Editors will always pledge their dedication to their title, promoting their brand in a multitude of ways. Look editor Ali Hall shows her commitment to ‘fast, disposable fashion’by making sure a fresh editor’s photo is taken every other week of her kitted out in a different outfit (from the high street, obviously).
With a bright smile and fantastic shoes, Hall must currently be the apple in the eye of the IPC bosses. Its £18m investment in her title, high-street fashion weekly Look, appears to be justified after a debut ABC figure of 318,907 this August, well about the 250,000 it hoped for at the launch in January.
Hall, confident and bubbly, seems to have never doubted the success. ‘For me it was really obvious that there was a massive opportunity that no one was really fulfilling,’she says. ‘We saw a big opportunity, went for it and we knew there could be a huge prize, and the ABC proved that there was.”
With heavy doses of fashion and celebrity, and a smattering of real life, Look has squeezed its way on to the weekly newsstand between rival publisher Emap’s Heat and Grazia. Its strictly high-street-only fashion pages have picked up on the current disposable fashion craze – buy a cheap top, wear it a couple of times and chuck it away before it goes out of fashion and you notice all the buttons have fallen off. It has seen shops previously branded tacky, such as Primark and Peacocks, feature regularly, offering a slightly different appeal to both readers and advertisers than Emap’s ‘weekly Vogue”, Grazia.
As for Look’s celebrity content, Hall says you’ll never see pictures of celebrities’ wobbly bottoms and sweaty armpits. In contrast to Emap weeklies Heat and Closer, which see celebrities as fair game, Look likes to take the ’emotional’approach.
‘Our celebrity coverage isn’t bitchy in any way, which is something that our readers have responded really well to,’says Hall. ‘We’re looking at them in a way that you take the things that are happening to them and look at your life and see how it compares, rather than just showing celebrities looking bad.”
The weekly market has recently had to make room for another contender, as Emap’s More magazine makes the switch from fortnightly, a move Hall says was inevitable and had been talked about when she ran the title for two and a half years before joining IPC in June 2005.
Hall started out on local papers, spending 18 months working for the Courier Group in her home county of Cheshire. Her now glamorous role of editor of a newsstand fashion magazine was a distant dream, and Hall spent her rookie days getting her hands dirty, quite literally.
‘We had this regular slot called Day in the Life and they used to send me out to cover various people in the community. I had to go out with the dustbin men on their route for a day. They sent me out with the pest control once and I’m scared of everything – that cured a few of my phobias. It’s good fun, isn’t it? You have to do everything when you’re a rookie.”
Hall then moved to London and took up a post on Emap’s now-defunct Slimming magazine, of which she became editor. ‘Whenever you went out anywhere as the editor, the first thing people did was look you up and down to make sure that the diet was working,’she laughs.
While at Slimming she started a second title, Celebrity Bodies, and prior to joining More she did a six-month stint on teen monthly Bliss as acting editor.
She was drafted into the then-fortnightly More to try to push the title away from the ladette culture that it had been tied to and to make it more aspirational and glamorous. Hall says that she learnt a lot on More, and has taken one important lesson with her to Look, a magazine which she says has been continually developing since its launch.
‘Having gone on More to do a big relaunch, [I found] it’s much easier if you’re constantly growing your magazine organically so you don’t get to the point where you think you’ve got to do a big overhaul. I think that’s a really important thing for any magazine to do now. I think new magazines will look at always doing that, that’s the way that the market and publishing houses have moved.”
Her experience on More also made her realise the importance of ‘a really good team, which was really excited about the relaunch”. Hall says that being able to hand pick her team for Look was a dream.
‘The great thing is that you can build a team exactly for the skills that you need for that magazine, whereas when you go on to a magazine that already exists and you want to change it you inherit a team and they don’t always necessarily have the skills that are right for that magazine.”
Hall started at IPC with a blank canvas, and for the first few weeks it was just her and then-creative director (now editorial development director) Andy Cowles working on what was called ‘Project Honey”, slowly adding more and more team members as the magazine developed. As with all launches the enterprise was top secret.
But with maximum-level secrecy, surely it was difficult to convince staff to jump ship from leading national magazines and newspapers on very little information? Hall points out that IPC has had a string of successful launches – Nuts, Pick Me Up and TV Easy – and that it’s every journalists’ dream to work on a launch, so there was little need for arm twisting.
‘For me, and I think for any editor, to actually come up with an idea, develop it and launch it is the holy grail of what you actually do. It’s the same for any journalists; it’s great to work on something new in your career at some point.”
As part of the creative process at Look, IPC did extensive research, and Hall says that she’s learnt the importance of ‘knowing your readers”.
‘I can’t even tell you how many I’ve met in the past two years. At the end of the day, if you don’t listen to the readers you’re not going to create a good magazine,’she explains.
The world of fashion is seemingly one surrounded by controversy, from the never-ending ‘size zero’debate surrounding models, to the poor working conditions and low wages of Indian sweatshops that go into producing high-7street bargains such as pound-a-pair knickers in Look favourite, Primark.
With the long-drawn-out size zero debate, one she has been pulled into on her previous titles, she sticks to the standard editorial line of ‘I have always tried to make sure that the models in the magazine look healthy”.
She tells me that the ethics behind the clothes is something her readers have shown an interest in, and Hall has been publicising new ethical ranges in the magazine. ‘If it’s important to the reader then it’s important that I make them aware of what’s going on.
At the end of the day, we’ll see how that debate goes, but I think if you’re asking me should I not put shops like Peacocks in, I think it’s up to each retailer to decide what they’re going to do.”
So what will be the next step in the three-pronged approach (magazine, website and events) of Look? ‘I’m exactly where I want to be as the editor of this magazine, but it can’t stop so now it’s about looking forward and thinking what’s next,’Hall says.
There will be a web launch and events will be considered, but for now, Hall isn’t giving anything away.