Editor Clare McHugh drops everything, talks Maxim with me! INTERVIEW

Today’s Guest: Maxim magazine editor Clare McHugh.

Clare McHugh, editor, Maxim Magazine, Mr. Media Interviews
Originally published March 31, 1997

Does America really need another men’s magazine?

Do men need another 172 pages every month or so telling us how to behave, how to get lucky more often, how to pick wine, who’s hot and what’s not?

If subsequent issues of a new magazine called Maxim are as ticklishly unsubtle as the first, the answer is a testosterone-cup-runneth-over yes.

Mr. Media reads piles of magazines each month, but the men’s category is his favorite. Not for the pictures, either, although . . . The quality of writing in Playboy, Esquire, and GQ, for example, is generally excellent. But no matter how much older, wiser and wealthier Mr. Media gets, he never quite sees himself as the model reader for those publications. In his 20s, he thought he’d grow into that debonair, literate, sophisticated fella.

Bar Rafaeli on the cover of Maxim, Mr. Media Interviews

Bar Rafaeli on the cover of Maxim

But now, in his mid-30s, all those guys seem much younger!

Maxim, on the other hand, is a perfect fit.

What makes it so different? Is it that Maxim is the American edition of a popular European magazine? Or could it be that this is the only major men’s magazine in this country edited by a woman? A woman with a tree house sense of humor, that is, who could hang out and be accepted by your average bunch of guys talking sports, knocking back a few, checking out babes and scratching themselves. Okay, maybe not that last thing.

“I spent a lot of time studying men because I always wanted them to be interested in me and think I was good fun,” says Maxim editor Clare McHugh.

McHugh, 35, certainly pushed the right buttons in her first issue. On the cover is Christa Miller, Drew Carey’s TV gal pal; inside is a photo of Star Trek’s Spock and Kirk; a directory of women who guest starred on “Seinfeld” and went on to greater glory — providing an excuse to run Teri Hatcher’s picture; a comparison between Macintosh and Windows users; and useful advice on buying lingerie for the woman in a man’s life — accompanied by 11 photos, natch.

But it’s that very lingerie story — “The Gift That Keeps On Giving” — that spins the editor’s gender. “It’s a match made in heaven,” reads the subhead. “Women love wearing lingerie; we love seeing it in action.”

Not to be too picky, but if the editor is a woman, that sounds a little, um, funny.

“Some guy did write that,” McHugh protests. “You have to assume the ‘we’ is a masculine voice. Besides, I don’t think people will realize right off the bat that there is a woman editor.”

Carmen Electra on the cover of Maxim, Mr. Media Interviews

Carmen Electra on the cover of Maxim.

C’mon! Mr. Media protests. There’s a picture of you on page 16 over the headline, “So who’s the chick?”

“I hadn’t thought of that, really,” McHugh says demurely, chuckling.

And it is a small point, but one that’s important in a business where men’s — and women’s — magazine are closely identified with their editors — Hugh Hefner is Playboy; Ed Kosner is Esquire; Art Cooper is GQ, Helen Gurley Brown was Cosmopolitan.

“Helen Gurley Brown is a brilliant editor because she really speaks to the readers where they are,” McHugh says. “If I could wish for anything for Maxim it’s that I could address men where they are, not in some idealized place or role of what masculinity is or means.”

Staking out a piece of the newsstand to call her own, the fast-talking editor litters her magazine with politically incorrect lines her male counterparts couldn’t pull off, such as “Hot Babe Management Tips.”

“You’ve uncovered my secret!” she says, laughing. “I think I can get away with things that male editors can’t.”

Doesn’t she care about potentially offending members of her own team?

“I don’t care, in fact,” she says rather bluntly. “In my mind, I think that if women are not upset by it, I’m doing something wrong. It was very important to strike a very male tone and attitude toward women. Not in an antagonistic way. But for lots of men, women are confusing and mysterious — and also annoying! So we really had to write about women the way men thought. I’m not trying to explain women to men as much as I’m trying to address men’s concerns about women.”

McHugh’s last job was launching another European import, Marie Claire, in an American edition. And her boss there was Bonnie Fuller, who recently stepped into Brown’s fashionable shoes at Cosmo. Before that, McHugh worked her way up the Big Apple media food chain: New York Post, The New York Observer and New York magazine.

Joining a previously all-male fraternity, McHugh doesn’t seem the least bit worried about comparisons with her “brother” magazines in the category, based on these blunt assessments:

Details — “Cool. Maybe too cool.”

Playboy — “Nobody reads it just for the articles.”

GQ — “It’s a fashion magazine.”

Men’s Health — “A great magazine. Practical. It turns off people who aren’t that interested in health. And it does tend to be the same issue over and over again.”

Esquire — “It’s a literary magazine. For older gentlemen.”

“Women’s magazines in this country have done a better job of addressing women than men’s magazines have done addressing men,” McHugh says. “Men’s magazines lag behind the development of men. I don’t think men really changed through the ages. Feminism affected them in a way that it’s given men more opportunities to do what they want. They don’t have to fall into the stereotype of what it means to be masculine. You know, the good provider, the mountain warrior, the Hemingway wannabe. Other men’s magazines address this heroic, iconic man, whereas most guys I know are very warm and interested in having a good time. They’re in touch with themselves in that they know they like sports, they like women. They drink beer. They like to know stuff. They like to have a little something up their sleeves so they seem like experts. They don’t spend a lot of time worrying if they’re ‘adequate’ or not.”

McHugh is surrounded by men, both at the office and at home. Beside her husband, renowned freelance writer Mark Lasswell, and their two-year-old son, Charlie, she also has two younger brothers and an “overpowering” father, who is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins.

Still, won’t guys doubt you know what’s going on?

“I hope to prove worthy of the job,” McHugh says. “It is strange to edit a magazine for a group that you are not a member of. On the other hand, it does give me freedom and it’s a new slant on doing men’s content to have a woman’s touch. I hope it works out for readers; I hope it works out for me.”

 

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About Mr. Media® Interviews-Bob Andelman

Bob Andelman is the host and producer of Mr. Media® Interviews. He is also the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Wawa Way with Howard Stoeckel, Building Atlanta with Herman J. Russell, Fans Not Customers with Vernon W. Hill, founder of Commerce Bank and Metro Bank UK, Mind Over Business with Ken Baum, The Consulate with Thomas R. Stutler, The Profiler with Pat Brown, Built From Scratch with the founders of The Home Depot, The Profit Zone with Adrian Slywotzky, Mean Business with Albert J. Dunlap, and Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Click here to see Bob Andelman's Amazon Central author page. He is a member in good standing of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (member page).