What makes THE Most Notable Launch of the Last 25 Years Tick, Click and Stick: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with David ZinczenkoDecember 14, 2010
In the last 25 years more than 18,000 new magazines were introduced to the marketplace in the United States alone. Last week at min’s Most Intriguing Event in New York City, I revealed the name of The Most Notable Magazine Launch of the Last 25 Years. That prestigious honor went to Men’s Health magazine. Accepting the award was David Zinczenko, the editor in chief who, together with the entire Men’s Health team, made and continue to makes the magazine the power player it is today. Rooted in the United States with branches all over the world, Men’s Health is now more than a magazine. It has become a world-wide experience for men all over the world.
I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Zinczenko seven questions regarding what makes Men’s Health tick, click and stick with its readers, users, viewers, listeners and customers. His answers, each in two takes (thanks for his generosity with his time), shed more than a light on what can be considered a formula for success that others can try to imitate to create a successful publication for the 21st century and beyond.
Mr. Zinczenko secrets of success start and end with the readers. He values reader service more than anything else. His definition, “reader service is: compulsively actionable tips that can change lives. It has to be practical, it has to be effective, it has to be backed by solid science, and it has to be delivered to our guys in a way that doesn’t talk down to them, doesn’t nag them, doesn’t bore them.”
What follows is the complete, and lightly edited, Mr. Magazine™ Interview in which you will find “tons of useful ideas” from the man at the helm of the magazine that provides “tons of useful stuff.”
David Zinczenko: (Take One) We put an enormous amount of time and effort into reader research. Every single issue we do is run through a panel of reader/editors, who give us feedback on what’s working for them. And we do a staff post-mortem to review the findings. And a lot of our long-term success is based on institutional knowledge. The average editor on staff has been here about a decade. It takes several years to understand the voice and to get to know the important people in the fields of health, fitness and nutrition.
(Take Two) Omega 3 Fatty Acids. But seriously, a magazine lives and dies by the hardiness of the underlying idea that drives it. For us, the bedrock is helping men seize control of all of the most troublesome aspects of their lives. Their relationships. Their jobs, Their waistlines. Their health. Those needs are universal, and the responses to them change as the years go by, as well. We keep track of the primary mission, and constantly evolve the approaches to responding to it.
SH: What makes MH tick? What is the pulse of MH? The heart beat that keeps it going….
DZ: (Take One) Men’s Health is a place for men to go where they’re going to be told that they’re ok—that other men have the same concerns that they have. It was a revolutionary idea back in 1988 and it remains so to this day.
(Take Two) The beating heart of the magazine is reader service. Every editor who comes to work here has to be reeducated about what real reader service is: compulsively actionable tips that can change lives. It has to be practical, it has to be effective, it has to be backed by solid science, and it has to be delivered to our guys in a way that doesn’t talk down to them, doesn’t nag them, doesn’t bore them. We are the wise older brother our readers never had…even for guys who are older than we are.
SH: What makes MH click? What is the sound, the voice of the magazine?
DZ: (Take One) It’s a sensibility: the idea that we have something important to say, and we are going to say it in a way that’s going to entertain you, and entertain ourselves at the same time. We will not waste your time with blather, but neither will we bore you with self-importance.
(Take Two) The magazine’s voice is that of a guy who really knows what he’s talking about, but who is self-aware enough not to be a blowhard about it. That’s why we can get away with giving our guys advice without putting them off, and also maintain a great sense of humor when we do it. The fact is, we editors have had nearly all of the same problems we’re helping our readers to solve, so how could we possibly talk down to them?
SH: What makes MH stick? What are the values of the magazines? What keeps the conversation engaging with its readers?
DZ: (Take One) Positive, passionate, intensely researched, life-altering service. If it can’t change the lives of a majority of its readers, in big ways or in small ones, then it probably isn’t a Men’s Health story
(Take Two) The needs and yearnings of men are universal, and they’ve been around for a very long time. We’re able to identify those needs because we identify with them personally. We don’t have personal problems; we have story ideas, as an editor here once said. That’s our bond with our readers, and it’s a strong one.
SH: If you are to humanize MH, who will it be? The person, the identity, the voice, values and vision?
DZ: (Take One) It’s a bit of a cliché, but MH is that older brother, that wised-up guy who’s looking out for you. A lot of other men’s magazines seems to say, “we’re cooler than you, but if you give us your lunch money, we’ll let you sit at our table.” Men’s Health says, “we’re just like you. We just have learned a little bit more on our way here.”
(Take Two) The subline for the magazine started out as “tons of useful stuff for regular guys,” and that sticks with us still today. There’s a “regular guy” inside all of us; whether it’s our March cover guy Matt Damon or a subscriber in Iowa City. We’re all fighting to live a great life, be strong, be there for our loved ones, and the magazine supports that quest for “regular” guys around the globe.
SH: Where do you see MH 25 years from now?
DZ: (Take One) I think it’s easier to predict where men’s health will be than where the rest of the publishing industry will be. We’ve already made the leap out of the magazine category and into a larger space as a media brand and a format-agnostic information provider. Unless someone invents something more important to the individual than their own health and well-being, and that of their loved ones, I have to assume we’ll remain the category leader, as long as we stay true to our values and our voice.
(Take Two) I’ve heard so many of my peers in the magazine industry bemoan the death of print and worry about their futures. The fact is, we’re living in an age of unprecedented expansion in the tools we have to do our jobs, and the territory we can expand into. In fact, too many media people are like citizens of St. Louis in the early 1800s, looking west, and complaining about the Indians out there. What they should be doing is looking for California.
SH: What is the future of MH? Its ink on paper future and its digital future!
DZ: (Take One) We have to remain poised to expand into any media that we haven’t yet conquered. That means a greater TV presence, perhaps, as well-being ready to move on whatever new technologies arise. we’ve conquered apps for both the iPhone and iPad; what’s next?
(Take Two) About five years ago, we ceased to think about ink-on-paper vs. digital vs. whatever else is coming down the pike. Instead, it’s print and digital and smartphones and TV and radio and books and any other thing the communications geniuses dream up. Media will change and evolve in exciting ways, and our message will work on all of them. Our guys need help, and want to lead better lives. We’ll find them wherever they are, and lead them to the promised land. And by doing that, we’ll reach the promised land.
SH: Thank you.
The picture above is from the min event with David Zinczenko accepting The Most Notable Launch of the Last 25 Years. Photo by Doug Goodman Photography http://www.douggoodman.com