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One Smart Cookie

Carolyn Kremins, Advertising and Communications ’83, brings publishing expertise to a parenting magazine
By Alexander Gelfand

Ask Carolyn Kremins, vice president and publisher of Cookie, Condé Nast’s lifestyle magazine for moms, about the publication’s audience, and you won’t get statistics, impressive though they are. (Median age, 35.3, median household income, $80,616: precisely the kind of demographic that advertisers love.) Instead, you’ll get a detailed portrait of a mother you might actually recognize—and one that Kremins knows intimately.

“She had kids later in life,” says Kremins, herself the mother of two young daughters. “She wants to be beautiful. The magazine is about all the stuff she loves but no longer has time for—fashion, travel, beauty, food.”

Before Cookie’s launch in 2005, most magazines aimed at mothers offered practical information on child-rearing (sibling rivalry, potty training). Cookie was different: a lifestyle magazine that treated mothers like women who also happened to have kids. A recent issue featured actress Salma Hayek on the cover and included articles on sexy weekend-getaway clothing and a 15-minute makeover that let a “style-starved mother of two” remember what it felt like to be “the only babe in the room.”

Since taking the managerial reins in 2007, Kremins has helped increase circulation by 67 percent, and in 2008—an annus horribilis for magazine publishing—ad-page counts were up ten percent, and Cookie was number one on Adweek’s “Hot List” of consumer magazines. Not bad, considering other titles were enduring layoffs or shutting down; but not surprising, either, given Kremins’s history.

In 1996, while serving as advertising director for Bon Appétit, Kremins helped Britain’s Dennis Publishing launch the American version of Maxim. Translating the quintessential British “lad mag” into a product for American advertisers was not an obvious assignment for a woman who was once the beauty director at Elle and House and Garden, but Kremins saw an opportunity.

None of the younger men she knew actually read the more staid men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire, and Maxim’s irreverent style filled an unsatisfied need. “The currency between men is humor,” she says, and Maxim was funny, with a libidinous outlook that never quite crossed the line into porn. “Some women would be offended by it, but I thought it was hysterical,” she says. A lot of men agreed, and before long, Kremins was group publisher of Maxim, Maxim Fashion, and Maxim Online.

In 2002, when Maxim was number one on the Hot List, Dennis asked Kremins to run The Week, a compendium of stories culled from newspapers around the world. Launched in the U.S. in 2001, The Week hadn’t yet found its legs in the American market, and Kremins believed that it suffered from an image problem. “As an editorial product, The Week was perfect,” she says. “But the way it was marketed didn’t do it justice. Most people thought of it as Cliffs Notes.” So she repositioned it as a newsweekly with added value: “We likened it to a presidential briefing. That’s how we elevated the brand,” she explains. By 2006, it too had leapt to the top of the Hot List.

Kremins’s role at The Week exemplifies her view that a publisher should be primarily concerned with branding, marketing, and most important, raising revenue. Magazines depend on advertising: Subscriptions and newsstand sales are secondary and serve chiefly to attract advertisers through circulation numbers.

Sometimes, the line between publisher and editor may blur, especially when both are trying to define the publication and find its ideal audience. “The editor has the ultimate choice about what goes in the magazine,” Kremins says. “But we are all business people, and you want to have a successful business.” When working on the launches of Maxim and Cookie, Kremins says, she and the editors worked as a team: While they conducted focus groups to find out what readers thought, she polled advertisers. “Why should advertisers pay money to be in your magazine? The publisher has to package the concept and market the magazine in a way that is attractive to them,” Kremins says. “There’s a huge responsibility for the publisher to build up the revenue stream.”

If that sounds a lot like sales, it is. And Kremins knows how to sell.

She came to FIT in 1982 to complete a special four-year program that earned her a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oneonta and an associate’s degree in Advertising and Communications from FIT. Growing up on Long Island, she had dreamed of working as an account executive on Madison Avenue. But a stint in the media department at Foote Cone and Belden persuaded her that the life of an ad exec wasn’t for her—and that sales might be more fun. “I always had the sales people coming in, and they seemed so happy,” she says. So she co-founded the New York sales office of Shape, selling ads for the fitness magazine out of an apartment at Madison and 31st. Four years later, she was beauty director for Elle, responsible for every piece of beauty advertising in the magazine. When Condé Nast offered her the same position at House and Garden in 1997, she didn’t hesitate. “It’s like the Ivy League of publishing,” she says of her current employer. When HG folded seven months later, Kremins landed her first management position as advertising director at Bon Appétit, a position that served as finishing school for her subsequent career in publishing. “When I got my first management gig, that was different,” she says. “You then have to learn the full trade.”

For a publisher, the “full trade” includes the day-to-day task of overseeing ad sales around the country, along with broader issues like helping your publication find its audience.

When she joined Cookie in 2007, it was “almost a W magazine for moms,” with a “niche, Madison Avenue focus.” Kremins and editor Pilar Guzman sought to cultivate a larger audience by broadening the range of products that the magazine covered to include both budget and upscale brands—or as Kremins says, from Target to Prada. Kremins also initiated Word of Mom, a “credentialing program” that allows readers to vote online for their favorite products and services, with winners receiving a Readers’ Choice seal that marketers can include in their advertising. Readers get to feel that they are part of a community whose opinions matter, and advertisers get a powerful sales tool.

That approach helped secure Cookie a position in Adweek’s “10 Under 60 List” for 2009, which recognizes the top magazines with under $60 million in annual revenue—this at a time when most publications are being pummeled by a serious recession and a paradigm shift away from print and toward online media.

Kremins believes that Cookie has fared relatively well in part because it carries such a broad range of advertising; magazines dedicated to homes or finance, for example, have collapsed along with those sectors. It also benefits from a website replete with online shopping opportunities and social networking tools (the magazine has its own Facebook and Twitter presence), one that complements rather than cannibalizes its print offering. According to Kremins, ads in the print magazine drive online shopping activity through the site—a good example of synergy.

As a result, this serial entrepreneur continues to believe in the future of pulp and paper. “A lot of people say that print is dead,” she says. “Honestly, it’s not.”

Given her track record, it’s tempting to give her the benefit of the doubt.

 

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