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A Legacy Brand That Knows How To Innovate & Create – There’s Nothing “Old” About This Old House – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Scott Omelianuk, Editor-In-Chief, This Old House Magazine

June 17, 2015

“Given what our print circulation is right now and the revenue that comes from it, which to me suggests that there is an audience who wants it, I don’t think it’s anytime soon. My biggest concern is the post office problems at this point. (Laughs) It’s not the audience; we have the audience. We’re doing really well with renewal rates and like I said, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have this dialogue with the consumer that lets us give them what they want.” Scott Omelianuk (on if he can ever envision This Old House without the print component)

Screen shot 2015-06-16 at 9.07.47 PM From television to print, from digital to an all-new Spanish-speaking television show; This Old House has been binding its many platforms together almost from the beginning to bring its audience the best of what the brand has to offer. The renovation champion of the space is one legacy brand that knows how to adapt to change while continuing to provide outstanding content on each and every platform it masters.

Scott Omelianuk is editor-in-chief of This Old House brand and is a man who knows his way around a hammer himself, since he was working after school as a carpenter’s gopher at the age of 15. I spoke with Scott recently and we talked about the brand in all of its many formats. From the print product to the new TheSnug.com, the mobile-first site that was built on a next generation digital publishing platform, that delivers premium, highly functional sites with sophisticated community participation and native advertising built in, the brand is moving forward to grow its audience with the latest technology and quality print content possible.

TheSnug.com is the first independent website developed by Time Inc. to appeal to millennials and is projected to have a combined social reach of more than 30 million across its partners. It will be driven by community participation and syndicated content with original content, including video, being rolled out in the near future.

It’s an exciting time for This Old House and an exciting time for its Editor-In-Chief, Scott Omelianuk. So I hope you enjoy this interesting interview and if you feel the urge to redo a room in your house, grab a copy of This Old House, I’m sure you’ll find all the help you need between its covers.

But first, the sound-bites:

On whether he’s seeing a change in his audience for the better or worse: Overall our audience has grown pretty significantly over the last couple of years. I’d like to verify these numbers before I actually commit to them of course, but I think MRI put the print audience at 6.6 million and our television audience is up a little bit; our digital audience is growing, particularly on mobile obviously. And the new things that we’ve done have also grown the audience.

On any duplication of the brand’s print and digital audience: Yes, there definitely is and we’ve made a significant effort to do value-added content digitally, things that we can’t get in the print pages, everything from more photos of a house, which we might also include in our tablet edition, to downloadable or printable templates to help with a craft or a DIY project.

Screen shot 2015-06-16 at 10.24.11 PM On reaching a new audience with a legacy brand like This Old House without removing the word “old” from the title: We’re reaching out with new efforts such as The Snug.com, which is looking at a younger audience and in this case, a female millennial audience, showing them content that comes from This Old House as well as other places, but essentially stripped of its legacy branding. Say, the byline is This Old House, but that’ll be about it. And it’s done in a much more contemporary, mobile-first responsive design, hyper-social interface platform that they’re looking at the content on.

On when there might be a printed issue of The Snug.com: There’s no question that as soon as we started filling the buckets with content on The Snug we realized that there was a print opportunity. When it happens, I’m not so sure. It’s a matter of just making sure the economics word out and I think The Snug’s audience could be a little bit larger before we do that. The plan isn’t immediate, but it’s there.

On being the first legacy brand to utilize user-generated content for a magazine and why they haven’t done it again: We have actually, when I reference the reader remodel contest, that’s also the user-generated issue. The recognition for that was I’m very fortunate to have had a multimedia background before I arrived at This Old House; I worked in magazines at GQ and Esquire and other places. I’ve done web and television work and it was very clear to me that the boundaries we liked and the hierarchy of our industry liked wasn’t nearly as important to the consumer. (Laughs) They didn’t care whether someone on a web team or a print team was producing content for either of those things; they wanted good content period.

On whether he thinks a brand can survive without all of its extensions: The damaging thing for a brand to do is not to look at the new opportunities because you don’t know where the audience is going to go. Every place the audience goes, they do need good content. At a certain point you might decide this or that program or this or that utility, whatever the offering is, doesn’t provide enough of an ROI. And I don’t even mean that financially; I just mean in terms of audience engagement. So, you might let tings drop off at a certain point. But I think to not explore where we’re going with technology at every opportunity is a troubling thing.

On being one of the first legacy brands to integrate their staff and platforms and why others haven’t followed their example: (Laughs) I don’t know. I guess I’m not a good evangelist. (Laughs again) I think that part of what you just said is the answer and that is that we’re the most creative people in the world, right? There’s a difference between being very passionate and very creative about the way you design this feature story. Or you write this 7,000-word profile, which is going to be art when you’re done with it. And having editors who are passionate enough about what you do to help you achieve those things. And then having people who are able to take a step back and look broadly at what’s happening.

On if he can ever envision a day there won’t be a print component of This Old House: Given what our print circulation is right now and the revenue that comes from it, which to me suggests that there is an audience who wants it, I don’t think it’s anytime soon.

On what keeps him up at night: No one likes change and I don’t particularly like it either, but we don’t have a choice. The pace of change that we’re experiencing now is as slow as it will ever be in our lifetimes. It’s about making sure I stay ahead and have that next thing. I want to keep being first for my brand. I want us to keep having those firsts.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Omelianuk, Editor-In-Chief, This Old House…

Samir Husni: It’s amazing to see how many of the younger generation are interested in the subject of renovation and see it as more of a challenge and a great experience. Are you seeing a change in the audience with This Old House and the entire brand and if so, is it a change for the better or a change for the worse?

Scott Omelianuk: Overall our audience has grown pretty significantly over the last couple of years. I’d like to verify these numbers before I actually commit to them of course, but I think MRI put the print audience at 6.6 million and our television audience is up a little bit; our digital audience is growing, particularly on mobile obviously. And the new things that we’ve done have also grown the audience.

But I think one of the interesting stories is the amount of attention we receive on social and how that audience is sometimes very different from what you would imagine. We do really well on two opposite ends of what I think the social spectrum is in some respects. One is Google+ where you would think more male, nerdy, tech-savvy kind of people are and we have a really significant resize, I think maybe a 600,000 Goggle+ audience. And then on the opposite end of the scale is Pinterest where we have the same size audience, almost 600,000.

To me, the exciting thing about that is it proves the value of the content that we’re doing and that’s what it all comes back to is creating content that consumers want, whether they buy a subscription or they’re going to find us on social media and then find their way back to one of our digital properties.

Samir Husni: Do you see any duplication between the print and digital audiences?

Scott Omelianuk: Yes, there definitely is and we’ve made a significant effort to do value-added content digitally, things that we can’t get in the print pages, everything from more photos of a house, which we might also include in our tablet edition, to downloadable or printable templates to help with a craft or a DIY project.

In that respect, we really make an effort to drive back and forth between the two platforms; most of our large franchises are in both print and digital, such as our reader remodel contest. In print, you can use your Smartphone with a Blippar app on it to enter the sweepstakes or you can go to the website and enter that way. So these are all things that we’ve made an effort to do to keep the audience in both places.

Now a huge amount of our online traffic comes from Search regardless. And those folks we presume to be new to the brand and if we can make them repeat customers, that’s great. I think that’s one of the reasons that the footprint has grown a little bit is because people search for a problem and they actually find good content that’s trustworthy and vetted for them and they know that they can come back to us next time.

Samir Husni: How are you benefiting from the power of the brand, while at the same time having to respond to some people who might say how can you have a powerful brand today with the word “old” in it?

Scott Omelianuk: (Laughs) Well, there’s no question that the greatest strength, which is this very recognizable name that started with the television show 35 years ago and has people watching it today with their children who watched it themselves with their parents, which in some cases gives us three generations of viewers; there’s no question that “old” is a little bit of a liability, but we’ve done a number of things I think to minimize the impact.

One is not to be embarrassed by it; that is who we are. We fully know that not all of our readership, viewers or online users live in old houses. And so the content we present to them I would describe as Americana and that might be the kind of thing you imagine in a 100-year-old farmhouse, but would also be something in a newly-constructed cottage somewhere.

We try to remove age or remove any date at all from any of the content we present. We always talk about new technology. The story of the home really matches to the story of broader technology, in many ways.

We have a Smart Home issue, our second, coming out in September. I don’t think anyone wants to live in a museum, so for us we want to take these houses, houses that are of quality; houses that were nicely made, and make them useful for people who live in them today.

That’s one thing. Another is reaching out with new efforts like we are with The Snug.com and that is looking at a younger audience and in this case, a female millennial audience, showing them content that comes from This Old House as well as other places, but essentially stripped of its legacy branding. Say, the byline is This Old House, but that’ll be about it. And it’s done in a much more contemporary, mobile-first responsive design, hyper-social interface platform that they’re looking at the content on.

So, again it comes back to what I said about social; it’s the content that’s really what’s valuable, not a particular delivery. All of the deliveries are valuable.

At The Snug.com we see us reaching a much younger audience, a much more female audience; our general audience by the way is about 50/50, male/female. The Snug.com is more female and younger. And it echoes a little bit of something that we see when we run things like the user-generated contest, which is that the most active group of people generally for us is on the younger side of our median and that makes sense, right? You’re buying your first house or you’re upgrading to your second house that’s big enough for the family or just whatever. So you’ve not really settled in yet or thought about downsizing. You’re not doing any of those things; you’re much more active in the space.

So even though we have readers who span from 18 to 80, I think the most active portion of our audience is the younger half.

Samir Husni: When are we going to see the first printed issue of Snug?

Scott Omelianuk: (Laughs) When we set about creating The Snug.com our first intention was to put a stake in the ground for reaching a millennial audience in a way that we could extend the franchise basically beyond that particular content. So, you could imagine that there would be a Snug Table and that would be about entertaining or food or cooking, or a Snug Buddy would be about pets; a Snug Dollar might be a finance site that you could extend this franchise into an ecosystem but move traffic back and forth across it and provide a broad ad opportunity.

There’s no question that as soon as we started filling the buckets with content on The Snug we realized that there was a print opportunity. When it happens, I’m not so sure. It’s a matter of just making sure the economics word out and I think The Snug’s audience could be a little bit larger before we do that. The plan isn’t immediate, but it’s there.

I think the really interesting thing about The Snug is the engagement of the audience. We’ve been live for four full months and in that first four months we’ve registered 13,000 contributors of all stripes: blogger, individuals, brands, and altogether they’ve contributed more than 40,000 pieces of content to the platform. And that’s pretty astonishing to me and really exciting.

We’re building on that. We want to make sure that the platform is a stable and viable entity basically, but then I do think that there’s an opportunity for a slick SIP model for the content on there.

Samir Husni: You were one of the early legacy magazines that adapted to user-generated content; you published, if I’m not mistaken, the very first user-generated content magazine in the states.

Scott Omelianuk: Yes, that’s true.

Samir Husni: Why haven’t you done it again?

Scott Omelianuk: We have actually, when I reference the reader remodel contest, that’s also the user-generated issue. The recognition for that was I’m very fortunate to have had a multimedia background before I arrived at This Old House; I worked in magazines at GQ and Esquire and other places. I’ve done web and television work and it was very clear to me that the boundaries we liked and the hierarchy of our industry liked wasn’t nearly as important to the consumer. (Laughs) They didn’t care whether someone on a web team or a print team was producing content for either of those things; they wanted good content period.

So, very early on I tried to integrate the staff of This Old House so that there were no significant silos between who was contributing content to what platform. And as we did that, one of the responsibilities was to participate in the TOH.com community and we realized what a vibrant community we had and how much good information users were exchanging. That’s when we decided that it was valuable and that we should take advantage of it and use the content in print. And we did that; it was Ad Age’s idea of the year, I think it was 2008.

And we’ve done it every year since and it’s been a little bit different, but I think the thing that’s really terrific about having done it is every year it creates an ongoing multi-month, as we ask users to upload content; we create sort of a dialogue between the editors and those people. I think we have a profound understanding of who our consumer is in a way that a lot of other places don’t because they’re showing us what they’ve done; they’re showing us how we may have influenced or inspired them in their own projects. They’re calling and telling us or mailing and telling us what their challenges have been or what their proudest moments are.

And we include those and not just in the user-created issue, which is a sort of wholesale slab of that content, but in every issue there are two or three stories that had their genesis in conversations with our consumer.

So I believe that binds them more tightly to us. It also allows us to give them the kind of content that they want even better. It’s something that I would encourage everyone to do, particularly as research dollars get tighter and tighter, it’s just a really great way to have a dialogue with your consumer and create content. And it’s almost a little distasteful to say consumer at that point, because really what you’ve done is created a community with them. And that’s really important and that’s something that magazine media, whether it’s print or not, can do really well with, if we keep that in mind.

And to be perfectly frank, that’s what we’ve done in extending the idea of home improvement to this all new Spanish-language television show. The stuff we learned such as the emotional connections of the home, the importance of creating this safe place for people and a comfortable place.

We’ve extended to the Hispanic market now and so instead of being purely DIY kind of content on “SOS: Salva Mi Casa” there are family stories as well because; the fact of the matter is that’s why we do these things anyway.

Now we might not go back and change the flagship This Old House show from what it is, but we have new opportunities with new audiences on new platforms to do that, to recognize our ongoing realization of how people interact with our content. So, when you see “SOS: Salva Mi Casa” on Telemundo, you don’t have to speak Spanish to recognize it. You will see that there’s a family component, an emotional component, something really strong and primal about making the simplest improvements to the house that make a huge difference to people.

Samir Husni: Television and magazines have been with us for a long time, magazines longer than television. We now have social media and digital; do you think a brand can survive if we lose any of the brand extensions?

Scott Omelianuk: I honestly think, I don’t know about losing, but I think you have to take the opportunity. Whenever a new platform comes out and people start talking about it, we have a discussion here at our brand about how we might take advantage of it.

We had a Tumblr best-of pick in 2014 for This Old Apartment Tumblr, which actually influenced our creation of The Snug, because it performed so well for itself. We’re also talking about Meerkat and Periscope now; who knows what’s next. We’re talking about how to reinvent the tablet edition of the magazine, so that maybe it’s not the same linear experience that the print edition of the magazine is, even if it has the same content because I want to take advantage of the habits and native technology that’s in the tablet, more than I want to recreate a print edition.

The damaging thing for a brand to do is not to look at the new opportunities because you don’t know where the audience is going to go. Every place the audience goes, they do need good content. At a certain point you might decide this or that program or this or that utility, whatever the offering is, doesn’t provide enough of an ROI. And I don’t even mean that financially; I just mean in terms of audience engagement. So, you might let tings drop off at a certain point. But I think to not explore where we’re going with technology at every opportunity is a troubling thing.

And I do think that for us television is really important because it’s a very cost-effective way of creating digital video. You basically have assets that are paid for and then exploited again digitally at low cost. Whenever we can get the opportunity to create a new television show it allows us to augment our video library, which is already quite large and does really well for us. I think we total about a million plays a month in video and that’s not so bad.

Samir Husni: With the whole integrated staff and integrated creation of what you’ve done; your brand was one of the first to learn that print and digital can and do work together and complement each other very well. Why do you think it took the industry at least five years, six years now, to learn that? To go from print is dead to print is in decline to, who knows five years from now, maybe it will be the power of print again. If we are the most creative people on the face of the earth, why did it take us so long to learn that the two integrated is the only thing that makes sense? Why didn’t people learn from your example?

Scott Omelianuk: (Laughs) I don’t know. I guess I’m not a good evangelist. (Laughs again) I think that part of what you just said is the answer and that is that we’re the most creative people in the world, right? There’s a difference between being very passionate and very creative about the way you design this feature story. Or you write this 7,000-word profile, which is going to be art when you’re done with it. And having editors who are passionate enough about what you do to help you achieve those things. And then having people who are able to take a step back and look broadly at what’s happening.

But then you’re running a business too, so it becomes the founder’s dilemma. You see that the audience is changing and that they might be going in this direction, but you’re making your money here. So how do you find the time to band with the resources or investments to carve out and move when the vast majority of revenue is coming from that other spot.

I think we benefit from the fact that we’re a mid-sized brand and when we dip into a new technology, it’s not devastating to our bottom line. We don’t risk a lot by taking the time to explore that new opportunity.

It’s actually quite hard for people to get out of their swing lanes and take a broader look and to not just be afraid because no one likes change. Or to not be afraid because you don’t know what these things are going to do to the P&L. And to not be afraid because it just might be a waste of time and you’ll embarrass yourself. You know, there are things we’ve done that we stopped doing because we thought they were going to be great, but didn’t work. And that’s OK, but it all depends on the stage you’re on I think. If you’re on a quieter stage you can get away with more, I guess. (Laughs)

I really think that’s the answer and again, I was fortunate in that I had for better or worse a career experience, and I think it was ultimately for the better, where I bounced between a couple of different jobs in media. And that allowed me to see the connections between the people who might have been in one place at a time, and they couldn’t see them. And that made it a little easier.

Samir Husni: Being this, and as much as I hate the phrase I’m going to use it, this multimedia practitioner, do you envision a day when we will not have a print edition from This Old House?

Scott Omelianuk: Given what our print circulation is right now and the revenue that comes from it, which to me suggests that there is an audience who wants it, I don’t think it’s anytime soon. My biggest concern is the post office problems at this point. (Laughs) It’s not the audience; we have the audience. We’re doing really well with renewal rates and like I said, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have this dialogue with the consumer that lets us give them what they want.

I think we’ll be in print for some time; I don’t know about forever, because to say that is just foolish. Given our financials for now, there will be a print edition of This Old House continued, yes. And maybe Snug too, at least quarterly. (Laughs)

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

Scott Omelianuk: (Laughs) I have a four-year-old that doesn’t always sleep. So, that’s one thing. Just thinking about what’s next and having the bandwidth to do all of the exciting things that are coming and trying to be there when they are.

No one likes change and I don’t particularly like it either, but we don’t have a choice. The pace of change that we’re experiencing now is as slow as it will ever be in our lifetimes. It’s about making sure I stay ahead and have that next thing. I want to keep being first for my brand. I want us to keep having those firsts. And that’s what makes it exciting and that’s what makes it exciting for people to come to work here. And why I get the opportunity to talk to people like you.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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