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Gary Rubin: Trading The World Of Magazine Media In For A Sea Captain’s Hat… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

May 21, 2014

“You can talk to someone about the differences; listen to the words they use when they describe online versus magazines. They say, “My magazine” and “The website.” It’s just the words they use, “My Magazine,” because of the actual touch.” Gary Rubin

Courage. The one word that comes to mind when I think about my recent interview with Gary Rubin, Senior Vice President Publishing and E-Media, at the Society For Human Resource Management. As SHRM’s Senior Vice President of Publishing and E-Media, Gary Rubin leads the Publications and New Media division, which publishes HR Magazine, produces the editorial components of SHRMOnline (the Society’s website), is responsible for SHRM’s member facing social media initiatives such as HR Talk and SHRM Connect, directs book publishing operations, leads SHRM’s retail sales SHRM, E-Learning, video &multimedia production, SHRM’s virtual/on-demand conferences, organizational design production and business development via mergers and acquisitions, and a man who’s about to chuck it all and go sailing around the world.

But I’ve always believed that in order to succeed in the world of media, we have to be experience makers first. And I’d say that Gary is definitely about to make another new experience that may wind up bringing him back full circle someday to the media business.

After all, you can’t sail around the world and not tell someone about it and what better way than through the tangible presence of print media. But before we consider that possibility – sit back, grab your globe and give it a spin and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Gary Rubin…

But first The Mr. Magazine™ Minute followed by the sound-bites and the lightly edited conversation.

The Mr. Magazine™ Minute:

The Sound-bites:

On why he’s leaving the world of business media for the sea: It’s really because life is short and greedy. I’m more interested in experiences than money.

On any similarities between sailing the world and publishing: After going through this brief recession, there’s nothing that the sea can throw at me that’s going to frighten me more.

On any lessons publishers should have learned from the recent recession: Don’t panic. The fundamentals of our business during the good times and the bad times are the same, that readers, whether they’re on the BtoB side or the consumer side, have either a need for content if it’s BtoB or a want for content if it’s consumer, and sometimes on the consumer side need and want intersect.

On any words of wisdom he might impart before he sets sail: Don’t give up. Because you look at the total patterns of our business going into the recession, BtoB suffers first, and then consumers get hit. And then coming out of the recession, consumers recover first then BtoB recovers second and this happens every single time.

On the best platform for branding: Print.

On the reasons why print is the best platform for branding: Because an advertiser has as many pages as they want to tell their story. And a print ad evokes a feeling in addition to providing information.

On the most pleasant experience he’s had throughout his career: There are so many things. It’s just such a wonderful business. It’s a people business. The business of media is so great because you work with so many super smart, interesting and dedicated people to create these products that people you don’t even know benefit from.

On the major stumbling block he’s faced: I’m not sure that I’ve overcome most of them. The business changes faster than you can learn it. And so I’ve always been slightly behind; there’s just so much more to know than you have time to learn and understand.

On the comparison of people in the media from ten years ago with today: I don’t know, things look different to me because I’m older. And I think that I’ve screwed more things up over the years that helped me learn more about people and business and myself, so things look different to me now because I’m different.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Gary Rubin….

Samir Husni: You’re leaving this business behind and sailing around the world; what’s your gut feeling about doing this? Do you feel like you’ve done everything you can do with the business or you’re leaving it in a better place or a worse place? Or this is it, there’s no future, let me go sail?

gary rubin Gary Rubin: Oh no, neither of those things. It’s really because life is short and greedy. I’m more interested in experiences than money. That’s why I have been interested in publishing for all these years; it’s that you learn new things and every day you realize how little you know, plus just the process of learning new things and discovering new interests and trying to constantly chase after some things with competency.

The problem is that I love the business and I think this is the most interesting time in the business because we’re in this brilliant transition between print and digital and how the two play together and the tool kit of things that we have as publishers to create incredible content that’s visual and really takes print into places it hasn’t been before. I’m really sad that I’m going to miss out on a lot of that, but on the other hand we all have limited time on earth and there are things that I want to experience and I want to try and sail around the world and I can’t do that when I’m 70.

So, this is the time. I have enough experience as a sailor and wisdom as a person, but enough ignorance that I don’t know what I’m getting into and if I did I probably wouldn’t do it. This is the right time for me to try it and I’m afraid if I postpone it I won’t do it and I’ll always have that regret.

Samir Husni: Being in the publishing business; do you feel it prepared you for this adventure? Are there any similarities, do you think, between publishing and sailing around the world?

Gary Rubin: After going through this brief recession, there’s nothing that the sea can throw at me that’s going to frighten me more.

Samir Husni: As we’re coming out of this recession, you’ve experienced the good times and the bad times; what lessons do you think publishers should have learned from it?

Gary Rubin: Don’t panic. The fundamentals of our business during the good times and the bad times are the same, that readers, whether they’re on the BtoB side or the consumer side, have either a need for content if it’s BtoB or a want for content if it’s consumer, and sometimes on the consumer side need and want intersect.

You know, my DNA didn’t change as a reader in a recession or in a boon. The only difference was the ad revenue, the advertisers got scared, but the readership never went down depreciably, people’s interests in learning things and doing things never went down.

So, some publishers started doing stupid things, corroding the value of their brand because they were going through some negative times, instead of thinking they’d recover when the economy came back, so their competitors who had confidence in the basic value composition of their media thrived when coming out of the recession and those that panicked died.

Samir Husni: And what advice or famous last words would you impart to BtoB magazine before you set sail?

Gary Rubin: Don’t give up. Because you look at the total patterns of our business going into the recession, BtoB suffers first, and then consumers get hit. And then coming out of the recession, consumers recover first then BtoB recovers second and this happens every single time. And now we’re seeing the consumer media recovering and to me this means BtoB will recover and marketers ultimately.

The problem that BtoB is having is that marketers are shifted away from branding to regeneration, putting money into the web, LinkedIn and other places like that. And they haven’t been investing in branding. And without branding, you know you put a button, a banner or a contextual ad up, but without understanding the value of a marketer’s brand, what good is it?

And particularly at BtoB, where a number of products are poorly differentiated from one another; how do you know what product is better than another? And so the pendulum is going to switch back and there is going to be a greater emphasis on branding and I don’t think it’s that far away. And ultimately, that’s where the juice is.

Samir Husni: Which is the best platform for branding?

Gary Rubin: Print.

Samir Husni: Why is that?

Gary Rubin: Because an advertiser has as many pages as they want to tell their story. And a print ad evokes a feeling in addition to providing information. No one’s heart has ever jumped seeing a skyscraper or a banner, but you look at a gorgeous print ad of a Porsche and it makes you yearn for that car. A button or a banner helps direct you to where to buy it. And the web does a very poor job of that. And the web only delivers information that you know you don’t know. Print tells you every time you turn the page that you’re discovering something new and different, something that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

And print advertisers that create beautiful and enticing ads get the benefit of discovering that whatever happens in a person’s brain, when they’re learning through exploring, that happens in print. I’m not being negative about online at all; I love online. But print is special. And perhaps it’s because people can hold a magazine in their hands and so there’s a physical connection between a magazine and a reader.

You can talk to someone about the differences; listen to the words they use when they describe online versus magazines. They say, “My magazine” and “The website.” It’s just the words they use, “My Magazine,” because of the actual touch. People are sensual to a certain level and there’s that intimate connection with a magazine that doesn’t happen on the web.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant experience you’ve had throughout your career?

Gary Rubin: There are so many things. It’s just such a wonderful business. It’s a people business. The business of media is so great because you work with so many super smart, interesting and dedicated people to create these products that people you don’t even know benefit from. So the reach and the benefit from your activity with your team affect hundreds and thousands of people and so I’ll miss feeling like I’m doing something that matters on a bigger scale.

And I’ll miss a lot of great friends that I’ve made in the business. I mean, I’m not going to lose them, but going to conferences and just the act of doing business, there’s a connection because you’re sharing a common goal or interest.

And it’s sinking in that I’m really on the precipice of leaving the business. You just don’t appreciate it as much when you’re in it as when you’re about to leave it.

Samir Husni: And what was the major stumbling block that you faced during your career that you had to overcome?

Gary Rubin: I’m not sure that I’ve overcome most of them. The business changes faster than you can learn it. And so I’ve always been slightly behind; there’s just so much more to know than you have time to learn and understand. And now it’s harder even when you feel like you’ve got some great level of understanding and insight.

In the old days you’d just write it and you’d have the tools; you’d have the word processors, the printers and the paper and ink. And now so many of the really cool and interesting things require technology which is so much more difficult to implement.

So I think in the future we have to work this out. It’s so hard to bring ideas into action because it’s so expensive and the technology is much more difficult.

Samir Husni: Because of your role in human resources; have you noticed any change in people in the media business? If you wanted to compare people in media today to ten years ago; where do we stand?

Gary Rubin: I don’t know, things look different to me because I’m older. And I think that I’ve screwed more things up over the years that helped me learn more about people and business and myself, so things look different to me now because I’m different. But I suspect people are still the same; it’s just that I’ve grown a bit.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Gary Rubin: My wife. She keeps waking me up because I’m snoring.

Samir Husni: Thank you and Bon Voyage…

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2 comments

  1. […] the whole article Gary Rubin: Trading The World Of Magazine Media In For A Sea Captain’s Hat… The Mr. Maga… on the website Mr. […]


  2. Gary Rubin is a very smart publisher, and I will miss his wisdom and perspective. Thanks for the interview, Samir. And Gary, I think Samir is right… How can you possibly not write about this great journey? You are an inspiration to anyone toying with the idea of chasing their dreams.



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