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It’s a Fun, Fun, Fun Fun Magazine: HGTV Magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Sara Peterson, HGTV magazine Editor-in-Chief

October 3, 2011

Here is the latest birth announcement from the magazine world hospital delivery room: Hearst Communications and Scripps Networks proudly announce the arrival of their second child HGTV magazine. Welcoming the baby is big brother Food Network magazine and the Godmother of both children, Hearst Magazines’ Editorial Director Ellen Levine.

The two siblings, HGTV magazine and Food Network magazine, share the same DNA and it shows. The bright colors, the scripted type, the cable channel celebrities, the intelligent fun, and the addictive content are all there. The newborn has a lot to live up to, after all, its big brother Food Network magazine has proven to be the most successful birth of a new magazine in the last three years. Yet, at the same time, the newborn HGTV magazine has a very good example to follow, and it is already following. From the publishing schedule (one test issue now, followed by another in Jan. 2012) to the extensive focus groups and meetings with potential readers and customers, the first issue of HGTV magazine shares a striking resemblance to the first issue of Food Network magazine.

However, HGTV magazine is an entity on its own, and the determinants of success or failure are going to depend on the magazine itself and not on its siblings. Early vital signs are excellent and the buzz around the birth of this new title is more than positive. After all, this is a major launch of a print (that is ink-on-paper) magazine from a major publisher.

To find more about the launch of HGTV magazine and the story behind it, I reached out to the magazine’s proud and happy mama, editor-in-chief Sara Peterson (who used the word fun at least 17 times during the 20-minute interview) and I asked her about the magazine, the timing, the ink on paper and her expectations of the new child. What follows are, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews format, the sound-bites first, followed by the very lightly edited conversation with Ms. Peterson.

First the sound-bites:

On the magazine concept: A fresh, fun, home-style magazine, that wasn’t out there.
On the magazine audience: It’s a new kind of home magazine for all of the people who still love magazines.
On ink on paper: We still believe in the visibility factor of a magazine. People love to thumb through and read and look at it and save pages and experience it on paper.
On the competition: This is a different kind of magazine in that we bring a lot of fun to the pages. We want to entertain the reader from the first page to the last, just like the TV shows.
On the focus of the magazine: We are devoted to the little changes that have a big impact.
On the brand: It’s so important to spend a lot of time knowing your brand inside and out, really understanding the brand and the reasons people love it, go to it and what they expect from it.
On the service to the readers: We want you to live with what you love, so we will help by giving you options.
On her biggest fear: It’s so hard to be the captain of the ship and think like that. It’s not my nature to be that way. You have to stay positive and confident that you have done your best.
On what makes her tick and click: It’s just about creative expression for me.

And now for the conversation with Sara Peterson, editor-in-chief of HGTV magazine:

Samir Husni: Why now and why in print?

Sara Peterson: When Ellen Levine, who is the editorial director of Hearst, and I started talking about this project a year ago, I kept thinking ‘This is a really popular brand.’ People are huge HGTV fans – millions of people watch this network. So many people love it and describe themselves by saying ‘I’m addicted to HGTV’ or ‘I’m obsessed with HGTV.’ We really felt like we had a built-in audience and that it was the next extension that made sense for the brand. We felt like we could produce a fresh, fun, home-style magazine, that wasn’t out there. We felt there was an audience for it, and we had the partnership to create that kind of magazine.


SH: Why ink on paper?

SP: HGTV is all about being multi-platform. We have this great partnership where we are now HGTV on television and HGTV dot com. We also meshed the TV and magazine together by doing a show on the magazine that aired last week. We felt like that was the next extension for the brand, and there are millions of people who love magazines, so why not try to create one that’s fresh and different? It’s a new kind of home magazine for all of the people who still love magazines.

(The numbers for HGTV, by the way, are: 1.7 million Facebook fans, 82,000 followers on twitter and 5.6 unique visits to the HGTV website each month)

We still believe in the visibility factor of a magazine. People love to thumb through and read and look at it and save pages and experience it on paper. We believe that.

SH: Are you expecting success like the Food Network Magazine?

SP: I just hope people love the magazine – knock on wood. Food Network is a huge success and so, yes, it is something to follow them. I have learned a lot by working with Ellen (Levine) who also worked on Food Network Magazine. We hope it will be a big success and that people will find it as something new and different.

SH: What’s your major challenge in launching this magazine?

SP: I spent a lot of time thinking about how to translate the HGTV brand into print. We spent so much time thinking, “Do we have all the content that we need?” Because people watch HGTV for so many reasons – real-estate to renovation, household help, landscape and DIY projects.’ I am constantly pushing myself to make sure we have a really dense magazine that covers all the home topics that we want to talk about. I think about that every day.

I am also thinking “Is the reader getting a lot of bang for their buck in this magazine?” Are we tackling all the topics that have to do with life at home? Are we packing this magazine with creative ideas for a fun life at home?’

This is a home magazine that needs to talk about everything that people deal with at home, whether it’s decorating, entertaining, cleaning, lawn mowing or picking out light bulbs. We want to talk about everything that goes into your life at home. That is a huge topic. I’m always wondering if we put enough different ideas in the magazine. People can never have enough ideas, because there are never too many ideas for your home.

SH: What’s the good thing going for HGTV Magazine?

SP: I think it is so fun and fresh and different that it will be a big surprise. One of the things that will surprise people most about the magazine is that it goes far beyond decorating. We’re much more than a decorating magazine. We are about all the things people have to deal with at home. I am really proud and feel like we have a success because we are so fun and different in that way.

We also work hard to keep the entertainment factor in mind. HGTV shows are a great way to learn and get great ideas, but you are also entertained. This is a different kind of magazine in that we bring a lot of fun to the pages. We want to entertain the reader from the first page to the last, just like the TV shows. We are always asking each other if we have we made the story fun enough and given it all the great information. Have we “funned” it up enough? It is really what we want to do for the reader. For example, we have a section called “fun decorating” because that’s exactly what we want to do.

We also love makeovers, but all different kinds of makeovers. You don’t have to renovate your entire house. There are lots of little things you can do to have big impacts. That’s really important now, especially in this economy. People are spending more time at home but can’t always afford the big “renos,” like remodeling the kitchen or adding on to the house. There are little things you can do to not only maintain and increase the value of your home, but that also make it a little happier.

The magazine has a story called “Front Door of the Month,” and we show how you can do small things like paint your front door, swap out your welcome mat or try new flower pots and make your whole house look different. It’s like giving your house a “curb appeal” make over.

We are passionate about those little things that make a big difference in your home. I think that is how we are different from other home magazines. We are devoted to the little changes that have a big impact.

SH: As you know, Hearst succeeded with the Food Network magazine, but failed with Lifetime magazine. So it seems it is not just enough to have a television audience for a magazine to work. What are you doing to ensure HGTV magazine will work?

SP: It’s so important to spend a lot of time knowing your brand inside and out, really understanding the brand and the reasons people love it, go to it and what they expect from it. We were very thorough in that. We took the magazine prototypes to focus groups all around the country. This is a national magazine, so we wanted to hear from all parts of the country. We really listened to what they expected from a print extension of the HGTV brand. I listened very carefully to that.

You also have to say “How are we different, how are we doing something new?” It’s twofold – you’ve got to know your brand and you have to challenge yourself to make something original. I felt like we did that. We have an audience that wants to hear about real life at home. This is not a magazine that lectures readers on how to have the perfect house or the perfect room or the perfect paint color. We want to be a fun, lively, cheerful and friendly magazine. We felt that this was a new concept and original enough that people would love it.


SH: If I give you a magic wand and you strike this first issue of HGTV Magazine and a human being comes out, who would it be? If you could humanize it who will it be?

SP: When I worked at Coastal Living, I always referred to the reader as Sandy Shore. What is Sandy wanting from this magazine? What does she expect? What does she like? We really built this profile and got to know her. We knew where she shopped, the kind of seafood she liked and what she liked to cook. I don’t have a name for our reader yet, but I think this person would be someone who really enjoys and takes pride in their home. They really feel house-proud and think it is fun to try new ideas and express creativity inside and outside their home.

The magazine is for all homeowners, men and women. There is a topic for everybody, just like HGTV shows. They love color and would probably wear colorful outfits. I am looking at the cover now and the pillows on it are fun and colorful. They are conversational, fun and peppy – someone you would want to have coffee with. I think I would go have chips and salsa with this person.

SH: That fun appears in a lot of pages of the magazine, including the page which you carry different colors and variation of the cover image…

SP: I think that is fun. The idea came about because we were thinking of the similarity of watching an HGTV show. It’s fun to watch along, and you feel like you are a part of the show. You get to think “What would I do in this situation? What house would I buy? Or which kitchen renovation would I choose?” That is the fun participation aspect to watching the shows. We were trying to translate that involvement and participation into print. We thought it would be fun to show different options that the reader could choose. Maybe you want your sofa to be yellow, maybe you want it to be pink. It’s fine with us, we don’t have decorating rules. We want you to live with what you love, so we will help by giving you options.


SH: What’s your biggest fear?

SP: It’s so hard to be the captain of the ship and think like that. It’s not my nature to be that way. You have to stay positive and confident that you have done your best. Think about that time you first had people over to see your grandson; that’s kind-of how I feel. It’s out there now and in people’s hands. They’re looking through it and judging it – good and bad. And we are going to listen to them. Of course I want people to love the magazine, but I know that this is a process, and we have to adapt as we go.


SH: What makes Sara tick and click? What makes you get out of bed?

SP: Creative expression. I would not be in this business and go to work every day if I could not find a way to creatively express ideas that people can relate to. Whether I’m doing that at work, at my home or shopping for shoes, the same phrase pops into my brain. I think I heard Woody Allen say one time he couldn’t imagine not making movies even if no one came to see them. It’s just about creative expression for me.

SH: Thank you.

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