The Biz: Parenting titles see growth spurt

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Consider Meredith's $115 million acquisition of the American Baby Group last November. Consider the surprise General Excellence "Ellie" claimed by Time Inc.'s Parenting in May at the American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine Awards. Consider the ever-keen interest for marketers to imprint their brands in the skulls of consumers at crucial moments. And . . . well, the parenting category still seems to be one of the more unlikely hotspots in the magazine world.

But it is. "You're always going to have parents that are not confident," says Charles Valan, VP-strategic print services, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York. "Entry-level parents is where advertisers have an opportunity to establish their loyalties."

extra offerings

Three top titles in the space-Parenting, American Baby, and Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Parents-all boast portfolios that can offer marketers significant title-adjacencies. Alongside them are the likes of themed products from Martha Stewart (Kids and Baby), and Disney Publishing's Family Fun and indie player Working Mother.

Last year, as the average magazine audited by Publishers Information Bureau posted a 3.2% ad-page loss, Parents' pages rose 6.5%, and its sibling title Child's pages rose 21.4%. At Time Inc., Parenting's pages rose 5.8%, while sibling Baby Talk's rose 9.2%, and Meredith's American Baby shot up 16.8%. All those titles, save for American Baby, remained in positive territory for the first seven months of this year.

The latest move in the space comes from longtime ad-page leader Parents, which in late July signed on a partnership with Growing Family Network. GFN, through its First Foto arm (as the name suggests, it shoots what the company terms "the first official photos in hospitals"), leverages an early contact with new parents into product-sampling opportunities for marketers.

"It gives Parents the opportunity to reach out to parents at a pivotal time," says Dan Rubin, G&J exec VP, who touted a significant subscription-sales advantage for the title and "added value" via association with sampling programs, which deliver small packages of key products to the moms.

The deal is particularly sweet to Rubin, as it entails grabbing a partnership from a company formerly affiliated with category competitor Time Inc. (where he was a former executive).

"We weren't getting anywhere near the value we needed out of the relationship" with First Foto, says David Kieselstein, president of Time Inc.'s Parenting Group. (However, it touted the subscriptions it got from First Foto in July's Circulation Management.) Kielselstein's group includes its own sampling concern, First Moments.

first come

"The game is to get the name first," says Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment firm DeSilva & Phillips. "They figure if you're the first one in, you're the one with the long-term relationship with the new mother."

"It's still an extremely close race between the two," says Cindy McKnight, VP-associate media director, Interpublic's Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston. But she also said that Time Inc.'s portfolio best hits mom "in all of her stages."

"They narrowed the gap," she says, via grouping its titles and increasing circulation. (Parenting bulked up its circulation file last year, with the acquisition of about active 390,000 subscribers from the defunct Family Life.)

The wild-card, though, is the entrance of Meredith. American Baby's positioning places it in competition with Baby Talk rather than up against Parents and Parenting, and in what VP-Publishing Director Joe Lagani identifies as "the pre- and post-natal market"- kids up to two years old. But he says that Meredith, too, is looking to take a page from Parenting's new positioning, with the start up of "the Simply series," and sections called Simply Beauty, Simply Style, and Simply Home.

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