Media Analysis: Get in amongst the real-life tales

IPC Media is about to launch another real-life magazine called Pick Me Up. Richard Cann examines the popularity of this growing sector among British women and looks at the opportunities for enterprising PROs.

The hunger of British women for 'real-life stories' is seemingly insatiable. Take a Break, That's Life and Chat have spurned the usual celebrity-driven content of the glossies to shift a combined two million plus copies a week.

And IPC Media, not content with selling more than 600,000 copies of Chat, this week previewed its latest real-life offering, Pick Me Up, which launches on 20 January.

Chat editor June Smith-Sheppard, who doubles initially as the launch editor of Pick Me Up, says the sector is ready for a new entrant because it is selling a combined 186,207 more copies a week than it did three years ago, and claims Chat has accounted for three quarters of this growth even without a large marketing spend behind it.

She says Pick Me Up promises to stand out from the three existing titles by 'turning its back on the sector staple of gardening, cooking and home reviews and increasing the number of real-life stories'.

Chasing market share

Despite a similar mix of puzzles, competitions and features, Smith-Sheppard believes IPC's two titles in the sector - which both have ten-week lead times for editorial - will be a dual purchase for hardcore real-life fans.

John Dale, editor of H Bauer Publishing's Take a Break, which with a circulation of 1,208,473 is Britain's biggest-selling magazine, says there are marked differences in tone between the three existing titles.

'We are the Daily Mail to our everybody else's Daily Star. Take a Break is a much longer, more varied read,' he says. 'Although we like fun and mischief, we also deal with serious issues and campaigns. Our rivals prefer titillation.'

According to Dale, the real-life sector has the power to influence readers, who he says 'tend to read almost every word and feel a genuine sense of being part of a magazine community'. He adds: 'It has a level of trust higher than almost any other medium, including Coronation Street'.

He welcomes PROs' input, particularly those representing health and lifestyle brands. Dale says PROs need to get in touch three months ahead of publication to fit its nine-week lead times.

Smith-Sheppard agrees with Dale's assessment of the sector, but prefers to liken Chat to The Sun.

EHPR associate director Ricky Weir says there is a lot of crossover readership of real-life magazines because they are cheap, accessible and weekly.

She says pass-on readership is also high as they are a popular waiting-room choice.

Weir says there are many entry points for brands to gain coverage. The plethora of competitions and promotions in the titles offer guaranteed and controlled exposure for brands. However, Weir points out the sector's large circulations command high prize values to match. For this reason she says it is best to bring in a third-party brand.

Real-life magazines offer a target for brands that struggle to gain coverage in celebrity titles that demand proof of celebrity use, which Weir says can be a legal minefield.

Case studies about ordinary people are common, making titles a good target for brands that help people such as EHPR client Gammaderm, an eczema cream.

'They like to have stories saying "such and such changed my life,"' says Lexis PR account director Nicola Garrett, who agrees that the magazines' power comes from their relevance to readers' lives and their accessibility.

She says that existing real-life magazines are fond of offering readers advice about improving their lives, making them ideal targets for product placement in recipes and product tests.

That is not to say the titles are overrun with dowdy brands. Although the magazines do not attract the high-value readership of the Vogues of this world, Smith-Sheppard insists Pick Me Up readers will be spenders and very aware of trends, making them ideal targets for mass-market high-street brands.

'They spend in a different way - they are not necessarily lumbered with big mortgages and private school fees, so they have greater expendable incomes.'


What is Pick Me Up's personality?

Pick Me Up has a fresh tone and modern design. I guarantee it will always have more real-life stories than the others. We won't be doing any gardening, cookery or homes. We don't anticipate our ladies will be down on their knees planting bulbs.

Any regular sections?

Our flat-plan won't be fixed but there will be a ten-page puzzle section offering prizes, and there is a strong and practical health section. 'Toddlygook', about funny things our little angels say and do, and 'Him Indoors', laughing at the things men do, are both open for sponsorship.

How old are its readers?

We're not aiming for any particular age group. It is for women with a certain outlook on life. Age groups aren't as segregated as they were - women even invite their mothers on their hen nights now.


Launch editor: June Smith-Sheppard, 020 7261 5588

Features editor: Kate Thompson, 020 7261 5647

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