Man’s evolution gets played out in this Arena
On the eve of MediaCorp's launch of its new men's title Arena, the publisher set up a private dinner for Marketing to meet Emap's London-based heavy hitters who control the iconic British title. Their message? Go forth and prosper, but don't f**k it up.
Chris Mooney and Danny Flower have got the life. Some of their adventures include watching world cup matches in a member's box with Oasis's Noel Gallagher, not only interviewing the Beckhams but bearing partial responsibility for shaping ‘brand Beckham' and gaining exclusive access to the Mission Impossible 3 set and Tom Cruise for a cover story.
The two are joint custodians of one of Europe's most influential and iconic men's magazines, Arena, which not only charted the modern British male through the ‘greed is good' eighties, the laddish nineties and the metrosexual years, but helped to define each of these eras. Yet it has taken 20 years to take the fashion-centric title from a parochial high-end village rag for London's well heeled and well connected, to anything like the global brand it now aspires to be.
As an international editorial director at Emap, Mooney bears editorial responsibility for all editions of Arena and FHM magazines, while Flower is the Arena group's publisher. Flower was also once listed as publisher in the flannel panel of the now defunct The Face magazine, another landmark of modern British publishing. He even alludes conspiratorially to an embryonic plan to bring The Face back in some form or other, possibly as an insert in Arena.
When MediaCorp launches the November edition of the title here, under the editorship of Lionel Seah, it will be the third Asian Arena. A Korean edition was launched eight months ago and, on the night Marketing spoke to Mooney and Flower, they were still a little bleary eyed from the launch of Arena Thailand in Bangkok the previous night. It was, by their account, an "interesting" event which saw the local editor ride a motorcycle straight in through the doors of the hotel where the launch event was being held. The pair hinted at more Asian editions which would likely include China and possibly Hong Kong.
So why, after 20 years of being unashamedly British (apart from a Denmark edition), the sudden itch to expand? One of the main reasons is to follow the money. Fashion is extremely important to Arena and forms the sturdy backbone of its advertising revenue, so when the fashion houses speak the title listens.
"I deal with Milan all the time, with Dolce (& Gabbana), Gucci, Armani, Prada and they are taking money out of Europe and putting it into Asia," Flower says. "It's a good time for us to be bringing Arena to Asia, I mean the growth is quicker than in Europe."
Arena Korea, the Asian lab rat for the masthead, is performing well for Emap and Flower quotes a healthy readership figure but prefers we don't publish it as the title is yet to be audited.
"So I shouldn't quote a number, but it is doing so well. Arena Korea is twice the size of Arena UK. The last issue was 328 (pages)," Flower says. That is a big magazine by anyone's standards, particularly at a time when online consistently threatens to eat the traditional publisher's lunch.
These guys guard Arena's image, integrity and brand cache fiercely and it is the reason they are on this punishing three day whistlestop trip to Thailand and Singapore. There are strict guidelines as to what you can and can't to with the brand and these are strictly enforced.
"Lionel will be coming to London, where we absolutely inject the Arena DNA into his brain until he gets it," Mooney says. "It is a matter of making everyone aware that the standards are expected. We syndicate a lot of material. It is the same for Singapore and the same for Thailand, there will be some really powerful stories that we will give to all editions and then it is about the concept of localisation."
There is a lot to protect. Arena wields influence like a blunt object. Apart from the exclusive Tom Cruise cover, there was what Flower describes as his favorite cover, a triple cover with the three main leads of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in an exclusive photo shoot.
"We put a 70 year old gay man on the cover of Arena (he's referring Ian McKellen who played Gandalf in the series). It was just awesome it was all shot by us all written by us and it kicked arse and that's the cover I am most proud of," Flower says.
Then there's that matter of metro-sexing up David Beckham, which Arena admits it needs to take some of the credit or blame for. It went something like this:
"We put him on the cover of Arena homme plus, (the high fashion bi-annual spin-off of Arena). They (the art direction team) shaved his head and they got him to bend him over a bed, with his jeans slightly down. Nobody could believe he had agreed to do it. It was Arena homme plus and it was a gay magazine predominantly," Flower says.
"Of course you do that and suddenly you are super, super cool. That got the ball rolling. Then we put him on the cover of The Face and my stylist cut his hair, that mohawk was us, we deliberately wanted to give him a mohawk and he said ‘why not' and then we sprayed his shirt with tomato sauce.
"To this day that cover has got us more press than any other Emap magazine has ever had. All the nationals, The Guardian, The Independent, they all went, ‘it's official Beckham's now cool'."
The inaugural edition of Arena Singapore will be the November edition out in October.