Time Inc. executive management, Ms. Zehren recalls, was initially less than pleased with her unconventional decorating choice -- one that is repeated in every Teen People staffer's workspace. "Now," the 37-year-old executive laughs, "they all want to take credit for it."
Circulation for the magazine since launching in February 1998 has skyrocketed 200% to 1.5 million with a 500,000 rate base as of the August issue.
In just two years, Teen People has a circ status that is catching up quickly to some well-established competitors. The 43-year-old Teen, for example, has a circulation just barely over 2 million, while Seventeen, launched in 1944, has 2.3 million. Seventeen's circulation, however, fell 0.6% during the first half of 2000 from the same period last year, while Teen People rose 8.4%.
Ad pages for Teen People, which raked in $47.7 million in ad revenue last year, have surpassed those of both Teen and YM, according to figures from Publishers Information Bureau. Respectively, ad pages for the three magazines were 932.38, 616.85 and 606.23.
"We are doing things that have never been done," says the former Glamour associate publisher who attributes much of Teen People's prosperity to "a different business model." Total reader involvement, she says, is "the secret weapon."
Among the initiatives she points to are "trend spotters." These are some 8,000 readers nationwide who test new products, participate in surveys and editorial focus groups and provide feedback to Teen People editors and marketing departments, as well as directly to advertisers.
Advertiser and marketing partner Lyor Cohen, president of Island/Def Jam Music Group, cites Ms. Zehren's immersion in the teen demographic as a pillar of the title, which ran a cover story of Def Jam artist Sisqo in August.
Ms. Zehren is "successful because she lives, breathes, eats youth culture," says Mr. Cohen. Her strategy of mining her young audience, he says, gives Teen People a strong competitive edge in everything from fashion to up-and-coming music artists. "She has purchasers of the magazine become quasi-employees. What better way to know what they're into than to have a thousand kids telling you who's in, what's out, who's over?" he says, referring to the trend spotters and "cyberinformants."
The magazine also sometimes scouts its promotional events for teens who are later featured in fashion pictorials, and even trade advertisements for the publication. Last December, for example, the editors held an open casting call at an all-day "Fashion Jam" event. Several readers subsequently appeared in a 16-page fashion spread in the March 2000 issue alongside such concert headliners as Robbie Williams and Lenny Kravitz.
"To think you show up and end up in a magazine, it's unheard of. We make celebrities real, and real teens celebrities," says Ms. Zehren, who oversaw sales development while at Glamour from 1994 to 1998. Prior to that she was marketing director at Newsweek.
Last August, Teen People rolled out its Rock N' Shop Fashion Van, a national retail promotional campaign with partner Dillard's Department Stores. The 68-foot vehicle showcased fall fashions and live music by the Moffets, and visitors in seven cities were invited to try on clothes and accessories from a range of designers, including Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren Polo Jeans. "We believe the magazine should be based in readers helping to create the magazine and the marketing," says Ms. Zehren.
For one recent marketing program, Ms. Zehren put together a promotion of the Cover Girl brand through a contest publicized in Target Stores and in the magazine; the prize was tickets to a 98 Degrees concert.
"She married four constituents -- the popular band, the magazine, the store and the product -- into a whole program that got significant awareness," says Anne Martin, Procter & Gamble Co.'s manager of global cosmetic marketing who has been working with Ms. Zehren almost since the beginning. "She understands the equity and essence of Cover Girl, and she knows how to integrate magazine ideas into brand ideas."