Trade Talk: Research aids children’s magazine

How Magic Window used research to improve its marketing toward children.

Author: Quirk’s Managing Editor Beth Hoffman

Jerry Hoffman, president of J-Publishing Co., Minneapolis, has been a writer and publisher for 28 years. After working as a newspaper columnist for several different publications, Hoffman launched several national publications; Snowmobile Times, Product News, Recreational Vehicle Business and Snow Week, a tabloid newspaper that was sold in 1977.

In an age of specialized magazines, Jerry Hoffman has become a “something for everyone” children’s magazine publisher. At a time when all avenues of circulating a children’s publication have supposedly been explored, Hoffman has unmasked the unexplored.

Hoffman’s unique approach with Magic Window, a new general interest, monthly magazine aimed at children aged 6-12 may make Hoffman a trend setter in magazine publishing.

What sets Magic Window apart from other children’s titles like Ranger RickBoy’s Life and Sesame Street is that its editorial content offers variety for kids of all learning abilities.

“We’re not a one-dimensional publication,” says Hoffman, who’s been in magazine publishing for nearly 30 years. “We also appeal to the slow learner as well as to the advanced and avid reader.”

His circulation approach is some-what one-of-a-kind as well. While other magazines maintain what Hoffman says is “children’s-books-be-long-in-the-bookstore” mentality, he opts for more broad-based circulation. Along with bookstores and subscriptions, Hoffman is selling Magic Window in supermarkets, drug stores and newsstands. The first three issues were distributed to Minnesota residents and national distribution is slated for July, 1987.

Market research

Hoffman says 20 months of market research went into developing the magazine which debuted with the January/February, 1987 issue. He started out by studying the competition, approximately 21 specialized nationally distributed children’s publications. Hoffman found them to be largely “single and dimensional, primarily non-profit or controlled and sold primarily in bookstores.”

Says Hoffman, “There’s no creativity or risk-taking involved in these publications. Few of the magazines on the market are all-encompassing or provide children with a variety of topics to read about.”

The others also feature a heavy emphasis on graphics, Hoffman claims. Currently, Hoffman is running 50% graphics and 50% text with the ideal being 60% and 40% respectively. Both formats, however, encourage more reading, exactly what educators, parents and librarians want to see, he says.

Theme and format

Hoffman spent time asking librarians, analysts, book buyers and educators what they thought would be an ideal children’s magazine. Through these discussions, Hoffman decided to adopt a fun, entertaining but educational theme for his publication. Social issues, such as politics and alcohol, drug or child abuse would be avoided. Hoffman also decided to go with a 5 by 7 in. digest format, a decision made without consulting his experts and which he says was a “complete risk.” The “small book for small hands” can then fit nicely into a child’s knapsack or coat pocket.

Subscriber phone calls

After the first issue mailed in December, 1986, Hoffman received 100 reader subscription cards. Over a three day period, these subscribers, both children and parents, were called by Hoffman’s own staff to find out what they thought about the magazine and suggestions they had for future issues.

Approximately 5,000 media buyers from the St. Paul school district and 7,000 from the Minneapolis school district were also asked to critique the issue.

Out of the 100 subscribers, 75 were contacted. Overall, the reaction to the magazine was very positive and only two said they didn’t like it. The complaints about the magazine were that it was too small and didn’t lay flat due to its hard-bound stitching.

Display advertising

During this period, Hoffman was also interviewing other purchasers of Magic Window to get their input on his display advertising idea.

Beginning with the July, 1987 issue, Hoffman wants to run single category advertisers who might also involved in the distribution of the magazine because of a personal tie-in.

Twelve different advertising categories have been set up such as toys, computers, fast foods, sports equipment and health. In return for a specified number of pages of advertising, an advertiser would enjoy the option to accept copies for their own marketing, advertising and distribution. Each advertiser contract is tentatively scheduled for six months.

Hoffman interviewed 50 individuals he stopped outside of supermarkets, drug stores and bookstores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area who had purchased the premier issue. Approximately 80% of the individuals were women. Hoffman showed them the list of advertising categories and asked if they would be offended if the magazine issues carried any advertising based on those categories.

About 10-15% said they would not like to see any soft drink ads. Other beverage ads such as milk were fine, and dental ads, another category included, was also favored.

Hoffman also spoke with librarians about the advertising concept. They said they would not want any advertising of a controversial nature, ads which could be potentially dangerous to a child’s health or ads which may be harmful to a child’s psyche. They were also uncomfortable with fast food advertisers but favored a computer advertiser because of the tool’s learning potential. Through these personal interviews, Hoffman hoped to accomplish a very important objective.

“Before we accept any advertising, we’ll want to be absolutely certain that we’re serving the best interest of the reader. They are the people we have to impress.”

For this reason, Hoffman plans to initiate direct-mail questionnaires to get reader comments, suggestions and requests for future issues. Additionally, Hoffman will continue to get input from educators, librarians and advertisers.

Hoffman believes that lack of reader input combined with poor marketing and distribution are areas where many publications fall short.

“Too many people who start a magazine don’t do any marketing surveys once they’ve become established,” says Hoffman. “Instead they maintain a ‘public-be-damned’ attitude. But the fact is you’re not doing enough by just putting a magazine on the newsstands and crossing your fingers hoping it will sell.”

CMS, Clemenger Media Sales, Clemenger sales wants to help you understand how to maximise your advertising and marketing ROI..

The above article; the following hyperlink are to help you with your media buying. CMS / Clemenger wants to help you with your advertising and marketing; your content marketing; your PR (we develop media partnerships / media sponsorship for you; so you can own your target market – more here:-