Elle UK’s editor-in-chief says ad revenue is “still very solid” in the luxury space and has even upped the price of its magazine

Elle September issue

Elle UK has become the latest magazine in the Hearst Magazines UK portfolio to undergo a brand overhaul as part of the group's push to refine its products with a better understanding of its audience.

The strategy was heralded by Cosmopolitan which - after a radical overhaul of the title’s editorial, marketing and distribution - brought itself back to become the highest circulating women's glossy magazine in the UK.

Yet while Elle is following on from Cosmopolitan’s successful strategy of distributing the magazine where the audience is - both digitally and in retail stores - rather than expecting it to come to you, its priority is in different places. Where Cosmopolitan’s editor Farrah Storr said media executives should rely less on advertising and circulation models and focus more on events, Elle’s editor-in-chief Lorraine Candy asserted “our business is in ad revenue and it is still very solid”.

“We are a very different business than Cosmo” Candy said. While Cosmopolitan appeals to a mass-market audience, as a luxury fashion magazine Elle has a more specific audience willing to pay above the mark for the product, and thus appeals to more high-end advertisers. These advertisers still spend big in print and display advertising, according to Candy.

Instead of having the verticals of Elle sitting separately in the event space, Candy expressed interest in generating revenue from a unified brand - "the world of Elle" - but asserted this will "not be in the same way as Cosmopolitan" because other aspects of the business are not struggling on the same level as the glossy was.

While its circulation numbers might pale in comparison to Cosmopolitan’s, averaging 150,000-200,000 compared to Cosmo’s 405,308 from the latter half of 2015, its premium price point at £4.10 (compared to Cosmo’s £1) means revenue generated from circulation is still very healthy.

“With Elle we are very comfortable with our numbers - we have always said it is about 150,000-200,000. But the target was luxury millennial so felt we needed to move the product on to talk to her more directly. It is really editing to the core Elle reader now.” Candy said.

To that end, the magazine is loathe to slash its cover price like some of its stablemates have done, even going so far as to up its price point from £4.10 to £6 (plus P&P) for its exclusive September issues.

"Our strategy is very much, we are giving it to people that we know are the right people, but absolutely we want to make sure we get the right people on the news stand, so that is about maintaining our cover price, or increasing it in this instance," Candy said.

The exclusive covers are part of Elle’s ‘print on demand’ distribution approach for its September issue where consumers can pre order the cover of their choice. It’s Elle’s attempt to target new audiences by tapping into individual celebrity fan bases and fashion students “who aren’t necessarily going to go into newsagents”.

“To keep using the same message again and again when the whole world is changing is mad,” Candy said, “This is about us looking for new audiences and reaching people in a different way.”

The brand’s refresh also includes digital updates; moving the site to Hearst’s propriety technology platform, MediaOS, to provide editorial with up-to-the-minute audience insight and drive search, coupled with an “aggressive” social media strategy.

Elle’s group publishing director Jacqui Cave said: “We have learnt from digital where our audience is. So we have had very aggressive social media strategies because we know our audience is on social media and then links back to the site.”

This social strategy is centered around Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, with Candy saying the magazine does not work with popular platform Snapchat because “it is a very high resource channel” and “not as luxury as we would want it to be”.

Cave added: “With print we thought we would follow that same kind of lead, so it's about taking the magazine away from traditional magazine outlets and putting it where she [our reader]is. Luxury magazines take time to read so we wanted to catch her when she is in the right state of mind for magazine reading, which is why we are working with high-end luxury retailers and beauty retailers and putting magazines in their hands.”

Following on from Hearst’s “pop-up and pick-up” distribution strategy for Cosmopolitan, the publisher has chosen brand partnerships for Elle that include MatchesFashion.com, Space NK and Lookfantastic, to distribute the magazine through their respective channels and reach a targeted, high-spending consumer. Copies of the magazine will also be available through ‘pop-up’ and ‘pick-up’ points at carefully selected events including London Fashion Weekend and key festivals.

While Elle has pioneered A-list red carpet events, it has recently pushed its events program into consumer-facing events to reach wider audiences through an influencer series, fitness events and a tech issue with Instagram. Candy said it is “very valuable as part of our brand partnerships to weave events into that” but asserted it has to be the right event, be luxury and appeal to the right woman in order to drive engagement with the Elle brand.

“The difference between us and Cosmo is where we are going to engage with our consumer.” Candy said, “In order to make it relevant to a luxury millennial reader we have got to make it cooler and it has to be different in its design to the other luxury market we are up against.”

The magazine has been redesigned by creative director, Suzanne Sykes, with a new, cleaner, sophisticated aesthetic with the intention of creating a luxurious and curated experience for readers of the magazine. Advertising formats have been updated as part of the redesign, to appeal to its premium luxury advertisers which prefer 100 per cent share-of-voice and “beautiful formats”.

Elle has opened up the masthead for advertising real estate, where a brand can put its design behind the Elle title as an extension of its advertisement elsewhere on the page. What’s more, because that is editorial estate, it can’t be ad blocked.

The brand overhaul will also include a new approach to editorial content across its print and digital platforms.

“Elle’s voice has always been incredibly strong, but our actual digital content will be much cooler, it will be accessible. We are not playing in the Dazed, Vice, iD space, that is not our expertise. This is a cool feeling around a strong brand we are just refining and curating it more.” Candy concluded.

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