Twenty years ago this month, Friday transformed the UAE’s magazine scene when Gulf News launched the country’s first large-circulation glossy weekly targeted at residents’ interests and lifestyles.
At the time, Gulf News had been relaunched for more than 10 years and was drawing ahead of the competition, but was struggling to get the market and readers to accept it was way ahead. It needed a powerful differentiator, so we looked at what we could change in our weekend offering. Our magazine at that time was Gulf Weekly, which was an unhappy mix of world events and local lifestyle. That meant famine and floods jarred against Dubai fashion and beauty.
So we decided to go for a completely new start and in total secrecy prepared a dummy magazine with a completely new identity focused on family life in the UAE, talking in a relaxed and natural style about lifestyle activities and issues that we all shared. It was important that the new magazine had a large dose of local content, so that UAE residents could describe their own lives and interests. All this was quite revolutionary at the time.
In 1996 the proposal for the new magazine was taken to the board of Al Nisr Publishing for rigorous examination as we wanted to both launch a new magazine but also do it on a new sheet-fed press with much better quality printing, so the new glossy could have the necessary sharp pictures. Happily the board gave its approval for the investment and we were able to start work and launched in 1997.
Malavika Kamaraju had been the very successful editor of Gulf News’ tabloid! section and she joined the launch team as editor. She and the designers worked in a miserable ‘secret room’ off one of the Production Department’s corridors, where the developed the look-and-feel of the new magazine without the benefit of any fresh air or daylight.
Right from its start in May 1997, Friday captured readers’ attention as they identified with the places, people and activities that the recognised from their own lives. Advertisers also welcomed it as it gave them the relaxed editorial environment in which they could talk to the audiences they wanted. Twenty years on, it is a real pleasure to see Friday still leading the market and remaining true to its identity as the definitive lifestyle magazine of the UAE and the Gulf.
My most memorable issue
Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997. It was early on Sunday morning in the UAE so I rushed to the office to organise a special edition of the newspaper, which was a vital part of the news business in those pre-internet days. Friday had been going for a few months, and we had just enough time over Sunday and Monday to change enough pages to make a pictorial homage to such an icon, and also have time to print the many formes for the magazine to be ready by Thursday for distribution on Friday.
My main contribution to the issue was to change the image on the cover from a formal pose in a ball gown and tiara to one of Princess Diana in jeans and a white shirt while mine clearing in Bosnia, which allowed us to reflect the human being under all the glamour.