MEDIA ROUNDUP: Local flavor of lifestyle outlets draws loyal audience

Even with the ad market slumping, local outlets that focus on lifestyle coverage are thriving, drawing upscale readers. David Ward finds that reaching those audiences involves understanding their local cultures

Even with the ad market slumping, local outlets that focus on lifestyle coverage are thriving, drawing upscale readers. David Ward finds that reaching those audiences involves understanding their local cultures

Just as elected officials are fond of repeating the maxim that "all politics are local," the magazine industry is discovering that all lifestyle may be local as well. Despite the continuing ad slump and increased competition from newspapers intent on beefing up their own local feature sections, city and regional lifestyle magazines are currently thriving. Magazines such as Washingtonian, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have always held a certain cachet on the streets of their respective cities, but now they are being joined by thus-far successful ventures such as New Jersey Monthly and Hudson Valley. Perhaps even more impressive is the stunning growth of major regional outlets such as Southern Living and Midwest Living. "Regionals are one of the categories that are running contrarian right now," says Dan Kaercher, editor-in-chief of Midwest Living magazine, which gets more than 90% of its readership from the 12 Midwestern states. "We just raised our rate base from 815,000 to 850,000, and next year we're looking to go beyond that. Regarding ad pages, our June issue, which is just coming off the presses, is an all-time record breaker." Sticking to lifestyle coverage Most of these magazines offer a mixture of travel, restaurant, entertainment, and nightlife reviews, along with some personality profiles and the occasional local trend story. While some of these outlets - most notably New York - still do quality investigative journalism and analysis, by and large the entire category seems to be increasingly defined by lifestyle. Even business stories tend to be almost glorified photo ops under headlines such as "The city's 40 most influential people under 40, and how they're making a difference." "For the most part, they aren't necessarily tackling heavy issues," notes David Brown, CEO of Albany, NY-based Sawchuk Brown Associates. "It tends to be softer coverage." Stacey Bender, president and creative director of New Jersey-based Bender-Hammerling Group, suggests that one of the reasons these outlets appear to be on the upswing is precisely because they are not primarily devoted to hard news. "Right now, we're in a world where there's so much heavy news, especially since September 11, and that's covered well by newspapers and magazines such as Time and Newsweek," she says. "But people are also looking for some kind of outlet, especially in their own area - fun things to do, fun things to eat, places to go, and people to admire. So I think these magazines have responded by becoming more leisure-oriented." With the exception of, again, New York and possibly Chicago and Los Angeles magazines, most of these city-centric publications appeal to a fairly affluent, if slightly older demographic. Indeed, their national competition is more likely to be Town & Country than Maxim, FHM, and Cosmopolitan. This makes them ideal targets for PR pitches for local services. "Our clients want to be in them because it's an upscale readership, and that's the audience most of them want to attract," explains Lauren Fimbres of San Diego's Drasnin Communications. Many PR people say that local and regional publications tend to be very pitchable, with several major caveats. For one thing, outside of movies, arts/entertainment, and restaurants, they don't do a lot of individual product and service coverage. Local angles for national campaigns The second exception is that most don't respond favorably to a generic national pitch. "They're very accessible, but they really expect a PR person to find a local angle," says Bridget Brennan, SVP with the Chicago office of PR21, whose clients include Jose Cuervo tequila. "You may be able to position your product as a trend from another market, but you better find someone - either a person or a restaurant or store - from their city who's either using or carrying it." By and large, most of the city-centric magazines don't have large staffs, so they are using freelancers more and more, says Brown. That and the fact that such outlets tend to have fairly long lead times can make designing a national campaign that focuses on city-centric magazines a very labor-intensive undertaking. Brown argues that in many campaigns, these magazines may not be worth the man-hours it will take to reach them all. "They have such a narrow focus, in part because it's geographic but also because it's a small segment of older, well-established, financially well-off segment within that region," he says. "So even if you hit all these magazines, you'd still be reaching a fairly small segment of the total audience that you wanted to reach." Bill Daddi, SVP and head of the national consumer practice at Magnet Communications, agrees that crafting a national campaign targeting these regional and city-centric outlets is very time consuming, but insists, "The return on investment is well worthwhile. All marketing, including public relations, is tending to be more local because people don't want to buy into a lifestyle. They want the brand to buy into them. So anything that enhances the local nature of the product is important." As for good strategies for reaching these outlets, most PR people need to take the time and not only read the magazine, but understand, if possible, the local culture. "I still can't believe the number of PR inquiries I get that have absolutely no connection to Midwest Living or the Midwest," says Kaercher. "Forget the geography part - often it's a subject we've never ever covered in our magazine. The things we write about don't have to be made in the Midwest, but there has to be a connection somewhere." The ideal situation, of course, is if the PR agency and the client are located in the same geographic area as the magazine. "If there's something that's in your backyard, then the best strategy is to go out and meet the reporters and editors, either by taking them to lunch or trying to set up a face-to-face," says Drasnin Communications' Fimbres. "If it's something that's not nearby, then you have to familiarize yourself with the reporters and their beats so when you call you know exactly what they'll be interested in." Beyond local magazines There is some debate whether city and regional magazines have an equivalent in other mediums, although it can be argued that the local morning lifestyle television programs probably come the closest. At one point a few years ago, web ventures such as Microsoft's Sidewalk.com tried to capture some of this audience through a mixture of listings, reviews, and original editorial content. While the dot-com slump has closed most of these efforts, Fimbres says that there are still some opportunities through the online sites run by newspapers such as the San Diego Union-Tribune. And despite the proliferation of nationally syndicated talk shows, Fimbres also adds that there are still outlets for localized lifestyle pitches on radio, especially on the affiliates of National Public Radio. Kaercher says city and especially regional magazines should continue to thrive, especially over the short-term. "In times like this, when things are uncertain, people tend to pull in closer to home, hearth, and family, and that's what you get with regionals," he says. "And in a practical sense, it means most people are taking more shorter road trips by car instead of vacations to Europe, and that's where most our travel coverage is focused." ----- Where to go Magazines New York; Washingtonian; Los Angeles Magazine; Hour Detroit; Indianapolis Monthly; San Diego Magazine; New Jersey Monthly; Chicago Magazine; Miami; Midwest Living; Southern Living; Gold Coast; Ocean Drive; Time Out New York TV & Radio City and regional morning lifestyle television programming; NPR Internet Chicago-scene.com; DailyCandy.com; Timeout.com; Citysearch.com; SignonSanDiego.com (and other websites affiliated with local print newspapers/magazines)

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