Sunday, July 18, 2010

Page one girls

Women's magazines have always been a competitive market, growing increasingly so as impulse buys at the newsstand dwindle and each has to jostle for attention on the shelves. I had a look at what Irish mag editors believe catches the consumer's eye.
Interesting factoid: Women don't like men on their magazine covers, not even Justin Timberlake. Read on....

Celebrities are so approachable these days. You can spend your lunch hour with Glenda Gilson, take Cheryl Cole on the train to Cork and have a sit down and a glass of wine with Lorraine Keane. At a few euro a pop, they're cheap company too.

The celebs are not actually for hire in person, but they are available to pick up at any newsstand. Magazine editors know that celebrity cover girls sell copies and that some sell better than others.

The editor of Vogue recently named Kate Moss as her guaranteed crowd-puller; the more mid-range title Glamour says that Cheryl Cole is "the new [Princess] Diana in terms of sales".

Cheryl is a hit, apparently, because she's easy to relate to, dresses trendily but not too outre and, with her dimpled smile, looks like she's auditioning to be our friend. We're drawn to reach out for anything with her on the cover in the same way it's impossible to resist popping a length of bubble wrap. She's got that touchability factor.

"There is an element of trial and error in finding out who attracts readers," says Irish Tatler editor Jessie Collins. "But Irish women seem to like people who they feel an affinity with. They like strong, bright Irish women. Colette Fitzpatrick has worked well for us in the past, and I think Lorraine Keane is maybe the only person we've had on two covers.

"The presentation of them as smiling, approachable and not super-intimidating is attractive."

Time was when only models were deemed the perfect cover girls. These days, even high-fashion bible Vogue consistently plumps for a red-hot celebrity over the chiselled cheekbones of some beautiful -- but anonymous -- model.

Prudence magazine editor Annette O'Meara says that she called a halt a year ago to the policy of putting the model from their fashion shoot on the cover. "We really haven't looked back," she says. "Our sales went up last year -- part of that is to do with our content, which is geared to recessionary living, but it also coincided with when we started putting Irish celebrities on our cover. Our first one was Glenda Gilson and she was incredibly popular."

Perhaps it's down to a prurient interest in Gilson's chequered love life -- she's had high-profile dalliances with rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and property player Johnny Ronan -- or simply a matter of her photogenic face and body.

Whatever it is, Gilson is clearly a source of public fascination and that is a big cover-girl credential. A picture of her flashing her pearly-white smile in a bright-pink dress gave Stellar magazine one of its highest-selling issues ever.

British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has said that even though her magazine features some seriously daring outfits in its fashion spreads, the cover girls are never wearing anything too in-your-face. Bright colours such as pink help our eye to focus on one mag over another when confronted by such a huge choice on the shelves.

Pink dress aside, Prudence's O'Meara believes Gilson has "broad appeal" to readers. "When people are on TV five days a week, they have a broad recognition factor. Our current edition has Claudia Carroll, who is a very popular author and is also known from her stint in Fair City." Carroll played unlucky-in-love Nicola in the soap for 14 years.

Gilson has also done the business for the fortnightly U magazine. "Glenda and in fact all the girls from Xposé are very popular," says U's editor Jennifer Stevens.

Does this mean we magazine fans are a terribly shallow bunch, only interested in looking at women who are on the telly and wear pretty dresses? Irish Tatler's Collins thinks we're more sophisticated than that. "The reason the cover is so important to get right is that women have complicated tastes," she says. "There is an element of trial and error in it, but it does seem that readers want to see someone who, yes, ties in with them but also whose life is of interest."

News-driven magazines such as U, for example, find Cheryl Cole has indeed been a popular cover girl in the past six months, but only when there is a strong story to put alongside her picture.

"With online news content and access to paparazzi pictures, readers are very discerning and up to date," says Stevens. "Our next cover is Cecelia Ahern because of her secret wedding -- we are probably closer to Grazia and Look in England than to other Irish mags because, for us, the story drives who goes on the cover as much as a picture we might have of them."

There are some rules that editors stick to. Apparently, we like our cover girls to make eye contact with us, as if they're saying: 'Take me home! Let's have a girlie night in while I tell you how I keep my husband in line/get my hair so shiny!'

Sombre colours on the cover -- and green, for some reason -- are out. "Rosanna Davison in bright yellow on our most recent issue was our absolute top-selling cover," says Stellar's editor Susan Vasquez. "It was fresh, it was bright, it was vibrant and it jumped off the shelves. Particularly at this time, people are looking for light relief and magazines are a form of escapism and time out."

Prudence magazine conducted an interesting experiment for its March issue. They posted three very different photographs of Gillian Quinn on their website, allowing readers to vote for which one should make the cover.

The winning picture had Quinn, hair soft and feathered, smiling in a flowing, rose-pink chiffon dress. "People voted overwhelmingly for it," says O'Meara.

The first picture had her in an uber-sexy metallic gold dress, cut to the navel, and the third was a black-and-white headshot of Quinn, beautiful but unsmiling.

"It goes back to the fact that while arty photographers don't want people smiling, readers want someone like Gillian, who they feel they can relate to as a mother and wife of a beloved footballer, looking pleasant and appealing."

Bad girls are not entirely out of a cover-girl job. Stellar agonised over putting Angelina Jolie on the cover of an edition in March because of their readers' general sympathies "with Team Aniston".

But because the cover was related to the Pitt-Jolie split rumours circulating at the time, it sold well.

"The only thing I can say with certainty is that putting guys on the cover is a no-no," says Vasquez. When she was editor of Irish teen mag Kiss, they put Justin Timberlake on the cover at the height of his fame. "It just absolutely bombed," she says.

We know men like to look at the ladies but so too, apparently, do the ladies.


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