The battle for the title of leading men’s weekly is as big as any tabloid war, according to Ben Todd, the recently appointed editor of Zoo.
Zoo’s last ABC figures showed a fall of 21.5 per cent year-on-year to 204,564 – 90,000 lower than its IPC Media rival, Nuts. Todd, drafted in from the Sunday Mirror to bring red-top values to the magazine said the pressure to increase sales is even more marked in magazines than in the tabloids.
He says: “There’s no doubt I’ve been hired to beat Nuts, it’s that simple, which I’m sure is why they moved me from a tabloid newspaper – they wanted someone used to pressure that will fight a tabloid war. I find it exciting.”
Todd’s main aim at Zoo is to make the magazine more news conscious – something rival magazine Nuts has failed to do, he claims. “That’s what I’m trying to change, make it more of the week. Nuts, certainly half the time, you wouldn’t know what week of the year it is that it’s publishing, which I find slightly bizarre. It publishes as regularly as the Sunday Mirror, yet with Nuts, you could be reading an issue for July or January and you wouldn’t know.”
Todd joined Zoo at the end of last year after three-and-a-half years as assistant editor (showbiz) on the Sunday Mirror. He was initially appointed as deputy editor and took the helm a month ago after Anthony Noguera moved to an editor-in-chief role at FHM. Noguera remains editor-in-chief across Emap East, which includes Zoo.
Todd is the latest in a long line of tabloid journalists reeled in by Emap as part of its strategy – demonstrated in recent weekly launches including Closer and First – of combining red-top newsiness with magazine gloss.
Celebrity focus To this end, Todd has already made some adjustments at Zoo, injecting the title with more celebrity news. In an arena dominated by gadgets, girls and gags, this might be a strange move, but this month’s NRS survey suggested that men are driving readership figures for celebrity titles, with uptake of magazines such as New rising 106 per cent among men.
Todd is adamant that celebrity gossip can be tailored for men. “I want Zoo to be the must-read for men every Tuesday,” he said, “the must-read weekly purchase as Heat is for young women.
Certainly blokes don’t have the same level of obsession as women with celebrity stories, they have to be the right stories, slightly off kilter. I disagree that men have no interest at all. These days the tabloids are so celebrity led, if men had no interest in celebrity they’d stop reading them.
“You can sit here and say that the [newspaper] circulation is going down, but they’re still selling. The Daily Mirror goes to 1.6 million people every day, of which around 800,000 are men, and 800,000 men aren’t sitting there after reading page after page of celebrity and saying this is rubbish.”
Prior to working at the Sunday Mirror, Todd worked for the Daily Star, originally as deputy pop editor, then showbiz editor, before taking on the role of group showbiz editor at Northern & Shell, writing for the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday for two years prior to joining the Mirror.
Todd said that he was aware that there were concerns he would draft in other tabloid journalists once he became editor, but currently he has no plans for a staff shake-up and said he likes the “ying yang” balance of the team. “I have a support team around me of two or three executives and I think it helps me for them to be magazine based so I don’t go completely off on a newspaper tangent.
I think if you just had a newspaper invasion, suddenly you wouldn’t know the past. You can argue that’s what happened with the British invasion of the National Enquirer. They lost track of the past of the magazine and why it sold in the US for so many years.”
Emap is currently in the middle of a massive restructuring exercise, “Magazines 2010” which is expected to see a high number of redundancies and will change the structure of Emap’s workforce. The company hopes the restructure will help its progress from a magazine business to a digital one with a magazine branch.
As far as Zoo is concerned, Todd’s role will develop so that he’ll also be in charge of Zoo’s online operation, although there will still be an online editor. The web and mobile staff have also been moved to the same floor as the editorial team.
“I think that what we’re doing in that sphere is common sense – the editor should be in charge of the internet site as well as the magazine. I don’t know why it was done another way.”
Brand awareness Comparing his new work with his experiences in the tabloids, Todd said that the magazines business seemed better geared toward future planning. “What’s been really interesting to me is how far ahead Zoo were than the Sunday Mirror or the Mirror Group in terms of its thinking and its branding. I don’t know why that’s the case, maybe it’s the traditional reason of concentrating on the scoop of newspapers that it’s come to them very late, the realisation that the newspaper brand is hugely important.
“Considering Zoo is three years old and the Mirror Group is 100-plus, it amazed me that Zoo seemed to be more aware of the importance of its brand.”
He added: “You did get the impression, certainly at the Sunday Mirror, that Trinity Mirror were cutting back a lot and it was stopping trying to compete at times with the News of the World. Not the editor, Tina [Weaver], but the upper echelons – the money men. It was the same with the Daily Mirror versus The Sun. I think they were saying ‘We’ll never beat them, we’ll just keep making money until the money pot runs out and it stops making money’.”
Still, there are some elements of the tabloid world Todd can’t shake off. He still wears his smart shirt and trousers to work, but jokes he might have a “freaky Friday” and shock everyone by coming in wearing jeans. Plus, though his news, sport, and showbiz knowledge are second to none, he’s working on the other essential “lad” topics, such as gizmos, to embrace his role. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sell my house and move into a one-bedroom flat and save up to buy a Porsche. It is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s amazingly fun. There’s pressure, but there’s pressure in all jobs – it’s a fun pressure. My wife is delighted.
I work Monday to Friday now, and she thinks it’s funny that at 34 I’m being allowed to edit a lads’ mag.”