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May 19, 2007

Interview With Courtney Caldwell: Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Road & Travel Magazine

Courtneycaldwellheadshot Ask Patty gets the wonderful delight of interviewing some of the most extraordinary  women in the automotive industry and Courtney Caldwell, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Road & Travel magazine is certainly no exception.

AskPatty: Tell us a little bit about your job. What do you to from day-to-day?

Courtney Caldwell: I’m the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Road & Travel Magazine, a 19 year old magazine aimed at in-market consumers with a slant towards upscale women. I founded RTM in 1989 as a print publication and then converted it to online only in 2000 because we recognized then that the Internet was going to become a very valuable, convenient, and time-saving medium for women. Today, women have surpassed men online.

Trying to tell you what I do from day to day would take days in itself so suffice it to say that I oversee all editorial direction and design of the magazine, as well as produce, write and host the International Car of the Year Awards show (ICOTY), which is an annual event presented as an Academy Awards style black tie event. ICOTY is also televised as a TV special airing on opening weekend of the North American International Auto show. I work with CBS Detroit to co-produce the TV special. ICOTY is the largest auto awards show in the industry, which takes the better part of a year to produce. Additionally, I’m hired throughout the year as a spokesperson to do radio and television media tours on the women’s market, or appear as a guest on national shows such as The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, or Good Morning, America, mainly to address women’s auto or travel issues. 

AP: What made you want to get involved in the automotive industry? And what challenges have you faced in this industry as a woman?
CC: I started Road & Travel Magazine to help educate women consumers; to arm them with information from which they could make informed decisions about car buying. Our initial goals were to provide new car reviews and talk about issues important to female buyers supported with articles on safety, the number one women have when buying a new car. No other magazine was addressing women’s concerns when it came to car buying, which were completely different than those of men. We eventually added car care tips and advice, negotiating with dealerships, repairs and maintenance and questions to ask, used car buying, leasing, and personal safety on the road.

The reason I started RTM, to be totally blunt, was because I was pissed off at the way I was treated at dealerships. As a single mom who worked two jobs to support 2 children, it baffled me as to why I was treated so differently than the way male buyers were treated. After all, my money was just as good yet I had to deal with inappropriate comments about my body or fend off unwanted invitations or deal with salesmen who assumed I lacked knowledge about car buying, often suggesting I bring back a husband or boyfriend who could help. I soon learned other women experienced the same treatment and were equally angry. I finally got angry enough to do something about it so I started RTM as a local Southern California newsletter at the time and within a year it grew to a full color 32-page magazine, which we were distributing nationally. By our last edition in 1999, we were a 48-page magazine. Anger can be a great motivator if used in the right way.

Businesswoman AP: What advice would you give a young women who was interested in a career in the automotive industry?
CC: There are many careers in the auto industry for women so it really depends on what direction she would like to take. Women-owned dealerships are on the rise and there are many wonderful opportunities in public relations and marketing. Unfortunately, top-ranking female executives are still far and few between for even the brightest of women. Most of the top ranking women in the auto industry have left in recent years because there’s still a very thick glass ceiling. I even hate using that word in this day and age as so many other industries have caught up to the 21st century, but sadly, the auto industry has not; it’s still very much an old boys club in many, many ways. My advice to women who want to get into the auto industry is to pursue their own business whether it be a dealership or as a supplier or possibly pursue a career through a related public relations or marketing company. I understand there are many wonderful, non-limiting opportunities for women to grow at an agency that might serve an automaker. There are still great opportunities on the skirts (no pun intended) of the industry but within most automakers directly it’s a tough, tough climb. Although I must say that with some of the foreign automakers there are a few high ranking women left such as Volvo, which has a female CEO. Hopefully, today’s young women in the industry will have greater success by the time they reach executive levels.

AP: What if any changes have you seen in the marketing of cars and aftermarket products to women?
CC: Automakers now recognize the power of female consumers both in purchasing power and influence power so they are sensitive and savvy to women buyers. Most now have women’s marketing programs or committees, advertising budgets, and provide sponsorships for women’s events, causes, and health issues. However, most automakers will not directly market a car to women, even if that’s their intended audience, because if a car is perceived as a ‘chick car’ by male buyers men won’t buy it. So marketers walk a fine line in how they market a vehicle to women, ensuring a way to turn her on while at the same time not turning him off.

I can’t really speak to aftermarket products other than tires. Michelin had an awesome commercial a few years ago with a baby in a tire and a tag line that went something along the lines of… ‘Because so much is riding on your tires.’ The words may not be exact but you get the idea. This commercial was aimed at women but it was so subtle that men enjoyed it too. Bridgestone/Firestone is also making great strides in marketing tires to women. RTM is a huge proponent of tire safety because if your tires fail, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the parts are working, you’re not going anywhere on a flat tire. At RTM, we make every effort to educate women about tire safety i.e.: how to buy the right tires, how to check your air pressure and how to change a tire. After all, if a man breaks down on the road it’s an inconvenience. If a woman breaks down, it could be life threatening as you never know what a ‘good Samaritan’ who stops to help may have on his mind other than changing a tire. Women tend to be sitting ducks on the roadside so tire condition is of paramount importance.

AP: And what if any changes have you seen in the automotive publishing world?
CC: The automotive publishing world is making a dramatic shift to the Internet with everything from content to advertising. It took awhile to make a comeback because of the dotcom crash and then 911 but it’s now back with a vengeance. I predict that we’ll see a major disintegration of print publications from newspapers to magazines over the next 15-20 years, if not sooner. There will be few survivors remaining in the end. Almost everyone is converting to the Internet, and it’s still just the beginning. The technology is changing and growing so quickly that those who don’t jump on the Internet bandwagon soon will be left in the dust.

Generation X, Y and Z are all techno nerds, demanding all their information online, not to mention the environmental issues and concerns we’re facing with the loss of trees worldwide, among other things affecting our climate. The boomer generation, although far more tech savvy than their parents, are all pushing 65. They’re going to be the last die-hard pursuers of print. When they’re gone so will follow print. As for RTM, we were ahead of our time by transferring from print to online in 2000. Many said women would never get the Internet. I predicted back then that not only would women get the Internet that in a short span they would evolve as the main user of the Internet, surpassing men. Why? Because women lead very hectic and busy lives with careers and family. Anything that provides convenience and saves time is very important to most women, a commodity in short supply in most women’s busy lives today. Enter Internet, a commodity dominated by women users today. 

The next big thing in online publishing will be design changes to make online magazines more unique to their audiences. Right now, most online automotive magazines look alike. RTM is relaunching a brand new design in August that we believe will set a new standard by which other online magazines will follow. Every publication should have its own look and feel, its own unique identity, so it stands apart from all others allowing its readers to visually identify it from all others.

AP: Do you think the industry is changing as far as it's acceptance of women in visible positions? And as their target consumer?
CC: While the industry is acutely aware of the women’s auto buying market with most finally targeting many aspects of their lifestyles and life stages, as well as recognizing and marketing the emotional appeal of vehicles, they tend not to extend the same red carpet treatment to women who work in highly visible positions in their own industry. I publish an automotive and travel magazine aimed at women consumers so I don’t work for automakers, but rather with them, which is a big difference. However, it’s big news in trade magazines when women vacate top positions so it’s fairly easy to follow the trend of what’s happening. I can’t say if women quit because they’re tired of the fight to rise to the top or if there’s a legitimate professional reason why they’re not making it to the top. However, due to the number of highly intelligent and talented women leaving the auto industry, it does appear that they’re hitting a road block to the top, and ultimately decide to move on. Many who have left end up as CEOs, CFOs or other top-level executive positions in non-automotive companies so I think that says something about the auto industry. As a woman editor of the only in-market lifestyle automotive magazine aimed at women consumers, almost everyone is nice to us but automakers are nice to all journalists for obvious reasons. What I can say is that while we received little to no support or respect when RTM was started in 1989, today is a different story altogether. The majority of automakers have been very good to us although I have been known to say that if I ever worked directly for an automaker it’s likely that I would have been burned at the stake by now, metaphorically speaking of course. Or not!

AP: What is your favorite part of your job?
CC: I don’t have a job. I have a career and a company which I love enormously. It’s my baby. I love getting up every day to go to the office because there’s always a challenge and something new. As an automotive and travel magazine we also travel a great deal to places all over the world on press trips to test vehicles, cruise ships, hotels, city destinations and meet new and exciting people in all different cultures. I love driving cars especially long distance so I’m truly in my element on long road trips. I also love producing the ICOTY Awards because they’re so unique and different than all other auto awards… based on how well automakers connect cars and consumers on an emotional level. And I love the fact that we’ve made a difference for women by providing the kind of content that helps them make informed decisions. I think our efforts for the last 19 years have helped create industry awareness of women buyers and their needs and how they differ from men. For me, going to work every day is a joy and a blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, 13 years ago, a little start-up company by the name of AOL called to offer me a position as the CEO of a new division they were starting aimed at women offering me an enormous salary, 30, maybe 50-fold of what I was making at the time, but I turned it down because I believed the mission I was on would eventually have great results for women consumers and the industry. Plus, I loved every minute of what I was doing and when you love what you’re doing, success follows. Being happy at what you do day in and day out should include your personal and emotional well-being as well as your financial success. It makes all the difference in the world how you live and enjoy life. While financial success is awesome, it’s useless if you ain’t happy!

AP: For fun, what was the last vehicle you bought and why?

CC: As an automotive magazine, we receive a new vehicle every week to road test so I haven’t bought or owned a car for 19 years. I love getting into each new vehicle and driving it for the week. Each vehicle spawns a completely different emotional reaction from both me and people looking at it, which I love. It’s amazing how some cars make you feel cool and sexy, while others make you feel embarrassed to be seen in. The emotions felt range far and wide, which I find a hoot. Cars and trucks are truly a reflection of our personalities and how we see ourselves. Some people will spend more money on a new car or truck than they will on maintaining a decent apartment or home because the world can view them as they drive in their cars. They want to be perceived in a particular way or status by the car they drive. While economics play more of a role for women than they do men, there are still those who will spend more to present a certain image via their car.

If I were to buy a car today, it would quite difficult to pick just one as there are so many from which to choose. The older I get the more I gravitate towards luxury, but I still love adventure, so a crossover would also be appealing too. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to make that choice!

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