Pick Me Up sets its sights on Bauers real-life heart

Mike
Soutar, editorial director of IPC, plays a word association game to
explain the working title of his new baby, Pick Me Up. It was
codenamed Project Spitfire, he says, because real life magazines
contain tales of triumph over tragedy.

And Triumph, the car manufacturer, used to make the Spitfire sports-car. Yeah, yeah, Mike.

But I don’t buy it. Any fool knows what Spitfires are for – to obliterate Germans.

And
Pick Me Up, which is sampled in 3.5 million copies of IPC’s own
women’s titles this week, is trained directly at Hamburg, home of the
company which still dominates the real life market, H Bauer Publishing.

While
the celebrity women’s sector has proliferated in the last five years
and now contains seven titles, the real life sector has just three
magazine sharing sales of 2.4 million a week.

All are in vigorous
health: Bauer’s Take a Break sells 1.2 million, IPC’s Chat has enjoyed
a recent spurt, putting it over 600,000, and the youngest title Bauer’s
That’s Life! (which I edited for its first five years) although stung
by Chat’s recent growth, still shifts 574,000 copies.

The real
life sector is the Cinderella of women’s publishing. But while media
attention has been dazzled by the starrier Heat, Closer and Reveal ,
the real life mags have quietly toiled away and, with barely a penny on
promotion, the sector has grown 13 per cent in three years.

And with no newcomer since That’s Life! in 1995, it is ripe for a launch.

The
IPC website announces that Pick Me Up is “real life as you’ve never
seen it before” which is both nonsense and utterly true.

Nonsense
because, flicking through the dummy with Mike and admiring his mastery
of PowerPoint, a great number of bells were ding-a-linging.

Pick
Me Up’s target reader is around 36, she’s Northern, bright but not well
educated, she’s likely to be in an unconventional relationship but puts
her family first. Her life is tough but it helps to laugh. It was the
very same brief I used to give when we launched That’s Life!

And many “new” sections are flagrant rip-offs.

A
page called Him Indoors, featuring Hubby in the Nuddy (wouldn’t want to
open that post bag)n is a close relative of That’s Life!’s Aren’t Men
Daft. There are dirty jokes, funny stuff kids say and Puzzling Paul, a
hunky builder who will deliver puzzle prizes to readers, a descendant
of TL’s Dish with the Dosh.

But then perhaps the similarities are
unsurprising since the launch dummies were created by Karen
Pasquali-Jones, formerly That’s Life! features editor. IPC fired
Pasquali-Jones and her deputy Liz Jarvis in December just after the
magazine’s production schedule went live.

“Artistic differences”
says Mike Soutar, but judging by photos of the pair in IPC reception
with instructions not to allow them into the building under any
circumstances, it sounds a good deal more embittered than that.

But then insiders say it was kind of “artistic”.

They
say Jones did not take kindly to being managed by IPC creative director
Andy Cowles, ex art director of Rolling Stone and the now-defunct
Mademoiselle. And any editor would understand the horror of having your
cover lines changed by a designer.

Yet what is new about Pick Me Up is its design.

The true life stories are laid out in a clear, clean, logical way, accompanied by fact boxes which give them intelligence.

There are no heavy drop shadows or turgid cutouts.

The
colour palette is all fluoro pinks and yellows, more like funky Closer
than the heavy 1970s-style primary reds and blues of Chat and Take a
Break .

Pick Me Up looks like someone has taken That’s Life!,
with all its warmth, humour and salaciousness, refreshed and modernised
it, thus rendering it just a tad more aspirational. Which frankly is
what someone really should do with poor That’s Life!

Looking at
the current issue, apart from a consumer section, it has not changed
one bit since I left in 2000. The real life stories are still superb,
but a magazine – even a successful one – can never, ever stand still.
Readers need to be surprised occasionally, outraged even.

Little
wonder Chat has overtaken it. That’s Life! is behaving like a
franchise, pumping out its product. Even Pret A Manger sometimes adds a
new sandwich to its range.

That’s why it could be most vulnerable
to Pick Me Up . Particularly since at 65p TL is the cheapest title on
the market and IPC’s strategy is purportedly to go in at a lower cover
price, undercutting it.

In TL’s favour is that IPC wants to keep
things cheap. A £6 million launch, by the time retailers are bought
off, is small bananas. Staffing levels are reportedly low for a weekly
which will make things tricky, given Pick Me Up’s huge volume of real
life stories.

If you think the market for paparazzi pictures and
celeb gossip is competitive, try getting hold of a dozen fantastic true
life stories every week.

Take a Break , which enjoys unrivalled reader loyalty, is pretty invulnerable.

Editor
John Dale can be a premium grade arse to work for, with some unhealthy
and weird obsessions such as with Colin Stagg, but he is tirelessly
evolving his magazine, bravely innovating, throwing everything in the
air just to see how it lands.

And for snitty types who open Take A Break and recoil at blurred snaps of real life Vicky Pollards, sit down and read it.

You’ll miss your stop on the Tube.

Incidentally,
glossy fashionistas may sneer at the real life mags, but they are a
rigorous training ground, producing many up-market editors including
Jane Bruton of Eve and now Grazia , Cosmo’s Sam Baker, Sarah Bailey,
formerly of Elle, Prima’s Maire Fahey and Jane Johnson at Closer .

Back at Bauer tower, Pick Me Up is the last thing new MD Dave Goodchild needs.

So
far in his brief tenure he has sold off Real at a carboot sale price,
dispensed with the company’s most successful editor Lori Miles and
launched then quickly closed his diabolical men’s weekly Cut, costing
Bauer millions and its reputation in publishing.

Now the core of Bauer business, its cash cow real life weeklies, are under attack.

And
with the National Magazine Company announcing in November its joint
venture with Australian Consolidated Press – publishers of Oz real life
titles Take 5 and Cleo – I wonder if Dave has looked out of his seventh
floor window lately. He might see not just one plucky Spitfire, but a
whole squadron. !

Janice Turner is a columnist on The Times

Next week: Chris Shaw

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