By Published on .

MUNICH-Challenging German newsweekly Der Spiegel has been discussed for more than 30 years, but no publisher had the courage to do so. That is until Helmut Markwort, 57, joined Burda Publishing.

After joining Burda in 1991, Mr. Markwort wasted no time convincing owner Hubert Burda, who had long sought to add an elite title to his range of women's books. The result was Focus, Germany's hottest newsmagazine, which made its debut with the Jan. 18, 1993, issue.

By last month, all sales forecasts were exceeded. Focus sells 560,000 copies a week, more than half of Der Spiegel's 1.06 million. Der Spiegel's circulation, meanwhile, fell from 1.1 million in the fourth quarter of 1993.

But most surprising was ad sales of Focus which soared at a time when many advertisers were cancelling print budgets to move to TV. During the first half of this year, Focus overtook Der Spiegel with 2,672 ad pages-a 95.4% increase from the same period in 1993. Der Spiegel, meanwhile, sold 2,667.2 ad pages in 1994's first half, down 12.9% from the first half of 1993.

Mr. Markwort's motivation for coming out with Focus is simple: "I am for competition and simply detest monopolies," he says.

Despite the close competition, however, Focus and Der Spiegel are very different.

Mr. Markwort targeted Focus to readers aged 25 to 39 raised in the fast-paced TV age, those who want snappy stories, with color graphics, charts and pictures. By contrast, newsmagazine Der Spiegel is rather weighty and grey, appealing to an older audience with more in-depth articles.

The secret to Focus' success wasn't just color graphics, however; it was marketing.

In ads Mr. Markwort calls his readers the "Info Elite," an expression he freely admits was created by the Dusseldorf-based agency Lippert, Wilkens, Partner, which handles Focus' trade ads.

Consumer advertising is the purview of Michael Conrad & Leo Burnett, Frankfurt, which created a $19 million campaign in 1993 that helped the publication soar. Mr. Markwort and his staff are the stars of the commercials, filmed hard at work on hot stories on Friday mornings at the Focus office. The spots air 36 hours later, on Saturday night.

The tagline during the campaign's early phase was: "Focus is a new type of news magazine. Focus is colorful, clearly laid out and critical." Print ads emphasize the same points.

Ogilvy & Mather Direkt, Frankfurt, handles the direct marketing account.

The direct approach worked: During the publication's first 18 months, more than 100,000 subscriptions were sold and Mr. Markwort is convinced that next year Focus will be in the black.

But the real proof of Focus' success is that rival publishers Gruner & Jahr, Heinrich Bauer and Axel Springer are about to introduce similar magazines, this fall or next year.

Most Popular
In this article: