Why Grazia's the weekly to grace your designer bag

NEVER HAS A
launch been watched as closely as Grazia. For the past six months it
has felt as if Emap has been conducting a £16m research and development
project on behalf of the whole of British publishing.

And the
longing for a delicious bit of schadenfreude over Grazia’s uneasy first
steps has been muted by an equal desire for the concept of a weekly
glossy to work. Because if it does – kerching! – we could all do with a
piece of that action.

This month, Grazia increased its cover
price from £1.50 to £1.70, presenting this as a sign of its success and
confidence “in Grazia’s transformational power in attracting increasing
numbers of premium, upscale, working women to the weekly market”.

When
a new title goes up in price, this means one of two things. Either the
magazine has secured so many readers who love it passionately that they
will be prepared to spend more. Or that it is not making enough money
from other sources – mass of readers or ad revenue – and a price
increase is the only way to cut a little slack in the business plan and
placate grumpy shareholders.

With Grazia, it is possibly a bit of
both. Its first ABC will be around its promised 150,000, and, while
this has been heavily supported through TV and sampling deals, recent
unpromoted issues have steadied out at a credible 140,000-plus.

But
while Emap claims it has exceeded its ad targets and is over-optioned
when the autumn/winter fashion season kicks in, the 18 July issue –
admittedly in the bleak midsummer – has just eight ad pages in 112.
Moreover, Dior cosmetics and Mercedes are the only luxury brands among
Boots and Andrex Moistened toilet tissue. There is no fashion
advertising at all. Are the premium brands still holding back, worried
that Grazia can neither deliver a huge audience nor the über-glossy
environment of the monthlies?

It is all still very early days for
a title that is braving new ground with tremendous energy and
determination. And the good news for editor Jane Bruton is that, on
admittedly anecdotal evidence, Grazia seems to have entered the culture.

“Grazia
Girl” is now a discernible type. An urban dweller with a decent job
and, if not a high disposable income, high credit limits on her fistful
of cards. For these itchy-pursed women, Grazia’s “click it while it’s
hot” internet purchase of the week must be irresistible. And Grazia
claims this item disappears from the shop within days, whether it be a
£5 bronzer or a £400 bag.

Yet whatever the ad managers wish to
spin about editorial providing a “footfall” into the shops, Grazia is
not bought primarily for fashion, but for its celebrity coverage. At
launch, I wondered how it might steer a middle course between the
iconoclastic bitchery of Heat and Closer and the air-brushed
PR-pleasing of the glossies.

Would it end up neither gossipy nor glamorous, merely bland?

Yet
over time, Grazia has shown that there is another way. The best example
of this is when Madonna chose Grazia to promote her frightful new
children’s book Lotsa de Casha. That’s “chose” as in actually offered
an interview. What a very happy day that must have been in the Grazia
office. A magazine exclusive plus recognition from the ultimate diviner
of all things cool.

Monthly titles who have been begging Madge for years must have been aghast.

But
then if you are an A-list celebrity with something topical to say, and
require an upmarket environment where your story will be told with
immediacy and some intelligence but without newspaper cynicism, Grazia
is a good place to go. Courtney Cox can discuss her struggle to have a
second child or Elle Macpherson can give her account of her marriage
breakdown without fear of being five pages from Jordan’s baby. Because
these days the safe repositories for showbiz sitdowns – OK! and Hello!
– feel too telly-tastic and tacky, their celebrities too obviously
cashstrapped and desperate, to attract the selfrespecting stars.

“Style
in crisis” is how Grazia terms its ideal cover story: celebrities who
amid huge personal turmoil never neglect to accessorise. While Jennifer
Aniston typifies that genre, some of Grazia’s biggest-selling issues
have featured British names such as Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham.

It
is a very high-pressure strategy to build sales on getting an exclusive
every week with an A-list name. But Grazia is increasingly able to pull
the right people at hot moments, such as Dannii this week talking about
sister Kylie’s breast cancer.

And this nicely meets the celebrity
requirements of a certain type of reader. Not everyone enjoys laughing
at George Clooney’s scabby tongue or blow-by-blow-job coverage of BB6
sex in Heat or Closer. Or they do, but are too aspirational and
image-conscious to buy their own copy.

In London at least, Grazia
is slowly acquiring a “mag to be seen with” kudos not witnessed since
Glamour. But, as yet, on a much smaller scale.

Because Grazia
Girl is quite a rare species. Her habitat is within commuter radius of
designer stores. Which means London environs and Harvey Nicks outposts
of Manchester and Leeds. While Glamour democratically displays dozens
of summer handbags at a whole range of prices, Grazia selects just a
few pricey “must-haves”.

This is not a mag for the quieter
suburbs or smaller towns. As one publisher sneered: “Can anyone in
Scunthorpe even pronounce Grazia?” It is no surprise that 70 per cent
of its readers – average age 34 – have no children.

Non-working mothers loathe being entreatied to buy a £300 pair of shoes.

While
only next month’s ABCs will tell for sure, Grazia does not appear to
have substantially knocked sales of the monthlies. Emap claims this is
because Grazia is opening up a whole new market.

But more likely
Grazia is a second purchase, bought in the weeks between issues of
Elle, Vogue or InStyle. True, it has a core of passionate readers who
Emap have decited to milk a little harder with the 20p price increase,
but this is not enough to make the magazine viable in the long term.

Rather
than panicking and repositioning itself down-market to win more readers
– which is difficult anyway given Grazia is published under licence
from Mondadori – Emap is showing steely nerves. It is holding steady,
allowing favourable word of mouth to build the magazine slowly with the
“right” type of reader, hoping eventually the fashion advertisers will
be won around.

But Grazia, despite buying in some fashion and
beauty pages from its Italian sister, is a very expensive operation to
run, with a large staff.

Which is why other publishers are still
only watching from the sidelines. IPC says reports that its Project
Gloss is to be launched as a Grazia rival in November are untrue. Italy
may have five weekly glossies, but it could be some time before Britain
has more than one.

Janice
Turner, a former launch editor of That’s Life and Real, is a Saturday
columnist for The Times. janice.turner@thetimes.co.u
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