It's a damp, grey start to the week at Emap's headquarters, Endeavour House, a dull-looking edifice that doesn't live up to the theatreland glamour of its Shaftesbury Avenue address. The glitz is to be found inside, in a small whitewashed roomon the third floor, where a huddle of women are planning the next edition of a publication that has revolutionised the British women's magazine sector.
Holding court is Jane Bruton, the editor of Grazia since it launched 18 months ago and who has overseen its rise to a weekly circulation of 175,218, which is more than 700,000 a month. Which is more sales than any other women's glossy in the country. Official six-monthly sales figures released last week showed that once all-powerful monthly titles such as Cosmopolitan (down 4 per cent year-on-year) and Marie-Claire (down 10.9 per cent) are struggling to keep up with the change of pace. In the past year, seven international editions of Grazia have been unveiled, all modelled on the British version. Even the original Italian Grazia - which inspired Emap to cut a deal with publishers Mondadori and spend £16m on a daring launch - has been redesigned to reflect its British sister's appetite for news and showbiz gossip amid the elegant fashion spreads and lifestyle features.
So how do they do it?
In Grazia's meeting room, Bruton's team gathers around her at a long wooden table. They are laden with ideas inspired by their weekend activities, or lifted from stories in the Sunday papers. Photos of Nicole Richie attract much interest. The magazine's entertainment director Michelle Davies says she will check out rumours that Kate Moss is planning to marry Pete Doherty. A piece is proposed on Renée Zellweger's misery at seeing her ex-boyfriends moving on.
Somewhat surprisingly for a magazine that considers itself a cut above the reality television sector, there is much excited chatter about ITV show Love Island, which is variously described as "Shakespearean" and "compulsive viewing". Although too late to save ITV boss Charles Allen, it is proposed as one of the 10 Hot Stories of the week.
Grazia has also learned through its fashion industry contacts that Victoria Beckham has been on a weekend shopping trip in London, only to find she was too skinny for the clothes she tried on. A "Too thin for fashion" story is suggested.
Jennifer Aniston and Kate Moss are Grazia's favourite cover girls but Posh always attracts great interest. Last month, fashion features editor Melanie Rickey coaxed from a fashion PR the fact that Victoria had purchased three new pairs of designer jeans with a 23-inch waist, a size normally worn by seven-year-olds. The story, which was illustrated by a "real-size" photo of the jeans, went global.
But celebs are not the only interest: sometimes Grazia staff arrive at Monday conference literally wearing their stories. Picture director Deborah Brown's recent appearance in a striking dress purchased bought for £12 at Peacocks prompted a "Peacocks is the new Primark" story, which was also followed up by the national press.
Not the sort of fare that would excite a hardened newshound maybe, but Grazia's inbox this week is mainly taken up with responses to its coverage of the war in the Middle East. The magazine is accused of bias by readers from both sides, which Bruton takes as a good sign.
Speaking afterwards, she describes the conference as a "melting pot", with staff from both newspaper and glossy magazine backgrounds, lending Grazia its peculiar blend of content. "What people love about Grazia is the mix. That comes from conference. We have people who have worked on Vogue and Marie-Claire and we have people who have come from the News of the World and the Daily Mail. Having those people brainstorming together is what makes us unique. Everybody is so newsy here now. When we started out the people who came from glossies weren't used to that. Now no one comes up with an idea without having a news angle.
"The mix is always very, very newsy. We move quite effortlessly from the latest on Kate Moss to the crisis in Lebanon to a new fashion show. People who get Grazia love that and people who are never going to get it find that quite disturbing. How can you have a piece on the WAGs and then move on to something distressing about an earthquake in Pakistan? But I think our approach is very modern, it's how 30-somethings think and talk, and I think that's why it works."
Pictures of Kate Moss and Pete Doherty appear all over the press. Bruton is doubtful that the ring the supermodel is wearing is an engagement one, but is at least happy that she already has a strong candidate for this week's cover story. Moss, she says, is Grazia's Princess Diana. The magazine needs to maintain good relations with former Sun editor Stuart Higgins, who does Moss's PR, and Sarah Doukas, her representative at Storm model agency. "Readers are fascinated by Kate. She's got an enduring mystery, because she never does interviews. Her life is endlessly interesting and everyone is always watching what she's wearing next," says Bruton, claiming she would retire happy if Moss ever chose to confide in Grazia.
For the first half-dozen issues of its existence, Grazia's covers were always head-and-shoulders shots of smiling, famous and familiar faces. Now the signature Grazia front is a full-length pap picture where the subject, always with a bit of sass and a cock of the head, makes her way out of a club or strides off to a waiting cab. "Our cover story is the story of the week, the soap opera of the week," says Bruton. "People think a paparazzi shot is going to be cheap but it can be really beautiful. Think of all those Magnum photographers. Mario Testino can take a snappy-snap camera to a party and get amazing pictures."
Bruton does not have a massive picture budget to compete with the raft of celebrity magazine titles. She claims that this handicap actually forces her to be more creative.
This day of the week is habitually known in the Grazia office as Black Tuesday because it's when all the ideas from Monday's conference tend to unravel. The sun has come out but the mood has darkened, just a little, after a few setbacks. Bruton had hoped to find a female angle to the latest terror arrests but Samantha Lewthwaite, the wife of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, has declined to be interviewed. Kim Woodburn (of TV's How Clean Is Your House?) cannot talk about the police probe into the burial of her stillborn baby 40 years ago. And a story that Peaches Geldof has had her allowance cut by Sir Bob appears not to stack up. At least Peaches has agreed to write a diary for Grazia from the V Festival. Better news from Vicky Harper, on features, who is lining up a young expectant couple to illustrate a story on the rising birth rate in New Orleans, a year after Hurricane Katrina.
It's still August but the fashion team is already establishing contact with designers for exclusive access at next year's Oscars, Baftas and Brits. Fashion director Paula Reed, who has held similar positions at The Sunday Times and Harper's & Queen, is also planning her team's hectic schedule during the round of fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, a whirlwind which begins next month. The beauty of a fast turnaround glossy, she says, is: "When you have an idea you can just run with it - if you chew something over too much then the energy goes out of the idea."
Bruton doesn't have an office; she sits outside on a shared desk in what is more like a newsroom than a glossy magazine editorial floor. Sky's rolling news service is on the television. That said, there's also a life-size cardboard Brad Pitt and a pin-up of the recent Centre Court streaker, shaking his stuff at Wimbledon. As Reed puts it: "We have a pretty girly time here. There's lots of shrieks." On the news desk, news editor Laura Benjamin is not shrieking. She has seen the latest reports that Kate Moss is planning to marry Pete Doherty in Ibiza. On Saturday. That's after Grazia goes to press but before it hits the news-stands. "You don't know what's going to happen between the time you go to press and the time you come out. You have to cover all your bases," she says. "You could say 'Pete and Kate get married' and they've split up by the time you come out. You look really stupid and you are on the newsstand for a week."
Moss's unpredictability is legendary. "We've got quite a few Kate contacts who are very reliable and we've also been on the phone to people out in Ibiza to see if it looks like they're getting married. Initial suggestions suggest not, but you never know with her. With Kate she could split up with Pete tomorrow or get married tomorrow. With all our stories we check stuff out and try to find new lines as well."
Benjamin is a seasoned showbusiness reporter, having worked on the Daily Mail and the Daily Star (as one of "The Bitches") and the News of the World (on Rav Singh's column). "On newspapers you don't think about the pictures; it's not your job. Here, you have to think visually because you could have a great story but if there's no great image it's not going to work."
That rule will also apply tonight when Grazia attends an album launch party for Beyoncé Knowles at London's Volstead nightclub. Benjamin, who is off to Los Angeles to cover the Emmys at the end of this month, will be on the lookout for suitable pictures of Beyoncé and friends from party photographers such as Dave Bennett, Richard Young and Dafydd Jones, who always seem to be given access to venues.
Benjamin is also intrigued by a story involving the separation of the actress Kate Hudson from her rocker husband, after a phone call from America reveals that the actor Owen Wilson might be linked.
"That looks like it's going to be a big story and we are going to do something. Quite a few of our friends were quite shocked - they seemed like a solid couple. That looks like it's going to get bigger and bigger and should be quite a nice read."
She wants a hard news story, too, but Lebanon and airport terror stories are beginning to tail off. A picture of piles of lost luggage would resonate with the travelator-friendly Grazia readership, but it looks as if the bags will have been returned to their owners by the weekend.
The publication of the six-monthly magazine ABC circulation figures brings a lift all round. Grazia sales are up 2.6 per cent on the period and a hefty 13 per cent year on year. David Davies, managing director of Grazia, says this is in spite of a £5m drop in marketing spend. "This is now standing much more on its own two feet. It's a self-selecting magazine for upmarket women. We are out of launch mode and building something sustainable."
Grazia has almost disappeared from television advertising. The money it does spend is more likely to be on sampling operations in conjunction with suitable partners, such as Selfridges, Habitat and Ocado. "Sampling is becoming a more effective tool as you are moving from launch mode - where you are trying to drive awareness - to a more meaningful trial," says Davies. Once every six months Grazia sells at £1 (compared with the usual £1.70) to try to broaden its footprint. Even so, it has a higher percentage of ABC1 readers than any other women's magazine, except Tatler and Harper's Bazaar. "We've really delivered the audience in the weekly market and that's where there was the scepticism. Could you get upscale women to read a weekly? I think that's what we've proved."
With half an hour before Grazia goes to press, Bruton has yet to decide on her main cover line. At least one thing is for certain: the front of the magazine is Kate's. A shot taken by the Solar picture agency, showing La Moss in a trilby hat and white suit, will decorate Britain's news-stands from tomorrow. "She's not got her sunglasses on and for once you can see her eyes," says Bruton, who seems confident the issue will sell well. "There's a part of us that would like to live her life, or at least she's living one of the lives we'd all like to lead. It's the fact that she does things on her own terms, she's independent and answers to nobody."
Bruton has had to tear up some of her earlier page plans. She has brought forward a piece tied to a documentary about Lauren Bell, who is undergoing regression therapy to discover who murdered her mother when she was nine. Channel 4 is now showing the film on 28 August and it gives Bruton a cover line. The editor has also had to accommodate the late-breaking story of a man arrested in connection with the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Grazia selects a "very reportagey" shot of John Mark Karr being arrested in Thailand and is careful to mention the possibility he could be a fantasist. Kate Hudson's people issue a denial of any affair with Owen Wilson and Grazia reports it simply as "Kate Hudson Shock Split". Bruton is also pleased with a piece on "The New Horror of the Size 00 Girls", women who are attempting to evaporate to the equivalent of a British size two. It has been another rollercoaster. "Things move so much faster these days," says Bruton, a former editor of Eve and Living Etc. "I'd personally find it really hard to be on a monthly now."Reuse content