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Magazine Creates a Brand For Women Who Work. Yay! (mebbe not)

By Guest Blogger Mary Schmidt, Marketing Troubleshooter 

Adco1-articleInline(Title of NYT article, 10/17/11) 

Yay! Us!  But, hey on second look...The target reader is age 24-34.  And, it's all about fashion...and Katie Holmes is on the cover...with an exclusive "Behind The Scenes at Katie's Day Job." Oh. Well. 'Cuse me. Gotta go soak my teeth and re-read my classic CYA memo files from my glory days in Big, Bad Corporate America. 

Contrary to what some regular readers may think, I'm not anti-fashion or opposed to looking good, regardless of age. I am anti-looking dumb and spending obscene amounts of money on labels...and, really NOBODY over size 4 should wear some things. But I digress. 

Back to the article re Marie Claire @work.  It's a supplement devoted to working women. All well and good.  Who doesn't work these days? (Sometimes at more than one job.) And, as noted in the article, 87% of Marie Claire readers work.

So, why am I'm doing my cranky eye roll?

Because the focus seems to be ALL on externals.  

Style Yourself To The Top! BYE-BYE to shoulder pads. HELLO Fab Dresses, Power Bags, Sexy Shoes, Bold Basics.  

Oh. Dear. Shoulder pads went out decades ago.  (I also wore some ab-fab dresses back in my big bad Corporate days.) Even the readers' moms don't wear them anymore. *Sigh* So, why shoulder pads? To not-so-subtly differentiate from the momsters, you silly girl! The EVP of Express notes, "[email protected] seemed to be targeting that exact same girl we were interested in," she added, a shopper who wants to to "look professional" when dressing for work but not look like her mom in a suit." 

Ouch! Burnnnn. Never mind that I'd bet that at least one or two of those 57 secrets from successful women touted on the cover come from - um - a mom in a suit (perhaps a $3K Versace ensemble, but still a suit.)  

I also wince at the use of the word "girl." Really, if you're 24-34 and on a career track...or even working the grinding, miserable night shift at an urban Mickey D's...aren't you a woman already?  

By all means, Marie Claire and Express, let's keep encouraging the old white guys (still) at the top of Corporate America to think of us femmes as "girls."  And, girls, if you really want to impress the CEO (who may actually be a mom in a suit) leave this 'zine out on your desk...

Of course, this focus on surface, surface, surface isn't surprising since its primary sponsor (and sole one of the digital edition) is Express.  However, don't we already have enough fashion media?  Even Better Homes and Gardens has what I think is a pretty good section every month, with actual working women featured.  Nary a shoulder pad in sight.

Which brings me to my next eye-rollin' point.  Katie Holmes may be a wonderful woman and a terrific mom. She and Tom Cruise may in reality be a blissfully happy couple. I hope they are.  But I can't see how her day job is even remotely like that of the typical 24-34 working woman.  (I rode a private jet a time or two in my career, but it wasn't owned by my husband...and I wasn't hopping between New York and Paris to shop.) 

What people really want to know, in their petty little hearts of hearts, from Ms. Holmes is: Did you sign a marriage contract with him? Was one of the conditions having at least one baby? How much do you get in the pre-nup?  Is Tom as nutty and controlling as some tabloids say?  

See? Nothing about her day job (which is - no matter how wonderful she may be - being the wife of a mega-wealthy celebrity, mom to his daughter...and occasionally taking an acting job.) 

But enough of my pick-pick-picking on a advertising supplement that will be forgotten about two minutes after it hits the mailboxes.  

What do I think should be covered in a supplement for young working women? Here's a sample. 

Forget everything you learned in B-school. (Could be a series, with a whole article devoted to marketing classes.)

Spreadsheets aren't customers. 

Basic business writing.  Yes! really! In complete sentences! Lose the exclamation points!   (Yeah. Boring. But I've worked with any number of young people, with high-dollar degrees, who could barely put noun next to verb. How they graduated is a marvel to me.)   

How to write a killer CYA memo. (Like it or not, politics are a reality in any job. Learn to deal and deal well.) 

Living and working happily in your cubicle.  (Sorry, young grads, but you probably aren't going to get a corner office...or even a wall for a few years.) 

Your mentor may not be your friend. (Mentors aren't always a good idea anyway. See above re politics.) 

Pantyhose - not always a bad idea. (Recently, I sat through a presentation by an otherwise impressive, accomplished young woman.  But I was so distracted by her glaringly fish-belly white NAKED legs, in a short skirt, perched on sky-high stilettos, natch...I had a hard time listening. She looked so COLD and so - well - NAKED.)  

Of course, nobody would probably actually buy such a magazine. Reality. It's so boring and icky.  

As much as I've ragged on Marie Claire here, shoe companies need to sell shoes. Most women like to buy them. Cosmetics are a pretty good idea for pretty much everyone. Clothes are fun, even for cranky oldsters like me (I bought this divine hand-painted jacket in Portland, at the airport!)

Surface does matter.  But, it can't all be about surface. Yet, that's where most marketing focuses - ad nauseum advertising.  Even breast cancer often appears reduced to pink ribbons, cute teddy bears, and - for this month only! - pink products! With lots and lots of photos of perky, happy cancer survivors! (Yeah, if I had cancer, I'd do my best to be positive, but c'mon.) How much pink can you throw at people before they simply stop seeing it?

Hmmm...so could this explain why most ad (nauseum) agencies are so out of touch with marketing to women realities? 

"...in an offbeat effort to promote the arrival of Marie [email protected], there are plans this week to send sponsored manicurists into the offices of 10 leading agencies in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco." 

Surely not. After all, as the VP, publisher and chief revenue officer for MC and [email protected] notes,

"When I have a meeting at an advertising agency, the majority of people sitting at the conference table are women." 

All with to-die-for manicures I'm sure...;-) 

I dunno. Maybe if the focus was less on advertising and more on marketing...think about it. 

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