An Evening with Marie Claire

Through my full time job at PR Newswire, last week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a brilliant event, called Meet the Media, where Trish Halpin and Justine Southall – Ed-in-Chief and Publishing Director at Marie Claire, respectively – held a very interesting presentation.

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The venue was spectacular – we sat in the ballroom of the wondrous 8 Northumberland Avenue, a 17th-century building which made me feel like I’d stepped back in time and was supposed to be wearing big puffy sleeves and a tight corset.

Marie Claire 003

The presentation was shared between Trish and Justine, and they started off by giving a sense of who their reader is and an overview of the brand, consequently moving to suggestions for PR representatives on how and who to reach at Marie Claire.

Marie Claire, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year, reaches 2.2 million women every month through their 16 platforms, and most of these readers tend to be successful, well-educated, assertive career women who are often the chief income earners. This kind of reader crucially identifies with, and self-expresses through, their interest in fashion and beauty.

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Despite Marie Claire being such a huge brand, which includes a website, a mobile site, and Marie Claire Runway magazine and app just to name a few, their magazine is still at the core. And indeed, they are doing very well: out of the many stat sheets they showed us during their presentation, the one that captured my attention the most was their ABC performance for 2012 – the only one to outperform the market. I asked Trish why she thinks they are doing so well compared to all the other magazines and her answer was two-fold: partly, she answered, it was because they offer something unique: a combination of thought-provoking features and a huge volume of high-quality fashion and beauty content; but also, they felt that, for the asking price of £3.70, they needed to offer more, and last year decided to invest money despite the recession in order to make the book size bigger and improve the production.

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With 1.4 million unique users, their website is also very impressive. Which begs the question: do they see that one day their online predominance could supersede their printed one? Justine answered by stating that she thinks there will always be a place for beautiful glossy print material in a luxury context. She did note that, as I mentioned in this post I wrote in November 2011, most online shops now are printing magazines, but she thinks this may be because the role of printed material is now changing and it is really exciting to see how it will develop.

Marie Claire 007

Among Trish’s suggestions for PR agencies, the main ones were:

  • don’t cold call,
  • know what kind of product the magazine might go for, and
  • never underestimate the power of cake!

Think I’m on board with that one.

I loved how at Marie Claire they make a stand trying not to have many advertorials, as they are very keen to keep their brand integrity very clean. Trish also explained how they decide the themes issue by issue, around three months in advance, basing themselves firstly on the season and the various collections seen at fashion shows, and then moving from there.

I greatly enjoyed the whole event and even managed to have a little chit chat with Justine and Trish, it was a great thrill to be taught something new by such strong career women who have made it so successfully in the field I’d like to develop in.

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Glossing Over Retail

Fashion magazines in the US have started selling the clothes they review. At the same time, just as you are now able to purchase the latest Derek Lam and Marc Jacobs pieces from the website of Vogue magazine, the opposite is also happening. Nowadays, every respectable online and brick-and-mortar fashion retailer worth a fashionista’s glance, has a magazine. From high-street to high-end fashion, ASOS, my-wardrobe.com, H&M, all have an online or printed magazine.

ASOS Magazine

As the US Vogue site mentions, “Vogue may receive a commission on some sales made through this service”, which clearly shows that magazines are getting into retail, and they mean business. Meanwhile, ASOS magazine showcases articles about the latest cool personalities and musicians while cleverly squeezing among those pages several features tailored on the season or current trends, listing their own products. This is the latest trend for catalogues that seem less invasive or pushy and, in turn, are more effective in selling the stock. If before you needed to walk into the shop to be sold a skirt that could be paired with the sales assistant’s suggestion of a certain top and shoes at, for example, your next Christmas party, now you need only to flick through the pages of ASOS’s glossy to see features about what to wear for such an occasion from head to toe, nails included.

Moda Operandi website, with links to trunk shows.

Magazines used to help designers sell, at times even guaranteeing coverage to those who buy advertising spaces in their pages, but now they are starting to represent competition to traditional retailers and high-end department stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. There are no more boundaries between these two industries. Vogue recently teamed up with the new online luxury catwalk looks retailer Moda Operandi to get closer to the consumers and Style.com has also started selling clothes.

Style.com website with a link on the top right to purchase a Rebecca Taylor top.

A technique widely used by both gloss magazines and online retailers is the Editor’s recommendation. Websites such as my-wardrobe.com and Net-a-Porter.com often feature Editor’s Pick pages, which lure the consumers into feeling “if a fashion Editor has picked this product, it must be good”.

Designers' picks and links to their collections on Net-a-porter.com.

Indeed, these two business trend changes are related by the fact that retailers started producing catalogues that look more like glossies than mere marketing products paired with the fact that magazines have been experiencing advertising losses for years now, due to the threat constituted by online competition and recession. The readers and consumers have changed their expectations too, in the last few years. It is so common these days to have links through to whatever object we covet and wish to purchase, that if a magazine or website shows us a great frock, and then does not let us buy it, we get frustrated and are, in turn, unhappy readers/customers.

However, Lauren Santo Domingo, a contributing editor at Vogue and Moda Operandi co-starter believes that her site, which provides an online version of a shop’s trunk show, has in fact a positive impact on designers’ sales figures, offering a real service by enabling them to understand, before the clothes are produced, which styles customers are interested in buying. Through the website, designers are also able to sell high-fashion, super-expensive and eccentric pieces which traditional stores would normally steer well away from. Although the site was only created about a year ago, Aslaug Magnusdottir, the other half of Moda Operandi, expected to gain 120,000 subscribers in the last quarter of 2011. More than 40% of their customers went back to the website to purchase more items after their first buy and the average transaction is about US$1,500 (ca. £950).

Aslaug Magnusdottir, left, and Lauren Santo Domingo at their The Madison Avenue office of Moda Operandi. Source: http://www.nytimes.com.

Ms Magnusdottir said that “the consumer becomes the buyer”. That sounds like a good way of putting it, however they are a buyer who is still heavily biased by trends dictated by glossies, be it a catalogue magazine or a traditional publishing one.