FHM resurfaces as online-only brand to fill the middleground between the LadBible and GQ

FHM website

Bauer Media Group is relaunching FHM as an online-only brand after the magazine shut up shop last year, citing advertiser demand for a men’s brand in the US and a market where new digital players like LadBible have risen to success, as the perfect time to give users a “middle ground” mass-appeal male-skewed brand.

The brand has taken a leaf out of its digital rivals’ books, by pushing all of its new content on Facebook, recognising this will drive the majority of its traffic now.

It is the popularity of these digitally native brands such as the LadBible and Unilad in acquiring mass audiences on social media that gives Bauer’s digital MD Christian Baesler confidence a revived FHM will reel back its once loyal fans.

“We saw new upstart companies like LadBible and Unilad have got huge audiences with unique content models that are different from the traditional magazines. We saw that we would be able to build a big audience quickly, and there was an opportunity to change what FHM used to be into more of what works in digital,” Baesler said.

He is positioning FHM between the likes of LadBible, which is “too clickbait”, and GQ and Esquire, which are “too high end, and too niche”.

“We want to be in the middle where it is still quality content that appeals to a mass audience without resorting to the clickbait technique,” he added. Baesler claimed since reactivating the site, traffic has tripled and it has been profitable from month one.

Bauer Xcel Media, the media company’s digital arm which took over FHM's website when the UK edition of the magazine folded last year, has been posting content on the site over the last two months to test the waters.

A data-driven model replaces print

The data-driven editorial model for Bauer’s US brands is not far removed from the alternative players that are trying to establish themselves for the long-term. The publisher now keeps headcount to a minimum and creates very specific content that it knows will work well with huge audiences and drive a lot of traffic.

Right now there is only one editor handling the FHM brand, with plans to bring a second one in soon. There are no immediate plans to expand beyond this count. To spearhead global growth without having local hubs, the two editors are charged with creating content that is relevant to an international audience.

“The content we produce is all about how can we maximise the relevancy and traffic for posts not the quantity. It is more about how can we take this content and distribute it across multiple countries in the most efficient way, not how can we create local versions of the same article,” Baesler said.

Advertiser demand for a male audience

While the brand cited an existing consumer demand in the US as a reason for relaunching, much of its revival is due to advertiser appetite. Here, the title is mostly reliant on programmatic and agency relationships. Its advertisers, no longer satisfied with its women brands, want to reach a larger male audience.

“With the advertising partners we work with in the US there was a strong demand for us to extend into the man vertical,” he said, “We knew we had revenue guarantee upfront by creating content that is targeted towards an audience.”

Yet while there is a clear path to monetisation, the brand is mindful it has to create content which an advertiser would be comfortable to appear next to.

“There is a fine line, we have to be careful with our content strategy because women still drive the most traffic but it is the least viable environment from an advertising perspective," Baesler said.

He doesn’t want to give up what FHM was famous for, which is women, but instead plans to tackle it in a “more classy way”. As such, there will be no nudity on the site; instead he wants FHM to be more of a “serviced lifestyle brand that is for the average guy”.

The end of the lad mag, the rise of the digital male

FHM originally started in print 1985 in the UK as "For Him Magazine", best known for its abundant use of nudity, and arguably objectifying poll of the 100 sexiest women. The magazine had been in circulation in nearly 30 countries when Bauer it phased out in 2015 following a significant drop in readership, with its circulation falling over 90 per cent in the years after its heyday in 2000.

At the same time as shutting FHM’s print run, Bauer announced a similar fate for Zoo, another publication dedicated to so-called ‘lad culture’. Two other lads magazines, Loaded and Nuts, also closed in the same year, signalling the end of an era that dominated the UK magazine market in the late 90s and early 2000s.

As the old guard ceased to exist, digital brands Ladbible, Unilad and Joe rose up the ranks, their success built upon third party distribution on Facebook. Unlike other publishers, these brands actually benefit from Facebook becoming increasingly algorithmized around people’s interests, helping push their content out wider and more frequently.

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