Grazia is handbagging its rivals into submission

Grazia took on the fiercely competitive weekly market – and won. Jane Bruton, the editor, tells Sophie Morris her secrets

When Grazia magazine featured in its fashion pages a Zagliani handbag made of python skin injected with Botox and attached to a price tag of £1,200, seven bags were bought by readers on the same day as publication.

It's simply not enough for the magazine's editor, Jane Bruton, to rest at showcasing the Mulberry Bayswaters and Chloé Paddingtons of the world – bags that many a fashion-conscious girl has lusted after at one time or another. So she profiles Bottega Veneta's new £45,000 design – and two Grazia readers duly cough up the readies that same day for such an apparently must-have accessory. "They will spend," says Bruton of her readers, describing them as: "ABC1 women with very high disposable income. They are fashion-forward and love knowing things first."

Since Grazia's launch in early 2005, Bruton is proud of the pioneering trajectory her magazine has followed, and rightly so. It was Britain's first "weekly glossy", and the first publication to parcel celebrity content – news and gossip rather than the fawning, copy-approved interviews the women's monthlies are known for – into an upmarket package. The end result – which, at last count, was selling just shy of 230,000 copies a week – resembles a very high-end clotheshorse, dripping with glitzy paparazzi shots from glamorous parties, with lighter touches of real life and health stories, plus some feisty columnists. It also popularised the term "WAG", to refer to the wives and girlfriends of the England football squad during the 2006 World Cup.

Grazia's news team, a mixture of former newspaper and glossy-magazine journalists, don't have the luxury of time that those working on a monthly enjoy. Bruton demands weekly scoops, be it the news that Victoria Beckham is buying jeans the size of a seven-year-old's, or the revelation that the latest must-have bag has hit the shelves.

Bruton makes a differentiation between a "weekly glossy" and a "glossy weekly". Grazia sells itself as the former: a magazine as luxurious and high quality as the monthly fashion magazines. A glossy weekly, on the other hand, a raft of which have sprung up since Grazia's launch, has more in common with the older, more downmarket women's weeklies.

Faced with a difficult and crowded market, magazine editors and executives are under more pressure than ever before to deploy the right marketing slogans to define their magazine – and its readership. Grazia's former publisher Emap spent the second half of last year up for sale. It was finally bought by the German publisher Bauer after months of uncertainty and since then First and New Woman magazines have been axed. This climate makes it all the more remarkable that Grazia continues to pile on sales: it has posted six consecutive circulation hikes in its three-year existence, and on the morning we meet, Bruton has just heard the gratifying news that her magazine has overtaken Vogue in terms of advertising volume over the past year.

Magazines thrive and fail on their advertising revenue, so launching an entirely new idea into the market is always a risky proposition. Grazia was based on an Italian style weekly that has been going since 1938. French women are also used to weekly glossies; Elle is published there weekly. So in the UK, Grazia launched with the backing of big Italian companies such as Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, but had to hold its breath before the larger British advertisers such as Paul Smith, Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood clambered on board.

Bruton remembers one dark week in her first year of editing – she joined a few months before the launch with a toddler and a new baby, and worked under editor-in-chief Fiona McIntosh for two years – when she was down to just five pages of advertising in one issue. "It was really tough," she recalls. "We had to hold our nerve, because we didn't want to cut our rates."

The best magazine editors embody their publications – take Alexandra Shulman at Vogue and GQ's Dylan Jones, for example – and Bruton is spot-on in this respect. Dressed in an elegant Alexander McQueen dress, a punky Christopher Kane cuff and skyscraper Louboutin heels, she jokes with more than a hint of sincerity that The Independent must airbrush the photographs we take of her. Her magazine was even the subject of a BBC documentary, Scoops and Stilettos, broadcast last year. Fittingly, when she turned 40 a few months ago, Bruton celebrated with a huge party at Shoreditch House.

Grazia's meeting room is papered with previous issues, and the frequency with which the same cover stars are replicated on the walls is startling. Scanning the covers, it is difficult to find one featuring a woman who regular readers will not recognise by first name alone – Kate, Cameron, Sienna, Nicole, Kylie, Madonna. There are several images of this week's cover star, Sarah Jessica Parker. "It's SJP!" corrects Bruton and another Grazia staffer simultaneously.

Unsurprisingly, the magazine has gone big on the new Sex and the City film, and this week ran four pages of photographs from the accompanying book. They were the first to get to these photographs, and Bruton is delighted with the exclusive.

"That's a really good example of how we've set a new agenda for our market, which the monthlies are struggling to keep up with," she says. "We got hold of the book on Thursday morning, and there was all the to-ing and fro-ing with the publishers about what you can and can't have, but it was only on Friday morning that we managed to get that cover design. That's a brilliant week, because you can have a news story that you're really excited about on Monday, but unless it moves on, you're losing excitement about it by the end of the week."

Grazia used to go to press on Thursday, in time to hit the newsstands on Tuesday morning, but Bruton is pushing it back to Friday with increasing frequency to keep as up-to-date as possible. The magazine now has nine international editions with more launches planned in China and Australia. The Italian "motherbrand" even went under a redesign to emulate its British wunderkind. It recently won its 18th award, the Consumer Magazine of the Year at the Periodical Publishers Association's annual awards.

"Our readers have always demanded a real A-list agenda," she explains. "They don't want celebrities, they want stars: people who have got longevity, depth, talent, something about them." Attributing "depth" and "talent" to Victoria Beckham seems a little ambitious, but, says Bruton: "Women are fascinated by her."

Instead of slavishly chasing interviews with reluctant stars (though, of course, they do this, too), the Grazia team sets about digging up their own dirt, and uses paparazzi shots rather than posed photographs. "Victoria: jealous rows over other women" claims one cover line; "Jennifer: humiliated by sex scandal" reads another.

Are Bruton's subjects ever upset by the coverage? And is Grazia served a battery of legal writs each week? "Probably a lot less than most of the papers," claims Bruton. "We're not the News of the World. People aren't going to like what you write all of the time. But we're not bitchy, and we've got quite a positive attitude, I think."

How can a story detailing another woman's relationship hell be construed as positive? "Jennifer is a shorthand way of dealing with a lot of emotional subjects, because she's been through quite a lot publicly (much of it on the pages of Grazia). She's a trigger to talk about betrayal and being single at 39."

Bruton even claims Grazia has influence in political circles. "The fact that Cherie [Blair] comes to us to set the record straight, and the fact we did our political survey and Downing Street and Cameron's office were really, really interested in it, says a lot."

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