Australian Women’s Weekly editor on how its latest cover has changed industry attitudes

Women's Weekly Turia Pitt coverThe cover of the July edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly features the image of ultra-marathon bushfire survivor Turia Pitt, a move which surprised many in an industry driven by image. Editor-in-chief Helen McCabe spoke to Miranda Ward about how the cover came about, and its effect not only on the public, but also the beauty and fashion industries as we.

The July cover of the Australian’s Women’s Weekly has done more to market “what the heart and soul of the magazine is” than anything else the magazine’s editor-in-chief Helen McCabe has done in her five years at the helm.

Speaking to Mumbrella about the July edition which featured Turia Pitt, a survivor of the bushfire that swept through an ultra-marathon in Western Australia’s Kimberly region in September 2011, McCabe said the cover is “a really strong signal to market that this magazine is committed to Australian women, quality stories, independent journalism, long-form story telling and quality writing.

“The magazine was tested by a lot of readers who not had picked it up before, it probably did more to market the magazine and what the heart and soul of the magazine is than anything else I’ve done in the last five years. It sent a strong message to the community about who we are and what we’re doing here,” said McCabe.

While McCabe was unable to share sales details for the issue, citing industry policy around not releasing figures month-on-month, she did say the reach of the cover on Facebook was 2.6m.

She added: “If you put the Facebook reach at that, our readership is 2.2m roughly every month, I imagine this will be substantially above that. Then you add our online site which is about 1m, and there’s only 10 per cent cross over between what goes in the magazine and what’s online, then your reach on this title is phenomenal and that’s where the future lies.



“Magazine circulation is decreasing, but the challenge for me is to make my title decline less than other titles. I have been ambitious about turning that around but in truth, I think flat is the new up, as we laugh here. If you get flat circulation it’s as good as being up. Our circulation is pretty good. But like every print product we are incredibly heartened by what’s going on online and in the digital format.”

“Knowing what I know about the sale figures, would I do it again? Yes,” she added.

The Bauer Media title’s circulation currently sits at 451,235 according to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for the non-weekly titles.

Originally the cover wasn’t planned to feature Pitt solo, McCabe explained, but rather a collection of judges for the Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Scholarship competition which include Pitt, Penny Wong, Jennifer Hawkins, Lisa Wilkinson, Ann Sherry, Rachel Griffiths and Jana Wendt.

McCabe explained: “We shot a cover with four of the women in it and that was really designed on who was available on the day.We had a heap of judges coming in and out and it was who could all be there at that particular time. The four of them were Penny Wong, Lisa Wilkinson, Jennifer Hawkins and Turia Pitt.

“That was planned as a cover try, a long shot cover. I wasn’t expecting to do it but if it worked. I was really excited on the day, I thought that could really make a great cover. But by the time I got around to doing it, Turia was in the press. She’d done a 60 Minutes interview and she was awarded compensation from the race organisers which was reportedly $10 million, but from what I understand that’s a fairly substantial overstatement, it wasn’t anywhere near that figure. So she became newsworthy.”

Women's Weekly July Images of the four judges ran on page seven of the magazine alongside McCabe’s editorial and on the contents page of the magazine.

“When I looked at the images again I just thought why not do her on her own because her story is so incredible and her profile is high enough, everyone knows who she is, everyone admires her. That’s how it came to be,” she said.

“Once we saw it we all felt quite emotional about it and believed it was the right thing to do. It then required a couple of conversations with my publisher who is (Bauer Media CEO) Matt Stanton. When I talked him through it he said ‘well I better come and have a look at it’ and when he did come and look at it he was speechless and went ‘yeah, ok lets do it’. So I didn’t get any significant resistance anywhere.

“There was only the one shot. We didn’t shoot it for a cover, so there wasn’t any choice, it was that picture or nothing. And if you look at the magazine and go inside, we’ve repeated the image because we didn’t have a secondary image and that’s how far the idea was from my mind at that stage.”

McCabe stressed the choice to put Pitt on the cover was about her story and relevance in the news currently.

“Someone sent me a message telling me I challenge you to run a disabled person on the cover, and I thought I’m running her [Pitt] because of her story and she’s relevant,” she said.

“She actually ticks every box of the sorts of women I put on the cover every month: she’s high profile, she’s fascinating, she’s of substance, she’s Australian, she’s overcome some sort of adversity, she has a compelling story to tell and it’s new, there’s developments in her story and her life all the time and you’re interested in what’s going on. So in terms of trying to find that perfect cover person she ticks probably all of the boxes and most women on the cover every month don’t.

“She ticked every box, it wasn’t so much about her image as a superficial consideration, it was about who she is and what she stands for.

“These women don’t come along very often and I’m always on the lookout for a new and interesting woman and story which will appeal to a huge story so it wasn’t that tricky in many ways. She’s the best story in the country right now and that’s the start and stop of the decision making.

“It was one of those things that you couldn’t not do,” McCabe added.

The cover sparked responses from around Australia across social media with many women applauding the move, while international press including The Huffington Post and The Independent also covered it.

“The market wants to be surprised and does want me to do different things and to test the boundaries of what makes up the suite of women in this country who are always on the covers so any opportunity I get to do something a little bit different I will grab it with both hands. But that opportunity doesn’t come very often. It wasn’t that difficult, it was a no-brainer.”

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McCabe said whilst there has been a lot of positive reaction from the public, there has also been a lot of positivity from the beauty and fashion industries.

“People in the beauty and fashion industry and the cosmetic industry, lots of that world has contacted me directly and indirectly and everyone is very touched by what she says about beauty because there’s no doubt that she is beautiful,” said McCabe.

“That expression you get from her eyes, the way she holds herself, she’s tall and she’s thin and the way she wears clothes and the way she walks into a room – she has this presence and this aura about her that is way beyond her skin. It really does challenge you in that regard. She has something going for her that’s very powerful and central to the core of her being and nothing to do with the superficiality and I think it’s a strong message for women of all ages.”

Deborah_Hutton_AWW_January_CoverWomen's Weekly baby george coverMcCabe said she “tortured” herself more over a cover featuring a photo of baby Prince George from his christening.

“I did a sort of 1980s retro cover with the christening photo of baby George in an oval shape image with bunting across the top of them. I thought is everyone going to get the joke here?” she explained. “This is supposed to be fun and a throwback to a past era and I hope it doesn’t fall flat. I was really worried about that, that was the craziest thing I’ve done and you’ve got to remember I’ve put a naked 50 year old Deborah Hutton on the cover a few years ago, so I’ve done some pretty interesting and risky covers already. This one in the end didn’t feel that risky.”

McCabe is hopeful the cover will not only challenge society’s view on what beauty is but also encourage other magazines to think about what stories make good covers.

“I sit in enough meetings where the beauty industry says beauty is skin deep and those kinds of superficial lines are used around incredibly beautiful women and they make pronouncements of what is beauty and beauty is inner confidence and inner glow and all that kind of stuff and that’s always hard to buy for average women who aren’t born with high cheek bones and exotic looks,” she said.

“But Turia tells you that’s not the case. It’s not about the facade, it’s about what comes from within and she glows with it. I do think she’s going to have an interesting affect on this country, she’s 26 and she’s going to be in the public life for a long time and she’s going to talk about this stuff a lot and she’s going to challenge our thinking.

“I do hope it does encourage other magazines to think differently about the sorts of stories that make covers.”

Miranda Ward


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