Men's Fitness is increasing the paid circulation guarantee it gives advertisers for the first time since 2009 as it tries to capitalize on some new attention in the marketplace.
The increase is relatively small, a hike of 25,000 copies to 575,000 from 550,000, effective with the January/February issue. But it's notable because publishers have become more conservative about increasing print circulation, where costs have grown and ad support has become somewhat less reliable. It's also the latest step in a full-court press this year to convince consumers and media buyers that Men's Fitness is no longer a niche publication for workout addicts, but a lifestyle magazine in the vein of rival Men's Health or even GQ or Esquire.
In February Men's Fitness hired Galvanized Brands, the consulting firm started by former Men's Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko. Along with Patrick Connors, the VP-publisher at Men's Fitness, Mr. Zinczenko subsequently visited ad buyers in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco to show off a redesign. "It went a long way that he met with the buying community to share his vision and the redesigned magazine," said Brenda White, senior VP-publishing activation director at Starcom USA.
Several media buyers said they were impressed by the Men's Fitness redesign, but that in order to carve out a sustainable niche in the men's category the brand would need to resonate with consumers. With just two redesigned issues on newsstands, June and a July/August double issue, it's early days on that front. But buyers like the intensified rivalry.
"Men's Health had the market cornered for many, many years," Ms. White said. "The redesign of Men's Fitness creates additional competition in the marketplace. That is not only good news for the category, but also the industry."
Men's Health has stayed the course in its conversations with advertisers, according to people familiar with the company's pitch. The magazine declined a request for an interview.
Mr. Connors said the rate base increase reflects new interest from readers. "The repositioning and redesign of the magazine is obviously opening up the gate for additional consumers to fold into the brand," said Mr. Connors, who joined Men's Fitness in December from Conde Nast's Glamour, where he was associate publisher.
Men's Fitness has a way to go, however, if it hopes to catch up with Men's Health. Men's Health guarantees paid circulation of 1.8 million and has long carried a different class of ads than Men's Fitness, which has been known for its diet and supplement ads. But Men's Fitness has lately brought on 40 new advertisers, Mr. Connors said, including Calvin Klein, Ford, Gap, Tissot Watches and Ralph Lauren Polo.
The stated cost of advertising in Men's Fitness is considerably cheaper than in Men's Health. "Men's Fitness has always been an efficient buy," a media buyer said. "They've priced it right."
Both magazines are doing well in terms of ad pages so far this year. Through its July/August issue, Men's Fitness notched 500 ad pages, a 36% increase from the same period last year, albeit aided by one extra issue so far in 2013, according to the Media Industry Newsletter. Men's Health has accrued 494 ad pages through the July issue, a 24% boost, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.