Special Report: Epicurean Upstart Tempts Readers

With a personality as popular AS TV cooking guru Rachael Ray behind a new magazine, one might assume that the launch would be a slam dunk. But Every Day With Rachael Ray publisher Christine Guilfoyle has a confession to make.

“Coming here, I didn’t know who Rachael was,” she admits. “I had never heard of her, and neither had 40 percent of the people I called on in the first couple of months.

“A lot of people take the current success of Rachael Ray and extrapolate that into our past,” continues Guilfoyle, a veteran of Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens, Time Inc.’s People and Gemstar-TV Guide International’s TV Guide. But, as with most magazine startups, the learning curve for its publisher, the Reader’s Digest Association, was reasonably steep.

At the outset, many advertisers were all too familiar with the perils of other personality-driven magazines like Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s Martha Stewart Living and the now-defunct Rosie from G+J USA Publishing. It was something of a surprise, therefore, that when Guilfoyle first started pounding the pavement on behalf of Every Day in May 2005, she bagged some big-league accounts, including General Electric and Kodak.

“There were people who immediately, on the first sales call, got it,” she remembers. “I walked into a meeting and I was handed an insertion order. People who knew Rachael understood the power of her consumer connectivity.”

Guilfoyle recalls a meeting with Tara Cioffi, a media buyer for Kodak, in which Cioffi asked the publisher to explain the magazine to her. By the time Guilfoyle left Cioffi’s office, Kodak had signed on for a multiplatform package, including a contest promotion, for the premiere issue.

Every Day’s editor in chief, Silvana Nardone, says such enthusiasm is warranted. “Rachael knows Americans,” he says. “She understands what people want and she knows how to deliver it to them.”

From the initial rush of advertiser interest, it was clear that Every Day had discovered a hole in the food lifestyle category, and the results were nothing short of astounding. Every Day’s premiere issue, which hit newsstands in October 2005, sold out at many retailers, prompting the publisher to go back to press and resulting in a total print run of more than 1 million. Barnes & Noble alone sold 20,000 copies, setting a new record for the chain. And despite the lack of a direct-mail campaign, Every Day sold 105,000 subscriptions with its debut issue, the result of the magazine’s Web site, a plug on the Food Network (on which Ray had become a familiar presence) and word of mouth.

Based on that success, the magazine quickly instituted two rate base bumps, from the initial 350,000 to 450,000 with the April/May issue, then to 750,000 with the October/November issue. Even with those increases, Every Day overdelivered by 98 percent for the first half of 2006 and 50 percent for the second half. This year, the magazine is upping its rate base twice more, to 1.3 million as of February and to 1.7 million in August. Its remarkable success has inspired Adweek Magazines to choose Every Day With Rachael Ray as Startup of the Year.

Ray herself couldn’t be more amazed by the results of a magazine that RDA chairman and CEO Tom Ryder first pitched to her over dinner. “Tom’s the one who approached me with such an open-minded, open-ended idea of a magazine,” she says. The result—a laid-back, friendly read that shares little with its haute cuisine brethren—undeniably has its origins in Ray’s no-fuss take on everyday cooking. Indeed, it began with an editorial prospectus written by Ray.

“Much of it was in her own writing, her own thought process,” says Guilfoyle. Nardone and her editorial team later fleshed out Ray’s notions and set about translating them to print. Guilfoyle compares the end result to many of the successful genre-busting magazines of the last six years, among them, Hearst/Harpo’s O, The Oprah Magazine, Time Inc.’s Real Simple and Condé Nast’s Lucky. “All of those magazines, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as well, appreciate the aspect that as much as life is supposed to be easier, you have more and more to do all the time,” Guilfoyle says. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t want to have your friends over or cook a perfect meal for your family or go on a weekend trip. None of us want to give up all those things.”

Adds Ray, “The title, to me, means getting more out of every day. Even though you have to work, even though we’re all busy, even though we don’t have a ton of time, we’re not sacrificing the time we do have. That time we’re going to have fun with, we’re going to make these wonderful meals, we’re going to take fun little weekend jaunts.”

For publisher RDA, whose core Reader’s Digest has been suffering circ declines for years, Every Day represented a new direction. For one, it was launched without a direct-mail campaign, a shocking strategy from a company that helped pioneer the age-old marketing technique. But Every Day benefited greatly from its association with its corporate parent, which called on its extensive circulation operation to work on the new title.

From the beginning, some agencies saw Every Day as an opportunity to drive multiplatform deals. Early advertiser General Electric has signed on to provide appliances for the magazine’s test kitchen. Another pleasant surprise was the early, enthusiastic support of the usually slow-to-act Asian automakers. The flirty, fun voice of the magazine had clearly struck a chord.

“The food-lifestyle category is cluttered, but Rachael’s personality is not,” says Vickie Szombathy, vp/media director at StarLink. “We jumped in immediately because we knew it was going to be very popular. And without question, no matter what clients we talked to about it, they all had a very warm feeling about it.”

Szombathy says the success of Every Day is unlikely to rub off on its older sister, Reader’s Digest, since the ailing flagship does not share Every Day’s younger, hipper spirit and target. But RDA execs say they’re thrilled with the magazine on its own terms.

“We really believed in it. We felt that it fit with who we were,” says Bonnie Bachar, RDA’s president of U.S. publishing, who championed the magazine from its pre-launch stages. “We are about real people, we are very much about food, and we are about making people’s lives better, and [the magazine] does all of those things.”

The career path of Every Day editor Silvana Nardone turned out to be perfect preparation for a magazine grounded in the realities of daily cooking. She is a veteran of food magazines such as American Express Publishing’s Food & Wine and World Publications’ Saveur. But after 9/11, the Holland native—who grew up in Canada, Italy, San Francisco, Paris and New York (her Rome-born father worked for the Italian government; her mother is American)—decided to leave publishing for a while. In 2003, she started her own bakery business, Fanciulla Foods.

Fanciulla, based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, eschewed time-consuming bread and instead focused on down-home Italian desserts and cookies. With no formal training, she says, her goal was “to create foods I could remember, in my head and on my palate.” The result was authentic, hand-rolled biscotti and other gourmet delectables that found their way onto the shelves of New York markets like Dean & DeLuca and Gourmet Garage.

When Nardone first got the call, in early 2005, about RDA’s new food magazine, no mention was made of Rachael Ray. Enticed by the opportunity to help create a book she hoped would have a relaxed, fun feel closer to her favorite Italian and Australian food magazines than to their American counterparts, she signed on as executive food editor.

After founding editor Kitty Morgan left—reportedly over a clash with Ray—Nardone was promoted. (Original design director Lucy Sisman also left early on.) Media gossips sniped that Ray was shaping up to be the new Rosie O’Donnell, who famously micromanaged her own magazine into the ground in 2003. Since then, Nardone and her magazine’s namesake have become close friends and talk at least once a day, a bond that aids Nardone in channeling Ray’s friendly, folksy approach.

“It’s listening to people and understanding what we all go through every night when we’re trying to feed our family or ourselves or our friends,” Nardone says. “It’s just putting yourself in a place of reality instead of fantasy. Everybody calls Rachael the girl next door. She is very accessible because she’s herself.”

Rachael Ray has been called “the anti-Martha Stewart” due to her penchant for simplicity. Every Day, as a result, is inspirational, not aspirational. One column, “Pet Friendly,” first suggested by Ray and initially loathed by the staff, recommends recipes readers can share with their four-legged friends.

While the magazine skews a bit more upscale than Ray’s TV presence, it still favors the notion that easier is better. Nardone created a column, “No-Recipe Zone,” which shows readers how to make superior stuffed peppers or scrambled egg sandwiches almost exclusively with how-to photos. “Cooking is not difficult,” Nardone says. “It doesn’t have to be that complicated.”

A key Every Day trademark: Every recipe in the magazine is accompanied by at least one photo. The goal is to entice novice chefs and make them feel confident.

Other than helping strengthen the Rachael Ray brand, the main task for Nardone and Ray is to bring genuine excitement and humor back into the kitchen and into everyday life.

“It’s so great working with the people at Every Day because everyone there is living that way,” Ray says. “They’re all people who love to cook and take fun little adventures, and I love the idea that all of our readers get to know this whole crew. They see it’s not just me. It’s not just the Rachael Ray way.” Alec Foege is a frequent contributor to Adweek Magazines.