Ellen Levine: The Launch Queen of Successful Magazines. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Hearst Magazines’ Editorial DirectorJune 11, 2014
“I believe that you have to be the reader. You can’t try and force the reader to be you. So you have to give them what they want and understand it emotionally, understand the voice and the need.” Ellen Levine
Being responsible for some really big magazine titles that have been around for a very long time is only one of Ellen Levine’s job duties as the first-ever Editorial Director of Hearst Magazines; she also knows what it means to develop and strengthen the flock. Dr. Oz The Good Life, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine are just a few of her success stories while at Hearst.
If anyone in the magazine industry deserves the title “launch queen,” it is Ellen Levine. And not only launch queen, but successful magazines launch queen. She succeeded where others failed and she continues to do so. Levine is the no non-sense editor who puts her money where her mouth is. In fact, she is the “less-talk” and “more-do” editor. Levine’s mantra for success is becoming the reader, learning to look at each one of her titles through the eyes of her audience and connecting with each individual person in a very human, very empathetic way.
I spoke with Ms. Levine recently about her past and present accomplishments and her secrets of keeping that audience engagement.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines.
But first the sound-bites:
On her recipe for audience connectivity: You need to be able to give them what they didn’t know they wanted or needed in a way that’s appealing.
On her secret for keeping her feet firmly planted on the ground: I really don’t know my secret. I like to define myself as a normal reader when I read all the magazines that we do.
On what keeps her up at night: I am usually up at three in the morning, saying, we should have fixed that headline or that cover line.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines…
Samir Husni: You’ve launched and supervised more successful magazines than probably any female editor that I can think of; what’s your secret recipe for that editorial connectivity with an audience in these changing times? Things have changed so much and yet, from your days at Woman’s Day until the present with Dr. Oz The Good Life, you’re always able to captivate that audience out there.
Ellen Levine: That’s a good question. I believe that you have to be the reader. You can’t try and force the reader to be you. So you have to give them what they want and understand it emotionally, understand the voice and the need. In terms of that, it doesn’t mean you have to have multi-personalities, but you have to be open to what they want. You’re not a teacher, you’re not forcing things. And you need to be able to give them what they didn’t know they wanted or needed in a way that’s appealing.
Everybody wants health information, but they don’t want it the same way. Some want it in an academic voice, some want it in a kind of sillier voice and there is an intimacy that you have to feel. You can’t intellectualize it.
Samir Husni: You also keep your feet on the ground. A lot of editors who have achieved less than you have aren’t so grounded. You see their heads above the clouds; what’s your secret?
Ellen Levine: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I really don’t know my secret. I like to define myself as a normal reader when I read all the magazines that we do. Maybe I have so many different personalities that I should be hospitalized.
But in fact, I can just get into it. And we look to hire staffs that have the same wonderful journalism skills and are very embedded in that fact, but also have understanding and empathy with the reader, none of the holier-than-thou attitudes. You come to us and we will educate you. We want to speak in a different language in each magazine and of course, with somebody like Oz it’s very easy to capture what the energy should be.
On other brands where you’re trying to read the needs of the Food Network person, the best lesson that we ever learned, first of all was to hire brilliant editors like Maile Carpenter, Sara Peterson and now Jill Herzig; you have to understand from that reader exactly how to approach her.
The one other anecdote on Food Network, which is very much of an example, is that we went into focus groups, we did two prototypes and we went into those groups thinking, oh my gosh, what are we going to name this magazine? We liked Spoon, we liked Butter; you know we went through all these names and we’re putting them out there in the focus groups and one of the women said, “I don’t care what you call it, I’m calling it Food Network Magazine.” And there became the name.
Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?
Ellen Levine: Everything, my children and my husband. But really, toward the closing of every magazine issue, I am usually up at three in the morning, saying, we should have fixed that headline or that cover line.
Samir Husni: Thank you.
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