Publishing Media Shortlist

Brand purpose advertising will be the making – or breaking – of Stylist


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

January 22, 2019 | 7 min read

The newly-formed Stylist Group is opening its doors to purpose advertisers keen to create or join empowering conversations about modern women. The magazine brand's future success depends on dodging the pitfalls that felled brother title ShortList and its ability to court brands amid heavy industry competition.

The Drum sat down with Stylist chief executive Ella Dolphin, and editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski, to learn the challenges and opportunities facing the title in 2019.

The most recent figures for the group, the year leading to March 2017, showed a pre-tax loss of £4.7m as revenues fell 8%. Investments in events, experiential, video, digital and the consultancy side of the business also did not come cheap for the DC Thomson-owned publisher.

Dolphin admits: “There wasn't enough demand on ShortList for it to pay back on that investment.” After 11 years and 552 issues, ShortList closed its print edition, pivoted to online 'product recommender' and shed 20 staff.

Tackling purpose briefs

Adv Vanity

Now, with a fresh slate in 2019, Stylist Group is refocusing. Dolphin says: “There is an endless cycle of briefs to empower women, now we will be able to prioritise that.”

She stresses that the group now has a clear purpose, the tone of voice and proposition to attract more brands than before. Reflecting this, it recently worked with Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers boasting countless household brands.

The brief was to put the Love Beauty and Planet brand in front of Stylist's readers, starting conversations around veganism, recycling and sustainability, while sampling the product across its physical network in UK cities. The executions were delivered by The Stylist Group Family creative consultancy which is now solely focused on developing work for female-facing brands.

“We took a generic brief and turned it into a campaign… we published content at the right time to get people to think about linking their desires to be more sustainable with their beauty choice.”

Tech companies, in particular, are also coming to the group for advice on how to talk to women – it is a service Dolphin jokes that they should start charging for.

Family is also reportedly working as a full-on creative agency for a still-to-be-announced drinks brand. “We are producing their assets, but it won't particularly run in our media.”

Digital growth


Stylist boasted around a 403,00 print circulation in the first half of 2018 and it would be difficult to increase this, according to Dolphin. “The economics don't work because the paper is like gold and we probably couldn't double the advertising. Honestly over the next four years if I have an opportunity to move the circulation up I will.”

Nonetheless, she claims Stylist is the fastest growing UK lifestyle brand, and the magazine serves to help scale up the digital footprint. She has noticed a change in reader behaviour: 80% of visitors are mobile users – and she believes they are visiting “for that opinion and lens that we are lending to the news”. SimilarWeb data says the website received 850,090 visits in December.

Dolphin adds: “We are bigger than Vogue, Refinery29 and Elle and we still have a way to go on that.”

For her 2019 will be about developing new verticals that fit with the brand, and first up is fitness. Experiential marketing will also play a big part in getting Stylist out to new audiences.

Editorial strategy

With the commercial plan firmly in place, editorial will deliver more of the same after a bold year of work which includes Stylist's first book launch – Life Lessons from Remarkable Women: Tales of Triumph, Failure and Learning to Love Yourself. “Evolution not revolution,” summed up Smosarski.

The title will ride a wave stirring more widely in media, namely the growing trend of championing women across advertising and entertainment. Recently, Stylist has worked with on-brand movies and shows like Killing Eve (interview with shoppable outfits) and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel (awareness and competition) but it wants to up its output in 2019.

Captain Marvel star Brie Larson, the lead in Marvel’s first movie devoted to a female heroine, will guest edit the title following a brief discussion about using inclusion riders in the movie late in December.

Smosarski previously talked to The Drum about its ambitious Suffragette issue and remarkable women programme. In the issue, the mag and ads were aged a century to mark 100 years of the vote for women (as seen below).


She now outlines that Larson has been “very hands-on” with her guest editorship: “She shares our values… and she basically flat-planned our whole issue.” Epitomising this new dynamic where Smosarski outsources control of the title, she says: “The photographer that shot her is just someone she followed on Instagram whose work she enjoyed."

Stylist events

There is growth to be pursued in the events space too. The team reportedly generated £1.6m in revenue in 2018, working with 230 brands and touching down with 22,000 people. Dolphin says events offering Stylist Live “has become its own brand” and will expand to touch down in more UK cities and offer VIP ‘experiences’.

With its team already offering a proposition to brands to deliver events, Stylist is looking to launch its first ever awards ceremony in 2019, The Remarkable Women Awards. This event will tie in with the title's 10th birthday on 5 March during International Women’s Week.

Acknowledged will be female entrepreneurs, creatives, celebs, mental health workers, mentors and philanthropists who have made a positive impact for women.

Smosarski says: “We've never had an awards ceremony, last year we were celebrating visible women, championing women through history and sharing their stories. We thought ‘why not do it at a live event?’

“Since we launched Stylist, we had such a clear idea of who we are, our DNA, what we would and wouldn't do and the fights we would fight on behalf of our audience. What we have seen over the last decade is advertisers coming and saying I want to align my brand with the causes that you fight for.”

The free-title depends upon the support of like-minded advertisers, and it will be fiercely competing for briefs from like-minded publishers.

With more and more publishers diversifying their income by launching creative consultancies, 2019 will be the year brand purpose makes or breaks magazine titles.

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