Country Home Gets Renovation for Fall

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Meredith Corp.'s Country Home magazine is getting an elaborate makeover and extensive marketing in a multimillion-dollar effort to maintain and expand its leadership in the category.

The fresh look and positioning -- "Be Creative. Be Yourself." -- unveil with the September issue, 18 months after adopting the "A More Modern Country" theme. The changes take effect as Time Inc. debuts Cottage Living, a direct rival.

Ironically, both titles are doing their best to associate themselves with the flowers of a rural lifestyle, not the dirt.

"The world is divided into two groups: readers and advertisers who embraced this magazine, and then there was this constituency that for whatever reason saw the word 'country' and thought it was 'not for me,'" said David Kahn, publisher of Country Home, New York. "So we knew we had to find a new language and a new way to express the magazine."

Changes include new fonts, different design architecture, more imaginative photography, a larger trim size and an upgrade in paper stock to a matte finish. Among section changes, the "Here & Now" department is the first listed in the book, a relabeling and upfront move of "Seen & Noted." A new "Shopgirl" section opens as well.

"We're writing for the do-it-herself diva," Kahn said.

Country Home will keep its $4.95 cover price, but next year the publisher will test higher prices for an annual subscription, now $22 for 10 issues.

Equally important is the marketing campaign charted for the new Country Home. Consider the elements:

A national sales meeting of Country Home executives was held June 16-18. Along with being briefed, the sales staff now has branded video presentations about the magazine's readership to play for advertisers and prospects.

Ads aimed at media buyers started appearing last week in trade publications like Advertising Age, Automotive News, Women's Wear Daily and HFN. Except for Ad Age, the titles are all about products featuring a personal lifestyle.

Using an image of flowers on flip-flop slippers, the print ad is headlined, "Be Creative. Be Yourself." The copy says, "Slip off your stilettos and come to our country -- a place where self-expression is free to flourish."

The ad campaign will get support from a mailing in late July or early August to leading media planners and buyers, marketing executives, press and design and style influencers. The package will include a letter from the publisher and the magazine in its new garb.

A consumer mailing follows in the fall aimed at pertinent names in the Meredith files and external lists. The mailing, like the magazine, will target women ages 18-54 and even those older, with an average household income of nearly $60,000 a year.

"As the editorial product has evolved, it's really opened up new lists that have performed well for us," Kahn said.

A guerilla marketing push and branded signature consumer and trade events round out the marketing efforts through October.

Kirshenbaum bond + partners, New York, is handling the marketing push. The Valentine Group, New York, created the new look. Valentine's clients include Henri Bendel, Aveda, Neiman Marcus, Marshall Field's and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Country Home no longer uses the Toth Group, creator of the "A More Modern Country" tag.

Under editor Carol Sheehan, the 25-year-old magazine has reached a circulation of 1.25 million. The September issue, with 116 ad pages and 212 pages total, is the largest for that month and the 10th largest in its history. New advertisers include Ralph Lauren, MasterCard, Liz Claiborne, Crate & Barrel, Dockers, Woodbridge and Riders.

But competition is stiff from titles like Country Living, Real Simple, O, House & Garden, Architectural Digest, House Beautiful and the soon-to-launch Cottage Living. Among new launches, Taunton Press has its own shelter title, Inspired House, aimed at the same do-it-yourself, home-decorating audience. Conde Nast also plans a home-shopping magazine styled on Lucky and Cargo.

Country Home's rebranding and the debut of more home titles illustrate a nesting trend, especially seen after the 9/11 tragedy. But the market activity may well involve the woes of a diminished magazine comrade, Martha Stewart Living, which has lost several advertisers because of its founder's malfeasance.

In its online and offline research with readers and focus groups, Country Home gained knowledge that reflected shifts in society.

"What we found was that the reason consumers come to the magazine was not expressly because of the word 'country,' but because the content had much greater significance to the way they expressed their personal style both at home and beyond," Kahn said. "The word 'country' meant freedom to them -- freedom from rules of decorating, freedom from design gurus telling you the way things had to look and freedom from our designers who had their specific preferences."


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