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The Lady & the Revamp

Posted by Chris Bell on 28th April 2010

Over the last few months we’ve discussed the challenges facing the UK’s press, from national newspapers like The Times introducing paid-for content, to the closure of Revolution, and then Media Week going to online only.  So it comes as no surprise that one of the UK’s longest running magazines has been facing a few hurdles.

A few weeks ago, Channel 4’s Cutting Edge show brought us The Lady & The Revamp, an inside look into the 125-year old women’s weekly magazine, The Lady.

Injecting a fresh approach to win over new readers, while ensuring The Lady’s long-standing and loyal fans remained happy, was proving to be a challenge for a magazine used to blessing its front covers with photos of cats and owls.

Author and journalist, Rachel Johnson, stepped up as the new Editor and set about modernising the ailing publication to appeal to all modern women aged 45 and over.

And it wasn’t long before she started making radical changes. She cut old favourites to make way for fresher, more risqué material such as ‘The Gents’ – a feature written from a male perspective; Rachel also introduced The Lady’s first Agony Aunt, the Duchess of Devonshire.  Focusing the re-launch efforts on a Christmas double issue of magazine, they also went for some celebrity appeal by featuring legend Julie Andrews as the December ‘cover girl’.

Rachel Johnson also set the publicity wheels in motion to go beyond securing the primetime slot on Channel 4. In addition to obtaining televised interviews with some of the UK’s top broadcasters, she managed to secure a feature spread in the Sunday Times magazine. This piece of coverage wasn’t well received initially, with its reference to Rachel putting ‘dancing shoes on a corpse’. However, as Rachel (rightly in my view) pointed out, the Sunday Times could have said a lot worse or not even featured the magazine at all.

The results of her efforts? She set a milestone for the magazine, with the December issue seeing its circulation figures rise by 20 per cent. The Agony Aunt feature was also well received by readers who were initially concerned by the publication’s new direction.

Radical changes to any product will always draw criticism but by stimulating debate, readers were reminded of why they loved the product in the first place. There will always be those who will lean more towards the traditional but alterations are seemingly necessary to meet the changing needs and expectations of today’s media consumers.

Rachel Johnson recognised that The Lady was missing out on a younger readership and knew it was necessary to update in order to cast a larger net. While PR efforts are often focused on generating positive coverage, sometimes creating a little debate and controversy can be just as effective.

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