Launch of the Year: Budget Living

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Launch-happy Donald Welsh usually gets his ideas while vacuuming. The business brains behind a mountain of titles including Budget Travel and Muppet Magazine, Mr. Welsh spent one carpet-cleaning spree thinking about his auto savvy daughter's car-shopping experience.

The 33-year-old woman was infuriated when a salesman would only address her not-as-car-capable husband. Big mistake. Mr. Welsh , 59, believes the current crop of money-focused magazines does the same thing. In the U.S., 52% of assets are owned by women and that will grow to 60% by 2010, Mr. Welsh says.

The executive wanted to launch a magazine, with the same thrust as Fortune or Money, that his daughter would read. From that point, Budget Living was on its way-and marks 2003 as Advertising Age's Launch of the Year.

The recession also inspired Mr. Welsh, as well as "finding out how powerful women's buying power is today, and that it was chic to be cheap. Those things were all happening" all at the same time.

not solely about finances

Not solely a finance magazine, Budget Living also has elements of Time Inc.'s vastly successful Real Simple, itself one of Ad Age's A-List magazines for 2003 and Magazine of the Year in 2002. Both titles offer up do-it-yourself advice.

"Women's magazines today are not giving the info on how to buy a car, how to invest in a 401 (k), how to save for your kids' college fund and all those aspects of one's life," Mr. Welsh contends. "Women had to go to the old boys' club, the Fortune magazines, the Money magazines, which have less than 20% female readership, to find out the kind of information they needed to run their lives."

In his role as co-founder and publisher of Budget Living, Mr. Welsh met with 30 candidates before finding his editor in chief. After launching Rodale's Organic Style, Sarah Gray Miller, 32, was taking some time away from the magazine industry. Her former boss, Dorothy Kalins, pushed her to meet with Mr. Welsh. (Ms. Miller wore a $5 jacket she had customized with new buttons.) After meeting with Mr. Welsh in January 2002 over a few beers, Ms. Miller realized she "couldn't stop turning the idea around in my head." She met with him again in March, and delivered a budget and architecture for the magazine soon after.

Ms. Miller's name isn't plastered across the cover of Budget Living, but her life is well-represented inside. She's used her apartment and friends for photo shoots, and long before she even met Mr. Welsh, she was living the title's tagline: "Spend smart. Live rich."

Eight issues in, Budget Living Media's namesake title is clearly a hit-with readers and advertisers. One of the 30,000 reader e-mails they've received: "I would want Budget Living to be my `Magazine on a Desert Island'; tough choice, because for brain candy you can't beat People, and for brain protein The New Yorker or The Economist, but for overall joy, style and satisfying content I would have to go with BL."

The title launched in October 2002 with a rate base of 300,000. It was bumped to 400,000 in April/May 2003. In February/March 2004, the rate base will rise again to 450,000, and with a frequency boost to 10 times per year in October 2004, yet another increase to 500,000. Budget Living's newsstand sell-through is a "little over half," says Mr. Welsh. At chain bookstores, the sell-through is a stellar 60%.

a lot of faith

The magazine ran 474 ad pages through the first seven issues, according to the publisher.

"We had a lot of faith that it was going to succeed," says Mark Brown, Detroit-based group communications planning director for WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson USA.

The magazine's philosophy of "affordability without sacrificing style" is a "spot-on match" for his client, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Focus, Mr. Brown says.

Budget Living advertisers run the gamut from Target Stores to Estee Lauder Cos. to Sony Corp.

On Nov. 23, a weekly Budget Living UPI syndicated column will launch in 25 to 50 newspapers. Also going to print is "Home Cheap Home," the first Budget Living book from Perigree Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA); it will hit bookstores in May 2004, and "Party Central" will follow in October.

Mr. Welsh is currently working with the Beanstalk Group, a brand licensing management company, to put Budget Living housewares, like sheets, on store shelves. He wouldn't mind a partnership with a large store, much like the one Martha Stewart has with Kmart Corp. In the works is a TV show, which, Mr. Welsh says, is "the final piece we don't have yet."

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