Meet the publishers who mean business

Square Mile, Hedge and Benchmark are bucking the downward trend for lifestyle magazines – in fact, say the titles' owners, they're a niche little earner.
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The Independent Online

Since the credit crunch began, hedge fund managers have become one of the most maligned sections of society, held responsible for the economic pain which all of us now feel. Never mind a row of shrubs, they should probably start managing a line of sandbags and an air-raid shelter.

So it is not surprising that Christian Smith, editor of a journal dedicated to this indescribably wealthy and secretive group, informs its readers that Hedge magazine is intended to be their "safe haven". In a letter from the editor, he writes: "If there's one thing everybody needs right now, it's good news and plenty of it, and we're here to serve it up in spades."

Alongside articles about art collecting, fine wines and cricket, are full-page advertisements for Pershing yachts, luxury watches and Australian pink diamonds. The cover star is the usually reclusive, Mike Platt, the CEO of Europe's thirdlargest hedge fund management company, BlueCrest, who the magazine has persuaded to give an interview about his interest in cutting-edge art. That's quite a scoop.

But what is really remarkable about Hedge and its sister lifestyle-led publications, Square Mile (aimed at City executives) and Benchmark (pitched at high-end lawyers) is their business model.

Hedge is distributed to 5,000 hedge fund managers, who have been enlisted in Square Up Media's Hedge Fund Club. Square Mile has an audited and tightly controlled circulation to 32,000 high earners in the City, Canary Wharf and Mayfair, who now make up the exclusive Square Mile Club. Naturally, the Benchmark lawyers have their own London Legal Club. Each group receives an e-newsletter, usually inviting them to exclusive events from luxury goods manufacturers. Forty members of the Hedge Fund Club recently attended a private breakfast viewing of the Damien Hirst sale at Sotheby's.

High earners with an obsession for expensive time-keeping equipment are hand-picked to attend dinners with luxury watch-makers such as Girard Perrageaux. This is a sophisticated sales operation, driven by smart editorial that offers its readers an escape from work.

The venture was set up by two youthful media entrepreneurs, Stephen Murphy, 32, and his fellow director Tim Slee, 27. Dublin-born Murphy had the idea after moving to London as an advertising salesman for The Irish Times and then discovering that his friends in the City were not being furnished with the kind of high-quality lifestyle magazines that were pushed through letter boxes in upscale London residential neighbourhoods. "The name "Square Mile" was available and it couldn't have been easier really."

A recession, admits Murphy, is not a great economic climate to be launching any magazine, and Benchmark is on only its second issue. But worse still, Square Up's enterprise is based on the premise of delivering to advertising clients an audience with cash to spend. And times have rarely seemed so bleak in the City.

Despite this, in spring, the pair audaciously plan to launch in America, having acquired premises in Manhattan as the home of a Stateside version of the Hedge Fund Club. "It's probably the worst time in a decade to be launching a product for hedge funds, but there's still a niche," says Murphy. Next year they will expand into Dubai and Singapore, though the operations will be largely online.

According to Slee, investment now will enable Square Up to be in pole position in the market when the economy moves forward again. "Over the next 18 months even if we are not able to grow the bottom line we can grow our reach ready for when the budgets come back."

Slee, originally from Cornwall, was apparently born to media sales: by the age of 19 he had set up his own advertising sales house in London. The first edition of Square Mile came out in August 2005, under rather different economic conditions, but they're not about to lose their nerve now. "When we launched Square Mile it was the wealthiest Square Mile in the world and that's still the case," says Murphy. "When the trouble in the economy started about May, the uncertainty was worrying but several months on people realise they still have to advertise to sell their watches, their cars and their diamonds."

Though the days of a £7bn bonus pot in the City appear to be over, the pair point out that there will be £3bn in bonuses paid out in February. "Square Mile in February has always been about splash your bonus," says Slee. "This year it will be about invest your bonus wisely."

Murphy is anxious to distinguish Square Up's "controlled circulation" products from the many other free publications aimed at London's rich young professionals, from City AM to Shortlist, noting that "we don't hand ours out on street corners". Slee adds: "If we were sold in WH Smith's, no disrespect, but any of these waitresses," he gestures around the room "could buy it. We can't prove to our clients that the magazines are being read by who we say it is."

The editorial proposition for Hedge is different from the other publications in the group. "Hedge Fund managers are more traditional, more conservative and more private," says Murphy. "If you thought the City was quite flash then the hedgies are more reserved. We specialise in writing about things like art and philanthropy."

Benchmark, aimed at 5,000 senior lawyers, is edited by well-known freelance journalist Simon Mills. "It's a terrible time to have a new magazine but lawyers are still a high-earning demographic," says Murphy. The title is broad in subject matter, recently featuring Spectator editor Matthew D'Ancona writing on the cult American drama The Wire. It is not intended to rival specialist legal titles such as Law Society Gazette or The Lawyer. "We are not going to tell readers how to do their job," says Slee.

Martin Deeson, the editor of Square Mile, was one of the founders of Loaded magazine and is a long-standing columnist at GQ. Slee says the experience of Square Up's editors is testimony to the publisher's commitment to high editorial standards. "Guys like Martin and Simon are used to producing copy of a certain standard and don't want to put their names to anything less. That's something we are very proud of."

He says that although the magazine is dedicated to the "down time" of its readers, the down turn in the economy has demanded a slightly more serious tone, with the inclusion of some business-related content on, inevitably, pink pages.

Square Mile features such writers as Top Gear editor Jason Barlow and the City-based strip cartoon Alex, which began life in this newspaper. The Hedge Fund Club's website also has a strip My Worst Trade, featuring hedgies at work, with lines such as: "I need a two-way market on the five-year delta neutral index straddle."

Dislike them or not, the hedge fund managers will keep working through this recession, and so will Square Up Media. "People like us need to do business and we go mad if we can't, and it's the same with the hedge fund managers," says Slee. "You can't just sit there and batten down the hatches."