Consumer magazines have been slammed in the down economy. Late last week, the Publisher’s Information Bureau said ad pages in the second quarter fell 29.5 percent industry-wide. Through the first half, ad pages were down 27.9 percent.

While the majority of titles saw ad page declines through the first six months, some—10, to be exact—managed gains. Meredith’s 1.5 million-circulation Fitness reported the biggest gain through the period, with ad pages rising 18.4 percent to 408.76.

Fitness publisher Lee Slattery spoke with FOLIO: about how the magazine has managed double-digit growth during such a difficult time for print magazines.

FOLIO:: An 18.4 increase in ad pages is good news for any magazine right now. How did Fitness manage the accomplishment?

SLATTERY: In a few different ways. About a year ago, editor-in-chief Betty Wong came over and made some changes in the magazine, including the creation of several columns that not only reflect what’s happening out there but also help bring in a lot of new business. She also increased the magazine’s beauty coverage—which is at about 15 percent now from about 10 percent previously—which has helped bring in a lot of new beauty business.

Right now, with this economy, people are watching their weight and eating at home more. Betty brought a new energy to the Fitness brands and we’ve received great response from marketers.

FOLIO:: You’ve been with Fitness for about two years. As publisher, what have you done to help grow revenue?

SLATTERY: On the sales side, we hired the best team and have been working to strengthen our relationships with our clients, and we’ve been reaping those benefits. It’s all about relationships, and listening. Also, we’re not just reliant on one category. We’ve seen new clients as well as many pharmaceutical, food and even some automotive clients come back to the magazine.

We also have two events: Our annual Mind, Body, Spirit Games in Central Park and the More/Fitness Marathon + Half Marathon. They broaden awareness about our brand, and we’ve managed to sell sponsorships for both. It means our clients are confident with our brand.

FOLIO:: Why is this category up?

SLATTERY: People are surprised when they find out that only 40 percent of our readers belong to a gym. Sure, people are putting freezes on their gym memberships and canceling their personal trainers. Fitness, though, encourages readers to put on their sneakers and start walking, or run a marathon.

From a sales perspective, I look at where our business is coming from and all of our advertising reflects a woman who has varying needs. There is a resilience in that we’re seeing growth, and new clients, in this kind of environment.

FOLIO:: What has been your biggest challenge through the first half?

SLATTERY: Budgets are all smaller than they were a year ago and its been challenging staying in front of clients and, of course, convince them that we are the brand to invest in. It’s difficult for clients to add new magazines when their budgets are half or a third of what it used to be. We’ve listened well and come back with the right integrated package.

FOLIO:: How is Fitness tracking now and where do you see it by the end of the year?

SLATTERY: September is tracking extremely well—it could be one of the biggest issues we’ve seen in a long time, with a lot of beauty and food and new advertising. It’s tough to say about the rest of the year. We recently brought in two clients to the Mind, Body, Spirit Games in September—event sponsorships and pages in the magazine. That encourages me, gives me new energy that they are able to do that in this economy. I think we’re poised to do pretty well through the rest of the year.

Editor’s Note: Fitness published an additional issue (January) through the first six months in 2009 compared to the same period last year. 

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