Marie Claire - Diary of a relaunch: rows, food fights and art-boy anarchy

Faced with falling sales and hipper rivals, 'Marie Claire' editor Marie O'Riordan and her team set about putting the once-mighty glossy back on top
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The Independent Online

In last month's bi-annual ABC figures the once all-powerful Marie Claire recorded a shocking 13.2-per-cent circulation fall to 331,127. Its owners, IPC, had already seen the writing on the wall, and for the previous five months had been planning its relaunch ...

APRIL: Marie Claire is 18 years old. I'm about to head into a darkened bunker for four months to consider how our "established brand" should react and reflect the changing needs of our beloved readers. Last time the magazine did some serious navel-gazing was in September 2004, but, 20 issues later, there has been a raft of launches and relaunches into our space. We've never had this much competition and it's especially challenging for us now since many "me-toos" have stolen elements of Marie Claire's distinctive offering. This 18-year-old requires a makeover to maintain her place in the pecking order before party celebrations can begin.

MAY: I and seven members of editorial move into a special "project room" in the bowels of King's Reach Tower. For my micro-team, I have mixed up personalities and status in order to encourage new thinking. We decide we need four months to truly reinvent and so November is elected as the "rebirth" issue. This feels far away, but our creative director thinks it is not enough time. (He proves to be right - as usual.) Meanwhile, I have left the intermediate three issues in the hands of my brilliant deputy and senior team. I suspect they are feeling excluded from the process, but, hopefully, pleased by the opportunity to run the show.

Day one in the bunker kicks off with the results of our market research. We asked a broad range of women: "What is engaging and unique about monthly glossies?" All those interviewed demonstrate a profound attachment to glossies and what they represent. They describe how they enjoy weeklies for salacious gossip, but see monthly glossies as a beacon of trust for fashion and beauty advice, and in-depth features and interviews. The task ahead becomes clear: readers want their monthly to be everything a weekly cannot be - glossy, in-depth, beautiful and credible.

Day two in the bunker, and we follow some processes invented by our company's launch team and applied to IPC's recent hugely successful launches. They have developed practices which involve mocking up varying degrees of "creative executions", showing these to focus groups, reworking them and then sending them back to focus groups for further feedback, and repeated as often as deemed necessary. While this sounds terribly scientific, we are confident that our editorial instincts will be the driving influence. We then agree on areas that Marie Claire currently excels in and should build on. We decide that Marie Claire's five battlegrounds are fashion, beauty, celebrity, real-life reportage and useful advice.

JUNE: Two weeks into the serious deconstruction of the magazine and tensions are running high. Each day begins with a tempestuous discussion around our current content, where everyone is encouraged to be ultra-critical. One heated debate revolves around our food pages. We reflect how much women's lives have changed. We make a momentous decision, to drop food! We increase the fashion, beauty and shopping pages, and allocate more spreads to features for more impact. The beauty section swaps running order with fashion. Columnists become bloggers. And, one lunchtime, we invent a new back page called Like Mother, Like Daughter. Such fun! Then, the World Cup begins and the art boys move a TV into our bunker. Anarchy ensues.

JULY: In order to give the reader depth and satisfaction in our five battlegrounds, the list of culled editorial grows. New sections are developed and debated endlessly. Should our popular Spree V Steal pages be extended? (Yes.) How can celebrity coverage be improved? (By hiring a high-profile journalist who will interview those with something to say, not those just pushing product. Janet Street-Porter becomes our celebrity interviewer.) How are to we improve our famous global reportage section? (More empathy, less instruction.) Debates rage. A visitor says the atmosphere is "a bit Lord of the Flies".

Am starting to miss deadlines. In bunker-land, there seems to be no sign of an endgame.

MID-JULY: Take time out from the frenetic creativity for a Marie Claire exclusive preview screening of The Devil Wears Prada. Planned as a seven-page cover-story, the film is a big part of our "new look" editorial mix and I'm wondering what changes I'll make tomorrow if it's a turkey. Luckily, it's wonderful and I am thrilled we've snagged the exclusive. Its celebration of fashion and glossy magazines makes it the perfect companion to our new look.

AUGUST: Finally escape the bunker and return to the delights of my editorial office with my vision for the new direction pasted onto a flip-chart. For the rest of the month, I hawk it round the building explaining the new Marie Claire to everyone from editorial to marketing and advertising.

SEPTEMBER: My chief sub is demanding passes on the final pages. It's press day and we've had a lot of late nights so tempers are frayed. It's hard to suddenly let go. My creative director reminds me how I'd once thought we'd have too much time.

SEPTEMBER 19: Early binds arrive from the printers. Am so nervous, I can barely turn the pages. A ripple of excitement spreads through the office. Chief sub tells me we're already late with our next issue. Start breathing again and hold planning meeting. Publication date is imminent. Time to order birthday cake.