Jane Ennis aims to win a place for First on today's overcrowded newsstands

Just don't mention Emap's predecessor of the same name
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jane Ennis wants to make it clear that the newly relaunched First magazine, which she edits, has absolutely nothing to do with its predecessor of the same name, launched by Emap last May.

"I didn't even look at the old First when I came in and started to think about what we might do," she says. Nor did she take any notice of the most obvious competitors in the market she's launching into – women's weeklies for thirty- and fortysomethings, such as Bella, Best, Woman's Own and Woman.

"All those magazines are in circulation free-fall now because they seem very old-fashioned. They have dumbed down too far. There's nothing for a person who is interested in going forward in life in any of those," Ennis says

She has "reinvented the weekly classic," and has done it for "the 35- to 45-year-old woman who is age-defying and still very outward-looking. What I'm hoping to deliver for her is an irresistible package."

She seems like the right woman for the job. Her 30-year career in magazines and newspapers includes launching Now magazine, which she edited for 10 years. "When I launched Now it was revolutionary. It was the sole title that had any kind of news. I kind of invented that market, but when I finished with it there were loads of magazines out there that were similar."

Ennis, 52, started out on local papers and worked on the now defunct Today and on the Sunday Mirror. She came to First eight weeks ago, fresh from revamping the Daily Mail's Weekend section. "I was probably one of the first people to work across magazines and newspapers. It's not so uncommon now, but when I did it, it was a very unusual thing to do."

She is certainly outward-looking, and spends her time reading offbeat style and foreign magazines rather than British publications.Ennis is apparently age-defying too, wearing a purple mini-dress and grey leather boots, her dark curls styled in an asymmetrical cut.

Notwithstanding the very short two-month turnaround Ennis has had since she was handed her brief – her first issue is the one that hit the newsstands on Tuesday last week – she says that she is "absolutely delighted" with the result.

As for shedding the poor reputation of the first First – which the highly rated Jane Johnson was brought in from Closer to save before she left to become deputy editor of the News of the World, and which sold almost 50,000 less than its target of 150,000 in the first half of this year – Ennis points to the success of Heat.

"Emap had a great success with relaunching Heat and re-positioning it," she says. "I don't think anyone even remembers how it was first launched as a listings title. I think, having done it once, they thought they could do it again."

In the past, Ennis has pointed out the massive impact the right cover-star can have on sales, but you get the feeling that she didn't have to spend too long negotiating that here. She settled on Dannii Minogue because "she's very big on The X-Factor, she was around at the time, and she looked like somebody people would be talking about."

Rather than relying solely on her cover stars, Ennis believes she is providing a "package magazine" and that this will make First stand out from the seven or eight other titles it is jostling with for newsstand attention. "The magazine women used to buy had cooking in it, and fashion and home and health. A lot of magazines have given up on that because it's very hard to make them look slick, but if you do that, all you're left with is fashion and a bit of celebrity."

First does look pretty slick. There is an exclusive interview with Amy Winehouse's mother, some pages of brief news stories, columns by The Sun's Jane Moore, Gok Wan of How to Look Good Naked and Marco Pierre White, Joan Rivers debating plastic surgery, women talking about the best sex they have ever had, another debate on taking newborn babies into care, some mouthwatering chocolate recipes and a piece on how to cut your own hair. "It's quite a lot to get through every week," Ennis says.

First's art direction is not dissimilar to Grazia's; indeed, Fiona McIntosh oversaw the launch of both. "We can't compete with Grazia," says Ennis, insisting again that First offers a broader package, and that they have tried hard not to be too similar.

The only points of difference seem to be that Grazia is heading for a slightly younger and more fashionable crowd. First is not, as yet, as slick-looking as Grazia, but its trial price of 75p should make it a tempting option. The target circulation is in excess of 150,000 a week, the same challenge given to the initial First team.

The magazine market has changed considerably since Ennis started out, at a time when there were magazines that could sell more than a million copies. Today, she has to content herself with a much smaller, niche readership. Perhaps it is because she takes the challenge seriously that when she sat down to locate the missing link in her First package, she found it was humour. This will, she says, be sorted out in tomorrow's issue with a column by newlywed Polly Graham, "married to the man of her dreams but still hankering after her 3am single-girl's life".