Women’s Health Magazine Coins “Well-thy” As The New Wealthy. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With The Magazine’s “True Grit” Publisher, Laura Frerer-Schmidt…March 9, 2015
“It is such a beautiful print product and I think to be inspired to make real changes in your life, and some of them may be small, such as a lip gloss that’s moisturizing, and some of them are big, like you’re going to think differently about your life, and then some are medium, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, but for those kinds of inspiring changes I think print is a great medium for them. It tells a story and it tells it so completely.” Laura Frerer-Schmidt
Women’s Health is well-thy. And if publisher, Laura Frerer-Schmidt has her way, the magazine will stay that way. Laura coined the phrase “well-thy” when she took the health and wellness print product, owned by parent company Rodale, to new heights. Well-thy has become an energetic movement, much like its equally dynamic composer.
I spoke with Laura recently and we discussed everything about Women’s Health and the “well-thy” movement. From events to social to digital to print; Laura prides the magazine on its totally integrated immersion. According to her animated description, the platforms feed off each other, with no way to differentiate where one begins and another leaves off. Circles of action that propel the audience and inspire positive changes in their lives.
And the numbers don’t lie. Under Laura’s leadership, Women’s Health continues to buck the trend remaining up in advertising sales both print and digitally. In 2015, the magazine remains up through the April issue and is poised to be up in May as well. Women’s Health has always remained true to its voice and that is something that advertisers and consumers value highly.
I hope you enjoy this ebullient conversation with a woman who knows how to motivate herself and the people around her with her “True Grit” nature and a positive outlook on the well-thy future…the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Laura Frerer-Schmidt, Publisher, Women’s Health…
But first, the sound-bites.
On coining the phrase well-thy when it comes to the health and wellness category: You know that wealthy is spelled well-thy, so it’s really about a trend. It’s a macro-trend and a micro-trend on many different levels. It’s where wellness is the new cool and is trendy.
On introducing wellness to the Women’s Health equation: It’s a pretty easy connection to make, actually. When you come to our brand, you’re not coming for a sit-back read; you’re not coming to relax, or be entertained, or watch what other people do; it’s less of a cinematic experience and more of an engaged experience, like a triathlon; like life.
On a major stumbling block she envisions facing and how she plans to overcome it: The market in general is not great. And when I say that; I mean the advertising market. And I also mean media overall. I would like to evolve past what we consider our immediate competitors and think of ourselves like a brand; I mean really think of ourselves like a brand, evolve into every area that we’re not touching so far, which there are only a few left.
On how she views the health and wellness competition outside of Rodale: I think that they’re really smart businesses in that they’re recognizing the well-thy trend and they want a piece of it. It’s a huge market. If you look it up, there are articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that have run about the health market and on how it’s expanding. They want those dollars.
On whether she can picture a day where Women’s Health won’t have a print component: No, I can’t. That’s my gut. I’m going to say right off the bat, no.
On anything additional she’d like to add: I think that this is going to be an interesting year for our category. I’m going to say that consumers need to trust brand identity. And that will be an advantage for us this year. That we are true to what we have always been and that we know who we are and we know what we’re about.
On what keeps her up at night: I think brand evolution keeps me up at night and the other thing is I love my team. I’m very, very involved with each and every one of them.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Laura Frerer-Schmidt, Publisher, Women’s Health…
Samir Husni: Congratulations on reaching a milestone; 10 years in today’s magazine publishing world is a major milestone.
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: Thank you.
Samir Husni: You coined the phrase: wellness is the new luxury; so, wellness is the new wealthy. Tell me a little bit more about the genre’ of wellness and why do you view it as the new luxury?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: You know that wealthy is spelled well-thy, so it’s really about a trend. It’s a macro-trend and a micro-trend on many different levels. It’s where wellness is the new cool and is trendy. It used to not be this way; I’m 47 years old, so I’m old enough to know. I remember the 80s quite well and it used to be about things and logos all over your body, giant cars and giant diamonds.
But today you see many brands from chic, mass brands to very chic, luxury brands leaning toward health, wellness and strength. I just came back from the Personal Care Product Council (PCPC); the largest beauty conference in the country, a lot of magazine people go there, amongst other media types, as well as very large beauty clients. Every brand I spoke with there, from prestige brands to the mass brands, and most of the mass brands consider themselves quite chic; they all spoke about wellness and health. I’m talking about Cover Girl, Pantene, Clinique, Shiseido; there’s a spin on all brands toward health and wellness because when you’re standing around the water purifier with your water bottle, you are talking, bragging about your green drinks or your triathlon or maybe your new electric car that’s powered by Panasonic batteries; this is the life. It’s the well-thy life. It’s an outdoorsy life; it can be skiing, surfing, running; it can be all of these sports that are really growing in great strides and becoming more social.
I think even the social movement across the country is related to wellness. Being connected to others is one of the critical components for wellness. It’s all a part of this lifestyle and our brand. And our brand happens to incorporate all of these things in a unique way; in a way that most women’s brands do not and I think that’s the key to the success we’ve had in this 10th year.
Samir Husni: How do you explain the confusion a lot of people have with the word health versus wellness? I mean, if someone asked you the unique selling proposition of Women’s Health; how would you introduce wellness into the Women’s Health equation?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: It’s a pretty easy connection to make, actually. The unique proposition of Women’s Health, and it stems directly from Rodale, our parent company, is that when you come to our brand, and we are a very large brand, in print we’re the fourth largest contemporary women’s magazine in the U.S., with 11 million in audience and about 8½ million uniques in digital on comScore and about 18 million on Coremetrics, which makes us really big in audience; it actually makes us the second largest after Cosmo, and the reason why we’ve been growing so much, despite the industry trend, is because we’re an action-based platform, we’re about #transformingyourlife. So when you come to our brand, you’re not coming for a sit-back read; you’re not coming to relax, or be entertained, or watch what other people do; it’s less of a cinematic experience and more of an engaged experience, like a triathlon; like life. Around 98% of our consumers take some sort of action to change their lives by the time they come to the brand; that’s from Beta Research.
So, it’s unique and it’s working, because in today’s world when you come to us, our digital offers an interactive platform, our print offers a rich platform of information that #transforms your life, and then our social allows you to give us immediate feedback. We actually have more interactions on social than anyone in our set. We may not have total friends and followers that are larger, but our interactions per day on those five platforms, right at 8 million, are huge. It’s the circle of interaction, action and connection, because also, if you think about it, I’m pretty sure Rodale is the only fully integrated company for magazines. So, most of them have silos selling digital and print and we’re all integrated. We’ve always been integrated.
The same person who puts together an idea for Olay here, is giving them a digital platform that feeds the print platform that feeds the social platform that feeds an events platform. Then we’re also connected to our international division, which is really healthy. We have 29 editions internationally; Men’s Health is even bigger internationally, and we also have our books and DVD departments that we feed with partnerships as well,
Starbucks is an advertiser in Women’s Health and in many of our other brands and we actually published the CEO’s book. So, everything kind of comes around in this big circle of action and I think it works.
Samir Husni: Laura, you seem to be on Cloud Nine and you’re doing such a wonderful job with the magazine and the advertising shares and the numbers reflect that; what major stumbling block do you envision facing this year as you celebrate the 10th anniversary of the magazine and what’s your plan for overcoming it?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: That’s an interesting question. Thank you for asking it. (Laughs) I would say the limitations of the market right now. The market in general is not great. And when I say that; I mean the advertising market.
And I also mean media overall. I would like to evolve past what we consider our immediate competitors and think of ourselves like a brand; I mean really think of ourselves like a brand, evolve into every area that we’re not touching so far, which there are only a few left.
I would definitely prefer to be thought of as a brand instead of a magazine, because we’re so much more than that. When you limit yourself to one thing, just digital or just print or just social, just TV, just products or just events; you’re not a powerful enough brand. And there are some really powerful brands in our business, but I look at right now, and they need to evolve. And they can; there’s a lot waiting for them when they evolve past being mainly a print product.
Samir Husni: Do you imagine the market is going to get even more competitive than it is in 2015?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: We’ll see who survives. I’m very surprised to see some of the brands that I know and love struggling this year. I think sometimes some of the big brands either go away or they go through such big changes that they evolve to become a little bit less of a competitor. We’ve really been true to our brand for the entire 10 years. We’ve evolved for sure, but we haven’t had to create big, sweeping changes around the identity of the brand because it’s been on trend with the whole well-thy movement and I think being smart enough to take advantage of that and to understand what it is the consumer has been loving from us has protected and grown us.
And my real answer to your question is probably it will be more competitive because I think that it’s a winner-take-all situation. I think that more and more companies are going to certain companies or brands and giving them all their money, or most of their money, because they want to see more than just a campaign run; they want to see a movement. So that means, fewer, stronger and better.
Samir Husni: A few months ago Meredith merged Fitness magazine into Shape; Hearst launched Dr. Oz The Good Life; Time Inc. reinvented Health magazine; Condé Nast reinvented Self… As you look at your competitive set; how do you see that wellness/health market outside Rodale competing with you?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: I think that they’re really smart businesses in that they’re recognizing the well-thy trend and they want a piece of it. It’s a huge market. If you look it up, there are articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that have run about the health market and on how it’s expanding. They want those dollars.
But I’m going to say that it is critical in this field that you be fully integrated as a company, fully integrated. And I mean a person doesn’t have to go to three different people to get digital, print and events. You have ideas that come to you that are movements and they’re movements in a social way and in a digital and print way, and they all feed each other. And I think if you look at the biggest client almost all of us have, Procter & Gamble, and as you may know, over the last year they’ve been moving people all around the country and it’s been a huge change for them, because they’re insisting that all of their brands be integrated, so that there’s not a print team for Cover Girl and then across the country there’s a digital team for Cover Girl; they want it all-in-one.
People are being trained now to handle print, TV, digital, social, events and products; just everything, on one team, because they want that message to be integrated. And Rodale has been fully integrated from the very beginning; we were never siloed in that way. And maybe it’s because we needed to be a little more efficient with our dollars; we couldn’t afford to have that many different teams. (Laughs) We have always had our teams, marketing, sales and editorial be fully integrated in print, digital, books, iTunes content and everything else that we do.
Samir Husni: Can you envision a day where Women’s Health will not exist in print?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: No, I can’t. That’s my gut. I’m going to say right off the bat, no. It is such a beautiful print product and I think to be inspired to make real changes in your life, and some of them may be small, such as a lip gloss that’s moisturizing, and some of them are big, like you’re going to think differently about your life, and then some are medium, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, but for those kinds of inspiring changes I think print is a great medium for them. It tells a story and it tells it so completely.
I also think social is great to get people involved in it, because if you send a text to someone or it’s on Twitter and it says a chicken breast is 100 calories and 10 grams of protein, awesome. It just gets the conversation started. Or even a quote: don’t ask who’s going to let me, ask who’s going to stop me and a link to an article on True Grit.
You need all of these things; you need the quick social; you need the interactive digital, and you need the slightly more in depth storytelling of print. And I think that they speak to each other in a way. That’s why our circulation has been strong, our digital and social has grown so much. I think our numbers can be attributed back too all of the platforms linked to each other and it’s a fact, we know that over 30% of our digital traffic comes from social. It’s the circle of a conversation.
Samir Husni: You sound as energetic as the pages of the magazine. What makes Laura click and tick every morning and every day?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: Oh my goodness, I was born this way. (Laughs)
Samir Husni: (Laughs too) You’re starting to sound like Lady Gaga, born this way.
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: Just like everything in life, my personality has good things about it, and not such good things about it. (Laughs) One of the good things is that my whole life, since I was a kid, I have been a very gritty person. It’s actually a quality measured by Harvard scientists called grit that trumps good looks, intelligence, money and physical prowess. You can win the Olympics and be the third best athlete if you have it.
The reason why I came to Women’s Health, and this is another thing that actually makes me tick; I came to Women’s Health because I read an article in the magazine about True Grit and I was so blown away by it. I starting talking to a couple of the folks here, and about six months later they called and said they needed me to come in. (Laughs)
So, whatever it is that makes me tick, there is definitely a thread of it throughout the brand. And that’s probably what you’re hearing.
Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: I think that this is going to be an interesting year for our category. There is a lot of change going on with Shape and Fitness merging, as you mentioned, and even Self has gone through a repositioning that was pretty dramatic. I’m going to say that consumers need to trust brand identity. And that will be an advantage for us this year. That we are true to what we have always been and that we know who we are and we know what we’re about. Being true to your brand for your consumer is going to be critical in many ways this year. I believe it will affect everyone’s circulation, their digital audience, social, and then it will affect advertising.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Laura Frerer-Schmidt: My renovations. (Laughs) I’m renovating a house. That’s what keeps me up at night for real. But here, I would say, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing; is the excitement. But sometimes excitement can keep you up. We’re evolving our brand this year and we’ll come to you and tell you more about it, we had things actually happen this morning and last week, and there are some real and unusual new brand evolutions that will be happening that we’re stewarding through that I think will be unique in the industry.
I think brand evolution keeps me up at night and the other thing is I love my team. I’m very, very involved with each and every one of them. I know everything about their lives, or as much as can be known. I help them choose their wedding invitations; I help them get through bad breakups; I help them find an apartment they want to buy; I look at the floor plan with them; I show up and go there; I think Women’s Health is an interesting place because everyone here has evolved their life in some way, which is kind of what the magazine does and what the brand does.
So, I think it’s interesting that people are getting married and having babies and buying their first place, running their first marathon and doing so many things, and if something ever happens with them, and they’re people, they’re humans, stuff happens; I think about and I want to help. And it’s not just because I’m a great person, they are my profits. This is a business about people. It’s about consumers and it’s about the people who create the brands.
So with all these people running around the office, I have to make sure that they’re in a culture that supports them and uplifts them, but that they also are fulfilled and that they’re doing the best that they possibly can. I think about my people a lot.
Samir Husni: Thank you.