The Face, the magazine that published the zeitgeist before it was cool from 1980 until 2004, is back on British newsstands for the first time in 15 years. It’s also in newsagents across the world, online, at events, on video, in e-commerce, on social and at mag retailers across the globe – a veritable specimen of modern publishers’ need to diversity revenue streams.
But to create all the content necessary to succeed, The Face’s team are avoiding reliance on a factory of cheap interns – they’re investing in experienced talent for the long-term.
This begins with the leadership team. Its editor, Stuart Brumfitt, famously wrote into the mag in 1999 when he was – as The New York Times describes it – a “gay closeted 17-year-old schoolboy” who retracted his real name for fear of being outed. He went on to work for Attitude, Wonderland and i-D, and is now shaping The Face to be an editorial antidote to the feed; a publication that documents culture with a curator’s eye.
The pressure to fill this feed is what has driven many a magazine brand under, argues Jason Gonsalves, the company’s brand director. Ironically, two hours before he speaks to The Drum, TI Media announces it will shutter print production of Marie Claire in the UK after 30 years, citing the “needs of its audience's mobile-first, fast-paced, style-rich lifestyles”.
“Part of the reason why a lot of publishers have gone wrong is they've been so obsessed with filling a feed, so their teams have just become a sea of interns probably not being paid,” he says. “They've chased traffic and ended up not having a relationship with an audience or any real credibility and reputation.
“We don't want to make that mistake. We want to invest in the products, invest in the relationships and everything else will come.”
Gonsalves is no stranger to industry adaptation. He comes from the world of advertising strategy – most recently as the chief executive officer of Mcgarrybowen London – but brings a reverence for The Face brand on par with Brumfitt (“The first time I met Jason he told me he wanted to relaunch The Face,” recalls one of his former Mcgarrybowen colleagues. “He’s only gone and done it.”)
Supported by publisher Jerry Perkins, a veteran of brands such as Kerrang, Mojo and Mixmag, Gonsalves and Brumfitt have given themselves the budget to hire “old wise heads” as well as “young, multitalented craftspeople”. Combined, The Face hopes they will bring together a fast-moving, culture-driven approach to content production with a honed understanding of journalism, audience and publishing.
This will be supported by The Face’s secret weapon: a “creative council” of producers, fashion designers and music execs that will guide editorial decisions and lend their contact books where necessary. All sharpened on the coolest point of culture, the street-smart team act as “free range creators”, explains Gonsalves.
Unlike other similar setups, council members are given editorial legitimacy with a place on The Face’s payroll.
“We try and support them when they're doing things as well, and then they've been incredibly generous in terms of creating opportunities for us,” says Gonsalves. “When Solange pulled out of Coachella [in April], for instance [fashion designer and creative council member] Grace Wales Bonner reached out to her and said, ‘Would you like to perform for us in Harlem instead?’
“In three days, Solange turned up. It was magnificent, and live streamed by us.”
Live-steaming and video form just one part of The Face’s diversified business model, albeit a big one. Alongside the typical products associated with a magazine, such as a quality print publication and an Instagram presence, Gonsalves imagines a time where his team develops original programming – a la Vice – and sells it into streaming platforms.
“That market is exploding with Amazon Prime, Netflix, Apple TV... there’s a huge explosion of streaming services, a huge demand and not enough supply.”
Then there’s the creative content studio, a traditional print and digital ad sales division, experiments in live events , developments in audio (“We got Louis Vuitton's artistic director Virgil Abloh to interview Octavian using a conference call, and we recorded it and put it up on the site”) and a merchandise and e-commerce business that launched with a bang in partnership with Gucci.
All involved know they’re playing the long game with a strategy prioritizing audience engagement over clicks, particularly in markets outside of the UK, where the cult-like Face brand of the 80s and 90s has not translated. But it’s just as vital that investors are on-board with this game plan too, says Gonsalves, which means impatient, young VCs are out and more experienced backers are in.
“It's one thing having the money and there's another thing having the right kind of money,” he explains. “A lot of people have got backing from a lot of faceless VCs – ours are a bunch of old punks who really understand culture.”
These include Wasted Talent’s Ian Flooks, who once represented Kraftwerk, Talking Heads and The Clash; U2’s former manager Paul McGuinness, the Creative Artists Agency’s chief executive, Emma Banks; and the head of William Morris Endeavor's music division, Marc Geiger.
“They're the kinds of people who can understand the story of brands like Supreme, which went from being a tiny underground skate brand to a multibillion-dollar business because it invested in authenticity and allowed that to build organically,” says Gonsalves. “If you start to chase scale too fast, you end up with something where you don't have that kind of core.”
The beauty of The Face is the core was already built by its pioneers of the 80s. Its essence is what persuaded the agents of Harry Styles and Tyler the Creator to agree to the inaugural relaunched cover shoots, and what allows back issues to sell for $50+ on eBay.
Now, Gonsalves and team just need to chip away at the modern resistance to slow-burning brands to expose that core to a new audience of culture junkies and cash-rich advertisers.
“We want to be the coolest magazine in the world, the coolest publisher in the world,” he says. “At this moment in time, when the world is honestly fucked, we want people to say, this is publication that didn't shy away from having a point of view and taking a stand.
“That's not altruistic – we think everything will come from that: audience and revenue. But it’s got to start with us being something that really reflects this generation. That's what’s going to make us proud.”