From nervous new parents entering the unknown to an increasingly attentive mainstream media, the audience craving information on all that's baby-related is healthier than ever. David Ward reports
First-time parenting is a nerve-wracking experience for most people.
Not only is there the lengthy wait during pregnancy, but a baby's first year is one of little sleep and a lot of guesswork for most parents. New moms and dads carry high expectations, along with the often unrealistic worry that the steps they take now may mean the difference between their progeny becoming president or embarking on a life of crime.
Since pregnancy, birth, and infancy are such huge unknowns for most families, new parents are often voracious readers of all that's baby-related. And they don't only read a lot, they spend a lot, starting with maternity clothes and moving on to strollers, diapers, breast pumps or formula, baby food, cribs, and even videos and music aimed at stimulating babies as young as a few weeks.
It took a while for the media to realize the potent combination of extreme interest and buying power of new parents, but over the past decade coverage of neo-natal and early childhood development issues has risen dramatically.
"Publicists are in a wonderful situation now because there are so many outlets interested in the subject, says Cathy Husid, national media relations specialist for Houston-based Fogarty Klein Monroe Public Relations. "Most of these publications are very pitchable."
Mainstream media gets involved
This surge extends far beyond targeted publications like American Baby and Child and into the mainstream press. "The general interest publications are looking at it because it's kind of glamorous to have babies now, says Julia Beck Bromberg, founder of the marketing/PR firm 40 Weeks, which represents products such as Preggy Pops (lollypops that control morning sickness), the maternity retailer Pickles & Ice Cream, and Bromberg's own Comfort Kits gift line for expectant mothers. "I've had general-interest success with celebrity tie-ins with magazines such as InStyle, notes Bromberg.
Nowhere is this growth more evident that in neo-natal coverage. Less than a decade ago, the only outlets aimed at pregnant women were either special editions of magazines like Shape or controlled-circulation publications distributed through doctors' offices and parenting classes and bordering on advertorials. Today, publications like Fit Pregnancy, New Parent, Pregnancy, American Baby, and ePregancy all feature a strong neo-natal focus.
The biggest challenge these neo-natal outlets face is that most of their readership turns over every five to eight months. But this can be advantageous for PR executives in that they can pitch editors on revisiting a product or topic several times each year, although as Bromberg points out, "The product news does tend to be more current."
In the general-interest press, most of these pregnancy and infant-themed stories are still covered under a number of different beats, including health, women, family, and even education writers. But Mary Lofton, PR manager for the breast-feeding advocacy group La Leche League International, says she is beginning to see the emergence of at least a sub-beat focused on these issues. "There has been a tendency of late, especially within the women's section of newspapers, to have reporters who have been assigned to handle neo-natal and early childhood development, says Lofton
The leading reporters in pregnancy and infancy are Fit Pregnancy's Maureen Healy, AP national reporter Martha Irvine, Chicago Sun-Times science reporter Jim Ritter, and American Baby editor-in-chief Judith Nolte.
A wider array of topics
People without kids may think baby coverage consists primarily of soft anecdote-filled features on the joys and frustrations of motherhood interspersed with the occasional baby fashion layout. But there are many controversies in this area, ranging from the pros and cons of letting a child cry himself to sleep to the practicality of saving - for a cost - a baby's umbilical cord to provide cells in the event the child gets one of a handful of fairly rare diseases.
By far the biggest ongoing issue is the breast versus bottle debate.
Lofton says coverage of breast-feeding can involve everything from perennial stories such as National Breast Feeding Week (August 1-7) to the legal and societal issue of whether women should be encouraged to nurse in public.
But Lofton adds that coverage tends to rise with every new study on the topic, and cites reportage around recent studies suggesting that breast feeding reduces the incidence of breast cancer and may promote slightly higher IQs in children.
There have been a few attempts at fatherhood-themed outlets, but this remains primarily an audience of mothers, with the bulk of reporting being done by women as well. Anne Dozier, president of literary publicists Dozier & Associates, says, "About 90% of people covering this topic are women."
Dozier, who represents authors Stacy DeBroff (The Mom Book) and Mimi Doe (Busy but Balanced), says the only time male reporters, TV and radio hosts get interested is when they've recently become fathers. But Bromberg notes that the phenomenon is not limited to men - many female journalists begin doing stories on these issues when they first become pregnant, only to move on to other subjects as their children age. "When Kelly Ripa was pregnant, I could send anything over to Live with Regis & Kelly, she says. "They don't want anything pregnancy-related right now."
By the time the second child arrives, most women are confident enough to do without the targeted titles. But Rashmi Turner, communications director for Disney-subsidiary Baby Einstein, says second-time mothers, along with a potential gift-giving audience, can be reached through traditional women's magazines such as Redbook, McCall's, and Ladies' Home Journal.
While Baby Einstein's video line is aimed at stimulating babies at an early age, Turner says the company steers away from the "push parenting" philosophy that pressures parents into thinking what they do in the first year may determine whether the child gets into a top university decades later. "That's not us, she says. "We're all about parents spending time with their children."
Coverage gets more scientific
If there is a major trend in pregnancy, birth, and early childhood development coverage, it's that reporters are moving away from anecdotal stories and focusing more on the science of parenting. Reace Alvarenga, media relations specialist with the Children's Medical Center of Dallas, says she always includes the name of a pediatrician, nurse practitioner, or someone else affiliated with pediatrics in every release. "It adds a level of credibility to the health tips we release each month, she says. "Also, if a reporter wants to expand the story, they have a name they can ask for."
Many PR pros stress the need to augment national campaigns with targeted efforts aimed at local TV and radio news/lifestyle shows, along with the growing number of single-market print outlets like Houston Family and San Diego Baby.
Bromberg also points out the need to think outside the narrow confines of parenting and look at the major news themes. In June, a then very pregnant Bromberg was one of the subjects of a series of stories on parents who decided to have children after 9/11. The story was initially done by AP's Irvine and then picked up by other outlets, including CBS and NBC. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity where I got to tell my own story and also promote some of my work and my clients, she says.
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The New York Times; The Washington Post; Chicago Sun-Times;
Magazines: American Baby; Baby Talk; Pregnancy; New Parent; Parents;
Parenting; Child; Ladies' Home Journal; Good Housekeeping; Shape;
Working Woman; McCall's; Redbook; Family Circle; Time; Newsweek
Trade Titles: Children's Business; Gifts & Deck; Women's Wear Daily
TV & Radio: FamilyNet TV (cable network); Live with Regis & Kelly; The
View; Today; Good Morning America; The Early Show; Lifetime; Oxygen; NPR
Websites: Parenthood.com; Parenthoodplace.com; Parents.com;
Americanbaby.com; Epregnancy.com; Parenthoodweb.com; Healthykids.com;