Middle youth taken as Red

Red readers are grown-up - but refuse to grow old, its editor, Trish Halpin, tells Louise Jury
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The Independent Online

The women's magazine Red likes to credit itself with defining the concept of middle youth. When it was launched, four years ago, the title was aimed at a previously unidentified group of affluent, intelligent, thirtysomething career women who had grown up without growing old.

But, somewhere along the line, middle youth appeared to lose its way. The folding of magazines such as Bare and PS was seen as evidence that this elusive band of women was not really there for the wooing – or was certainly too diverse to be a recognisable tribe.

Yet Trish Halpin, editor of Red, maintains that most of the titles that closed were never middle-youth, despite attempts to describe them as such. Not everyone aged 25–40 is in the gang. Full-time mothers who did not go to university and have no career are not middle-youth, Halpin suggests. "People are using the phrase wrongly," she says. "What we've seen in the media is that anything over twentysomething that they can't categorise is called middle youth. That's wrong."

The misconception is scarcely damaging Red. When the next circulation figures are released, on 14 February, the title is expecting to record a year-on-year percentage growth in double figures, with a readership of more than 170,000. Halpin says it enjoys good relationships with its advertisers and is winning new, prestigious business, such as Hugo Boss, all the time. It was the team from ITV's hit series Cold Feet that approached Red to arrange a feature in the December issue, not the other way round. The series' stars, James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale, appeared on the cover.

So, when Halpin discovered that the idea of middle youth was being dismissed, she went on the offensive. "We just felt very fed up. We were the magazine that came up with the concept; we identified the market. And four years on we're doing very nicely," she says.

Determined to reset the agenda, she has organised a seminar, "How to talk to middle youth", in London this Thursday. Invited advertisers and media buyers will hear from, among others, Halpin herself, the Cold Feet writers Christina Langan and Mike Bullen and Julie Pankhurst, creator of the nostalgic Friends Reunited website, which has 2.1 million women between 25 and 40 registered.

"There are a lot of different media trying to talk to this audience, and people do find it difficult. As we're the people who started it all, we have a lot of expertise and knowledge we can impart," Halpin says.

What is clear is that middle youth is a large and growing female demographic group. The number of full-time working women aged 25-39 has grown from 2.25 million in 1993 to 2.84 million last year, according to the National Readership Survey. Research for Red has found that one of the most distinguishing features of its readers is their lack of free time: more than half claim to have an average of less than two hours to themselves each weekday. The majority blamed work. Nearly two-thirds said they were often stressed, and less than half said they had struck a good balance between work and relaxation.

"We know this woman doesn't have a lot of free time, so she's very discerning about what she does and doesn't read," Halpin says. Red's appeal, she believes, "comes down to quality and relevance." She puts an emphasis on the good standard of writing – contributors include the novelists Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons and India Knight – and high production values. "For Emap [the publisher], Red is a premium lifestyle title, and it has always been committed to putting backing into it."

Since she was promoted from deputy editor to editor, just over a year ago, the main change has been a move from general features, which were widely regarded as too worthy, to articles tailored for the market. There is more health, fashion and beauty and more pieces on lifestyle choices such as whether to have a grown-up gap year and when is the best time to have a baby. Relationships, in the broadest sense of the word, are big. Nearly all those things are issues that her 29-strong team – all women except two – chat about in their offices in Shaftesbury Avenue, central London.

For Halpin, as for most of her team, middle youth is real. She is 34 and married and spent all last year renovating her home. She wonders when she is going to have children and struggles to get the life–work balance right. She tries to go to her yoga class but has stopped beating herself up about it when she does not. She buys organic food on Saturday and sometimes ends up throwing it away at the end of the week. She tries to have a sense of humour about it all. "We all want the gorgeous house and the brilliant dinner parties," she says, "but it's all right if you don't make it."

She is, she says, feeling good about life and work. "I'm a very happy person at the moment. I have a nice marriage and a nice home." And she is confident that Red's success will continue. Magazines for the twentysomethings may dominate the women's sector at present. "But what are these women going to read when they get to their thirties?" she asks. "It's an immature market. The potential is huge."