Ladies' Home Journal Preps Re-launch
It is a move that even its corporate CEO says is long overdue. In an August interview with Media Magazine, Meredith Publishing CEO Jerry Kaplan made no secret he wasn’t happy with Ladies’ Home Journal. “We intend to work on the product,” he pledged, saying the magazine had been hurt by all the competition from competing women’s titles. In July, Meredith lured Hearst corporate editor Diane Salvatore to lead the re-launch, following the retirement of 21-year veteran editor Merna Blythe. Last month, Meredith named Lynn Lehmkuhl publisher, replacing Daniel Lagani, who is now charged with running sister magazine Better Homes and Gardens.
In March, the Salvatore-Lehmkuhl team will debut a new Ladies’ Home Journal. It will not only look different, with new thicker paper stock and a larger size, but it will also have a whole new attitude.
“We found our readers were very loyal to the brand, but when surveyed they felt ready for a change,” says Lehmkuhl from her Park Avenue office. “It wasn’t just that they wanted changes in Ladies’ Home Journal, but their lives had also changed significantly and they were looking for changes in any magazines that they were reading.” For Ladies’ Home Journal, the mission became one of converting their magazine to on of “heart, home and family.”
The result will represent a dramatic shift in editorial focus for the title that helped define what a fifties housewife like June Cleaver would cook or wear. “We’re shifting the focus from a journalistic approach to a focus on relationships,” says Lehmkuhl. In a Martha Stewart Living meets Oprah move, Ladies’ Home Journal will continue with recipes and household features, but it will also look at the readers’ connections with the family, their spouse, and colleagues at work. There will be original fashion shoots featuring fashion for the entire family. Says Lehmkuhl, “We are taking a fairly dramatic shift from where we were, but we are making a shift that we feel very comfortable and confident that it is not a risk.”
Whether or not it is a risk, some ad buyers think it is long overdue. “You have to stay current about what is going on in women’s minds. There’s a lot going on right now and it isn’t necessarily about home or beauty tips,” says Barb Reilly, SVP/director of women’s worldwide at Arnold Worldwide.
Ladies’ Home Journal is presently in the thick of pitching agencies its March re-launch, and within days of starting her new job as publisher last week, Lehmkuhl began joining salespeople on those calls. “We’re actively out there selling this launch issue and the early response has been phenomenal,” she says. In fact, Meredith is getting positive early indications that they are on the right track. All the talk about the title has helped its just-closed February 2003 issue post its first increase in ad pages in months, even though it’s the last issue under the old banner. Through October, LHJ ad pages were down 3% to 128 pages while revenues rose 4%, according to PIB. Meanwhile, Salvatore’s first cover since joining Ladies’ Home Journal featuring Kelly Ripa in the November issue helped boost newsstand sales 30% over November 2001.
The cover is the place where LHJ’s re-launch will be most immediately noticed. It will feature only original photography, not the money-saving canned shots supplied by studios and publicists. “By virtue of the covers being fresher, more appealing, and more interesting, that over time will bring in a younger buyer,” says Lehmkuhl. While that may work to lower its median age from its current 49, she adds, “It won’t be dramatic and it’s not a specific mission of ours.”
Ladies’ Home Journal is presently offering a buy one year, get two more years for free subscription plan, which is helping Meredith hold the rate base at 4.1 million – a startlingly large number for a magazine that is often an after-thought for ad planners and buyers. “The interesting change in the women’s service titles is that ten years ago they all use to be pretty much alike,” says Lehmkuhl. “Today they have all found a very specific niche. For an advertiser, each of the books represents a different focus in which to target a message. It’s the same thing for the reader. I don’t think there are too many magazines, I think the reader just has more choice.”