Smash Hits keeps a grip on closure news

February marked the end of an era when Emap Metro announced that Smash Hits magazine, the pop bible for many British teenagers for 28 years, was about to close.

Campaign Closure of Smash Hits
Client Emap Metro
PR team In-house
Timescale 26 January-3 February 2006
Budget Nil

The decision came after years of falling ad revenue and plummeting circulation, as readers migrated to other information sources for their pop gossip.

At short notice, in-house head of PR Maureen Corish was charged with explaining that while the last issue of the magazine would be published on 13 February, the Smash Hits brand would live on via TV, mobile phones, digital radio and the internet.

To control the announcement of the closure and highlight messages around portfolio management, changing audiences and the brand's multi-media future. To minimise the risk of leaks and ensure that the Smash Hits team and other Emap employees heard the announcement first from management.

Strategy and Plan
To maintain confidentiality, Corish compiled comprehensive written and visual material. This comprised a formal announcement from Emap Metro MD Marcus Rich, a potted history of the magazine and a list of former editors. It also included comment from one-time editor Mark Frith – now editor of Heat – acknowledging the cultural importance of Smash Hits.

The day before the official announcement was made, trusted former staff were identified to act as spokespeople. These included Frith and previous editor Lisa Smorsaski – now editor of Bliss – who together conducted  TV and radio interviews, in an effort to avoid Rich being positioned as the corporate villain.

To ensure further control of the announcement, Emap chose just one quality national journalist, The Guardian's media business editor Dan Milmo, to break the story. He received it as an exclusive on the day of the announcement, 1 February, in time for the paper's next morning edition.

On 1 February at 5pm, the Smash Hits team was informed of the magazine's closure. From 6pm, Rich phoned all staff who had responsibility for the non-magazine aspects of the brand, and at 6.30pm the details of these calls were posted on Emap's intranet.

Measurement and Evaluation
On 2 February, The Guardian ran a balanced story about the closure. The news sparked a great deal of media interest: The Press Association sent a reporter to doorstep Smash Hits staff as they arrived for work; later interviews and nostalgia pieces were widespread and included BBC News, Newsnight, Capital Radio, the Financial Times, The Times, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Daily Star, plus various regional, local and dedicated music titles.

There was only one leak, when The Sun called at 9.30pm on the day of the announcement. However, this was handled with a bespoke press release and a courtesy call to warn The Guardian – The Sun reported the story on 2 February, spoiling The Guardian's exclusive, but its report was on message nonetheless. The closure generated around 200 media enquiries and resulted in a sales hike of nearly 20,000 copies for Smash Hits' final issue.

Milmo says: 'I had a sense that Emap was concerned about the story being viewed as a crisis. I knew this wasn't the case and that Smash Hits' closure would be like that of The Face – a groundbreaking publication losing its edge over time. Rich was pretty clear about that, too.'


Miki Watson, co-founder and MD, Golden Goose PR
If handled badly, the closure of Smash Hits could have raised questions about Emap's understanding of the teen market and perceived failure of the Smash Hits brand. This wasn't the case though. 

Emap's focus on internal comms was such that staff were informed in a timely manner, and immediate negative media speculation was eliminated with a well-balanced and sympathetic report in The Guardian.   

The fact that Smash Hits has spawned some of the most respected popular magazine editors, who were keen to act as spokespeople, worked hugely in its favour, reminding interested parties of the brand's influence.

Emap's campaign made the best of available resources in a limited amount of time. Although it could hardly be described as creative, the coverage was controlled, timely and favourable. 

Smash Hits could have vox-popped some of today's teen icons discussing their favourite issue or cover star, offering the footage to broadcasters. Then it would still appear to have its influence in the teen pop market, which is essential for the brand as it strives to continue through new media. 

It is a shame that such an iconic magazine should have to close, and we adults feel nostalgic for the passing of old favourite, but it is the kids and new media channels that are driving the pop market.

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