Optimum Nutrition Inc., a sports nutrition supplement manufacturer, runs the same ad offering free samples of some of its products in four different exercise magazines, but at least 75 percent of the responses it gets come from only one of them: Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness.

"They've been around for a long time, and the name Weider is heavily known," said Jennifer Whitehead, advertising director for the Aurora, Ill.-based company. "That's a big deal."

Thanks to Joe Weider, the godfather of bodybuilding, and a good measure of marketing savvy, Woodland Hills-based Weider Publications is outpacing many of its competitors in circulation and advertising revenue.

For the second half of 1999, circulation for Shape, Weider's fitness magazine for women, jumped to 1.5 million, up nearly 33 percent from the year-earlier period. Men's Fitness, a publication geared to exercise enthusiasts of all kinds, saw a 51 percent boost in circulation to 530,647 for the same period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

By comparison, Women's Sports & Fitness, a Conde Nast magazine that competes with Shape, recorded a nearly 10 percent drop in circulation in the second half of 1999 to 550,232 readers. Men's Journal, a Wenner Media publication that also targets the active lifestyle, recorded a 3.6 percent increase for the period to 575,952 readers.

Readership for Weider's Muscle & Fitness did not grow quite so strikingly. For the second half of 1999, the magazine's circulation rose 4.6 percent to 477,013, but the publication still outpaced most of its closest competitors, with the exception of Outside, published by Mariah Media, which recorded a 5.5 percent increase to 558,912 for the same period.

Although the Weider magazines target different readers with somewhat different slants, all three share two things in common a focus on health and fitness and oversight by the company founder.

"The Weider name is a strong name," said Jim Swords, a spokesman for Twinlab, a nutritional supplement maker.

Although Weider's name is not as prominently featured on the cover of Shape as it is on the men's magazines, because its readers are not likely to be as familiar with the bodybuilding icon, his influence and strategy of providing highly useful information is clearly felt, said Carolyn Bekkedahl, Shape's senior vice president and publishing director.

"Shape is running 20 percent ahead of last year's ad pages, year to date," Bekkedahl said. "(The increase) is across all categories."

As with Shape, Men's Fitness has benefited from the broader approach. Ad revenues jumped a whopping 41 percent to $4.7 million for the first three months of 2000, from $3.3 million in the like prior-year quarter, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

But if Men's Fitness has grown by broadening its market appeal, Muscle & Fitness has done it by sticking to its core. Each issue of the publication offers up a comprehensive guidebook on weight training, with exercise routines and diet regimes.

The experts featured in the magazine, from Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who offers up a monthly column (as does Weider himself), have helped the publication attract a wide variety of readers.

The credibility behind the magazine is not lost on advertisers, who, for the first three months of the year, contributed to a 10 percent increase in advertising revenues at the title to $11.4 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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