Laura McEwen

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An avid downhill skier since age 5, Laura McEwen enjoys speed and risk. She also likes to win, and as publisher of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM since 2000, she has helped rocket the magazine from the middle of the pack to near the top.

Less than three years ago, the 70-year-old magazine's ad pages and circulation were moribund, but since Ms. McEwen's arrival, ad pages have risen by more than 30% for each of the last two years, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

With a 2.2 million circulation, YM is on a par with the segment's longtime leader, Primedia's Seventeen, which has suffered from leadership turnover.

This was a mega-makeover, says Ms. McEwen, 43, whose first move upon arrival was to rebrand the meaning behind its YM title from its Young Miss heritage to Your Magazine. In addition to hiring a new sales and marketing staff and launching an ad campaign, she made it a point to know girls between ages 12 and 19 better than anyone else.

"We immersed ourselves in research, and we devised ways of staying on top of this audience with constant forums and spy panels," says Ms. McEwen.

"We upgraded content, and brought in people who were passionate about this audience, and girls responded."

A content package based on fashion, beauty, entertainment, boys and gossip is backed by a Web site (ym.com), relaunched last year, that gets 75 million hits per month, says Ms. McEwen, a veteran of women's service titles including Gruner & Jahr's Family Circle and Hearst Corp.'s Harper's Bazaar.

But the competition is multiplying: in addition to Time Inc.'s surging Teen People and Heart Magazines' newer Cosmo Girl, new entries include Conde Nast Publications' Teen Vogue and Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.' Elle Girl.

Ms. McEwen says the competition heightens the fun.

"Everyone is trying to carve up the market by being more fashion-forward or more upscale," she says, "but we have the perfect grip on this market by being totally mainstream and at the same time, totally edgy."

Tie-ins and product line extensions are crucial. Through Gruner & Jahr majority-owner company Bertelsmann, YM is planning a number of book deals and media tie-ins for 2003. It's also aiming for more brand exposure like this year's appearance of YM on 3 million boxes of General Mills' Cheerios, and the magazine's recent deal with AT&T Corp., Cingular Wireless and Nokia allowing its followers to program their cell phones' ringers to emulate Top 40 tunes.

"We want to become a 360-degree brand for girls, with the magazine as the center of the equation," says Ms. McEwen.

"It's not enough just to be in sales anymore," she notes. "I'm a marketer at heart and for a magazine to rise above the clutter, it has to answer readers' and advertisers' needs on a variety of levels."

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