Marie Claire’s Nicky Briger on shooting covers during COVID, moving in with Bauer and the magazine’s 25th birthday

For anyone working in magazines 2020 has been a tumultuous year, but none have felt this as acutely as the staff at Pacific Magazines. A drawn-out sale process which smacked directly into a global pandemic and now another sale has seen a significant number of roadblocks for editors like Marie Claire’s Nicky Briger, so how do you put together the country’s biggest fashion magazine when the industry is imploding around you?

My interview with Nicky Briger is scheduled to take place in mid-June. It’s about a week before the big news broke – Bauer Media’s German owner had made the decision to sell the ANZ arm of the business to private equity business Mercury Capital. It’s about three weeks after the official merger between Bauer and Pacific Magazines, following a very complex sale process, which saw around 250 staff cut. And it’s in the middle of a global pandemic.

You wouldn’t know any of this talking to Nicky. From the second our call begins, she’s a ball of energy, asking me how I’m coping in lockdown, bemoaning the endless Zoom calls of the pandemic and cheering for the fact we can now meet up with a reasonable number of people on a weekend and have a socially distanced wine.

Nicky is also very positive about the merger between Bauer and Pacific. As my chat with her happened before the sale to Mercury Capital I wasn’t able to gauge her reaction there, but I would hazard a guess she’d be positive – I get the feeling Nicky overcomes whatever life throws at her with enthusiasm and passion.

“I’m ready to get back into the office. The transition has happened, we feel like we’re 100% part of Bauer now which is great. We’re excited because honestly we’ve been in a holding pattern since October when the sale was announced, and then we were waiting for the ACCC and that decision. We’re gearing up to go now and we’re really excited to have access to the Bauer audience and the power of that and being able to introduce our advertisers and clients to that,” Nicky tells me. While she has been part of the many Zoom calls with the Bauer leadership team, she’s champing at the bit to get in the office with her team and start taking advantage of the full scope of offerings Bauer has.

The merger

One of those offerings is Story 54, Bauer’s content studio which is also tasked with creating the campaigns for the various causes Bauer supports. That’s something Nicky is very interested in – Marie Claire has a long history of advocating for women and its ethos seems to match up very neatly with that of Story 54.

“We’ve already had quite a few Zoom meetings with Story 54 and we’ve been talking about what our passions are and what we want to do. Marie Claire is so beautifully positioned to work alongside Story 54 and agitate for change. Until now we’ve felt more like a lone voice, at Pacific, and now we can really align those voices and actually do something powerful and different.”
This is Nicky’s third time at Park Street, Bauer’s iconic Sydney offices. She was editor of the now-defunct SHE magazine in the early 2000s and worked there before that, in the 90s, when Kerry Packer was still a regular fixture. She’s also spent time at Fairfax and got her start at News Corp working on The Daily Telegraph. Working as a magazine journalist, it’s hard to stay away from Park Street for long, and Nicky says she’s excited to get back into the building later this month.

Coronavirus logistics

Around the world, magazines have been faced with an interesting challenge during the pandemic. How do you shoot a cover, a fashion spread, a celebrity feature when you can’t leave your house and neither can anyone else? Marie Claire’s July issue features Offspring actor Asher Keddie and looks much like any other beautiful fashion magazine cover. But it was shot in the actor’s home, by her photographer husband Vincent Fantauzzo.

“Covers have been challenging. A lot of the time you do a cover with an actor who is attached to a film, but with no films coming out a lot of things have been shuffled around. We’d been talking to Asher for a while anyway, she’d just been cast in the adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, she was all ready to go to LA and then couldn’t. So we were talking to her about that, and we knew her husband vincent is an amazing artist and she said he takes a lot of photos so we just thought, well nows the time!”

Asher did her own hair and makeup, the Marie Claire team sent some clothes to her home and she styled herself and the pair worked around the schedule of their two kids. There was some direction around the cover and what sort of image Marie Claire were looking for and the final product is a testament to what can be achieved with a little creativity.

The team also worked creatively with advertisers on a fashion shoot. With a limit on the amount of stock available, as a lot of luxury goods come from Europe, and the lack of in store options, the team looked outside the box for an answer.

“We did a big fashion story where we asked 12 of our advertisers to give us an iconic item that’s still available to buy and then we asked 12 different photographers to shoot the items in their home in their own way and send it in. It’s called Icons in Isolation, which is hysterical, and I love it because it’s so creative. Every single picture is their own take on it, we just let them really go for it. People have used their kids, their wives. One of them was a beautiful Chanel suit and the photographer took a shot of it hanging on a Hills Hoist. We’ve also done shoots over Zoom and we’ve had to rely a lot of our photo agencies.”

Luckily, Marie Claire hasn’t fallen foul of the same things other publications did – the less said about GQ’s bizarre Robert Pattinson’s at home photoshoot the better – and Nicky says the pandemic has given the whole team a chance to be more creative.

“It’s been really fun in a way, we’ve been able to flex our creative muscles. You have no choice, you just have to find ways around it. We’ve been continuing to produce monthly issues with a lot of content, so that’s been incredible. I read the July issue last night and it’s just such a great issue, there are so many good stories.”

Turning 25

Marie Claire was one of the only Australian fashion magazines to continue its monthly publishing schedule during the pandemic, and when I ask Nicky if she ever thought the task was too big, she laughs.

“Every time. Each time a new issue is going to come out I think that. But we’ve found our groove and it’s working pretty well. The team’s been amazing. The main struggle actually has been the fact we’re now working on the Bauer system, so we’re learning a new system while we’re all working from home and the production team have been helping us over Zoom. I think now there isn’t a challenge you could throw at us that we can’t take on.”

Nicky and the editorial team have also taken on the Marie Claire Instagram account, another challenge Nicky is delighted by, which reaches over a million accounts per week. The team has been working hard on content that’s relevant to its readership amid a very quickly changing landscape. The last month alone has seen the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with its daily changes, the escalation of the Black Lives Matter movement both in the US and Australia, as well as a lot of changes to the kind of content Marie Claire would usually cover.

But activism and politics aren’t new topics for Marie Claire. At the end of 2019, the publication featured Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell and Samantha Harris on its cover to champion the recognition and reform called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its followed up with an ongoing focus on Indigenous content. In partnership with Story 54, Marie Claire is already working on plans for more important work in the future, especially as it gears up for its 25th anniversary at the end of this year.

“We’re planning the editorial for our December issue, which will come out in November, and we’ve got some really great things in store. We’re talking to an advertiser about a special gift for our readers and subscribers. We’re going to be doing our Glass Ceiling Awards, which we did last year. They were meant to be happening this week, but of course everything had to be moved. That event really plays in the female empowerment space, promoting women who’ve smashed the glass ceiling and recognising and celebrating the companies that are helping women along the way.”

Despite the pressures Marie Claire was facing during the pandemic, it seems to have benefitted the same way other media organisations have. The magazine’s newsstand market share sits at 36%, the May issue was up 27% on the 12 month average and 29% year-on-year. Subscriptions are up 29% for the three months from March and the March print readership was up 16% overall.

“Even though, obviously, advertising is challenged we’ve been able to sustain our market share and our circulation revenue is strong, so I think this whole time has made you realise how important it is to have that reach and scale. We want to see an advertising comeback like anyone, and we’re already seeing revenue for our September issue is 2.5 times more than August, and October’s outlook is even better. It’s definitely on the way up. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll be back in the office in July and things are definitely on the way up.”


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