When she was named managing editor of People's start-up title for the under-18 crowd, she wasn't convinced Teen People was the best name for the new project.
Nearly every person on the business side of the start-up believed Teen People was the right name. But Ms. Ferrari thought she knew how to generate newsstand sales. After all, she came from YM, Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's monthly known for its blockbuster newsstand performance.
Using the word "teen" in a primarily newsstand title might be a turn-off for older teens and skew sales too young, thought Ms. Ferrari -- based on her experiences with the fickle high-school market.
She says she wasn't even sure the People brand carried any weight with teen-agers. "And I also, with editor's hubris, didn't want to go with the obvious. I wanted to do something cool."
The cool titles that were eventually tested were "411" "21 Down" and "The Mix," along with Teen People. After focus groups overwhelmingly responded to Teen People, Ms. Ferarri says she changed her mind about its potential coolness.
"Thank God I did. Disaster was averted," she laughs.
Keen judgment is one of the 33-year-old Ms. Ferrari's many talents. It's the combination of all her skills that's earned her Advertising Age's Editor of the Year nod.
Her editorial decisions helped Teen People become a newsstand blockbuster and reinvigorate an entire category. Teen titles all benefited from the attention Time Inc.'s entry brought to the party. (see related story on Page S-22.)
DOUBLE INITIAL BASE
After just four issues, the newcomer was delivering double its initial rate base, which was by no means conservatively planned. Teen People was introduced as a monthly -- no test issues -- guaranteeing 500,000 copies.
It was a daunting challenge for a young editor. But Ms. Ferrari proved she could handle it.
After only six issues, Teen People raised its rate base to 800,000. By yearend, it raised it again to 1.2 million. Granted, some covers were just made to jump off the newsstand into the open arms of eager teen-age girls.
The May cover featuring Leonardo DiCaprio sold one million copies on newsstands in 10 days. People Group President Ann Moore sent it back to the press to reprint 400,000 copies to keep up with the demand.
But others were riskier, like the April cover featuring hip-hop artist Puff Daddy. Still, it sold more than 970,000 copies at newsstand, nearly double the title's 500,000 rate base at that time.
While she did have a successful formula to build from, Ms. Ferrari's interpretation of the People formula is apparently just right for younger readers.
FINDING MUSIC, FASHION MIX
"People is the platform, but Christina did an extraordinary job putting just the right teen twist onto it," says Publisher Anne Zehren, citing the music, beauty and fashion coverage as examples.
Advertisers also like the editorial and newsstand sales. The title ranks second in its category, with 707.15 ad pages in its first year, according to Publishers Information Bureau. While that is still half of category leader Seventeen's 1,404.17, it is already ahead of both YM's 663.51 and Teen's 614.26.
"We like Teen People because it's a sophisticated teen title. It's not at all cheesy, which we like because we find most of our customers are a little more sophisticated. It's like a younger In Style," says Jerry Sharell, director of PR and media buyer for trendy cosmetic marketer Hard Candy.
Teen People is an intelligent enough read that Mr. Sharell said several Hard Candy staffers are subscribers, and two 30ish male ad agency types, on a recent visit to his office, admitted to reading every issue.
Breaking the assumed rules of teen title newsstand formula seems to be working fine. Ms. Ferrari defied teen title conventional wisdom when she decided against using models in pictures to accompany fashion and beauty features.
While celebrities are showcased throughout the title, and especially up front in the "Star Tracks" section, real kids are shown wearing clothes and trying beauty recommendations.
A summer fashion spread on bathing suits featured a high-school swim team. When Teen People did the back-to-school fall fashion story, a category staple, Ms. Ferrari's inspiration was to fill a van with the latest clothes, drive to a high school and have teens put together their own outfits. The student stylists were photographed in their impromptu combinations and featured in the magazine. The "Fashion Van" is now an integral part of Teen People's strategy, crossing the country for both editorial and advertiser events.
"Teen-agers are totally stylish no matter where they live. You don't have to live in New York or L.A. to be on top of the trends," says Ms. Ferrari. "What we've tried to do is make sure that's reflected in the editorial vision. We are very focused on real teens, and because of that we turn constantly to the teenagers themselves."
She's also been eager to showcase stories about real teens, much like parent title People does with its ordinary people doing extraordinary things approach. In Teen People the approach yielded stories on suicide, fraternity hazing and hate crimes.
NO CONDESCENDING TALK
Ms. Ferrari is editing a title that doesn't talk down to teens, and they are responding. Slang, for example, is not used in articles because the assumption is readers will know when it doesn't ring true.
Says 17-year-old Lisa Yun, in a survey of teen titles conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year, "[Teen People] is not like most magazines. Instead of trying to evaluate us, it presented interesting info on the world around us. It was definitely more mature than most teen magazines."
But that doesn't mean Teen People isn't a fun read. One addition to the launch edit mix was the crossword puzzle -- per reader demand. "We got so many letters from kids saying they loved the Puzzler in People, and I'm not talking just five letters. The response was really overwhelming, so I thought why not?"
Knowning when to follow her instinct and when to listen to readers is obviously