Hoping for a Stellar start in the tough magazine market


MEDIA & MARKETING: Siobhán O'Connell:There is never a good time to launch a new title, says publisher Michael O'Doherty.

LAUNCHING A new magazine and acquiring another one is a bold move in the current economic environment. But fortune favours the brave and, in recent weeks, publisher Michael O'Doherty has launched Stellar, a new women's monthly, as well as taking over the Dubliner.

O'Doherty's stable already consists of the monthlies VIP and Kiss, and the weekly TV Now. Stellar is pitched at young women aged 18 upwards, and O'Doherty's rationale is to try to hold onto the female readers who stop buying Kiss as they grow older.

Says O'Doherty: "In terms of the economy, we didn't pick the right time to launch Stellar, but there is never really a good time to launch a magazine. You always have concerns about whether it is going to work, particularly with a magazine like Stellar, which is aimed at a market where there are already a lot of magazines.

"However, Irish people buy Irish magazines because they have Irish content. If your content isn't local, you are in trouble because you are never going to be as good as the UK titles. Nick their ideas, their formats, their styles - but make it Irish."

Stellar is a glossy 164-page magazine with a lively mix of features. The launch issue included a photo spread of the best-looking barmen in Dublin, a male perspective on girls who spill the beans on their ex-boyfriends, and the latest affordable fashion and beauty trends.

Helen O'Rourke, media planner with Starcom, is impressed by the mix. "Stellar's mix of fashion and features is just right," she says. "The editorial is clever and witty, the content is well laid out and the clothes features are the right mix of aspirational and affordable." According to Martina Stenson at Universal McCann: "Stellar feels young and dynamic and, in the Irish marketplace, that is probably quite unique."

Stellar's main Irish rival is U magazine, published by Harmonia, which has fortnightly sales of 34,000. O'Doherty's target with Stellar is less ambitious; he is hoping for a circulation of between 12,000 and 15,000 in year one.

In the women's sector, Irish publishers hold their own against the British imports. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, VIP has average sales of 35,000, Image has 27,000, Woman's Way has 26,500, Irish Tatler has 26,400, The Gloss has 11,000 and Prudence has 10,400.

These titles fish from an advertising pool that will shrink in 2009. Paul McCabe of MCM Communications predicts next year will be tough for media. He said: "Marketing budgets are being cut back and advertising deals will become much more aggressive."

Garret Monahan, head of press buying in Carat, concurs. "In 2009, ad agencies and clients will seek maximum return on investment and value for money. The women's magazine sector is already a very competitive market, not only in terms of domestic titles but also the influx of UK titles which are widely available across the country."

Publishers of women's magazines also face increased competition from glossy newspaper supplements. Says Paul McCabe: "The quality of some of these newspaper magazines is excellent. Advertisers will consider the fact that these magazines are given away for free, but it's not an overriding concern."

"A newspaper might say it sells 200,000 copies and therefore 200,000 people read the magazine insert," says O'Doherty, "but advertisers know that the majority of those supplements get thrown in the bin."

He added that he bought the Dubliner magazine from founder Trevor White because the title doesn't overlap with his other magazine. O'Doherty says the monthly's identity will be maintained, but with "a bit less foppishness" and more personality-driven covers. "There is no reason why we couldn't do an annual or a summer guide to the city, the kind of thing Time Out has been doing for decades," he says.

The Dubliner is O'Doherty's first purchase. He explains: "A year ago I believed that it was best to do magazines from scratch. But as I get older, I guess it's easier to buy."

London PR agency Eulogy, run by Sligo man Adrian Brady, is chuffed after being named best specialist agency in the annual awards scheme run by the Public Relations Consultants Association. "The award recognises the commitment of our dedicated team in developing creative and measurable PR campaigns," says Brady.

Eulogy's roster of clients - which the firm describes as "intimidating" - includes Enterprise Ireland, the Royal Mail and Virgin Media.