4: 'Cosmo' sister finds its voice

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Spending a few hours with the CosmoGirl team might not clear up your skin or help you shed that extra 10 pounds, but it will make you believe you can become president, write the great American novel or open a five-star restaurant-pimples and all.

That enthusiasm has been a powerful and necessary ingredient in the teen title's quick rise to fame. As any little sister knows, success isn't easy when big sis--in this case, Hearst Magazines' Cosmopolitan-is the belle of the ball.

"When we first started, there were five of us in a temporary office practically sitting on boxes," says Atoosa Rubenstein, CosmoGirl editor in chief.

Ms. Rubenstein's professional growing up was all done in the house of Cosmo. She was "raised" from fashion assistant under longtime Editor Helen Gurley Brown to senior fashion editor under current Cosmo Editor in Chief Kate White.

Ms. Rubenstein says that, to her, Cosmo "meant powerful powerful woman. When I was 20 ... I aspired to be that powerful woman that Mrs. Brown represented and that Kate White does today. What CosmoGirl meant to me and how I pitched it to [Hearst Magazines President] Cathie Black was it would be that guide to becoming that woman whom you dream of being when you're a girl."

She adds: "Some people's specialty might be fashion or beauty-ours is inner girl."

Although Hearst launched CosmoGirl into a marketplace crowded with competitors, the management team felt certain that an August/September 1999 birth was the right time for the title.


"We recognized that the teen market was explosive. The power of the teen market and its ability to buy and spend are more powerful than the baby boomer generation," says Donna Kalajian Lagani, publishing director of Cosmopolitan Group. She adds: "We had the most incredible brand name to launch it under."

CosmoGirl launched with a rate base of 500,000.

"We had barely finished publishing the first issue [before] we decided we were going to go to 10 issues in 2001," Ms. Kalajian Lagani says. "Consumers immediately connected with what we were doing."

Hearst raised the rate base to 750,000 with the February issue, and another bump is in the works.

The title currently has a circulation breakdown of 65% newsstand and 35% subscription.

"The category is pretty much the reverse," says Publisher Kristine Welker. She adds that the "sixth, seventh and eighth issues sold as well as our first issue. That's important because you put a new product out there and it's usually going to move because people are interested, but the fact that we're continuing to sell as well is a sign of the vitality of the brand."

"When it first came out, I had a fear that girls would buy us for the sticker page and the celebrity stuff or the boys stuff," Ms. Rubenstein says, "but what I hear over and over again is, `I just feel better after I read your magazine. I don't know what it is, but I just feel strong.' "

Ms. Rubenstein arrives at her leopard-print rug offices at 7 a.m. every day, logs onto to her computer and opens her mind to the 500 to 1,000 reader e-mails she has received in the last 24 hours.

"These hundreds of voices turn into one very powerful voice," Ms. Rubenstein says. "It's with that voice that I edit for the whole day, that I come up with ideas. It's almost like this magazine is put together by them."


Advertisers have noted the title's unique voice.

"We closed out the whole year carrying as many ad pages as YM and Teen," Ms. Welker says.

The book closed out 2000 with 540 ad pages, and the March issue saw 35% growth over the March 2000 issue, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Emap USA's Teen finished 2000 with 573.29 ad pages, down 7% from 1999; Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM ended the year with 552.24 ad pages, down 9%. Primedia's Seventeen showed an 8% increase in ad pages to 1,447.79 in 2000. AOL Time Warner's Teen People totaled 1,044.32 ad pages for 2000, up 12%.

"L'Oreal has been a great supporter since the launch," says Michael Tanguy, senior VP-marketing for L'Oreal, who adds that the marketer always supports the little sisters of strong magazines. "In this particular case, it's gone way beyond our expectations. They have done an absolute miracle with this magazine."

L'Oreal bought more than 20 pages in the magazine last year and Mr. Tanguy says the marketer will increase that by nearly 50% this year as it introduces new products to the teen market.

Levi Strauss & Co. recently launched a new product into the market and CosmoGirl is a perfect fit, says Anna Brockway, director of marketing. "We've been with CosmoGirl since it launched," she says. "We feel that it speaks in a really unique voice. We have a big focus on the juniors jeans. We're launching a product called Superlow. When you're trying to reach that kind of consumer with that kind of product, CosmoGirl is perfect."


CosmoGirl "is not growing as fast as Teen People, but how many magazines launched in the last five years are approaching 1 million circulation? I think they are doing a wonderful job," says Samir Husni, magazine industry expert and a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. "It's more mature than Teen, more sassy than YM and definitely more modern than Seventeen."

Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Elle Girl is on its way, with an anticipated September debut. Mr. Husni predicts it will be competitive.

So what's a CosmoGirl to do next?

"I will tell you right now this magazine will be as big as Cosmopolitan," Ms. Welker says. "We will do our big sister proud."

Hearst has viewed CosmoGirl as a brand from day one. Its Web site went online at the same time the paper version hit newsstands. The site gets 9.5 million page views and 500,000 unique visitors per month.


CosmoGirl also hopes to learn as many languages as her sister. Cosmo is published in 43 international editions. CosmoGirl closed out last year with two international editions in the Czech Republic and Turkey, and four more are planned for 2001. There is a CD-ROM Cosmo Girl: The Game!, and Ms. Kalajian Lagani admits a CosmoGirl book "could certainly be in the possibility phase."

"We don't think of it as a magazine, we think of it as a brand," Ms. Kalajian Lagani says. "We want to take this brand equity and spread it out into different businesses."

And did we mention the cool stickers in every issue?

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