The American Way relaunch issue in January was a big challenge. Big client, big expectations, small team in London.
Ink had moved its whole content operation for American Airlines from Dallas to Miami, which involved a new team and a new vision for the magazine. In the interim, we had to produce a few issues, culminating in the January relaunch, whilst simultaneously hiring and bedding in a new Miami team. At the same time, we were also producing a relaunch issue for Celebrated Living, American Way’s sister title, available in premium cabins. It was an intense few months.
Along with design director Jamie Trendall and US editor Chris Wright, we wanted to give American Way an injection of energy and spark – to come up with a fresh vision that does justice to the world’s biggest airline, and the huge and gloriously diverse country it represents. We wanted something that was smart punchy and fun, but which still had a mass-market appeal, and wouldn’t alienate a very broad readership. It also needed to capture American Airlines’ entertainment tie-ins, from the Golden Globes to the Brits. The plan, broadly, was a magazine big on entertainment and travel, almost like Empire magazine in the air.
A star still made most sense on the cover, but we wanted those covers to shout: to be packed with cover lines, and stories that hopefully begged to be read. We wanted the stars to be shot in an inclusive, warm, unguarded way, ideally with a sense of humour – and inside to have interviews that really told you a story about a human being.
What we came up with was Need to Know, where every issue there would be 21, 25 or however many things you need to know, covering the classic touchpoints – food, culture, travel, rising stars etc – but in a clean, instant, very readable format. Headlines would be bold, declarative statements, and there’d be a sense of directness, urgency and confidence to it, a bit like the best Buzzfeed lists. You need to know that… this guy’s the next big thing, this is the dish everyone’s talking about, this is the place.
If Need to Know was kind of the magazine’s voice, we wanted more voices in there, so we came up with a mini-section, called – surprise surprise – Voices. They key thing here was engaging and compelling little stories, direct from interesting people. We wanted big, interesting names, with quote headlines drawing the reader in.
In terms of features, beyond the cover interview, we introduced a new regular feature, Neighbourhood Watch, where we’d take a tour of part of a city, meeting the locals. Part of the idea was to have a regular property that we could create video content around (the strategy was designed to work better in digital formats, too). Otherwise, we wanted the features to have the same sense as the rest of the magazine: bold, confident, but warm and fun. We generally wanted people in the magazine to be unguarded, happy, optimistic. We wanted it to feel like a celebration of people and places.
Any magazine launch is always an exercise in getting as close as you can to that ideal vision, which you never quite achieve. For this one, I don’t think we were a million miles away, despite limited time. The Need to Know section had some fun little pieces in it, from plastic dinosaurs that had become an Instagram sensation to a bizarre Elvis festival in Australia and a longer read about the first ever Superbowl, 50 years earlier. We also had a little interview with ethereal rising star Anya Taylor-Joy, who was about to appear in Split with James McAvoy, and covered food with a story about Noma founder Claus Meyer and the latest of his many New York ventures.
We were proud, too, of the Voices section. With Trainspotting 2 and The New Celebrity Apprenticeout in January, we had two big-hitting voices in Irvine Welsh and Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Irvine Welsh wrote us a little piece about being a Scot in America, I had a very surreal phone call with Arnie, whose lines about movie catchphrases and psychologically grinding down his opponents were well-worn but brilliant nonetheless.
The features just about worked, with a few little caveats. After a lot of back and forth, we didn’t manage to sort a shoot with cover interviewee Jimmy Fallon (who was due to host the Golden Globes). Part of the concept was always doing bespoke shoots, which we’ve managed since. Still, I think the set of images we bought was fun, and had the tone we were looking for. We’d also tried to get Cuba in there, as it was a destination the client wanted to push. We based the story on a beautiful photography set on crumbling Havana mansions, though in hindsight and with more time, I think we could have gone for something a bit more dynamic, fun and contemporary.
The next two features were dynamic, though – a list of 17 big trends for 2017, all using different sources, and a Soho Neighbourhood Watch that took in dandies, bar owners, neon artists and an old Italian maitre d’ dubbed the Queen of Soho. A few months later, we also produced a video linking to the story, with Bar Termini owner Tony Conigliaro showing us his Soho. See it here.
Finally, on the back page we had travel tales from Hannah Simone, the best friend in the sitcom New Girl. Tonally, it felt about right: a star talking travel in a frank, unguarded way.
As always, we’d have loved more time, but in the end we think we set a good tone, which the new team in Miami have taken on. According to independent figures, engagement with the magazine has gone up by 13%. You can read that relaunch issue here, and see what we simultaneously did with Celebrated Living here. You can also see the American Airlines content suite in digital form here.