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PLUS, A Magazine With A Mission: Where The Readers Are Much More Than Their Status. The Rebranding Of HIV Plus Magazine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Diane Anderson-Minshall, Editor-In-Chief.

April 27, 2015

“Print is not dead for us; it’s thrilling. Of course, I hear it in other magazines and it scares me to death because I’m such an old print horse that I never want it to go away. And so it’s really exciting for me to be at a magazine where there’s never talk of not doing print anymore. Yes, it’s doing well.” Diane Anderson-Minshall

PLUS 2-2 Although we live in the 21st century and in an era of natural enlightenment overall; unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to the three letters HIV virus and the implications and stereotypes that may follow.

That’s why the powers-that-be at HIV Plus magazine decided that their message of care and concern for people who suffer from HIV and all chronic, medically-managed illnesses would be better served to rebrand without those three letters. Hence, Plus magazine was born with the intent of opening up a whole new conversation with people who felt uncomfortable picking up the magazine when it was known as HIV Plus.

Diane Anderson-Minshall is editor-in-chief of the magazine and is a staunch advocate for the magazine’s mission. I spoke with Diane recently and we talked about the rebranding and how the hope of reaching more people with the magazine’s message was the driving force behind the change in title and design.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Anderson-Minshall, Editor-in-Chief, Plus magazine, and a woman whose passion for the HIV/AIDS community and all who endure the pain of chronic illnesses, is genuine and far-reaching.

But first the sound-bites:


Head Shot - Diane Anderson-Minshall On changing the name from HIV Plus to simply Plus:
We did have people who told us if you don’t have HIV in the title, even though we’re still a magazine for people with HIV, but if we don’t have it in the title, it looks like a health magazine about several things, including HIV. You don’t have to be HIV positive to read it.

On the new tagline; you’re more than your status:
The bottom line is we’re recognizing that our readers have HIV, which is a chronic manageable condition and it’s not a definer of their lives, so we have to recognize that they need more out of a magazine than just treatment information. They’re looking for a whole magazine for the whole totality of their lives.

On keeping the website and social media with the original name:
We didn’t rebrand the website or the social media sites and part of that is because a magazine is something that is very visible versus a website where anyone can sneak onto it; we all know that because we sneak onto certain websites all the time.

On the new celebrity-oriented covers and whether they convolute the message the magazine is trying to render:
I don’t actually. I think that our mission is the same. We started doing celebrity covers when I came onboard as editor-in-chief and part of that is because celebrity covers are aspirational. I think that we’d be foolish to not recognize that people like to see aspirational profiles of other people who are doing something related to their lives.

On whether any celebrity has ever rejected the magazine’s offer to be on its cover:
Yes, absolutely. I’m not sure I can name who those people are, but that absolutely happens all of the time. And those are oftentimes celebrities who are doing something with an AIDS charity already, but who don’t want to be associated with a magazine. Sadly, it has happened a number of times.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face:
The biggest stumbling block was getting our people who write for the magazine to recognize that our readership is a high school educated level readership, because I think people find that’s sometimes harder to write to.

On her most pleasant moment at the magazine: There have been so many. But at the U.S. Conference on AIDS last year in San Diego, for example, we made a life size cover of the magazine, with just the logo and a little bit of text, and then basically people came up and posed in front of the magazine like they were the cover star of the magazine. And then they Tweeted out the photos or we did and that was a great moment.

On whether she considers herself a journalist first or an advocate for the magazine’s mission:
I consider myself a journalist first, but there’s no denying that this is advocacy journalism. There’s just no denying that in order to do this magazine, you have to consider yourself an advocacy journalist.

On anything else she’d like to add:
One thing that people do keep asking me is whether we’ve made this change because we’re losing money? And this is the very first time I can say this, because a lot of times I’ve been at publications where what I’m about to say was not the case; where we did make a change and it was because we needed to deal with dropping revenue. In this case, we’ve been doing phenomenally well and we’ve been consistently doing well over the last few years that I’ve been here.

On why she believes print is not dead:
Print is not dead for us; it’s thrilling. Of course, I hear it in other magazines and it scares me to death because I’m such an old print horse that I never want it to go away. And so it’s really exciting for me to be at a magazine where there’s never talk of not doing print anymore.

On what keeps her up at night:
In terms of publishing, just production can keep me up at night. Just knowing production is two weeks away and that I have to file 80,000 words by then. That can keep me up at night. And that’s just the very beginning of what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Diane Anderson-Minshall, Editor-in-Chief, Plus magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did you change the name of the magazine from HIV Plus to just Plus?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: My publisher, Joe Valentino, and I had been talking for a couple of years about whether the name of the magazine was kind and modern and really reflected all that we were doing with it for readers. We started doing some informal questioning of those readers and of people who distribute the magazine; because we’re a bit like WebMD in that we reached our quarter of a million reader’s right at the point of care, for the magazine in particular, of course, the mobile app and the web as well.

We started talking about how the name was; what we were doing with it; if it was reaching readers, that kind of thing, because when we started the magazine in the late 1990s it was a very different landscape in terms of who was reading the magazine and the kind of information that we were providing.

In the last couple of years, we’ve definitely become much more service-oriented than we were before. The magazine before had been very newsy, of course in part because it was also run by that staff of The Advocate, which is an LGBT news magazine, so it had been very newsy, but maybe wasn’t as useful when it came to what readers were looking for at that point.

This sort of informal questioning and surveying people kind of coalesced at the U.S. conference on AIDS last fall, where we did informal focus groups and we talked with a lot of people who were reading the magazine and also people who provided the magazine, like social workers, clinicians and people who ran LGBT centers or health centers or AIDS service organizations.

And when we started questioning them, we found a couple of things at that point and one of them was that we had a number of people who came up to the booth, picked up the magazine and said, oh my, I love Plus magazine and I read it all the time. And that made us realize that there was a chunk of our readership that was already calling us Plus magazine, sort of like the little HIV in our masthead or our logo at that point wasn’t resonating for them that it was part of the name of the magazine the way we had designed it.

And then at the same time we spoke with a number of people who said, I have a lot of people who read your magazine when they’re at my office or at the center, or getting their monthly healthcare or shots, but they won’t take it home, in part because it’s called HIV Plus. It’s really clear that it’s a magazine only for people with HIV.

So, I asked those people by just dropping the word HIV from the title, would it allow them to take the magazine home and feel comfortable about it? And the consensus was from all these people, yes, just removing the word; those three little letters from the title kind of eliminated the stigmatizing language that led with the virus. And this helped us think, well, OK, maybe this is a time for us to rebrand ourselves as Plus and eliminate the stigmatizing language that leads with the virus and tell our readers that at this point we understand that they more than their HIV status; you’re you, plus a little something more and for a lot of our readers that can be HIV or Hepatitis C or another condition.

At the same time, the change would open the magazine up for those people who would not pick it up or take it home because of having that HIV in the title. The change would make those people feel comfortable and safe to carry the magazine on a subway or read it in their cubicle or leave it on their coffee table if their friends come over.

A part of it was we recognized that there were different types of people reading our magazine and several of those people were very happy and proud to use HIV as a way to describe themselves and those are the people that we feel we were reaching at that point, and those people aren’t often living in the areas hardest hit by the virus. And we knew that there were a lot of people living in areas where they weren’t getting the right kind of treatment or getting connected to care; they’re weren’t getting the right kind of information because they were afraid for people to recognize that they had HIV.

So, we did have people who told us if you don’t have HIV in the title, even though we’re still a magazine for people with HIV, but if we don’t have it in the title, it looks like a health magazine about several things, including HIV. You don’t have to be HIV positive to read it. That’s kind of our angle; we’re trying to work to get those people who are afraid to pick up the magazine and we’re asking those people who lead with HIV in their lives to understand that we’re not going in the closet about being a magazine for people with HIV, we’re just asking them to make some considerations for those people who are afraid to pick up the magazine. By losing those three little letters in the title, we sort of open ourselves up for those people to join the conversation and have access to the information that they desperately need and aren’t getting yet.

Samir Husni: And that led to the new tagline under the name: because you’re more than your status?

PLUS 1-1 Diane Anderson-Minshall: Yes, I mean, we’re really just sort of playing around with different things and for me; I kept thinking with Plus, we wanted to tell our readers that we get you, you’re you, plus something extra, in this case, HIV, but it could be other things too.

But the bottom line is we’re recognizing that our readers have HIV, which is a chronic manageable condition and it’s not a definer of their lives, so we have to recognize that they need more out of a magazine than just treatment information. They’re looking for a whole magazine for the whole totality of their lives.

Samir Husni: You’re website is still HIV Plusmag.com…

Diane Anderson-Minshall: It is and that’s actually going to stay that way for now. We didn’t rebrand the website or the social media sites and part of that is because a magazine is something that is very visible versus a website where anyone can sneak onto it; we all know that because we sneak onto certain websites all the time. People generally don’t see a browser history; they don’t look into what we’re searching for, so you can actually go onto HIV Plusmag.com without feeling the stigma. And I’m assuming a lot of people will still do that, so you don’t feel any stigma when you do it because no one knows what you’re doing online, versus a magazine which is very visible; it’s something that you take home or have on your coffee table or next to your bed.

It’s something very different for people when they’re carrying the magazine versus reading the website. And we recognize that sometimes those are two different audiences with two different needs. So, we went ahead and left the social media and the web and our mobile app with the brand HIV Plus for a variety of reasons, but that’s one.

And then another reason is that making a change to those things right now; we just don’t want to scare off the readers that are accessing us through those channels at this point and we don’t need to lose traffic or any of those kinds of things. And we felt like again, with the website and the social media accounts, it just wasn’t as pressing to change those because people aren’t monitoring you when you’re looking at those sites versus when you have a magazine and it’s everywhere around you. Does that make sense?

Samir Husni: Oh yes, that makes perfect sense. In fact, you give more ammunition to my fight that digital and print each has its own role in today’s world.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Yes, absolutely.

January February 2015 - Tyson Beckford HI Samir Husni: We all know that we live in a digital age and as you mentioned, it’s much easier for somebody with HIV to sneak onto the web and look for answers or help; yet with the magazine, it’s like announcing it to the world. As you move into Plus, even into the design of the cover with its celebrity-oriented nature; do you see any conflict between the message the magazine is providing and the look of the magazine?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: I don’t actually. I think that at this point, we’re the leading provider of HIV health information through the magazine and our online portals and mobile platforms and we still have the same mission, which is bringing accurate and trustworthy information about HIV and other related mental and physical health conditions, but in a way that’s empowering and entertaining and up-to-the-minute.

And so I think that our mission is the same. We started doing celebrity covers when I came onboard as editor-in-chief and part of that is because celebrity covers are aspirational. I think that we’d be foolish to not recognize that people like to see aspirational profiles of other people who are doing something related to their lives. Everybody picks up a magazine with a celebrity on it; it’s much harder to get people to pick up a magazine without a celebrity, so there’s no reason for us not to run those as well.

What we do is interview celebrities who are either people who do have HIV or have some relationship to HIV or AIDS, maybe through a family member or they work in a social cause related to it as a charity or they’re playing a role of an HIV-positive person on television or in film. And those are some of our most popular pieces.

What I think of these celebrity pieces is a little bit like the cherry in the cough syrup, you know; we need to make this sweet for people to pick up and then they get the information they need inside. The celebrity covers bring people in.

You’re at the doctor’s office and you’re looking at the array of magazines on the table and you’re next to us and you’ve got Sofía Vergara on the cover of WebMD and we’ve got somebody to compete with that so you’ll pick us up. And then you’ll find the information that you need; the treatment and medication information, but also the fitness, mental health, nutrition, sex and dating advice and the real, but aspirational profiles of other people living healthy lives with chronic conditions.

Samir Husni: Have you ever been rejected by a celebrity or a celebrity’s agent who said, no, we don’t want to be on the cover?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Yes, absolutely. I’m not sure I can name who those people are, but that absolutely happens all of the time. And those are oftentimes celebrities who are doing something with an AIDS charity already, but who don’t want to be associated with a magazine. Sadly, it has happened a number of times.

And then we’ve also reached out to some celebrities we know who are HIV-positive themselves and tried to see if they were ready to have their coming-out interview and they were not. We don’t hold any ill will in those cases because we understand how difficult it is to come out about being HIV-positive, but again if you’re a celebrity with all the resources of the world at your fingertips and you’re not able to come out about being positive, imagine how difficult it is for the 18-year-old kid in the southeast who’s just found out he’s positive and has no resources.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block that you’ve had to face since becoming editor-in-chief of the magazine and how did you overcome it?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: The biggest stumbling block was getting our people who write for the magazine to recognize that our readership is a high school educated level readership, because I think people find that’s sometimes harder to write to. We’ve had to refocus the magazine a little bit and recognize that there are a couple of things happening here with this readership and one is that the readership isn’t college educated. And that changes how you’re writing things. I have a policy where I send back any story if I have to go to the writer and say, do you understand this sentence, and they say no, and I respond, then neither will our readers. I’ll send back anything where I can’t understand it and I think it’s really hard for people to like medical stuff without getting very science-oriented and boring. So, I believe we have a responsibility to our readers to make this stuff more interesting and understandable; to make it information that they’re going to want to read, rather than information that feels like it’s a package insert.

I feel like in a lot of ways one of our responsibilities is to take what pharmaceutical companies are saying about their medication for example, or about clinical trials or studies or new research and development, take that information and then translate for actual readers. And that’s a really heated task because there’s just such a big disconnect between science, academia and the way that they speak and the way an average real person does and the way that we understand things.

That’s actually been a challenge, making the magazine more service-oriented and more understandable to a group of readers who basically don’t know that kind of language and information that I think we sometimes fall back on.

We’re a niche magazine and I’ve always managed niche magazines, but I think in this case, we’re a niche magazine that’s finding out consistently that we have a wider audience than we once thought and so we’re trying to understand how to reach and speak to that audience cross range; 90% of our readers are men and among those, over half are people of color, and a larger majority are gay or bisexual, so that means we have 10% of women who are almost entirely straight, some are transgender, and of our readership, only about 88% have HIV, so I feel like we speak to the health needs of these readers more than any other magazine does. And I can say that even though we belong to the company that has the two largest gay publications on their roster; that we can speak to the health needs of gay and bisexual men in a way that other publications just can’t because we have the know-how and the experience.

But I do think we speak to both gay men and straight women and across different ethnic groupings; it’s a pretty broad range.

Samir Husni: And what has been your most pleasant moment at the magazine?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: There have been so many. I went to the ‘HIV is not a Crime,’ which is an anti-criminalization conference that was held last summer and was the very first, and is basically aimed around reforming HIV criminalization laws in the country, many of which were put together in the 1980s when AIDS was a terrifying thing and a lot of the lawmakers who originally worked on those initial laws are now arguing for those laws to be updated, reformed or ditched completely. I went to the conference, both to cover it and lend any advice and to really just support it to show that our organization supports that movement.

And I met so many people there who just treated me like a rock star, being the editor of Plus magazine, and it was amazing seeing these people who are frontline activists, working directly with politicians and people who had gone to the White House to speak to President Obama about HIV; people who are really major players in what we would call the HIV activist movement. And they were just very excited to have Plus represented there and excited to meet the people behind the magazine. I wouldn’t say it was like being One Direction or something, but it was really amazing.

Certainly, when we go to these events, it’s for us; it’s partly about a new opportunity for audience development, because that’s a part of what events are for publishers and their publications. And we love it. When we go these events we see people moving between our platforms with the brand, and once they get one platform, they explore the other and we’re a part of that when we’re doing these events.

But at the U.S. Conference on AIDS last year in San Diego, for example, we made a life size cover of the magazine, with just the logo and a little bit of text, and then basically people came up and posed in front of the magazine like they were the cover star of the magazine. And then they Tweeted out the photos or we did and that was a great moment because, again, when we’re trying so desperately to reach people who are afraid to pick up the magazine, at the same time, we have all of these other people who are so proud of the work that they’re doing or so proud of the life they’re living.

And some of them aren’t activists; they’re ordinary people living with HIV. But they were so proud to be on the cover of the magazine, to be like cover stars. Just the excitement and the energy around something like that; it wasn’t even about our social media numbers shooting up, which they did, but it was really about that wonderful feedback that people were getting what we were doing, that they like what we’re doing and that we’re giving them something that’s really adding to their lives.

Samir Husni: What do you consider yourself? I know you’re the editor-in-chief, but what do you consider yourself to be first, a journalist, an advocate, or a rock star?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: (Laughs) I consider myself a journalist first, but there’s no denying that this is advocacy journalism. There’s just no denying that in order to do this magazine, you have to consider yourself an advocacy journalist. I think those two things are first and the rock star is very, very far down on the line. I have moments of feeling like a rock star, but I know I’m not.

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

Diane Anderson-Minshall: I feel like we reflect the best the country has to offer in coverage of HIV and Aids and we’re trying to take a magazine that’s largely a service publication and work in hard-hitting news and health investigations and have the latest treatment information, and these interviews that are always inspirational, for our readers.

We’ve won a number of awards for our coverage of HIV and AIDS, including the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; they have an excellence in HIV/AIDS coverage award which we’ve won a few times. We’ve won some other awards as well and I was given the Western Publishing Association; the Maggie Award last year. They have an inaugural leadership award and I was given that for the work on HIV Plus mobile app. So, we get pretty good validation from other journalists in other areas media.

One thing that people do keep asking me is whether we’ve made this change because we’re losing money? And this is the very first time I can say this, because a lot of times I’ve been at publications where what I’m about to say was not the case; where we did make a change and it was because we needed to deal with dropping revenue.

In this case, we’ve been doing phenomenally well and we’ve been consistently doing well over the last few years that I’ve been here. In fact, we’ve often been the top print magazine in the company and that includes both Out and The Advocate magazines, because our ad sales are consistent and we don’t face the same economic setbacks that other advertising arenas do, like fashion or travel and advertising industries, for example. Pharmaceutical industries have specific things they need to advertise and they have requirements for that advertising, so as long as the medication market is robust, then we continue to have consistent ad sales, which is our primary driver of funds.

So, it’s important for me to make it clear that this was not a decision we made because we weren’t selling, it was quite the opposite and I’m really proud of that.

Samir Husni: So, you’re telling me that print is not dead?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Print is not dead for us; it’s thrilling. Of course, I hear it in other magazines and it scares me to death because I’m such an old print horse that I never want it to go away. And so it’s really exciting for me to be at a magazine where there’s never talk of not doing print anymore. Yes, it’s doing well.

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

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Everything. Even though we’re doing well, we still have limited resources allocated to editorial, so we still have everyone doing the job of four different people.

In terms of publishing, just production can keep me up at night. Just knowing production is two weeks away and that I have to file 80,000 words by then. That can keep me up at night. And that’s just the very beginning of what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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