Given Prevention's progressive outlook, such an idea is obviously silly. But while the magazine once had a reputation for being little more than a sober-minded health book, it has quietly evolved its focus and tone over the last few years. Gradually migrating from dry health commentaries to practical stories on healthy lifestyles, Preventionhas become what a lot of its peers are striving to be: a go-to manual for actionable tips about fitness, nutrition, and beauty.
Neither Smith (who arrived last November from Child) nor Ellis (whose résumé includes stints at Time Inc., Working Woman, and a range of off- and online venues) were around at the beginning of this evolution. Observers, however, credit them with having done a lion's share of the heavy lifting. Since joining Prevention nearly a year ago, Ellis presided over a redesign that saw the mag divvied up into six sections. "It's been a gradual transition into what's basically a new product," she says.
Smith, on the other hand, immediately set out to expand the publication's breadth of advertisers. Not that Rodale higher-ups were complaining about the glut of DTC and OTC marketers that occupied most of the magazine's ad pages, but it had become apparent that the book's advertising mix was out of synch with its revised editorial thrust. Beauty companies seemed a natural place to begin, given the regular "Real Life Beauty" column written by Bobbi Brown and the soon-to-expand "Beauty Solutions" feature.
The early results of this effort are promising, with Prevention adding Botox, Clairol, Dove's Exfoliating Bar and Body Wash, and Nivea in 2004. "The new look opened up many doors," Smith says. Overall, the magazine is up 20 percent in pages during the first half of the year; automotive (especially imports) and consumer electronics are next on Smith's get list.
One immediate upshot of the changes recently effected is a shift in the magazine's competitive set. Until a few years ago, Prevention was often lumped in with women's service books like Woman's Day and Reader's Digest (which is not to imply that they're bad company). Now, however, one could make a case that Prevention should be mentioned in the same breath with both fitness/nutrition mags (Health, Cooking Light) and more all-encompassing titles (O, maybe even Real Simple). Given that Prevention dwarfs most of these magazines in size--Smith says that it is the country's 11th most-circulated magazine, ranking close behind People--both the editorial and marketing sides have a lot to work with.
"I'm careful with the comparisons we make," Ellis notes. "Occasionally I'll see somebody else's article and think 'we could have done that,' but most of the time it's more 'I can do this better.'"
Recent readership gains have come mostly from 35- to 45-year-old women, but it's a little-known fact that 20 percent of the mag's readers are men. "Once they're acquainted with the magazine, readers come to depend on us," Ellis continues. "There's so much conflicting information out there: you should drink red wine, you shouldn't drink red wine. They count on us to filter through all the information."
And if they feel that Prevention has dropped the ball, they're not shy about saying so. As opposed to the reader mail published in competing publications ("I was so happy to see Ellen DeGeneres staring at me when I eagerly pulled your magazine out of my mailbox today!"), Prevention's letters-to-the-editor usually demonstrate a keen sense of intelligence and--gasp!-- independent thought. "They'll agree or disagree passionately. It's an intriguing, wonderful dialogue," Ellis says. Adds Smith: "Our readers know more about health and wellness than your average person. It's a challenge, but also very satisfying to have an audience like that."
In the months ahead, look for continued expansion (right now, the Prevention brand encompasses 14 magazines, four so-called "book-a-zines," and the Prevention.com family of Web sites). The mag will also flex its multimedia muscles via the fledgling Rodale TV outlet. A boost of its current 3.3 million circulation is unlikely anytime soon, however.