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1152 Useful Tips To Produce, Edit, and Sell a Great Magazine: A Mr. Magazine™ Conversation With Men’s Health Publisher, Ronan Gardiner and Editor, Bill Phillips.

October 31, 2013

How About “Tons of Useful Stuff” to Empower, Motivate and Galvanize You Into A Call For Action? Men’s Health Magazine Has At Least That Many And Maybe A Few More When It Comes To Their Readers’ Health And Well-Being. Read The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Publisher, Ronan Gardiner And Editor, Bill Phillips And Get On Your Own Yellow Brick Road To Health, Wealth And Possibly Oz Itself With Men’s Health Today!

When Publisher, Ronan Gardiner and Editor, Bill Phillips talk about Men’s Health, the excited animation comes through in their voices and you instantly realize this isn’t your father’s men’s magazine anymore. And it never will be again.

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Bill Phillips (left) and Ronan Gardiner Photo credit: JAMES SALZANO

From grooming to fashion, travel to food; the Men’s Health magazine of today is innovative, creative and motivating. It seeks to bring every known and unknown benefit that exists to each and every one of its readers. The magazine knows its audience and their “guys” know them. And they want to engage with each other on every level possible.

Men’s Health is sold in more than 50 countries around the world, including Oz – OK, that’s only a possibility. But you can bet over the rainbow somewhere, you’ll find at least one copy of Men’s Health. From the munchkins to the Wizard himself, every male loves Men’s Health and they have the ruby slippers to prove it.

So sit back and enjoy your trip through Men’s Health land and always remember the people at Men’s Health welcome you like you were at home.

And of course, there’s no place like home!

But first, the sound-bites:

On the secret of the magazine’s longevity and success: I think the secret is very simple: it’s that the magazine is, and always has been, about the reader. It reflects what the reader is thinking and is worried about and it reflects what the reader wants to learn. There’s no one on my staff or Ronan’s who hasn’t been changed by this magazine.

On keeping their balance between being a reflector and an initiator when it comes to men’s lifestyles: It’s interesting to me that we don’t really have a secret formula. We are men largely and we talk to millions of men and we know what they want because they tell us. We also live it.

On the fantastic year they’ve had in advertising: A very good year, yes. Firstly, I think advertisers recognize the societal shift toward health and wellness. I think that they’re acutely aware of the fact that there are a growing number of men, and women too, of course, who are reprioritizing, recommitting to leading and living a healthier life. I think everyone is aware of that.

On whether it matters if it’s ink on paper or pixels on a screen: We’re in a very fortunate position where we’re seeing both our print audience and digital continue to grow. We’re reaching 12.6 million guys in print every month, we’re reaching over 10 million guys online and you were very kind to recognize our page growth this year. We’re up 25 percent in paging.

On whether they can ever envision a time without print: No, I really don’t foresee that. Print will not go away forever. It’s such a tactile experience and it’s a nice sort of getaway. Digital is about getting your fix and moving on. I just think that there is going to be a large group of men and women who are always going to want that experience of paging through a magazine at their leisure.

On how the magazine is different today than it was ten years ago: It’s very different because guys have changed since that time. We’re doing more food than we’ve ever done, more grooming, style, tech, travel and more fatherhood. The content mix has certainly changed.

On the major stumbling block in the future of Men’s Health: I would hate to appear to be avoiding the question, but to be absolutely honest with you; I don’t see a stumbling block in front of us. All I see is even more opportunity. And I believe that very sincerely.

On how they are using digital to promote the print product: It’s another one of the challenges that the industry is facing. We need to be able to clearly express to our customers why the printed magazine is special and why it’s worth paying for. Why there is value there. And I don’t think as an industry we’ve done a good job of that.

On what keeps them up at night: The commitment to excellence keeps me up at night, but I have an amazing team and as long as I keep them empowered and cultivating their creativity, it’s all good.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 11.49.45 PMAnd now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Men’s Health Publisher, Ronan Gardiner and Editor, Bill Phillips.

Samir Husni: Three years ago, I gave Men’s Health the most notable launch of the last 25 years in America.

Bill Phillips: We remember it. We’re still celebrating.

Samir Husni: I remember the 80s and the fact that no one dared to publish a magazine for men, unless it was a sex magazine or fishing and sporting magazine, then Rodale put the first issue of Men’s Health on the marketplace in 1988 and now 25 years later, the magazine is available in 47 different languages all over the world.

What do you think is the secret of the success of Men’s Health? While so many other magazines tried imitating and have since come and gone.

Bill Phillips: I think the secret is very simple: it’s that the magazine is, and always has been, about the reader. It reflects what the reader is thinking and is worried about and it reflects what the reader wants to learn. There’s no one on my staff or Ronan’s who hasn’t been changed by this magazine.

I came here a little over ten years ago thinking it would be a stepping stone to a bigger gig. It turns out, it was a stepping stone to a better life. But as soon as you start taking the magazine to heart, learning from it and trying some of the small changes it suggests, whether it’s in your fitness routine or nutrition plan or relationship, it works and it changes your life for the better. If you can transform your body, you feel like you can do anything. And that’s what the magazine does; it empowers you to really seize control of your life.

Men have changed over the last 25 years and largely, I think the magazine has given men permission to care about today, things like fatherhood, cooking, grooming and style. Maybe it did start 25 years ago with a lot of sex and beer, but that’s just not who men are anymore. We’re in tune with all the aspects of our lives and the magazine is here to help guide them.

Samir Husni: How do you balance between being a reflector or an initiator of men’s lifestyles?

Bill Phillips: It’s interesting to me that we don’t really have a secret formula. We are men largely and we talk to millions of men and we know what they want because they tell us. We also live it. So, naturally, we’re also an expert-driven, research-based magazine. We have an editorial advisory board and not a day goes by that we’re not consulting with someone from that board. Every day we’re talking to ten to twenty different experts across all the disciplines that we cover.

So, we’re hearing what’s changing and what the research is saying. Most of it comes from internally, our staff and our guys. We know what they’re thinking because we’re living it.

Samir Husni: Do you think that you’re more of a magazine that cares about customers who count or you’re more in the business of counting customers?

Ronan Gardiner: I think Bill has made two very, very good points. Your first question was how Men’s Health not only continues to survive, but prosper, and I think Bill’s answer was spot-on.

On every single page of Men’s Health magazine there is a call to action for our readers to improve some aspect of their life, and we’re going to inform and inspire them on how to do just that. That in itself is a remarkable proposition, truly remarkable.

Bill recently spoke to my team and he stood up and talked about the circulation of Men’s Health magazine now being 1.8 million in the United States and our readership being 12.6 million and our global readership being over 30 million and then he made the point that there are about 3 billion men on the planet, so we’ve only really just started.

One of the reasons that I think our international footprint is so big is because men the world over are a lot more alike than we think they are. They want to be healthier, they want better relationships and they want to be more successful in the workplace. They want to be better fathers, husbands and boyfriends. And that doesn’t matter whether you live in Russia or China or New York City, men the world over really care about mostly the same things.

Bill Phillips: Peter Moore is the number two editor here and he just took a vacation to Nepal where he climbed to base camp on Everest. His guide told him, after spending a week with him; we need Men’s Health here because the mentality of men here is 50 years behind the mentality of men in the U.S.

You look at the developing world and there are just great opportunities for us to impact and shape the conversation in other countries too. It’s rather funny to say there are 3 billion men on the planet and we’ve only touched two percent of them. I’m totally serious. Until we’ve touched them all, we’re not done.

Samir Husni: How do you sell those men to the advertiser? Because in the midst of all this gloom and doom; you had a very good year in advertising.

Ronan Gardiner: A very good year, yes. Firstly, I think advertisers recognize the societal shift toward health and wellness. I think that they’re acutely aware of the fact that there are a growing number of men, and women too, of course, who are reprioritizing, recommitting to leading and living a healthier life. I think everyone is aware of that.

It’s a very positive movement, obviously, and it’s a conversation and a movement that advertisers want to be a part of. They want to play a role in that. They want to be seen both in encouraging that and in helping people to live a better and healthier life.

People who are committed to health tend to be better educated, tend to have better jobs and make more money and they tend to be more optimistic about their economic futures.

So for all of those reasons, advertisers want to speak to them as well. It’s largely the fact that the shift is taking place and it’s very well recognized and within the pages of Men’s Health, it’s a very positive place for advertisers to deliver their message.

Samir Husni: Do you think it makes a difference whether it’s ink on paper or pixels on a screen? Can you envision selling the same content if it was digital only or does having that printed edition add to the formula?

Ronan Gardiner: We’re in a very fortunate position where we’re seeing both our print audience and digital continue to grow. We’re reaching 12.6 million guys in print every month, we’re reaching over 10 million guys online and you were very kind to recognize our page growth this year. We’re up 25 percent in paging. We’re up by almost the same percent in digital revenue as well, so what I think we’re seeing is those guys want our content. They crave our content and want to engage with it across multiple devices.

They’ll read the magazine, use their tablet, download Men’s Health apps, go to Men’s Health.com and they’ll come out and participate in Men’s Health events. Wherever we make our content available, they’re guys who will engage with it.

Samir Husni: What is the ratio of digital subscriptions to that of the tablet?

Ronan Gardiner: Our total print subscriptions right now are about 1.3 million. And we’re selling about 115,000 digital copies.

Samir Husni: Bill, can you envision not seeing Men’s Health in print?

Bill Phillips: No, I really don’t foresee that. Print will not go away forever. It’s such a tactile experience and it’s a nice sort of getaway. Our lives are filled with clutter and there is nothing like huddling up with a magazine and paging through it. It’s just a different experience. It’s more of a sensual experience, maybe that’s not the right word to use for guys, but there is something to it.

The magazine tells a story as you page through it. It starts with quick bits and it builds into more thoughtful pieces toward the end.

Digital is about getting your fix and moving on. I just think that there is going to be a large group of men and women who are always going to want that experience of paging through a magazine at their leisure.

I had heard that the e-book concentration/penetration has reached about 30 percent and stalled and people still want their printed books. Seventy percent of the audience still wants that printed book.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with magazines. We’re still growing and our digital subscriptions are still growing and we’ve seen a lift over the summer, but they’re not growing as quickly as they were a year ago. Right now, we’re at ten percent. It’ll be interesting; maybe there is sort of a natural penetration of 15 or 20, but that’s it; that’s all we see. I guess time will tell.

Samir Husni: Magazines have only been in tablets for a little over three years, but usually people jump early. They go now.

Bill Phillips: Tablets are great too. I mean, you’re saving the paper and printing costs and renewals are very high on tablets. So, it’s a great business to be in. I almost look at, and I know Ronan does too, as a separate business. You think of print and online as two separate businesses. And the tablet edition is almost an entirely different business as well. It’s a different type of person who’s buying the tablet edition. That’s just their lifestyle.

When you look at Gen Y and Gen V, these are my kids who are glued to their iPods and iPhones already and don’t even have email addresses that they use, because they just text with their friends. It’ll be interesting to see if that generation ever has a moment where they realize the satisfaction in a printed product. I think we have a lot to learn on that front still.

Samir Husni: Yes, it’s amazing. Typing is the new talking.

Bill Phillips: Yes, definitely. But there’s a satisfaction in seeing your progress in a printed book too, I think, and if we woke up every day and went and turned on our computers and our tablets and sat and read The New York Times and then somebody said: “You know what? I could actually give this to you in a form factor where you could take it into any room you want; you could sit in the bathroom and read it, see it, feel it and smell it,” we’d think that would be an innovation. Print would be an innovation, if all we knew was digital.

I think it’s going to depend on the person. There’s going to be a large amount of people who still want the print experience.

Samir Husni: Outside the media circles in New York City; did any of your readers write and ask you about the editor change?

Bill Phillips: The only one I can remember is I received a Tweet from somebody saying, “Why don’t you want to talk? You’re not out there responding to all the stuff Dave is saying.” I responded by saying, “I’m just here to serve our readers.”

I think the best product wins always, so that’s going to be 100 percent of my focus.

Samir Husni: When you look at Men’s Health now and compare it to ten years ago, I believe you said you came to Men’s Health ten or so years ago.

Bill Phillips: Yes, in 2003.

Samir Husni: How is the magazine different today than it was in 2003?

Bill Phillips: It’s very different because guys have changed since that time. We’re doing more food than we’ve ever done, more grooming, style, tech, travel and more fatherhood. The content mix has certainly changed.

What I’ve tried to do, and I’m not saying anything negative toward Dave at all, but the magazine had started to get stuck in a bit of an editorial rut in that everybody was so busy, we were so focused on doing other businesses: building apps and doing digital and the website, that the magazine sort of became a little bit stale and wasn’t as surprising and as enterprising as it was back when I joined.

It was amazing journalism back then and it was fun and surprising and we sent writers to Darfur, Afghanistan and Iraq. And those kinds of stories we just weren’t doing anymore.

So my focus has been to get that element of empowerment. Men’s Health every month is going to empower you, surprise you and make you laugh and cry, but in the end you’re going to set it down and say, “Wow! I just learned a lot about myself. And I’m going to go live a better life tomorrow.”

Samir Husni: Ronan, from a marketing and advertising point of view, did the change in editorship cause a hiccup in the road?”

Ronan Gardiner: It really wasn’t, to tell you the truth. I worked closely with Dave and liked him personally and wish him nothing but the very best.

But we were very fortunate in that we had a pretty deep bench of very, very well-respected and smart editors in the business and had been working at Men’s Health for a long, long time. So, I think in many ways and the numbers from the issues would certainly support this; we’re stronger and more relevant, more vital and more needed for more men than we’ve ever been.

I’m just interested in the product being the best that it can possibly be and it most certainly is.

Samir Husni: What’s the major stumbling block in terms of the future of Men’s Health and how are you working to avoid it?

Ronan Gardiner: I honestly think in a lot of ways, we’re just getting started. I really do believe that. We’re 25 years in and we’re now the biggest men’s magazine brand on the planet, with forty editions in 57 countries and we’re the bestselling men’s magazine on U.S. newsstands. We have apps and tablets and events and I think there is so much more that we can do.

The beauty of health and wellness is it’s not a trend. No one is going to wake up six months from now and say, “Remember when we cared about feeling good?” That’s not going to happen. In fact, the movement is only going to continue to grow. And it needs to. Because there are a lot of people who, frankly, need to pay more attention to their health and wellbeing. And that means even more opportunity for Men’s Health to grow.

I would hate to appear to be avoiding the question, but to be absolutely honest with you; I don’t see a stumbling block in front of us. All I see is even more opportunity. And I believe that very sincerely.

Samir Husni: So Ronan, when should we expect to see a 916 page Vogue-like Men’s Health edition? Next September?

Ronan Gardiner: I can tell you one thing; we’re carrying more fashion than we’ve ever carried. We’re carrying more grooming than we’ve ever carried, more food, more financial advertising; so categories that traditionally have not looked toward magazines such as Men’s Health are really starting to wake up to the power of the brand and the power and size of the audience.

So, I don’t think we’ll be producing a tome-like September issue like Vogue does, in the immediate future, but I do think across multiple categories we can see our business continue to grow.

Bill Phillips: In terms of obstacles, I think our challenge and focus will be the Men’s Health everywhere strategy. When I ran online in 2009 up until I was promoted into this spot, Men’s Health everywhere was something we talked about a lot. Wherever our guys are out there in a digital landscape, let’s go get to them. So if they’re in the Apple store, let’s go there, if they’re in the Kindle store, let’s go there, Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest…wherever, we need to have a presence so that we’re reaching those eyeballs.

And we need to bring that same philosophy to the print product. We do know that when guys touch the magazine or open the magazine, they want it. We did a newsstand survey which was amazing. It was one issue and guys who bought it at the newsstand, so these are people who don’t get the magazine every month and 97 percent said they intended on buying it again. Ninety-seven percent. That’s amazing to me. And people who picked it up because they spotted it on the newsstand and we’re capturing 97 out of a hundred of them. And that’s impressive.

So we have to take that knowledge that we create a world-class product and when people see it, they want it and then we have to get it into more people’s hands. And that means that newsstands will always be a part of that equation, but fewer people are walking by the newsstands, we know that, so where are our guys? Well, they’re at gyms and traveling, they’re at airports and hotels, working out at the YMCA, they’re running obstacle races and those are the guys we need to put a magazine in the hands of. If we do that, then they’re going to send that subscription card in.

That’s our challenge and it’s changing the way we’re marketing, now it’s more of a grass roots marketing. It used to be companies like ours could just do direct mail and sit back and watch the orders roll in, but in this world there is just too much clutter for that to work well anymore. It still works a little bit. So now the question is: what is the new way to get the magazine out there into people’s hands? That’s the challenge.

Samir Husni: How are you using digital to promote the printed magazine?

Bill Phillips: We’ve tried a number of different ways. Obviously, if you go to our website you’re going to find subscription offers and that sort of thing.

Recently, we launched something we called The Men’s Health Search Party, which is where you answer three questions correctly about the Men’s Health brand and you’re entered to win whatever prize is being offered.

One of the questions came from the current issue. But if you don’t have the current issue, you can still enter the contest, just those types of ideas that can bring about awareness of what’s in the magazine.

It’s another one of the challenges that the industry is facing. We need to be able to clearly express to our customers why the printed magazine is special and why it’s worth paying for. Why there is value there. And I don’t think as an industry we’ve done a good job of that.

We are looking at things for next year where subscribers would have special access on our website. Those are all works in progress. Our social following is exploding. We’re over 2.5 million on Twitter and Facebook.

Those are people who engage with us multiple times each day. They’re fans and they love our brand. A small percentage of them are actually subscribers. How do we get those others to realize it’s worth it to have Men’s Health coming into their mailbox every month? The survey suggests to me and others like it, we just need to get them to test it and try it.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Ronan Gardiner: That’s a great question. I sleep really well. Probably because I think I have the best publishing job in the industry, among other things. When you’ve had a year as successful as the one we’ve just had, and I by no means want to sound arrogant, on the advertising front, on the editorial and international fronts, you can’t help but be a little bit nervous about the year ahead.

But the challenge of replicating success, well, that’s a great challenge. The challenge of only getting stronger, I mean, what a fun challenge that is to have. I don’t think that there’s anything that needs fixing at Men’s Health, so as long as the challenges continue to be how do we just get even bigger and better and even more relevant, capture even more market share, break even more new advertising goals and speak to even more customers and consumers, that doesn’t really keep me up at night as it wakes me up in the morning.

Bill Phillips: What keeps me up at night goes back to what I said about the best product wins. And every month I want to be better than the month before. Every month I want that surprising read, that really enterprising and exhaustive reporting and what we call Hot Spots. And Hot Spots are just tidbits of useful information located in the front of the magazine. Hot Spots are so simple and easy to remember, but so important. Are there enough Hot Spots?

I want to see more of the words You and Your so that we’re talking directly to our readers.

Those are the kind of things that wake me up at night. We want to push the benefits to our readers, in every headline and every story.

The commitment to excellence keeps me up at night, but I have an amazing team and as long as I keep them empowered and cultivating their creativity, it’s all good.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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2 comments

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