Real Simple Makes Success Look Easy

When the Publishers Information Bureau released its half-year data last week, few titles fared as well as Real Simple. Between January and June, ad pages increased 62.4% over the year-ago period; ad revenue surged 120.6%. Similarly, the mag has grown its circulation to 1.2 million from 400,000 at its April 2000 launch, with a bump to 1.5 million expected in January.

In other words, Real Simple has been making the business of producing a magazine look, uh, pretty simple.

"It reflects the real lives of real women," is how publisher Robin Domeniconi summarizes the title's appeal. "That's certainly a concept that advertisers and women readers can get behind."

Editorially, the big question about Real Simple is why it took until 2000 for the magazine to appear on newsstand racks. After all, its central premise - that there are always ways to simplify, simplify, simplify - isn't any more relevant today than it might have been in 1953. When asked about this, Domeniconi laughs: "This magazine would have been beneficial for my mother 40 years ago. Of course, back then it would have discussed how to have drinks ready for your husband when he walks in the door."



When talking about the marketing of Real Simple, however, Domeniconi's tone is decidedly more business. For instance, she declines to discuss the advertisers she'd like to see in the magazine ("everybody should be in there - how's that for a political answer?"). And without any prompting, she blurts out, "I don't want to talk about Martha Stewart"; it's unclear whether she means the individual, the eponymous magazine or some combination of the two.

Nonetheless, even from a short conversation it's pretty easy to tell why Domeniconi gets high marks from advertisers and her publishing peers alike. She spreads credit graciously, stressing that she's only as good as the team that surrounds her. And when talking about the women's magazine business - and especially Real Simple's place within it - she is both passionate and grounded.

"Obviously everything is clicking well for us right now, but things can change pretty quickly in this business," she says. "We can learn a lot not just from each other, but also from TV shows, the Internet and so many other places. I guess the way to put it is that nobody here seems to be bored by the opportunities that are in front of us right now."

When asked what has given rise to the opportunities, Domeniconi is quick to point to the Real Simple reader, who boasts a median age of 38 (85% female) and average household income of $79,000. These numbers in hand, Domeniconi is attempting to broaden the range of advertisers appearing in the mag. "[Advertisers] realize that women control 80% of the spending power in most households," she notes. "Targeting more financial services and luxury goods companies than we did before - that's the direction we're headed in."

Of course, it's easy to go after a nontraditional sector (for a women's mag, anyway) like financial services when you've got the breadth of advertisers that Real Simple does. In any given issue, between 12 and 15% of ad pages are devoted to each of five categories: fashion, automotive, beauty, home furnishings and food. At one time, such variety might not have been viewed as beneficial. Now, however, Domeniconi is borderline thrilled with the mix.

"The best thing about Real Simple is that nothing is endemic for us," she explains. "It's not like we're a golf magazine where equipment is endemic. A lot of people said that would hurt us during difficult economic times, but it's been exactly the opposite."

As for the future, Domeniconi is predictably optimistic. Real Simple's "Get Organized America" marketing program is working over the city of White Plains, New York, in conjunction with NBC's Today show this summer, and it will be expanded to as many as six cities in 2004. The mag will also continue to explore franchise expansion in publishing and television.

"I just hope we have the time to take advantage of everything that's in front of us," Domeniconi says. "I don't think we're any different than any other magazine that way, to be honest."

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