Tough Times Aside, Hearst and J.D. Power To Launch Auto Title

Its gold and glass trophies have been featured in car ads for years, but J.D. Power and Associates have never had a direct connection with the consumer. That will change next spring, when the research firm dips its toe into the publishing field in a joint venture with Hearst. The automotive magazine will tap high-income readers of four of Hearst’s existing titles to test consumer’s reaction to a J.D. Power Car Guide. If it goes well, the two may extend their partnership to a full-fledged title and tap J.D. Power’s other data centers, from boats to healthcare.

“I don’t know if it’s a bad thing to launch in bad times, because you’re not going against some other launches,” says J.D. Power and Associates partner Tom Healey. Noting that Fortune magazine was launched during the Depression, Healey adds, “Some very big things were done in bad times. You can have success in bad economic times while the faint of heart are on the sidelines.”

Indeed, the J.D. Power Car Guide will be more likely to be on the newsstand than on the sideline, as well as polybagged in four Hearst publications, including Esquire, Town & Country, SmartMoney, and Popular Mechanics. With a circulation base of 160,000, the self-standing outsert will be targeted to high-income readers who are more likely to be buying that new car. The first issue appears along side the March issues, with a second planned for November.

“If these are well received, we’re looking at broadening the constituency and very possibly putting it on the newsstand,” says Healey. It could also move beyond the automotive category. “Cars is what we have the most measures on, so this is a good place to begin. We also have a health care practice and travel, and it is conceivable that some of these things could also have legs.”

The magazine’s editorial content will focus on rating the best cars and trucks, buying tips as well as offering insight from consumers who already own a vehicle. Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief Joe Oldham will add oversight of the J.D. Power guide’s editorial.

Targeting both automotive and non-automotive advertising categories, sales are handled by Hearst under VP of advertising sales for the western region Lois Miller, who has been named publisher of the J.D. Power project. Although he wouldn’t name advertisers, Healey says they already have some commitments for the first issue. Downplaying any fear that connecting J.D. Power’s brand image with advertising could be dangerous, Healey points out that they already permit their claims to be used in car ads.

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