
and is busy signing additions to the editorial team. Getting Castaway's
Ben Fogle, the photogenic ex-Tatler picture editor, on board to cover
adventure holidays all over the world was his first coup, and Penny
Alexander, Rod Stewart's girlfriend, is doing celebrity photography.
Hall also now has a much-needed deputy, Roger Kasper, who has been OK!
deputy editor and also worked on the Sunday Mirror.
Despite being ousted from NoW in favour of Rebekah Wade last spring,
Hall claims to feel no animosity towards the paper. Ironically though,
given his current job, he doesn't seem too impressed by the paper's new
'We made huge gains in market share and won awards. For the first time
everyone was talking about the paper and I left it in very good shape.
It's a new era now - Rebekah is going down the celebrity route and I
preferred the news route,' he says.
2001 is set to be an even more eventful year for Hall than last year.
He's looks comfortable in the editor's chair, and if he can keep up his
enthusiasm for the project there's no reason why he shouldn't get the
circulation of the magazine back on track over the next few months.
PHIL HALL - Hello!
1992-1993 - News editor, The Sunday Express
1993-2000 - Assistant editor rising to editor, News of the World
2000-2001 - Consultant, Max Clifford Associates
2001 - Editor-in-chief, Hello!