The September issues of women’s magazines have long been synonymous with endless pages of fashion ads. Women’s Health, on the other hand, used its September issue to celebrate the naked body — and beauty and skin-care brands followed.
Though the issue is Women’s Health’s inaugural “Naked Issue” in the U.S., the U.K. has been publishing the annual edition since 2014. The Rodale-owned publication has since been expanding the concept globally to each of its 30 markets. In addition to framing stories around the magazine’s existing focus on body positivity, Women’s Health focused content on features like skin and hair, which worked to draw both former and new brands, said Laura Frerer-Schmidt, publisher and managing director of Women’s Health. (It doesn’t hurt that the issue features a number of celebrities and athletes in the buff, including Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer and cover star Sofia Vergara.)
“From a business perspective, so many of our advertisers are really focused on ‘permanent accessories,’” she said. “Skin is our No. 1 focus in the beauty category, followed by hair, both being a huge part of a woman’s look and how she feels about herself. They really came into the spotlight for this issue.”
Women’s Health’s current advertisers largely hail from the beauty, pharmaceutical and food categories, according to Frerer-Schmidt. While she couldn’t disclose numbers, she said that ad spend was higher than last year’s September issue, across print, digital, and social.
Procter & Gamble has long been the magazine’s top spending advertiser, given its expansive portfolio of beauty products and consumer packaged goods that are particularly fitting to the readership. Frerer-Schmidt said the editorial team’s increased focus on content pertaining to self image and body confidence has drawn even more business from P&G in recent months. In addition to buying traditional ad placements for brands including Olay, P&G collaborated with Women’s Health on a custom Head & Shoulders advertisement tied directly to the September issue. It was featured in print and online, as well as on the publication’s social channels.
Amy Keller Laird, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health, said the concept of nakedness permeated through the issue, including in a story on “stripped-down” recipes, featuring dishes with fewer, fresher ingredients. This approach helped attract advertisers like Panera, which recently overhauled its menu with a focus on non-GMO, bare ingredients.
With so much skin on display, Frerer-Schmidt said the issue also attracted new pharmaceutical advertisers offering dermatological treatments for everything from acne to psoriasis. In addition, it opened up partnerships with brands like skin-care companies Eucerin and Lumene.
She said that, for advertisers, part of the draw to Rodale — in comparison to competitors like Condé Nast or Hearst — is the company is fully integrated across its print, digital and social media teams. As a result, it’s easier to streamline advertising processes, which advertisers value.
“That’s just not true of most media companies. Some of the brands at the big houses are just becoming integrated,” she said. “We are a lean team of 20 or so people who do it all.”
Keller Laird said reception to the issue on both the editorial and business side has been largely positive.
“For us, we have been trying to stay ahead of the body positivity movement and how women seek inclusivity,” she said. “We want to be owning the conversation, so it felt like the right time. Our whole point is that everyone has an opinion about a woman’s body, but the only one that matters is her own. We want to let women take control of the conversation.”