Media Fortune Fame & Folly

How Marie Claire was born again

When the US edition of Marie Claire quietly closed its print edition last week – just four months after Future plc acquired the Hearst-led JV that had produced it for 27 years – no one was surprised. But it helped to highlight just how Future – once regarded as an upstart by some legacy media old guard – has already transformed the British edition in the 18 months of since it took ownership.

At the point Future took charge, Marie Claire UK – which had closed its print edition in September 2019, to much hand-wringing from people who couldn’t tell you the last time they bought a print magazine – was still trying to find its feet under a new management team.

Despite quietly working away behind the scenes, Marie Claire had long been yesterday’s news – pushed into the background, first by seemingly more glamorous print offerings like Grazia and Stylist, and then digital brands like Refinery29.

What a difference a year makes. In half year figures released by Future in May, Marie Claire UK was one of the hits, showing a 26% year-on-year increase in monthly uniques to 3.4m and a 35% increase in media revenue.

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that this was down, in large part, to Future applying its impressive digital energies to the longstanding authenticity and trust of the women’s lifestyle mega brand. But success was not a foregone conclusion. Layering on a finely-tuned data-meets-audience-segmentation strategy to a content rich proposition is a high-wire act from which it is all too easy to fall, as many media brands which have lost the trust of their audiences by excessive sell-sell-selling can attest.

But under Future, the Marie Claire UK team quickly integrated e-commerce into its high-quality content and saw click-through revenue increase by 47% in the first half of 2021. The women’s lifestyle magazine market has always treasured its “high intent audience” but, while e-commerce is increasingly integral to the survival of many brands, few have managed to make it pay quite so convincingly – or so rapidly. 

Enter Marie Claire US. The biggest beast of Marie Claire International’s 25-edition strong brand – and yet ailing fast. At the point of Future’s acquisition, circulation had fallen, for the first time, below a million (dropping from 1.1m to a post-pandemic 900k, with newsstand sales representing a shockingly minuscule proportion of that – reportedly just 11,000) and the brand was on its third editor-in-chief in as many years. Only the chart-topping Future could feel confident of turning it round.

BUT – and it’s a mighty but for a business aggressively pursuing growth both in the US and in the women’s lifestyle arena – Marie Claire US is ripe for digital expansion, already boasting a healthy 17.5m monthly uniques and revenue of $19.1m.

It is a logical step for a brand which has been making e-commerce work on the UK side of the Atlantic. Marie Claire has been at the forefront of e-commerce, in 2018, launching The Edit – a fashion offering in conjunction with Net-a-porter, the Selfridges store, and ASOS. It built on that in May of this year with the launch of a luxury beauty collaboration, again with Net-a-Porter. Uptake was reported (by Marie Claire and Net-a-Porter) to be instant, with a 1000% uplift in beauty sales across the two-day launch phase. Whether or not that’s a flash in the pan remains to be seen, but what it does show is the still-strong pulling power of the Marie Claire brand.

(Of course, Marie Claire has also been party to some less successful and much higher stakes, real-world beauty gambles: the “Fabled by Marie Claire” beauty brand, the stand-alone beauty store that launched in 2016 in partnership with online supermarket Ocado (and now owned by Next), and its much-heralded MCJetstyle blow bar/beauty salons that were slated to launch into travel outlets, starting with London’s Kings Cross in pandemic year 2020…)

Future’s data-driven, less showy approach so far seems to be reaping rewards. But it’s not just e-commerce that represents an opportunity for growth, because US Marie Claire brings with it another asset. One that offers B2B profit potential.

Power Trip – an annual 36-hour invite-only networking conference for successful women across all industries, was launched in the US in 2016 as a way to make the magazine stand out in an-already-cluttered event space. It not only did that. It actually achieved something far more, tapping into a corporate audience with expense account budgets long before Vogue Business was a glimmer in Condé Nast’s eye.

Consistent with the pandemic, Power Trip went virtual last year, with plans to expand the brand into local and virtual Power Hours and a Power On event series. It has since also launched in China. In a magazine event world driven by award ceremonies and panel events (of which Marie Claire has its fair share including Prix D’Excellence de Beauté, Future Shapers, and Sustainability Awards), this looks not just different but also game changing. And potentially lucrative. 

Power Trip – alongside British Marie Claire’s “Future of Work” survey in partnership with LinkedIn – is a masterclass in maximising a brand’s DNA in purpose-driven and empowering content. A brand DNA that, in 2021, looks more relevant than ever.

Suddenly Marie Claire no longer looks like a legacy magazine brand struggling to keep its head above water in an ever-growing pool of influencers, podcasts and shiny new websites. It’s become an exciting digital brand with a loyal, engaged and (crucially) actively spending audience. One with a strategy that has profit AND audience at its heart.

The Marie Claire volte face is proof that legacy magazine brands really can make themselves relevant again. It’s the brand’s style of delivery that needs transforming. The Marie Claire brand is 75 years old next year which will be a great time to capitalise on the transformation. It was launched in 1937 in France by the writer Marcelle Auclair and the industrialist and media magnate Jean Prouvost, who had helped create the current-events magazine Paris Match.

Marie Claire remains a staple in 25 countries, many still on the newsstand. Print may no longer be at the heart of it in the UK or the US, but the brand can be just as powerful. It won’t be long before the rest of the world follows suit.