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Mala Sekhri

COO - Lifestyle Division | 08 Apr 2011

I may be a working women but, a part of me also loves cooking, shopping. I have multiple personalities hence I may subscribe to four magazines which deal with each one of these subjects. You might get away by putting all the subjects in one magazine but those days are finished. No one magazine satisfies me hence generic sorts of magazines are gone now. Women now look at specific content, whether it comes from TV, Magazine or anything to satisfy the information need, either desire or anything. So women have many sides, men may not have…

Mala Sekhri is a media professional who joined the India Today Group in 1992 as Product Manager for India Today. In her 19 years with the Group, Sekhri has worked in various divisions of the Group. She was Marketing Head of Business Today when it was launched. She then took over as Publisher for the Group’s Lifestyle Division in 2000. She is now COO, Lifestyle Division, and has under her charge leading magazines like Cosmopolitan, India Today Travel Plus, Good Housekeeping and the recently launched Harper’s Bazaar.

Before India Today Group, Sekhri was with The Times of India Group where she led the Newspaper in Education (NIE) project. Prior to that she was with Shriram Industrial Enterprises Ltd (erstwhile DCM Group), where she was responsible for launching India’s first packaged sugar brand, ‘Mawana’.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Sekhri speaks at length about the journey of Cosmopolitan magazine in India, the niche magazine market in the country and women-centric magazines...

Q. Cosmopolitan was launched in India in 1996. At the time, there were few big luxury brands in India, digital revolution was not on the scene and print was dominating. Would you like to take us through the impact on Cosmopolitan as the media environment changed, specially with regards to the growth of various other media, including digital.

Cosmopolitian is not about being in print or digital, it is an ‘attitude’. Anyone who subscribes to that attitude either reads the magazine or the website. We have only seen growth in last fourteen years and have come to be right up there in the young women’s ‘must-do’ list. Digital media in a sense has not impacted us and it is unlikely to impact the niche magazine segment in a big way. It may impact readership of magazines as a whole.

Q. How has Cosmopolitan moulded itself according to the changing behaviour of women in India?

I don’t think Cosmopolitan has moulded itself. Because, the way women in the country have grown gives Cosmo a natural place in the life of Indian women. Few years back, when Cosmopolitan was launched, it was very difficult for people to say ‘sex’ aloud. A lot of people would turn the magazine over. Working women were lesser at that time and the working environment was smaller. That's when we started, way ahead of our time. Women have evolved over the years. Many come from small cities to big cities to work. They are into various relationships and are very open about it. In the past, they used to be very hush-hush about it.

Women are now in almost every profession. They could be in a live-in, could be divorced etc and these are all out there in the open. So, I think Cosmo has very nicely worked along the way the women in this country have evolved. In that sense Cosmo has really ridden the wave of change.

Q. From content view point, as you had said in an interview with e4m in the past,

Cosmopolitan is a global attitude. Be it a women in Russia, America or Greenland or India, the mindset is similar. If, you are young, aggressive, upbeat, full of energy, you subscribe to a life that you live on your terms without being too insensitive. The power of Cosmo is that it has taken this attitude and made it a brand. It’s the largest selling magazine in the world, across 54 countries and that is huge.

Q. Please tell us more about the ‘fun, fearless, female’ thought process…

Through ‘fun, fearless, female’ awards we take Cosmo’s attitude out Live. We define the Cosmo Women as women who is a ‘Fun’, ‘Fearless’, ‘Female’. Being fearless does not mean you go out and fight a tiger. It means living life on your own terms and not be too bothered about what anyone else is saying. We give out awards to women and some men, who have that kind of attitude. This is not an achievement award. This is an award for your attitude - who you are as a person. These awards are an effort to bring the attitude out Live from the magazine to these fora.

Q. You just organised the third edition of Cosmopolitan Fun, Fearless, Female Awards. Also, Harper’s BAZAAR India, conducted a unique survey – ‘Women in Luxury’ few months back. How do these marketing, activation and consumer outreach initiatives help a niche magazine brand?

There are two aspects to it. We try and understand our consumer very often because we have to write to that consumer. Harper's Bazaar is a luxury brand. It is a brand which will also ride the wave of change in this country because luxury is a new concept in India. So for us to do a luxury survey is important, because we need to understand what women are wearing, buying and liking. India is not a homogenous country and we got amazing responses from all over. Something might be luxury to a woman in Sikkim, but may not be to a woman in Mumbai or Delhi. So you have to recognise the reality of your country and be on top of it. Because when you write, for the women through magazine, you must know what they are thinking. It is a huge editorial challenge to be abreast of what is happing around.

Second, we are the experts in a sense in the subject that we deal with. We are sort of experts on women. I have today Cosmo women, Harper's Bazaar women, Good House Keeping women - so we are experts in this domain and we understand them. We have to give our expertise to the people who are our business partners. Like in the case of Harper's bazaar, we want to give people who are in luxury business, an insight into readership of our magazine. We want them to know the luxury trends of the country. Because, things change here very fast. We do it annually because we want industry to be well informed.

Q. Now there are many women-centric magazines in the market. Though they all profess a different USP, do you think the women-centric-magazine market has become cluttered. How has it impacted your brand?

No, it is not cluttered if you compare our country to rest of the world. If you take example of United States, they have four times more titles than us. Britain has 85 million population and many Women centric magazines. We need to understand these are niche magazines and they cater to an interest group. I may be a working women but, a part of me also loves cooking, shopping. I have multiple personalities hence I may subscribe to four magazines which deal with each one of these subjects. You might get away by putting all the subjects in one magazine but those days are finished. No one magazine satisfies me hence generic sorts of magazines are gone now. Women now look at specific content, whether it comes from TV, Magazine or anything to satisfy the information need, either desire or anything. So women have many sides, men may not have…

Q. There are many international magazine titles launching in India. In Indian Magazine Congress 2007 you had said - “I do not agree that international partnerships would hamper publication industry. Partnerships help in cost cutting, writing styles improve, and it also attracts advertisers.” Do you think that advertisers’ are attracted towards ‘International Titles versus a more Indian brand name like Femina was before the BBC partnership or Women’s Era?

It is not that advertisers get attracted because they are international titles. If you have an advertiser, which has a global footprint like P&G, Hindustan Lever and for example a product like Surf, which is available in 200 countries. They find an environment which suites them. They are comfortable with global brands. Like Good House Keeping magazine which has the same audience globally they (advertisers) want to reach to. Global advertisers find a vehicle to create an environment that suites them which have similar audiences world over. International advertisers generally partner with international titles, not because the title is international but because they are comfortable and familiar with the environment which has been created world over.

Having said that, I am not saying they will ignore something local. Local is equally successful. So it has nothing to do with national or international but they come with some sort of preconceived environment which they are comfortable with. Advertisers have tried and tested the global titles hence they feel comfortable with them. Like Tide which is a global advertiser with Good House Keeping magazine. Tide pack carries Good House Keeping seal of approval in America. They have experienced and know what Good House Keeping women are, and are comfortable with that kind of environment. So when Good House Keeping comes to India, they said sure it is an environment we are comfortable with and want to be with in India too. It kind of gives you a short-cut to these advertisers who you don’t have to prove yourself again and again. It doesn’t necessarily mean they ignore local brands but as an international brand you have a little bit of advantage. That advantage is getting more and more negated because so many new magazines are now coming in. 4 and 5 years ago there was definite advantage if you were an international player in the market.

Q. Are women-centric magazines more competition to a magazine like yours or fashion magazines?

Cosmopolitan does not compete with anyone. It is a brand itself and it is an attitude and, nobody in India really competing in attitude space.

Q. Measurement has been a much talked about subject for magazine industry. We don’t see many niche magazines like yours in IRS-NRS surveys. How do you measure how well your magazines are doing?

We show what we print. India Today group by virtue of having the largest distribution system has a certain pull in the market. Even our competitors come to us for distribution. The reason we are not on any measurement study is because the methodology these measurement studies use is not fair for niche magazines or magazines as a whole. That is why many magazines have walked out of measurement studies. If they come up with something that is focussed on the magazine industry, we will happy to be there. But till the time they cater only to the newspaper market, it is unfair for the magazines.

Q. Speaking on some of your future plans - will we see Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, launching in other languages in near future? Do you see they have market in regional languages?

We are definitely interested in language market. But I can’t give you any deadline.

Q. Is there any preferable language you want be in?

Yes, Hindi is certainly one. Hindi is a big market. India Today group has been the largest supporter of language publishing we are in Tamil, Telulgu, Malayalam. So definitely we are interested in the whole country.

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