MEDIA ANALYSIS: FHM’s less rude reawakening

After years of decline, the men’s magazines market is staging a comeback. Jennifer Whitehead looks at how a relaunched FHM hopes to lead the charge.

<em>FHM</em>: fashion advice
FHM: fashion advice

While women’s magazines have been innovating, little has happened to ­entice new male readers to the newsstand since Zoo and Nuts launched at the ­beginning of 2004. But now the men’s magazine market has suddenly sprung to life again, with Emap investing ­significantly in a relaunch of its flag-ship monthly FHM.

Market leader FHM saw its circulation drop by almost 12 per cent in the second half of 2006 to 371,263 copies – a figure that represents just three-quarters of its circulation at the end of 2005. Unsurprisingly, Emap parted ways with editor Ross Brown, replacing him with men’s magazine stalwart Anthony Noguera, a veteran of Arena and Zoo.

IPC’s rival lads’ monthly Loaded ­suffered an even worse fall in circulation, shedding nearly 30 per cent of readers between the end of 2005 and the end of 2006, averaging 162,554 ­copies per issue. Maxim, published by Dennis, was down by a similar amount over the year, with an ABC ­figure of 131,497.

Appealing to all men
It is easy to see why Emap is hoping that the latest regeneration of what remains the market leader among the monthlies will help stop the rot.

FHM hasn’t gone quite as far as to put a man on its latest edition, but it does feature cover girl Rachel Stevens in a T-shirt, with just a hint of ­nipple protrusion to keep the boys ­titillated.

Inside, the design is cleaner; so is the content. Chris Bell, deputy editor of FHM, explains that the idea behind the redesign is to create a magazine that a man could happily leave in a place where his girlfriend might find it – without fear of getting into trouble.

‘All the men’s magazines have gone a bit rude, and that can be a big barrier to men buying it,’ says Bell. ‘FHM was starting to compete with Nuts and Zoo. We’ve made it far more approachable for men of all ages.’

The new FHM isn’t a magazine men will be embarrassed to get out on the train. In fact, Grub Smith, once a flag-waver for pornography, writes a two-page feature on why he is swearing off modern porn. As James Gordon-MacIntosh, a director of Seventy Seven PR, says: ‘It is almost a manifesto for the new FHM’.

Sex coverage is now largely confined to a section dubbed ‘Miss FHM’. According to Bell, this section will be ­entirely commissioned, written, edited and photographed by women. Gone is the pornstar agony aunt, replaced by three ‘real’ – if decidedly attractive and young – women.

There is also the team of ‘Centurions’ – four ‘agony uncles’ who are each at least 100 years old. Technology ­coverage has also been bulked up, and there are plans to expand it further to include interior design.

At the back, there are sections offering advice on a range of lifestyle issues, ­including fitness, cooking, money and work.

Accordingly, Bell says that FHM will be looking for exclusives from PROs about sexy bits of new technology that can be photographed in a style he dubs ‘gadget porn’. With the revamped front section of the magazine featuring an events calendar for the month ahead, the magazine is also looking for anything that might fit in – be it events, new film, book and game releases, or even interesting news stories. Bell offers as a recent example a piece about the launch of a Mars space probe.

Fashion coverage has also been shaken up. Bell says: ‘Fashion is important to men these days, and we’re making our coverage useful. We’re not using 17-year-old, skinny models; all the shoots will feature real men.’

It is an approach that is winning admiration among the PROs who are also trying to reach an audience of young men.

Gavin Lewis, campaigns director at Resonate, with responsibility for brands such as the FX television station, says: ‘It is good to see FHM going back to basics. As a monthly, there’s no point in emulating the weekly magazines, and the new look will allow for more in-depth features.’

‘With the return of Grub Smith and a classic Rachel Stevens shoot, the new FHM feels very much like an earlier ­incarnation. In fact, it makes me feel a little nostalgic.’

Seventy Seven PR’s Gordon-MacIntosh likes aspects of the redesign, including the cleaner look, and says that the new approach to fashion is ‘a really interesting move, very astute’. However, he remains unconvinced about what he describes as the decision to ‘turn the volume down on sex’.

Free magazine competition
What Gordon-MacIntosh thinks could help the magazine is if Anthony Noguera were to broaden his remit as editor to become a representative of FHM, in the same way that Dylan Jones has done for GQ magazine.

‘I think FHM has got a phenomenally strong editorial team. If Anthony Noguera is willing to do a Dylan Jones, that could really lift the FHM brand,’ says MacIntosh.

FHM isn’t the only title trying to kick-start the market. Esquire is also on the verge of a relaunch, having hired Wallpaper*’s Jeremy Langmead to come in and shake things up.

Arena, a magazine formerly edited by ­Anthony Noguera, is also set for a ­revamp, having brought in from The Sunday Times a youthful Giles Hattersley as editor.

But the dark horse of the bunch is former FHM editor Mike Soutar’s new launch, Shortlist. Tapping into the trend for all things free, this will be a men’s magazine handed out each week.

Is this causing worries at FHM? Bell says they will look at it when it comes out, but he does not seem overly concerned. ‘It’s not as if Emap hasn’t looked into this area in the past,’ he points out.

For another lad’s mag alumnus, former Loaded publishing director Niall McKinney, who has since founded the website Utalkmarketing.com, there is no amount of redesigning that will save the sector.

He says: ‘The FHM redesign is cleaner and this makes it easier to read. But in terms of reversing the long-term sales decline, I’m confident it won’t make a difference.’

CONTACTS...

Anthony Noguera Editor-in-chief T 020 7182 8028

Chris Bell Deputy editor T 020 7182 8038

Will Cockrell Features editor T 020 7182 8027

Jennifer Batchelor Editorial assistant T 020 7182 8028

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Utalkmarketing.com

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