Psychologies: Therapy for the magazine reader

Names are important – and when it comes to magazines it seems in the UK we like them simple and to the point – not much room for the magazine equivalent of Fifi Trixiebelles and Tiger Lily.

So what if you are the editor of a new magazine and the name is already chosen – an inherited one that’s hugely popular in France, but in the UK no one knows what it means.

The most you can hope, when you have exhausted all the opportunities for changing it, is that it will develop its own quirky appeal and that the fact it’s not an everyday name will eventually become a plus. At least, you can reassure yourself, it won’t just be one of the crowd.

That’s how Maureen Rice, editor of Psychologies, likes to see the magazine two years after its launch in the UK by Hachette Filipacchi.

Initially a small journal for therapists, the title was bought a decade ago by publishing guru Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber, who transformed it into a consumer mainstream magazine with a readership of 300,000 in France.

The name, Rice admits, was one of the biggest problems they had when it came to extending the brand to the UK: ‘No one had a clue what the name meant. That’s why we have fairly classic women’s mag covers – we had to decode the name for them.”

As well as the non-negotiable name, the magazine shares a template with its French version for news, features, the regular dossier on key self-development issues and five senses sections with all the international editions. The core brand value that can’t be messed with, says Rice, is ‘a focus on the internal world, not just what women look like”.

‘If you look at all women’s magazines they are hugely focused on externals,’she adds. ‘Psychologies is much more focused on the way we are on the inside; it’s the examined life, the life you want to have to be happier; to have better relationships, at work to manage people better, to understand why we sometimes react the way we do.’

Countless women’s titles have been launched promising something different, but ultimately they rarely stray from the time-tested mix of fashion, beauty, sex and celebrity.

‘Publishing houses have known for years that there’s been a huge desire for something different. And yet no one has figured out what the difference should be,’says Rice. ‘The things that changed are to do with format and frequency.’Psychologies is ‘a triumph of innovation and of risk’claims Rice –the first magazine to have ‘changed the basic recipe”.

For both her and her 17-strong team, working on the magazine has been like having therapy – the subjects they cover have forced them to examine themselves, says Rice.

They have also tapped into the emotions of women who are currently largely ignored by the industry – and found that a lot of them are very angry. ‘Someone said to me – expletives deleted – about one of the big glossies, ‘Why don’t they put a sticker on the front saying Over size 12? Over 40? Why don’t you beep off, because we don’t want you’.”

With a January to June ABC up 25 per cent to 130,101, Rice says Psychologies has increased its readership without eating into other markets. Women in their mid to late-30s with a good job, well educated who don’t read other magazines make up its core readership.

‘We have not cannibalised the market; we have delivered 130,00 new readers to the newsstand,’says Rice. ‘It’s a very upscale readership that is not easy to reach reliably by other means.”

Although advertisers were initially uncertain about what Psychologies was, commercially the magazine is ‘doing really well’and attracting premium advertising, says Rice. ‘Somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent of our readers don’t read any other women’s monthly magazine,’she continues.

While the French title has passed on strong traditions to its offspring, the first 24 issues of Psychologies in the UK demonstrate small adaptations that reflect strong cultural differences between French and British women. Such changes are not made lightly, however.

‘Inevitably you have a ‘discussion’ with the master edition, which, of course, is hugely successful, so if you want to adapt and make changes you have to defend your point and prove that you are right,’says Rice.

Initially a ‘very wordy’magazine, its design has moved towards a more visual format that is ‘more accessible and easier to read”, says Rice.

‘We found the balance of features that our readers really respond to best, and that’s a mixture of things to think about and things that are incredibly practical.’

In France, the Psychologies’ website is among the biggest ?magazine sites, acting as a portal to services, training and courses, with forums and exclusive material. Web development will be big on Rice and her team’s agenda next year.

Blogging frees them up from the monthly schedule and also provides opportunities to engage with readers – something there is great enthusiasm for.

‘It’s a massively underserved and under-reported market,’says Rice. ‘But the publishing industry has nervously stepped away from it and not been sure how different we can be.”

Caught between the rock of being ‘too brainy, too in-depth’for some women and the hard place of being ‘just not in-depth enough’for others, Rice admits that it’s not easy getting the mix right as a mainstream glossy magazine.

‘Both are at the margins of where we go,’she says. ‘We’re not for people necessarily with major life problems, or for people who are really educated in therapy.?We’re for people like me.’

In such a ‘me-too’industry, Rice is aware that other publishers might launch a Psychologies-type magazine. ‘It’s very daring and risky to do one of these, I don’t know if anyone will risk doing another, but, at the same time, anybody watches a magazine that works.

We’ve had four ABC increases at a tough time in the monthly market,’says Rice. ‘There is a lot of goodwill towards us because we are offering something different. We’re riding that while we can. If anyone goes come along and launch then we will have to work to hold on to that goodwill.”

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