September 2007

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore

Empowering Women

Have you noticed the bright pink cover of the September issue of Empowering Women displayed prominently at your local Barnes and Noble or Borders? With headlines like “Money Secrets You Should Know” and “Busy? Learn How to Make Time for Family and Fun!”, I expected a magazine geared for working women on-the-go. I anticipated profiles of women leaders, inspirational essays on “doing it all” and makeup tips for the woman on the go. What I actually found was something much different.

Empowering Women is a magazine devoted to direct selling companies and, presumably, the women “empowered” by working in direct sales. Each issue features one company, telling readers why it’s so great (empowering, even!) to sell their products. Now, there’s nothing wrong with direct sales and I can certainly see how women can be empowered by the ability to work from home and make their own money -- no longer tied to the shackles of domesticity, or what not. Perhaps this was a more compelling story in 1977 rather than 2007, but I know that there are plenty of women out there who didn’t go to college or got married and started a family before they ever held a job that could feel empowered by an opportunity like this. But, this isn’t a magazine, it’s a brochure and I didn’t feel empowered after reading it, I felt mislead.

According to their website, every issue of Empowering Women is “packed with insightful editorial commentary and personal-development content from renowned experts, such as David Bach, Stephen Covey, Amanda Gore and Suze Orman.” Well, if that were true this might actually be an interesting magazine. In reality, the issue I read was one long recruitment pitch for Cookie Lee, September’s direct sales company du jour. Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

The pitch starts soft, with a letter from the editor that describes the difficulty in finding the balance between family and career and a description of this month’s featured company. It moves to a pitch for the direct sales industry in general with the article, “More Meaningful than Money.” Here we learn, “a career in direct selling can light the path to financial security without demanding that business owners compromise on the things most important to them.” Well, how nice. Isn’t this starting to sound like one of those late night television commercials promising that you can work from home for just an hour a week and make millions? (“By working from home, I bought a home!”) At the very least, a little red flag is waving in my head.

Quickly, the magazine shifts to this month’s focus company, Cookie Lee. “The Art (And Science) Of Jewelry Design” describes the jewelry itself. Readers are assured that they won’t be selling crap; they’ll be selling art. I’m reassured by learning that “Cookie’s designs manage to encompass the spectrum of women’s hearts.” That’s some impressive jewelry! Even better: “Cookie’s designs are what the fashion world calls ‘accessible,’ which means we can actually wear her pieces!” Well, that will certainly make it easier to sell!

Another article describes the fun of hosting home shows (like the “Tupperware party” of yesteryear, much of direct sales involves holding house parties where you feed your guests and they can buy your wares). Cookie Lee shows are described as “basically a girls’ night out that just happens to have jewelry in it.” Even more articles discuss Cookie Lee’s charitable giving, give you tips for hosting your own party, reassure you that “you can trust that Cookie Lee jewelry will be on-trend, no matter where fashion is headed next!” and give a profile of Ms. Cookie Lee herself. It really just piles on.

The hard sell comes from the thirteen (yes, thirteen) Cookie Lee “success stories,” sprinkled liberally throughout the magazine. Just when you may have begun to doubt your ability to create a successful career selling beaded jewelry, you can turn the page and learn about Connie Allred, the busy mother of five who sold $75,000 dollars worth of jewelry in her first 12 months. Or, Dianne Richens who overcame the “shyness that once plagued her” by becoming a Cookie Lee representative. Or, you can meet Katherine Chrisman who now earns monthly commission checks averaging $50,000. Holy crap, sign me up!

Now, to be fair there are a few articles that aren’t about joining the Cookie Lee empire. (Has anyone else even heard of this company?) These are few and far between though: an excerpt from the book How Did I Get Here: Finding Your Way to Renewed Hope and Happiness When Life and Love Take Unexpected Turns by Barbara De Angelis, an excerpt from The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, an excerpt from The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need to Retire? by Terry Savage (are you noticing a trend here?) and a one page story on Jamaica (where you can go on vacation with all your direct sales money). Long story short, there are five feature articles (out of twenty-eight total) on topics other than direct sales, and three of them are book excerpts. You tell me, are the editors interested in “empowering women” or are they interested in convincing you to sell jewelry from home?

The bottom line: I can understand Cookie Lee, or whoever the flavor of the month is, sending a copy of this out free to prospective employees (and maybe they do), but I absolutely cannot imagine anyone paying $5.95 for a copy of this magazine. I couldn’t even bring myself to do it, preferring to write this from a Barnes and Noble Café, rather than bring it into my home. What a piece of tripe.