Last week when I interviewed the editor and production editor of Men’s Health (MH), both men were optimistic about the future of their magazine. And so they should be. In February this year they reported a 4.1 per cent increase in the latest ABC figures, and earlier this week they were nominated for four PPA awards including editor of the year – an award Rees won in 2007 – and consumer title of the year. MH is clearly succeeding where other men’s mags are failing, abysmally.
So what is the secret to such success?
“Service journalism,” says editor, Mogan Rees, “What that means is the information we put on the page is useful and actionable.” Substance over style is Rees’ mantra and it shows: MH has a very distinct look from which it rarely deviates. The word utilitarian is too strong since there is great use of graphics and stylised photos.
But the classic cover design of a buff, shirtless model shot in black in white, and set off by red and blue coverlines, is recognisable from month to month. While it may seem to cover the same ground each issue, Rees insists the content is new, “We have to get it [the cover] right, more than most. The image does not change much so selling the content becomes absolutely paramount. The coverlines may sound the same but the content and science behind them changes every month.”
Rees has had more than his fair share of experience in the style sector too. Before MH he worked on Loaded, GQ, and Jack – all of which he enjoyed. But he knew the time was right for change when he found himself spending more and more time negotiating with celebs to pose on the front cover.
It would seem Rees’ waning enthusiasm for men’s lifestyle magazines coincided with a nationwide sentiment much the same. In the last few months, Arena has folded, Maxim UK has gone online only and Loaded, FHM, Zoo and Nuts have all suffered from declining circulation. “The idea of a men’s lifestyle magazine is still relatively new. Before that there were specialist titles. What we are seeing now is a return to that form. If a magazine has a clearly defined remit it will do well in the current climate,” says Rees.
Production editor, Tom Stone, has a slightly different rationale as to why MH is doing well, “Health and fitness is a subject that appeals more to the older age bracket, which ties in with the magazine buying public. People buying magazines are getting older.” Stone recognises that the younger generation access information online whereas before they would have looked to magazines. But he also thinks it is possible to pull readers in from your website, if you make it good enough.
Here again, MH is excelling. This stems from the fact that their subject area is easily clubbable. The MH forums are choc-a-bloc with threads of conversations between members. These range from chats about the best place to get the season’s en vogue protein shake to discussions on, believe it or not, the key philosopher’s works for a novice to start with. With 697, 000 unique users each month the online community at MH is not to be sniffed at.
But that is not to say the MH team are resting on their laurels.
“I want to make MH complete” says Rees, “what we have done in the last six years [since he started] is expand the remit of the magazine. It used to only deal with sex and abs. These days it deals with psychology, work/life balance, career progression, parenting, you name it.”
And where does Stone see MH in the next five years?
“It will be the number one men’s monthly magazine. It will be the market leader. I expect it will have a lot more imitators – other magazines trying to do the same thing. The lad’s mags are over. It is the time for the useful magazine.”
Testosterone fuelled, cocky, high expectations? Maybe, but with Rees and Stone at the helm there seems no reason why these should not be realised.