Ad agency moves into mag publishing as it revives Instyle

The business has appointed former Elle Australia editor-in-chief Justine Cullen to run the division as chief content officer.

Bashful’s Simon Bookallil believes an independent publisher can be more nimble than big magazine houses. Bashful

“I grew up under the desk at ACP (Australian Consolidated Press). My mum was an editor at a fashion magazine, and I’ve always admired that world and I have always wanted the skills of our group to apply to that. We were looking for the right partner and Justine Cullen’s that,” Mr Bookallil said.

Irresistible idea

Previously the editor-in-chief of David Jones’ magazine Jones, Cullen has also edited Shop Til You Drop and was the editor-in-chief of ELLE Australia before it was closed in July 2020.

Ms Cullen said it was the lure of applying her commercial publishing skills to the world of consumer publishing that attracted her to the role.

“It started to really excite me, this idea of looking at legacy titles or, you know, even new brands, but really kind of reimagining them for a new era of media, talking about new brands for audiences who are maybe not being spoken to right now at all. It became a bit of an irresistible idea,” she said.

“Part of my frustration when I was in consumer – I loved my job at Elle, I could have stayed there forever – but it was a frustrating place to be with a company that maybe wasn’t transitioning fast enough to digital, that was confused about how to monetise, and decisions were made that were frustrating to be a part of.”

Justine Cullen is joining Bashful Group as chief content officer of its True North publishing division. Bashful

Ms Cullen starts in her new role on Monday, however the agency was mum on what magazine it will first launch to create a name for itself.

Industry speculation suggests the business is looking to revive Instyle magazine, which was closed by publisher Are Media in July 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked advertising spend. The title had initially been put on pause two months earlier.

Bashful, while an advertising business, has close ties to the world of fashion and luxury. The creative ad agency of the same name works with brands such as OPSM, P&O Cruises, Destination NSW and Zimmerman, while the group also owns Smile Agency, a creative agency with a focus on luxury, fashion, beauty and lifestyle, and works with the likes of Ksubi, Zimmermann, Shona Joy and Witchery.

It also has a 50 per cent stake in TMC PR, which specialises in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle categories and works with GHD haircare, Charlotte Tilbury, Paula’s Choice, Laser Clinics Australia and Sheike. The Bashful Group is rounded out with New Moon Australia, an events and influencer agency.

Primarily digital

Bashful will probably rely on these relationships to secure advertising and commercial deals for the True North business division.

Applying an agency model to the world of publishing is nothing new. Medium Rare Content Agency is the dominant player in the field, working with brands such as David Jones, Jetstar, Coles and Foxtel to create their branded magazine products.

However, it is Bashful’s broader advertising and PR credentials that differentiate the business, as well as the desire to create consumer magazines to compete with heavyweight Are Media, previously known as Bauer and InStyle’s former publisher.

It is understood the new InStyle will be primarily digital, complemented by two print editions a year.

What Ms Cullen was clear on was the need for teams to live and breathe their respective brands, meaning True North intends to hire teams to work on each individual brand it launches.

“Every brand needs its own team. You need to feel passionate and live and breathe that brand. I don’t think that changes just because we’re more digital,” she said.

She said a legacy magazine title that is familiar to the wider advertising industry and audience is a “low touch way to re-enter the market”.

“It’s the smart approach,” she said.

“I want us to be really open-minded when it comes to brands … sometimes we might be talking about an audience that isn’t being spoken to at all right now, so maybe it’s about developing a new brand.”

But True North is not a women’s magazine publisher. Ms Cullen wants the company to be able to work across all categories – from food to men to kids to beauty.

“I’m excited to continue that and not to be penned in by particular categories or the legacy titles that we see doing well overseas. I want us to really come at it from an audience perspective, like what is needed? Where are the gaps, and we can find ways to fill those gaps,” she said.

The rumoured rival of InStyle magazine comes as its publisher in the US announced on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) it would no longer print the physical magazine and turn the US version into a digital-only property.

It also comes after niche publisher Switzer Media and Publishing scooped up the licence to Harper’s Bazaar, which was shut down by Bauer, as it was known at the time, at the same time as InStyle was closed.

The road to recovery for Harper’s Bazaar has not been an easy one, with editor-in-chief Eugenie Kelly departing before the first edition and features editor Lauren Sams and art editor Kristina Harrison leaving soon after.

The revival of these titles comes as Are Media continues to be silent on its strategy following the appointment of Jane Huxley as chief executive in April last year.






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