The former editor of “lads mag” Nuts is behind a new campaign at Shortlist men’s magazine aimed at “helping men escape outdated stereotypes”.
Eleven years after leaving Nuts, Phil Hilton said he was “proud and embarrassed” at his editorial past.
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He’s embarrassed, he says, because of “some of the content that is now so deeply out of fashion” that he published in his former roles, including as deputy editor for FHM magazine.
But he told Press Gazette he remains proud of “the craft” in the lads’ mag sector, which “turned out to be a place where many talented men and women, now in exciting, high-profile positions were able to grow and develop”.
Hilton, editorial director and co-founder of Shortlist Media, adds that he “is to lad culture, what the Archbishop of Canterbury is to skateboarding”.
In fact, Shortlist’s Mankind campaign, described as “following in the wake” of the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, seems born out of Hilton’s experiences at “lads’ mags”.
“The characters we covered in most of the titles were often damaged or dangerous,” he says. “I suspect we may have inadvertently been doing an injustice to the gender by failing to balance them with happy, well-adjusted males.”
The new initiative, launched on 27 June, sets out to finally achieve this balance.
Joe Mackertich, editor of Shortlist, tells Press Gazette: “A decade ago, men in the public eye tended to be celebrated either for being larger-than-life alpha males or buttoned-up stoics who never let their feelings show.
“Thankfully that’s changing,” he adds. “Qualities like empathy, kindness and softness are actually central to the appeal of mega-stars like The Rock and Anthony Joshua.”
Mackertich acknowledges that the year-long project does pose a “real challenge” editorially, with the need to treat “difficult, zeitgeisty subjects” in Shortlist’s “high-impact, original way”.
“It’s doing your audience a disservice to simply think: ‘Well ok, we have to cover identity and mental health, time to roll out all the stereotypical imagery and turns of phrase’ – this isn’t about box ticking.”
Mackertich refers to “the increasingly impersonal media miasma,” across which their campaign must “reach out” to men, but Hilton notes the value, too, of their wide distribution. “We reach men on a vast scale,” he says of the free magazine, for which he claims 500,000 readers, and website.
But Hilton and Mackertich also plan to make their inroads into the surging “positive masculinity” movement more accessible for their audience.
Mackertich mentions that he would like lots of companies to sign up for their scheme to help men “achieve a healthier work/life balance”. Mind the Grind is an aspect of the Mankind movement that aims to challenge the “destructive macho culture” of working late and emailing out of hours.
There will also be Happier Hour, a series of after work events and talks that “separate Happy Hour from alcohol” and are designed to encourage men into “music, comedy and acting” in the evenings, as opposed to drink and drugs.
Happier Hour and Mind the Grind are specifically geared towards the Met Set, how Shortlist describes its male readership demographic, who are vulnerable to stress, addiction, and mental health problems.
Hilton explains: “So many friends and colleagues have suffered the terrible consequences of trying to live up to an idea of masculinity that didn’t give them any room to ask for help when they were in trouble.”
A magazine spokesperson said that the movement was “born from the recognition that men are three times more likely to take their own lives, but 84 per cent less likely to open up about their emotions,” and that statistics for alcohol- and drug-related deaths are higher among men.
They said Shortlist was set up in 2007 as an “alternative to traditional lads’ mags” with the tagline: “For men with more than one thing on their minds”.
It is now seeking to streamline men’s preoccupations for their own mental health. With such high stakes, Mackertich is committed to “avoiding treating these subjects in a lazy way”.
The other side of the campaign is also ambitious. Shortlist’s first ever London Pride edition, out this week, will feature LGBTQ celebrities such as Tom Daley and Mark Gatiss, and an “upbeat and unapologetic” cover of two men kissing.
Hilton clarifies the motives behind the movement: “The shock of seeing so much unacceptable behaviour exposed by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements has been a huge influence. We wanted to do something practical.
“Celebrating positive role models, and condemning the less positive, feels vital both personally and professionally right now,” he adds.
“People will look back on 2018 as a turning-point for men in Britain,” says Mackertich. “The ManKind campaign is the next logical step”.
Picture: Shortlist Media