Since its arrival on Canadian newsstands in mid-2006, Hello! has offered near exclusive coverage of Britain’s royal family. Until now, that is. The latest issue of Moses Znaimer’s upstart Zoomer magazine features a cover image of Queen Elizabeth II with the sell “secrets to her longevity.” (It also considerably broadens the definition of “zoomer”a boomer with zipby appending its customary “She’s one” to the cover image of the 82-year-old monarch.)
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” responds Hello! publisher David Hamilton with a slight smile.
Its grip on the royals temporarily loosened, Hello! will have to settle simply for reigning atop Canadian newsstand sales. According to recent data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, its circulation ballooned in the six months ending December 2008. The celebrity weekly’s newsstand sales jumped 51% to 74,000, while its total circulation increased 76% to 98,000. And although a yearly subscription to Rogers-owned Hello! sells for $81.35considerably more than the $14.98 for Chatelaine and the $23.98 commanded by Canadian Livingits paid subscriptions increased by 250% to 24,000.
Its performance was among the few bright spots in an industry-wide slump that saw single-copy sales drop 24% and total paid circulationincluding subscriptionsfall by almost 5%.
Hello!’s performance also stood in stark contrast to its U.S. counterparts. Total circulation for U.S. celebrity weekliesa crowded category that includes People, People es espanol, In Touch, Star, Us Weekly, Life & Style and OKwas down 6%, while newsstand sales fell a combined 16%.
It’s UK edition also bucked a general downward trend, as its circulation grew 7.1% to 423,649. However, that total was inflated by giveaways of bulk copies, a practice the Canadian edition discontinued in 2007.
“We’re seeing steady, vigorous growth,” says Tracey McKinley, Hello!’s executive publisher. “Even though it’s been a very tough market, we’re happy with the growth we’re getting.”
McKinley attributes Hello!’s success to several factors: It has negotiated favourable checkout placement at major retailers like Walmart, Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart; its high-quality design and photography; and celebrity coverage that leans more toward “celebratory” than sensationalistic. (Indeed, while each of the U.S. celebrity weeklies for the week of March 16 devoted cover space to the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga, Hello!’s cover was given over to Canadian divaand Hello! regularCeline Dion.)
“In these tough times, it’s nice to have a positive escape, and Hello! [provides that],” McKinley reasons. “It’s a combination of the brand, the positive escapist nature of the brand, and a pretty good value. We’ve got all of those going for us right now.”
Media buyers also feel Hello!’s editorial approach works better in the Canadian market, as opposed to the sometimes trashy who’s-dating-or-divorcing-who approach favoured by U.S. titles.
Michele Beaulieu, senior vice-president, group director for Starcom Worldwide in Toronto, cites the defunct Torstar product Weekly Scoopwhich beat Hello! to market, only to close after nine months. Weekly Scoop tended to be more “gossipy,” she says. While stopping short of blaming Weekly Scoop’s demise solely on its editorial approach, she notes that Canadians tend to emphasize the positive.
“[Hello!] truly speaks to what Canadians want in a celebrity magazine,” says Beaulieu. “It’s done a good job speaking to what Canadians want, which is more of the Hollywood stars, but also international and Canadian stars, and more British royalty. They’ve done a better job of talking to what our needs are.”
Hamilton agrees, but also accuses Weekly Scoop of being “merely a carbon copy” of American celebrity titles. “How could that happen in Canada?” he says. “If you’re not Hollywood, you’re not Hollywood.”
Hello! has also taken advantage of its position within a vast media company with assets in broadcast and print to reach out to readers. Editor-in-chief Ciara Hunt has a weekly slot on Citytv’s Breakfast Television where she outlines the contents of the latest issue, while the magazine is also promoted in sister Rogers publications and on Rogers broadcasting properties like 680 News.
Starcom’s Beaulieu calls Hello! a “fantastic” magazine, but wonders if there’s enough advertising support, particularly in a less-than-ideal climate for print. Starcom has been using the title “since day one” for clients including Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl, Pantene and Nice ’n Easy), Kellogg (Special K) and Kraft (Tassimo, Philadelphia Cream Cheese), but Beaulieu estimates advertising currently comprises less than 25% of Hello!’s page count, a total that includes ads for its corporate parent.
“From an advertising base, hopefully we can sustain their success,” says Beaulieu. “I think consumers want the magazine, but it’s a tough marketplace right now.”
Hamilton counters that Hello! is trying to strike an overall ad to edit ratio of 30:70, which it has achieved on some issues. “We’re not quite there yet,” he admits, although there have been issues where that ratio has been exceeded.
He is unequivocal about the magazine’s prognosis, however. “We’ve hardly started,” he says defiantly. “We’re just getting going, and advertisers are coming on board every day.” Hello!’s ad pages were up about 45% on a year-to-date basis as of March 31, he notes.
Hello! has been raising ad rates in tandem with its circulation for the past two years, Hamilton says, successfully pushing increases through despite what he describes as “huge” push back from the ad community. “We’re managing to convince advertisers that Hello! is fabulous value and you have to pay for that,” he says.
With circulation growing, Hello! is also expanding its ad packages. It recently introduced a cover wrap program for its nearly 40,000 subscriber copies and is now trying to educate buyers, who traditionally view magazines as a monthly buy, of its usefulness as a weekly title. It recently developed what it calls a Media Shopping Diary, which spotlights issue content throughout the year and points out which advertising categories are best suited to particular issues (see below).
Hamilton is unapologetically brash when assessing Hello!’s rise. “It is arguably the most popular magazine that’s ever been launched in Canada in terms of the rapidity and scale of its growth. It’s an amazing success.”
As a weekly, Hello! is grappling with how best to court media planners and buyers who typically view magazines as a monthly buy.
“Planners in general think of magazines as a monthly reach build,” says Michele Beaulieu, senior vice-president, group director for Starcom Worldwide in Toronto. “We also couldn’t afford to sustain a weekly budget. You might use [a weekly magazine] differently within the month, but you’re only using it oncepossibly twice if you have the budget.”
But to underscore how Hello! can be used by advertisers on a weekly basis, it recently developed the “Media Shopping Diary,” a month-by-month planning tool that highlights editorial coverage for each issue, as well as seasonal factors that present advertising opportunities. Coughs and colds are in the air in February, for example, while fall fashion and beauty trends are in the spotlight in September. Noting the Diary is a “very important” tool for enabling Hello!’s salespeople to get important meeting time with media buyers, publisher David Hamilton says it is “selling the concept that weekly frequency, immediacy and flexibility are [the] keys to what advertisers are looking for. Advertisers… need to understand that product sales peak at certain times of the year; for example allergy [remedies], cold medicine or suntan lotion.
“To buy an ad in Hello! once a month… is absurd,” he says. “They should be buying maybe three or four ads in a row in a particular cycle, and maybe another series further on in the year.” Hello! has also created a series of special advertising packages around certain occasions. The “heaven-scent” package, for instance, is pitched at fragrance advertisers and includes issues spanning Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and a “special fragrance issue.” Special occasions are top opportunities for fragrance advertisers, the calendar notes, “but why pay for exposure after the event is over?”
Another program, “Party Long,” is built around the country’s five long weekendsVictoria Day, Canada Day, the August Civic Holiday, Labour Day and Thanksgivingand is pitched to advertisers in the drink, confectionery and food categories.