While The Improper Bostonian has put on a new face, it's still free, it's still the place to go to learn about everything happening in Beantown, and it's still very receptive, even reliant, on PR pitches.About five years ago, The Improper Bostonian was only beginning to gain recognition as Beantown's go-to guide for what's happening in the city.
One of the ways the free biweekly set itself apart was by having its then editor-in-chief do a photo op on the office's roof, where he burned copies of rival Boston magazine (a proper glossy monthly).
But now The Improper Bostonian is more proper, says publisher Bob Phillips.
In fact, this week marks a new era for the once black-and-white, stitched rag: From the April 17 edition on, every issue will be printed in color on white stock, and bound at the seam - much like its rival. Unlike Boston magazine, however, The Improper will still be free, delivered to every apartment building and brownstone in central Boston, and stacked in street boxes from the downtown business district to the surrounding suburbs.
"We deliver door to door. We have more readers in the core city than any other publication because we give it to everybody,
explains Phillips, who has helped build the circulation to 82,000, and the readership to 250,000 - half Boston's population. And because many of these readers are in the high-rent areas of Back Bay and Beacon Hill, the average Improper reader earns $75,000 a year.
Despite their financial status, however, Improper readers are generally drawn to stories with an edge. "In the front, we talk about what's new in town, what's happening on the club scene, and so on,
"We like an edge, since we don't want to be a boring read."
However, Phillips says he is minimizing the risk of boring readers, as each issue has 50 pages of editorial. Twenty of those 50 pages are dedicated to the magazine's calendar, which points out myriad places and events in and around Boston where one can find excitement.
The calendar includes everything that's happening in music, theater, dance, movies, and more. And it's all open to PR pitches, as are most of the magazine's front-of-book sections and columns (except for the features, of which there are usually three per issue). "PR people are my partners,
As a result, however, managing editors Julie Short and Erin Hagedorn receive countless pitches a day.
So neither likes phone calls from PR people: Short prefers fax or snail mail, while e-mail is Hagedorn's preferred method, as she laments that her phone rings "once every three minutes
with a pitch for the music section of the calendar. But before pitching, Short advises, "Call the receptionist to find out who's in charge of that section, otherwise the pitch gets lost in the shuffle. Also make it concise - I don't want a huge packet of info for an event."
Among the standard columns that cover restaurants, fashion, society, and music, one of the front-of-book sections most often pitched is The Word (the section for "trends, tittle tattle, people, panache"), which Short and Hagedorn edit together. The page usually has four or five stories, which can be about anything from the best chowder in town to a celebrity sighting - or even chowder on a celebrity.
"Someone tried to pitch a used-car lot,
Hagedorn recalls, which didn't quite make the cut. "But as long as there's a reason to pitch it, meaning if it has an angle and it's timely, it's worth it."
Almost as big a long shot, but ultimately successful, was a suburban Boston shoe company whose low-heel-high-toe shoes were popular in the 1960s. Seeking to revive the popularity of the posture-improving-yet-stylish footwear, a company exec brought 10 pairs to The Improper's office. "I walked around in them and they were amazing,
Short recalls. "They sold me on something I was able to try out. If we try it out and we're impressed by it, we're more likely to try it in the magazine. We put it in The Word."
But Elaine Driscoll, VP of Reagan Communications in Boston, maintains that a celebrity hook works best when getting a client covered in The Word. She represents New Balance, a Boston-based maker of athletic gear that's popular among celebrities.
"I sometimes get calls from Will & Grace, or say, from George Clooney's rep, looking for New Balance stuff,
she says. "It's a fun little tidbit - the sort of thing I'll pitch The Improper."
As far as when to pitch, any time is a good time, as The Improper doesn't make its editorial calendar public (even though it plans features and other stories up to a year in advance). And it's not picky about exclusives, either. "We come out every two weeks, so it's not really important to us,
Hagedorn explains - "Except for features," Phillips adds.
And much like any other big-city magazine, The Improper takes very seriously what it chooses for its cover - be it a celebrity or the city's hottest singles - more so than its name or content might suggest.