HONG KONG, China — The race to become the go-to publication for not only ‘crazy rich Asians’, but also the region’s most influential up-and-coming talent, is on. Tatler, one of Asia’s prominent society magazines, is rebranding and hiring experienced names from the American publishing industry to get a leg up on its competitors in the region’s growing luxury market.
Edipresse Media Asia — which will be renamed Tatler Asia Group in January and is the parent of Tatler editions in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines — has hired Joe Zee as global artistic director, overseeing the visual branding over the magazine and the corporate entity in print, digital and events.
During his tenure as the creative director at Elle magazine between 2007 and 2014, Zee became one of the most recognizable names outside the fashion industry by embracing social media and regularly appearing on television, both through guest spots and reality shows set at Elle. He left the magazine five years ago and headed to Yahoo Fashion where he expanded the vertical into a digital magazine of sorts, tapping into his A-list celebrity, photographer and designer connections. Since leaving Yahoo in 2017 after the company was acquired by Verizon, Zee has produced a documentary for Netflix and continued to appear on television commenting on fashion and celebrities, but had not signed onto another editorial project until Tatler.
“With Asia being such a powerhouse part of the world, with the pop culture zeitgeist of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ and with a lot more representations of Asians in pop culture in America this year, it really made me excited about the possibilities,” Zee said.
His mandate is to make the magazine brand look more elevated through print and digital redesigns, but also to expand its events and shift its focus from just high-society families to also include professionals and creatives. He will help bring Tatler a larger emphasis on fashion and beauty content. Travel, art, fitness and food are also coverage priorities.
Also new to Edipresse Media Asia are Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Brendan Monaghan, formerly the publisher of T Magazine at the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveller, and Danica Lo, Edipresse Media Asia’s new chief content officer and the former digital director of WWD and Food & Wine. Both Monaghan and Lo moved to Hong Kong this year for their new positions.
Michel Lamunière, chairman and CEO of Edipresse Media Asia, has hired 25 new executives across all of the publisher’s regions this year, three years after Lamunière moved to Hong Kong himself to focus on the Asian publishing arm of the family business, Switzerland’s Edipresse, which owns publications, e-commerce businesses and real estate in Europe, acquired Tatler’s Asian titles in 2005. Most of the editions are published in English and will remain so in an effort to appeal to global elites. It also harkens to Tatler’s origins as a high society magazine founded 118 years ago in London, a history which has differentiated the brand’s identity in Asia, too. (Tatler is published separately in the United Kingdom and Russia by Condé Nast.)
“We cannot just confine ourselves to these small group of influential families,” said Lamunière. “We want Tatler in the future to be associated with Asia’s most influential and successful people.”
Tatler, which is known for its annual list of 500 most influential people in Asia and of 400 people shaping Asia’s future, generates most of its revenue in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia.
In its home market of Hong Kong, the title is facing increased competition from luxury publications and political instability. The city has been impacted by highly disruptive anti-Beijing protests in recent months. Lamunière said “all businesses at the moment feel the impact of demonstrations,” but he remains bullish on the city in the mid and long-term. “The city will always rebound,” he said.
Before the protests became the dominant story out of Hong Kong this year, the number of millionaires in Hong Kong rose 9 percent, according to a 2018 survey by Credit Suisse, and KPMG estimated that its population of billionaires increased 29 percent, second only to New York globally.
Rival titles The Peak, Gafencu, Prestige, and Precious (many of which also cover Singapore, mainland China and other South East Asian markets such as Indonesia) vie for readers among Asia’s one percent and aspirants. In the luxury and fashion categories, recent entrants to Hong Kong include Vogue Hong Kong and French newspaper Le Figaro’s weekly women's supplement Madame Figaro.
Lamunière said that one of Tatler’s differentiators in the market is the quality of its readership: the company has a team dedicated to ensuring the magazine is sent to the rich and influential, as well as placing it in hotels and private clubs. Subscriptions and newsstand sales are not as important because 90 percent of the publisher’s revenue comes from advertising, though Lamunière wants to develop other streams of revenue, like licensing or pop-up shops.
“A lot of media brands still benefit from a very strong aura and a lot of commercial partners end up supporting titles like Vogue… without necessarily knowing if they were reaching the right audience,” he said. “Advertisers are becoming extremely astute and knowledgeable about media standing and they want clear returns…. We have actually increased our reach over time and that’s because we didn’t have to worry that people would want to buy it, just that they would want to consume it [once it is delivered]. And that plays to our advantage.”
A redesigned Tatler will debut in March 2020 in conjunction with Art Basel in Hong Kong, and the issue will feature an expanded best-dressed list featuring 100 men and women from across Asia. And Lamunière said he has ambitions to also launch the title in new markets in the coming years, particularly Vietnam, Korea, Myanmar and Cambodia. India is also on the horizon.
“People are really obsessed with the brand over here and there’s so much opportunity with that,” said Monaghan. “It’s a window into the Asian market for brands that maybe haven’t considered Tatler before.”