Parade Drawing Big Ad Dollars

Not that it was ever mistaken for anything else among the media community, but Parade has truly been getting its due in recent months as a marketing juggernaut.

The 60-year-old supplement, which arrives with The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and around 330 other newspapers every Sunday, reaches an incredible 36 million readers (for those counting at home, that figure exceeds the population of Canada). According to Publishers Information Bureau, Parade generated $320 million in ad revenue during the first six months of 2003 from a mere 344.2 ad pages. Despite this relative paucity of pages, more than 300 companies found a home in the magazine last year.

And yet Randy Siegel, who ascended to the publisher post last month, still isn't 100% satisfied.

"We do great programs and we have the best advertisers and staff in the world, but you still have to take things one month at a time," he says. When asked how this cautious assessment gels with the aforementioned statistics, Siegel laughs and shrugs off the question with a simple, "Well, you know."

Whatever Siegel and his predecessor (Jack Griffin, who joined Meredith Corp. as Magazine Group president) have been doing over the last few years, it has worked. Parade is as much a Sunday institution as barbecues, siestas and family time. But the way Siegel sees it, the magazine may well only now be entering its prime.

"Obviously the economy's not where anybody wants it to be, but there are opportunities that we're pursuing," he says. "In many ways, we've been an underleveraged brand."

Indeed, even before his promotion, Siegel had been one of the driving forces behind efforts to bolster the Parade brand - and to do a lot of good in the process. In April, the title teamed with Tyson Foods, Betty Crocker and Reynolds to launch "The Great American Bake Sale." The idea: encourage groups throughout the nation to hold bake sales and donate the profits to Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to eradicating hunger in the U.S. and abroad. "It's the biggest cause-marketing effort in 60 years of Parade," Siegel says proudly.

The magazine also launched a national TV campaign in June. The ads, which have been airing on CBS, Court TV, Fox News Channel and TNT, among other networks, sought to illustrate Parade's editorial diversity and broad reader appeal. And this won't be the last you'll see of Parade on television: the mag's annual "What America Eats" survey is being spun into a Food Network series scheduled to debut in 2004. Similarly, Parade Radio Services can be heard on 1,200 radio stations across the country.

To the urban sophisticate huddled up with a copy of The New York Times Sunday Magazine and plate of raspberry scones, these plans may seem a bit ambitious. But, as Siegel notes, Parade strives to be as inclusive editorially as possible: "We pride ourselves on how we reach mainstream Americans, not just people on the east and west coasts. Our tagline for many years has been 'a conversation with America.'"

Clearly this is a policy which resonates with the magazine's advertisers, many of whom are looking for straightforward, unpretentious venues in which to hawk their wares. "It's a great vehicle for clients to reach millions of Americans on the one day of the week during which they have some semblance of free time," Siegel says. "On the other hand, as a mass-market, mass-reach publication, we need to be versatile across as many categories as possible to continue our growth."

While some may think that Parade's once-a-week frequency makes Siegel's task slightly easier - he says the magazine "doesn't really have a defined competitive set" - he cautions that any magazine which rests on its laurels is likely to find itself in trouble before too long. "There are five or six other publications that we watch like a hawk: TV Guide, Reader's Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, People and USA Weekend, in no particular order," he explains. "I'm focused not just on the competition but also on what we can do to remain the leader."

Parade's advertisers span a host of big-dollar categories (entertainment, packaged goods, food). Of course, like nearly every other publisher, Siegel is hoping to grow the number of automotive advertisers, though he declines to identify specific targets. He admits, however, to coveting what he calls "classic brands in America."

"Our clients are conservative about where they run and when they run," he adds. "These are sober and somber times in our country, and we have an environment that our clients are very comfortable with."

This, it seems, is the magazine's biggest challenge: maintaining the editorial and advertising mixes beloved by change-resistant readers and marketers while at the same time breaking new ground. On the editorial front, Siegel hopes to see continued expansion in the magazine's music coverage. From a marketing perspective, Parade hopes to help its newspaper partners promote the institution of the Sunday newspaper.

"We're investing lots of money into marketing programs, especially ones that are going after occasional readers or non-readers," Siegel says. "Our goal is to be a vital resource for everybody we work with."

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