Bush, Kerry Split Ladies’ Home Journal Cover

The major presidential candidates get an even break in the August newsstand issue of Ladies’ Home Journal.

Taking advantage of the political convention season, the Meredith Corp.-owned monthly magazine alternated the cover between President Bush photographed with his wife, Laura, and Sen. John Kerry with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.

The A/B split aims to create buzz for the 118-year-old publication. In its current women’s service category, Ladies’ Home Journal trails Better Homes & Gardens’ 7.6 million rate base, Good Housekeeping’s 4.6 million, Family Circle’s 4.3 million and Woman’s Day’s 4.2 million. It leads Redbook’s 2.3 million.

“It creates great visibility in the marketplace,” said Liz Bredeson, group consumer marketing director at Meredith, Des Moines, IA. “Our hope is that the retailers and distributors will recognize that this is something very unique and give it some special attention in making sure it reaches all the racks and stays there. That’s very key to our newsstand sales.”

Ladies’ Home Journal editor-in-chief Diane Salvatore interviewed the Bushes at their ranch in Texas and the Kerrys while they campaigned in Los Angeles. The interviews, both of which appear regardless of the cover, record the couples’ views on faith, life, war, terrorism, jobs, religion and the American spirit.

“Election experts believe the undecided vote will be pivotal in this race, and a large number of undecided voters are married, suburban women,” Salvatore said. “Clearly, the White House and Senator Kerry know the critical importance of reaching those women, and that’s why they accepted my interview offer.”

Meredith limited this experiment to 300,000 copies of its 4.1 million rate base. The 3.8 million sent to subscribers get the president and his wife on the cover. The Bushes last made the cover in October.

“That’s the sort of precedent we have,” Bredeson said. “If we had done Kerry to the subscribers, even half of them, it would not have been a good thing. It would have had the appearance we’re endorsing a candidate.”

Salvatore’s editorial in the August issue echoed this point.

“Subscribers are receiving the First Couple cover — with an inset of the Kerrys — for two reasons: because it was not possible to nationally distribute alternate covers in a way that would appear objective to those receiving individual copies, and because we felt it was appropriate to give a sitting president this courtesy,” she wrote.

Don’t expect sales of the issue to predict the 2004 election winner, as Meredith cannot track sales of the two covers at newsstand. Besides, the returns to regional distribution centers would have to be counted manually, resulting in considerable cost.

“Every issue has a UPC code, and retailers don’t like having more than one UPC code on a given issue, so we were forced to use our UPC code on both the covers,” Bredeson said. “So all the returns are going to rate that issue and not the covers. It doesn’t matter which issue will do better. What we’re hoping is that the overall newsstand sales on this issue will increase.”

But increases depend on competitors’ actions as well as events, she said.

“Newsstand is the most difficult part of my business,” Bredeson said, “but in the past we’ve seen lifts of 10 percent to 20 percent [from promotions], so that’s probably possible.”

The magazine uses mailings each quarter, varying from 1 million to 4 million, to retain and acquire subscribers. The Meredith database has 70 million names. Also of growing importance is the Ladies’ Home Journal site at www.lhj.com.

“The Internet site’s really started to give us a substantial number of orders in the last two to three years,” Bredeson said. “We’re probably getting 10,000 to 15,000 orders a month. These are new subscribers.”

She would not reveal subscriber-attrition or return rates. The company is running an Internet offer of a three-year subscription for the price of one — $16.97 — though the standard offer is in the books, two years for the price of one. Each issue costs $2.49 on newsstands, which is rising to $2.99 in parts of the country.

Ladies’ Home Journal has been undergoing a makeover since Salvatore took charge in 2002. Since March 2003, more beauty and fashion pages have been added, photographs are larger and the fonts are new. Cover paper stock has been upgraded to 100-pound glossy, and inside pages are 38 pound.

Several columns are debuting this year, including an eight- to 12-page section called Inner Life.

“It acknowledges readers’ interest in being self-reflective, and this is something Oprah has built a very successful business around,” Ladies’ Home Journal publisher Lynn Lehmkuhl said. “We’re doing this because our readers have responded to it. Last year we ran it as a two-page section in the back of the magazine.”

The magazine looks to exit the women’s service category. It wants advertisers to place the title in the women’s lifestyle niche with Time Warner Inc.’s Real Simple, Hearst Magazines’ and Oprah’s O as well as Martha Stewart Living.

Most popular women’s lifestyle magazines are relatively new compared with Ladies’ Home Journal.

Lehmkuhl said women’s lifestyle titles like O, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living “didn’t come up with any new topics, but they serve it up in a more lifestyle environment, one of enjoyment, kicking back. And visually, those magazines have lots more photographs and [they’re] bigger.”

Several Fortune 500 brands have stuck by Ladies’ Home Journal for years. Advertisers include L’Oreal Paris, Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever, Merck, Chico’s, Kraft Foods, Dress Barn, Ford Motor Co. and Paramount Pictures.

“I’d like to grow my beauty, fashion and automotive business, and I’m doing that by virtue of positioning it as a bridge between women’s service and lifestyle, because a lifestyle publication attracts that kind of advertiser,” Lehmkuhl said.

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