'Where we've gone, others will follow'

With
the look of a women’s weekly, Susannah Pearce’s new free parenting
title aims to subtly convey the NSPCC’s message with positive advice.
Alyson Fixter reports

WHEN SUSANNAH Pearce lost
her job as deputy editor of BBC Parenting magazine after the title
folded last autumn, it seemed a bad time for anyone involved in baby
magazines.

The closure of BBC Parenting after only 13 months, due to
“disappointing sales”, was just one of several signs that parents
weren’t interested in the magazines on offer.

IPC’s Practical
Parenting, which had a circulation high of 80,000 in 1999, was being
forced to revamp after average monthly sales fell to 47,000, while
Highbury was merging two of its titles – Baby & You and Pregnancy –
in an attempt to consolidate readership.

But for Pearce, whose
whole career has been in parenting titles, the closure opened the way
for a new project she believes could revitalise the whole parenting
market.

Now at contract publisher Redwood, she is editor of Your
Family, a free quarterly magazine produced for the NSPCC, which has a
distribution of 800,000 copies – ten times higher than the circulation
of the paid-for market leader, Emap’s Mother And Baby.

With a
glossy pile of the first issue fresh from the printers in front of her,
she is as proud as any new mum. “I think we’ve cracked it!” she says.
“I think that where we’ve gone, other magazines will follow.”

Your Family is a bit of a child prodigy in two ways.

It’s
the first magazine produced by a charity to be picked up on the
newsstand, as the NSPCC has set up a deal with Woolworths stores to
distribute it free to shoppers. And it is very different, Pearce says,
from the traditional parenting magazine. With a look and feel like the
women’s celebrity and true life weeklies, bitesize sections and an
interview with celebrity mum Gail Porter, it is intended to be breezed
through like any other consumer title.

“You don’t want to analyse
the theory of every expert,” Pearce explains. “That’s where most
parenting magazines are really missing a trick.

“We’ve packaged
it in a completely different way to the other titles. It’s much more
mass market, it’s easier to read, with a fun, positive approach. You
can dip in and dip out, because no one’s got time to sit and read a
long feature.

“There’s a really good mix of celebrity and real
life and the use of colour breaks it up more. We’ve got real life
stories, so readers can see what other families are going through,
backing it up with quick tips that really work.”

The tone of Your
Family is not what you would expect from the NSPCC, whose “Full Stop”
antichild abuse ads seem intended to shock and warn off at the same
time. And the charity is keen to distance the magazine from other
aspects of the NSPCC’s remit, even refusing Press Gazette permission to
use a “Full Stop” ad in a story about Your Family.

The charity’s
communications director, John Grounds, stresses the absence of
finger-wagging. “The articles aim to promote the NSPCC’s messages on
positive parenting,” he says, “and so would not give support to any
positions the charity was opposed to, for example in support of rigid
and controlling child rearing practices. But the NSPCC is no more
telling parents what to do [through Your Family] than any magazine
tells its readers what to do.

MAGAZINES ‘Where we’ve gone, others will follow’ “It
is not prescriptive and parents are obviously free to follow the advice
as they would with any other magazine. Your Family is an important part
of our long term strategy of supporting parents.”

This aim of
prevention rather than cure is obvious throughout issue one, which
includes a feature called “My child was a bully”, an article on how to
raise happy children and an attempt to explain how a toddler’s mind
works, as part of dealing with tantrums.

“A lot of people are desperate for advice,” says Pearce, “and in a format that’s nice to read, not some heavyweight tome.

“Our research showed that parents of four to sixyear- olds feel there’s a lack of information out there.

It’s
the age that everyone seems to think parents can just cope with, but
actually it’s often very difficult because you’re going back to work or
having more brothers or sisters, changing the dynamic of the family.

“Because
the NSPCC is a charity, readers know they can trust the advice that’s
in it. We’ve been really careful to pick experts who are properly
qualified and also have children themselves.”

According to
Grounds, the charity had no qualms about launching a parenting magazine
at a time when other paid-for titles were struggling. “The first
priority for commercial magazines is sales but this is not an issue for
Your Family, where the priority is content and reaching as many parents
as possible,” he says.

“The magazine will enable us to deliver
messages about positive parenting to a large number of parents, helping
them to better understand their children’s behaviour and emotional
needs.”

The magazine’s first cover star, Gail Porter, who also
featured on the cover of recent true life launch Full House, embodies
the combination of mass market appeal and genuine advice that the title
is aiming for.

Pearce says Porter was always first choice for the
cover. “There is a fantastic demand for celeb news,” she says, “but we
wanted a celeb who actually had a story to tell. She’s had terrible
post-natal depression and struggled with anorexia for years, and she
talked about trying to take one day at a time.

“So many magazines
play on all the things that are bad and it can all seem really
overwhelming, but we want to remind parents you have some bad days but
more good.

“Our bullying feature is about one woman whose child
was bullied and another whose child was the bully, who was mortified
when she found out. It’s saying that this has happened to other parents
and you can deal with it.”

The magazine, which expects to break
even through carefully-chosen advertising, is out in Woolworths stores
now, and initial response to the new arrival, according to the NSPCC,
has been “very positive”, with many stores requesting more copies
because the pick-up rate has been so high.

No wonder the parents are so proud.

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