When BBC Magazines announced this month that its 13-month-old publication BBC Parenting had released its last issue due to 'disappointing' circulation figures, it could have been seen as a clear signal that the sector should be given a wide berth for the foreseeable future.
Not, however, for charity NSPCC, which has teamed up with Redwood Publishing to produce Your Family, a quarterly free magazine. Launching next spring, it has struck a distribution deal with Woolworths, giving it a potential circulation of 800,000.
But while sales of BBC Parenting were 'not at a level to sustain profit' according to a spokeswoman for the magazine, the NSPCC hopes Your Family's free status will secure its longevity. What is more, BBC Parenting ex-deputy editor Susannah Pearce has been hired to edit the title.
'With the massive increase in parenting programmes on TV and the Government's focus on family, the parenting market is only going to become more mainstream,' Pearce argues. 'Your Family will be successful, especially as we are avoiding the pressures of the newsstand.'
Getting messages to parents
According to NSPCC communications director John Grounds, the magazine will create an outlet to better reach its target audience of parents.
He says: 'Your Family will put in a consumer environment something the NSPCC has been doing for a long time - getting information to parents and targeting them through campaigns.'
But while the magazine will give the charity a chance to get its key messages and information out to parents - there will be a donations page and articles will point readers towards NSPCC literature where relevant - Grounds is adamant it will not preach, but be positioned like a consumer title, with articles on products and lifestyle.
It will cover issues from pregnancy to parenting children up to six years old. A 'Family Time' section will contain product and toy reviews, as well as fashion and ideas for days out.
Your Family will come up against IPC Media's monthly Practical Parenting, which has an ABC circulation of 47,216 and is aimed at 'mums with kids aged nought to five'. Other magazines in the sector cater for mothers-to-be. Emap Esprit's Mother and Baby and Pregnancy and Birth have circulations of 90,864 and 56,205 respectively.
NatMag's Prima Baby shifts 48,137 copies and Highbury House Communications' Pregnancy has a circulation of 30,158.
Prima Baby editor Julia Goodwin believes Your Family may suffer from being too broad and not focused sufficiently on pregnancy. 'BBC Parenting focused on the slightly older age range of two years old and upwards, and I don't think any magazine has succeeded in capturing that more general parenting market,' she says.
For PROs, the sheer size of Your Family's estimated circulation is likely to make it a must for coverage. When it comes to targeting the various titles, Rare Communications MD Louise Drabwell, whose work has included promoting animation firm Nelvana and The Society of London Theatre's Kids Week, says it is particularly important to understand a parenting magazine's calendar, given its audience.
Getting in the magazines
'Most of the monthlies work three months in advance so you have to be able to plan ahead,' Drabwell says. Specific periods to plan for include half-term holiday features in February, Christmas-toy articles in November and travel-accessory articles in July.
Goodwin adds that personal targeting by PROs is crucial, whether by phone or email, rather than through a 'scattergun approach'. She says: 'Offering to come in and give us a demonstration or discuss how you can help us over lunch goes a long way.' Pearce adds: 'I find the PROs who ring to discuss what would be appropriate for the magazine are the most successful.'
Another key to successfully targeting the sector is to understand how it has changed. Pregnancy deputy editor Tessa Taylor says: 'Pregnancy is more public now. More photographs of celebrities being pregnant are appearing across the media.' As a result, magazines such as Pregnancy, which re-launched in July, have adapted to this cultural change with articles including style tips by celebrities.
But Taylor says this does not mean that practical advice and meatier topics such as childcare legislation have fallen by the wayside, with both featuring extensively in the magazine.
Sonya Corrigan, account director at Attenborough Associates, which handles PR for baby-product firm Maclaren, says the sector is important as it targets readers at a significant life-stage. 'It is not until you are about to become a parent that you read them,' she says. 'Then, what they say becomes very important to you.'