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
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
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
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
Kalligeros says the agency lined up the New York University Parenting
Institute as an expert resource to add credibility to the Claiborne
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;