Magazine category gets healthy in a hurry

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Health-themed magazines, while still relying heavily on pharmaceutical advertisers, are branching out more aggressively into new ad territory. Gains in categories such as automotive, consumer package goods and beauty products have helped many of these titles remain robust amid a weak overall market for magazine advertising.

Much of the success hinges on the definition of health. Beyond strictly health-focused titles, magazines in other categories, such as women's titles, have embraced a health positioning. At the same time, some traditionally health-focused magazines are expanding their coverage to encompass beauty, relationships and even entertainment. This gives advertisers seeking a health-minded audience a wider choice of magazines.

Success stories range from magazines devoted to a specific illness like Diabetes Forecast, whose 2003 ad pages are up almost 26% through April (see chart), to publications with a more general, mass-market-though still healthy-focus like Cooking Light, which is up more than 23%.

"Advertisers were stuck for many years on the idea that we focused on sick people," says Mary Morgan, VP-publisher of Health. "There has been a complete reversal, and advertisers now realize that people who care about their health are the best consumers of everything."

"Non-endemic advertisers are going into health magazines because these titles have broadened their editorial content to be less clinical and more about lifestyles," says Brenda White, associate media director at Publicis Groupe's Starcom Worldwide, Chicago. "Consumer package-goods marketers are finding their target audience in health-related magazines, and growth in the category will continue."

As revenue from new categories enriches the health magazine field, competition among some individual titles is getting fiercer.

The health magazine category as a whole is posting strong ad page gains through the first half of 2003, but it will be tough to match that pace in the second half, says Chris Allen, publisher of Cooking Light.

clothing labels join up

"Things slowed down for the second half [of 2003], but I'm expecting a very strong September," Mr. Allen says. New advertisers this year in Cooking Light include apparel retailers Chico's and Talbots, as well as Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers, as the magazine continues to expand beyond recipes to include more general healthy lifestyle coverage.

Health's ad pages were up a more modest 4.2% through April, vs. a year ago, but Ms. Morgan says the magazine's ad pages will show a 5% gain through July, and new advertisers coming aboard this year include insurance and financial services providers, plus Ford Motor Co. and Nine West Group's Easy Spirit shoes.

The competition is hottest right now among exercise-related magazines, such as Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Fitness and Weider Publications' Shape, now owned by American Media. The head-to-head rivalry is driving ferocious negotiating and promotions, say media buyers.

"[American Media Chairman-CEO] David Pecker has targeted us, but we're on track to continue our momentum," says Fitness Publisher Julie Pinkwater, who made a play for attention earlier this year by shipping 1,000 giant exercise balls to ad agencies nationwide and targeting media buyers in agency lobbies with free samples of low-fat ice cream.

Shape responded with a larger, trim-size May issue, which boosted ad pages signifi-cantly, says Publisher Diane Newman. She plans to repeat that ploy with the October issue.

After acquiring Weider late last year for $350 million, Mr. Pecker has shaken up the staffs of Men's Fitness and Natural Health, and recently announced plans to refocus and expand both magazines aggressively, apparently to challenge Health as well as Rodale's Men's Health and Organic Style.

Organic Style lists a growing stable of advertisers that include pharmaceuticals. Sibling Rodale title Men's Health says its direct-to-consumer advertising was up 79% last year, with technology and automotive also boosting advertising significantly. Rodale's Prevention recently linked with Discovery Networks' Discovery Health Channel for a cancer awareness program.

recipes for healthy lifestyle

Weight Watchers since 2000 has built its circulation to just over 1 million from zero, since Time Inc.'s Southern Progress Corp. kept the subscriber list when it sold the title back to Weight Watchers International; ad pages are up by more than 30% this year. Subscriptions receive negligible assistance from the magazine's parent company, which promotes weight-loss clubs worldwide, says Wayne Perra, Weight Watchers publisher.

"We're concentrating on recipes and formulas for healthy lifestyles," he says, "and mainstream advertisers in all categories including package-goods marketers and pharmaceuticals have found us."

Gains have also been made by more narrowly focused magazines that help people prevail over a specific illness. The fact that more than 17 million Americans suffer from the growing problem of diabetes is fueling growth for a number of magazines, including the American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Forecast, MediZine Inc.'s free-distribution Diabetes Focus, and Diabetes Interview, a 102,000-circulation magazine launched in 1999 that boasts ad page growth of 25% per year.

"The diabetes market is hot," says Howard Richman, associate publisher of Diabetes Forecast, whose 425,000 circulation has doubled since 1996. "We look like a mainstream magazine, and major package-goods food advertisers love us."

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