Modeling a fitness award program after its successful 6-year-old beauty awards, Health magazine has finalized its award-winners in 30 categories to be unveiled in its January issue.
The six categories -- equipment, apparel, fuel, gear, video/DVD, and shoes -- each include sub-categories, with equipment including sections for treadmills, weight systems and ellipticals, while gear includes heart rate monitors and pedometers, for example, and footwear includes walking and trail running. All six categories will also give one award for "most innovative."
The magazine's editors, contributors and staff began their search for the one best product in each category in late spring, according to Eileen Kiernan, associate publisher of marketing for the Time Inc.-owned giant women's magazine (circulation: 6 million). It partnered in July with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), Gregg Hartley, vice president of marketing and operations, told SNEWSÂ®, partly to help get the word out to possible award applicants before an extended deadline of early August.
"Their purpose is not to be all-inclusive of the fitness industry, but to work a program in conjunction with their (editorial) calendar," Hartley said. "This made sense for January."
When SNEWSÂ® saw a story in SGMA's Sports Edge magazine's July issue and called the SGMA in early August for more information to run a story to help spread the word, we were told the application deadline was past. Aside from lists Kiernan said they purchased from other agencies and associations to invite applicants, Hartley said an email and blast fax was sent to nearly 2,000 companies -- SGMA's current membership and those that had expired in the last two years. Several current members told SNEWSÂ® they knew nothing about the awards and recalled no alerts to apply.
Kiernan said the first year program to publish in an eight-page format in the January 2005 issue is not the last, but only the start of a long-term commitment upon which the magazine can build.
"I'll guarantee we'll get 150 calls the first week saying, 'How come we didn't get a chance to enter?'" Kiernan said.
The magazine can then "shore up the holes" and further solidify the program for following years, she said.
One judge will decide the winner in each category after using or reviewing the nominated products for six to eight weeks, Kiernan said. The judges include:
>> Apparel -- Robyn Stuhr, exercise physiologist, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York
>> Gear -- Dick Cotton, chief exercise physiologist, myexerciseplan.com, and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise
>> Fuel -- Nancy Clark, registered dietician, sports nutrition expert and author
>> Videos/DVDs -- Petra Kolber, Health contributing editor and Reebok University Master Trainer
>> Shoes -- Mark Fenton, host of America's Walking and a former editor at Walking magazine, with his wife Lisa, who has worked in product design for Nike and Reebok
>> Equipment -- Lynn Allen, president of Heartland Fitness, Iowa, and a clinician and instructor for the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports and an advisor to the SGMA.
"This is not a readers' pick," Kiernan said. "It's not an editors' pick. It's completely unbiased."
She said the awards will also skew toward the needs of its readers, which are women who are more athletic or more fitness-inclined, age 25-54 (withÂ core readers being 30-45), affluent (average household income is about $68,000) and well-educated, with an even split between married with children or single. They are dedicated readers, too, she said, since more than 90 percent of the magazine's readers are subscribers.
"This is a lifestyle they're invested in," Kiernan added.
Although admitting that some companies may not have known about the program, Hartley said the SGMA did "the best we could" with such a short lead time.
"We have the opportunity to build something that's very visible and, hopefully, the industry will see it and embrace it," Hartley said, noting the association has stayed out of the process other than sending blast announcements so as not to influence the awards.
"We're getting great exposure for fitness industry product in (Health magazine's) January issue, and we'll build the program," he added. "It's a strong program that will benefit the fitness and health industry, and we're fortunate to create the partnership with them. They're bringing a lot to the table for the industry."
Health magazine will give plaques at The Super Show in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 17-19, give counter cards for award winners who are exhibitors to display in their booths, and will host a seminar at the event. In addition, Kiernan said winners will be approved to use a "seal of approval" from Health magazine for a year.
SNEWSÂ® View: First and foremost, we must applaud a program that will give (we assume) quality fitness products by quality companies exposure in a well-read and respected magazine like Health. That's all good. Second, however, having reviewed products for a long time and judged some in the past too, we're not sure how one can pick The Best in one category. The Best can depend on your needs, size, preferences and fitness level, among other things. Plus, when it comes to things like shoes or packs, body size and type plays a huge role, making The Best for one person perhaps The Worst for another. Now, we trust the editorial staff at Health magazine to give it a real one-two punch and try to get every possible Best thing included; they surely do their share of reading and inquiring and go to shows too. But then the judging -- only ONE in each category will be picked -- comes down to one person. Heck, even when SNEWSÂ® reviews a product it never compares it to others but only to itself and possible perfection, and we always have anywhere from three to 20 people chiming in and trying the product to get all opinions involved. Next, with these awards, we have the ceremony happening at The Super Show. Hmmm, considering the fitness segment has shrunk considerably over recent years and the show's developed emphasis on sporting goods-level product (not that that's bad, but it does exclude other companies not in that category), we're not sure if many winners will be on-hand to accept awards or put cards in their booths. We're actually not sure the magazine realizes what it's done in this regard. But what's done is done, and we can only rely on the magazine's proven expertise to pull off this first year with winners and products that are perhaps among the best. And, yes, Kiernan is right because we know from personal editorial experience: No matter what you do, there will be gripes, and this will be no exception.