From her seat at a table in Roland Park's Petit Louis Bistro, Karen Bokram's intense brown eyes scan the room. Blond hair pulled into a ponytail, one hand cupping a Blackberry, she seems the very woman most girls want to become: smart, beautiful, and in control.
So it seems fitting that the 38-year-old founding editor of Baltimore-based Girls' Lifemagazine last fall took over the financial reins of the national publication from parent company Monarch Services.
"It was always a dream," she says of the purchase.
The new CEO will need to believe in the dream: The price tag was officially $900,000, but outstanding liabilities for her Girls' Life Acquisition Corp. actually bring the cost closer to $3 million.
But then, the magazine is Bokram's baby, observes Mary Tzimokas, a magazine marketing consultant: "She should own it."
It was in the early 1990's that Bokram, an up-and-coming twentysomething editor in New York's publishing scene, helped found the magazine, backed by Monarch, a Baltimore-based firm once in the board-game business and known as a restaurant operator. But last fall, Monarch decided it wanted to unload the pre-teen-zine, after closing the failed Peerce's Plantation restaurant in Phoenix on which it had spent $1 million in renovations. Monarch's chairman, A. Eric Dott, declined to comment for this story.
One of the magazine's secret weapons is a partnership with Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. But there's another reason why the circulation has grown to 400,000, despite the lure of the Internet that has drawn teens away from competing print magazines.
"Some of these other magazines kept treating younger girls like adults," observes Ron Sklon, a newsstand consultant who has worked with Bokram. "What she [Bokram] did was talk to these 11 and 12 and 13-year-old girls like they are 11 and 12 and 13-year-old girls."
Beyond hot guys, teen stars, and lip gloss, the magazine also carries articles about being the daughter of an alcoholic or a member of a minority religion. One forum fields the sort of blunt body-part questions that leave parents stammering. Another tackles relationship issues requiring an insider's lexicon: BFs [boyfriends], BFFs [best friends forever], and BGFs [best guy friends].
Over lunch, Bokram scans her Blackberry and finds a message sent by a young reader at 11 p.m. the night before: "Well, there's this guy that I went out with, but he broke up with me because I wouldn't talk to him much because I was nervous. But I still really like him. But I don't know if he likes me back. He talks to me some in math [class]. But am I really just confused? How do I get him to like me back?"
Instantly, Bokram has an answer.
"Next time you see him at math, smile at him, see if he smiles back. If that goes well, ask if he had trouble with the math homework last night. Maybe see if he wants to study for the upcoming test. You know, test the waters. And if it seems like he's digging your gravy again, it's back on. If it seems he's off to the breezes, time to find a new crush. There's lots of fish in the sea."
It is fluent Girl Talk from a woman of the adult world.
"I've always seen outcomes of things in my head," says Bokram, a licensed pilot and avid skier. "I had no idea how I'd get from here to there. I just believed I'd get there."