When Andrea Learned urges a client to "reach the sky" during a recent Pilates class at her South End studio in Burlington, she's referring to arms stretched upward. The 40-year-old Michigan native's personal sky-reaching efforts now go beyond the exercise regimen that has given her a muscular frame. But she's no Andrea Schwarzenegger. Pilates is "a mind-body process more akin to yoga," explains Learned, whose own mind is increasingly immersed in the intellectual demands of another career: a writer who advises businesses how to market products to women.
For more than a decade Learned tackled a variety of jobs as she migrated across the country, starting out in Washington, D.C. and winding up in Washington state. When she relocated from the Pacific Northwest to Vermont late last year, the timing seemed perfect. She was coauthoring the 224-page Don't Think Pink, which came out this summer. Harvard Business Review deemed it "rich in practical suggestions and interesting stories, with an easy-to-read style." An anonymous consumer commenting on Amazon.com, where the Pink sales ranking is noteworthy, delivered even more effusive praise: "I've read a lot of business-related books and rarely do I find one that I can't put down."
A New England home makes it easier for Learned to promote the successful publication -- and spread the word about gender marketing at conferences -- in major Eastern cities such as New York. Moreover, she is geographically closer to her septuagenarian parents and three siblings. An added benefit is that the rural Green Mountain State nurtures her outdoorsy athleticism. Learned loves strolling with her Australian Shepherd, bike riding, snowboarding and Nordic skiing, among other recreational activities. "My energy is better suited to Burlington," she acknowledges. "I have a great lifestyle here. I enjoy the calmness that feeds me and allows me to do my work."
SEVEN DAYS: First of all, what the heck is Pilates?
ANDREA LEARNED: During World War I, a German man named Joseph Pilates engineered hospital beds so that patients could exercise. The piece of equipment [a platform rigged with springs, straps and pulleys] I use is called The Reformer. Later, in New York, his business was near a ballet studio and Pilates became inextricably linked with dance.
SD: That influence is obvious. Some of the movements are very graceful.
AL: You have to focus on breathing and use the core muscles of the body, lengthening and strengthening them from the inside out for no more than an hour at a time. It's not about cranking up the volume and getting really sweaty. Gym rats aren't usually interested.
SD: What interested you?
AL: One of my sisters was doing it in 2002. She looked leaner and fitter. So I was addicted by the time I started training in Seattle four times a week, from September to November 2003. I was already planning a move to Vermont and thought this was a trade I could practice anywhere. I love it so much, I wanted to evangelize. I moved here in December and began teaching Pilates at the end of January. But I plan to close my studio soon to concentrate on writing.
SD: Was that something you studied in college?
AL: I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1986 as a political science major. Then, I did PR work at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. From there, I went to Portland, Oregon. That was 1989.
SD: Why Oregon?
AL: A boy.
SD: After trying out a range of occupations in several states, in 1999 you resettled in Bellingham, Washington. What sort of work awaited you?
AL: I did PR at a museum for six months. Then I launched a virtual company, ReachWomen, with a friend from Oregon. We discovered there weren't many other online consulting firms for marketing to women. I also began to write for ClickZ.com. There was no pay, but I contributed an article every two weeks and got my name out there. That exposure helped me [and coauthor Lisa Johnson] get a book contract in 2002.
SD: And Don't Think Pink was born. What is the premise?
AL: A lot of traditionally male-dominated industries really don't understand marketing to females. Many companies still believe women want a hero that rides in on a white horse. But women aren't looking for that anymore. We fix things ourselves. Lisa and I urge businesses to try transparent marketing rather than "pink" superficiality. One of the six keys to transparency we suggest is authenticity. Honestly reveal both your strengths and weaknesses. That will help customers gain trust in the people behind the brand.
SD: What other projects do you have on tap now?
AL: My ClickZ.com editor is with Marketing Profs, an online publication. I'm a senior contributor. I do two case studies of companies a month, plus six or more feature stories over the course of a year. I've also got my own Web log -- http://www.andrea learned.com -- and I write for business publications in the United Kingdom. I speak four or five times a year at conventions or trade shows.
SD: How will things change when you close the studio in December?
AL: I hope to get back into painting and photography. I'll bring The Reformer home to do Pilates. I won't take on new clients. Another book proposal is in the beginning stages. My life is all about writing now. That means a lot of emailing and researching. The Age of the Internet is crucial to who I am.