Digital Publishing Top Stories
8 mins read

Inside Glamour’s print-first to digital-first transformation

lips with lipstick

It was late 2017 when Glamour UK announced that they were cutting back on print editions. The regular monthly edition stopped, and has been replaced by a ‘collectible, glossy issue’ appearing twice a year in spring and autumn. 

At the PPA Festival, Camilla Newman, Glamour’s Publishing Director, explored the brand’s journey over the past 12 months from being primarily focused on the print magazine, to going digital-first.

Before the pivot

Newman began by emphasising that the decision to go digital-first was not driven by the print magazine failing in any way. “It’s really important to point out that the print circulation of Glamour was really healthy when we were looking at changing the format to a digital-first brand,” she said. 

The circulation had certainly had a boost from a few changes earlier in the year, with the cover price famously dropping to £1 to compete with Cosmopolitan. The start of 2017 even saw a change-up in the format of the print magazine, as it went from ‘handbag’ sized, which it had been since launch, to a larger glossy format

“We were really understanding that people were indulging in print, that the print was important,” said Newman. “If [the audience] wanted to enjoy Glamour, they were going to enjoy a full size copy of it.”

The format and price changes helped boost the title’s circulation 7% between January and July of 2017*.

Despite the apparent resilience of Glamour’s print magazine, Newman says that the change to digital-first was driven by a need to future-proof the brand. “We couldn’t ignore the fact that the advertisers were really attracted to the digital media, to Facebook to Google,” she explained. “ And there were lots of digital-only publishers launching into our space as well.”

“We also knew that our largely millennial audience played out their lives on their phones…Our audience spend an average of two and a half hours a day on social media. And that’s just what they’re admitting to. 

“So rather than shackle them to a 12 monthly print conversation, we wanted to play where they already were, on their phones, in their pockets.”

Inevitably, this change in focus meant big changes from a print-focused team to a digital one, with the focus switching to “an ability to rapidly grow digital traffic,” according to Newman.

“This was a really hard decision, and not one that I would like to repeat again,” she emphasised, referring to redundancies that many publishers have had to make at some point in the last few years.

Despite the many tough decisions that had to be made, there were indisputably a huge number of opportunities for a magazine brand like Glamour to gear up and go digital-first.

Opportunities in the market…and how to get there

It’s never been a better time for a beauty brand to be online. With the rise of influencers dominating social media, how-to tutorials exploding on YouTube, and Instagram establishing itself as an ecommerce player, the beauty market in the UK is in good shape, allegedly worth £15.5 million with a forecasted 21% growth over the next five years.

It’s a space Glamour already arguably has a good grounding in, with an established beauty festival and “DNA that was really wedded in female empowerment.” But Newman believed that there was no one really owning the digital beauty space in the UK in the same way that US brand Allure does, and saw an opportunity for Glamour.

The first task was to make sure that “every single platform across the Glamour portfolio was instantly recognisable,” and so Newman, alongside new Editor-in-Chief Deborah Joseph, redesigned the website and social presence so that “every single touchpoint screamed Glamour”. 

They also redefined the brand, so although it was beauty-first, it wouldn’t ignore fashion, entertainment or other core pillars. “We wanted to be more than just lipstick and powder,” Newman explained. “We wanted to be inclusive, non-judgmental, inspiring and empowering.”

From some of the team’s social media challenges, they launched a campaign called ‘Blend out bullying’, where celebrities and influencers painted insults that they had been targeted with on their faces, and then blended it out with makeup brushes. This gave Glamour the chance to experiment with multiple platforms around the campaign and the influencers involved.

“[The campaign] quickly gained traction, it turned into live events with panel talks, it turned into articles in print, and really showed us that everything we did had a 360 approach and that we could really gain traction in this place.”

The campaign also influenced their latest Spring/Summer ‘19 issue, with model Charli Howard. The cover shows “her body completely untouched, stretch marks, cellulite and all…as another example of how we’re embracing this message across platforms,” said Newman.

The challenges of going digital-first

With the amount of publicity around the closure of the magazine, Newman admitted that it hadn’t been an easy ride convincing everyone that their change of direction was for the best. “What people heard was, ‘Glamour is closing,’” she said. “It wasn’t closing, we were just refocusing, and going in a different direction.”

“We had PRs who didn’t want to send their products to our editorial shoots, and we had advertisers deciding to take a ‘wait and see’ approach…it’s taken a good year of dialogue and proof to show that we weren’t closing.”

The team also made mistakes when it came to their presence on social brands, going in hard on Facebook just before their infamous pivot in early 2018. “We were putting resources [into Facebook], we were pulling people in, we’ve had a fantastic reputation for going through [links on] Facebook, with the likes of LadBible and Pretty52 exploding onto our feed.”

But it was a good early lesson to learn in platform dependency, with Newman acknowledging that “we had to be really agile, and pivot constantly” in the early days of building their digital brand up to full strength.

A greater focus on digital also meant that the team had to be much more aware of the language used online, as the feedback is instantaneous – and public. 

“When you’re talking about appearance with no judgment, you have to remove words like waistline, like diet from your commentary, or you’re going to get trolled. And we know about this because we did get trolled.”

The publisher has missed the PR spike from having major print cover stars, given the reduction from a monthly publishing schedule to just twice a year. But the team have adapted, and now to a monthly digital cover shot on a mobile phone, as well as a digital ‘issue’.

“This meant that our time with the talent was really condensed, so all of [our cover shots] took less than an hour each time,” Newman explained.

“It also means that the celebrities are in charge of the way they want to be portrayed; a lot of them will take these images themselves and then send them through to us to design.”

Getting into the traffic game

It’s no surprise that beauty-obsessed Instagram has proven to be the top traffic driver for Glamour. The publisher has gone all-in on Instagram’s ‘Stories’ functionality, developing a daily programme of TV-style episodic viewing that their audience regularly tunes in to.

Each day’s Story has a different theme, from Monday’s ‘GlamDrop’ exploring launches and new beauty products that have ‘dropped’ on the team’s desk throughout the week, to ‘Wellness Wednesday’ focusing on nutrition, yoga and more. The highest engagement unsurprisingly is at the weekend, when their core audience has more time to browse and relax on Instagram.

The results so far have been impressive. Instagram traffic is up 249%, and the completion rate on Stories is 95%; a clear sign of an engaged audience. 

The increase in brand awareness has also led to notable increases in UK traffic, and organic search traffic around key beauty terms. 

“This was really an indication of our audience understanding why they were coming to Glamour,” said Newman. “We’re producing 24 pieces of content daily, so people will know what they’re coming for, and that they’re getting the answers to what they want.”

Why print is still important

Despite the apparent success of the brand’s transition to digital, print is still “hugely important”. So when considering how to approach the biannual edition, the team had to change direction to make it more of a keepsake product.

This drove their decision to print on matte paper, rather than the glossy pages associated with the former monthly print magazine. 

To make a real splash, Glamour ran with three covers for the first of these twice-yearly print magazines, celebrating “three amazing women who have exploded onto the digital scene through beauty”.

The Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter issues are now a style guide for those seasons, with everything geared towards making the magazine a luxury purchase. Although the team have considered the idea of Summer specials or other one-off issues, the focus for now is completely on the digital content and other touchpoints, according to Newman.

Where next for a digital-first Glamour

Glamour’s next journey is on building up the brand extensions to create “tangible touchpoints” for their audience, including the Glamour Beauty Festival, which is now in its fourth year and which brings in thousands of attendees.

“For the first time, we’re taking it to Manchester this November, not ignoring our nationwide audience,” said Newman, highlighting that the timing will be attractive to brands looking to get in on the pre-Christmas rush.

The publisher is also experimenting with the Glamour Beauty Club, which currently offers its 180,000 members free products in return for reviews. The questionnaire filled in at sign-up gives Glamour a wealth of data on the beauty issues members are facing, which in turn offers value to beauty brands wanting to market new products to a premium audience.

This in turn produces an “explosion on social media” when Beauty Club members receive their samples, according to Newman. “The mushroom effect of everyone these days living their lives on their phone and being an influencer means that when the sample arrives, they take pictures of it, they take pictures of the envelope, what’s inside the envelope, a video of themselves undoing the envelope…all of this organic social is hugely valuable to the brand.”

Glamour are reaping the rewards of the transformation, as Newman explained. “After a really tough year of pivoting and changing and looking at what’s working, and really working with all the different platforms, we now have a digital footprint and an entire brand following of 8 million,” she said. 

But more interesting was her comparison to the print magazine’s heyday. “Would I swap [the digital following] for the 660,000 that we had as a print circulation when Glamour was at its very highest as the number one women’s glossy? Well, I don’t think any publisher would.”

Of course, what publishers would really like is to be able to have the money coming in at the same rate it was with a print product. Digital scale is notoriously difficult to monetise, and it’s unlikely at this stage that even that growth in their digital audience and the various brand extensions is replacing the revenue that the print magazine is bringing in.

Unsurprisingly, Newman didn’t reveal financial details, but she did admit that it hadn’t been easy. “We’ve had to really behave like a startup with a very established brand,” she said. “And we’ve had to be really agile and we’ve had to pivot and change direction.”

“Digital revenue is a huge focus for us, in the same way as print, and in the same way as events,” she explained. “So the digital revenue is now really working…I’m sure you’re all experiencing less display campaigns, less sponsorship, much more interested in branded content and telling stories with us. 

“Because we now have such a voice, and such a clear direction, and such a clear picture of who our audience is, for the first time it feels like we’ve really gained momentum.”

*The +6.9% increase is the UK actively purchased figure, which incorporates UK single copy sales (both print and digital), and single copy subscription sales.