Elle Macpherson, Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Hawkins: How Stellar encourages readers to sit down on a Sunday and read the paper

Since launching in 2016, glossy magazine Stellar has aimed to be at the forefront of the conversation around lifestyle and women's magazines. Now celebrating its third birthday, editor-in-chief Sarrah Le Marquand looks back on launching a print title after print had already 'died' and securing the interviews nobody else gets.

Was 2016 the right time to launch a print publication with a focus on women’s lifestyle content? If you look at the statistics, and the debates about the death of print that have raged for many years, probably not. But if you look at the success of Stellar, the glossy weekend title available with The Sunday Telegraph, maybe it was. Editor-in-chief Sarrah Le Marquand certainly thinks so.

Stellar editor-in-chief Sarrah Le Marquand

“You’ve got to honour where the readers are and right now, on a Sunday in Australia, people are still reading a Sunday newspaper. The Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Herald Sun are two of the most read papers in the country. That audience is already so massive, it’s really helped Stellar carve out this special claim, and then it’s about building integrity and trust, and while that can live on in any medium, I do think print is the natural home of products that people feel like they can trust,” says Le Marquand.

Part of the way Stellar sought to build an audience was through the combination of editorials that didn’t shy away from the tough conversations, matched with stunning photography that would be as at home in a high-end fashion title as it is in Stellar. The content was the important part, says Le Marquand, and print just happened to be the best medium to deliver it.

“One of my former editors, back when I was at The Daily Telegraph, David Penberthy, would say when the CD was created it was seen as the death of the music industry, just like when digital launched it was thought to be the death of print, but the mistake in making the comparison between those two was that we’re not CD or vinyl manufacturers. We’re songwriters. So while the medium may change, the content will live on. At the moment I just happen to be editing a magazine, but I think Stellar could live on in any medium. Talk to me in a couple of years, because I’ve got a lot of ideas for how Stellar could live on when I’m in a nursing home and we’re in a post-print world.”

Elle Macpherson, Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Hawkins

The content that Le Marquand is referring to is the celebrity interviews and photoshoots Stellar has rolled out across its time, including a launch issue that featured Elle Macpherson on Hayman Island and received attention from publications around the world. Stellar’s first anniversary saw Nicole Kidman dive into a pool in LA in an Alex Perry ballgown, a shot that was part of her “best shoot ever”, according to American tabloids. It’s second anniversary saw Miranda Tapsell shot in the Kakadu National Park, one of the few publications to be granted approval to shoot there, and earlier this month a Janet Jackson cover was splashed across the world, including an appearance on Good Morning America where it was called a “rare” and “candid” interview.

This weekend is the title’s third anniversary, and to celebrate they’re returning to Hayman Island with a pregnant Jennifer Hawkins who is set to welcome her first child in a few months.

Stellar’s third-anniversary cover, featuring Jennifer Hawkins’ first pregnancy shoot

“We shot her first shoot while pregnant, so we had bump along with us, and we went back to the Hayman Island for a full circle from the Elle Macpherson shoot three years ago. Jen was a total trooper, getting out of bed at 4am so we could shoot at sunrise, but hopefully when people see the cover they’ll agree it was worth getting out of bed for because the light broke so beautifully and I’m so happy with how it’s come out. It ticks all the boxes for us – iconic Australian woman, iconic Australian location, beautiful images, exclusive story, but there’s a lot of heart to it too and substance, Jen was very gracious opening up about how nothing in life is ever really easy and her difficulties along the road to motherhood. We’ve been very fortunate and I think it’s one of those stories that sums up everything Stellar has become known for in the last few years.”

The third-anniversary issue will also see some new additions to the format, including the launch of a wellness page to run alongside the beauty page, something Le Marquand says is in response to the increasing interest from readers in health and wellbeing, and the addition of a Dear Stellar agony aunt style page. The Stellar difference there is the questions go to clinical psychologist Jo Lamble, rather than a celebrity or media personality, because Le Marquand felt it was important for the page to have weight to it, rather than be a chance for someone to have a comedic output or soapbox to voice their opinions on.

Engaging with brands

So with this strong focus on editorial content and the strength of the Stellar brand, how do commercial agreements and advertising factor into the equation? Is there a space for brands to work with a team who are so focused on the editorial product?

Le Marquand is very confident there is, and that Stellar has a lot of value to offer brands. Increasingly, she says, there’s been a focus on long-term commercial partnerships, supported by Stellar’s strong editorial reputation and engaging product.

“The minute something isn’t engaging is the minute we start losing that really special place that we have fought so hard to create for ourselves in the Australian market. When we work with brands, it’s very much about seeing how we can work with them organically and what will deliver the results they’re looking for, because readers expect a certain level of intelligence and substance, which isn’t unique to Stellar, but with the trust we’ve built and the fact people come and share our stories with us, we’re really now harnessing that more in the way we work with brands. It’s about being able to look at what they want and say ‘Ok, here’s the story we can help you tell that’s organic to us and will resonate with the Stellar reader.’”

Stellar tapped into the Logies ‘controversy’ 

In particular, the brand has been building its presence on social media, with Instagram easily lending itself to the sort of editorial content Stellar produces. With its first social media editor coming onboard in the last year and 60% of the best performing posts appearing in the last 12 months, Le Marquand is confident that the only way is up. She says the access the title has to talent, plus the opportunity for behind-the-scenes shots and top makeup artists who can do beauty routine videos, social media was a natural pathway for the brand to continue its story beyond the printed product, and advertisers are beginning to want a foot in the door.

“Our content is performing so well that we’re actually finding brands now want to come and work with us commercially and then use the content on their own social media platforms. In all of these executions we’ve exceeded KPIs, in fact we had one last year where we partnered with a brand and exceeded the KPI by 300%,” La Marquand says.

“We’re definitely not living in a world where we’re like ‘Yay we don’t have to worry about digital and social media’, we’re certainly pouring resources into that, but I think for me as editor-in-chief it’s important to not take my eyes off the main goal. And right now, when you’re looking at the majority of our audience, they’re sitting down on a Sunday and reading the newspaper.”


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