When trying to choose between two equivalent products, I will buy Canadian. It just seems like the loyal thing to do. This also applies to magazines. I like to buy Canadian parenting, travel, and business magazines.
So I’ve been a regular reader of Canadian Business magazine for a while now. In fact, I currently have an annual subscription. I read through each issue, and then I bring them in to my office and leave them in a communal reading area for my colleagues (I work full-time at a high-tech company). They tend to get picked up quickly and I see them making the rounds into different cubicles.
But lately, I’ve started to feel too embarrassed to bring in my issues of Canadian Business. I think it likely started with the Lululemon issue. To promote the feature article on this fabulous Canadian success story, the editors used this image on the cover (image credit: Canadian Business, photographer KC Armstrong):
Both Stella (my 9-year-old) and Hubby laughed at this butt front and centre on my magazine cover. I knew then that I would not be bringing this issue into the office, with my name on its label. I would feel silly … like I’d just brought in a Cosmo magazine for my business colleagues to read. (Besides, the more I looked at this cover image, the more it irked me. It wasn’t even a realistic female butt. It looks like it has been photo-shopped to bizarre proportions. Look at the top, where the skin is … see how much the waist narrows in before it gets cut off? It’s a strange image. And nothing I would have associated with business.)
But I shrugged it off. Whatever; it’s just one issue. I read it, then tossed it in my recycle bin rather than passing it on for others to read.
And then the September 12 issue arrived, with this cover, proclaiming “MEET YOUR NEXT BOSS”:
Haha! I thought, unless I plan on working at
an escort agency a radically different workplace, this is certainly not going to be MY next boss!
As it turns out, this is a photo of Shahrzad Rafati, who is the founder and CEO of a Vancouver-based company by the name of BroadbandTV. I have never worked with anyone in an office environment that wears a skin-tight dress, bra-less with top of breasts exposed, topped with sky-high peep-toe heels. Have you? I can’t see how it’s practical corporate attire. Most bosses work long hours and your back sure would hurt after 11 hours in those shoes!
You guessed it: another issue that went straight into the recycling bin rather than to my office.
I started to wonder if I would bother renewing my subscription. And I started to think that maybe Canadian Business was trying to appeal only to male readers, and didn’t want to bother attracting the purchasing power of the female demographic.
Yesterday, my September 26 issue arrived. This time, the title screamed: ‘WHY THE BOSS ISN’T HAPPY YOU’RE HAVING A BABY.” Please, like this is news. Every woman who’s ever walked into her boss’ office after her 12-week ultrasound knows that she’s walking in on egg shells. I can see both sides of this situation very clearly. But Canadian Business wrote about only one side — the boss (who, according to Canadian Business‘ own stats is twice as likely to be male).
As an example of the opinions expressed in the article, this quote was used in a call-out:
“And then sometimes toward the end of the mat leave, [the new parent] decides not to come back. You feel the crafters of the mat-leave legislation set you up as a patsy.”
I’m not disagreeing with this person. This kind of situation does leave a business scrambling. I know women who have chosen to stay home at the end of a maternity leave and broke it to their employer shortly before they were scheduled to come back. But I also know far more women who met with their employer shortly before they were scheduled to come back and found out that their role had been substantially changed in their absence or that the employer was unwilling to consider flexible or part-time hours. Only after this discussion did they tender their resignation. And often, not to stay home, but to go to another employer. In presenting only the employer’s view, I wondered again if Canadian Business actually wanted me as a subscriber.
But the final nail in the coffin was when I flipped to read the Editor’s Letter (you can read it in full online here) in this same issue. In it, James Cowan, Interim Editor-in-Chief, chose to respond to an anonymous letter that expressed disappointment in the “Meet Your Next Boss” cover. I wasn’t surprised in the least that a complaint was received about this cover choice; I’m only surprised that only one was received. Cowan uses a snickering tone that I admit I find amusing in Vanity Fair‘s Letters Section, but find a tad insulting in this situation. Not to mention the number of words he wastes pointing out that the letter was anonymous — who cares? Can’t someone write an anonymous letter to a magazine? (Besides, not everyone can afford to have their name printed publicly without, rightly or wrongly, recrimination from the company that issues their pay cheque.)
Anyways, back to the letter. The letter-writer had stated:
“What a disappointment to see that Canadian Business magazine made the decision to feature a highly suggestive and sexualized photograph of a woman …”
Cowan counters that image was not hypersexualized and notes that it was Rafati herself who chose her outfit, not Canadian Business. Okay, fair enough. If this is what Rafati actually wears to corporate meetings, so be it. But I’d love to know if a man has ever showed up for a Canadian Business photoshoot with his shirt half un-buttoned — did they advise him to close up a couple of buttons? Or did they go ahead and put his wash-board stomach on the cover to help sell a few more issues?
Further, he notes that beyond Rafati’s attractive physical appearance, the cover is compelling because of:
“…the confidence she exuded in the way she stood, her even stare and her clear sense of self. This wasn’t a pin-up girl. This was a successful woman who was impossible to ignore.”
Again, fair enough. She does have a confident stance on the cover. And here is her stance in the interior spread of the magazine:
On the left-hand page is Sammie Kennedy, the founder of Booty Camp Fitness, standing confidently with a broad smile. And on the right is Rafati, knees coyly turned in together, lips pursed. Which woman exudes more confidence to you? I’d say Kennedy. And which woman do you think will sell more magazines? Yep, Rafati.
Or at least this is what Cowan turns his point on — that Rafati grabs attention and gets people to buy the magazine.
“We’ll concede your point this much: we put an attractive woman on the cover. We’re undeniably interested in catching a reader’s eye, just like all publications. And one method to cut through the newstand clutter — to get your attention as you wait in line at the drugstore — is through a striking image.”
And further, that he is doing the business world (and implicitly, women in particular) a service by grabbing readership attention with this story. It highlights the success of women in business, which in turn serves to help address the “woeful imbalance” of males and females in Canadian leadership positions. He closes with:
“We put this story in our magazine because it matters. We put Rafati on our cover because we wanted readers to pay attention.”
Yes, shout it, brother! That sounds so good.
But I’m not buying it.
It’s spin. In fact, it seems remarkably similar to the PR campaign that World’s Finest Chocolate is using at the moment, called “Think Big, Eat Smart.” They are creating the most enormous chocolate bar — a world-record breaking chocolate bar — so that they can get kids’ attention and then talk to them about portion control and healthy eating. Huh? Yes, that’s right, a chocolate bar company is not actually trying to sell more chocolate bars, it’s trying to help kids eat healthy.
We both know that the chocolate bar company is trying to sell more chocolate. But it’s doubtful this tactic will meet either goal: to teach kids how to eat healthy or sell more of their chocolate bars. The whole thing just seems kind of pointless. Or at least, confusing.
So, Canadian Business, I guess that’s how I’m feeling about our relationship right now too: confused. So confused that, if you’ll excuse this old break-up cliche, I need to “take a break.”