By Julie Tomlin
THE launch of News International’s magazine business was a fast-moving affair — with two titles on the newsstands just months after Rupert Murdoch gave the go-ahead.
But perhaps the speed of the operation reflects how eager two of its main players were to get it off the ground. In fact, although the plans were only given the green light by Murdoch last summer, the idea of moving into the magazines market isn’t a new one — Camilla Rhodes and Judy McGuire have been brooding over it for at least five years.
"Judy and I have been conspiring for years, but the time was never right for one reason or another," says Rhodes, who was managing director of The Sun and News of the World, while McGuire was editor of the News of the World’s magazine, Sunday.
But the duo got the answer they had been waiting for when Rhodes and News International executive chairman Les Hinton met Rupert Murdoch in London last year and presented him with a business plan that he finally said ‘yes’ to.
"We had a conversation with Mr Murdoch in the summer. We thought it was an appropriate time to present some concepts for magazines to him once again, and he loved the ideas and loved the concept," says Rhodes, who was made head of News Magazines in September. "There was a lot of thought put into the ideas," she adds.
There’s no doubt much has been achieved in the months since that meeting with Murdoch — a standalone company has been launched, 70 staff recruited, new premises in Chelsea located and moved into — although building work is still under way.
So far the result has been two magazines launched — the first, love it!, a celebrity title in February, followed by Sunday Times Inside Out, an aspirational monthly homes and interiors magazine, which launched in March.
Project X, a women’s weekly due in the autumn, and work on Project Y are also well under way, although Rhodes won’t give away any details. She says that three magazines this year is "probably realistic".
"But don’t mistake speed for lack of quality,"
admonishes Rhodes, who enthusiastically leads a tour of the new offices, nodding in the direction of the doors behind which new projects are being created.
It was, she says, very important to her "to create a completely separate culture" for News Magazines Ltd.
"In relation to News International we are a minnow, but this business has to survive on its own merit, and I wanted it to be an independent," says Rhodes.
"I wanted to give it breath and allow it to develop in its own way, and not be overshadowed."
But if Rhodes and her team have had to adjust to working as a "tightly run, lean operation", one thing Rhodes has to her advantage is the fact that "like Margaret Thatcher" she needs so little sleep.
She’s not a devotee of the electric baths that Thatcher was said to be so fond of, adds Rhodes, who otherwise seems to share only a fondness for two-piece suits with the Iron Lady.
But when she talks through her working day she does display the same formidable capacity to function on four to five hours sleep that the former Prime Minister famously boasted of.
By 10 am, when the interview takes place, Rhodes has been up since the early hours with her two young children and will get home way after their bedtime.
"I spend time with them in the mornings because they are always asleep when I get home, and the weekends I keep completely free for them," says Rhodes, who shows me the magazines they are working on with equal enthusiasm as the picture of "Mummy going to work" drawn by her daughter.
A former managing director of The Sun and News of the World, and before that, MD of The Times and The Sunday Times, Rhodes, who followed her father Neville into the newspaper business, is no stranger to the long hours of the industry.
Rhodes insists her inability to sleep for more than a few hours each night is due to "an overactive brain" rather than to the demands of her job — or to anxiety about making the whole project work.
"There’s far too much going on in my head for me to sleep," says Rhodes, who adds that she’s "always been this way".
It’s rumoured that attracting advertisers for both titles has proved harder than they hoped, and that Murdoch has given the company a definite time scale in which it has to prove itself viable. Both Rhodes and McGuire refuse to be drawn on these points: "I have a business plan," says Rhodes, with an air of finality. Then, smiling, she adds: "But if it doesn’t work I’ll be knocking on Press Gazette’s door looking for a job."
But Rhodes is upbeat about the "marketing heft" afforded by the News International brands. "Look at some of our competitors, such as Northern and Shell," she says. "They share some content and cross promote — we can do that to a greater scale."
Since the sale of Murdoch Magazines in 1991, News International has hardly ventured into the sector in the UK. It re-entered the consumer market with Know Your Destiny, a title that leaned heavily on the personality of astrologer Mystic Meg, but folded two years later in October 2001. The Sunday Times Travel magazine was launched at the beginning of 2003.
There are those in the senior ranks — besides Rhodes and McGuire — who believe News International should have got back into magazines sooner than it did.
When asked why Murdoch chose now to give her the chance of launching a magazine business, Rhodes points to how "dynamic" the market is at the moment.
"The timing is absolutely right now," she insists.
But as Les Hinton confirmed at a series of special meetings for staff in February on the future direction of the company, News International, itself as primarily a content provider, must position journalists contributing across a variety of platforms, including its niche internet brands, such as Times online and The Sun’s page3.com website.
In this new landscape, the News International brand is crucial, as is the need to extend it across numerous platforms.
It is perhaps clear when Rhodes gets into this territory why Murdoch chose now to give the plans the go ahead. "We are content people," says Rhodes.
"We create excellent content in different platforms, be it online, podcasts or magazines. We are multimedia and that reflects the reality that it’s all about content. We are the producers of content."
JUDY McGuire doesn’t like interviews. Describing herself as "someone who can write but hates having to say it", McGuire reluctantly agrees over the phone to meet me at News Magazines offices. Then, when she cancels and after a few emails fobbing me off with "she’s in a meeting/out of the office" from her PA, the PR agency gets involved.
Finally it’s agreed that McGuire will respond to my questions by email. Not the ideal way to get a picture of how McGuire operates or to find out more about her job overseeing editorial development of both those magazines that are in the pipeline and those that have already been launched — to date love it! and Inside Out.
McGuire was editor of Sunday for 10 years — during that time she says she had a number of ideas for magazines, and made a series of dummies, some of which nearly reached launch stage.
One, a celebrity monthly "was years before its time, though I say so myself," she writes. That magazine almost made it to the point where furniture for new offices was being selected, but then was "scuppered by events out of our control" she says.
The day Rhodes told McGuire she had got the go-ahead and said it was "actually going to happen, and offered me the job, I literally danced around her office. I may even have squealed."
"In the months before it was officially announced, the editorial side of the project existed almost entirely at my desk, where I recruited the editors and their key teams, unable to tell any of my own Sunday staff what I was up to," she continues.
Launching love it! "was a no-brainer for a newspaper company", says McGuire. "The basic proposition had already existed for a couple of years, but the market had changed by the time we decided to launch, so the idea had to be re-jigged.
"I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, and finding Karen [Pasquali Jones], who utterly shared that vision, was a godsend. We were so in tune that, yes, we pretty much knocked out the flatplan over that first glass of wine."
The decision to launch the homes title Inside Out was based on the belief that the market was stagnant, due to a lack of innovation, "and ripe for something very different".
As 85 per cent of Sunday Times readers own their own homes, launching a magazine that is tied to the Sunday Times brand "made absolute sense" says McGuire.
Editor Lisa Helmanis had already created a dummy for Inside Out two years ago. "She had already lived with, and refined her vision, alongside the Sunday Times team, which made my job a hell of a lot easier," says McGuire.
"If she was discombobulated at the thought of a tabloid girl like myself overseeing such an up-market product, she never let on," she says. "And I think she quickly saw that my tabloid eye could often be a positive benefit. Although she still, for some reason, resists my love of fluoro pink."
The "usual windowless bunkers where all new projects seem fated to be created" were set up at Wapping, says McGuire, who adds she spent her "entire time running from one end of the building to the other to oversee daylight-starved, stressed-out and excited teams, agonising over fonts, content and deadlines".
It was while work on the launches love It! and Inside Out was being done that the operation was moved out of Wapping.
"The teams emerged blinking into the sunlight of our new off-Kings Road base, marvelling at the novelty of shops. And restaurants. Not that we’ve had time to take advantage of any of it since… but still."
McGuire, who left school at 15 with five O-Levels, edited up as a temp at the Daily Mirror typing up the captions to stick on the back of the photos.
At the time, the Mirror ran a training scheme in the West Country and from there she landed a job as the sole female, and English, news reporter at the Daily Record in Glasgow. She then moved south to become news editor of the Fleet Street News Agency, then joined the News of the World, where she "resisted all attempts to make me an executive".
After a spell at the Sunday Mirror as the showbusiness editor, she was enticed back by Piers Morgan to the NoW as editor of Sunday, where she remained, twice won BSME Editor of the Year before she got the dream job of launching News Magazines.
McGuire saw off "at least 13 editors" at the News of the World alone and says all of them were inspirational, "but especially Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson, who both always encouraged me to have big ideas and allowed me to have my head, even if they weren’t always entirely sure I knew what I was doing".
McGuire says that with no experience in the consumer magazine market, "it has been a huge learning curve".
"As Sunday’s editor I was never really involved in circulation or distribution, and only peripherally in production and marketing," she continues. "Since my concerns were mostly editorial, I had the luxury of having only a weekly — friendly! — shouting match with the advertising department. Now I have to understand utterly the whole picture, and learn the language that goes with it."
"I do miss being an editor, although of course I do interfere, while allowing and enabling the editors here to edit," she continues. "Like most editors, I’m also a frustrated art director, and am the worst kind of back-seat driver, standing at their shoulders when I get the chance, saying, "Move that there," "make that bigger", "turn that orange", and "oh… I see. You were right all along".
The transition from newspapers to magazine publishing has not been a difficult one," says McGuire. "Coming at the business from a different perspective has, I feel, given us the ability to create it the way we want it to be," she claims. "We are not set in ways that have been established for years, so we can look at magazine publishing with fresh eyes and new ideas."