Parade’s Teen Magazine Web Strategy

By: Steve Outing

Parade, the magazine that gets inserted by hundreds of Sunday newspapers, boasts a readership of 36 million. Its 3-year-old affiliated magazine targeting teen-agers, called react (yes, with a lower-case “r”), has a readership of a “mere” 3.6 million. Parade doesn’t have much of a Web site yet; what’s at parade.com is nothing more than a promotional Web page for the magazine and a Marilyn vos Savant “brain teaser.” Parade’s serious Web work is being done with react.

Given that the promotional power of a 36 million-reader magazine certainly could enpower a successful, full-fledged Web site, it seems odd that Parade, which is owned by Advance Publications, would be so slow to take advantage of the Web. But instead, the company decided three years ago to put its online effort into react, since its teen audience is known to be more Internet-savvy than Parade’s older demographic. When that Sunday teen supplement launched in late 1995, a react Web site was part of the new service. From day one, the operation has integrated print and online publications, and indeed used the Web site as a stand-alone brand for those teens who live in areas where the magazine is not distributed.

Parade recently hired a new director of new media: Susan Mernit, who moved over from another Advance property, New Jersey Online. While a Parade online strategy is clearly on her radar screen, Mernit isn’t ready to talk about it yet and plans to focus initially on react’s Web site, which currently is serving around 1 million pageviews a month, in order to increase traffic to that site and boost ad sales.

Teen community

react.com, like the magazine, is geared toward the 12-to-17-year-old set. The focus of the site is to create a community for teens, where they can talk to each other and contribute feedback, take part in polls, and offer content to the site. The magazine and Web site feed off each other, with the print edition frequently referencing content on the Web site and vice versa. react editor Lee Kravitz says that much of the magazine’s content comes from teen readers interacting with the Web site. An online feature might ask for teen opinions or experiences on an issue — for example, teen-agers’ most embarrassing moments — and those user contributions may end up as parts of an article.

In a departure from most Web sites associated with successful print publications, react’s site contains about 90% original content; less than 10% of what the site publishes is repurposed from the magazine, says Mernit. An editorial staff of five runs the site, utilizing freelance writers and contributions from teens themselves and educators.

The site is heavily interactive. “We’re always asking kids, ‘What do you think?'” says Kravitz. A typical week brings in several hundred e-mail responses to questions and contributions by teens. One of the most popular features of the site is called “The Rank Section,” which lets teens rank how they feel about various things — from favorite computer games to “Is it OK to date more than one person?”

react.com is designed to be a stand-alone brand not dependent on its sister print publication, reaching those teens who live in areas where react is not offered by their local newspapers. Some 184 newspapers carry the magazine in their Sunday editions. Mernit says that next year the company will start a more concerted push to get teen online users to visit react.com, with more promotion outside the magazine, such as purchasing keywords on Web search engines.

The online division is in the process of hiring three new ad sales people to market react.com, bringing the total online staff to nine. Web site ads have been handled by the print side’s advertising department, which has had some success with selling online campaigns to companies like Bonne Bell cosmetics, Nestle, CollegeQuest college guides and Commemorative Memories school rings.

The site also has a “Mall” area, which is mostly empty, but Mernit thinks the concept for a teen audience holds promise and the ad staff will focus on selling it in the coming months. And a gaming section will launch soon that includes a contest element where the site will give away 25 computer games a week. Mernit says the ad sales staff has been getting good results in selling around that.

The site’s primary competition for teens’ attention includes big-name brands’ Web sites like MTV, Seventeen magazine, Comedy Central, etc. But Mernit says that react.com is quite different from such sites in that it is committed to combining entertainment with educational material. react in print is distributed by 172 newspapers into about 17,000 classrooms and reaching 650,000 students, as part of the Newspapers In Education (NIE) initiative. A teachers’ guide is part of the package, which instructs educators on how to use both the magazine and the Web site in the classroom.

Not all fun and games

Kravitz explains that the site and magazine keep a balance between what’s fun — an absolute necessity to keep teens’ attention — and offering useful and intelligent content. An upcoming issue will deal with human rights, but alongside it might be a feature about hip-hop music. Middle and high school teachers also are encouraged to take part, with a just launched react educators site, offering such content as printable current-events quizzes. Materials posted on the teachers’ site are coordinated to match weekly print classroom guides distributed by NIE coordinators at newspapers participating in the react NIE program.

react/Parade also is co-sponsoring what it calls the Take Action Awards, which doles out $600,000 in scholarships and prizes to be awarded to 25 teens who are “taking action in their communities and the world.”

The react Web site is proving to be beneficial to the magazine in promoting the print edition. Kravitz says his editors regularly get e-mail messages from Web users of react.com asking how to get the magazine they read about on the Web but don’t receive because they don’t subscribe to a newspaper or their local paper doesn’t carry react. Those teens are sent e-mail telling them if a local paper carries the magazine, which results in a few new print subscriptions, or the queries are useful in encouraging publishers who don’t buy react for their Sunday editions to consider it.

Contacts: Lee Kravitz, lkravitz@react.com
Susan Mernit, smernit@react.com

Web index example

In my last column about Web indexing, there was a bad link to one of the examples of a Web index. Here’s the correct link: Florida Internet Center for Understanding Sustainability

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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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