Magazine A-List 2009

Food Network Magazine Is Ad Age's Magazine A-List Launch of the Year

After Just 18 Months, Hearst Already Boasts the Second-Largest Foodie Title

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NEW YORK ( -- Over the last 18 months, launching magazines has become the province of masochists bent on losing lots of money really, really quickly. Rebel Ink, LoftLife, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Legends Magazine, Natural Cat -- not to take anything away from these recent debuts, but none exactly screams "blockbuster" or even "a reasonable bet to be solvent five years from now."

And then you have Hearst's Food Network Magazine, which debuted in May following two newsstand-only test issues in October 2008 and January 2009. A year after its stealth arrival, the magazine already ranks as the second-largest foodie book. Come January, it will move to a 10-issues-per-year schedule and jump its rate base to one million. Heck, it's even selling ads: According to Publisher Vicki Wellington, the title had budgeted 60 ad pages for its November issue, but ended up logging more than 100.

The best print partnerships are the ones with brands that have proved their worth -- to marketers and consumers alike -- in other formats.
Maile Carpenter
Vicki L. Wellington
All this is enough to make one of the forces behind it, Hearst Magazines exec VP-Chief Marketing Officer Michael Clinton, break out the semi-excusable food puns. About the magazine's design, he says, "You can kind of snack your way through it." About advertiser response, he added, "They were hungry for something that was this exciting."

He's not alone in crowing. "The Food Network Magazine launch is testament to the fact that consumers are still engaged with magazines," said George Janson, managing partner-director of print, Group M.

The reasons that Food Network Magazine was able to capture readers' imagination so quickly are many. To begin with, it's an easy read, free of the leaden prose -- rapturous descriptions of Tuscan sporks, omelets likened to mythological deities, etc. -- that too often weighs down foodie titles. "A lot of the epicurean books had become like homework," said Mr. Clinton.

Also, due to the aching economy, readers are looking for ways to save on their dining budget. "Everybody has to eat," shrugs Ms. Wellington. Mr. Janson similarly attributed the title's fast start in part to "the trend of people eating in more."

And the magazine aims to give every level of cook something to try. The recipes and ideas in the October issue range from superquick weeknight dinners and "50 Easy Soups" to stories on making sausage and apple cider doughnuts from scratch.

Mostly, though, Food Network Magazine has succeeded thanks to its association with the Food Network, as much a steamroller of a brand as anything in media.

Ask media-industry pundits about the network's personalities and their responses usually start with "they are rock stars." Ms. Wellington likens them to fashion icons "Ralph [Lauren] and Calvin [Klein]," while Mr. Clinton acknowledges that "having access to all the chefs has been a major selling proposition."

Take a recent program with American Airlines. In addition to print, TV and online ads, the airline's consulting chefs were recorded talking about their influences; those conversations can be heard on American's in-flight radio network. "The Food Network and the magazine aren't just about food. They're about experiences and adventure," said Darynda Jenkins, senior VP-group media director at TM Advertising, American Airlines' ad agency. "We were looking for something creative and unique, and they over-delivered."

Other recent advertiser additions include Target and Jergens.

If nothing else, Food Network Magazine adds spice -- perhaps, in Mr. Clinton's parlance, a light sprinkling of paprika -- to the competitive landscape within the epicurean-mag category. Even before the title's arrival, many observers had described the category as bloated and likely to shed one or more of its biggest names before 2009 is out. Rightly so, considering Condé Nast's early October shuttering of Gourmet. But with the new title's easy and immediate success, the remaining competition is on notice.

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