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Meet the Press: Beauty Editors Speak Out

Leslie Benson


In their own words, consumer magazine editors such as Felicia Milewicz, beauty director of Condé Nast’s Glamour, consider their publications “beauty Bibles,” in that the product reviews and trend reports printed therein help shape consumer buying habits around the world. Although the phrase may seem excessive, with expanded online content and global readership, such beauty magazines have become an integral factor in reaching brands’ customers. So knowing how these editors think—and how brands can increase their chances of appearing on magazine pages—may very well steer a business toward profit or pitfall.

According to Milewicz, this success is based on consumer trust in a brand, product or publication. “The marketer, similar to those in the publishing world, should always be honest,” she says. “Once that trust is broken, it’s finished. The reader/consumer will not forgive you if you slip up, so you’d better deliver.”

Liesa Goins, beauty editor of Women’s Health, published by Rodale Press, agrees. “That appreciation of candor, along with a strong dose of skepticism, makes consumers suspect of anything too slick or over-hyped,” she says, pointing to Olay and Dove’s ad campaigns as examples of honest realism. “Our readers can tell we’re not just pushing products to sell ads.”

But in consumer publications, advertising dollars can affect editorial space and magazine profitability just as much as subscriber sales, so editor and brand relationships go hand-in-hand. They need each other to survive.

Impact on the Industry

Magazine spending, according to the Periodical & Book Association of America, has stayed afloat throughout inflation in recent years, with new markets developing across the globe (“Worldwide, Magazines are Holding Up,” Jan 30, 2008). The International Federation of the Periodical Press (IFPP) attributes this growth to the newly emerging middle class in countries such as India and China. In China alone, the IFPP says ad spending on magazines more than doubled between 2001 and 2006, from $145 million to $375 million, and it is forecast to reach $515 million in 2008. The IFPP also reports that ad spending on U.S. magazines increased from $21.5 billion in 2001 to $25.2 billion in 2006, which is forecast to hit $28.3 billion this year. Worldwide, the PBAA believes the pace of such ad spending could grow by 3.4% a year through 2010.

With more competitors advertising in consumer beauty magazines, it’s up to brands to pursue these advertising avenues in order to reach wider demographics in old—and new—markets.

The publications noted in this feature represent a total of more than 34.5 billion U.S. adult readers—according to current media kits, a spring 2008 reader study by Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) and a 2007 Subscriber and Newstand Study by Beta Research Corp. This number does not factor in the overlap of readers who pick up more than one publication regularly. However, the figure does break down to about 11.7 million women and 800,000 men who read each issue of Glamour; 4.3 million women and 370,000 men who read Women’s Health; 3.5 million women and 200,000 men who read Marie Claire; 1.4 million women and 65,000 men who read More; and 2.1 million women and 10.1 million men who read Men’s Health. And that’s not including non-U.S. editions.

“The strength of our magazine has always been advice on how to lead a healthy life,” says Sandra Nygaard, senior fashion editor, Men’s Health, “and grooming has become an integral part of that. Our guys have definitely become much more conscious of their skin in the past five years. Specifically, they want to know about the ingredients and the scientific benefits of them; also, they want to know the best ways to maximize the benefits of a product.”

As for reader/consumer demographics, according to media kits and MRI, median ages range in the mid-30s for Glamour, Marie Claire and Women’s Health; in the late 30s for Men’s Health; and in the early 50s for More magazine, published by the Meredith Corporation. “More’s readers are highly-educated, affluent, 40-plus women, so our reporting is certainly influenced by that particular demo’s concerns and lifestyles, but even more so by their affinity for the latest trends in products and beauty news,” says Lois Joy Johnson, beauty and fashion director, More. “They are very open to new ideas, have the money for luxury products but are not snobs—mixing drugstore and high-end brands easily. They are also the most experienced users of beauty products, having the history of usage makes them grassroots experts.”

According to the 2007 Mendelsohn Affluent Study, More has 1.16 million readers who are the heads of household with incomes higher than $85,000 a year. However, whereas More’s readers may easily embrace luxe products, the early-to-mid-30s readers of Hearst Communication’s Marie Claire magazine, for example (with fewer than 1 million overly affluent readers, according to the Mendelsohn study), may be more discriminating between product costs. “Our reader is educated, advancing in her career,” says Marie Claire beauty director Ying Chu. “She is more aware and independent than ever and also more distracted with multimedia. She looks to us as curators, so we have to offer the extra insight and service she’s not getting from the Web, newspapers, TV and in-store.” Such is also the case with Women’s Health’s young adult readers. Goins says this encompasses the type of woman who wants to balance all interests in her life—“work, fitness, relationships and down-time.”

“She’s looking for products that help her feel good about how she looks,” says Goins, “but also create a sense of well-being while not making her feel as though she has to undergo a dramatic change to be beautiful.”

Knowing typical reader demographics will assist brands in more effectively reaching consumers through beauty magazines, but how do brand owners get the attention of the editors in charge of determining what products and trends get covered in print and online?

Critical Buzz Topics

In the realm of technology, beauty editors Johnson and Chu have noticed the market expansion of new dermatological devices for home use. “A recent debriefing of the 2008 American Academy of Dermatology meeting in San Antonio revealed that at-home dermatological devices such as the LED devices just coming on the market by Perricone MD Cosmeceuticals and Tända will be the next revolution in skin care,” Johnson says. “In-office procedures such as the new wrinkle fillers,said to last about a year; fat-melting procedures that leverage energy; and lunchtime neck lifts, are also certainly newsworthy for conversation.”

Chu urges skin care brands to consider what topical products will complement such procedures and products. “They should be doing whatever possible to make the experience of using them as pleasant as possible—through texture, scent and packaging,” she says. As for packaging, Goins has noticed a shift in the number of brands using more eco-conscious packaging, such as recycled and recyclable paper, metal pumps instead of plastic, and plastic made from corn or soy. Johnson joins Goins in welcoming the change. “Clearly, the greening of the beauty industry is a major trend that is resonating with consumers,” she says.

However, for men, Nygaard believes brands should also consider using more neutral packaging and fragrance-free products, in addition to environmentally friendly materials. Other male reader trends Nygaard has picked up on include consumer demand for male-specific products and skin care that will reverse the signs of aging. “Men are realizing crow’s-feet and laugh lines don’t signify character and distinction,” she says. “Our culture values youth, and I think that has finally impacted the psychology of men, as it has plagued women for so long.” Also similar to female consumers, Nygaard believes males desire products that simplify and combine grooming techniques—for example, a dual moisturizer and antiaging cream that has an SPF. “Niche and luxury products are gaining importance,” she adds. “Men are willing to pay more for a luxurious soap, shave cream or moisturizer.”

But men aren’t the only growing skin care fanatics these days. Johnson says women as young as age 30 are purchasing skin care products that claim to prevent the signs of aging. “Products that firm, smooth, tighten, lift or sculpt—from eye serums to cellulite gels and face masks to self-tanners—are making these appealing claims,” she says. “And everyone is talking about the new super-high SPF 70, 80, 85 sunscreens flooding the market.”

How to Get in the Book

All beauty editors interviewed by GCI magazine agreed that product efficacy and launch timing are two of the main factors involved when editorial is chosen for a magazine issue. A product must fit both the theme of that particular issue and also into the mission and audience demographic of the magazine itself. Often, this takes research by brands before proposing a story idea, and, according to Chu, persistence is not always the key. “If the product is not right the first time, it’s not going to be right the fifth time,” she says.

In the case of Men’s Health, knowing the reader demographic of a magazine can make or break the possibility of editorial coverage. “It’s really irksome when a PR person doesn’t target the right magazine,” says Nygaard. “We get tons of women’s products sent to us all the time.”

So once a brand knows the gender of a typical reader, how do they know if their products are still a good fit editorially?

Johnson and Goins say it’s by understanding a reader’s lifestyle.

“What is the service to the reader?” Goins wants to know. “When developing content, we search for useful information to help our reader make smart choices that fit into her lifestyle. We want her to understand why we’re recommending a product and what it’s really doing for her.”

For Goins, this means having brands first present her with solid scientific research. “Expert interviews and first-hand testing also play an important role in determining what we’ll cover,” she continues. “And vagueness is the worst sin in beauty PR. The best pitches include detail, after a quick, easy-to-digest summary of what’s being pitched. What’s new, innovative and noteworthy about a product? When is it being launched? How does it fit into the existing line, and have there been any independent studies to confirm the claims?”

Chu also believes ready-to-photograph, testable products are helpful for a beauty editor, as are easily digestible press releases noting a product’s name, price, availability and key functions. “I don’t need an elaborate brand romance; I never read that stuff and don’t know editors who do,” Chu says. “E-mail releases are okay if I know the sender; otherwise, they can get lost in the fray. Persistent follow-up calls are ineffective. I prefer mailings or desk-side meetings, whenever possible.”

Nygaard concurs. “I don’t enjoy launches that require you to leave your office mid-day to hike across town for a one-hour presentation on a fragrance,” she says. “It feels like a waste of my time, and it can really dissect a busy day.” Appreciating desk-side appointments, Nygaard also says original content perseveres over regurgitated material. “We don’t just recycle a press release,” she says. “Our readers would never stand for it.”

More’s Johnson—another beauty editor who conducts desk-side appointments with cosmetic brands’ public relations teams, R&D professionals and other beauty experts—says her editorial information stems from several sources. In addition to daily interviews, she attends product launch events, industry workshops and seminars; she reads press news in print and online; she conducts online reader surveys; she goes undercover in stores to speak with beauty sales teams and observe shoppers; and she gathers reader feedback and suggestions via e-mail. “As beauty director, it’s really all about developing and maintaining strong relationships with PR teams on an ongoing basis—keeping the communication going, even when there is no new product news,” Johnson says. “Those e-mails and phone calls are as essential as vitamins and sunscreen.”

Other than regularly covered sun care and other essential personal care products, Chu says editors also think outside the box and cover other industries—including fashion, the arts, celebrity and pop culture, international and economic news, politics, science and technology.

The Digital World

Another arena appealing to readers involves the expansion of consumer beauty magazines online. In order to engage their expanding multimedia interests, magazine editors have launched more interactive Web sites and reconfigured print content for online use. “They offer two very different experiences, and our readers enjoy both,” says Chu of Marie Claire, who’s Web site attracts 4.5 million page views per month. “Part of that is because we’ve been innovative,” she continues. “For example, we started the ‘Behind the Masthead’ podcast in January 2007. Since its inception, it has had more than three million downloads.”

Product podcasts and blogs, such as “Behind the Masthead” and More magazine’s “The Daily Glow” by Johnson, beauty and fashion director, enable editors to stay current with news and trends even before their print editions hit newsstands. In addition, such expanded Web sites give beauty brands more advertising opportunities and more chances to reach their customers.

Creating synergy between brands, magazines and their readers/consumers is an understated but valuable goal, according to Erick Schonfeld, co-editor of the TechCrunch blog (“The Future of Media,” GroundReport, July 10, 2008). Therefore, Web sites designed for readers to leave comments and discuss products will flourish more than sites without such open forums. “Media today is about a two-way conversation, and people, formerly known as the audience, want to talk back, and sometimes they want to talk with each other more than they want to consume what you’ve written,” Schonfeld says. For magazines that provide such an online outlet in a quick and convenient manner, so much the better. Schonfeld believes these publications are equipped to “stick around longer.”

Targeting Consumers

But in addition to timely content and interactive features, Web sites—as well as print and television marketing campaign co-stars—must feature “incredibly arresting” advertising, according to Chu, “in order to hold consumers’ attention.” Targeting the right consumer in the right way makes a world of difference. “For instance, Dior’s J’Adore TV commercial with Charlize Theron captured the spirit of the fragrance,” she says. “Also, the first series of viral Web ads by Dove—the making up of a real woman to photo-ready standards—inspired conversation and was extremely effective and innovative at the time.”

However, fellow journalist Nygaard believes male and female consumers react to brands and advertising differently. She says for men, “anything straight to the point—no flowery, adjective-driven language or false promises,” will hold their attention. Also, Nygaard notes that humorous ads such as those released by Axe or Old Spice keep the brands on the collective male radar, creating a connection to a guy “who is already uncomfortable with being perceived as too focused on appearance.”

While modesty may make the man, both male and female consumers have shown steady brand loyalty to celebrity-endorsed products, according to More’s Johnson. “It’s proven that consumers are not quite ready to give up on the appeal of celebrities identified with brands at every age,” she says. “From Sarah Jessica Parker for Garnier to Elizabeth Hurley for Estée Lauder, Diane Keaton for L’Oréal Paris to Kristin Davis for Ahava, it’s a strategy that is working.”

Another strategy working for beauty brands is the ability to know and understand their target consumer demographics through the beauty magazines they read. And once a positive connection has been made with the beauty editors who determine editorial content online and in print, the chances of reaching current—and emerging—consumer markets with a brand’s message is that much more probable.