Justine Southall feels genuine sympathy for Eve Pollard whose fledgling magazine company Parkhill Publishing floundered last week after less than a year’s trading.
The publisher of eve, BBC Worldwide’s first out-and-out women’s glossy that launches this week, could be forgiven a certain amount of schadenfreude as the closure means the end of potential rival Aura magazine. But after 15 years in women’s magazines, Southall is well aware just how much personal input goes into publishing a magazine, let alone into building a publishing empire.
“To invest that much time, energy and money starting any business and to have it fail must be devastating; particularly in the magazine business when you get so personally involved,” she says.
If Pollard was Aura, a magazine for dynamic, young-at-heart 40-to-50 year-old women, 38 year-old Southall is eve. At least she seems the sort of fun, intelligent, free-spirited thirtysomething that the magazine is trying to embody. In a pink flimsy shirt with plunging neckline and matching pink shoes, she looks fashionable but not fashion-conscious, flirtatious without flaunting it. Describing eve, Southall could arguably be describing her own prototype.
“It’s punchy, colloquial, funny, assertive in style and unexpected. Eve is very much about the woman herself and her external interests. It’s not about herself in the Cosmopolitan internalising way, nor in the home and family way of She or Good Housekeeping,” she says.
Knowing what readers want
Despite the demise of Aura the competitive women’s market has still seen considerable activity of late and some industry observers are claiming overkill. There are too many titles in the sector and too few of the magazines are actually delivering the promised point of difference, they say.
So will eve really be different? Southall hesitates. Not because she doubts eve’s ability to deliver, but because she doesn’t share the critics’ cynicism. Yes, there are titles that don’t get it quite right – while she sympathised with Pollard, she thinks Aura missed its mark – there are plenty, however, that do and there’s always room for a well-targeted new magazine.
“When Marie Claire launched in the late Eighties and when Red launched in 1998, people were saying there was only room for niche magazines. It’s dangerous to preclude any magazine – a good product will find its audience,” she says.
“As soon as you see eve’s cover, you can see it’s different with the black and white picture and powerful red logo,” she continues. “Inside, there is a wide range of features and loads to read. There is some traditional mix, such as relationships and fashion and beauty, but we try to do it differently. The UK market as a whole is very high quality but there is room to do things differently.”
Southall is keen to point out that BBC Worldwide is not looking with eve to blow open the existing women’s magazine formula that she believes remains highly successful in many cases.
“You shouldn’t forget that women buy magazines to be entertained, not to help them with their PhD. So while eve’s range is broad, everything is accessible and interactive,” she says.
Right place, right time
Southall’s principal word when talking about her 15 years in magazines is “fortuitous”. She discovered the world of magazine advertising through Walker Media’s Phil Georgiadis, “a friend of a good friend”. Georgiadis facilitated an entry into Carlton Magazines (subsequently sold to IPC) where she secured a position in advertising sales on Options. Southall has stayed in women’s magazines ever since, predominantly at IPC where she progressed from her young days as “one of the snoggers” on the New Generation Group which produced My Guy, Loving and Mizz through to advertising director of Marie Claire and then of the whole SouthBank fashion and beauty portfolio.
Last summer she moved to BBC Worldwide to restructure the lifestyle division and in January this year was appointed publisher of eve after the project gained board approval.
“I’ve been lucky being in the right place at the right time and working with talented people which makes all the difference,” says Southall.
Squaring up to the competition
Georgiadis recognises an element of good fortune in Southall’s success but also puts it down to her “powerful personality”.
“Justine is a very driven, focused individual, which counts for a lot in this business.” he says.
It is an industry that has changed significantly during the past 15 years, according to Southall.
“I think when the market got tough in the last recession, people had to be both good and tough. Competition increased and everybody raised their game,” she says.
She believes it will become even more competitive as the market becomes increasingly dominated by the bigger companies pushing to expand into multimedia organisations and believes BBC Worldwide has a head start in the cultural shift because it has always been part of a multimedia organisation. NatMags’ last minute swoop for Gruner + Jahr’s UK titles was a great PR coup, she says, in terms of stepping up a league.
“NatMags was perceived as a bit antiquated. The G+J buy shifts its image as an organisation to a hungry, big media player. It will be interesting to watch NatMags – it will have to gear up to compete with Emap, IPC and the BBC.”
As for eve, Southall says there are plans for international expansion, licensing opportunities and any number of brand extensions further down the line but this week sees the first step with the launch of the magazine and the website allabouteve.com.
“The BBC is very brand focused. BBC brands indicate authority, high quality and trust. We want eve to be a recognisable brand. That’s why we chose a name that can travel internationally and online.”
Time will tell if eve can deliver the punchy, fun and unexpected point of difference it promises and whether Southall’s career has just taken another fortuitous turn.