Reader's Digest Expands Travel Lineup

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Reader's Digest next year will add two direct response ad sections that target subscribers with families and older readers to attract more travel advertisers to its pages.


The magazine will kick off the first special ad section, which will aim for the magazine's 6 million subscribers with children in the home, in the May issue. That will be followed by another section in June that will target its 6 million to 7 million subscribers who are age 55 and older. The multi-page direct response pieces, which have yet to be named, give Reader's Digest, Pleasantville, NY, another set of weapons in the highly competitive travel advertising arena, whose direct response advertisers are demanding higher conversion rates from their pools of respondents.


"Some [advertisers] want to focus on families with children … and some of them know that they can also capture that off season by going after the more mature traveler," said Reader's Digest publisher Bernadette Haley. "This enables us to run [ads] throughout the magazine yearlong."


The two latest entries in the travel field join regionally targeted direct response sections the magazine already runs. Destinations that advertise in the regional direct response sections buy either full-page, half-page or 1/6-page ads. Price structure varies, with a 1/6-page ad in the Southeast section, which at 3 million readers has the largest regional circulation, costing $8,600.


Readers use a business reply card to check off destinations that interest them. Third-party fulfillment houses track leads and turn names over on a bi-weekly basis to the advertiser, which often is a convention and visitor's bureau. The new sections will work similarly, and the Digest also runs direct response sections for individual states, whose tourism departments can pick the areas of the country they want to aim for.


"[The regional sections] are very targeted," said Steve Minucci, the Digest's travel advertising manager. "Some states like Georgia -- they're advertising Atlanta and they know 80 percent of their market is a drive market."


But the new sections, rather than merely reaching out to readers in a certain area, will segment readers according to age and lifestyle. The Digest turned to its own subscriber database when it assembled the list of readers who will receive the new family-targeted and senior travel sections.


"For a magazine like Reader's Digest, having the heavy subscription portion of its circulation is beneficial because we can identify those individuals exactly," Haley said.


The Digest isn't alone among high-circulation, subscriber-driven magazines tapping into the travel area. News Corp.'s TV Guide recently made its own efforts to attract more direct response travel advertisers, largely under the leadership of publisher Dick Porter, who was with Reader's Digest. TV Guide, which has 10 million subscribers, is touting its regionally segmented sections as an effective way to reach those same family vacationers.


Using demographic targeting rather than regional targeting, the Digest's new sections will operate like its current "Getting Away" section, a twice-yearly travel piece that goes to 4.1 million households with median incomes of more than $58,000. The piece targets subscribers who have applied for passports, bought airline tickets, rented cars or who meet other travel criteria recorded by city directory publisher R.L. Polk & Co.


BRCs in the Digest's two new direct response pieces also will display the magazine's Web address, www.readersdigest.com, where users can make their information requests electronically. The magazine will capture those names, addresses and e-mail data.


Under the guidance of chairman/CEO Thomas Ryder, Reader's Digest Association Inc., has taken several steps recently to turn around its declining financial performance, including cutting back on its direct mail, adding direct response TV and radio, slashing its work force and selling an estimated $100 million worth of its art collection.


The magazine's push to attract more advertising dollars didn't come as a direct result of the company's turnaround efforts, said Haley, who nevertheless noted "everything that grows our business is a part of that."


Travel advertising dollars seem to be helping beef up the magazine's top line. The Digest has taken in $9.3 million, or 2.6 percent of the $354 million U.S. travel advertisers have spent in magazines through the first nine months of 1998. So far that's a bigger share of the pie than in 1997, when it brought in $5.1 million, or 1.1 percent of the $455 million magazine advertisers spent on the travel category.


"The fact that we now can capitalize on using [our] total audience year-round, month-in and month-out, that's the benefit to Reader's Digest," Haley said.


And Haley expects the magazine's expanded capabilities to get a good reception from domestic destinations trying to get brochures, videotapes and other promotional materials into the hands of potential visitors. If the new demographic sections produce conversion rates on par with the regional sections, advertisers likely will be pleased.


The East Tennessee Cooperative Partnership, an alliance of destinations, advertised in three special Digest sections beginning last February and received 26,000 inquiries. Of the respondents who recalled receiving an East Tennessee vacation guide in the mail, 90 percent either had visited the region by August or said they planned to visit over the next year.


The East Tennessee Co-op, like many travel advertisers, paid for its ad with state help, said Landon Howard, director of marketing and communications for the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitor's Bureau. The Tennessee Department of Tourism put up $150,000 worth of promotion money for the co-op's use if the member organizations meet it dollar for dollar. Several states promote travel the same way.


"When you put money out on the table like that, it's surprising how well people want to cooperate," Howard said.
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