Cooking Up A Media Brand: Rachael Ray

PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- Near the end of the first day of the American Magazine Conference, the audience was treated to a friendly interview with the next big human-as-brand: Rachael Ray, who has catapulted to fame over the last couple of years on the strength of her TV shows, cookbooks, and magazine and public appearances. As magazines reinvent themselves to keep pace with changing consumer preferences, the success of Every Day with Rachael Ray, launched in November 2005, may be a useful example.

Interviewer Jess Cagle, an editor at large for People, asked the obvious question: how can one person sustain the effort required to become a multi-platform media brand? Ray's answer--a lot of work--wasn't surprising. According to Ray, during the Food Network's regular season, she tapes 185 episodes of her syndicated "Rachael Ray Show," distributed by King World Productions. Then it gets incredible: "When our show takes its big seasonal breaks, I tape 80 episodes" of her other shows airing on the Food Network: "Tasty Travels," "30 Minute Meals," "$40 a Day," and "Inside Dish." Asked about her involvement in her new magazine, Ray said she reviews every page and also writes about 15 recipes per issue as well as a few sidebars.



There's an obvious comparison in the elite group of people-as-lifestyle-brands: Martha Stewart, whose outlets include a growing stable of magazines, TV shows, radio broadcasts, books, and various Internet portals, not to mention a product line that has sold about $17 billion of merchandise to date. But Ray's having none of it. When an audience member asked if she was modeling her career on Stewart's, Ray said: "I'm flattered that people compare me to her--but really, our brands and our magazines couldn't be more different." Ray positions herself as an everywoman who's just into relaxing and having fun, versus Stewart's somewhat regal focus on domestic perfection.

Their differences don't obscure the obvious similarity. As a new species of media empire, Stewart and Ray's brands aren't easily analyzed or explained, but their success is clear enough. Attempts to draw analogies with domestic divas of yesteryear fail immediately. Betty Crocker's personality and personal affect were never central to the success of her cookbooks and cooking products, and she never made public appearances, because she was a fictional character.

But whatever their secret, one thing is clear: marketers trying to reach women would do well to consider the importance of personalities, even if--or especially when--they don't lend themselves to easy duplication. While the magazine industry struggles in 2006, Every Day with Rachael Ray has racked up a respectable 237 ad pages and over $8 million in revenue, according to the most recent figures from the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Meanwhile, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's various titles--including Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Weddings, Everyday Food, and Blueprint--are all enjoying double-digit growth in ad pages and revenue, alongside big increases in newsstand and subscription sales.

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