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Martha Stewart Living At 25: Leveraging The Personality, The Magazine, And The Cross Platform Selling. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Daren Mazzucca, Publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

May 4, 2015

“I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.” Daren Mazzucca

MSL cover Martha Stewart Living has always lived up to the dynamic personality of its namesake, staying true to its mission and focus: the creativity of the domestic arts. The magazine will celebrate its 25th birthday in 2016 under the masterful guidance of Meredith Corporation.

Meredith acquired the rights to Martha Stewart Living and http://www.marthastewart.com in October 2014 following a 10-year licensing agreement under which Meredith is responsible for sales and marketing, circulation, production, and other non-editorial functions of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines.

Daren Mazzucca, fresh from Better Homes and Gardens, where he also served as publisher, joined Meredith five years ago and has held senior sales leadership positions within the company. During his career, Daren has also worked at Good Housekeeping, Parade, Woman’s Day, Midwest Living and Country Living magazines.

I spoke with Daren recently and we talked about his first four weeks at the helm of Martha Stewart Living and the direction he saw the popular brand heading. If enthusiasm and excitement can catapult the compellation of properties that are held beneath the Martha Stewart umbrella successfully forward toward its 25th birthday, the brand should already be celebrating.

With collaboration and the resurrection of some favorite titles, Daren, along with the inimitable Martha Stewart and her editorial team, have some big plans for Martha Stewart Living. The future looks bright indeed for the brand and sunshades are definitely in order. Print has a definite champion in Daren Mazzucca and will surely thrive in the positivity of his attitude.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Daren Mazzucca, a man who thinks the tried and true value of the printed page may not be ready for the retirement pasture just yet.

But first the sound-bites:

On his most pleasant surprise during his first four weeks at Martha Stewart Living: I would have to say one of the biggest surprises has been how well-loved this brand is in the marketplace.

On his biggest stumbling block since coming onboard and how he plans to overcome it:
Right now a stumbling block or simply a challenge is getting to meet and know all of the MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) editors and doing so as quickly as possible and understanding how we can collaborate. And at the same time make sales calls and set a strategic plan in motion; so it’s that coordination of schedules.

On where he sees the future of celebrity-titled magazines heading:
I think it’s really all about the brand, and the personality which is Martha, translates into the brand-living. She sets the tone, but clearly Eric Pike, our editor-in-chief and his creative team, really fulfill that mission. The brand is really the front door to the world of Martha Stewart Living.

daren_mazzucca On how his relationship is with the brand’s namesake, Martha Stewart: It has been spectacular at this point. We’ve probably been together about six or seven times at different social settings. And they opened up their offices and home for a nice toast-and-get-together with the senior management team here and with Meredith and her editorial visionary team. It’s been a great collaboration.

On why Meredith removed all the bells and whistles from the digital entity and made it a straight replica of the magazine: I think it makes the most sense. I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.

On doing anything differently to sell digital versus selling print:
Clients really want Omni-channel, cross platform opportunities. I really believe today that we lead with both together. So, they’re absolutely critical in the fact that Martha Stewart.com is a robust site that complements Martha Stewart Living, the print product. It really just gives us tremendous opportunity to be integrated.

On whether a brand like Martha Stewart Living could exist without a print component:
I don’t think so. (Laughs) I know that I answered that pretty quickly, but I really don’t believe so because when we talk to readers and marketers who buy it, they adore the printed product.

On why he thinks some media are still reporting on their own demise:
I don’t want to speak for them, but I think the issue there that you have to look at is their context when they use the word print. They may be talking about newspapers or weekly titles; it’s really more about what’s the context there.

On why he thinks we’re not doing more to promote print in this digital age:
I believe we are. In fact, at Martha Stewart, we’re launching four special interest line extensions that are starting soon. One is coming out in July, under the Everyday Food title, so we’re resurrecting the name and launching it as a stand-alone newsstand property. We are continuing to push out print products as extensions and bring them back.

On whether leaving Better Homes and Gardens, the largest consumer magazine in the country, took a huge weight off his shoulders: Perhaps. (Laughs) It’s wonderful to be at the crown jewel of the Meredith Corporation, which is Better Homes and Gardens; it’s an amazing brand that gets invited to be a part of every dialogue and discussion. What I do enjoy with this Martha Stewart Living opportunity is the fact that we can leverage the personality as well as the cross platform selling.

On whose idea it was to marry Meredith and the Martha Stewart brand:
That’s a good question. I’m not sure exactly who started the conversation, but I think both sides saw the benefits. Steve (Lacy) has said this; it’s very difficult in today’s marketplace to be a stand-alone brand. It’s very challenging, regardless of who you are. And when you can find opportunities to create new models that benefit both partners, that’s the kind of thing we’re pursuing and other media companies are pursuing too. I believe one has to think creatively that way.

On what he hopes to accomplish in a year:
We’re looking to create content opportunities that are rooted in creative insight for the reader first and then marry them up with an advertiser’s opportunity. I truthfully hope to fully benefit by having Meredith and collaborating with corporate sales, so we can put together great partnerships and deals.

On what makes him click and tick and keeps him motivated: Well, I have a family of five children; I’m highly motivated. (Laughs) What keeps me going is keeping up with technology, but also not losing a firm focus on family and togetherness and being with clients.

On whether he’s bothered by programmatic advertising or native advertising: They’re here to stay for the moment and it doesn’t bother me. Again, it’s learning the nuances of them and how they work in a media schedule. However, I think what’s tried and true has always worked too. We need to stay focused on that as well.

On why he believes it took the magazine industry so long to realize that print and digital have to coexist:
It’s been a rapid evolution. A lot has happened in a very short amount of time. And I think both sides had to adapt to that. Within our company it’s a very good synergy between the two. There are just a lot more tools in the toolbox.

On what keeps him up at night:
(Laughs) I don’t sleep much anyway, it’s a fast-paced world. What keeps me up is moving this brand, doing an exceptional job for Meredith and for Martha and the MSLO team.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Daren Mazzucca, Publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

MSL cover2 Samir Husni: Daren, you’ve been four weeks on the job; what has been your most pleasant surprise so far?

Daren Mazzucca: I would have to say one of the biggest surprises has been how well-loved this brand is in the marketplace. I’ve been to several offices and I was at the New York Auto Show the day after I was announced and both clients and competitors were all acknowledging how much they loved the brand and that they were excited that it was part of Meredith and that I was going to be leading the charge.

I know that sounds a little self-serving, but the overall excitement in the industry for Martha and what she stands for really surprised me a bit. And I’ve been very pleased with that so far.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block for you so far and how did you overcome it or how do you plan to overcome it?

Daren Mazzucca: Right now a stumbling block or simply a challenge is getting to meet and know all of the MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) editors and doing so as quickly as possible and understanding how we can collaborate. And at the same time make sales calls and set a strategic plan in motion; so it’s that coordination of schedules. We live in a world that’s fast-paced and everyone has a lot on their plates. The challenge has been making sure we’re all communicating as best as we possibly can.

I left a message just this morning for the CEO of MSLO, Dan Dienst, and I said that this week was a profound turning point; we’ve been having some really great engagement with Martha and her team overall and I feel like at week four, wow, we’ve made some great strides. I would say that that would be the challenges and the opportunities.

Samir Husni: Meredith now has Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray; where do you think the future of celebrity-titled magazines are heading? Do you think that it’s a trend that’s going to pick up and continue?

Daren Mazzucca: I think it’s really all about the brand, and the personality which is Martha, translates into the brand-living. She sets the tone, but clearly Eric Pike, our editor-in-chief and his creative team, really fulfill that mission. The brand is really the front door to the world of Martha Stewart Living. From her calendar that she publishes each and every month to her video plays on YouTube, as well as the buzz that she’s creating in the industry from a PR perspective in her social media settings.

It’s interesting to see. When you read about what’s happening with Dr. Oz and other personalities; at Meredith, we only put weight and stock into the brands, whether it’s Better Homes and Gardens brand, Rachael Ray brand or Martha Stewart Living.

Samir Husni: Martha is known in the industry as a hands-on magazine creator among other things. Judging from just these first four weeks that you’ve been there, can you expand on that? How is your relationship with the brand’s namesake?

Daren Mazzucca: It has been spectacular at this point. We’ve probably been together about six or seven times at different social settings. And they opened up their offices and home for a nice toast-and-get-together with the senior management team here and with Meredith and her editorial visionary team. It’s been a great collaboration.

I was recently at their Center for Living Gala which took place last week. She’s partnering with Mount Sinai, so I was able to participate in that. This week, Martha was hosting and emceeing the Matrix Awards, and she was beautiful and overwhelmingly excited to be there and looking to collaborate with us from a client’s perspective. She’s looking to help; she really has her finger on the pulse, and she’s been a great partner. She gave me a wonderful tour of her studios and test kitchens and talking to the editorial team, they tell me her input is greatly valued and she usually amplifies and makes things even better. And we’re excited about that. Does that make sense?

Samir Husni: Yes, it does. And you’re still in the honeymoon period. (Laughs)

Daren Mazzucca: (Laughs too) No doubt, but truthfully I’ve spent more time with her and her team than I’ve ever spent with someone else at any other brand during the first four weeks. We’ve been spending a lot of time together.

Next year is our 25th anniversary for the brand, the magazine, and so we’ve been brainstorming and talking about opportunities and initiatives rooted in reader benefit or user benefit and thinking about how now is the time to put those ideas in motion for greater sales success in 2016.

Samir Husni: One of the first things that Meredith did when they entered into that partnership was the announcement that they were removing all the bells and whistles from the digital edition and as of May it would be a replica of the magazine. What’s the philosophy behind that?

Daren Mazzucca: The straight-from-print edition, from a tablet perspective?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Daren Mazzucca: I think it makes the most sense. I believe that tablet access for all brands has kind of flattened out a bit; if you look at two or three years ago when we all believed that tablets were going to soar and some believed they would replace print, but that hasn’t been the case. The paper format is still the primary vehicle that women want to engage with. They curl up with it, take it with them, and tablets have pretty much plateaued in the marketplace.

Clearly, our newsletters continue to do exceptionally well; readers want to know the inside track and what’s happening with Martha and the brand, so they love our newsletters; they love search and our recipes, so it’s really aided the brand overall.

A part of the discussion around the tablet issue is also that by making this conversion, it has enabled us to go to other platforms. That actually enabled us, over the long-term, to potentially grow that reach, because before then we really weren’t able to do that. If you think about things like Next Issue media and other platforms, this gives us a greater opportunity to do that with the tablet version.

Samir Husni: According to comScore; you have almost the same monthly unique visitors as your readership, ten million readers for every issue, compared to about eight million monthly uniques; how do you think that relationship between the unique visitors and the readership is going to help you in your job as a publisher of a brand? Are you doing anything differently to sell digital versus selling print?

Daren Mazzucca: Clients really want Omni-channel, cross platform opportunities. I really believe today that we lead with both together. So, they’re absolutely critical in the fact that Martha Stewart.com is a robust site that complements Martha Stewart Living, the print product. It really just gives us tremendous opportunity to be integrated.

I’m working very closely with our corporate digital leadership here at Meredith Corporation to make sure that we leverage all of the view ability across both our web traffic as well as others, which is what marketers are looking for when it relates to scale. If they just want to tap into Martha Stewart Living we can do that, but the great benefit of being a part of the Meredith National Media Group is that we can scale things up.

Did you know that across the Meredith digital network we reach at least 70 million uniques; that’s the latest number that I’ve seen.

Samir Husni: 70 million across the entire company’s digital network?

Daren Mazzucca: Yes, across the entire Meredith digital network. That’s all of our different brands and properties.

Samir Husni: As we talk today, what’s the advertising revenue in terms of percentages between digital and print, mainly for the Martha Stewart Living brand? Are you still 90% print or is that number moving a little bit?

Daren Mazzucca: I don’t have that exact number today, but again, it’s the leverage of it across the network. One of the things the digital leadership is trying to do is reach the goal of 100 million uniques.

Samir Husni: So you’ll have 100 million in readership, because don’t you reach 100 million American women?

Daren Mazzucca: Yes, 100 million women, but if you’re talking about them in a digital platform only, now we’re at 70 million uniques, the goal we’re aiming for is to get to 100 million uniques.

Samir Husni: In one way or the other, would it be accurate to say then that the Meredith brand is in almost 1 out of every 2 households?

Daren Mazzucca: Yes, absolutely. It’s tremendous.

Samir Husni: So, how are you using that to sell more of the brand?

Daren Mazzucca: From Martha Stewart digital alone, we reach 32 million monthly uniques, so it’s nice to have that built-up traffic to be able to offer to an appliance manufacturer or to an automotive manufacturer. So, again, we’re using that scale and it’s great to have it, as opposed to having a million unique visitors. The fact that this brand has 32 million monthly digital uniques and then has scalable opportunities that Meredith can run with is phenomenal. If someone wants digital-only, we’re leading with that and then building in a print concept. And conversely, with every print proposal we’re taking out to marketers, we are weaving in a digital component as well.

Samir Husni: One of the majorly persistent questions that I hear from industry people is can a brand today, like a Martha Stewart or a Better Homes and Gardens exist without its print component?

Daren Mazzucca: I don’t think so. (Laughs) I know that I answered that pretty quickly, but I really don’t believe so because when we talk to readers and marketers who buy it, they adore the printed product. Just yesterday I was at an appliance company’s offices and when we walked in, from the receptionist to the assistants and laborers in the building, they glow; they light up when we hand the printed product to them. So, I really don’t believe so. Ask me 15 years from now, maybe that will change, but today the print is very much on the leading edge of the brand. It’s the front door, if you will.

Samir Husni: And I’ve seen that. In April we saw almost every major magazine company launch new titles. Meredith with Parents Latina, National Geographic with History, Bauer with Simple Grace; yet, why do you think that every time I pick up a newspaper, an Ad Age or an Adweek, they’re telling me that print is dead or dying or in decline?

Daren Mazzucca: I don’t want to speak for them, but I think the issue there that you have to look at is their context when they use the word print. They may be talking about newspapers or weekly titles; it’s really more about what’s the context there.

Samir Husni: Why do you think we’re not doing any more to promote the future of print in this digital age?

Daren Mazzucca: I believe we are. In fact, at Martha Stewart, we’re launching four special interest line extensions that are starting soon. One is coming out in July, under the Everyday Food title, so we’re resurrecting the name and launching it as a stand-alone newsstand property. We are continuing to push out print products as extensions and bring them back.

Advertising paging has been challenged, but the audience and demand as the 360 demographics revealed there’s still consumer demand for brands like Martha Stewart and Better Homes and Gardens in print. Marketers today have to cover off more bets than ever before and that has created an ad paging challenge, but demand has never been higher. And that’s why I also believe firmly that there’s a robust future for all of us. Consumers still want their magazines and content.

Samir Husni: You were the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, the largest paid consumer magazine in the country, and now you’re at Martha Stewart Living; am I hearing this excitement in your voice because you took that big heavy load off of your shoulders, because you went from the largest print magazine in the country to one of its younger siblings?

Daren Mazzucca: Perhaps. (Laughs) It’s wonderful to be at the crown jewel of the Meredith Corporation, which is Better Homes and Gardens; it’s an amazing brand that gets invited to be a part of every dialogue and discussion. What I do enjoy with this Martha Stewart Living opportunity is the fact that we can leverage the personality as well as the cross platform selling. And we talk about sparking creativity and working more collaboratively with our corporate counterparts. It’s just a tremendous opportunity for us at Meredith to use our talents and skills to bring this brand to new levels and new heights.

Samir Husni: Whose idea was all of this? Was it Martha Stewart who came to Meredith saying, guys, I need help, or was it Steve Lacy (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Meredith Corporation and Chief Executive Officer with media and marketing operations) going to Martha Stewart saying that Meredith could help her brand?

Daren Mazzucca: That’s a good question. I’m not sure exactly who started the conversation, but I think both sides saw the benefits. Steve has said this; it’s very difficult in today’s marketplace to be a stand-alone brand. It’s very challenging, regardless of who you are. And when you can find opportunities to create new models that benefit both partners, that’s the kind of thing we’re pursuing and other media companies are pursuing too. I believe one has to think creatively that way.

And it’s not just in the magazine world, Samir. Look at other media industries and what goes on in the digital space alone. In the pure digital space, look at the acquisitions that go on and the partnerships. Again, that’s all about leveraging the best opportunities for both sides of the partnership.

I would also say, who would have thought that we in the media industry would have created a company called Comag and partnered together, where everyone was siloed? But I really believe that if you go backward in time, there’s always been collaboration and playing to your strengths and this partnership really allows, like I said earlier, Martha Stewart and her creative talents and her team to do what they do exceptionally well and then partner with Meredith to do what we do exceptionally well: packaging, contracts, efficiencies, printing, collaboration; it’s really a perfect storm and a perfect opportunity.

Samir Husni: That throws back for an old timer like me to a time in the 1970s and the 1980s when Meredith and Reader’s Digest were partners in Select, which was like one of the national distribution companies. And also Meredith had the printing plant in Des Moines and they were printing all kinds of magazines from all different areas.

Daren Mazzucca: It’s the modern day version of working and having a collaborative and creative synergy, absolutely. And other companies are doing it too. They’re outsourcing their HR departments because they’re not good at it and they do other things.

I worked at Reader’s Digest and earlier, you said I was smiling for our brand, and that’s so true. I’ve worked at other scale titles like Parade, which was the biggest brand in the business. To be at Martha Stewart Living today really gives me tremendous enthusiasm and energy to partner with it.

Samir Husni: So, what’s the future look like? I mean, if somebody stopped you on the street and said, Daren, I hear you’re now working at Martha Stewart Living and then they run into you a year later; what do you hope to have accomplished within that year to tell them about?

Daren Mazzucca: Well next year is our 25th anniversary, so we kick off officially with the December/January issue. As I mentioned earlier, we’re looking to create content opportunities that are rooted in creative insight for the reader first and then marry them up with an advertiser’s opportunity. I truthfully hope to fully benefit by having Meredith and collaborating with corporate sales, so we can put together great partnerships and deals. I’d like to grow automotive and appliances and food and packaged goods, cosmetics and home DIY. We’re having some unbelievable dialogue with the beauty and prestige categories right now that have been in the works.

I’m really excited about this pre-selling time that we’re doing right now, so we can have 12-month benefits as we gear up for 2016.

Samir Husni: You mentioned already that you’re going to bring back four SIPs with the Everyday Food brand and Meredith has been the leader in SIPs from its existence; are we going to see more SIPs that have Martha Stewart’s name on them: Martha Stewart Decorating, Martha Stewart Cooking…

Daren Mazzucca: We’re always looking for opportunities. We’re starting with her strength though, Everyday Food; we’re doing Halloween, which Martha does exceptionally well every year and we’re also going to do organizing, which Martha does great every year as well. So, we’ll start with those and look at other opportunities from there.

Samir Husni: Will I ever see a Martha Stewart/Rachael Ray Everyday SIP together?

Daren Mazzucca: You never know.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) They both have that “Everyday” thing working for them; one is living and one is food. And you need food for the living.

Daren Mazzucca: (Laughs too) Absolutely. I’m really excited. Martha and I have already discussed, as well as her team, places we’re going to go together and she’s a great partner with us. So, we’re very excited about that.

Samir Husni: Daren, what makes you click and tick and really look forward to getting up in the mornings and going to work?

Daren Mazzucca: Well, I have a family of five children; I’m highly motivated. (Laughs) What keeps me going is keeping up with technology, but also not losing a firm focus on family and togetherness and being with clients. I just love being a solution-based seller; I’ve told my father that for years, who was with Bristol-Myers Squibb his entire career, and he gave me great advice years ago. He said don’t ever go out in a car without showing something that’s unique from the magazine, so our team will be highlighting and pulling out a story or a feature, whether it’s the pork shoulder that’s coming up in our July/August issue or something else unique and different.

That’s what really keeps me going. This organization has been great, the Meredith Corporation. I’ve been blessed to be on three of the brands now, from Midwest Living to Better Homes and Gardens and now Martha Stewart. I’m really excited about what the future brings for us as an industry and as a brand.

Samir Husni: Are you bothered by programmatic advertising, native advertising; all of these new little phrases or programs that are creeping into the industry? Or do you think the more the better?

Daren Mazzucca: They’re here to stay for the moment and it doesn’t bother me. Again, it’s learning the nuances of them and how they work in a media schedule. However, I think what’s tried and true has always worked too. We need to stay focused on that as well.

I was just reading in The New York Times recently about the traditions of baking bread and how it’s come back and if you look at what’s happening in children’s home baking toys, they’re becoming more upscale. So, there are the nuances of the new, but working together with the nuances of what worked in the past.

And it’s always great content at the end of the day and that’s everything, Samir.

Samir Husni: Why do you think it took the magazine media industry five or six years to recognize what they’re recognizing now, that print isn’t going away and digital is not taking over; we have to coexist? We should stop using digital as a mistress and instead welcome her into the house as a sister or brother. Why did it take us six years?

Daren Mazzucca: It’s been a rapid evolution. A lot has happened in a very short amount of time. And I think both sides had to adapt to that. Within our company it’s a very good synergy between the two. There are just a lot more tools in the toolbox.

And there are a lot of great innovators out there; I happen to be in Chicago recently. Who would have thought to create Uber and it’s changing the way we use taxicabs. All digital platforms, from native to others are changing at light speed. Twitter and Facebook – light speed. We need to stick our toe in that market and be aware of what’s happening, but not jump into the deep end of the pool, because at the end of the day, we don’t want to jeopardize the good relationship we have with readers, which connects ultimately back to content.

I think if you look at ASME, as an industry we continue to evolve and change, so we’re moving faster now as an industry collectively, I believe.

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

Daren Mazzucca: (Laughs) I don’t sleep much anyway, it’s a fast-paced world. What keeps me up is moving this brand, doing an exceptional job for Meredith and for Martha and the MSLO team. You know, we want to be successful as a group; we want to continue to bring her brand to new marketers and come up with some solutions to grow our franchise. That and a big family keep me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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