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Martha Stewart Weddings’ Editor In Chief Amy Conway To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “For Us The Information Chain Begins With The Magazine.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 22, 2018

“As you know, across all different kinds of areas our industry is definitely changing and we know that our audience gets her ideas, inspiration and information from so many different sources, so we make sure as a brand that we’re giving her information both digitally and in all the ways that she needs it. But, in terms of the magazine, she still definitely needs that as well.” Amy Conway…

“I think that weddings can be overwhelming and stressful things to plan, and when you go online and there’s this incredible wealth of information, sometimes that can make it even more overwhelming. When you have a magazine in your hands, as we all know, people who love print; it’s a really personal relationship that you have with your magazine and what can be more personal than planning a wedding?” Amy Conway…

Weddings are a blessing and oftentimes also a “stressing.” The bride and groom are anxious to have that perfect circle of love moment, all the while trying to deal with also getting that perfect dress, perfect ring, perfect bouquet, and perfect – everything. That’s when they turn to that perfect magazine that can help them do all of that with as less stress as possible.

Enter Martha Stewart Weddings. Martha Stewart Weddings was launched as an annual publication in 1994, and was expanded to quarterly in 1999. So longevity is certainly something the magazine knows about, proof positive that its handling the job of stress relief quite nicely. From the beautiful printed pages to its savvy website, Martha Stewart Weddings is carrying the mantra Print Proud Digital Smart to the extreme Mr. Magazine™ likes to see happen.

Amy Conway is editor in chief of the magazine and has been with the Martha Stewart brands for many years, holding a bevy of senior roles within the company. I spoke with Amy recently and we talked about the brand and how she thinks the magazine stands out from all of the other bridal and wedding titles out there on newsstands. With Martha Stewart’s own DIY style that is hers and hers alone, Amy believes that Martha Stewart Weddings reflects that same confidence and sincerity that Martha herself exudes. It’s a personal thing, Amy added. The Magazine helps couples define their personal wedding style, bringing each and every unique celebration to life.

Indeed, the magazine is and always has been a contender when it comes to creating the perfect wedding. So, I hope that you enjoy this delightful “walk down the aisle” with Amy and I. And whether it’s your first and only trip or one among many, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy Conway, editor in chief, will certainly put all of your wedding issues in perspective and turn the stressing into a blessing.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she thinks an ink on paper magazine is still needed for the Martha Stewart Weddings brand: As you know, across all different kinds of areas our industry is definitely changing and we know that our audience gets her ideas, inspiration and information from so many different sources, so we make sure as a brand that we’re giving her information both digitally and in all the ways that she needs it. But, in terms of the magazine, she still definitely needs that as well. And I think one of the main reasons is that weddings can be overwhelming and stressful things to plan, and when you go online and there’s this incredible wealth of information, sometimes that can make it even more overwhelming. When you have a magazine in your hands, as we all know, people who love print; it’s a really personal relationship that you have with your magazine and what can be more personal than planning a wedding?

On whether all of that information that’s out there makes her and her team’s job tougher and harder when it comes to curating content: No, I don’t think so, because we basically start from scratch with every issue. We look at what’s happening in the weddings world; we look at what’s inspiring us, and really things begin with the magazine for us. We create something that feels really special and individual. The basic idea of Martha Stewart Weddings hasn’t changed since the very beginning; it’s giving brides and grooms personalized ideas that they can use to make a distinctive day that really reflects them.

On the fact that once a reader gets married, the magazine basically loses that member of the audience and how she and her team deal with that: What we need to do is cover these topics with a different spin all of the time, and to come at them in a new way. What we can’t do is get so esoteric; we can’t ever say that we did bouquets two issues ago, so we can’t do bouquets again. We have to cover these core areas again and again, but we just need to do it in a way that always feels fresh, because with the way that trends in weddings change, it’s kind of a natural evolution as well.

On what she’s doing to ensure that Martha Stewart Weddings stands out at the newsstand over all the other bridal titles: That’s a great question. Sometimes I think brides just buy every magazine out there. And when they first get engaged, what often happens is they’ll buy all of the bridal magazines and then they will go and take a look and see which one is for them. And the brides who feel that Martha Stewart Weddings is for them are the ones who want beautiful and elegant ideas with a little bit of a hint of DIY. And again, we really provide ideas in a way that no other brand does, which is so important because brides and grooms are looking to make that wedding feel so personal. And that makes us stand out.

On how they fare on newsstands since many people do not subscribe to bridal and wedding magazines: We do have more than a handful; we have a lot of industry people who subscribe. And we do sometimes hear from people who just enjoy the magazine and they like to keep getting it because they use the ideas for entertaining and things like that, even once they’ve gotten married. But of course, we’re predominantly a newsstand magazine and I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was challenging. It’s definitely a challenging environment right now for newsstand, for sure. But we’re out there among all of the other magazines and we like to think that we stand out in that crowd.

On whether she and publisher, Darren Mazzucca, work together on marketing the magazine: Darren Mazzucca, who you mentioned you spoke with, is the publisher of Martha Stewart Weddings as well, so he and I work together really closely. Actually, he, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief MSL) and I talk a lot as well, because there are a certain amount of similarities in the brand and we’re all about Martha in a lot of ways. Darren is really amazing and I work closely with him and also our marketing director in coming up with different ideas and the events that we’re doing. So yes, there’s a lot of collaboration and conversation.

On how she makes content into an experience: Our ideas are very actionable. We’re communicating with an audience who is very passionate. You don’t idly look through a bridal magazine, or idly go onto a website; you’re there because you’re looking for ideas and information. So, I think naturally we have a really motivated audience who is actively pursuing ideas. In terms of an experience; digitally, we have a very active following on Instagram. And we communicate with our readers in all different ways.

On how she creates Martha Stewart’s wedding instead of Amy Conway’s wedding: That’s a good question. For one thing, it’s not just me or Martha; we have a staff of really creative, amazing people who make the bouquets and who come up with the ideas for the favors; who go out and choose the prettiest dresses. It’s a whole collaboration, and that’s always been the case at Martha Stewart Weddings.

On the secret sauce for the longevity of the Martha Stewart titles: I think she started this really before anyone else did and she’s just made this connection with a lot of people, and she has transcended; there is Martha the person and Martha the brand. And she doesn’t appear in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings for the most part, unless she’s at one of our weddings, but you feel her presence there on every page, because the brand is so consistent and so strong.

On the biggest challenge she’s had in her career: In terms of personal career development and growth, I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish, but I have been really fortunate to have had a long career working largely for one brand or one company and all of its different guises. I’ve probably had 12 or 13 different jobs working for Martha, which is an extremely rare thing in our industry, as you know. So, on a personal basis, I just feel really lucky to have had all of the experience that I’ve had. I don’t really feel like I’ve hit a lot of stumbling blocks along the way. If something can be described as hard, it would be just navigating our way as the media landscape changes. I think that’s hard for all of us editors. But, we’re doing our best to roll with it.

On one singular moment since she’s been at Martha Stewart Weddings that was so pleasant it made her think or say wow: I was working on Martha Stewart Living before I came to Martha Stewart Weddings, and Weddings is definitely a different industry. There was one time that I can remember going to my first bridal market, which is the week when you have all of the bridal fashion shows, and getting to go and see those beautiful dresses in person and the amazing designers and the shows that they put on. You know you can say that all wedding dresses are white and elegant and there are definitely a lot of similarities, but when you see them coming down the runway one after the other, you can really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them. I have to say that it was a really exciting moment for me, getting to go to my first bridal market, because Martha Stewart Living is not a fashion magazine, and getting into that fashion world was really exciting.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: I would have to say that the glass is half full.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Most week nights you would probably find me cooking dinner with my boyfriend for my two teenaged kids. And after dinner, you might find me watching, these days, “The Great British Baking Show,” which my kids and I have been binge-watching on Netflix.

On what keeps her up at night: It might be my pug; my dog, pugs are very noisy. The things that I think about, if I can’t get back to sleep at night, are often the little things like, did I remember to return that person’s email or something. Those things seem like a bigger deal in the middle of the night, and then in the morning those little worries have gone away. But it’s usually those little things at night that keep me up. In terms of the big picture, the really big stuff in life, I just feel like it has a way of working out.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy Conway, editor in chief, Martha Stewart Weddings.

Samir Husni: Bridal and wedding magazines used to be some of the biggest print magazines in the country. I remember days where you needed both hands to carry magazines like Bride or Modern Bride, they were so full. But with digital and social media arriving on the scene, things have changed. Why do you think that you still need an ink on paper Martha Stewart Weddings magazine?

Amy Conway: As you know, across all different kinds of areas our industry is definitely changing and we know that our audience gets her ideas, inspiration and information from so many different sources, so we make sure as a brand that we’re giving her information both digitally and in all the ways that she needs it. But, in terms of the magazine, she still definitely needs that as well.

And I think one of the main reasons is that weddings can be overwhelming and stressful things to plan, and when you go online and there’s this incredible wealth of information, sometimes that can make it even more overwhelming. When you have a magazine in your hands, as we all know, people who love print; it’s a really personal relationship that you have with your magazine and what can be more personal than planning a wedding?

So, when you’re looking at an issue of Martha Stewart Weddings, you’re basically getting curated ideas that are meant for you, with exactly what you’re doing at that moment. You’re getting the newest ideas and the best information all in one place. And that makes it feel current; it feels like that intimate relationship that you have with that magazine. We hear from vendors all of the time that brides still come to the florist and the caterers; they bring in their copy of the magazine with dog-eared pages; they’re ripping out ideas. So, we know that our couples are getting information from so many different sources, but definitely from magazines as well.

Samir Husni: Does this make your job easier or harder with the abundance of information out there? Do you feel like your job and your staff’s has changed dramatically and now it’s even tougher and harder on you to curate all of that information?

Amy Conway: No, I don’t think so, because we basically start from scratch with every issue. We look at what’s happening in the weddings world; we look at what’s inspiring us, and really things begin with the magazine for us. We create something that feels really special and individual. The basic idea of Martha Stewart Weddings hasn’t changed since the very beginning; it’s giving brides and grooms personalized ideas that they can use to make a distinctive day that really reflects them.

So for us, the information chain begins with the magazine, and from there we work with our digital team and our ideas go online and they create a lot of their own ideas as well, and there’s a lot of social media. But I wouldn’t say that it makes our jobs harder per se, because the team who works predominantly on the magazine; we just love what we do and are excited to do it every issue. We have new readers almost every year. And we’re always covering dresses, cakes, flowers, favors and all of those details and etiquette; there’s always a new way to do it. We could repeat ourselves year after year, but we don’t do that, and it’s actually surprisingly easy not to. There’s always another way to make a bouquet; there’s always new dresses coming out in the market.

You have to keep in mind everything that’s happening digitally, but in terms of creating the magazine from scratch the way we do every issue, I don’t think that’s harder.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that your readers change all of the time. I always use the bridal magazines as an example when I talk about the three types of relationships that can be had with the audience: the one-night stand, where a celebrity dies and you grab a magazine about that celebrity; then there’s the love affair, you get engaged and you go and get all of these wedding magazines, you get married and that’s it, there’s no need for the magazine anymore. And then of course, there’s the long-lasting relationship; you get Better Homes & Gardens for the rest of your life and you get used to receiving it. How do you deal with that changing audience? We know that weddings aren’t going to disappear, but when you meet with your team, do you discuss the fact that once someone gets married, you’ve lost that reader?

Amy Conway: What we need to do is cover these topics with a different spin all of the time, and to come at them in a new way. What we can’t do is get so esoteric; we can’t ever say that we did bouquets two issues ago, so we can’t do bouquets again. We have to cover these core areas again and again, but we just need to do it in a way that always feels fresh, because with the way that trends in weddings change, it’s kind of a natural evolution as well.

And Martha brands, in general, Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings, tend to be more classic and timeless. So, you can look at one of our issues from 18 -20 years ago and the ideas really hold up and they still show up on people’s online inspiration boards. The ideas are really timeless, but at the same time there are certain trends that we need to reflect on and report on. Certain things stay the same and certain things change, and we have to be right there with the brides and the things that they’re thinking about and looking for.

Samir Husni: What are you doing to ensure that when that bride-to-be sees Martha Stewart Weddings on newsstands, it jumps out at her over all of the other bridal titles?

Amy Conway: That’s a great question. Sometimes I think brides just buy every magazine out there. And when they first get engaged, what often happens is they’ll buy all of the bridal magazines and then they will go and take a look and see which one is for them. And the brides who feel that Martha Stewart Weddings is for them are the ones who want beautiful and elegant ideas with a little bit of a hint of DIY. And again, we really provide ideas in a way that no other brand does, which is so important because brides and grooms are looking to make that wedding feel so personal. And that makes us stand out.

And we actually reflect that on the cover as well. Again, if we’re just trying to stand out on the newsstand, for us we often have an idea on the cover. It might be a cake or a bouquet; sometimes we do have a model in a dress or a real bride or couple on the cover, but we know that some of our bestselling covers are those ideas; the really iconic shops that just make people feel like they want that bouquet or that cake.

Samir Husni: With the status of the newsstands and the nature of bridal and wedding magazines; how are you faring on newsstands? People rarely subscribe to bridal magazines.

Amy Conway: We do have more than a handful; we have a lot of industry people who subscribe. And we do sometimes hear from people who just enjoy the magazine and they like to keep getting it because they use the ideas for entertaining and things like that, even once they’ve gotten married. But of course, we’re predominantly a newsstand magazine and I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was challenging. It’s definitely a challenging environment right now for newsstand, for sure. But we’re out there among all of the other magazines and we like to think that we stand out in that crowd.

Samir Husni: I spoke to Darren Mazzucca not too long go about the mother brand, Martha Stewart Living. As editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings, do you spend time with your publisher? Is marketing now also a part of your everyday job?

Amy Conway: Darren Mazzucca, who you mentioned you spoke with, is the publisher of Martha Stewart Weddings as well, so he and I work together really closely. Actually, he, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief MSL) and I talk a lot as well, because there are a certain amount of similarities in the brand and we’re all about Martha in a lot of ways. Darren is really amazing and I work closely with him and also our marketing director in coming up with different ideas and the events that we’re doing. So yes, there’s a lot of collaboration and conversation.

Samir Husni: Today I’m hearing from editors that they’re no longer just content providers, but they’re experience makers. Do you feel that you’re an experience maker with the audience engaging with you, with the magazine, and with the digital platforms? And how do you make the content an experience?

Amy Conway: Our ideas are very actionable. We’re communicating with an audience who is very passionate. You don’t idly look through a bridal magazine, or idly go onto a website; you’re there because you’re looking for ideas and information. So, I think naturally we have a really motivated audience who is actively pursuing ideas. In terms of an experience; digitally, we have a very active following on Instagram. And we communicate with our readers in all different ways.

Samir Husni: If you were an editor of just a weddings magazine, you would be the creator of the ideas, but how do you channel Martha’s concepts into your own? Do you morph yourself into thinking like Martha? How do you create Martha Stewart’s wedding instead of Amy Conway’s wedding?

Amy Conway: That’s a good question. For one thing, it’s not just me or Martha; we have a staff of really creative, amazing people who make the bouquets and who come up with the ideas for the favors; who go out and choose the prettiest dresses. It’s a whole collaboration, and that’s always been the case at Martha Stewart Weddings.

I’ve worked for Martha for a very long time and what I have to say is if you’re really someone who understands the brand, which you need to be to work here, and you want to share the basics and what’s important to this brand with other people, then Martha is the guiding force, basically. I wouldn’t say that we’d ask: what would Martha do, but she embodies the brand and she works closely with the people who work for her. So, people really understand what makes an idea a “Martha” idea versus something that’s not on-brand. It’s really following the brand’s ethics and what it stands for. And that’s not a hard thing for the people who work here.

Samir Husni: Since you’ve worked with Martha for a long time, what do you think the secret ingredient is for the longevity of her celebrity-based titles, Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings?

Amy Conway: Martha came along, doing what she does, before anyone else did. She really struck a chord with people who were looking to get more out of their lives and their home lives. Some people used to say that they would get stressed-out, looking at our magazines because there is so much to do and they couldn’t do it all, and I remember Martha saying, if you just make one recipe or one idea from the issue and it improves your life a little bit, that’s what she wanted. The brand is really about helping people improve their lives.

I think she started this really before anyone else did and she’s just made this connection with a lot of people, and she has transcended; there is Martha the person and Martha the brand. And she doesn’t appear in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings for the most part, unless she’s at one of our weddings, but you feel her presence there on every page, because the brand is so consistent and so strong.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Amy Conway: In terms of personal career development and growth, I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish, but I have been really fortunate to have had a long career working largely for one brand or one company and all of its different guises. I’ve probably had 12 or 13 different jobs working for Martha, which is an extremely rare thing in our industry, as you know. So, on a personal basis, I just feel really lucky to have had all of the experience that I’ve had. I don’t really feel like I’ve hit a lot of stumbling blocks along the way. If something can be described as hard, it would be just navigating our way as the media landscape changes. I think that’s hard for all of us editors. But, we’re doing our best to roll with it.

Samir Husni: Is there one pleasant moment that you always recall, a day that made you think or say wow?

Amy Conway: From my job right now?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Amy Conway: I was working on Martha Stewart Living before I came to Martha Stewart Weddings, and Weddings is definitely a different industry. There was one time that I can remember going to my first bridal market, which is the week when you have all of the bridal fashion shows, and getting to go and see those beautiful dresses in person and the amazing designers and the shows that they put on.

You know you can say that all wedding dresses are white and elegant and there are definitely a lot of similarities, but when you see them coming down the runway one after the other, you can really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them. I have to say that it was a really exciting moment for me, getting to go to my first bridal market, because Martha Stewart Living is not a fashion magazine, and getting into that fashion world was really exciting.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Amy Conway: I would have to say that the glass is half full.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Amy Conway: Most week nights you would probably find me cooking dinner with my boyfriend for my two teenaged kids. And after dinner, you might find me watching, these days, “The Great British Baking Show,” which my kids and I have been binge-watching on Netflix.

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

Amy Conway: It might be my pug; my dog, pugs are very noisy. The things that I think about, if I can’t get back to sleep at night, are often the little things like, did I remember to return that person’s email or something. Those things seem like a bigger deal in the middle of the night, and then in the morning those little worries have gone away. But it’s usually those little things at night that keep me up. In terms of the big picture, the really big stuff in life, I just feel like it has a way of working out.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Linda Thomas Brooks, President And CEO, MPA: The Magazine Media Association And James Hewes, President And CEO, FIPP: The Global Media Network To Keynote The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience Opening Night April 17.

January 19, 2018

Magazines and Magazine Media: A Global View

As I’ve said in the past, the idea that digital media was born into this world to destroy print is preposterous. Yes, you heard me, preposterous. The conspiracy theory just doesn’t wash here. The two platforms are mutually conducive to complementary experiences for the one group of people who matter in this quandary: the audience. And to be truthful, the initial introduction of print and digital was rocky, to say the least. It was daunting for digital and frightening for print, since most of the human race was spouting digital’s prowess over legacy media, which was a hard thing for the pixels to undertake singlehandedly and a totally unnerving thought for the print component. And finally, the magazine media industry has started to figure out a way (or ways) to reintroduce the two properly and they’re working on it diligently.

So, what does all of the above mean for magazines and magazine media? Where is the industry heading in 2018 and beyond? Both good questions, right? Well, here’s another one: what is the state of magazine media right now in this digital age? To answer those questions (and many others) you’d have to ask people in the know; the ones who have a global perspective on this industry we call magazine media.

In order to delve beneath the surface of what appears to be and discover what really is, Mr. Magazine™ asked two people who run a couple of the largest magazine media associations in the world: Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the MPA – The Association of Magazine Media and James Hewes, president and CEO of FIPP – The Network for Global Media, to take the mic and the stage on April 17, 2018 and give us the lowdown from their perspectives. What resulted is the opening evening of the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT (Amplify, Clarify, & Testify) 8 Experience, where Print Proud Digital Smart becomes more than just a 21st century mantra.

Since 1919, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media has been the primary advocate and voice for the magazine media industry, driving thought leadership and game-changing strategies to promote the industry’s vitality and increase its revenues and market share. MPA represents 200 domestic, associate and international members and is headquartered in New York City, with a government affairs office in Washington, D.C.

And FIPP – The Network for Global Media represents more than 500 content-rich companies or individuals involved in the creation, publishing or sharing of quality content to audiences of interest. FIPP exists to help its members develop better strategies and build better businesses by identifying and communicating emerging trends, sharing knowledge, and improving skills, worldwide.

And the two visionaries that head up these highly esteemed and important media advocates are powerhouses of knowledge and experience when it comes to magazine media’s print and digital futures. Mr. Magazine™ spoke with Linda Thomas Brooks in an interview not long after she was appointed president and CEO of the MPA and she was adamant about the conjoining of print and digital, and about her views on both:

Linda Thomas Brooks to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I didn’t come here because I’m anti-digital. Digital does some things really, really well. But digital media doesn’t do everything really well. And as advertisers, and again what we’ve seen in conversations last month, consumers have realized that too, and there has to be a mix. So, I’m not here because I’m anti-digital; I’m not here because I’m a Luddite. Many of our magazine brands have fantastic digital properties. But those properties, and that’s why I mentioned the research that we’re looking at right now, resonate more in the marketplace because they’re tied to a magazine brand. That brand, whatever format that it’s on, print, digital, mobile, social; whatever, that brand name is a sure cut to quality to consumers. They know that they can trust it wherever it appears. And so what I want to do is validate the business model that perpetuates those brands, because the quality in those brands is really what this whole thing is about.”

And in a recent interview with James Hewes that I did, James confirmed his own stance on the exciting time we live and work in when it comes to the many facets of print and digital:

James Hewes to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I fervently believe that this is the most exciting time in history to be working in this industry. From the outside looking in, people may think it’s crazy, why would someone go and work in the publishing industry generally, and I’m not just talking about print, but publishing in media generally. And I say to them, are you crazy? This is an absolutely fantastic time to be working in it, because publishing companies are now exposed to such a broad range, a huge variety, of business areas that in the old days you would never, ever have gotten exposure to, whether that’s e-commerce or social media or social influences, whatever you want to think of, as a new business area that they’ve gone into. And at the same time, we get to play with magazines, which are really fun and really a fantastic industry in their own right. So, all I would say is this is an incredibly great industry and I’m still really excited to be a part of it.

And their credentials to validate these points are impeccable:

Linda Thomas Brooks has an impressive background in media, having served as executive vice president and managing director of GM MediaWorks, where she built the GM Media Lab, and in leadership roles with innovative companies such as GearDigital and The Martin Agency. She has spent her career at the intersection of media, consumer behavior and technology. She has developed media and marketing strategies for many well-known brands and companies, including General Motors, GEICO, The American Cancer Society, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente and Experian. Her experience serving both businesses and consumers covers a wide-range of media disciplines and capabilities, including digital and emerging media; data and analytics; media strategy, buying and planning.

Brooks has also received numerous industry honors, including Advertising Age Women to Watch Award, Advertising Women of New York Impact Award for mentoring and 100 Leading Women in North American Automotive Industry. She was also initiated into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement for early career achievement.

James Hewes has been a director of the FIPP Management Board since October 2015 and has been involved with FIPP since 2004 when he was working in the international publishing industry for BBC Worldwide. More recently he has been interim CEO for The Art Newspaper and lead consultant with his own business focused on project management for the media industry.

Beginning his career at Barclays Bank as a business consultant, Hewes worked across BBC Worldwide and BBC Magazines from 2001 to 2012 building a track record of success in marketing, digital and print publishing, events and international business development. He was the launch publisher of olive magazine, and grew BBC Magazines’ licensing portfolio from eight to 55 editions including 20 editions of Top Gear Magazine. He was also a key member of the team that sold BBC Magazines to private equity in November 2011 for £120m. He subsequently became publishing director for Top Gear, Good Food, Easy Cook and Lonely Planet Magazine, responsible for the brands across print and mobile applications as well as a director of the BBC Haymarket Exhibitions joint venture.

As publishing director of Dubai-based Gulf News Publishing until 2016, he had responsibility for more than 30 product areas, including digital across mobile, websites and apps, live events, magazines, books, newspaper supplements, content marketing and contract publishing. He launched new brands across digital, live events and print including http://www.gntech.ae and Citizen K Arabia and the launch of the group’s first consumer title in Arabic – wheels Arabic.

So, if you want to if you want to succeed in today’s world in the magazine business, you have to be Print Proud & Digital Smart. It’s not a choice, it’s an absolute. And if you want to hear and learn more about this highly evocative concept, make plans today to join us in Oxford, Miss. for the ACT 8 Experience, April 17-20, 2018. You won’t be disappointed.

To register for the ACT 8 Experience click here. Space is limited and only the first 100 registrants will be able to attend.

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Hoffman Media: Finding Print And Digital Avenues To See Continued Success For Both Their Flagship Titles & Their New Titles. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Hoffman Media’s President And Chief Creative Officer Brian Hart Hoffman.

January 17, 2018

“We want to continue making our print-brand publications better and brandier. And updated in line with what people expect and where we see revenue success today…” Brian Hart Hoffman

“It is a different proposition for the company to be launching a brand that does not necessarily have the print product first or the print counterpart to the digital platform, but I think you will see the same dedication to content creation and the user-engagement experience to have just as much thought put into it as we do for our print brands…” Brian Hart Hoffman

Believing in and promoting top-quality print products is something that Hoffman Media has been doing since its inception in 1983 when Phyllis Hoffman DePiano founded the company as Symbol of Excellence Publishers, Inc. It was renamed Hoffman Media in 1998. Today the company’s flagship brands like Taste of the South and Southern Lady are thriving, and newer titles like Bake From Scratch and Southern Cast Iron are becoming flagships in their own right.

Brian Hart Hoffman is president and chief creative officer for Hoffman Media, and has a passion for the brands and the company that is only exceeded by his energy and vision for the business. With the success of newer titles, such as the ones mentioned above, Bake From Scratch and Southern Cast Iron, and coupled with the readers’ dedication to the look and feel of these titles, Brian and the team at Hoffman saw an opportunity to up the quality of their legacy titles even more by adapting the wider format and giving them a fresh, new look for the fresh, new year.

I spoke with Brian recently and we talked about Hoffman Media and its continued efforts to always lead with quality for their readers. Putting their audience first is something that Brian said they will never cease doing. From investing in the paper, the photography, and the content, Hoffman’s hallmark of producing beautifully done and exceptionally well crafted magazines is something that the entire company takes pride in. And with their continued commitment to the digital space, their online users are never disappointed either.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who wants to continue making their print-brand titles better and “brandier” for all their customers – Brian Hart Hoffman, president and chief creative officer, Hoffman Media.

But first the sound-bites:

On the changes taking place at Hoffman Media: I would say the biggest thing happening that would address all of that, concerning new publications and some of our flagship publications that have been in print for many years; we’re seeing readers really demand the quality and that’s something that Hoffman Media has always taken pride in, publishing top quality magazines. We invest in paper; we invest in photography; and we invest in the content. But with our flagship brands now, we’re having to look back and realize that there’s even more room to upgrade that quality.

On whether Hoffman Media will continue to make its print publications printier and brandier in 2018: The Hoffman Media position on that is absolutely; we want to continue making our print-brand publications better and brandier. And updated in line with what people expect and where we see revenue success today.

On whether the success of Southern Cast Iron, Bake From Scratch and other more recent titles had something to do with the refresh of established magazines like Taste of the South and Southern Lady: Sure! I would absolutely say that us successfully testing publications that were on wide format and $12.99; they’re more expensive than the cover price of these publications still, and the success we saw from it and the demand from the audience was amazing.

On the new title Cook: Real Food Every Day: That publication was something that we saw as what we have called the savory sister to Bake From Scratch, where just an opportunity in the market to present food that’s very flavorful with fresh ingredients and solutions for how to serve them on these busy days where you may be working full-time or taking children to and from various school and sporting events, but you still want to get an amazing dinner on the table. We really just saw a lot of demand in the marketplace for that level of content and so we put out that first test issue.

On how he balances being president and chief creative officer of all the Hoffman Media titles and his baby Bake From Scratch: It’s definitely a balance. I have a really great team that I work with here at Hoffman Media. We have a dedicated editorial staff for Bake From Scratch that I have the pleasure of working with, probably daily. I do spend a lot of time overseeing that brand and all of the editorial planning and content meetings.

On the biggest challenge he thinks he’ll face as chief creative officer in 2018: I would say the biggest challenge for all of us in the industry, and for us at Hoffman Media, is just finding the avenues to see continued success for our flagship titles and our new titles. We talk a lot about the new face of magazine media and adapting daily to whatever the newest technology is that’s going to come onto the scene that’s viewed as a threat or competition to the print brands.

On anything new that might be in the hopper for 2018: The only thing that we’re exploring is the Cook: Real Food Every Day brand and we’re continuing our development and relaunch plans for cooking.com, so those two brands are in the hopper for 2018, you could say. We’ve heard an enormous amount of positive response from the first issue of Cook: Real Food Every Day, and if that same heartbeat is there that I think is, you’ll see more of that this year from our company. And the exciting launch of cooking.com as well.

On how Hoffman Media plans to balance cooking.com, a digital brand that doesn’t have a print component, with their other print/digital brands: Our plans aren’t at a state right now where I can tell too much, but I will be in touch with you the minute I am able to, so that you can get the scoop on it as well. But it is a different proposition for the company to be launching a brand that does not necessarily have the print product first or the print counterpart to the digital platform, but I think you will see the same dedication to content creation and the user-engagement experience to have just as much thought put into it as we do for our print brands.

On his definition of content in 2018: I would say that content is defined as anything that we produce and include in our print and digital products that provides the reader and user solutions for their lives. And whether it’s travel or food; cooking and baking, the time and energy that we put behind our products, from cover to cover, and everything on our website that we produce, is content. That’s how we look at content.

On whether he thinks the industry is reaching a saturation point when it comes to the amount of content that’s out there on topics such as food and travel, or he thinks there’s no such thing: I would say that there’s no such thing because of the different voices and messages by which we deliver the content. Sure, some of our content can be viewed as similar or overlapping in certain subject matters with other publishers or content creators, but I think we all bring a different perspective and voice to those conversations. I don’t know that there’s a saturation point as long as we continue to see engagement from our audiences that’s on the positive side and growing. We are certainly not at the saturation point here at Hoffman Media.

On the biggest surprise he had in 2017 when it comes to Hoffman Media: I guess when I look at the sheer volume of work that our employees and content creators here at Hoffman Media are producing. Last year was a record year for us with growth on the newsstand, both in volume and engaged readership. But I had a big wow when I realized that we published over 150 issues of magazines that went into distribution last year. (Laughs) That was my biggest wow.

On whether he is where he expected to be after coming back to the business, or he is pleasantly surprised at his role: In September of last year it was 10 years since I joined the business, and when I look back over that decade; I can answer your question in multiple ways. When I started 10 years ago, I never expected what I have experienced now, a passion and love for our industry and the story that’s not yet told, and the growth opportunities that are in front of us. But my passion and fire has just grown more and more every year. So, no, I did not see this coming, but it is a dream job that I am so on fire for every day.

On Classic Sewing’s cover price of almost $25 and whether he thinks there is a ceiling on what people are willing to pay for a single copy magazine: I think when they see the value that meets and exceeds that expectation, and it is a subject matter that they are more financially invested in than other areas; obviously, they’re buying and selling materials and various finishes, and with the machines that people are using to sew on; when they pick up a copy of Classic Sewing and realize that the content that’s in that issue and the packaged pattern that’s included in the polybag, the value exceeds $25 each issue.

On how his book sales are going now that he’s an author: Yes, it’s going wonderful. Last year, the Bake From Scratch cookbook was a number one new release and number one bestseller in some of the baking categories on Amazon. We had enormous success and had a second printing midway through the year to get through the holiday time. And the second volume of the Bake From Scratch cookbook is going to be released on March 1, 2018.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: The tattoo would say passionate.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I love to go home and cook and bake, and spend time in the kitchen with my husband. I unwind by doing more of what we do every day, but I actually get to get my hands in the kitchen and bake. I’m trying to limit the number of items I’m baking in a week, just because the consumption is not as fast as the desire to bake it. It’s truly a passion and a therapy for me all at the same time. I like to unwind by doing more of that with a glass of wine or a cocktail.

On what keeps him up at night: The to-do list for this year’s plans for 180 magazine releases. (Laughs) I think doing the best job that we can every day for our employees; for our company; for our brands; and for our readers. I’m always thinking about the next opportunity or ways to make sure that our employees feel appreciated and our magazines stay top-quality, and deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Those are the things that stay on any magazine editor’s brain, I think.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brian Hart Hoffman, president/chief creative officer, Hoffman Media.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on all of the changes that are taking place.

Brian Hart Hoffman: Thank you.

Samir Husni: You’ve implemented the changes with the new magazines that you’ve started and now you’re going back to the established titles and making them bigger, glossier, printier and brandier. What’s going on with Hoffman Media publications these days?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I would say the biggest thing happening that would address all of that, concerning new publications and some of our flagship publications that have been in print for many years; we’re seeing readers really demand the quality and that’s something that Hoffman Media has always taken pride in, publishing top quality magazines. We invest in paper; we invest in photography; and we invest in the content. But with our flagship brands now, we’re having to look back and realize that there’s even more room to upgrade that quality.

We just see an enormous amount of demand for the wide format publications, and giving them each a new fresh look for the New Year. Southern Lady is celebrating 20 years, so it was time for a little refresh, while maintaining the same commitment to the editorial that readers have come to know and love. We aren’t tampering with a lot of the editorial missions, we’re just upgrading the quality proposition.

Samir Husni: Is this a glimpse of what we’re going to see from Hoffman Media in 2018; making print printier and the brands brandier? And do you think some people are still hesitant to believe in print the way Hoffman does?

Brian Hart Hoffman: The Hoffman Media position on that is absolutely; we want to continue making our print-brand publications better and brandier. And updated in line with what people expect and where we see revenue success today.

My industry wish-list would be that we all embrace that same commitment to print and publishing high-quality publications, because I think as an industry that would benefit all of us. But at the same time, I can’t say that I see it happening across the board at other publishing companies, nor would I want to speculate or address why they do or they don’t do that. Our commitment and our business strategy is purely for Hoffman Media.

I don’t feel like what we’re doing would be considered a need-to of anyone that we see in our competitive set or in the industry, we just continue to listen to our own customers and what they want. And I think that’s a hallmark of Hoffman Media. We’ve always kept that line of dialogue and feedback open with our audience, and what they want to see more of.

Samir Husni:, After you launched Bake From Scratch, Southern Home, and Southern Cast Iron; all of these were launched in the larger format, was that the reason that you felt like Southern Lady and Taste of the South also needed to move in that direction, because of the success of the other titles?

Brian Hart Hoffman: Sure! I would absolutely say that us successfully testing publications that were on wide format and $12.99; they’re more expensive than the cover price of these publications still, and the success we saw from it and the demand from the audience was amazing.

We did get a lot of questions from readers about whether Taste of the South and Southern Lady were going to have the same upgrades that they saw with the newer products that were coming out of Hoffman Media. And I think that definitely motivated us to look at our flagship brands and the opportunities that would lie in front of us if we transitioned to the wide format and did some refreshing of the branding. So, absolutely, I think our own data drove us to look at the decision on these two titles.

Samir Husni: Talking about new titles; late last year you launched the premier issue of Cook: Real Food Every Day, and I chuckled when I saw it on the newsstands because I remembered your editorial where you said that you bake, you don’t cook. (Laughs)

Brian Hart Hoffman: (Laughs too). Yes, but other people cook. That publication was something that we saw as what we have called the savory sister to Bake From Scratch, where just an opportunity in the market to present food that’s very flavorful with fresh ingredients and solutions for how to serve them on these busy days where you may be working full-time or taking children to and from various school and sporting events, but you still want to get an amazing dinner on the table. We really just saw a lot of demand in the marketplace for that level of content and so we put out that first test issue.

Samir Husni: Every time I chat with you, the magazine that brings the biggest smile to your words is Bake From Scratch. How do you balance between being president and chief creative officer of all the Hoffman Media titles, and your role with your baby, Bake From Scratch?

Brian Hart Hoffman: It’s definitely a balance. I have a really great team that I work with here at Hoffman Media. We have a dedicated editorial staff for Bake From Scratch that I have the pleasure of working with, probably daily. I do spend a lot of time overseeing that brand and all of the editorial planning and content meetings.

But I have a wonderful team of editors, and tenured employees who are editors and brand directors of our other publications, so we all just have a really great synergy and work relationship where we believe in hard work. And we believe that I can be the editor in chief of Bake From Scratch and lead the creative division of Hoffman Media, because we all wear a lot of hats.

I think in previous interviews with you, we have talked about the fact that day-to-day we all wear a lot of hats, and about that being another trademark of Hoffman Media. When my mom started our publishing company 35 years ago, as the editor in chief of one publication, she continued to grow more brands. So, I guess I would say that I’m walking in her footsteps a little bit with that same balance of being editor in chief of one brand, but managing all of our other titles as well.

Samir Husni: As you move forward in your role as chief creative officer, what do you think will be your biggest challenge in 2018?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I would say the biggest challenge for all of us in the industry, and for us at Hoffman Media, is just finding the avenues to see continued success for our flagship titles and our new titles. We talk a lot about the new face of magazine media and adapting daily to whatever the newest technology is that’s going to come onto the scene that’s viewed as a threat or competition to the print brands.

But we’re really working hard to keep our brands growing in the digital space, while still keeping that strong commitment to the print product. I would look at that as my biggest challenge for the last number of years. But going into 2018, just remaining deeply committed to our print products, but seeing their growth and avenues for opportunities in other media spaces as well

Samir Husni: Is there anything in the hopper for 2018, in terms of new titles?

Brian Hart Hoffman: The only thing that we’re exploring is the Cook: Real Food Every Day brand and we’re continuing our development and relaunch plans for cooking.com, so those two brands are in the hopper for 2018, you could say. We’ve heard an enormous amount of positive response from the first issue of Cook: Real Food Every Day, and if that same heartbeat is there that I think is, you’ll see more of that this year from our company. And the exciting launch of cooking.com as well.

Samir Husni: The theme for this upcoming ACT 8 Experience in April is Print Proud, Digital Smart. And Hoffman Media is a perfect example of being just that; you didn’t throw out the baby with the water. (Laughs) So, what are the plans for cooking.com? How are you going to balance a website, such as cooking.com, that really doesn’t relate to a specific magazine brand, but to the genre of the brands.

Brian Hart Hoffman: Our plans aren’t at a state right now where I can tell too much, but I will be in touch with you the minute I am able to, so that you can get the scoop on it as well. But it is a different proposition for the company to be launching a brand that does not necessarily have the print product first or the print counterpart to the digital platform, but I think you will see the same dedication to content creation and the user-engagement experience to have just as much thought put into it as we do for our print brands.

You’ll see content that’s not just content, but it’s vetted, quality content and fun. There will be sources where you’ll see success with recipes and the content that lives on the site.

Samir Husni: This is a question that I’ve been asking all of the editorial people who I have been interviewing; what’s your definition of content in 2018?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I would say that content is defined as anything that we produce and include in our print and digital products that provides the reader and user solutions for their lives. And whether it’s travel or food; cooking and baking, the time and energy that we put behind our products, from cover to cover, and everything on our website that we produce, is content. That’s how we look at content.

Samir Husni: When you look at all of the content that you’re producing, and you look at all of the content that’s out there when it comes to food, travel and the Southern lifestyle; do you feel that we’re reaching a saturation point or there’s no such thing?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I would say that there’s no such thing because of the different voices and messages by which we deliver the content. Sure, some of our content can be viewed as similar or overlapping in certain subject matters with other publishers or content creators, but I think we all bring a different perspective and voice to those conversations. I don’t know that there’s a saturation point as long as we continue to see engagement from our audiences that’s on the positive side and growing. We are certainly not at the saturation point here at Hoffman Media.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest surprise for you in 2017 when it comes to Hoffman Media?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I guess when I look at the sheer volume of work that our employees and content creators here at Hoffman Media are producing. Last year was a record year for us with growth on the newsstand, both in volume and engaged readership. But I had a big wow when I realized that we published over 150 issues of magazines that went into distribution last year. (Laughs) That was my biggest wow.

Samir Husni: It’s been a few years now since you’ve been back in the publishing business, since you became involved with your mother and twin brother in the Hoffman Media operation. Did you expect to be where you are now when you came back, or were you pleasantly surprised, or you asked what have I done?

Brian Hart Hoffman: In September of last year it was 10 years since I joined the business, and when I look back over that decade; I can answer your question in multiple ways. When I started 10 years ago, I never expected what I have experienced now, a passion and love for our industry and the story that’s not yet told, and the growth opportunities that are in front of us. When I started 10 years ago, I was managing our company’s special events and I was traveling some, but I wasn’t involved in the editorial process day-to-day.

And I saw areas of that process that I wanted to be more involved in and I got excited, so I jumped in and started doing what I could and learning from the years of experience that my Mom had in the industry, and from the wonderful team of editors that we work with here at Hoffman Media.

But my passion and fire has just grown more and more every year. So, no, I did not see this coming, but it is a dream job that I am so on fire for every day. I love seeing our flagship brands continue to be loved by the readership. I love being a part of the new magazine launches, with new ideas that are meeting different voids in the marketplace. And everything in between. Engaging with our readers, and just our industry as a whole; I still see a lot of energy and fire from young creators who believe in the magazine industry. So, that gives me excitement every day. I would say that the energy level grows every day, and 10 years from now I’ll be even more excited.

Samir Husni: One of your magazines has a cover price of almost $25 per issue: Classic Sewing. Do you think there’s a ceiling on how much people are willing to pay for a single copy issue of a magazine?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I think when they see the value that meets and exceeds that expectation, and it is a subject matter that they are more financially invested in than other areas; obviously, they’re buying and selling materials and various finishes, and with the machines that people are using to sew on; when they pick up a copy of Classic Sewing and realize that the content that’s in that issue and the packaged pattern that’s included in the polybag, the value exceeds $25 each issue.

For a publisher to go to that level or really any level of price, the readership has to be able to see and find that value easily. And if they do, we don’t see a resistance to them paying the price. But they’re getting high quality and they’re not getting ripped off, let’s put it that way.

Samir Husni: How are your book sales going? In addition to being chief creative officer, you’re also a book author now.

Brian Hart Hoffman: Yes, it’s going wonderful. Last year, the Bake From Scratch cookbook was a number one new release and number one bestseller in some of the baking categories on Amazon. We had enormous success and had a second printing midway through the year to get through the holiday time. And the second volume of the Bake From Scratch cookbook is going to be released on March 1, 2018. So, we’re expecting another big year from another book coming out with my name on the cover.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Brian Hart Hoffman: The tattoo would say passionate.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Brian Hart Hoffman: I love to go home and cook and bake, and spend time in the kitchen with my husband. I unwind by doing more of what we do every day, but I actually get to get my hands in the kitchen and bake. I’m trying to limit the number of items I’m baking in a week, just because the consumption is not as fast as the desire to bake it. It’s truly a passion and a therapy for me all at the same time. I like to unwind by doing more of that with a glass of wine or a cocktail.

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

Brian Hart Hoffman: The to-do list for this year’s plans for 180 magazine releases. (Laughs) I think doing the best job that we can every day for our employees; for our company; for our brands; and for our readers. I’m always thinking about the next opportunity or ways to make sure that our employees feel appreciated and our magazines stay top-quality, and deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Those are the things that stay on any magazine editor’s brain, I think.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Orlando Style Magazine’s Founder And Publisher Sven Bode To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Our Secret Of Longevity Is In Constantly Bringing Something To The People That Surprises Them. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 15, 2018

“It’s pretty much like a vogue magazine in a regional area, they don’t really need the vogue anymore, because they have it here with them and more personalized, like what really affects them. But also with information about the rest of the world; we have celebrity news, high-end cars, travel destinations around the world. We’ve built it like a national magazine for a regional market, which is very unusual. You have to stick to your concept, or otherwise you’ll fail.” Sven Bode…

With a true entrepreneurial spirit, Sven Bode is a self-made man. He started his own ad agency in his early twenties in Berlin, Germany, when many young people are still trying to find their place in the world. He met and married an American woman and together they came to the United States, Florida to be precise, to live together as husband and wife. Sven settled on an early retirement once they were locked into the Florida lifestyle, but soon found that an existence of ease was not the one meant for him, so he got involved in the ad agency business again, and before long magazines became his true destiny. The rest they say is history.

Today, Sven is proud publisher and owner of Orlando Style, Tampa Style, and his latest endeavor, the Portfolio magazine series. These regional titles have exceeded even his wildest dreams, taking the publications to the top of the area’s luxury market, and making the Crème de la Crème of Florida society anxious to be featured between the magazines’ pages. But along with a who’s who compilation of people, places and things, Sven said the success of his regional titles is that they read more like national magazines, offering travel destinations, celebrity news, and intriguing information.

For almost 15 years, Orlando Style and its passionate and sincere owner have been sifting the silky sands of Florida and turning up gold every time when it comes to a successful print magazine. And along with Tampa Style and the Portfolio series, Sven Bode has proven he knows what his audience wants and how to give it to them.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a true entrepreneur, a man who self-admits his mind is always working and never slows down when it comes to the next great thing – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sven Bode, founder, owner & publisher, Orlando Style, Tampa Style and Portfolio Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On his story, how he began in the magazine media business: Yes, Orlando Style was the first title here in America. I’m originally from Berlin, Germany, West Berlin at that time, and I studied engineering, so it’s completely different, but maybe not that far away if you think about it, (Laughs) because I focused on industrial design. In my early twenties, I started my first company, and then a few years later, at 22 or 23, I started an ad agency. Then I became involved with an American girl. (Laughs) And she wanted to come to Florida, actually, she wanted to come back to America, and so we chose Florida. But then I started with an early retirement, which didn’t work, on Marco Island; beautiful Marco Island. Like an entrepreneur, my blood was boiling and I couldn’t go boating every day, that was too boring for me. (Laughs) And then we came to Orlando and I said to my wife, there are only these old, classic kind of city magazines, like what you have almost all over the country. Very dry; I would say, even boring.

On the secret of longevity with his regional titles: It’s constantly bringing something to the people that surprises them, especially with Orlando Style. We’re literally working with hundreds of photographers, worldwide even, like a national magazine. I’m always comparing myself to a national magazine, and I’m from Berlin, not from a small city, and my wife is from Los Angeles, so we know the world. We’ve traveled the world and we kind of live that life that our readers live. And that’s a big advantage, because we know, I think we know and I believe we proved we know, what these readers want.

On how he continues to survive in print in today’s marketplace: That’s definitely a difficult part. But my belief is that the Internet is more a mass market kind of tool where you can locate things, like a Wal-Mart or something, or some kind of other information; blogs that talk about teenage riots or things like that. That’s not what we do. We focus really on the luxury market, and this market has actually had a very good year, better than before the Recession actually, as far as I know. We survived the Recession years with a dropdown of maybe 25 percent or so, but I’m not a big, large corporation; I have to make a profit. I cannot go in red numbers for several years. (Laughs) That’s not good. I may survive that, but the company wouldn’t survive it.

On what has been the biggest challenge for him: The biggest challenge with regionals is that we can’t go ahead and say, okay, I’m hiring a sales team of 10 people and I pay them a $100,000 per year; that’s just not possible. Sales people are the business challenge; it’s a constant fluctuation, they come and they go. But luckily, with us, we have some very consistent ones and they’re really good, and they make good money. But it’s a tough thing.

On what he would like to accomplish in 2018: We do want to implement more of the digital part, which we have over 100,000 people who are actually recorded members; you could even call them subscribers, constantly getting our information. We have e-blast tool and then also all of the websites. We’re also working on the serve part, more in that direction, so that we attract people easily. They can buy an ad with us, either one-by-one or do a frequency. We implement that more and more now. And it’s actually starting to pick up. That makes it easier for print to get more pages sold.

On whether they are becoming platform agnostic: Yes, the platform is expanding too; it’s not just face-to-face, phone, or email. It’s everything. Also activating people, they’re actually on the phone or on the web to say, click and their credit card here; it’s an easy process. They can buy with one click. It’s an easier process and people like that. They’re having some benefits out of it; the benefit of using their credit card and maybe earning points and things like that. All of these things are working together and it seems to be working as far as we can see already. We have some traction on that part.

On whether he and his wife are permanent Florida residents now or there are plans to go back to Germany: No, I don’t go back to Germany. I spend part of my time at the beach in the Panhandle, and going to Orlando. I go often to Orlando, but we work using normal technology. It makes it much easier to work streamline on new things. My personal clients that I have are mostly in New York or Atlanta, but we mostly use email or phone. But we’re in Florida.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: As a typical entrepreneur, I’m a 24/7 type of person. (Laughs) You never stop thinking of it, so I’m often doing some real estate things and I’m an accomplished artist also; a painter. I paint and even sell them for a good price. So, that relaxes me and cooking also relaxes me, and I have twins – two-and-a-half-years-old, so that’s what I do with the rest of the day. (Laughs) It’s good. I’m very lucky and happy.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Just that I’m a good person. I don’t like to cheat anybody or harm anybody. And I also want to be successful. I always try to see the good in people and act like it.

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) That’s a hard one. With any business there’s always something. I have to be the person that’s putting out fires that may occur, and that’s with any company. Nobody can tell me it never happens to them. If someone makes a mistake, I have to be the one who soothes the ache, you know? (Laughs again) That keeps me up at night sometimes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sven Bode, founder, owner & publisher, Orlando Style, Tampa Style, Portfolio Magazines.

Samir Husni: Tell me your story; how did you end up doing what you’re doing? I believe Orlando Style was the first title?

Sven Bode: Yes, Orlando Style was the first title here in America. I’m originally from Berlin, Germany, West Berlin at that time, and I studied engineering, so it’s completely different, but maybe not that far away if you think about it, (Laughs) because I focused on industrial design.

In my early twenties, I started my first company, and then a few years later, at 22 or 23, I started an ad agency. Of course, there were advertising agencies in Berlin, which were kind of following the road to top 50 in mag, 60 years. That was also when the Wall opened up at that time, and I was bought out by an American advertising company. I wanted to go into the Eastern market. It was very good and efficient and hard work, but it was the right thing to do, I guess.

Then I became involved with an American girl. (Laughs) And she wanted to come to Florida, actually, she wanted to come back to America, and so we chose Florida. But then I started with an early retirement, which didn’t work, on Marco Island; beautiful Marco Island. Like an entrepreneur, my blood was boiling and I couldn’t go boating every day, that was too boring for me. (Laughs)

So, I started another little ad agency, just to do something. I only had about 10 clients or so within a few months. Not too much work, but just something to do. But then I got an offer to buy into a publication, like a food guide type of magazine. And it was an annual, very difficult, obviously. Annuals are terrible, with the logistics and everything. I expanded it to other markets, and then I expanded it a little bit more to Miami and Key West. And then I sold it a couple of years later because it was just too much of a pain, but I sold it at a profit.

And then we came to Orlando and I said to my wife, there are only these old, classic kind of city magazines, like what you have almost all over the country. Very dry; I would say, even boring. Not really focusing on what the people want, more like focusing on what they used to do for the last 60 years or something. And that’s really very unattractive. And Orlando was kind of in a phase of getting totally modernized, it was 2003 – 2004.

So, I thought, okay, nobody is really focusing on that and that’s what people who are really wealthy here want. There are quite a few billionaires in Orlando. So, I said let’s start a high-class magazine like an Ocean Drive Magazine, but called Orlando Style. And that’s the story.

I financed it all myself; I didn’t take out a loan, I had enough money. And the first issue was really like an overnight success. I had people from Universal and other bigger companies in the city coming to me at an event where we had actually delivered magazines; and people were coming up to me and saying they just had to be a part of this. And I said okay, (Laughs) very good.

But for the first issue, I had some good contacts; I hired in the beginning Lizzie Grubman as PR for the company; she’s from New York City. And she brought me into some agencies; it was really good. And for the first issue I actually had really good national advertisers already and that’s very unusual for a regional, especially for an Orlando regional. That worked out very good and then I had a great team preselling everything. So, we did alright for the first issue.

And then we want on from there. First it was a bimonthly and in 2007 I changed over to 10 times a year, which is unique for an Orlando. You can’t really do 12, even though others do 12, it really doesn’t make sense financially.

Samir Husni: What’s your secret? I mean, others start magazines and fold. We’ve seen a lot of magazines come and go; maybe they’ll survive a year or two, but you’ve been almost 15 years with Orlando Style; another seven or eight years with Tampa Style, and now with Orlando Portfolio. What’s your secret?

Sven Bode: It’s constantly bringing something to the people that surprises them, especially with Orlando Style. We’re literally working with hundreds of photographers, worldwide even, like a national magazine. I’m always comparing myself to a national magazine, and I’m from Berlin, not from a small city, and my wife is from Los Angeles, so we know the world. We’ve traveled the world and we kind of live that life that our readers live. And that’s a big advantage, because we know, I think we know and I believe we proved we know, what these readers want.

It’s pretty much like a vogue magazine in a regional area, they don’t really need the vogue anymore, because they have it here with them and more personalized, like what really affects them. But also with information about the rest of the world; we have celebrity news, high-end cars, travel destinations around the world. We’ve built it like a national magazine for a regional market, which is very unusual. I don’t focus only on what’s the mayor doing, and putting the mayor on the cover. I’ve never sold my cover ever, and I’ve had really high offers from some local bigshots, but I’ve always declined. You have to stick to your concept, or otherwise you’ll fail. It’s like the McDonald’s principle: your consistency all over; people know what to expect, they see something as exciting and they want to see more of it. Keep that excitement up, that’s a big part of it.

Samir Husni: You started the magazine before the dawn of the digital age in force, and then 2007-2008 happened and we had the economy crash and technology burst onto the scene. We had Smartphones, Smart tablets, and now digital is everywhere. How do you continue to survive in print in today’s marketplace?

Sven Bode: That’s definitely a difficult part. But my belief is that the Internet is more a mass market kind of tool where you can locate things, like a Wal-Mart or something, or some kind of other information; blogs that talk about teenage riots or things like that. That’s not what we do. We focus really on the luxury market, and this market has actually had a very good year, better than before the Recession actually, as far as I know. We survived the Recession years with a dropdown of maybe 25 percent or so, but I’m not a big, large corporation; I have to make a profit. I cannot go in red numbers for several years. (Laughs) That’s not good. I may survive that, but the company wouldn’t survive it.

So, we do negotiations where we buy stuff, such as printers. That’s a big part of it. The price is going up again on printing, but at that time, we had a lot of power to say, okay, you want to print a lot of our magazines here, give me a good price. Also my advertisers, they have only so much money and they want to get in the magazine for that. So, you have to carry on to the next one, else you cannot survive.

And of course, you have to have a buffer. You have to have the typical conservative management. You have to be able to build a buffer for the company when there are hard times, so, that you can continue to live if you need to. That maybe has kept us throughout the years in a safe or, I always call it, the ship is sailing in smooth waters, you know? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: And during that “sailing,” what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Sven Bode: The biggest challenge with regionals is that we can’t go ahead and say, okay, I’m hiring a sales team of 10 people and I pay them a $100,000 per year; that’s just not possible. Sales people are the business challenge; it’s a constant fluctuation, they come and they go. But luckily, with us, we have some very consistent ones and they’re really good, and they make good money. But it’s a tough thing.

Everybody nowadays, younger people, sometimes think they can go into a startup or something, in a bigger company and get $50,000 or $60,000 right away, without any kind of experience. And here, with magazine sales, or advertising sales for magazines, it’s a tough job. There’s not that many people who really want to take on that challenge. So, that’s the biggest thing for us, but we’re constantly going out there and people are always signing up again, so it works. So far, so good. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: As you look toward the future, into 2018 and beyond, what’s your roadmap? What do you want to see a year from now? If you and I are chatting then, what would you like to tell me that you have accomplished in 2018?

Sven Bode: We do want to implement more of the digital part, which we have over 100,000 people who are actually recorded members; you could even call them subscribers, constantly getting our information. We have e-blast tool and then also all of the websites. We’re also working on the serve part, more in that direction, so that we attract people easily. They can buy an ad with us, either one-by-one or do a frequency. We implement that more and more now. And it’s actually starting to pick up. That makes it easier for print to get more pages sold.

Samir Husni: So, you are integrating print and digital? You’re becoming platform agnostic?

Sven Bode: Yes, the platform is expanding too; it’s not just face-to-face, phone, or email. It’s everything. Also activating people, they’re actually on the phone or on the web to say, click and their credit card here; it’s an easy process. They can buy with one click. It’s an easier process and people like that. They’re having some benefits out of it; the benefit of using their credit card and maybe earning points and things like that. All of these things are working together and it seems to be working as far as we can see already. We have some traction on that part.

The magazines need all of that complete attention and it’s always a new issue; a new work. It’s always constantly going after it to see what is the newest thing and what can we present to these people and how to make it more attractive.

Samir Husni: Are you now permanently residing in Orlando, or are there plans to go back to Germany?

Sven Bode: No, I don’t go back to Germany. I spend part of my time at the beach in the Panhandle, and going to Orlando. I go often to Orlando, but we work using normal technology. It makes it much easier to work streamline on new things. My personal clients that I have are mostly in New York or Atlanta, but we mostly use email or phone. But we’re in Florida.

And with the expanding of the Portfolio part; I’m trying to see if we can maybe bring that into a franchise area, to give other people the opportunity to do something like this. Others have been successful with it. With the Style magazines, I’m not much on expanding more than it is, but you never know. So far, it’s running smooth, like a well-oiled machine. (Laughs) And I like that. It gives people jobs and it’s running fine. We have good advertisers; they’re continuously resigning and that’s a very important part. It’s a big compliment also and we feel we’re doing the right thing for them. They’re getting the right feedback, so that’s also important.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Sven Bode: As a typical entrepreneur, I’m a 24/7 type of person. (Laughs) You never stop thinking of it, so I’m often doing some real estate things and I’m an accomplished artist also; a painter. I paint and even sell them for a good price. So, that relaxes me and cooking also relaxes me, and I have twins – two-and-a-half-years-old, so that’s what I do with the rest of the day. (Laughs) It’s good. I’m very lucky and happy.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Sven Bode: Just that I’m a good person. I don’t like to cheat anybody or harm anybody. And I also want to be successful. I always try to see the good in people and act like it.

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

Sven Bode: (Laughs) That’s a hard one. With any business there’s always something. I have to be the person that’s putting out fires that may occur, and that’s with any company. Nobody can tell me it never happens to them. If someone makes a mistake, I have to be the one who soothes the ache, you know? (Laughs again) That keeps me up at night sometimes.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Hungry Girl’s Founder & Editor In Chief, Lisa Lillien To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: While The Digital Stuff Does It To Some Degree, You Really Can’t Compete With The Beauty Of A Magazine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Scott Mortimer, VP/Group Publisher, Hungry Girl Magazine & Lisa Lillien…

January 11, 2018

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“I also feel like there’s definitely content that lends itself more to magazines than anything else. Certain things work so much better when you see them visually, and things that you can’t actually put into a cookbook, whether it’s how-to instructions on how to cook or success stories from people who have lost weight thanks to the Hungry Girl brand. Those things really work well in magazine form. And I cried when I saw this magazine; it’s so beautiful.” Lisa Lillien…

“When we look at these businesses that are predominantly digital-first businesses, we try to figure out if it makes sense for them to live in a magazine format and we have to check a couple three boxes first; do they have a big digital and social following, and Lisa certainly does. Do they have an established brand that’s well-known and that has been around a while and that people know, and Lisa’s brand certainly does. And is there a passion by the owner of the brand to do a magazine, and I couldn’t have said any better than Lisa just did.” Scott Mortimer…

Lisa Lillien is the Hungry Girl, and a New York Times best-selling author. She is the founder of hungry-girl.com, the free daily email service that entertains and informs hungry people everywhere, and now she has teamed up with Meredith to extend her brand with an ink on paper magazine. And both parties couldn’t be any more excited.

I spoke with Lisa and Scott Mortimer, vice president and group publisher for the magazine, recently and we talked about the new addition to the Meredith family. The magazine is an extension of Lisa’s guilt-free eating and cooking repertoire and really resonates with freshness and a unique quality that is Lisa 100 percent. She is lively, animated and extremely passionate about her brand and this new format for it. Bringing this colorful and beautiful magazine to her loyal followers and new readers is something that she couldn’t be happier about. And with Meredith’s ongoing success when it comes to partnerships, such as the Gaines’ Magnolia Journal, success for Hungry Girl looms on the horizon.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who says she is always “hungry” for the next big thing, so it stands to reason Hungry Girl magazine should be on the guilt-free menu, Lisa Lillien, founder & editor in chief and Scott Mortimer, VP/group publisher, Hungry Girl magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she felt her Hungry Girl brand still needed an ink on paper magazine in today’s digital age (Lisa Lillien): That’s a great question. My roots are in magazines. I started my career as a magazine editor, so magazine have always had a very large place in my heart. And as much as I love the Hungry Girl brand and the daily emails are the heart and soul of the business that I’ve built, and having a cookbook come out, the idea of putting out a magazine and being able to bring the content in a different way, in a new way to the audience, is super-exciting to me.

On why she chose Meredith to publish her magazine or did Meredith choose her (Lisa Lillien): I think it’s a match made in heaven. They’re the leader in beautiful publications, so I couldn’t be more excited or have a better partner.

On why she chose Meredith to publish her magazine or did Meredith choose her (Scott Mortimer): We chose Lisa for several reasons. When we look at these businesses that are predominantly digital-first businesses, we try to figure out if it makes sense for them to live in a magazine format and we have to check a couple three boxes first; do they have a big digital and social following, and Lisa certainly does. Do they have an established brand that’s well-known and that has been around a while and that people know, and Lisa’s brand certainly does. And is there a passion by the owner of the brand to do a magazine, and I couldn’t have said any better than Lisa just did. She really wanted to do a magazine and I think it checked all of those boxes for us. So, we’re really hopeful that it’s going to do well and all indications are that it will.

On what the launch plan is for the magazine (Scott Mortimer): The launch plan is an issue that goes out now and then an issue that goes out on May 1. And we will obviously gauge how well it sells through on the newsstand; what kind of traffic we get on the website; there are three or four metrics that will really matter to us as we sit down and figure out what to do with it after the first two issues come out. I think there’s certainly an appetite to do more with the brand and we’re excited to see consumer acceptance with it. I’m sure it’s going to do really, really well.

On whether she feels like this is the last link in the chain and that the magazine completes her brand (Lisa Lillien): There’s never a last link, but I would say that this is like a giant medallion in the chain. (Laughs) I am super-excited about it. I feel like, especially with building a digital brand, the opportunity to have something that’s tangible and that’s so beautiful couldn’t be more exciting to me.

On why she thinks people are rediscovering the power of the printed magazine (Lisa Lillien): I think there’s always going to be content that people like to see and hold in their hands. That’s why when people are reading books on Kindles and iPhones, they still like to buy a cookbook. They really like fashion magazines; they like lifestyle magazines; and they really like food magazines, because nothing can really do a recipe justice like a beautiful photograph in a magazine that you can hold in your hand. So, while the digital stuff does it to some degree, you really can’t compete with the beauty of a magazine.

On what they would hope to say one year from now about Hungry Girl the magazine (Lisa Lillien): Hopefully, I’ll be saying that it is exactly what I expected it to be and just an extension of the brand that the audience has really embraced and is super-excited about. I love the challenge of bringing the very engaged audience Hungry Girl in a new format and know they’re going to eat it up literally. So, I hope a year from now we’re laughing and talking about how fantastic the magazine is and how we’re seeing four issues a year. That would be my goal.

On what they would hope to say one year from now about Hungry Girl the magazine (Scott Mortimer): And I would add to that, one of the things that really struck us when we met Lisa was when she explained to us her business and that she has really close interaction with all of the people who want to interact with her, whether it’s the crews or emails that come in or on the social channels, Lisa and her team interact with her fans and followers in a way that I think is really unique and in a way that really sets us up for success for this print product as well.

On her busy schedule, especially her daily emails, cookbooks and TV appearances, and whether she’s just a Hungry Girl or a Super Hungry Girl to get it all done (Lisa Lillien): (Laughs) A little of both. I am a workaholic, but I’m lucky to have a team of people who are so fantastic and a lot of people who have worked with the brand for many, many years, so we really have it down. We work out of a place called Hungryland. We’re always developing new recipes and there’s not a lot of time to sleep, but that’s okay because it’s a lot of fun.

On where, if readers had time to read only one article, she’d like them to begin in the magazine (Lisa Lillien): That’s a tough question. If they had time to read only one single article, I think it would be great for them to start at the beginning to get the back story to get them to become more engaged with the brand in case they’re not familiar with it. Because a lot of people try to do what Hungry Girl does and I hope it’s not terrible to say, but I think we do it better than anyone else. And if you read that first page, you get that summary of what the brand is and what it means, and how passionate we are about it. After that, just dive into all the rest.

On whether that point of differentiation will be an easy sell when the magazine is presented to advertisers (Scott Mortimer): I think that story is still to be written, Samir, to be candid. It’s one of those things where getting the advertising community excited about a brand new print product is always a challenge, but there was a little bit of support in this one and we’re very happy with who’s there. I think over time as we prove the product and get the product in market, that job will become easier for us. Again, the biggest gauge of acceptance on this is how well consumers adopt it and will they buy it. And everything indicates that’s going to be a smashing success and time will tell and prove that out.

On whether he feels mergers and acquisitions, such as Meredith buying Time Inc., will help the magazine media industry and the brands themselves, both established and new ones (Scott Mortimer): I don’t know if I’m qualified to speak to that, to be very candid with you. What we’re trying to do with the group of titles that I work with and the partner projects, what this falls under, is find brands that we think have really high consumer acceptance out there and brands that are well-poised to go from, in this case, a digital format to a magazine format.

On anything else they’d like to add (Lisa Lillien): Just that it’s something that I personally am really proud of and I could not be more excited about working with Meredith on this project and I’m so thrilled to bring such a quality product to the audience, because they really deserve it.

On how many of the millions of people who subscribe to Lisa’s newsletter they’d like to convert to the magazine (Scott Mortimer): Of course, we’d like to get them all to buy it. (Laughs) The initial print run is 225,000 copies, and you’re well aware of how things typically sell on newsstand. Our expectations are it’s going to be considerably better than most titles that are out there. There’s really not a hard number that we put on these things, lots of things come into play when we put success on it and certainly copies sold and reader engagement is one. And advertising comes into play. So, there’s three or four things that we will sit down together with and evaluate. But I can’t tell you there’s a magic number, because there certainly isn’t. Several things come into play as we look toward the future.

On these high-profile partnerships with TV brands and whether he feels this is a new way to bring magazines to the marketplace (Scott Mortimer): I do. We’ve had considerable success with it. Obviously, Magnolia Journal being the biggest. But we also work with Forks Over Knives and with other brands out there. These things aren’t always easy and they’re not always slam-dunks, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s finding the right partner who has a passion for the business and has that really big digital following, and a couple three of the things that really matter to us when we evaluate partners. So, we’re on the lookout for others and absolutely, if the right opportunity presents itself, we’ll see if we can get something done together.

On what we can expect to see in the second issue (Lisa Lillien): The second issue is the summer issue, so there’s a lot of great grilling recipes and the Instant Pots, lots and lots of those. That’s like the hottest item out there right now, so we’ve been very busy developing new recipes for the Instant Pot.

On whether she feels like she’s on top of the mountain now or still climbing (Lisa Lillien): I’m always climbing. (Laughs) I always want to do the next thing. I like new and exciting and so, I’m not sure I’ll ever be on top of the mountain.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Lisa Lillien): As it relates to Hungry Girl, I would like for them to think of me as the guru of guilt-free eating. I can’t think of a better way to put it than that.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Scott Mortimer): In the business that we’re in, I just want people to consider us to be really good partners and I want people to feel that we operate with a lot of integrity and we want to do our best to work together to come up with really successful products that we can all do well with.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Lisa Lillien): I will probably be watching television with my husband and my dog, Lolly who is in this magazine; all over it. (Laughs)

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Scott Mortimer): I’ll probably be having a glass of wine and watching a sporting event.

On what keeps them up at night (Lisa Lillien): New ideas. I often wake up in the middle of the night with my cell phone next to me and I email myself all of the ideas I’m thinking about while I sleep.

On what keeps them up at night (Scott Mortimer): We create products and we want people to know about them and people to find them and people to engage with them. It’s increasingly harder in an age where there are other choices out there, but there’s a real desire and need for the products that we create and I want people to spend time with them and I know that they’ll love them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lisa Lillien, editor in chief & founder, and Scott Mortimer, VP/group publisher, Hungry Girl magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the launch of the first major magazine of 2018. The magazine looks great, and in typical Meredith tradition, I’m happy to see the continuation of service journalism that they began 115 years ago. So, Lisa, tell me, why did you feel that your brand still needed an ink on paper magazine today in this digital age?

Lisa Lillien: That’s a great question. My roots are in magazines. I started my career as a magazine editor, so magazine have always had a very large place in my heart. And as much as I love the Hungry Girl brand and the daily emails are the heart and soul of the business that I’ve built, and having a cookbook come out, the idea of putting out a magazine and being able to bring the content in a different way, in a new way to the audience, is super-exciting to me.

And I also feel like there’s definitely content that lends itself more to magazines than anything else. Certain things work so much better when you see them visually, and things that you can’t actually put into a cookbook, whether it’s how-to instructions on how to cook or success stories from people who have lost weight thanks to the Hungry Girl brand. Those things really work well in magazine form. And I cried when I saw this magazine; it’s so beautiful.

Samir Husni: And why did you choose Meredith or did Meredith choose Lisa?

Lisa Lillien: I think it’s a match made in heaven. They’re the leader in beautiful publications, so I couldn’t be more excited or have a better partner.

Scott Mortimer: We chose Lisa for several reasons. When we look at these businesses that are predominantly digital-first businesses, we try to figure out if it makes sense for them to live in a magazine format and we have to check a couple three boxes first; do they have a big digital and social following, and Lisa certainly does. Do they have an established brand that’s well-known and that has been around a while and that people know, and Lisa’s brand certainly does. And is there a passion by the owner of the brand to do a magazine, and I couldn’t have said any better than Lisa just did.

She really wanted to do a magazine and I think it checked all of those boxes for us. So, we’re really hopeful that it’s going to do well and all indications are that it will. We’re really excited to partner with her on this and bring it to the pages of a magazine.

Samir Husni: Scott, the first issue is dated Spring 2018, so will it be a quarterly frequency, with the cover price of $9.99; is it only going to be on the newsstands and on Lisa’s website, or will it be available for subscriptions later on? What’s the launch plan for this magazine?

Scott Mortimer: The launch plan is an issue that goes out now and then an issue that goes out on May 1. And we will obviously gauge how well it sells through on the newsstand; what kind of traffic we get on the website; there are three or four metrics that will really matter to us as we sit down and figure out what to do with it after the first two issues come out. I think there’s certainly an appetite to do more with the brand and we’re excited to see consumer acceptance with it. I’m sure it’s going to do really, really well.

Samir Husni: Lisa, is this the last link in the chain for your brand? Do you feel like now you’re complete as a brand?

Lisa Lillien: There’s never a last link, but I would say that this is like a giant medallion in the chain. (Laughs) I am super-excited about it. I feel like, especially with building a digital brand, the opportunity to have something that’s tangible and that’s so beautiful couldn’t be more exciting to me.

Samir Husni: I’m sure you’re familiar with all of the digital-first brands that have discovered print lately; why do you think suddenly everyone is rediscovering the power of the printed magazine in this digital age?

Lisa Lillien: I think there’s always going to be content that people like to see and hold in their hands. That’s why when people are reading books on Kindles and iPhones, they still like to buy a cookbook. They really like fashion magazines; they like lifestyle magazines; and they really like food magazines, because nothing can really do a recipe justice like a beautiful photograph in a magazine that you can hold in your hand. So, while the digital stuff does it to some degree, you really can’t compete with the beauty of a magazine.

Samir Husni: And as you look toward the future; as you look toward the second test issue in May, if you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me about Hungry Girl the magazine?

Lisa Lillien: Hopefully, I’ll be saying that it is exactly what I expected it to be and just an extension of the brand that the audience has really embraced and is super-excited about. I love the challenge of bringing the very engaged audience Hungry Girl in a new format and know they’re going to eat it up literally. So, I hope a year from now we’re laughing and talking about how fantastic the magazine is and how we’re seeing four issues a year. That would be my goal.

Scott Mortimer: And I would add to that, one of the things that really struck us when we met Lisa was when she explained to us her business and that she has really close interaction with all of the people who want to interact with her, whether it’s the crews or emails that come in or on the social channels, Lisa and her team interact with her fans and followers in a way that I think is really unique and in a way that really sets us up for success for this print product as well.

Samir Husni: Did I understand you correctly that your email is a daily that you send out?

Lisa Lillien: Yes, five days a week.

Samir Husni: Five days a week. How do you do it? You have a daily newsletter; you’re writing books; you’re appearing on TV; are you just a Hungry Girl or are you a Super Hungry Girl?

Lisa Lillien: (Laughs) A little of both. I am a workaholic, but I’m lucky to have a team of people who are so fantastic and a lot of people who have worked with the brand for many, many years, so we really have it down. We work out of a place called Hungryland. We’re always developing new recipes and there’s not a lot of time to sleep, but that’s okay because it’s a lot of fun.

Samir Husni: If you look at this issue, this specific first edition, where do you want your audience to go first? If your readers had time to read only one article, where should they go?

Lisa Lillien: That’s a tough question. If they had time to read only one single article, I think it would be great for them to start at the beginning to get the back story to get them to become more engaged with the brand in case they’re not familiar with it. Because a lot of people try to do what Hungry Girl does and I hope it’s not terrible to say, but I think we do it better than anyone else. And if you read that first page, you get that summary of what the brand is and what it means, and how passionate we are about it. After that, just dive into all the rest.

Samir Husni: Scott, is that point of differentiation going to be an easy sell for you when you take the magazine out to advertisers; it’s uniqueness and difference?

Scott Mortimer: I think that story is still to be written, Samir, to be candid. It’s one of those things where getting the advertising community excited about a brand new print product is always a challenge, but there was a little bit of support in this one and we’re very happy with who’s there. I think over time as we prove the product and get the product in market, that job will become easier for us. Again, the biggest gauge of acceptance on this is how well consumers adopt it and will they buy it. And everything indicates that’s going to be a smashing success and time will tell and prove that out.

Samir Husni: A friend of mine was talking recently and said it would seem there was going to be two big magazine companies left in this country, Meredith after they bought Time and Hearst after they bought Rodale. Do you think mergers or those acquisitions are going to help the magazine media industry, help those brands, both the established and the new ones?

Scott Mortimer: I don’t know if I’m qualified to speak to that, to be very candid with you. What we’re trying to do with the group of titles that I work with and the partner projects, what this falls under, is find brands that we think have really high consumer acceptance out there and brands that are well-poised to go from, in this case, a digital format to a magazine format.

I can’t predict the future and predict what that will be, but we’re focused on the task at hand, and it’s working with folks like Lisa to take her brand to a different place. And that’s why we’re so excited about it.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lisa Lillien: Just that it’s something that I personally am really proud of and I could not be more excited about working with Meredith on this project and I’m so thrilled to bring such a quality product to the audience, because they really deserve it.

Samir Husni: When the folks at Meredith tell you Lisa, we just hit half a million in circulation, or we sold 250,000 copies; what’s the magic number that you and Scott have discussed that will put you over the top? You have millions that subscribe to your newsletter; how many of those do you want to convert to the magazine?

Scott Mortimer: Of course, we’d like to get them all to buy it. (Laughs) The initial print run is 225,000 copies, and you’re well aware of how things typically sell on newsstand. Our expectations are it’s going to be considerably better than most titles that are out there. There’s really not a hard number that we put on these things, lots of things come into play when we put success on it and certainly copies sold and reader engagement is one. And advertising comes into play. So, there’s three or four things that we will sit down together with and evaluate. But I can’t tell you there’s a magic number, because there certainly isn’t. Several things come into play as we look toward the future.

Samir Husni: With this partnership business model, such as Meredith partnering with the Gaines and Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart; Hearst is doing similar things with the Food Network, HGTV, and The Pioneer Woman; do you think this is the nucleus of a new way to bring magazines to the marketplace?

Scott Mortimer: I do. We’ve had considerable success with it. Obviously, Magnolia Journal being the biggest. But we also work with Forks Over Knives and with other brands out there. These things aren’t always easy and they’re not always slam-dunks, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s finding the right partner who has a passion for the business and has that really big digital following, and a couple three of the things that really matter to us when we evaluate partners. So, we’re on the lookout for others and absolutely, if the right opportunity presents itself, we’ll see if we can get something done together.

Samir Husni: What can we expect to see in the second issue?

Lisa Lillien: The second issue is the summer issue, so there’s a lot of great grilling recipes and the Instant Pots, lots and lots of those. That’s like the hottest item out there right now, so we’ve been very busy developing new recipes for the Instant Pot.

Samir Husni: I loved when you said that when you held the magazine in your hand, you cried. Do you feel that you’re now on top of the mountain, or you’re still climbing?

Lisa Lillien: I’m always climbing. (Laughs) I always want to do the next thing. I like new and exciting and so, I’m not sure I’ll ever be on top of the mountain.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Lisa Lillien: As it relates to Hungry Girl, I would like for them to think of me as the guru of guilt-free eating. I can’t think of a better way to put it than that.

Scott Mortimer: In the business that we’re in, I just want people to consider us to be really good partners and I want people to feel that we operate with a lot of integrity and we want to do our best to work together to come up with really successful products that we can all do well with.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Lisa Lillien: I will probably be watching television with my husband and my dog, Lolly who is in this magazine; all over it. (Laughs)

Scott Mortimer: I’ll probably be having a glass of wine and watching a sporting event.

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

Lisa Lillien: New ideas. I often wake up in the middle of the night with my cell phone next to me and I email myself all of the ideas I’m thinking about while I sleep.

Scott Mortimer: We create products and we want people to know about them and people to find them and people to engage with them. It’s increasingly harder in an age where there are other choices out there, but there’s a real desire and need for the products that we create and I want people to spend time with them and I know that they’ll love them.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

h1

Garden & Gun Magazine’s Three Secrets Of Success: Continued Commitment To Content Excellence, Refreshing New Design, & Always Putting The Reader First – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief, & Marshall McKinney, Design Director…

January 8, 2018

“What we do doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy search. We deliver an experience; we want every issue to be a reading experience and a surprising experience. I like to think of it as almost like an album. Every issue has to have the perfect mix and it works really well when it does; when you’ve got a surprising story up front or an amazing photo and a hard-hitting journalistic piece, and then a light story on a good dog. I just think readers aren’t going away, and even more so than ever they appreciate good work.” David DiBenedetto…

“I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard. If it feels like there was some effort involved and some degree of discipline brought to bear on the content, I think people recognize it as something valuable.” Marshall McKinney…

When a magazine is working brilliantly and has a unique character and style that resonates with people, why would you ever consider shaking that up, even a little? Why? Well, for your readers of course. For that indelible right they have to continued growth and evolvement with even one of their very favorite titles: Garden & Gun. Because as Editor in Chief David DiBenedetto said, they don’t sit back and enjoy the success, they keep pressing forward, striving to be even better than they were yesterday, while always keeping an eye on the future. And, as Dave said throughout the interview, always putting the reader first.

Along with Dave, Marshall McKinney, design director, have both been with the magazine for almost its entire 11 years of existence. G&G is the recipient of their life’s blood and the magazine’s excellence of character and grace reflect that. It’s a magazine that southerners and Yankees alike love and cherish and bring into their homes with no intention of ever letting leave. It’s the pull-up-a-veranda-have-a-refreshing-mint-julep friend that they never show the front door to. But after 10 years at the magazine that is getting ready to increase its rate base to 400,000 as of the Feb./March issue, Dave and Marshall felt that it was time for a change with their beloved magazine, so they set about to refresh and reinvigorate it with a more modern feel while remaining true to its journalistic style and panache that readers have come to love.

I spoke with Dave and Marshall recently and we talked about the redesign and all of its many facets, both the good ones and the improvable ones. It was a true Garden & Gun conversation, easy, informative and effortless when it came to the passion and love these two have for the brand. As always, Mr. Magazine™ was enthralled and entertained. I hope you are too. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David DiBenedetto and Marshall McKinney (who I am proud to say, and for truth in reporting mention, that Marshall was a student and a graduate teaching assistant of mine during his graduate studies at the University of Mississippi)… enjoy the interview and pick up a copy of the recent issue of Garden & Gun at a newsstand near you!

But first the sound-bites:

David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief

On where they think the industry is heading in 2018 and beyond (David DiBenedetto): Well, that’s certainly the million dollar question, right? (Laughs) I for one don’t think magazines are going to disappear. I do think some magazines will be weeded out. Obviously, these days you can find a lot of information online; you can find recipes; you can find sickness tips; you can find so much, and I think the magazines that will survive are the ones that are doing real original stuff that can’t necessarily be found through a Google search.

On the secret sauce that allows Garden & Gun to increase its circulation rate base to 400,000 when many other publications are seeing decreases (David DiBenedetto): I think that’s part of it. For one, and it’s been the sort of magical thing about this magazine from the beginning, there’s nothing really like it out there. I always have a hard time finding the direct competitor. We always say they found the white space when they thought about what’s missing from the magazine rack. This was something new; there wasn’t anything there yet. And I think that’s really part of the calculus.

On how his role as editor in chief has changed over the last 10 years (David DiBenedetto): How has it changed in the last 10 years? I started as the number two here and even only eight or nine years ago, social media wasn’t something that we thought about every day. Like every editor, your job responsibilities have increased because you have more ways to reach the reader. Now it’s digital, podcasts, Twitter, Instagram, and these are great. These outlets are amazing because we used to only have one way to reach the reader and that was through our pages. And now we have so many ways, so many touchpoints that when you’re doing it right all of these outlets are tremendous for you.

On whether he thinks all of these social media outlets can be a double-edged sword when it comes to good content (David DiBenedetto): Right; absolutely. That’s the challenge, fighting through the clutter, so that your work can be seen. That’s the biggest challenge with these social media outlets, but I do think and I do believe that good content rises to the top and will rise to the top even more. I think folks are getting tired of shallow pieces, shallow journalism; lists of funny cat photos. We’re going to reach a point where it tips a little bit back toward appreciating good stories, good storytelling, and good journalism. People appreciate good work.

On how he would define content today (David DiBenedetto): It’s everything. Content is anything that we touch. And it can be in a digital form; it can be video or audio; it’s good storytelling; obviously, it’s prose in the magazine. And in my mind too, photography and design and illustration is content and that helps drive the narrative art too. It’s all content Everything that we touch; everything that comes out of the Garden & Gun voice is content.

On whether they believe there is some sort of litmus test for readers so they can differentiate between good content and crappy content (David DiBenedetto): I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. Hopefully, it’s pretty transparent real quickly when they look at it. Like I said, it’s about paying attention to that detail that we do in a way that a lot of these other outlets don’t.

Marshall McKinney, Design Director, Garden & Gun magazine

On whether they believe there is some sort of litmus test for readers so they can differentiate between good content and crappy content (Marshall McKinney): I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard.

On the process of reenergizing the Garden & Gun design (David DiBenedetto): Marshall and I both have been here almost 10 years now and we’ve lived with the design of Garden & Gun for those 10 years, and it really hasn’t changed much. There wasn’t any reason to change it for the longest time, because it was really successful, people loved it and we enjoyed it, and readers responded to it. But I think Marshall and I both, as we approached this anniversary year, we said it’s time for a refresh. We both felt the magazine needed a little bit more of a modern feel. Nothing was wrong with it, but you just can’t stay that way forever; you have to keep evolving. We think a magazine should evolve, and it shouldn’t just evolve for evolving’s sake, but it should evolve when the time is right. And we felt that hitting that 10th year stride; now was the time to shake it up a bit.

On the process of reenergizing the Garden & Gun design (Marshall McKinney): A decade is a long run and we have a lot of paint on the walls after a decade. We’ve introduced a few fonts, so aesthetically it was just nice to kind of strip it down to the studs, and thinking about what came before can be very disciplined, but also the South is professionally reinventing itself. There are new trends and artists, things happening in literature, and things are happening all over the South that are progressive and that are pushing the envelope.

On whether having relatively no direct competition makes his job as design director easier or harder (Marshall McKinney): I can’t necessarily speak for the brand when I say this, but I think of my competition as Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Dwell, GQ; I think of those brands as competition. I want to be taken seriously. I want to be competitive with them, and what I love about those brands and why I have so much respect for them is that they always reach a certain level of originality; they ring with originality and that’s what I want Garden & Gun to do.

On whether having relatively no direct competition makes his job as design director easier or harder (David DiBenedetto): It’s true; what Marshall is saying is that we strive to be the best in the business. We don’t think of ourselves as a Southern magazine; we are a national magazine. And while I don’t think we have a direct competitor, in terms of how we view our work, in our own minds we put it up against the best out there and hope that it holds right there with them.

On the magazine’s new food section called Jubilee (David DiBenedetto): I will say this, one thing that we do to celebrate Southern food is we’re not trying to write about food that’s necessarily highly nutritious and “good for you,” like healthy food. We’re writing about food that is just tasty, that makes you drool and is steeped in heritage and tradition. And maybe it’s being reinvented and maybe it is more healthful than when your grandmother made it, but we’re just trying to make food that’s super-tasty and that can become new classics in your life.

On the magazine’s new food section called Jubilee (Marshall McKinney): We like to joke around here sometimes that we’re a food magazine about the South. (Laughs)

On whether we may be seeing a new bookazine called “Jubilee” with all of the food content in the magazine (David DiBenedetto): Absolutely. I think that anytime you’re creating a magazine and you’re seeing a trend and you’re understanding what your readers are, no pun intended, “salivating” for; if it’s a success then you think about how you can take that farther along. There aren’t memos here about a new food magazine, but it’s certainly been in my head. If “Jubilee” is a raging success, then why not keep moving forward with it, and either have an SIP Jubilee or maybe a spinoff? I just think that we’re going to see how it evolves and grows, and get the readers reaction to it.

On what has been the biggest challenge from an editorial viewpoint with the redesign (David DiBenedetto): My biggest challenge was that people absolutely loved what we were delivering, and I’d lay awake at night wondering if I really wanted to make any changes. These readers are so passionate; they read every page, some of them know the magazine better than I do. That was a challenge to me, getting over that hump. It was time for a change; it’ll be okay. (Laughs) You have something that works and you don’t want to screw it up. That was certainly something that I thought about a lot.

On what has been the biggest challenge from a design viewpoint with the redesign (Marshall McKinney): I have to second what Dave said; I’ve never experienced this before, an audience that is as rabid for the brand as this. We get fierce letters, real emotional and passionate letters, about everything we do and every story we write, down to the Facebook page. We get unbelievable comments if we just post something small; the smallest thing, maybe about BBQ sauces.

On whether they’re now on top of the mountain or there are more cliffs to scale (David DiBenedetto): I’ll first say, I will never think of it as being on top of the mountain, you just keep raising the bar and keep striving to be better. And there’s always room to be better, in terms of print, your website; in terms of the way you use social media. We just have to continue to evolve and be smart. We’ve had great success, but none of us sit back and enjoy it, because we know as soon as you do that, there goes your success. In this environment, you have to work harder than ever to keep your readers.

On whether they’re now on top of the mountain or there are more cliffs to scale (Marshall McKinney): I worry a lot about newsstands and what’s happening in the bog box sector, they’re shrinking and getting smaller as a result. There’s not as much real estate inside the big box for the large newsstands. I worry a little bit about that. Here in Charleston I can only think of two places where you can even find magazines outside grocery stores. Those logistical things worry me a little bit.

On whether they’re having to work with less these days, as far as staff (David DiBenedetto): We haven’t faced the cuts that other companies have; we’ve been very lucky financially, that we haven’t had to do that. But we haven’t really grown that much either. Every year there are more things that we need to accomplish, like we talked about, social media, digital, books; we’re asking to up video; books are getting asked to do a lot more than they were eight years ago. So, the landscape is just different, and we’re all doing more.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (David DiBenedetto): For me that’s going to depend on the season, because in the winter it’s dark when I get home, so whenever I have the chance I go outside, whether I’m taking the dog to the dog park or taking the boat out for a quick fishing mission, or taking advantage of Charleston. But when winter hits I’m often having a glass of wine and lately I’ve been addicted to Godless on Netflix. I have to say that when I get home at night, personally, I don’t often pick up another magazine only because I spend my entire day thinking about them. And I know if I pick up a magazine at home, I’m going to start thinking about work immediately and I’m trying to do a better job of not doing that all of the time.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Marshall McKinney): I’m ashamed to say this, but after you get home and you walk the dog, you take the trash out, just whatever, things start to settle down; I hate to say this, but I have a Netflix program going. I’m checking out Facebook, Instagram, The New York Times. I’m looking at a few blogs that I like to peruse, and I’m doing it all at the same time. And then I pick up a magazine, I have it in my lap; I’m flipping through the magazine, and then I go to bed and I read an article or two from The New Yorker or catch up on WSJ or The New York Times Magazine. That’s kind of how I put myself to bed.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (David DiBenedetto): From a professional point of view, I would love for someone to say he always thought about the reader first.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Marshall McKinney): I would just want it to read that he cared about quality, and he cared. Maybe a little bit too much, but I always want to be associated with quality. A craftsman who cared about quality.

On what keeps them up at night (Marshall McKinney): What I worry about and what keeps me up is that we’ve created something that so many people cherish and adore, and I don’t want them to turn on us. I want to continue to meet and exceed their expectation level. And to suddenly find myself in a position where we can’t do that, that bothers me. We have a pretty smooth ride right now; we’ve crafted a very smooth ride, and when I feel drag on it I get really concerned. I don’t like that feeling of anything dragging it or holding it back.

On what keeps them up at night (David DiBenedetto): Every issue keeps me up. It does. Not to sound like a workaholic, but every time in that cycle where we get close to having it all dialed in and figured out, I will wake up at 3:00 a.m. and ask, is the mix perfect; is the cover going to resonate with readers on the newsstand; should I have done something better or should I have switched this article for that. Each one of them is like having a child.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David DiBenedetto, SVP/editor in chief and Marshall McKinney, design director, Garden & Gun.

Samir Husni: As you look toward 2018 and beyond, you’ve been with the magazine now for 10 years and you’ve seen all of these changes taking place, not only at Garden & Gun, but throughout the entire industry. Where do you think the industry is heading in terms of journalism, print, and magazine media in general?

David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief

David DiBenedetto: Well, that’s certainly the million dollar question, right? (Laughs) I for one don’t think magazines are going to disappear. I do think some magazines will be weeded out. Obviously, these days you can find a lot of information online; you can find recipes; you can find sickness tips; you can find so much, and I think the magazines that will survive are the ones that are doing real original stuff that can’t necessarily be found through a Google search.

And I think that’s been a part of Garden & Gun’s success. What we do doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy search. We deliver an experience; we want every issue to be a reading experience and a surprising experience. I like to think of it as almost like an album. Every issue has to have the perfect mix and it works really well when it does; when you’ve got a surprising story up front or an amazing photo and a hard-hitting journalistic piece, and then a light story on a good dog. I just think readers aren’t going away, and even more so than ever they appreciate good work.

Samir Husni: And if I look at your numbers, your subscriptions have increased more than eight percent; your newsstand sales have increased more than eight percent during a time when we’re seeing a lot of decreases. If someone were to ask you the secret recipe you’re using to technically go against the trends, where you’re increasing your circulation rate base to 400,000 starting with the February issue, what would that be? Why do you think Garden & Gun is able to do this, is it because of what you told me, that experience you provide, or there’s more to it?

David DiBenedetto: I think that’s part of it. For one, and it’s been the sort of magical thing about this magazine from the beginning, there’s nothing really like it out there. I always have a hard time finding the direct competitor. We always say they found the white space when they thought about what’s missing from the magazine rack. This was something new; there wasn’t anything there yet. And I think that’s really part of the calculus.

And then again, it does go back to that experience. I think when you pick up this magazine, you may not know what to expect, but our goal is that when you pick this magazine up, no matter what page you turn to, we want to draw you in. And that means that we’re paying attention to every detail on the page. That means we’re thinking about the head and the deck until we’re blue in the face. That means we’re thinking about the caption. Obviously, we’re thinking about the story itself; is the lead graph going to grab somebody and is it going to pay off what we promised?

And then the design and the photos; it’s really a visual experience. And I think the redesign reflects this. We’re not jamming a million things onto a page; it’s not always about more beans in the pot for us. It’s just one great piece of meat. And when you can do that, and other magazines do that, I’m not saying that we’re the only one, but when you’re doing that, when you can grab somebody, you’ve got one shot and it could be any page of this magazine, you’ve got to grab them. And you’ve got to think that way. You always have to think about the reader first. It’s all about grabbing the reader. And that’s how we’ve trained ourselves here and I believe it’s working.

Samir Husni: And through the last decade of training yourselves that way, how has your job as editor in chief, as senior vice president, changed? Or has it changed? Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or you’ve always felt as though there was a “gun” aimed at your head, no pun intended?

David DiBenedetto: (Laughs) I think I follow that question.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

David DiBenedetto: How has it changed in the last 10 years? I started as the number two here and even only eight or nine years ago, social media wasn’t something that we thought about every day. Like every editor, your job responsibilities have increased because you have more ways to reach the reader. Now it’s digital, podcasts, Twitter, Instagram, and these are great. These outlets are amazing because we used to only have one way to reach the reader and that was through our pages. And now we have so many ways, so many touchpoints that when you’re doing it right all of these outlets are tremendous for you.

And we’ve seen that growth in our Instagram followers; our Facebook followers, and they help our brand tremendously. So, my job has changed in the way that it used to be a lot about words and photos on the page, and now it’s a lot more than that.

Samir Husni: But do you think this is sort of like a double-edged sword? On the one hand, it’s great for those who use it well, but it’s not so great for others? When I spoke with the editorial director at Hearst, she said content today can be great, but there’s also a lot of junk out there.

David DiBenedetto: Right; absolutely. That’s the challenge, fighting through the clutter, so that your work can be seen. That’s the biggest challenge with these social media outlets, but I do think and I do believe that good content rises to the top and will rise to the top even more. I think folks are getting tired of shallow pieces, shallow journalism; lists of funny cat photos. We’re going to reach a point where it tips a little bit back toward appreciating good stories, good storytelling, and good journalism. People appreciate good work.

Samir Husni: What is your definition of content today?

David DiBenedetto: It’s everything. Content is anything that we touch. And it can be in a digital form; it can be video or audio; it’s good storytelling; obviously, it’s prose in the magazine. And in my mind too, photography and design and illustration is content and that helps drive the narrative art too. It’s all content Everything that we touch; everything that comes out of the Garden & Gun voice is content.

Samir Husni: And is there a litmus test; is there some way that readers should and can differentiate between good content and crappy content?

David DiBenedetto: I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. Hopefully, it’s pretty transparent real quickly when they look at it. Like I said, it’s about paying attention to that detail that we do in a way that a lot of these other outlets don’t.

Marshall McKinney: I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard. If it feels like there was some effort involved and some degree of discipline brought to bear on the content, I think people recognize it as something valuable.

Samir Husni: As I look at the December/January issue of G&G, and the efforts that have been put forth to, not necessarily reinvent the magazine, but more like to reenergize the magazine. Can you go through that process; how the two of you worked together to do this?

David DiBenedetto: Marshall and I both have been here almost 10 years now and we’ve lived with the design of Garden & Gun for those 10 years, and it really hasn’t changed much. There wasn’t any reason to change it for the longest time, because it was really successful, people loved it and we enjoyed it, and readers responded to it. But I think Marshall and I both, as we approached this anniversary year, we said it’s time for a refresh. We both felt the magazine needed a little bit more of a modern feel. Nothing was wrong with it, but you just can’t stay that way forever; you have to keep evolving. We think a magazine should evolve, and it shouldn’t just evolve for evolving’s sake, but it should evolve when the time is right. And we felt that hitting that 10th year stride; now was the time to shake it up a bit.

And we always said that we weren’t going to gut this magazine, it was working, but we wanted it to be fresh. And we wanted to do it in a way that kept the DNA of the magazine, but still gave it, like I said, a more modern feel.

Marshall McKinney: A decade is a long run and we have a lot of paint on the walls after a decade. We’ve introduced a few fonts, so aesthetically it was just nice to kind of strip it down to the studs, and thinking about what came before can be very disciplined, but also the South is professionally reinventing itself. There are new trends and artists, things happening in literature, and things are happening all over the South that are progressive and that are pushing the envelope.

We just totally redid our website and energized it, and I think we did an incredible job with it. It was just time to strip everything down to the studs and start anew with the spirit of reinvention and lay down a groundwork that we can build on for another decade. And that will cross multiple platforms and is very synergistic in a clean way.

Samir Husni: Dave was talking earlier about how he cannot find a competitor for Garden & Gun, that you’re covering that white space and covering it well. Does that make your job as design director easier or harder, having no competition?

Marshall McKinney: I can’t necessarily speak for the brand when I say this, but I think of my competition as Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Dwell, GQ; I think of those brands as competition. I want to be taken seriously. I want to be competitive with them, and what I love about those brands and why I have so much respect for them is that they always reach a certain level of originality; they ring with originality and that’s what I want Garden & Gun to do.

I feel like everyone on the newsstands is my competition, but I’m not sure that we have a competitor right next to us, but I do see everyone as my competitor and I want to perform at a high level that I hope reaches the standards set by those magazines I mentioned.

David DiBenedetto: It’s true; what Marshall is saying is that we strive to be the best in the business. We don’t think of ourselves as a Southern magazine; we are a national magazine. And while I don’t think we have a direct competitor, in terms of how we view our work, in our own minds we put it up against the best out there and hope that it holds right there with them.

Samir Husni: Let’s talk about one new section that you’ve added to the magazine. You’ve always had food in the magazine, but now you’ve created the section that you call “Jubilee.” Food is the number one magazine category in the country now. We have more food magazines than ever before. And to quote from the magazine, how are you “Celebrating Southern food and drink” differently than other publications, in terms of content and design?

David DiBenedetto: I will say this, one thing that we do to celebrate Southern food is we’re not trying to write about food that’s necessarily highly nutritious and “good for you,” like healthy food. We’re writing about food that is just tasty, that makes you drool and is steeped in heritage and tradition. And maybe it’s being reinvented and maybe it is more healthful than when your grandmother made it, but we’re just trying to make food that’s super-tasty and that can become new classics in your life. And maybe they’re some classics that you grew up with, but have evolved and changed.

What I thought about when we introduced that section, and obviously that’s the biggest change in this redesign; when I first got here, along with Sid Evans and Marshall, we knew food was going to be important, but back then, almost 10 years ago, we had no idea how important food would be to this audience. We just didn’t know. And the more we did it, the more folks loved it.

We have an unbelievable photography director in Maggie Kennedy, and I think our food photography is as good as anybody’s out there, by far. It’s just stunning. And I thought, okay, we know the readers love this and we had food kind of scattered throughout the magazine. It was making sense, but I thought let’s just bring it all together and give them what they want. Again, this is about delivering to the reader.

We’ve got this great John T. Edge column, Fork in the Road, that’s run for a number of years, and it’s always been in the very back of the book and honestly I felt like sometimes it got lost back there. Some of the best writing in the magazine, issue to issue, and this allowed me to bring it up front and really give it a place where I think it belongs, because it’s not always about food. It’s about how food and social issues interact and it’s a very powerful column. And that’s one reason why I was delighted to introduce “Jubilee.”

Marshall McKinney: We like to joke around here sometimes that we’re a food magazine about the South. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too). Is that a hint of something to come? That we may soon see an SIP or a bookazine called “Jubilee” from Garden & Gun with all that food content?

David DiBenedetto: Absolutely. I think that anytime you’re creating a magazine and you’re seeing a trend and you’re understanding what your readers are, no pun intended, “salivating” for; if it’s a success then you think about how you can take that farther along. There aren’t memos here about a new food magazine, but it’s certainly been in my head. If “Jubilee” is a raging success, then why not keep moving forward with it, and either have an SIP Jubilee or maybe a spinoff? I just think that we’re going to see how it evolves and grows, and get the readers reaction to it.

Samir Husni: As you began the refreshing of Garden & Gun, what has been the biggest challenge from an editorial point of view and from a design point of view?

David DiBenedetto: My biggest challenge was that people absolutely loved what we were delivering, and I’d lay awake at night wondering if I really wanted to make any changes. These readers are so passionate; they read every page, some of them know the magazine better than I do. That was a challenge to me, getting over that hump. It was time for a change; it’ll be okay. (Laughs) You have something that works and you don’t want to screw it up. That was certainly something that I thought about a lot.

Marshall McKinney: I have to second what Dave said; I’ve never experienced this before, an audience that is as rabid for the brand as this. We get fierce letters, real emotional and passionate letters, about everything we do and every story we write, down to the Facebook page. We get unbelievable comments if we just post something small; the smallest thing, maybe about BBQ sauces.

So, it was trying to honor what we’ve done before, take the same aesthetic values, but sort of retool them for what’s to come. When you launch a magazine, you put your best foot forward, but you have all of these unforeseen situations that sort of arise over time and you have to patch it up as you go. But this was an opportunity to really address some of those things and start afresh, but hopefully honor what came before.

The magazine is dense; it’s a thick book. And just by virtue of its thickness, sometimes when you fold it open the ads can kind of come over onto your content, so we wanted to create a larger margin to create more spaciousness around the page for that reason. So there were some mutual agreement reasons to do it, but anytime you affect change it comes with a lot of good and a little bad. But so far, the good has outweighed the bad, but time will tell, we’re still pretty new into this thing.

David DiBenedetto: And I’ll add, Marshall and I both believe that a redesign is not one issue. A redesign evolves. You get that first issue back and you look at it and you’re proud and delighted, but you also see some things that you could do better. And you improve those in the next issue. In my mind a redesign isn’t really strong until it’s two, maybe three issues down the road. Again, just making those minor tweaks and evolving. And just thinking about the reader.

Marshall McKinney: I keep using this home metaphor maybe because we’ve done so much work to ours lately, but once you’ve taken down the studs, you put the drywall back up; you paint it, and now it’s a matter of getting the furniture the way you like it and everything hung the way you want it.

For example, when you take all of that good, and some of our best-looking content, out of the front of the book and you put all of that food content into Jubilee, that leaves you a little thin in the front of the book. You have to figure out, and time and the market will tell you, what it wants and how it wants to evolve that front of the book section. And so we tucked that into the back of our minds as we approach this second issue of the redesign. And I think you’ll see a huge leap in the presentation of the “Talk of the South.” So, I think it takes a minute to hit your stride and we’re getting there.

Samir Husni: Are you now on top of the mountain? Or are there more cliffs to scale? What’s next for you two?

David DiBenedetto: I’ll first say, I will never think of it as being on top of the mountain, you just keep raising the bar and keep striving to be better. And there’s always room to be better, in terms of print, your website; in terms of the way you use social media. We just have to continue to evolve and be smart. We’ve had great success, but none of us sit back and enjoy it, because we know as soon as you do that, there goes your success. In this environment, you have to work harder than ever to keep your readers.

Marshall McKinney: I worry a lot about newsstands and what’s happening in the bog box sector, they’re shrinking and getting smaller as a result. There’s not as much real estate inside the big box for the large newsstands. I worry a little bit about that. Here in Charleston I can only think of two places where you can even find magazines outside grocery stores. Those logistical things worry me a little bit. Staying fresh and artful, creating that see-me-flip-me-buy-me reaction. I love that. Making covers to have subtext and impact that sell, that’s always the day-to-day struggle.

But looking forward, I’m really excited about the creative opportunities and breadth of the brand and how we can diversify going forward. I can see us having a channel of Garden & Gun content. I can see us having radio. I’m really excited about future creative endeavors.

David DiBenedetto: Video, you know. Storytelling, the word, certainly gets a bad rap these days, but it’s about the different ways that we can unpack these stories. It’s not only print these days; video for us is going to be really strong. I just think our narratives really lend themselves to that. Like I said earlier, the potential is there in just so many different outlets.

Samir Husni: So are you doing more these days with less, as far as staff?

David DiBenedetto: We haven’t faced the cuts that other companies have; we’ve been very lucky financially, that we haven’t had to do that. But we haven’t really grown that much either. Every year there are more things that we need to accomplish, like we talked about, social media, digital, books; we’re asking to up video; books are getting asked to do a lot more than they were eight years ago. So, the landscape is just different, and we’re all doing more.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

David DiBenedetto: For me that’s going to depend on the season, because in the winter it’s dark when I get home, so whenever I have the chance I go outside, whether I’m taking the dog to the dog park or taking the boat out for a quick fishing mission, or taking advantage of Charleston. But when winter hits I’m often having a glass of wine and lately I’ve been addicted to Godless on Netflix. I have to say that when I get home at night, personally, I don’t often pick up another magazine only because I spend my entire day thinking about them. And I know if I pick up a magazine at home, I’m going to start thinking about work immediately and I’m trying to do a better job of not doing that all of the time.

Marshall McKinney: I’m ashamed to say this, but after you get home and you walk the dog, you take the trash out, just whatever, things start to settle down; I hate to say this, but I have a Netflix program going. I’m checking out Facebook, Instagram, The New York Times. I’m looking at a few blogs that I like to peruse, and I’m doing it all at the same time. And then I pick up a magazine, I have it in my lap; I’m flipping through the magazine, and then I go to bed and I read an article or two from The New Yorker or catch up on WSJ or The New York Times Magazine. That’s kind of how I put myself to bed.

David DiBenedetto: That’s like an overachiever. (Laughs)

Marshall McKinney: I am totally immersed in media; it’s like a huge wave that’s trying to gobble me up.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

David DiBenedetto: From a professional point of view, I would love for someone to say he always thought about the reader first.

Marshall McKinney: I would just want it to read that he cared about quality, and he cared. Maybe a little bit too much, but I always want to be associated with quality. A craftsman who cared about quality.

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

Marshall McKinney: Lately it’s been the house; it feels like it’s trying to eat me. But what I worry about and what keeps me up is that we’ve created something that so many people cherish and adore, and I don’t want them to turn on us. I want to continue to meet and exceed their expectation level. And to suddenly find myself in a position where we can’t do that, that bothers me. We have a pretty smooth ride right now; we’ve crafted a very smooth ride, and when I feel drag on it I get really concerned. I don’t like that feeling of anything dragging it or holding it back.

David DiBenedetto: It’s different; when you’re launching the magazine you’re this precious new thing, and you’re the new kid on the block. It’s a different experience when you’re trying to sustain the momentum; when you’re trying to keep it going. It’s definitely a different challenge.

Every issue keeps me up. It does. Not to sound like a workaholic, but every time in that cycle where we get close to having it all dialed in and figured out, I will wake up at 3:00 a.m. and ask, is the mix perfect; is the cover going to resonate with readers on the newsstand; should I have done something better or should I have switched this article for that. Each one of them is like having a child.

To me that’s the immediate thing that keeps me up, because as Marshall said there’s an expectation from the readers that they’re going to be blown away by every issue. That they’re going to want to collect it and put it on their coffee table. And that’s a lot of pressure; that’s a wonderful pressure and a wonderful position to be in. But you don’t want to let them down and that certainly keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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FIPP’s President & CEO James Hewes To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Wonder If 2018 Might Be The First Year Where Things Start To Show Signs Of Recovery.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 4, 2018

“I think it’s going to be a pretty good year, actually. It’s funny you know, ever since I took this job I’ve been hearing more and more people telling me about the resurgence of print magazines and how print magazines are coming back as a medium, and I think 2018 might be the year when you start to see some signs of that filtering through into the numbers, because, obviously, the numbers that are released by the publishing companies have been pretty bad in 2017.” James Hewes

“FIPP, the network for global media, is dedicated to improving all aspects of the media content industry through the sharing of quality content to audiences of interest. FIPP exists to help its members develop better strategies and build better businesses by identifying and communicating emerging trends, sharing knowledge, and improving skills, worldwide.”

James Hewes is CEO of FIPP and believes that the organization’s number one mission is to its members and its prospective members by ensuring that it answers their needs and reflects their interests across all platforms, including print, where its roots lay. James is a firm believer in print, but also in the multiplatform outlets that exist in this digital age, and thinks that quite possibly 2018 may be the year where magazines and magazine media start to show signs of recovery in all aspects of the business.

I spoke with James recently via Skype and we talked about his vision for FIPP. In the short time he has been CEO (he was appointed president and CEO last summer), he said that since he took the job, he’s had more and more people tell him that the resurgence of print magazines is strong and that print, as a medium, is on the upswing. This of course is music to Mr. Magazine’s™ ears, and I hope to yours also, and is something that makes James think 2018 may be the year of the magazine. From James’ mouth to the magazine cosmoses ears.

I think you’ll find that the conversation we had was both informative and inspirational, across all platforms, not just print. But I believe it just goes to prove yet again, that in the 21st century, in 2018, there’s room for everyone’s preference, print and digital. Wouldn’t you agree?

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with James Hewes, president and CEO, FIPP.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he sees magazines and magazine media shaping up for 2018: I think it’s going to be a pretty good year, actually. It’s funny you know, ever since I took this job I’ve been hearing more and more people telling me about the resurgence of print magazines and how print magazines are coming back as a medium, and I think 2018 might be the year when you start to see some signs of that filtering through into the numbers, because obviously the numbers that are released by the publishing companies have been pretty bad in 2017. The readership figures are down, circulation figures are down and advertising figures are down. But I wonder if 2018 might be the first year where things start to show signs of recovery, because there are certainly some signs that for the quality magazines and for the specialist magazines in particular, that their feeling as businesses and their feeling as brands is that they’re still quite positive about the future.

On whether he thinks magazines will strive to be more of a brand than an entity in 2018: Of course, that’s going to continue and that’s going to be the center of the strategy for most magazine companies for many years to come, I believe. I think it’s just that we’re starting to see some changes in emphasis now perhaps in some businesses. And specifically on digital and the digital publishing industry; it’s going to be interesting to see how 2018 plays out with respect to digital advertising. Toward the end of this year there has been an enormous amount of press coverage of the lack of trust in digital advertising and the problems that seem to be existing in the supply chain of digital advertising.

On where he sees the bright spots and the challenges globally when it comes to magazine media: It’s been pretty clear in 2017 that the U.K., the U.S. and the Western markets have had a tough time. The numbers coming out of those markets don’t look very good. You’ve got the feeling that 2018 can’t be as bad a year as 2017 was, so perhaps that constitutes a bright spot now. In terms of where there are real opportunities for growth, I think we still have to understand the market a lot better than we do right now. I think there’s still probably a fairly vibrant industry happening in Southeast Asia for print. Traditionally, it was always a region in the world where print did very well; where advertisers responded very strongly to print products and I think that’s probably still the case.

On whether he thinks publishing companies merging, such as Meredith buying Time Inc., is a worldwide model for the future or just a United States thing: No, I think that’s very much going to continue and I think there’s probably a bit more consolidation to come in the market. But interestingly, as companies consolidate, so it seems to be that they throw off new opportunities. I mean, yes, we may have lost one company with the merger of Meredith and Time Inc., but we’ve gained one of course, which is Time Inc. in the U.K., which will become a separate company, a separate publishing company with its own stable of brands.

On Mr. Magazine™ and the MPA hosting The Launch of the Year at the American Magazine Awards this year: That’s a really good initiative and the kind of thing we should be supporting. I went to the PPA’s (Professional Publishers Association) event in Scotland recently and they had put onto the agenda slots between every major speaking slot for somebody to come and present their new magazine. And in Scotland alone, there were six, seven, eight, nine, ten fantastic new magazine ideas from incredibly passionate, usually very young people, very passionate about their subject. And totally committed to print, so it was great to see.

On the biggest challenge that he thinks FIPP will face in the future: I think the biggest challenge for FIPP is the same as the challenge for the industry. I mean, we are an organization that has its roots in print and we must never forget that print will always be 50 percent of what we do; 50 percent plus of what we do, because that’s what the industry is all about. But the challenge is how do we reflect the move toward multiplatform brand management in our memberships and in our services; how do we ensure that the other areas of publishing businesses, which are very important to them and should be very important to us, digital publishing and digital media, and events, events in particular; how do we ensure that they’re represented in what we do?

On what has been the most pleasant moment so far: I think I would say two things. The first is the incredible dedication and commitment of the staff that we have here at FIPP. When I joined we were one month away from putting on the World Congress, which you know very well is a very large event with 600-700 people from the publishing industry, including some very senior individuals. So, to have a change in CEO running up to that event could have potentially been very disruptive. It wasn’t disruptive at all, because we’ve got a fantastic team who totally know their jobs and just went off and did it, almost without my involvement. It was great, and executed a fantastic event.

On how FIPP can get publishing businesses that are competing for similar audiences to work together: Well, I think that’s a great question, because it’s something that we as an industry have not been very good at historically. Even the newspaper industry, which traditionally was very much comprised of companies fighting almost to the death with one another, have been a little bit more unified in their approach to the challenges of the digital age and the big platforms, than the magazine industry has. So, I think that’s something that would I see as a very big part of FIPP’s remix, to help magazine companies and print companies to work better together.

On whether he believes that unifying voice between companies is possible: Anything is possible. (Laughs) I hope it’s possible. I think there’s a great danger for us as an industry that we present a fragmented voice to those platforms, because we are not, individually as companies, even though we have very, very large individual members, individually as companies, compared to the scale of a Google or a Facebook, we’re still relatively insignificant. And I think it’s only by providing the combined muscle of our audience together as an industry, that we can really start to get some of the things that we want.

On the status of newsstand and single-copy sales: Single-copy sales for me remains a great missed opportunity in a lot of markets. It’s interesting, I was reading a piece recently about Bauer in the U.S., and it may have even been from yourself, talking about the success that they’ve had on the newsstand in the U.S. And that’s really because they’ve taken the lessons they learned in Germany, where newsstand is an actually predominant distribution method, and applied them to their relatively neglected U.S. market, and have had a huge amount of success.

On whether he thinks magazines and magazine media can ever go back to the powerhouse it was once: If you’re thinking about pure volume; are we ever going to sell as many copies as we once did? No, and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the copy sales in the market as you know were driven by very general lifestyle magazines or entertainment magazines, both men’s and women’s, generally weeklies, of course, there are some monthlies. They have content that has migrated entirely to the Internet and that’s probably never going to come back. And those were very high margin businesses, very profitable businesses for most companies. And that’s where I think a lot of this misunderstanding about the death of magazines comes from; the idea that just because you’ve lost your largest, most profitable category your industry as a whole is destroyed, but it’s not.

On anything else he’d like to add: Only to say what I have been saying consistently throughout my first few months here, which is that I fervently believe that this is the most exciting time in history to be working in this industry. From the outside looking in, people may think it’s crazy, why would someone go and work in the publishing industry generally, and I’m not just talking about print, but publishing in media generally. And I say to them, are you crazy? This is an absolutely fantastic time to be working in it.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Probably playing with my children; I have two young children, eight-years-old and 10-years-old. And I don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with them, because I travel so much with my job. So, when I’m home I try to make sure that I spend as much time as possible with them and with my wife, Sheena, because we’re away from each other a lot and it’s nice to be reunited.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would hope that they would say that I always tried to solve problems. I’ve kind of made a career out of being a guide that people go to when they have a problem and they need to solve it. Yes, he was a problem-solver.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is actually probably not work. It’s just how do I make sure that my children get the best start in life; how do they get the best education; how do they get all of the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have when I was growing up? The world today is a very different place from what it was when I was growing up and in some ways, a lot scarier place. Certainly, a lot harder place to grow up in. And so my focus is very much on making sure that they get the great start in life that they need.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with James Hewes, CEO, FIPP.

Samir Husni: Congratulations are in order for heading the largest magazine and magazine media association in the world.

James Hewes: Thank you; I’m very privileged.

Samir Husni: It’s a big task, I’m sure. So, how do you envision 2018 shaping up for magazines and magazine media?

James Hewes: I think it’s going to be a pretty good year, actually. It’s funny you know, ever since I took this job I’ve been hearing more and more people telling me about the resurgence of print magazines and how print magazines are coming back as a medium, and I think 2018 might be the year when you start to see some signs of that filtering through into the numbers, because obviously the numbers that are released by the publishing companies have been pretty bad in 2017. The readership figures are down, circulation figures are down and advertising figures are down.

But I wonder if 2018 might be the first year where things start to show signs of recovery, because there are certainly some signs that for the quality magazines and for the specialist magazines in particular, that their feeling as businesses and their feeling as brands is that they’re still quite positive about the future. They’re still seeing reasonably good numbers, in terms of circulation and advertising, and even some areas of growth. So, I think 2018 could be a very good year, hopefully, for the print business.

Samir Husni: What about the venturing of magazines from print into digital and that mix? Do you see magazine companies doing more of that; magazines becoming more of a brand, rather than an entity?

James Hewes: Of course, that’s going to continue and that’s going to be the center of the strategy for most magazine companies for many years to come, I believe. I think it’s just that we’re starting to see some changes in emphasis now perhaps in some businesses. And specifically on digital and the digital publishing industry; it’s going to be interesting to see how 2018 plays out with respect to digital advertising.

Toward the end of this year there has been an enormous amount of press coverage of the lack of trust in digital advertising and the problems that seem to be existing in the supply chain of digital advertising. Recently, there was a piece suggesting that some big organizations were losing as much as two and a half million dollars a day or a week to fraud. With those kinds of numbers it’s easy to see why people don’t trust the digital advertising supply chain anymore.

So, 2018 might be the year when that really comes to a head; that doesn’t feel like it can continue in its current form. I don’t think that will stop magazine companies from going into the digital space though, because it’s still a really important part of that brand wheel. And if you’re putting your brand at the center of your strategy, then digital does need to play a part in that.

There will still be brands that are exceptions, where print is still going to be the primary and sometimes the only reason for their existence or the only way in which they make money. I think about a brand like Private Eye here in the U.K., which is a very big print magazine, and has very expressly and strategically stayed away from digital in any sense over its entire lifespan and hasn’t done any harm to its circulation figures at all. So, there could be a few other examples of that which crop up in the years to come.

Samir Husni: As you scan the FIPP members all over the world, where do you see the bright spots; where do you see the challenging spots? Do you feel the U.K. will be leading; the Middle East; Asia; South America?

James Hewes: It’s been pretty clear in 2017 that the U.K., the U.S. and the Western markets have had a tough time. The numbers coming out of those markets don’t look very good. You’ve got the feeling that 2018 can’t be as bad a year as 2017 was, so perhaps that constitutes a bright spot now.

In terms of where there are real opportunities for growth, I think we still have to understand the market a lot better than we do right now. I think there’s still probably a fairly vibrant industry happening in Southeast Asia for print. Traditionally, it was always a region in the world where print did very well; where advertisers responded very strongly to print products and I think that’s probably still the case.

It’s difficult to put a kind of bright spot/dark spot analysis of the market by country though, because it will vary massively depending on the category you’re in. I would rather characterize it as the difference between general interest magazines versus specialist magazines. If you’re in a general lifestyle space, then you’re probably still going to have a tough time next year. I think the more specialist you are, whether that’s a specialist news brand or specialist interest brand, you’re going to do better, because those brands seem to be the ones that are winning at the moment.

Samir Husni: Do you see anything like we’re seeing in the United States, companies merging, such as Meredith buying Time Inc.; Hearst buying Rodale? Do you see that as a model for the future worldwide, or it’s just a United States thing?

James Hewes: No, I think that’s very much going to continue and I think there’s probably a bit more consolidation to come in the market. But interestingly, as companies consolidate, so it seems to be that they throw off new opportunities. I mean, yes, we may have lost one company with the merger of Meredith and Time Inc., but we’ve gained one of course, which is Time Inc. in the U.K., which will become a separate company, a separate publishing company with its own stable of brands.

We’re also finding, and I’m certainly noticing, that there is now an emerging ecosystem of publishing businesses at the small end have very often formed either people straight out of college, who previously would have gone into work for Time Inc., but are now doing their own thing, or they’re staffed by “X” publishing industry people who are creating new magazines and creating new publishing opportunities based around the fact that the big companies just aren’t there anymore; it’s fear of them.

So, while there’s a lot of consolidation at the top end, I think one of the things that we’re interested in exploring for 2018 is the extent to which that’s being filled at the bottom end by a host of new companies and startups that are: A – a lot more positive about the future of print in particular, but B – they don’t necessarily think in terms of those silos anymore when it comes to, I’m a print business; I’m a digital business. They’re just a business, and they’re interested in promoting usually their specialist interest content and specialist interest opportunities. And they just find the best way to do that.

Samir Husni: This year I’m doing The Launch of the Year with the MPA at the American Magazine Media Conference, where we will be celebrating new magazines. And this will be the first time in the history of the American Magazine Media Conference that this has been done in conjunction with the awards.

James Hewes: That’s a really good initiative and the kind of thing we should be supporting. I went to the PPA’s (Professional Publishers Association) event in Scotland recently and they had put onto the agenda slots between every major speaking slot for somebody to come and present their new magazine. And in Scotland alone, there were six, seven, eight, nine, ten fantastic new magazine ideas from incredibly passionate, usually very young people, very passionate about their subject. And totally committed to print, so it was great to see.

Samir Husni: In the short time that you’ve been heading FIPP, what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

James Hewes: I think the biggest challenge for FIPP is the same as the challenge for the industry. I mean, we are an organization that has its roots in print and we must never forget that print will always be 50 percent of what we do; 50 percent plus of what we do, because that’s what the industry is all about. But the challenge is how do we reflect the move toward multiplatform brand management in our memberships and in our services; how do we ensure that the other areas of publishing businesses, which are very important to them and should be very important to us, digital publishing and digital media, and events, events in particular; how do we ensure that they’re represented in what we do?

We have a lot of members now who think of themselves as genuinely platform agnostic publishing businesses, and we have to be the same. A lot of them are now getting into the venture capital space, so they’re becoming investment businesses as well. Again, we have to represent those members to the fullest extent possible by offering them services to help them do better in venture capital and making investments.

So, it’s about that continuous process of adaptation, but I’ve been very clear with the team here, and I think I’ve been very clear with the membership that we must have print in our hearts and in our minds with everything that we do, because it is still: A – where we came from, and B – a very important and a very profitable part of our industry.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment so far?

James Hewes: I think I would say two things. The first is the incredible dedication and commitment of the staff that we have here at FIPP. When I joined we were one month away from putting on the World Congress, which you know very well is a very large event with 600-700 people from the publishing industry, including some very senior individuals. So, to have a change in CEO running up to that event could have potentially been very disruptive. It wasn’t disruptive at all, because we’ve got a fantastic team who totally know their jobs and just went off and did it, almost without my involvement. It was great, and executed a fantastic event.

I think the other very nice thing to have affirmed was the amount of good will that exists toward FIPP as an organization. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of publishing companies and individuals in the publishing industry who, completely unsolicited, would message me and congratulate me on my appointment, but also just affirm their commitment to FIPP as an organization that they think is important for the industry. And at the end of the day we rely on the goodwill of our members to exist. We provide them services and we provide them with products and we want to be of value to them, but we also want to have that recommendation going on, that they say to their colleagues and their fellow businesses, look, this is an organization that is valuable to us and you should be members too. So, it’s great to see that goodwill in action.

Samir Husni: One of the problems that I always hear about with the magazine industry as a whole, worldwide, is that these are competing companies; these are businesses that are competing for similar audiences in most cases; how can you get them to work together?

Jaes Hewes: Well, I think that’s a great question, because it’s something that we as an industry have not been very good at historically. Even the newspaper industry, which traditionally was very much comprised of companies fighting almost to the death with one another, have been a little bit more unified in their approach to the challenges of the digital age and the big platforms, than the magazine industry has. So, I think that’s something that would I see as a very big part of FIPP’s remix, to help magazine companies and print companies to work better together.

It seems to me that there’s a good opportunity to do that around the dialogue that we want to have with the big platforms, particularly with Facebook and Google. And if FIPP can be the unifying force that brings those companies together and provides that common voice for all of the industry, then great, that’s really what we’re here to do.

Samir Husni: Do you think that’s possible?

James Hewes: Anything is possible. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

James Hewes: I hope it’s possible. I think there’s a great danger for us as an industry that we present a fragmented voice to those platforms, because we are not, individually as companies, even though we have very, very large individual members, individually as companies, compared to the scale of a Google or a Facebook, we’re still relatively insignificant. And I think it’s only by providing the combined muscle of our audience together as an industry, that we can really start to get some of the things that we want.

On the flipside, the good news is those companies are willing to listen. We had Facebook speaking at the Congress and they were pretty clear that they’re now in listening mode; they want to hear what the industry has to say, and they’re trying their best to respond. But I think it’s hard for them to respond if we’re speaking with 100 voices. We need to speak with one or two voices.

Samir Husni: One of our American publishers, Topix Media Labs, have imported the cover mounts. I interviewed CEO & co-founder, Tony Romando, recently and this is his way of reinventing the bookazine. Many European publishers tell me all of the time that they want to find a way to lose the cover mounts. What is the status at the newsstands; what do you feel, in the U.K. and globally, is the status of single-copy sales?

James Hewes: Single-copy sales for me remains a great missed opportunity in a lot of markets. It’s interesting, I was reading a piece recently about Bauer in the U.S., and it may have even been from yourself, talking about the success that they’ve had on the newsstand in the U.S. And that’s really because they’ve taken the lessons they learned in Germany, where newsstand is an actually predominant distribution method, and applied them to their relatively neglected U.S. market, and have had a huge amount of success.

I would like to think that there are still opportunities in most markets for that to happen, but of course, we’re fighting at the same time with retailers that are themselves struggling and that are themselves shrinking floor space and focusing their attention on the most profitable items or the most profitable per space, per square meter items.

So, again, it comes to this question of unity and I think it’s no coincidence that the markets that have had the most unified approach to newsstand have been the ones that have had the most success.

In the large, established markets, can you still go out there and make a big splash at newsstand? I think you can. I think it’s expensive; it’s not as much of a priority as it once was. In the emerging markets, that opportunity is probably gone. It was probably there for a brief period a number of years ago, but it’s not there anymore. It’s a pity, because I do think newsstand was a great missed opportunity.

And on that question about cover mounts; I worked a number of years at the BBC, and BBC magazines, which had a very large children’s publishing division and relied on cover mounts for a lot of its marketing activity. And one of the messages that we’re getting about the print industry in particular is that children’s publishing is actually a growth area, something that’s really thriving. And that the very clever and very targeted cover mounts strategy remains a part of that. So, if you’re creating cover mounts that are educationally-focused with that bit of fun element to them for children, you can still use those as a very effective tool for marketing for children’s magazines.

Samir Husni: At my ACT Experience that will take place in April, half of one day is going to be devoted to distribution and the folks from the Newsgroup, which is the largest wholesaler, if not the only major wholesaler left in America. They will be leading that group with some retailers. So, as the industry has changed, and as you mentioned earlier, 2018 is shaping up to be better than 2017; do you think that we can ever go back to where the magazine and magazine media industry used to be? Sort of like the powerhouse it once was in the media sphere?

James Hewes: I would answer that question in a number of different ways. If you’re thinking about pure volume; are we ever going to sell as many copies as we once did? No, and I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the copy sales in the market as you know were driven by very general lifestyle magazines or entertainment magazines, both men’s and women’s, generally weeklies, of course, there are some monthlies. They have content that has migrated entirely to the Internet and that’s probably never going to come back. And those were very high margin businesses, very profitable businesses for most companies.

And that’s where I think a lot of this misunderstanding about the death of magazines comes from; the idea that just because you’ve lost your largest, most profitable category your industry as a whole is destroyed, but it’s not.

I think where we will see an increase in influence and where influence will remain persistent for magazines is in those quality journalism spaces; where magazines will continue to have a presence in reader’s hands and in households; where magazines will still have a really important voice and will serve a really influential voice. I’m always reluctant to use Donald Trump as an example, but when the president of the United States Tweets about wanting to be on the cover of a magazine in 2017, that’s still quite an important factor in people’s lives. And I think that influence will persist for quite some time yet.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

James Hewes: Only to say what I have been saying consistently throughout my first few months here, which is that I fervently believe that this is the most exciting time in history to be working in this industry. From the outside looking in, people may think it’s crazy, why would someone go and work in the publishing industry generally, and I’m not just talking about print, but publishing in media generally. And I say to them, are you crazy? This is an absolutely fantastic time to be working in it, because publishing companies are now exposed to such a broad range, a huge variety, of business areas that in the old days you would never, ever have gotten exposure to, whether that’s e-commerce or social media or social influences, whatever you want to think of, as a new business area that they’ve gone into.

And at the same time, we get to play with magazines, which are really fun and really a fantastic industry in their own right. So, all I would say is this is an incredibly great industry and I’m still really excited to be a part of it.

I started my working life at Barclays Bank, and I worked for Barclay’s Bank for four years. And I was very lucky; I met my wife there, so it wasn’t a wasted opportunity by any means. But I got to about three years working there, I was 22 or 23, and I thought if I don’t do something now, I’m going to be stuck in this institution for the rest of my life. And so I sat down and wrote on a piece of paper, asking myself what I really wanted to do with my life? And I answered work in the media and these are the companies that I want to work for.

And the first company on the list was the BBC. And I was very lucky, in the next week in the newspapers there was a job listed at the BBC, in the big national newspaper, seen by everybody in the country. I applied and I got the job out of a lot of applicants. And I punched the air when I got the job, because I knew then that I was going to be doing something that I loved, rather than just doing a job. So, when people come to me for career advice, which they’re starting to do now, I go to universities and lecture a bit, I tell them the same thing: just do what you love to do. Don’t just do something because it pays the bills. That’s worked for me so far.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

James Hewes: Probably playing with my children; I have two young children, eight-years-old and 10-years-old. And I don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with them, because I travel so much with my job. So, when I’m home I try to make sure that I spend as much time as possible with them and with my wife, Sheena, because we’re away from each other a lot and it’s nice to be reunited.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

James Hewes: (Laughs) That’s a really tough question. I should have known you were going to ask this question, because you ask it to everybody. (Laughs again) That’s a brilliant question, because the one answer you can’t say is modesty. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

James Hewes: I would hope that they would say that I always tried to solve problems. I’ve kind of made a career out of being a guide that people go to when they have a problem and they need to solve it. Yes, he was a problem-solver.

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

James Hewes: What keeps me up at night is actually probably not work. It’s just how do I make sure that my children get the best start in life; how do they get the best education; how do they get all of the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have when I was growing up? The world today is a very different place from what it was when I was growing up and in some ways, a lot scarier place. Certainly, a lot harder place to grow up in. And so my focus is very much on making sure that they get the great start in life that they need.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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