Media Analysis: FHM matures as market declines

With sales across the men's monthly market in decline, the biggest title in the category, FHM, has relaunched - with a focus on 25 to 27-year-olds. Editor Ross Brown tells Hannah Marriott how PROs can help his team

Since weekly men's titles Zoo Weekly and Nuts launched in 2004, FHM's circulation has steadily decreased, from more than 600,000 to 420,688 in the latest ABCs (August 2006).

The magazine relaunched last month in attempt to better exploit its status as a long-lead title in the face of fierce competition from websites and the men's weeklies.

FHM continues to have a great deal to be proud of. The monthly men's market may be suffering (Loaded and Maxim also lost big chunks of their readership in the latest ABCs, with circulation dips of 22 per cent and 36 per cent respectively), but FHM sells more than both rivals combined. (which has 1.8 million unique users a month) was also relaunched last month, while its interactive elements, such as mobile TV (40,000 subscribers) and email services (598,000 subscribers), already reach a sizeable audience.

‘Better journalism'
FHM editor Ross Brown explains the shift in emphasis: ‘We have accepted that some at the younger end of our market have migrated to weekly magazines. Previously, we were targeting a very broad age range - 18 to 35-year-olds - which was problematic. Now we are concentrating on 25 to 27-year-olds. It's less giggles, more laughs, with better journalism covering slightly more serious subject matter.'

The magazine's relaunch is a subtle one, not immediately obvious to the untrained eye. The scantily cladgirls are still on the cover, and the bold, red masthead is still there. Inside, the design is somewhat cleaner, but many sections have been retained.

As business director Rimi Atwal says: ‘Our core values are still "funny, sexy, useful". But we are turning the volume up on "useful". The mag should be used as a reference to come back to ten times a month.'

The first relaunched edition contains an eight-page feature entitled ‘100 greatest websites', with commentators - including Lonely Planet travel information manager Tom Hall and Stuff editor Michael Brook - compiling lists of websites in their areas of expertise. The handy information is made viewer-friendly with glamorous photographs of a half-naked woman.

Brown says: ‘These are useful features. It's not just us telling the reader what we think - we are asking real
experts. We are likely to have a big reference feature like this in every issue, so we will need lots of experts.'

Rick Gutteridge, account director at Manchester-based agency Brazen PR, says: ‘Seeking clients' opinions is a new direction for FHM. Previously it was fantastic pictures that might get a bit of coverage, rather than information. This change presents a great opportunity for us to position a client as an expert.'

Indeed, says Brown, the relaunch has made FHM more open to PR ideas: ‘The contact we have with PR people will probably increase - we will be super-serving the reader, finding out the best gadgets, clothes, cars, etc.'

Similarly, the products featured are becoming slightly more grown up, with shiny gadgets such as speakers joined by a coffee-maker in the current issue.

Regardless of the shift in emphasis, however, humour is still high on the agenda, something that can often scare off some PROs, for fear of irreverent coverage backfiring.

Mitchell Kaye, managing director of start-up agency Mischief, advises against such concerns: ‘Dealing with FHM is no different to dealing with The Guardian, for example, which might well take a story and be cynical about it. As long as you manage clients' expectations beforehand, it will work. PROs should court naughtiness, because without it FHM readers would not engage with the story.'

Mature but ‘still funny'
In any case, FHM is traditionally seen as the middle ground between relatively high-brow GQ and nipple-fest Loaded - nowhere near as crude as some of its competitors. Kaye says: ‘It is well written - a cut above most of the other men's titles - but still funny.'

Gutteridge agrees: ‘Lots of clients - such as major high-street brands - do not want to appear in some of the men's magazines, despite their large circulations, because they worry about being seen in the wrong light. But FHM is more desirable.'

As to the overhauled, Atwal says: ‘Readers want a guide to life with strong opinions from the magazine. With they want user-generated content.'

Online, then, it is the readers who have the opportunity to rate their favourite girls, or to become part of a MySpace-style online community that allows them to create their own profiles, post comments and submit photographs and images.

The site acts as a portal for links to a range of online coverage, including  ‘Top 100 internet videos', competitions, exclusive video interviews, galleries and daily news, all of which needs to be sourced by a relatively small online editorial team.

As is ever the case, PR professionals who can help provide additional content for the burgeoning website - as well as understand the changing needs of the magazine - will find themselves in demand.

FHM: who PROs need to know

01. Editorial: 020 7182 8000
02. Editor, Ross Brown (8028)
03. Deputy editor, Mike Peake (8040) - book reviews
04. Executive editor, Lee Coan (8038) - some features
05. Features editor, Will Cockrell (8027) 
06. Editor, Incoming! section, Stuart Hood (8048) - competitions, gadgets, health products, tools, some clothing
07. Staff writer, Tom Cullen (8039) - some features, movie reviews, letters
08. Fashion director, Gary Kingsnorth (8002)
09. Junior fashion editor, Jessica Punter (8019)
10. Fashion assistant, Charlotte Jones (8004) - initial contact for fashion
11. Office manager, Catherine Foulser (8029)
12. Editorial assistant, Madeline Gill (8028)
13. interactive director, Gary Broughton
14. deputy editor, David Moynihan 
15. staff writer, Richard Moynihan 
16. mobile editor, Mal Alexander


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