FHM poker school will rid gambling of `the smell of old men'

The men's monthly wants to grab some Vegas glam rather than high street bookie gloom.
Girls in bikinis and pub humour are no longer enough to cut it in the world of men's magazines, prompting the leading men's monthly, FHM, to stake its future on the world of poker. Over the next six months, the title will attempt to turn its three million, predominantly 16- to 34-year-old readers into poker aces as well as hosting a "wooden" online poker competition (meaning no money will change hands).

The top 10 players will then be invited to London to battle it out for a pounds 10,000 cash prize, before gaining entry to a professional poker tournament where their progress will be filmed for a television show on Bravo.

The campaign is the brainchild of David Pullan, the new managing director of FHM Worldwide, who is responsible for the 28 editions of the men's title around the world.

FHM has teamed up with the US-based online World Poker Exchange as well as Flextech-owned Bravo and the London dance music radio station Kiss FM (like FHM, part of the Emap group) to promote the game.

Pullan deliberately chose a partner in America, where poker has achieved the status of a fashionable rite of passage. "One of the problems with a lot of traditional forms of gambling is the smell of old men associated with them," he says.

"American brands, particularly in poker, have a more aspirational sheen. It's that whole Vegas thing, Ocean's Eleven. The bookie on Streatham High Street doesn't quite impart the same feeling of glamour."

In the magazine, FHM readers will find "non-didactic" poker tips on the etiquette of the game and how to bluff, while online they can view tutorial videos "delivered by a model wearing an evening gown rather than a bloke in a tux".

Pullan says the TV programme following the FHM winners will be a bit like the Channel 4 hit show Faking It. "It's got all that dramatic tension around how our plucky amateurs will get on. But the difference here is you're not trying to win a horse trial or a cooking competition. There's a million-dollar pot."

Formerly head of marketing at Five, he admits that FHM as a brand has "probably not been fully exploited to the maximum effect". As part of his remit to create an FHM brand that stretches beyond the magazine, he is keen to expand further into television, as well as embracing the internet and mobile phones.

In another joint venture with Bravo, FHM has made a half-hour documentary about its popular "High Street Honeys" competition, charting the progress of the winner from girl next door to cover star.

Talks are also under way to create a fully fledged FHM spin-off show based around the magazine's catch phrase "funny, sexy, useful".

"The biggest problem is that replicating magazine content on television is hugely expensive. One feature in FHM is a half-hour documentary on Channel 4. You have to think laterally," says Pullan.

Promoting the magazine across a number of platforms has become more urgent in the face of fresh competition from the new men's weeklies Nuts and Zoo. Pullan insists that FHM has hardly been affected by the success of these titles, thanks to its decision not to take them on in the areas where they excel because of their quick turnaround - sport, topical news stories and entertainment.

"The strategy was to make FHM feel like an indulgence, something you buy because it sits on your table for a full four weeks, with different girls, time-relevant rather than topical information and we really focus on making it funny."