Like a dowdy dieter transformed, Weight Watchers has emerged as a sleek incarnation of its former self -- the one Time Inc.'s Southern Progress purchased from Weight Watchers International owner H.J. Heinz Co. more than two years ago.
Editor Kate Greer says she was intent on relaunching the book as "a magazine that people wouldn't be embarrassed to read on a plane." She revamped the design and editorial mix and emphasized realistic beauty and fashion.
"Everyone's motivated by health, but, let's face it, many women are primarily motivated by how they look," Ms. Greer says. "So we thought if we could come up with fashion and beauty coverage that would be real, that would be doable, that would be affordable, that would relate to their lifestyle, hey, we'd be in like Flynn."
Now 30% of the book's pages are devoted to beauty and fashion, and the rest to fitness, food and inspiration (the latter being mostly weight loss success stories and makeovers).
Ms. Greer says the changes have positioned Weight Watchers a little closer to the women's category and a little further from health and fitness, a vantage point from which she hopes to attract a more upscale, slightly younger reader.
According to MRI, Weight Watchers' average reader is 43 years old and employed with a median household income of $43,284.
Ms. Greer says the audience tends to be made up of long-term readers looking for a way to maintain their healthy lifestyle instead of a quick diet fix. However, she claims 85% of the readers are not involved in a weight loss program, and only around 9% are actually members of Weight Watchers.
Regardless, the publication is still sold at Weight Watchers meetings, a formidable distribution network attended by 600,000 people each week, according to Publisher Jeff Ward.
As its look has improved, so has its overall health. When it was owned by Weight Watchers, the book published six issues a year and had a circulation of 930,000. Now it publishes seven issues a year with an Audit Bureau of Circulations audited second half circulation of 1.14 million -- that's an 7.4% increase from 1997 to 1998 -- 90% of the total comes from subscriptions.
With the ad sales resources of its new parent company to draw on, the book was up in ad pages 24.9% in 1998 to 432 pages, according to Publishers Information Bureau. In the first quarter of 1999, Weight Watchers had 61 pages, compared with the 36.9 it carried over the same period during 1996 under different ownership. Some of these pages have come from new categories such as 16 pages of automotive advertising.
Mr. Ward says about 30 automotive pages are slated for this year, and cosmetics, mail order, food, fashion, and prescription drugs are also "coming on strong."
"We love the environment of Weight Watchers, because it addresses the same values we have," says Alex West, VP-marketing for Danskin brand. "The magazine seems to be emphasizing more than just diet, but also health, and all the things that Danskin's always stood for."
Karen Chen, media planner at Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, says she placed her client, S.C. Johnson & Son, in Weight Watchers because she could sense the more contemporary design attracted a new type of reader.
"We felt like it was a good way to reach women, and not just women who belong to Weight Watchers," Ms. Chen says.
Next year, Mr. Ward intends to raise its newsstand presence to 120,000. The magazine's frequency will increase to nine issues this year.
DIRECT MAIL BOOST
Mr. Ward also says he plans to nudge the rate base from 1.06 million to 1.1 million in January 2000, and make a "sizable investment" into a direct mail list this year.
With exclusive rights to all printed material bearing the Weight Watchers name, Time Inc. has improved and expanded the magazine's ancillary business. The company boosted sales of the Weight Watchers softcover recipe book business it inherited from 40,000 each to 150,000 each.
Advertisers can buy into the books, which are published three times a year (a new one will be added this year) and sell for $10 at retail and for a non-refundable $4.50 at Weight Watchers meetings.
Southern Progress started an annual $24.95 Weight Watchers' cookbook in 1996 that sells an average 120,000 copies as well as a $14.95 personal planner that sells around 200,000 copies. Both are only available through direct mail.
Mr. Ward says these side products, as well as the magazine by itself, are profitable.
Time Inc. bought the Weight Watchers' U.K. edition and plans to funnel at least 80 pages of U.S. advertising to its British cousin this year.
Mr. Ward is considering purchasing the Italian edition of Weight Watchers, still owned by Weight Watchers International. Other places where he's considering starting new editions include Asia, Germany and Scandinavia.
Of course, running a brand so closely affiliated with a national organization is not without its drawbacks. Southern Progress stamps a red-bordered sticker reading "100% Fully Paid" on its ABC statement so advertisers won't think it is or has ever been given away free to Weight Watchers members. And defining a book as something that falls between a women's title and a fitness magazine is an ongoing challenge for any publisher.
"We have to hammer away at the fact that this isn't just another healthy lifestyle magazine or another fashion magazine," says Mr. Ward. "It's a magazine