Why Blair's not right for our front page

For
Glamour editor Jo Elvin, record sales bring stress, sleepless nights
and the confidence to run an interview with the Prime Minister without
any fanfare. Alyson Fixter reports

WHAT DO you do when you’re
the editor of the biggest-selling women’s magazine in British history,
and you’ve recently announced you’re shifting nearly 150,000 more
copies a month than your nearest competitor?

If you’re Jo Elvin, editor of Glamour, you don’t sit back, rake in
the freebies and spend long lunch breaks at Harvey Nicks. You worry.

“It
keeps me awake at night,” she admits. “I spend a lot of time thinking
about the ways it could go wrong and working at not letting that
happen. I’m very aware that 600,000 is a big number to keep growing.

“It’s
impossible to read other women’s magazines just as a reader any more. I
simultaneously love and hate the competition, because while it gives
you sleepless nights, it also keeps you on your toes.”

But if
35-year-old Elvin, who is expecting her first baby, is frank in person
about her tendency to stress, it doesn’t come out in her magazine. A
fast, upbeat and highly digestible mix of glossy fashion, celebrity and
“emotional content”, the handbag-sized title has swept past rivals
since its launch in 2001, and in the February ABCs posted an average
monthly circulation of 670,391.

Subtle approach

The four-year anniversary edition – billed as the “music issue” –
features Gwen Stefani on the cover, and interviews with Kelly Osbourne,
Joss Stone and Rachel Stevens, along with a covermounted CD.

And, tucked in there somewhere between the high fashion, A-list
celebs and personality quizzes, it’s also got interviews with the main
political party leaders, carried out by three highly respected women
journalists: Miranda Sawyer, Jane Moore and Lucy Cavendish. Closest
rival Cosmopolitan also publishes a similar feature this month, but
while Cosmo has been capitalising on its “High Heel Vote” campaign,
with editor Sam Baker giving interviews across the national press,
Glamour has hit the shops without a single press release about the
interviews – or even a mention on the cover.

It’s not, Elvin
says, that Glamour doesn’t think politics is important, just that in
the “flick of a switch” when you decide which magazine to buy, Blair
isn’t going to press that button.

“The Glamour cover is very hard
to do,” she says. “Because of the size, there are always 20 more things
I want to put on it, and this one was covermounted, so in terms of
newsstand visibility, I had two spots.

“Obviously you have to
namecheck Gwen, and then there are things that I know sell, and the
fact is, I don’t think that at the moment politics is one of those
things.

“I’m not sure with my two visible cover lines that I’m willing to risk everything on Tony Blair.”

This
pragmatic approach is a far cry from Cosmo’s campaigning stance on the
issue, with Baker claiming she has set out to convince Cosmo readers
that their vote does count. To Elvin, it’s not necessarily a magazine’s
job to preach to its readers.

She admits: “I did wonder if we
should have done all that press-releasing [like Cosmo], but it didn’t
occur to me that it was anything that novel – ‘We’ve done something
clever everybody!’ – which I think is what the people at Cosmo are
doing, because they’re so desperate to prove they do more than sex.”

But, she adds, the lack of fanfare doesn’t mean that either the magazine or Number 10 took the interview lightly.

“I
think at first they were expecting that I wanted something like Tony
Blair at home with the kids,” she says, “but I wanted to take him
and the other leaders to task over various issues, and I think that
actually made them more comfortable.

“I’ve interviewed Tony Blair
and you can ask him anything political, but you ask him his favourite
TV show and he panics, because he doesn’t watch TV.

It’s not so
much that it’s an intrusion, I think he genuinely doesn’t feel on solid
ground with anything that’s a bit more personal.

“It can be really cringey when they try to talk down to the youth, and I think they respected our approach.

“I
watch Newsnight most nights and Question Time, but every now and then I
just think: ‘Oh my god, shut up, talk about something real.’ It’s worth
reminding people that politics is more than just Westminster-focused.

“I
think that politicians should recognise more the power of women’s
magazines and that there are different ways to get the message across.

“There’s
still a lot of cynicism and apathy, and I don’t pretend I’m going to
change anything with one article, but I do think readers are interested
in being part of affecting political change and I think the Iraq war
was a tipping point for that.”

First place

Glamour hit first place in the sales figures a comfortable
two-and-a-half years ago, so you can understand why Elvin might feel
less need for grandstanding than her competitors. However, she is
scathing about Cosmo’s current attempts to overcome its stereotype as a
sex-obsessed magazine by focusing on women’s issues.

“I think the way the two magazines treat sex is a very interesting point of difference,” she says.

“Obviously we do it because it sells mags, but we do it in a much more emotionally intelligent way.

I’ll
never do drawings of how to put this there and get this result. It’s
more about: ‘How does it make me feel and what do men really think
about this?’ So I think it can sometimes be a quite subtle but powerful
difference.

“The way Cosmo does sex has always been for somebody
for whom sex is quite new, it’s always: ‘Oh god, this magazine’s rude.’
I think readers look to Glamour because they’re slightly more
sophisticated and fashion aware.”

She’s also, despite her
sleepless nights, less worried about the launch of women’s weekly
Grazia than you might expect, though the Emap glossy seems to be aimed
directly at Glamour’s fashion-aware, upmarket readership. Like all
editors, she is aware of the way the men’s weeklies have changed the
men’s glossy market, overtaking all but FHM in sales figures, but she
doesn’t seem to fear the same outcome in the women’s sector.

“At
the moment it doesn’t feel like a big bomb’s been dropped on the
market,” she says. “I like the fashion, I like the shopping pages, but
I was expecting – I hate being rude – I was expecting more of a big wow.

“It’s
a really difficult brief for them because it falls between two stools:
it’s not quite glossy enough, it’s not quite tabloidy enough. I can see
the confusion about where to actually stick it on the news-stand.

“Also,
it’s all very well having a paparazzi pictureand a writearound from ‘a
friend’, but a point of difference for us is our celebrity access. We
can’t have the immediacy of Grazia, but I’m thrilled we have really
great interviews with people like Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.”

She
expects the main result of Grazia to be a “whole new cycle” of change
in the market, helped along by some new hirings in the top glossy jobs
and the rise of the celebrity weeklies. It’s a challenge she seems to
relish, even with the imminent birth of her baby (due in July) to keep
her occupied. It’s not definite yet how much maternity leave she will
take, but she is clearly focused on the title’s future rather than
resting on her laurels.

“I’m certainly not at the point with Glamour where I feel like I’ve done it all,” she explains.

“This
is the best job I’ve ever had, and if they’ll have me [at publisher
Condé Nast], I’ll stay till Glamour’s 10th anniversary.

“Anyway,” she adds wryly, glancing down at her stomach, “there’s nothing like a baby to make you loyal!”

Feelgood factor

One career move that is definitely not on the cards, in any case, is anything to do with baby magazines.

“I’m a bit bewildered by baby mags,” she admits.

“I can’t see me moving to that area unless I suddenly change personality entirely when I have a baby.”

And
while Glamour is resolutely free of parenting tips and birth stories,
Elvin insists the aim of the title is to keep it as inclusive as
possible.

“It’s so difficult with women’s magazines because you
want to reach everybody,” she explains, “but then you’ve got women who
are married, women who aren’t, women living with boyfriends, single
women, women with children, women without, and you’ve got to find a way
to make them all feel welcome.

“You go crazy unless you have a target in mind.

The
average Glamour reader probably doesn’t have children, but she’s at
that age where she’s thinking: ‘Should I be having kids now? Surely I’m
still too young? But this Daily Mail article says if I don’t have them
by next year I’ll probably get cancer.’

“I get tons of letters
from people who say: ‘I just gave my three-year-old to my husband and
spent the afternoon in the bath reading Glamour.’ It’s essentially just
a feelgood, very inclusive magazine.”

So, a question that has to be asked: what’s been Elvin’s most “Glamour” moment so far? She looks faintly alarmed.

“Honestly,
I don’t have Glamour moments. There are things like one of you suddenly
realising on a shoot that Britney Spears has got too much information
going on in the bikini pant area and arguing over who’s going to sort
it out. Funny stuff like that.

“But I’m such a hands-on editor, I
don’t spend a hell of a lot of time out with fashion designers. I did
go to the Monaco Grand Prix last year, though, all expenses paid, which
was just amazing. It makes you think: ‘God, this job is just stupid.'”

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