NEWSWEEKLY FINDS A SURPRISING NEW FOCUS

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The unexpected runaway success of Germany's year-old newsweekly Focus is teaching European publishers a big lesson.

With Focus, Munich's Burda publishing house has tapped into Europe's largest undiscovered market: readers aged 25-39 brought up on fast-paced TV who want snappy stories with lots of color and pictures.

"Focus succeeded in finding an entire new reader segment," said Jens Putze, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, Frankfurt.

Burda, best known for women's magazines, defied both economic recession and the conventional wisdom that Germany's only existing newsweekly, Der Spiegel, was invincible.

Even Burda underestimated Focus' potential. Focus hoped for 2,000 ad pages in 1993 but advertisers snapped up 3,648. The magazine aimed to sell between 250,000 and 300,000 copies a week but circulation soared to 495,327. Focus charges $24,975 for a color ad page against Der Spiegel's $54,575.

Now, a year after writing off Focus as a certain flop, three of Europe's largest publishers are scrambling to bring out clones. Gruner & Jahr plans to introduce an information-oriented magazine in September. Axel Springer is developing a German version of its successful Austrian magazine News. And Bauer is believed to have a similar project ready to go.

Burda's rivals are closely studying Focus' recipe. One main ingredient was a hard-hitting $8 million ad campaign created by Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett.

A fast-moving TV spot that captured the essence of the magazine with staccato clips blared: " Focus is a new type of news magazine. Focus is colorful, clearly laid out and critical." Print ads emphasized the same points. Trawling for subscribers, a direct marketing campaign by Ogilvy & Mather Direkt, Frankfurt, netted 75,000, surprisingly high since most magazine sales come at the newsstand.

In contrast to Der Spiegel's long, intense articles, Focus gives value-for-money advice such as "How to squeeze car salesmen when buying a new car." Focus is also cheaper, at $2.50 to Der Spiegel's $3.10.

Project Manager Andreas Struck said Burda execs were surprised it took only 12 months to make the magazine a hit. Therefore, Focus will probably be profitable in its third year, rather than the four or five originally expected.

This year Der Spiegel, plans to fight back, but no editorial changes are expected. Der Spiegel started a 12-city international tour this month presenting a 38-minute video emphasizing the diversity of European culture. The one common factor in the communications landscape is Der Spiegel, the video suggets.

Der Spiegel is also believed to be upping its German ad budget substantially, to about $7 million, through Springer & Jacoby, Hamburg.

After a record 1992 when ad pages totalled 7,191 and circulation peaked at 1.2 million, Der Spiegel ad pages and circulation slid in 1993. Ad pages dropped 14% to 6,078; circulation by 6.8% to 1.1 million for the fourth quarter of 1993 from the same period in 1992.

Most of the main advertisers are the same in both newsweeklies. Some, however, that did not advertise in Der Spiegel because they considered it too politically liberal have added Focus to their schedules, including Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, the Hoechst chemical group and Bosch electrical products.

Burkhard Voges, Der Spiegel's publishing manager, expects flat ad sales in 1994. Focus' Mr. Struck is also cautious, forecasting a relatively modest 10% increase to 4,000 ad pages for his magazine.

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