Shortlist axe proves how hostile the men’s mag market is today – but all hope is not lost

Shortlist Media announced last week that it will close the print edition of its men’s title, Shortlist, and will focus on its successful women’s title, Stylist.

The move will see the company rebrand as the Stylist Group, and though it will continue with the publication of content to Shortlist.com, the future looks uncertain for the men’s brand.

The closure of a title is often cited as being indicative of wider problems or challenges in the industry, but the stark contrast between the fortunes of Shortlist and Stylist, operating as brother and sister titles from under the same roof, makes this all the more interesting.

Stylist has gone from strength to strength in the digital era, with a strategy that combined its weekly freemium print offering, an increasingly popular digital offering, and the holding of real world events that have attracted up to 20,000 attendees.

Stylist made its position clear, its role is to empower young, professional women, and to bring women together. It set out its stall not as opposition to heritage women’s titles, and not as direct competition, but as a progressive alternative.

This has helped it meet what should be the two major goals of any media owner – to connect with a well-defined audience, and to help advertisers connect with that audience.

Getting this right is an important but difficult process, and one that requires a holistic strategy across all departments within a brand. But it starts with your voice, your vision and your values. These must be well defined, and must shine through clearly in your editorial output. This is how you get not just visitors or readers, but an engaged audience.

This also allows your sales team to go into pitches with an emotional story. When your competitors’ sales team are quoting MAUs and social media reach, your sales team is talking about your purpose, how you want to change the world, or at least a small part of it. The MAUs become part of an appendix, but not part of the story.

With the male market being so fragmented, it’s difficult to connect with men in the same way as Stylist has created a connection with a young, professional female audience. Shortlist may have had compelling, world-class editorial, but it didn’t connect as a brand in the same way Stylist does. And now its print edition has come to an end, it has to thrive in a competitive and challenging digital market.

Looking at the competition, LadBible has proven time and time again that it can take on causes. This work is what goes at the top of its media deck in agency presentations, and building its editorial brand around the successful execution of editorial campaigns has set it up as a no-brainer option among media agencies for big campaign briefs.

Joe Media, another male-focused publisher, might not have the reach of LadBible, but it moved early on diversifying into podcasts, live shows, and high-production short-form video. Not only are these all presented as sponsorship opportunities to media agencies and clients, but these products act as a shop window for Joe’s sponsored video content capabilities.

In a fragmented market, ownership of these cultural hotspots is important, but so is the audience with which you connect. In the automotive market, an editorial landscape largely viewed as stuffy, blokey and very middle-aged, my employer – DriveTribe – uses cultural hotspots such as gaming, technology, and “future” (electric vehicles, autonomy… even flying cars) to connect with engaged audiences of metropolitan young men – a notoriously difficult group to engage en mass with automotive content.

To survive and thrive against the competition as a digital-only entity, Shortlist must either narrow its focus around its core values, or launch what looks to be an almost insurmountable challenge on its competitors for mass reach.

What Shortlist has to its advantage is a history of excellent content around topics such as style, film and music – all topics that engage young, male tastemakers. It’s a smaller market than that of the competition, but a lucrative one nonetheless. A compelling brand story can save the day for Shortlist, particularly as agencies and advertisers look to engage smaller audiences based around interests and behaviours rather than sweeping demographics. But it’s a hostile digital landscape, and it would require moving fast on a well-defined, holistic strategy.

Richard Beech is chief strategy officer at DriveTribe and has previously worked for the BBC, Joe Media and BuzzFeed. He tweets at @BeechardRich

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