MEDIA ROUNDUP: Women's ever-evolving role is reflected in coverage

Women have more media outlets than ever before to find relevant, useful information. This proliferation isn't only good news for them, but also for the PR pros pitching related subjects.

Women have more media outlets than ever before to find relevant, useful information. This proliferation isn't only good news for them, but also for the PR pros pitching related subjects.

While it remains part of the bedrock of American journalism, media aimed specifically at women has gone through some significant changes in the last 10-15 years. Many newspapers that had a dedicated women's sections have cut back, although much of the same content can be seen in their food, family, and health and beauty coverage. And with the exception of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's nationally syndicated advice program and a few others, radio has also seen a decline in dedicated women's coverage, as more stations replace locally-produced lifestyle shows with politically-themed call-in programs. PR professionals say that because of the growth in cable television, the arrival of internet sites such as iVillage and Oxygen, and an explosion of new magazines, there may actually be more opportunities to pitch women-themed stories than ever before. "There's really so much more fragmentation," says Renee Yosco, SVP and managing director of Hill & Knowlton's marketing communications practice. "There are tons of outlets, and that's actually a good thing for PR pros because there's now a greater availability to get your message out if you are targeted and you know who your audience is." Magazines lead shift in coverage Perhaps the biggest change in women's media over the last decade can be seen in the magazine world. Now, instead of just the traditional "Seven Sister" magazines (reduced last year to six with the demise of Rosie, McCall's final incarnation), there are literally dozens of publications for women to choose from, including relatively recent arrivals such as Real Simple and Lucky. At first glance, they all may seem to offer a similar editorial mix of tips and advice, ideas, product and trend reviews, first-person stories, and, for most, a healthy dose of soft celebrity features. But whether it's Redbook and its audience of "Mothers & Shakers" or More's readership base of women aged 40 and up, the editors at these outlets take great pride in knowing their exact reader niche and bristle at any attempt to pitch them as a homogenous entity. "You have to be respectful of the nuances that the editors see in their readers and publications," says Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, VP of the lifestyle trends group at Marina Maher Communications. "When we went to pitch Essence magazine [touting a new hair-care product], we knew it had a high African-American readership, so our spokesperson was smart in speaking specifically to that audience." Most of these magazines have changed with the times, and are now just as likely to offer advice on buying a car, refinancing a home - and, of course, sex - as any men's outlet. Charly Rok, media director with Magnet Communications, says much of this is simply the media's awareness that women's roles are changing. "Women are getting married older," she says. "They're making big purchases, and they're much more likely to be decision-makers than in the past." If there is any shift in the entire women's magazine category in recent years, it's been a subtle move away from the Martha Stewart-driven perception that women have to be perfect in everything they do, from home decorating to raising their children while rising through the workforce. "It's really geared more toward keeping it real for women today," explains Michele Benoit, senior account executive in the Chicago office of Golin/ Harris International. "Whereas the 'Seven Sister' publications used to look at them as not quite so everyday." More room for products and innovations "Right now I see balance as a huge trend," adds Yosco. "You've got magazines such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Organic Living, and Real Simple all focused on that, so it helps if you can showcase the convenience aspects of a product or how it can make life a little bit easier or less stressful." "Before, if you would say 'product,' they would be really closed," adds Benoit, "Now if you can demonstrate how this is an innovative thing, they're much more willing to do stories discussing problems that we all have and solutions for them." The other major trend in women's print outlets is that the publications are now more willing to shake things up through innovative layouts and design. "One role that I've seen increasing, especially on the beauty pages, is the art director," says Stanford-Danuser. "A magazine is a very visual medium. As the competition continues to get steeper and steeper, the instant gratification of having that special look is really playing a role in a lot of decision-making on the editorial side." Not only does this mean that these long-lead outlets are more likely to take their own photography rather than accept art from PR agencies, but Stanford-Danuser adds, "Sometimes they pick products solely on the basis of the color of the packaging. The mascara may be a swipe on the page, the eye shadow is scooped out of the container so you see the powder, or the hair gel is squeezed out. It looks beautiful on the page, but who doesn't want to have their clients' branding out there on the page as opposed to the stuff that's inside the bottle?" Like women's magazines, television programming aimed at women is also on the rise, although Rok points out that it's a lot harder to pitch broadcast than print these days. "Television has changed a lot," says Rok, who represents Barbara K, a new line of tools for women. "I represented Williams-Sonoma in the past, and I could have gotten a Williams-Sonoma representative on TV talking about great ideas for Mother's Day. Now they still do product endorsements, but not individual products. They want outside people who can talk about trends as well as different products." The other challenge with pitching television is that you no longer have to sell only one person. Today, getting a product, service, or even celebrity spokesperson on-air necessitates getting the approval of, first, the producer and then the show's host. "Oprah is a difficult pitch," says Stanford-Danuser. "She literally has to like the product. How many times have you seen Oprah on her show saying, 'I love this and I have to tell you about it.' That's sincere, as her own editorial staff will tell you." Building editorial relationships As for the best strategies for reaching women's outlets, Lauren Swartz, media manager with M. Booth & Associates, notes that the fact that many of the key editor and producers are New York-based means the PR can be up close and personal, moving beyond press releases and phone work, and into a lot more desk-side briefings and events. But, she says, the real key to doing PR for this category is a thorough understanding of not only each publication, but also every writer. "The most important thing is building relationships, and that means being aware of all the columnists within every publication," she says. "So every time I call an editor or columnist, no matter what, I always make sure their magazine and their column is right there in front of me." ----- Where to go Newspapers USA Today; Chicago Tribune; New York Daily News; The Washington Post Magazines Redbook; Ladies' Home Journal; More; Glamour; O, The Oprah Magazine; Cosmopolitan; Better Homes & Gardens; Shape; Midwest Living; Women's Day; Lucky; Lifetime; Oxygen; Good Housekeeping; Marie Claire; Real Simple; Martha Stewart Living; Energy for Women; Complete Woman; Southern Living; InStyle; People; Heart & Soul; Essence Television & Radio Oxygen; WE; Oprah; The View; Live with Regis & Kelly; Today; Good Morning America; CBS' The Early Show; local & regional morning lifestyle programming Internet;

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