MEDIA PARENTING: Media Roundup - Parenting publications help raiseawareness - With service journalism on the rise, the media has focusedon parenting issues. David Ward reports on what it takes to get yourclient some coverage

Nobody ever said raising a child was easy, but today's parents seem

to have it twice as tough. Not only do they have to deal with

traditional child rearing issues such as breast-feeding versus the

bottle, discipline, school bullies and vaccinations, but they are also

now confronted with a host of new parenting worries like childhood

obesity, school violence and finding the right day-care.



In addition, a virtual cottage industry of experts and studies offering

conflicting advice on topics ranging from self-esteem to TV consumption

has emerged. Even the venerable childhood activity of dodge ball has

come under attack from groups saying it promotes predatory and violent

behavior.



Media to the rescue



Moms and dads are increasingly turning to parenting writers to help

filter these theories and advice. There have always been magazines aimed

at helping parents guide their offspring to adulthood, but parenting and

family reporting is undergoing a renaissance in the general consumer

press. Magazines like Time and Newsweek and TV programs such as Today

and 20/20 focus on parenting and family issues as part of a general

media migration toward service, or "news you can use" journalism.

Newsweek carried a package of features on parenting issues in June,

following the tragic story - which appeared on the cover - of a

depressed mother drowning her children.



One thing that hasn't changed however is the target of this

reporting.



Despite gender equality in both the work and home, the majority of

parenting journalism remains squarely aimed at women.



Within this journalistic segment are a host of well-respected

specialists, including Knight-Ridder syndicated columnist John Rosemond,

who focuses on discipline issues, and Cathy Collison and Janis Campbell

of the Detroit Free Press, who produce the kid-centric "Yak's Corner"

section. Other high-profile journalists in the field are Time's Amy

Dickinson, Parents editor-in-chief Sally Lee and Ann Pleshette Murphy,

recently named parenting contributor for Good Morning America.



One dilemma faced by parenting magazines is the need to continually

replenish their audience. Kate Kelly, managing editor of American Baby,

says her magazine targets parents of infants and toddler up to age

three, which means that every few years they turn over the bulk of their

readership.



The good news is that most of the readers are new to the parenting

experience, so the same themes can be repeated every few years. But

Kelly says, "We try to come up with new ways to package the information

and come up with new angles. There are also new studies that come up and

the advice given to parents often changes."



Kelly says her magazine uses experts on family and parenting, but adds,

"People love hearing from other parents, so we try to make sure there's

a balance between experts and real people," she adds.



Giving parents what they need



By and large, most of the national parent and family publications try to

avoid potentially controversial topics, focusing instead on advice and

new product reviews. "They're more interested in providing information

to their readers than in doing controversial stories," says Stacy Bender

of Bender-Hammerling, who pitches recipes to parenting titles.



But Dea Eldorado, media manager for Golin/Harris' Los Angeles office,

says parenting publications have done a commendable job in adapting to

the changes in the traditional American family. Gone are labor-intensive

recipes and features on sewing mother and daughter outfits. They have

been replaced by stories on finding the right child care and even

dealing with a child's serious illness. "For me, the parenting

publications just seem so much hipper than they used to be," she says.

"They're not as fluffy."



In addition to national magazines, there are also 250 regional and metro

publications, ranging from Atlanta Baby to Ventura County Parent, which

are continually on the lookout for ideas. These publications tend to

rely on syndicated columnists for some of their content. But PT & Co.

president Maria Kalligeros says regional parenting magazines do seem

more willing to handle stories involving older children and are less

squeamish about reporting on controversial issues.



PR agency PT & Co. represents Gymboree and Liz Claiborne, which expanded

its social marketing program on domestic violence to include alerting

parents to the signs their teen may be in a physically abusive

relationship.



Kalligeros says the agency lined up the New York University Parenting

Institute as an expert resource to add credibility to the Claiborne

effort.



The expert pitch



Virtually every parenting PR exec we spoke to recommends hiring an

expert, whether it be a nutritionist, child psychologist or

pediatrician, to bolster their client's campaign. But American Baby's

Kelly says many PR pitches tend to end right there. "Sometimes with PR,

the pitch is all focused on one person or one thing," she says. "It's

not focused on a general trend."



While not necessarily crusading journalists, parenting outlets do take

their audience and their mission very seriously, and they too have

access to their own experts. Karen Gold, vice president with

Fleishman-Hillard's Chicago office, says her agency recently held

meetings with parenting publications on behalf of Kellogg's. "Kellogg's

recently did a study that found people who eat cereal for breakfast have

a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than those who either skip or eat other

foods for breakfast," she says. "We had some good interest from Child

magazine when we presented that a few weeks ago, in part because they

had the finding verified by other tests."



Even classic children/family brands like Lego turn to experts to add

weight to their campaigns. For last year's launch of Lego MyBot toys for

ages four and up, Melinda Carter, assistant PR manager with Lego Systems

US, says the company used well-known MIT professor Mitch Reznick. By

positioning Reznick and the MyBot as the focal point for a pitch on

"smart toys," Lego's VNR was picked up by 170 TV outlets nationwide and

received coverage in publications ranging from Time to Parenting.



If there is any criticism about parenting journalists, especially in the

general interest press, it is that they occasionally forget there is no

single right answer to child rearing. Karen Gee-McAuley, SVP with The

Blaze Company, says her client Baby Einstein has occasionally found

itself participating in press debates about whether hi-tech toys or

low-tech products like blocks are better for a child's development.

"What happens is those stories will quote experts on one side or the

other, but there's really no one definitive answer," she says. "The

magazine's goal is obviously to boost readership, so these topics have

become more sensationalized because they know it hits the heartstrings

of any parent."



Where to go



Magazines: Parents; Parenting; Child; Mothering; Twins; Family Circle;

Family Fun; Parent & Child; American Baby; BabyTalk; Family PC; Redbook;

Time; Newsweek; Women's Day; regional parenting publications



Trade publications: ToyFare magazine; PlayThings; American Educator



TV & Radio: Lifetime network; NBC's Today; ABC's Good Morning America;

CBS' Early Show



Internet: Familytime.com; IVillage; Nick.com; Parentstalk.com;

Grandparents.com; Parentschoice.com



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