BRANDING IS THE BUZZWORD AT MURDOCH'S PRINT GROUP: ONE-SHOT MAG FITS STRATEGY OF CEO DISNEY

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Rupert Murdoch's recently revamped publishing group is counting on a series of brand-building initiatives to raise its profile in the print world.

The efforts range from a new magazine based on a best-selling book series to the development of brand identities for star authors to the hiring of a brand-savvy president at TV Guide.

News America Publishing Group today introduces a one-shot magazine based on John Gray's best-seller "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." The relationship-oriented magazine, carrying a name similar to that 1993 book, will distribute 750,000 copies to newsstands with a cover price of $2.99.

"This is the first magazine project to come out of having all these companies together, and it's one reason for putting all these companies together in a group-to take advantage of moments like this," said Anthea Disney, chairman-CEO of News America Publishing, formed last September to encompass HarperCollins Publishers, electronic publishing ventures, TV Guide and The Weekly Standard.

BRANDING PHILOSOPHIES

Ms. Disney, who recently hired ex-Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia chief operating officer David Steward as president of TV Guide, is looking to bring branding philosophies to the entire publishing group.

"Clearly, branding is tremendously important today, and it is very important to the News America Publishing Group. When I got here, I looked around and realized that one of the strengths we had was some really boffo brands," Ms. Disney said.

HarperCollins Children's Books has spent the last six years building a successful franchise around its "Little House on the Prairie" series under division President and Publisher Susan Katz. From the original eight "Little House" books penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published by Harper & Bros. in the 1930s and '40s, the "Little House" series has been expanded to include the childhood stories of five generations: Laura's mother, grandmother and great grandmother and Laura's daughter, Rose.

PICTURE BOOKS TO PAPER DOLLS

And, with a core audience of 8-to-12-year-olds, the brand is now on 90 products, ranging from picture books to paper dolls, cookbooks, crafts and pre-schoolers' cardboard books. All feature the series' log cabin logo.

The eight core titles have risen 25% since the branding initiative began about four years ago, Ms. Katz said, adding that similar efforts will start this spring for other classic children's books, including "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis and "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"Branding and brand marketing is not something new in publishing," said Carl Raymond, director of brand marketing for HarperCollins Adult Trade Group. "Especially not in areas like children's books, where an author is no longer available, or reference books, where often all you have is the brand."

His HarperCollins post is new, however, as is the emphasis on strategies that endure beyond the usual six-week hype of ads and author media appearances for a new book. Hired in July from Random House, where he was marketing manager for the Times books division as well as the reference and information division, Mr. Raymond will help build a year-round branding strategy for series authors.

Besides Mr. Gray, they include Barry Sears, author of the dietary advice books "The Zone" and "Mastering the Zone," as well as radio counseling guru Laura Schlessinger.

RELATED DESIGN ELEMENTS

Books by Messrs. Gray and Sears, for example, are given covers that feature related design elements, such as consistent type faces throughout the series so consumers can spot them easily on the shelf. The publisher held a brand seminar featuring nutrition counselor Dean Ornish that drew together ConAgra and PBS executives to develop a unified brand message for the author.

"You can say that you can't take an author and treat him like a soft drink, and that is very true," said Ms. Disney. "But you can apply many of the principles of marketing that soft drink and have them work."

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