Archive for June, 2015

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Ruling Her Editorial Kingdom With Focus, Dedication & Humor – The Reigning Queen Of Magazine-Making Bestows Everything Her Subjects Need For The Good Life – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines

June 12, 2015

“No, I can’t see that. I don’t think that will happen. There may be some transition in people’s personal needs, but no, we will continue to do print. I do remember reading how excited everyone was when they looked at the first printed Bible and how excited people were when they found, I think it was in Israel, some original writings in a cave. They wouldn’t have been as excited if they’d found somebody’s laptop back then.” Ellen Levine (on if she can ever envision a day print will not exist.)

If there’s one thing that Oprah Winfrey knows, it’s that Ellen Levine is the queen of magazine-making. And Mr. Magazine™ is in total agreement with Ms. O on that statement. From making publishing history in 1994 as the first woman to be named editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping since the magazine was founded in 1885 to her current position as editorial director for all of the Hearst brands, Ellen is a woman who deserves the moniker launch queen of magazines.

She is devoted to the audience and believes in the innate ability of her staff to reflect the reader’s likes and needs sometimes before they even know what they are and she uses that confidence in her team to the audience’s benefit. She is the preeminent regent of providing print experiences for her readers that they can’t get from the virtual world.

I spoke with Ellen recently about her life today as the reigning queen of magazine-making and how that role had changed over the years. It was, as usual, a lively, fun and totally absorbing discussion that I always hate to see end. Ellen’s personality of strength, good-humor and dedication to her brands is something that can’t be ignored. She is without a doubt an amazing professional.

So, I hope you enjoy this engaging conversation with Ellen Levine as she talks about all of her many subjects, from Oprah to Dr. Oz The Good Life; she is a continuous source of guidance and focus for all of them.

But first, the sound-bites:


HCI On a day-in-the-life of the queen of magazine-making:
Oh my goodness, the queen? Thank you for that compliment. The days, I have to admit, are different. So, on a normal day in the office I will be spending time reading ideas, seeing editors-in-chiefs, seeing art directors, looking at pages, tossing out ideas on what might be a good assignment for one of their reporters and it would be a good assignment because the audience would particularly like that idea, and trying to figure out what’s a new way to approach those ideas.

On the transition from brand to brand that she has to make mentally as editorial director of Hearst Magazines:
Do you remember how in high school you had to go from class to class; you went from Algebra to English Poetry? I kind of think about it in those terms. It’s just the way of the day. You just move on to something else, and actually I think it’s extremely exciting and interesting.

On whether she has ever saw an article or design in one brand that she felt would be better suited to another:
Generally, our editors are pretty good at understanding what’s right for them and what images are right for them. But what does happen is I will have calls from people I know that are, let’s say, in Washington D.C. and they may in fact be in charge of pushing stories from different points of view, so I will get a call from an important person on the Republican side and they will share a story and I’ll say that’s a good story, I want to have one of our magazines follow that, so I have to think which magazine would be right for that story and then I’ll speak to the editor.

On when Hearst bought Hachette and Woman’s Day came “home” whether the brand held a special place in her heart over the other titles: I really did. I mean, that was the first big magazine that I ever had the opportunity to be editor-in-chief of and it has been a while ago, to say the very least, but I was there when Hachette bought it from CBS.

On whether her past experience at Woman’s Day, which was a newsstand-only publication at first, had anything to do with the newsstand success brands such as Food Network and HGTV are having:
I don’t think it was my experience from back then that had anything to do with that. Of course, if you throw in Oprah and that launch, we did go out on newsstands with Oprah and she sold out in five minutes. But what that tells us is that we have a strong brand and obviously we pitched then for subscribers and the steadiness of the subscriber base.

On whether she believes magazine makers are more than content providers; they’re experience makers:
An experience maker; I like that. I’m going to steal that. (Laughs) I like to think that here at Hearst we focus on originality, but there remains a vertical past to original. When we were first outlining Oprah, she is an original; she has done so well and there’s nobody like her. There is no one that women feel more attached to and respect, even though they may have never met her personally. She is part of their heart.

On the major stumbling block she had to face during her career at Hearst and how she overcame it: I don’t feel like I’ve had a major stumbling block. I do think it was quite a rough time when there was a shutdown of a major distributor; you know the bankruptcy. It was very difficult for everybody to cope with and it was an issue that had to be solved by the top executives here. So, I think that was one of the things that I never expected we would see in people who we had depended so strongly on.

On her most pleasant moment so far:
I’ll give you moments. I think when you get a great story, a great feature or a great photo shoot; those pleasant moments are knowing that whatever it is you were looking for has just clicked. I can feel that every day when I see something that comes in and it makes me just say, “Wow!”

On what she looks for today when hiring new people:
First of all, I look for somebody who loves journalism. I still use the old-fashioned words journalism, stories, and features, as opposed to content. And they need to know that they’re going to have to work hard and that they appreciate working with smart people. And one of the things that I really like is when they understand that the goal of this is to tap into a part of themselves and pull that part out so that they are also the reader.

On whether she believes magazines and magazine media are in better shape today than in the 1980s when it comes to morality issues:
I personally think that we’re a lot better off, but I think there are thousands of miles to go. Certainly, on the pornography commission the attitude then was that anything you read that was sexy would lead you into crime of one kind or another and that’s what they wanted to prove so that they could repress publication of books, magazines, etc.

On whether she can ever envision a day there will be no print: No, I can’t see that. I don’t think that will happen. There may be some transition in people’s personal needs, but no, we will continue to do print.

On anything else that she’d like to add: I love what I get to do; I just love it. I was born this way. I drove people crazy with questions. There was a certain point in my house where they would say, enough with the questions.

On what keeps her up at night:
When my husband doesn’t put the air conditioning on? (Laughs) I don’t actually wake up with that kind of stuff. If I was thinking about something, it would probably be in the shower instead. I get ideas in the shower.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: From a creative side, tell me about a day-in-the-life of the queen of magazine-making?

Ellen Levine: Oh my goodness, the queen? Thank you for that compliment. The days, I have to admit, are different. So, on a normal day in the office I will be spending time reading ideas, seeing editors-in-chiefs, seeing art directors, looking at pages, tossing out ideas on what might be a good assignment for one of their reporters and it would be a good assignment because the audience would particularly like that idea, and trying to figure out what’s a new way to approach those ideas.

Women in particular, there are certain subjects that they really love, but you don’t want to feed them the same kind of story this year that you may have fed them two years ago. It has to be original and these days it needs to be shorter than it used to be, and certainly there has been a lot of talk about that.

And then if I’m lucky, I have lunch. And that’s usually in the middle of the day. Actually, I’m sitting here with some tuna fish now; I’m not eating while we’re talking though. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Ellen Levine: But you do stay at your desk and because we read so many things about staying strong and healthy and we’re interested in new ideas, a lot of us are walking around in the office during the day, script in hand and I find standing actually helps me think. It’s a very different kind of day than it was 10 years ago, but I find it even more exciting.

Samir Husni: I know that almost everything that’s created throughout the Hearst building comes across your desk before it goes to the printer, so that’s a lot of different content. How do you keep your thoughts straight between reading Good Housekeeping, then you’re looking at Town & Country and suddenly it’s Dr. Oz The Good Life in front of you; how do you make those transitions in your mind?

Ellen Levine: Do you remember how in high school you had to go from class to class; you went from Algebra to English Poetry?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Ellen Levine: I kind of think about it in those terms. It’s just the way of the day. You just move on to something else, and actually I think it’s extremely exciting and interesting. You know how Olympic swimmers have those ropes between one swimmer and another; that’s not how it is. We’re not in one lane at all times. We’re moving and this would be true of a lot of the editors as well, we move from one lane to another.

Let’s say you are a general interest lifestyle magazine; while you’re talking about fashion in one moment, you might be talking about emotional stories in another, and then you’re in a situation where you have to check out the food pages, so it’s an athletic exercise for your brain, but basically it’s extremely engaging.

Samir Husni: And have you ever stopped and said that article or that design would look or fit much better in House Beautiful or Veranda or vice versa?

Ellen Levine: Generally, our editors are pretty good at understanding what’s right for them and what images are right for them. But what does happen is I will have calls from people I know that are, let’s say, in Washington D.C. and they may in fact be in charge of pushing stories from different points of view, so I will get a call from an important person on the Republican side and they will share a story and I’ll say that’s a good story, I want to have one of our magazines follow that, so I have to think which magazine would be right for that story and then I’ll speak to the editor.

So that does happen. And it also happens in the health world, but it’s not only an Oz theme, so many of our magazines, if not almost all of them, have health coverage and when you have an incredibly positive story coming out of a hospital in the country or an advance that the NIH (National Institutes of Health) is sharing, you have to decide what is the best brand for that particular story and call the editor.

As a matter of fact, we have a couple of different things going on right now in the mental health arena. Then I have one sitting right in front of me where I had gotten a great idea from an institution that treats young children. So, you can sit around and think all night: alright that probably won’t fly with one of the fashion magazines because it’s for kids. It might be interesting for a magazine that’s more adult-oriented, however. And then it’s like you’ve struck gold because you find an editor who is interested in the story and who knows his/her readers will be getting positive information and guidance from that particular piece.

Samir Husni: So, the magazines have to be like your children and you don’t differentiate between your children. I know you have two sons and if someone asked you which you loved more; I’m sure you’d say you loved them equally.

Ellen Levine: Oh no, that varies day-to-day; don’t use that comparison.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Ellen Levine: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: When Hearst bought Hachette and Woman’s Day came home, did it feel like a reunion for you since it was such a big part of your earlier career? Did you have a special place in your heart for Woman’s Day, compared to the rest of the magazines?

Ellen Levine: I really did. I mean, that was the first big magazine that I ever had the opportunity to be editor-in-chief of and it has been a while ago, to say the very least, but I was there when Hachette bought it from CBS. And with the transition of the magazines coming over from Hachette to Hearst, I actually met a lot of old friends, some of them were in circulation, some had been editors and it was a little bit like a college reunion.

Samir Husni: With the launch of new magazines such as Food Network, HGTV and Dr. Oz The Good Life, do you think the newsstand skills that you learned at Woman’s Day since it was for a while a newsstand-only publication, did those newsstand skills help you at all in the creation of the new magazines, because those titles especially, are bucking the trends and doing very well on the newsstands?

Ellen Levine: While I was still there they were switching because part of the financial reason they were newsstand-only was because the food stores gave free racks to those two brands. And then when they decided they could no longer give the free racks was when those brands pushed for subscriptions. So, that was happening while I was still there.

As for our newer titles that are doing so well on the newsstands; I don’t think it was my experience from back then that had anything to do with that. Of course, if you throw in Oprah and that launch, we did go out on newsstands with Oprah and she sold out in five minutes. But what that tells us is that we have a strong brand and obviously we pitched then for subscribers and the steadiness of the subscriber base.

And Food Network, our tests generally start with newsstand racks and seeing how we go, but very shortly, even sometimes during that first issue, we are mailing to a subscriber base. The fact is Food Network and HGTV are doing so well with newsstand is because those are both brands where women just can’t resist them on the newsstand. They have to have it. They are both fulfilling unique needs that women may not have known that they even had.

And that’s what we go for, putting something out there that’s different from everything else and newsstand buyers have a strong sensibility about what’s unique. After they buy it once, they stay with it for a while, and then they move on to a subscription. And we have incredible covers on those and the cover lines are terrific too and the editors of those are fabulous.

Samir Husni: Do you believe that you, as a magazine maker, are much more than just a content provider; you’re in actuality an experience maker?

Ellen Levine: An experience maker; I like that. I’m going to steal that. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Ellen Levine: I like to think that here at Hearst we focus on originality, but there remains a vertical past to original. When we were first outlining Oprah, she is an original; she has done so well and there’s nobody like her. There is no one that women feel more attached to and respect, even though they may have never met her personally. She is part of their heart.

In terms of Food Network, Maile Carpenter essentially invented a new way to appeal to women who love to cook. And HGTV is similar, so they do have in a way the personality of who they are on television, but it morphs when you put it into print.

And in terms of an experience maker; I will credit you for the first five days with the phrase, and after that it’s mine. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Ellen Levine: You asked me earlier about what kind of changes editors have had to make today; are the scales the same ones that we needed yesteryear when we launched Food Network and HGTV? Food Network launched in the fall of 2008 when the financial crash had happened. And we were thinking oh no, this is not the best time to launch anything and oh no, it’s rough spending money these days. As it turned out people had stopped going to restaurants as often as they had been before and they wanted to eat at home. And so we hit the hotspot unknowingly. But we have expanded them now so it’s broader.

And ditto on HGTV. We’re inviting the need for fun in the pages of these magazines and change is good. And I would say really speaking to the women out there; most of the editors on these brands have a sense of who that person is because inside of them they can tap into that as well. And that is a good thing. Consequently, I think that’s why they’re having such wonderful success right now on the newsstand and in subs and of course, in monthly sales. Generally, they’re in the top five if not higher in newsstand sales on a monthly basis. And really, they’re babies.

Samir Husni: In the last five years, Hearst has doubled in size, from all the new titles they acquired and by adding new magazines. During your career at Hearst, what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Ellen Levine: I don’t feel like I’ve had a major stumbling block. I do think it was quite a rough time when there was a shutdown of a major distributor; you know the bankruptcy. It was very difficult for everybody to cope with and it was an issue that had to be solved by the top executives here. So, I think that was one of the things that I never expected we would see in people who we had depended so strongly on.

So, that was rocky. And of course 9/11, which was another moment in time that had really shutdown things in a way that we didn’t expect either. Americans were stopped from what had normally been a wonderful time in reading.

I’m looking at major changes; I can’t really say to you that there was an unusual stumbling block. I would say everybody is absorbing and being very smart about it in the switch to digital. Our magazines remain very, very strong.

I think one of the hardest things for all of us is the search for great talent because the people who run our magazines, the editors and yes, the publisher; it’s extremely important for them to have the people who get it and who know how to create change themselves.

Samir Husni: And what are the criteria for the phrase “to get it?” What do you look for today when you’re hiring new people?

HCI Ellen Levine: First of all, I look for somebody who loves journalism. I still use the old-fashioned words journalism, stories, and features, as opposed to content. And they need to know that they’re going to have to work hard and that they appreciate working with smart people. And one of the things that I really like is when they understand that the goal of this is to tap into a part of themselves and pull that part out so that they are also the reader. But they’re not solely reading it as who they are; they’re reading it as though a part of them reflects the readership base and that they will direct what they’re doing toward that meter they have in mind.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in your career so far?

Ellen Levine: I’ll give you moments. I think when you get a great story, a great feature or a great photo shoot; those pleasant moments are knowing that whatever it is you were looking for has just clicked. I can feel that every day when I see something that comes in and it makes me just say, “Wow!” Or, “That’s it. Women are going to love that.” Or, “Men are going to love that,” “Car-drivers are going to love that.” And we just hit it, dead-center.

I was in Washington not too long ago, listening to the newly-appointed attorney general and she had mentioned something that I can’t share right now, but I thought that story was head-on for one of our magazines. And the editor was going to love that idea and the story.

So, it’s like hitting a homerun. And since I’m not very athletic, it’s a homerun in your brain.

Samir Husni: See, I knew you were an experience maker, not just a content provider. I could feel it.

Ellen Levine: Oh good, thank you. I’m flattered.

Samir Husni: You mentioned the attorney general; I remember a while back, you serving on the Meese Commission on pornography.

Ellen Levine: You’re right, I did.

Samir Husni: Do you think we’re in better shape today than in the 1980s when it comes to moral issues? Or are things worse with the Internet and digital, where anything is available to anyone anywhere?

Ellen Levine: I personally think that we’re a lot better off, but I think there are thousands of miles to go. Certainly, on the pornography commission the attitude then was that anything you read that was sexy would lead you into crime of one kind or another and that’s what they wanted to prove so that they could repress publication of books, magazines, etc.

I think America has grown a lot. You can see the weddings that are now allowed, marriages that are now allowed for gay couples. I think we’re much better than we had been and I believe we will continue to hope for more change in areas that need change.

On a wide national front, I believe that we are in a better position than we were back then, but there are definitely miles to go. We’re in the middle of it right now with the issue of the number of shootings of Americans, the difficulty that police officers have in maintaining the law. There is just so much. I was a poli sci major in college; there is just so much that needs improving. Prejudice has to go away.

But I do think media is much more open than it used to be. And that’s wonderful. And in a lot of situations, media is leading the way.

Samir Husni: You have all these printed magazines, all the brands that are available now; can you envision a day in your lifetime that we won’t have print? That all these experiences we create through the printed magazine, we can replicate through the virtual?

Ellen Levine: No, I can’t see that. I don’t think that will happen. There may be some transition in people’s personal needs, but no, we will continue to do print.

I do remember reading how excited everyone was when they looked at the first printed Bible and how excited people were when they found, I think it was in Israel, some original writings in a cave. They wouldn’t have been as excited if they’d found somebody’s laptop back then.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Ellen Levine: There is just something about when you see the handwriting, you see the person; it visualizes things for you. Being on television, when we were trying to talk to Oprah about launching the magazine, she said I’m on television all the time; why in the world would I need a magazine? And I said it just came to me because it’s the printed word. And the printed word can be held in your hand and I continue to believe that now. Not that I don’t use online a lot for communication, that’s cool, that’s fine. I love it for certain things, but it’s not necessarily for the things that I want to keep forever.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add about the creative process of magazine-making?

Ellen Levine: I love what I get to do; I just love it. I was born this way. I drove people crazy with questions. There was a certain point in my house where they would say, enough with the questions. I was one of those kids who were doing this in sixth grade and then I was editor of my high school newspaper and ended up editing it with the boys. So that was a great group because they generally had the guys doing it. Of course, when I went to an all-girls college, I got to be the girl who did it.

The main thing for me is those kinds of people that I worked with were the kind of people who I liked and I continue to like. And they’re people who like to ask questions and want answers. To me, that’s the best thing that you can do. Ask that question; get that answer, because it may be an answer that will change your life or someone else’s. And right now I am more dedicated to getting information out to women and men about things that are going to make them maybe see their lives in a different way; something that will help them and their children, their whole family.

I just love it. My husband gets a little tired of it, since I ask him questions all day long, he’s a physician and he’s responsible for letting me know if anything new is happening in his office. I love my job, although, I would have been a prosecutor or a cop if I could have done something different.

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

Ellen Levine: When my husband doesn’t put the air conditioning on? (Laughs) I don’t actually wake up with that kind of stuff. If I was thinking about something, it would probably be in the shower instead. I get ideas in the shower.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Taking “AIM” On Success With Innovation & Diversification – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Andrew Clurman – Chief Executive Officer and President, Active Interest Media

June 11, 2015

“I think the path to victory these days is opening your mind to what kind of businesses you can be in that may be obvious or not so obvious. And I also think to not being overly fixated quite honestly on digital as the singular path to prosperity for, call it, traditional media companies. I’ve seen a lot of people overspend and over-focus on digital and it’s grown their audience and in some case may have grown their revenue, but I haven’t seen a company transformed by just basically saying we’re going to go from print to print plus digital.” Andrew Clurman

“In our world we’ve got a lot of incredible loyalists and people of all ages who like the aesthetic of print, they like the print medium. And our print is profitable, it’s not the highest margin business that we have, but it’s profitable. I would say that it would be hard for me to imagine us getting out of print and just being event services and digital.” Andrew Clurman

andy Active Interest Media is a company that is as diversified as it is innovative when it comes to its business model and approach. With more than 50 internationally distinguished print, digital and social media brands, a video production company and first-in-class events, AIM is keeping its finger on the pulse of what’s important to today’s magazine audience.

In an exclusive survey published in 2014 and conducted by AIM’s Research Insights on the two types of newsstand buyers: Newsstand-Only Buyers, and Newsstand Buyers Who Also Subscribe to Magazines, there were some very interesting preliminary results, one showing that print magazines were the #1 choice of media formats that AIM readers said they would still be reading 2-3 years from now, bringing the company to conclude that print is clearly a magazine’s brand identity, and all other platforms build from the magic of print. A conclusion Mr. Magazine™ definitely agrees with.

Recently I spoke with Andrew Clurman, CEO and President of AIM, about how magazine-making had changed over the years and how the focus had changed from the traditional advertising-driven business model. We looked back to the infancy of AIM, checked in with today’s adult-aged business and also perused the company’s future seasoned years; from past, present and to its future, AIM’s evolvement has been and will continue to be highly innovative and interesting.

So, if you’re wondering where to ‘AIM’ your next ten or fifteen minutes, try sitting down, relaxing and enjoying the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andrew Clurman, CEO & President, Active Interest Media.

But first, the sound-bites:

Clurman Headshot On how he thinks magazine-making has changed over the years: It used to be the way that you monetized an audience was by selling ads to people who wanted to, in turn, sell their products to that audience. That’s still true today, but to a smaller degree. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But relying on advertising as a way to build a business around that audience, and particularly a growing business, isn’t that viable anymore, in terms of any scale.

On how AIM actually brings forth magazines from ideas: First we start with the traditional filter of who’s the audience; how big is it; who’s the competition; what’s unique about this idea that’s going to win in the marketplace. It’s very, very rare that you have an idea for a magazine in an unserved market. The magazine that we launched, The Box, really had no competition and we thought fine, that’s pretty unique.

On whether he believes a magazine today can’t be created and stand-alone without the benefits of other platforms: I would say that we can survive; I don’t however think we will necessarily thrive. Launching a magazine is a lot easier than sustaining a magazine. The first issue sometimes is the easiest because everyone is all excited by this great story you have to tell. But by the second issue or the sixth issue or the 24th issue; you settle into some kind of normal state.

On the major stumbling block that he’s had to face over the years and how he overcame it: When it came to seeing all the changes in the marketplace and how we needed to create a much more diversified business, some of it was just keeping a very open mind about what is interesting and possible and what fits.

On his most pleasant moment: We opened our Boulder office in December 2013 with about 200 people. We have offices elsewhere, but we brought almost 50 magazine brands, other parts of the company and everybody here and we had a celebration of that. It was gratifying to see it and to say we’ve built a great company with incredibly passionate people and great brands and really interesting and different lines of businesses that we’re in, with a clear path to grow in the future, after struggling through the really challenging parts of getting up to a decent size and the incredibly challenging years of 2008 through 2010.

On whether he believes traditional media companies can exist without print: In our world we’ve got a lot of incredible loyalists and people of all ages, who like the aesthetic of print, they like the print medium. And our print is profitable, it’s not the highest margin business that we have, but it’s profitable. I would say that it would be hard for me to imagine us getting out of print and just being event services and digital.

On where he sees the company one year from now: We have three things that we launched this year and we’re hoping that they will become even bigger and more important next year.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings and say it’s going to be a great day: I’ve always been excited by ideas, whether they’re mine or someone else’s. And I love the power of taking an idea and bringing it to life and building a team and a business around it. So, I’m constantly thinking about the great ideas we have and how we can turn them into something real

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) It’s not coffee; I gave up drinking coffee. We’ve worked very hard to build a diversified, defensible, growing business, but you still just have to acknowledge at the end of the day that there are many things beyond your control. And not obsess about those things that may go bump-in-the-night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Andrew Clurman, CEO & President, Active Interest Media.

Samir Husni: Based on your experience, how do you think magazine-making has changed over the years?

Cover_BP_JUN15_Final Andrew Clurman: I think it starts with a much broader view of what is possible and necessary. At the core of magazine media and magazine-making, as you call it, is the fact that you still have to find a sizeable audience of people, a category of people, who share an interest, a passion and a pastime. People are always amazed at the number of magazines out there and they ask why there are so many sometimes. Just like they might ask, why there are so many gas stations or banks; as long as you can find a viable market and an audience then you deserve a place in magazine land.

It’s amazing that there are always people who find a different point of view or find an emerging interest and the best way to serve that interest and point of view is with a magazine. It’s hard to find a better medium that artfully combines the visual, aesthetic and written experience, or intellectual experience, that people get from the way that they consume magazines. It’s all the good things about magazines; the immersive way that people consume them, which is very different from almost any other media. It’s really hard to think of something other than a long-form or even some kind of service piece where you’re packaging information about complex subjects that works better than a magazine.

I think the basic form exists and has its own powerful place. It isn’t easily substituted, for certain genres of things, with any other media. And that’s what we look to do with our brand.

Samir Husni: Technically though, that’s the same way that we’ve always created magazines. Without an audience; there would be no magazines. So, how is today’s magazine-making different? One of your quotes from the presentation you gave at the IMAG conference in Boulder was: “We used to produce magazines for the advertisers.” How has this focus changed?

Andrew Clurman: All of the things that I just said speaks to the audience product and the way that you can command an audience. It used to be the way that you monetized an audience was by selling ads to people who wanted to, in turn, sell their products to that audience. That’s still true today, but to a smaller degree. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But relying on advertising as a way to build a business around that audience, and particularly a growing business, isn’t that viable anymore, in terms of any scale.

At this point when we look at a new magazine or an existing magazine, and ask what other things do the people who are in this audience need or want, and what can we deliver that is compatible with what we do and is complementary to what we do, so that those things would seem like a natural extension of our brand? And they have to be things that would be sizeable enough and able to rise above what used to be your ancillary revenue streams.

It could be that, and there have been cases of this over the years, you may have an event business that is powered by the magazine that’s actually financially bigger than the magazine, even if the magazine from a brand and audience standpoint is larger.

Samir Husni: You’ve been publishing new magazines, launching new titles, whether it’s about the practice of CrossFit with The Box magazine or Anglers Journal. When one of your team members comes to you and says that they have an idea for a magazine, do you have any criteria or any set of rules such as, if it meets A, B and C you go ahead with it? How do you actually bring forth a magazine from ideas?

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 11.32.10 PM Andrew Clurman: First we start with the traditional filter of who’s the audience; how big is it; who’s the competition; what’s unique about this idea that’s going to win in the marketplace. It’s very, very rare that you have an idea for a magazine in an unserved market. The magazine that we launched, The Box, really had no competition and we thought fine, that’s pretty unique.

With Anglers Journal, there are probably hundreds of fishing magazines, if you count every local, regional and national one. I think the more crowded the marketplace, the more compelling the idea has to be, in terms of its uniqueness.

So, we start with that and then we ask the second question: what is the business model for this and how do we build a business around it? For example, with Anglers Journal we said there are legions of fishing magazines out there; this is a great idea for something that is about the art of fishing and why people fish, not about how to fish, so that carves out a unique place in that category. But we said none of these look like they’re really growing. The magazine business is not a really growth business for that category, so what else can we do?

Then we looked at the fishing tournament business. There is actually a very big fishing tournament business across a lot of different species of fish and we just bought a four-leg fishing tournament in the Bahamas called the Bahamas Billfish Tournament, and that business is already bigger than the magazine economically. We’re also now looking at a television show around the brand.

I think the difference is if I go back many, many years; we’re always looking for ways to build events, television or whatever, as extensions of the brand, but in this case we start with saying it has to be core to what we do because there is just not enough advertising as there was in the old days to grow and continue to grow something like this in the magazine business.

Samir Husni: Are you saying then that without these other extensions such as events and television, that technically we can’t just create a magazine that can survive on just being a magazine?

Andrew Clurman: I would say that we can survive; I don’t however think we will necessarily thrive. Launching a magazine is a lot easier than sustaining a magazine. The first issue sometimes is the easiest because everyone is all excited by this great story you have to tell. But by the second issue or the sixth issue or the 24th issue; you settle into some kind of normal state.

We do have quite a few magazines that stand alone as a print product, but very few of those are growing or have a very exciting growth path if they don’t have some other avenue that they’re actively chasing.

For example, we have a magazine called The Trail Rider, which is a nice little magazine that speaks for itself; it’s about people who trail ride their horses and the majority of ways that they participate in riding those trails. And for a while it was nicely profitable, with a specifically-focused audience. The advertising is made up of small, Mom & Pop outfitters and products. But it hasn’t really grown in spite of everything they’ve tried. And the cost side continues to creep up ever so slightly, so you look at the P&L and you find it’s on a downward trajectory. So, we went through this big discussion around what else we could do with it.

We looked at whether there was a Trail Riding Association that we could buy. Or could we start one. We own this program called USRider, which is our Triple-A program for horse-people and we have about 40,000 members. So, we came up with this obvious or maybe not too obvious idea.

People who are USRider members for the most part are people who go trail riding and they’re paying about $150 per year to be a member so they have towing insurance for their truck and their trailer. So let’s make The Trail Rider the official magazine of USRider, raise the price of the membership and everybody gets a subscription to the magazine and we increase the content to include some more information about their membership and benefits.

We did that going through a full year renewal cycle and it appears that’s going to really transform The Trail Rider magazine to a much, much better business.

Samir Husni: You’ve been in the business a long time and technically, with almost the same team, which is one of those rare things in the industry. As the business transformed, what was the major stumbling block that faced you and how did you overcome it?

LHL0815cover Andrew Clurman: I give Skip (Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III) a lot of credit in this and I give Brian (Brian Sellstrom) who’s one of my other partners, credit as well; neither of them came from magazine publishing the way that I did. Literally, my second job out of college was in special interest media, but they came from different arenas. Skip worked at McKinsey & Company in strategic planning and Brian had different experiences, so they were not as steeped in the traditional business model of magazine publishing.

When it came to seeing all the changes in the marketplace and how we needed to create a much more diversified business, some of it was just keeping a very open mind about what is interesting and possible and what fits.

For example, when we were looking at USRider; we have private equity partners who have been fantastic, great and incredibly supportive and have given us all the capital we’ve needed to build the business. When we brought this one forward and said we want to buy this towing company, we don’t own the tow trucks, we have a service bureau that does it, but our partner’s reactions were that doesn’t fit with your business. You guys are publishers and that just doesn’t make any sense.

It took a fair amount of convincing and us saying just trust us and it does make sense; it’s a subscription business and a membership business. And it’s been wildly successful.

I think the path to victory these days is opening your mind to what kind of businesses you can be in that may be obvious or not so obvious. And I also think to not being overly fixated quite honestly on digital as the singular path to prosperity for, call it, traditional media companies. I’ve seen a lot of people overspend and over-focus on digital and it’s grown their audience and in some case may have grown their revenue, but I haven’t seen a company transformed by just basically saying we’re going to go from print to print plus digital.

Samir Husni: That’s why I refer to digital as the seductive, beautiful mistress roaming the streets looking for her next victim. (Laughs)

Andrew Clurman: (Laughs too). That’s a bit darker view, but there are a lot of false prophets out there of digital.

Samir Husni: Do you think traditional media companies can exist without print?

Andrew Clurman: As in phasing out their print?

Samir Husni: Yes. Phasing it out and saying that they’re saving so much money on ink, paper, distribution and mail that they’re just going to go full-blown digital.

Andrew Clurman: I think it depends on what kind of print they have. There are certainly many cases in the B to B world of B to B print businesses that have gone completely digital or mostly digital. In our world we’ve got a lot of incredible loyalists and people of all ages who like the aesthetic of print, they like the print medium. And our print is profitable, it’s not the highest margin business that we have, but it’s profitable.

I would say that it would be hard for me to imagine us getting out of print and just being event services and digital.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in your career that you can recall?

Andrew Clurman: When we started AIM and we literally came up with the idea in Skip Zimbalist’s kitchen, talking about what it might be and we started with a small acquisition of five, very disparate small magazines and it seemed a long, long way from our previous company which had world famous national special interest brands, so it felt like we kind of stepped way off the track.

We opened our Boulder office in December 2013 with about 200 people. We have offices elsewhere, but we brought almost 50 magazine brands, other parts of the company and everybody here and we had a celebration of that. It was gratifying to see it and to say we’ve built a great company with incredibly passionate people and great brands and really interesting and different lines of businesses that we’re in, with a clear path to grow in the future, after struggling through the really challenging parts of getting up to a decent size and the incredibly challenging years of 2008 through 2010. And sort of hitting a point where we had created what we thought was a great business; we had a great team and an exciting plan to go forward.

Samir Husni: Talking about going forward; if you would put your futuristic cap on for just a second and take us one year into the future, what would you expect to tell me different from today?

Andrew Clurman: We have three things that we launched this year and we’re hoping that they will become even bigger and more important next year and they fall into the category of one is film, video, production and sales. You were at the IMAG conference, so you heard Scott (Schulman) from Rodale talking about their ‘Rodale U’ and we have our own AIM Healthy U, so we have launched an online education platform where we’re producing and selling classes right now for everything from the business of yoga for people who are opening their own yoga studios, to gluten-free cooking and eating.

We do a lot of seminars and classes now in different categories; we’re doing Log Home University, where people come for a full day to hear about how to build and manage a log home’ we have a TrawlerFest University, where people come for two or three days to learn about boat maintenance and management.

I think we have a lot of class curriculum content that we can move to an online education format and sell it, frankly, for at least what we’re charging offline, if not in some cases, more because we can add more elements to the curriculum. So, that’s number one.

Number two is we’re growing our event business and have acquired a couple of event businesses this year and are looking at acquiring more. I expect that to be meaningfully bigger than it is right now and broader, in terms of a couple of exciting new categories.

And the third is that we’ve kind of taken a page out of the business to business generation model, which B to B companies have been doing that for years, which is content marketing to drive customer acquisition and we’ve launched a program to do that in our home category very successfully and we see that working in some of the other verticals where we have big-ticket items like boats, horses and ski vacations. Those are three things that I think we have good momentum on and I can see them as drivers across a lot of our categories next year.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get up in the morning and say it’s going to be a great day?

Andrew Clurman: I’ve always been excited by ideas, whether they’re mine or someone else’s. And I love the power of taking an idea and bringing it to life and building a team and a business around it. So, I’m constantly thinking about the great ideas we have and how we can turn them into something real. That’s what has kept me in this business and also keeps me going.

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

Andrew Clurman: (Laughs) It’s not coffee; I gave up drinking coffee. We’ve worked very hard to build a diversified, defensible, growing business, but you still just have to acknowledge at the end of the day that there are many things beyond your control. And not obsess about those things that may go bump-in-the-night.

But even given that, you’re constantly worrying or on the lookout for anything that can go wrong. I guess it’s like the old Spiro Agnew or Richard Nixon quote: if you’re not paranoid, you just don’t know whose out to get you. Just trying to live in an enlightened state of paranoia, I’d say, would be what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Vanity Fair Personifies The Power Of Print & Digital At Its Best: Covers That Impact & Stories That Do No Less – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Chris Mitchell, Publisher, Vanity Fair

June 9, 2015

“I think the bigger surprise is that in this day and age there’s so much of the world that somehow believes that the rise of digital media has undermined the importance of print media and I think we’ve proven that not only is that false, but it’s really the exact opposite. If you harness it correctly, digital media only enhances the power of print media because it gives you so many different pipes to tell the story.” Chris Mitchell

“I’m a believer in the power of beautiful production quality and in telling that story, especially where there is a visual element, as only ink on paper can do.” Chris Mitchell

xeyqffdecqgbr9m9dyzz-2 From “Deep Throat” to a pregnant Demi Moore; Vanity Fair covers have given us much to talk about and consider over the years. The magazine’s impactful way of presenting its stories through masterful writing and spectacular visuals has always left its audience breathless and sometimes speechless with intriguing wonder at the artful and articulate way the magazine reflects society.

And with the latest Caitlyn Jenner cover and breaking story; Vanity Fair carefully and meticulously unfolded the content and visuals through a combined and consummate print and digital effort that was nothing short of a masterpiece.

Chris Mitchell came onboard as publisher of Vanity Fair in September 2014 from GQ and has proven he is as adept as the brand at staying on top of the game when it comes to innovation in advertising and execution of the brand’s many facets. With over 20 years of magazine experience, Chris is no stranger to the intricacies of magazine media and guides the legacy brand with a succinct and steady hand.

I spoke to Chris recently about the dynamic effect Vanity Fair, across all its platforms, and especially print, has on its audience and his belief that digital doesn’t undermine print, that in fact, it only reinforces it. His unwavering deference to the power of a magazine cover and how it can still, even in this digital age, have a gripping and moving reaction on all who see it, in fact more so than any other form of media, is something that he takes very seriously. The conversation was inspiring and riveting as we talked about the brand’s past, present and future and the lasting and memorable impression that good storytelling can still leave with readers. It was a fascinating discussion.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who believes in the power of the printed page and the importance of digital to keep it flourishing, Chris Mitchell, Publisher, Vanity Fair.

But first, the sound-bites:


Chris Mitchell_headsh#25C0D On the impact of Vanity Fair covers:
Vanity Fair has a track record for impactful covers. No one else is in its league when it comes to finding those cultural moments that become iconic or the subject matter that everyone is talking about; what we used to call the “watercooler moments” as it related to TV.

On what he believes makes Vanity Fair stand out from the rest of the magazines out there:
I’ve been an avid reader and subscriber for 20-plus years. And like you, in some respects, I’ve been a student of magazines for much longer than that. To me what has always been the uniqueness of Vanity Fair, and I think that this applies especially to the 20-something-years that Graydon Carter has been at the helm, is that it’s the perfect mix of being an incredibly commercial vehicle and incredibly intelligent; it’s the perfect mix of art and commerce.

On what he would say to the doubters and media critics out there who believe print is in decline or dying:
These misnomers are ultimately created by even our own industry. Many times entities like Women’s Wear Daily want to talk about ad pages alone as an indication of a brand’s relevance and that’s perpetuating an outdated metric, in my opinion.

On how the magazine-making business model has changed before 2007 and after 2007:
With a story such as the Caitlyn Jenner piece; the way that we harnessed the website as well as our social media partners and outlets to make the story even bigger than it would have been in 2007 is not a small thing. With a story this big in 2007, even in 2010 frankly, we would have had a very different press and social media case. We would have released the issue on the newsstands and there would have been a lot of press that followed. But it wouldn’t have received anywhere near the “watercooler moment” that we achieved because we used our site to feed stories over a period of time.

On what he would like to say a year from now about Vanity Fair’s accomplishments:
I don’t think it’ll even take a year because when I look at the type of projects we have in the pipeline in front of our advertisers now, I know one thing to be true; if we can change the nature of the conversation with our advertisers to be one of a marketing partnership and if they can see us as someone who can deliver content for them; what I know is that increases the size of the advertising deals that you do with these partners; it increases it because they get excited about the work and the more excited they get about the work, the more that they want to run it in bigger quantities and the more that they want to see it live on all of these different platforms.

On the power and ability of a magazine cover to sustain the audience’s attention long after other media platforms:
We have all these formats to increase video and that makes us a more interesting and robust way to tell the story across all platforms. And then we get that beautiful synergy that shows how the print product enforces or memorializes a story in a very different way than you’re telling it socially or in video.

On whether he can ever envision a day without a printed Vanity Fair:
No. I’m a believer in the power of beautiful production quality and in telling that story, especially where there is a visual element, as only ink on paper can do.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to overcome during his career: There was a point where I was debating about whether I should be on the editorial side or the business side. And I saw that as a real fork in the road and it was only as the business became more dynamic and I learned a lot along the way that I realized that our job and the editor’s job are wonderfully cooperative and collaborative. And that makes it more fun for us and I think it makes it more successful for them. And I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t violate the quality or the ethics of great journalism.

On his most pleasant moment:
I found a home at Condé Nast a long time ago and I’m incredibly fortunate to have had that home for as long as I have and to have experienced so many different, great brands and properties that Condé Nast owns. To be able to work at one company, but have eight or nine different jobs over 20 years is really a lucky thing.

On what keeps him up at night:
What keeps me up at night has always been the same thing: we have the blessing and the curse of being a periodical. And with that comes the fact that you have a goal that you have to hit and when you finish one month, or a day, or a quarter of your digital or however you measure it, there’s always another one right behind that you have to hit. So you’re never done.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Chris Mitchell, Publisher, Vanity Fair.

Samir Husni: When you were appointed publisher at Vanity Fair from GQ in September 2014; did you ever expect something as impactful as the Caitlyn Jenner cover to happen?

Chris Mitchell: I didn’t and I should have if you look at it in one way. Vanity Fair has a track record for impactful covers. No one else is in its league when it comes to finding those cultural moments that become iconic or the subject matter that everyone is talking about; what we used to call the “watercooler moments” as it related to TV.

And so breaking the Watergate “Deep Throat” story, having the first pictures of Tom Cruise’s daughter; obviously, the Demi Moore cover when she was pregnant; these are amazing watershed moments.

But I didn’t expect this because you don’t quite know when they’re going to find another one.

Samir Husni: When Bob Sauerberg made the announcement that you were being appointed publisher, he said, “Vanity Fair is one of Condé Nast’s – if not the industry’s – most significant and profitable brands.” Why do you think the entire American psyche, if not the world’s, has been impacted so heavily by Vanity Fair? In your opinion, what’s Vanity Fair’s uniqueness among all the other magazines out there?

Chris Mitchell: I’ve been an avid reader and subscriber for 20-plus years. And like you, in some respects, I’ve been a student of magazines for much longer than that. To me what has always been the uniqueness of Vanity Fair, and I think that this applies especially to the 20-something-years that Graydon Carter has been at the helm, is that it’s the perfect mix of being an incredibly commercial vehicle and incredibly intelligent; it’s the perfect mix of art and commerce.

It doesn’t shy away from the commercial side, as is evidenced in each and every cover, and it does it in a way that makes it such a wonderful business. That’s true in terms of its circulation too; it provides that home for advertisers and makes it special for them. Advertisers can see themselves in this environment.

As publishers we’re always selling the quality of our audience and the uniqueness of our demographics, but the reality is we all have something unique and that’s something that everybody has. But Vanity Fair has created an environment for advertising that makes the advertisers easily see themselves and their brands in the pages. And that’s made it super-successful.

Then it also has the depth of reporting and the depth of writing that gives it the engagement factor that to me is the perfect mix. It’s no surprise that the magazine is so tremendously successful.

I think the bigger surprise is that in this day and age there’s so much of the world that somehow believes that the rise of digital media has undermined the importance of print media and I think we’ve proven that not only is that false, but it’s really the exact opposite. If you harness it correctly, digital media only enhances the power of print media because it gives you so many different pipes to tell the story.

And it’s something that we’ve been preaching to advertisers for years. We’ve said the bigger your website gets, the bigger your magazine circulation gets and the more opportunities you have to go to advertisers and really be marketing partners because you have so many more strong platforms to harness and do that.

To me that’s the greater story. I think hopefully after the impact of the Caitlyn Jenner story, people will realize that magazines become even more powerful because of their digital counterparts.

Samir Husni: As you reign in and gather the responses from all over the world regarding the Caitlyn Jenner cover; what could you still relate to those prophets of doom and gloom, those doubters, the ones that keep telling us that the power of magazines, the power of engagement is in decline? “Print is dead” isn’t as prevalent as before, but now, instead, they’re saying it’s in decline.

Chris Mitchell: I was in Europe maybe four weeks ago. It was soon after Women’s Wear Daily had come out with yet another article, which they do, I think every spring and fall, that says here’s what the magazine sold on the newsstand and they made their sort of ritualized prediction that newsstand circulation was going to fall.

And what was interesting was I found myself having to explain to a lot of clients, because the story was picked up in some of the papers, that it was not an indication of the health or vitality of magazine companies as a business, because of the obviously shrinking importance of the newsstand and the small percentage of an overall circulation level that the newsstand has. And that’s a larger issue that has more to do with newsstand distribution, wholesalers and points of sale, than it does the desirability or vitality of magazines. And in fact, the overall circulations are maintaining record high levels or growing, in most cases. At the same time, the digital audiences are also growing.

What this says to me is these misnomers are ultimately created by even our own industry. Many times entities like Women’s Wear Daily want to talk about ad pages alone as an indication of a brand’s relevance and that’s perpetuating an outdated metric, in my opinion.

Obviously, we run a business today where our digital revenue becomes a bigger piece of our overall revenue every year, which becomes a bigger percentage of the revenue. And I for one, never wanted to be a publisher who was trying to push pages on someone, instead of selling them a bigger partnership in whatever advertising form factor it takes. And I believe most publishers think like I think that my job is to bring you my audience and create a program or a partnership that works for you, the advertiser. And I don’t care if you buy 100% print or 100% digital or put it somewhere in the middle. But that’s at odds still to this day with some of these outlets that just want to record ad pages or that are using newsstands’ increase or decline as an indication of how healthy your magazine is. And these things are so silly and outdated and don’t reflect the way the business and the world has changed.

Samir Husni: Talking about change; if you were to compare and contrast magazine-making pre-2007 to after 2007, how do you think the business-making model has changed?

Chris Mitchell: I think in two really important ways. With a story such as the Caitlyn Jenner piece; the way that we harnessed the website as well as our social media partners and outlets to make the story even bigger than it would have been in 2007 is not a small thing. With a story this big in 2007, even in 2010 frankly, we would have had a very different press and social media case. We would have released the issue on the newsstands and there would have been a lot of press that followed.

But it wouldn’t have received anywhere near the “watercooler moment” that we achieved because we used our site to feed stories over a period of time. We had a very deliberate strategy for how we released additional parts of the story over time using our website and even through the press and helped to make it the story that it became.

From an advertising standpoint, and this is another one where you’re running contrary to what the naysayers say, but there has never been a more exciting time for us to be in the advertising business with our advertisers because we have so many ways that we can help them tell their story.

And when I look back at what we did in 2007, it was easier in the sense that people made a greater percentage of their pledges to print, but it was also less interesting because that’s all you had really was to sell someone advertising pages. And today we fully see ourselves more like an agency than anything else. And I impress this to people on our team, that I don’t want to be in the media-selling business; I don’t want the relationship that I have with my client to be primarily a media-selling relationship. I want to be really an idea-driven, access-driven agency partner of theirs, who can deliver them an idea and deliver them custom content that they can use across their platforms, our platforms and frankly if it’s a big enough idea; it’ll be bigger than just what I can sell them in the media. That’s the new model that I’m really excited about.

Samir Husni: I can feel the passion and intrigue that these new changes bring to you, so if you and I were talking again a year from now and I asked you what you had accomplished in that year; what would you tell me?

Chris Mitchell: I don’t think it’ll even take a year because when I look at the type of projects we have in the pipeline in front of our advertisers now, I know one thing to be true; if we can change the nature of the conversation with our advertisers to be one of a marketing partnership and if they can see us as someone who can deliver content for them; what I know is that increases the size of the advertising deals that you do with these partners; it increases it because they get excited about the work and the more excited they get about the work, the more that they want to run it in bigger quantities and the more that they want to see it live on all of these different platforms.

So the best way that you can achieve a marketing partnership where you have a print component and a digital component and a shared social component and a mobile component is to create something for these advertisers that they want to see living on all those platforms. The selfish part of it is, and to your point, in 12 months or six months, what you’re going to see is even more of these multifaceted, multiplatform deals that we’re doing where we have a significant stake in the game and are using our assets to create the content and that advertiser feels like they’re an engaged part of the process and in true partnership with a brand like Vanity Fair, which in many ways I think, is a money-can’t-buy opportunity.

Samir Husni: What do you think it will take to change the minds of some of the media reporters or critics, and as you stated so well, these outdated ways of predicting the future for the magazine industry? When Caitlyn Jenner appeared on ABC, there was talk about it for maybe an hour or two or three on social media and then it was over. Yet when Vanity Fair ran the cover; the story stayed on the tongues of everyone as though it had just been broke. What more evidence do media critics need to see to believe magazines are not a dying industry?

Chris Mitchell: Half-kidding and half-seriously, I think the up fronts this year changed that conversation for us. Most people acknowledged, thanks to the rise of Internet video and thanks to what I think you see companies like ours at the forefront doing, which is getting very ambitious about creating that kind of video content; we become magazines in less the traditional sense and more magazines in the broader sense. We become magazines in the way that TV news magazines are magazines. We have all these formats to increase video and that makes us a more interesting and robust way to tell the story across all platforms. And then we get that beautiful synergy that shows how the print product enforces or memorializes a story in a very different way than you’re telling it socially or in video.

The short answer to your question is we don’t become the story that people are talking about being irrelevant anymore; I think that traditional television has become the story that people are jumping on as being a lot less interesting, sexy and probably as relevant as it used to be and that’s a good thing. Let them take some of the brunt of that. Now people are questioning its relevance and let them figure it out just like we did. In all fairness, we had to figure out in the changing media landscape how we ourselves could change so that we were taking advantage and leaning into the use of these different platforms, instead of simply going with the flow.

I don’t think we will ever win by insisting that traditional magazines done in traditional ways can remain unchanged and our business factors can’t remain unchanged either. It’s when we adapt to the new landscape, both in how we go to market the client, which is what I’m focused on, and how we roll out a story or tell a story beautifully, that you win.

Samir Husni: Has anyone ever approached Vanity Fair and said I would like my picture to be on your website or do most want to be featured on the cover of the magazine?

Chris Mitchell: I honestly think that conversation is changing. And that’s even true with regards to our writers and photographers now. That has been an education process for all of us. In the past, it was certainly the cover that gleaned all of the prestige and I think that there is something wonderful about the fact that that will always be a hugely significant thing. But I think the more that we all see the power of the website, the more a writer wants to break his/her story there.

Certainly, Graydon is at that place where he believes the power to break a story on Vanity Fair.com, maybe it’s a different kind of story than you would break in the magazine, or you would do it in a different way or you might do it in conjunction with both print and digital, the way we did the Caitlyn Jenner story.

So it’s educating every one of the stakeholders in that process, from the photographer to the writer to even the editors themselves, the importance of using different mediums and that one is not subservient to the other. Breaking Caitlyn online showed that.

Think back to the days when Internet place was shovel-ware or brochure-ware and what we proved was that by breaking the story online and really telling the story for a full week online did something really powerful that the magazine then reinforced and it wasn’t the other way around.

Samir Husni: Can you ever imagine a day when there isn’t a printed Vanity Fair?

Chris Mitchell: No. I’m a believer in the power of beautiful production quality and in telling that story, especially where there is a visual element, as only ink on paper can do.

I think that there will certainly be some magazines that will have frequency changes. I think that there were some magazines who tried some circulation changes. I can see a day, whether this is 10 years or 50 years down the road, where your subscription cost is a lot higher, your production values are even higher than they are today. Your size; your form factors may be higher; my wife is editor of Condé Nast Traveler and it’s a great example of that, I think.

And if that means you end up with a more expensive, smaller circulation magazine, you’ll just have to see what the economics of that magazine will be. But I don’t think you’ll ever see a world where beautiful, glossy magazines that are telling a lifestyle story or telling a visual story the way we do will ever go away.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face during your career of magazine-making and how did you overcome it?

Chris Mitchell: I’ve worked in magazines my entire career and I’ve been following you the whole time and I knew that I wanted to work in magazines when I started one in college. So, I never did anything else and I never looked back. I don’t really have a huge stumbling block.

But I’ll tell you there was a point where I was debating about whether I should be on the editorial side or the business side. And I saw that as a real fork in the road and it was only as the business became more dynamic and I learned a lot along the way that I realized that our job and the editor’s job are wonderfully cooperative and collaborative. And that makes it more fun for us and I think it makes it more successful for them. And I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t violate the quality or the ethics of great journalism.

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

Chris Mitchell: I found a home at Condé Nast a long time ago and I’m incredibly fortunate to have had that home for as long as I have and to have experienced so many different, great brands and properties that Condé Nast owns. To be able to work at one company, but have eight or nine different jobs over 20 years is really a lucky thing. And I get to do it working for the same great, bright people and with the same bright colleagues, but I’ve had a wonderful time reinventing myself when it comes to the way in which we go to market with these brands.

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

Chris Mitchell: What keeps me up at night has always been the same thing: we have the blessing and the curse of being a periodical. And with that comes the fact that you have a goal that you have to hit and when you finish one month, or a day, or a quarter of your digital or however you measure it, there’s always another one right behind that you have to hit. So you’re never done. And what keeps me up at night is the same thing that kept me up 20 years ago; how are you going to make your numbers, your day, your week, your month, your quarter, your year. But that’s the business we’ve chosen. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Hearst Magazines: Twice the Size In Five Years — Success Through Teamwork & Great Leadership – The Fifth Anniversary Of A Man As Unpretentious And Modest As He Is A Tremendous Leader – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David Carey, President, Hearst Magazines.

June 8, 2015

“We’ve never believed print is dead. We hope to launch in the U.S., as I said, new print magazines every 24 months.” David Carey

“First and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year.” David Carey

What do you say about a man whose leadership has brought about so much tremendous organic growth through acquisitions and launches that his company is now twice the size it was five years ago when he first came onboard, and yet, he genuinely gives all the credit to his creative staff and senior leadership teams for their hard work and dedication? You would most likely say: if we had more David’s, we could conquer more Goliath’s.

David Carey is a man who believes that through a true team camaraderie and aggregation of experience and wisdom, any problem that arises can be resolved. And these words aren’t lightly-spoken; they are powerfully succinct. While David Carey may be at the helm of Hearst Magazines; he reiterates strongly that it’s himself and a host of hundreds that have brought the company to the forefront of the magazine media industry and helped to prove that print is alive and kicking in New York, the United States and globally as well and that the Hearst brand, across all its platforms, is very much hale and hearty.

I spoke with David recently about his upcoming fifth anniversary as president of Hearst Magazines and we talked about some of his most important successes, which he shared totally with his team, and about a particular failure that he assumed complete responsibility for. It was a conversation that looked back on his early years at Hearst, checked in with his present situation, and also expanded into the future of the globally-growing company. His focus is clear; while he’s very proud of his team’s accomplishments over the last five years, he’s also ready to move forward and see them meet and exceed more expectations.

Get ready to meet a man who is as dedicated to his brand and his teams as he is humble about his own accomplishments – get ready to enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Carey, President, Hearst Magazines.

But first-the sound-bites:

David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines.

David Carey, president, Hearst Magazines.

On a brief overview of his first five years at Hearst: Keep in mind, and I want to be very clear about this; when I say “my” most successful accomplishments, the hard work is done by a great leadership team. The things that we’re most proud of have been done by a group of very talented individuals. By no means did David Carey do these things alone. It was David Carey and a cast of hundreds. There are many things that Hearst Magazines can be proud of over the last five years. At the top of the list I would certainly put our global acquisition four years ago of Hachette.

On any particular failure he encountered over the years:
This one was my idea, so I’ll take full responsibility for this failure. About three or four years ago, thinking about the strength of our Super brand in Cosmo and how it could be extended, we thought we would create a digital-only magazine called Cosmo for Guys.

On his strategy of keeping print at the forefront while exploring the digital possibilities:
It’s obvious; first and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year. We talked about being unbound and we live those words and the way we think of unbound is a deep commitment to print, but a deep commitment to the other businesses we are developing off of these legendary print titles.

On any doubts he may have had regarding the “unbound” formula:
We never had any doubts in totality. At any given time we might have a brand or two around the world, but that’s fine; that’s a different decision. That would be a brand business decision, but we never had any doubts about the medium itself. I sleep very well at night running a company that has substantial print revenues and growing digital revenues. We have to execute well, but we never had any core doubts about the business. We’ll be publishing our fashion brands ten years from now, twenty years from now and thirty years from now without a doubt.

On why he believes Hearst magazines, such as Dr. Oz The Good Life, HGTV and Food Network are still defying the odds on newsstands: The newsstand is a very complex environment and you have multi layers of issues affecting the channel. I’m not surprised that our new brands have done so well; people like new media brands. There’s obviously a strong interest in the new. People like new TV shows, new films, new books and new recorded music. And magazines are all a part of that.

On whether he can ever envision the United States without newsstands:
In airports and bookstores and places like that, absolutely not. However with the bookstores, I’m not going to make a prediction about them; I’ll let you do that. But especially in transportation areas; people find that magazines are a very popular way of entertaining themselves while traveling. So certainly, magazine-buying will always be a part of the travel experience.

On Hearst’s bookazine future:
I can say our bookazine strategy has probably been the least developed. That said, give us another 90 days and you will see an announcement of our bookazine strategy which will be more ambitious going forward than it has been in the last couple of years. Stay tuned.

On the reasoning behind the freemium magazine TrendingNY:
As you know we have a global business and in the U.K. these freemium magazines occupy a really lively part of the marketplace, where they have ShortList, Stylist, and Time Out New York is in that space. And these are handsome products that are well-supported by advertisers. Trending is our way of winging into that and getting a sense of how that market operates. And how we can build ad support and physically get magazines out into people’s hands. So, we’re very happy with it.

On whether he believes the advertising pendulum is swinging back toward print: I think it goes by category and if you look at the PIB data, you’ll find some categories that have done very well and have been strong, but then some that have been weak. I would say that we do find areas for our print business where our titles have done great year over year.

On the power of the magazine cover:
There’s no denying the power of a magazine cover. They are coveted by newsmakers, film stars and others that have important stories to share. We think the Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner coup is a triumph for the entire magazine industry. I’m pleased for my former colleagues at Condè Nast, but it’s a genius move for the whole business by showing the power of a single magazine cover which convened a very large audience. It’s nice to see this validated in such a public way.

On the major stumbling block he’s faced in the last five years:
The only thing that frustrates me is we are blessed with having a broad, complex global business and time is extremely valuable. By the end of the week, I’ve probably only gotten 70% completed of what I wanted to get done in any given week. What is my frustration? It’s that we have greater ambitions and more things that we want to do than our senior leadership has time to get done in any given week or month.

On his most pleasant moment: I’m blessed. For me, working with our creative staff is the very best part of my job. Being close to the creative process and watching what they do, supporting what they do and protecting what they do, that’s what I get the most satisfaction from.

On anything else he’d like to add:
I’m just so grateful for everything the organization has done in a relatively short period of time. Doing a billion dollar acquisition, buying two business-to-business companies; we have both our iCrossing digital marketing agency, as well as in September 2014 we added an adjacency to our CDS business called Kubra, another payments company, and the magazines that we’ve launched, along with the digital innovations that we’ve done; I’m just very grateful for our growth. While I’m part of the process; it is brought about by the people who implement these great moves and I couldn’t be happier with them.

On what keeps him up at night:
I don’t want to come across as cavalier, but nothing. It’s not that in any given day or week we’re not without our problems, of course we have them. But my experience has shown that a group of executives, aggregating their experience and wisdom have a pretty good track record when it comes to solving problems.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ exclusive conversation with David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines.

The Hearst Tower (Headquarters of Hearst Magazines) on 8th Ave. in New York City.

The Hearst Tower (Headquarters of Hearst Magazines) on 8th Ave. in New York City.

Samir Husni: This month, June, is your fifth anniversary with Hearst. My first question is can you give me a five-year report, maybe the three most successful accomplishments you’ve had and, just to keep it on the humble side, one failure?

David Carey: Keep in mind, and I want to be very clear about this; when I say “my” most successful accomplishments, the hard work is done by a great leadership team. The things that we’re most proud of have been done by a group of very talented individuals. By no means did David Carey do these things alone. It was David Carey and a cast of hundreds. I always hate it when I hear senior executives say, “I did this” or “I did that,” the right answer here is “we” with our senior leadership team. We are partners in the great innovation of this business.

There are many things that Hearst Magazines can be proud of over the last five years. At the top of the list I would certainly put our global acquisition four years ago of Hachette. We acquired 100 businesses in ten countries with 5,000 employees. So, you talk about a real Herculean integration task, integrating them into the Hearst culture to add value to their businesses. Our global team did simply an amazing job of that. I would say 90 days in everyone was just totally a part of the group.

If you would have asked me the day before we closed about what was ahead of us, I would have admitted to some anxiety. All over the world it was lots of people that we didn’t know and we just leaped headfirst into that first 100 days and I have to say, not only in terms of the cultural integration, but the business performance with the businesses that we acquired when Hachette owned them, were lackluster within the U.S. structure. These businesses now are just doing great; I can’t share the financials, but I can tell you it has been a grand slam homerun with these businesses. And that’s at the top of the list. And really, great credit to our integration teams all over the world, because there is a certain style at Hearst where we respect the individuals, so going through that was quite tricky.

I am very proud of what the team and our organization have done with our digital strategy, of course. We operate now with a single, global digital strategy. We’ve seen explosive audience growth; we’ve launched new digital businesses in Nigeria and other places that we’ve never existed before. And we’re very proud of that.

And of course, our continued commitment to new magazines, which during the five years, Food Network was launched by Cathie (Black) and Michael (Clinton) and is of course a great star. HGTV has been a terrific business, and we’re a year or so into Dr. Oz; now we’re thinking about what comes next. All of those we’re very proud of and the teams have done a spectacular job with them.

But not everything has worked. As you’ve reported before, we believe in failing fast. We’ve tried things and we don‘t go out of our way to publicize our failures, but there have been some and there should be some.

This one was my idea, so I’ll take full responsibility for this failure. About three or four years ago, thinking about the strength of our Super brand in Cosmo and how it could be extended, we thought we would create a digital-only magazine called Cosmo for Guys, Kate White had created it; you subscribed to it online. Where a guy would never go up and buy Cosmo on the newsstand, if there was a magazine that kind of explained women that would be very appealing to men.

So, we must have published either seven or eight editions and I thought it was a great, creative product, but it failed to find an audience. Then we shut it down. We failed fast; we had an interesting concept; we thought it was going to win and we did some clever promotion around it, but it didn’t scale and by its first anniversary we shut it down. And I can tell you, my clever idea did not work.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) I think they actually published the whole year, otherwise they would have refunded my money. They published 12 issues; I still have them on my iPad. (Laughs again)

David Carey: (Laughs too) Maybe they did. Sadly, you were among the small population of people who subscribed to it.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) I really wasn’t the audience, but…

David Carey: Our audience was under 10,000. It was not enough to have a business. It was clever and fun and it was also a part of the experimentation that we did within the ad space, so I’m proud we did it; we lost a little bit of money, but that also credits our ability to shut something down that isn’t working and move on. Not everything you’ll do within a company is going to work, so I certainly don’t mind talking about that being a miss.

Samir Husni: You and the team are investing in print, but still exploring digital by entering and creating so many digital initiatives. Five or six years ago everyone in our business was saying print is dead and the future is digital or the future is the tablet. Now we’re hearing the reverse; we’re hearing tablets are dead; the homepage is dead and now everything is mobile. But you and your team had the foresight to never ignore print, instead you continued to enhance print and continued to launch new magazines, all the while keeping digital in the forefront as well. What made you and your team go with that strategy?

David Carey: It’s obvious; first and foremost our print is a very good business all around the world. We have profits that we want to generate for our parent company and we’re good at publishing magazines. And so we believe in them; we have a portfolio of titles. In any given year we’ll have brands like Town & Country and Woman’s Day that are having terrific years and then sometimes you have others that have an off year.

We like our portfolio approach across geographies, across audiences and across ad categories. So we recognize, as I say, the key to being a successful publisher today is to have a great deal of dexterity. And so we know that we have to be incredibly skilled at digital publishing and incredibly skilled at print publishing and to do so simultaneously. And that requires having the right teams in place.

Our print teams on the new magazines are led by Ellen Levine, who’s such a genius at creating these new products and then we brought in a group of digital entrepreneurs like Troy Young to lead our digital efforts. We don’t see these two platforms as opposing, we see them as complimentary businesses and they require the right executives to be in charge of them.

We’ve never believed print is dead. We hope to launch in the U.S., as I said, new print magazines every 24 months. And we have ideas that we could do it more often, but we want to make sure that we can devote sufficient corporate attention for at least two years before we bring on the next business, so we pace ourselves to make sure that our management focus isn’t diluted. And we’re looking at new print magazines all over the world.

I know that it’s easy for a pundit to write the “Print is Dead” headline, but we love the fact that you’re reading and you’ve been reporting a number of digital brands that are now launching print components, such as C/Net and others. We recognize for marketers and for these brands the value of this physical media that lives alongside television and digital and other forms of communication. So, we get it. Our strategy is as committed as it can be and we refer to it, and you saw the debut of this position four years ago when we bought Hachette. We talked about being unbound and we live those words and the way we think of unbound is a deep commitment to print, but a deep commitment to the other businesses we are developing off of these legendary print titles.

Samir Husni: Did you ever have any doubts that the “unbound” formula would work as opposed to what other media companies were doing by placing all their bets on digital?

David Carey: We never had any doubts in totality. At any given time we might have a brand or two around the world, but that’s fine; that’s a different decision. That would be a brand business decision, but we never had any doubts about the medium itself. I sleep very well at night running a company that has substantial print revenues and growing digital revenues. We have to execute well, but we never had any core doubts about the business. We’ll be publishing our fashion brands ten years from now, twenty years from now and thirty years from now without a doubt.

Samir Husni: Even on the newsstands, David, with the three new titles from the last five years, Food Network, HGTV and Dr. Oz The Good Life, your newsstand sales are bucking the trends. When we hear that there’s a decline of 50%, yet Dr. Oz The Good Life sold out on the newsstands, and Food Network and HGTV when they were launched and until now, I think Food Network is presently the second largest-selling monthly magazine on the newsstands; why do you think those magazines did so well and are still doing well and also why do you think the industry doesn’t promote these success stories?

David Carey: The newsstand is a very complex environment and you have multi layers of issues affecting the channel. I’m not surprised that our new brands have done so well; people like new media brands. There’s obviously a strong interest in the new. People like new TV shows, new films, new books and new recorded music. And magazines are all a part of that.

We’re not surprised in any way to see these brands go from zero to two or 300,000 virtually overnight. The consumer appetite for new magazines is high. And we’ve certainly built nice businesses against that.

Samir Husni: And all of these new businesses that you’ve started were actually begun on the newsstands.

David Carey: In some cases, it’s a hybrid. For Oz, we had some issues that were bagged with First magazines, but the newsstands are a very important piece of it. We were testing direct mail solicitations at the same time, so that we could get a wide census.

For all of our new magazines we publish two issues and these are live tests; we put copies out on the newsstands and we also do a lot of direct mail. So that we can replicate what it might look like as a real business. We only budget two issues and then we stop, look at the results and go from there.

Samir Husni: Can you ever envision America without newsstands?

David Carey: In airports and bookstores and places like that, absolutely not. However with the bookstores, I’m not going to make a prediction about them; I’ll let you do that. But especially in transportation areas; people find that magazines are a very popular way of entertaining themselves while traveling. So certainly, magazine-buying will always be a part of the travel experience.

Samir Husni: What about bookazines? I interviewed Tony Romando of Topix Media Lab recently and of course all he publishes are bookazines. He’s putting three bookazines on the newsstands every week; Time Inc. is putting three to four bookazines each week; Meredith is also doing that; are we going to see Hearst jumping onto the bookazine bandwagon en masse?

David Carey: I can say our bookazine strategy has probably been the least developed. That said, give us another 90 days and you will see an announcement of our bookazine strategy which will be more ambitious going forward than it has been in the last couple of years. Stay tuned. We have several that are underway, but I can’t reveal yet how we’re going to launch them.

Samir Husni: After testing four issues, your latest launch is TrendingNY, the freemium magazine. Can you tell me a little bit about the reasoning behind the magazine?

David Carey: As you know we have a global business and in the U.K. these freemium magazines occupy a really lively part of the marketplace, where they have ShortList, Stylist, and Time Out New York is in that space. And these are handsome products that are well-supported by advertisers.

Trending is our way of winging into that and getting a sense of how that market operates. And how we can build ad support and physically get magazines out into people’s hands. So, we’re very happy with it.

It is an R&D project for us, let’s be clear, but we like the way we’re learning the physical street distribution. It’s really developing new skills for the whole company. And it’s skills that we see in other markets. In the U.S., this freemium market isn’t as well-developed, but in the U.K. in a matter of years, it became a really acknowledged and normal part of the media ecosystem. We’re hoping to explore Trending and it’s our way of playing in that space.

Samir Husni: We hear about advertisers leaving print and that you can’t depend on advertising anymore to support your print product, yet we see Hearst launching Trending where all the revenue is strictly coming from advertising. If we visualize advertising as the pendulum of a clock; is the pendulum swinging back toward print a little bit or it’s still stuck in the digital time warp?

David Carey: I think it goes by category and if you look at the PIB data, you’ll find some categories that have done very well and have been strong, but then some that have been weak. I would say that we do find areas for our print business where our titles have done great year over year. Luxury and high-end have been especially robust in every way. And that’s a category that has strongly supported print and our product business is much stronger now than it has been. So, we’re happy about that.

But there are other categories where we have faced questions where magazines have struggled in the media mix, sometimes the digital and sometimes the television. I think you have to break it down into different ad categories overall. So we have ad categories that we think are performing great and then we have others that we think we can still improve.

Samir Husni: We all have seen what happened recently with the Caitlyn Jenner story.

David Carey: Yes and what a great endorsement for the power of a magazine cover.

Samir Husni: And that’s my next question to you, David; in this day and age where everybody tells us that we live in a digital age, and believe me I know it too, my Apple watch is around my wrist now; why do you think her being on the cover of a print magazine, Vanity Fair, created such a powerful impact, as opposed to the interview she gave on ABC?

David Carey: Well, there’s no denying the power of a magazine cover. They are coveted by newsmakers, film stars and others that have important stories to share. We think the Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner coup is a triumph for the entire magazine industry. I’m pleased for my former colleagues at Condè Nast, but it’s a genius move for the whole business by showing the power of a single magazine cover which convened a very large audience. It’s nice to see this validated in such a public way.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block for you in the last five years and how did you overcome it?

David Carey: The only thing that frustrates me is we are blessed with having a broad, complex global business and time is extremely valuable. By the end of the week, I’ve probably only gotten 70% completed of what I wanted to get done in any given week. What is my frustration? It’s that we have greater ambitions and more things that we want to do than our senior leadership has time to get done in any given week or month. So that’s always our focus; how do we manage that to our resources?

We, the organization, have accomplished a great deal in five years. We’ve doubled the size of the magazine company through organic growth, through acquisitions and launches. The company is twice the size today than it was five years ago.

But we have a long list of things that we want to accomplish, so that’s the only stumbling block. If I look back over the last five years, I’m very proud of what we’ve gotten done, but we know we still have so much more to do.

Samir Husni: And if you could pen the most pleasant moment in those five years; what would it be?

David Carey: I’m blessed. For me, working with our creative staff is the very best part of my job. When I see one of our teams, editorial teams, create a new product or create an issue, these are kind of like TV shows; they have 10 or 12 times per year that they get to enter their creativity. And I love it when people take creative risks and they’re validated by the marketplace and they get a real hit.

Being close to the creative process and watching what they do, supporting what they do and protecting what they do, that’s what I get the most satisfaction from.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

David Carey: I’m just so grateful for everything the organization has done in a relatively short period of time. Doing a billion dollar acquisition, buying two business-to-business companies; we have both our iCrossing digital marketing agency, as well as in September 2014 we added an adjacency to our CDS business called Kubra, another payments company, and the magazines that we’ve launched, along with the digital innovations that we’ve done; I’m just very grateful for our growth. While I’m part of the process; it is brought about by the people who implement these great moves and I couldn’t be happier with them.

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

David Carey: I don’t want to come across as cavalier, but nothing. It’s not that in any given day or week we’re not without our problems, of course we have them. But my experience has shown that a group of executives, aggregating their experience and wisdom have a pretty good track record when it comes to solving problems.

I know sometimes if we do have a challenge, we don’t get it solved in one day, but given enough time, you get it to the right place in the majority of situations. Again, I sleep well at night because I know that there’s always an answer there some place, sometimes it’s not as immediately inherent as you’d like it to be, but it’s always there. I’m just lucky to be a part of a team that has accomplished so much.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Forbes And The BrandVoice Match-Making: Mark Howard, Forbes’ Chief Revenue Officer And Chief Match-Maker Explains And Elaborates… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview.

June 5, 2015

“The types of content pieces that are created in the magazine, the opportunities that it affords us from an editorial perspective to continue to celebrate the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial capitalism around the world that the world is increasingly moving to a place where those are the types of people that do tell the stories of business; it gives us access in a way that we would not have with just digital.” Mark Howard

forbes cover 061515Before native advertising, product placement and content marketing were terms that some holier-than-thou media critics and magazine pontiffs were using to cast aspersions and judgements on those that were practicing the model, Forbes Media was busy perfecting it. From content stories that were brand-produced, with their highly successful BrandVoice business model, to custom publishing done to an art form, Forbes has been leading the way in honoring their reader’s intelligence to know the difference between editorial and advertorial, with the act of transparency at the forefront of everything they do.

Mark Howard is chief revenue officer of Forbes and knows better than anyone that innovation and creative thinking when it comes to the execution of ideas is critical to the survival of any magazine media company in today’s digital world.

I recently spoke with Mark about the success of BrandVoice, the future of Forbes and where he saw the company heading. It was a very open and honest discussion about the idea of native advertising and content marketing that may have some rethinking their position on the subject. The transparent and highly savvy execution of Forbes’ business model presents another alternative to the revenues of legacies and offers a vision for the future many could use.

So, I hope you enjoy this illuminating conversation with Mark Howard, CRO, Forbes Media. And if you keep an open mind when it comes to something other mediums have been doing for generations; you may be surprised at the possibilities.

But first, the sound-bites:

HowardMarkOn anything negative he can visualize from the BrandVoice concept of telling different brand stories from the business world on Forbes’ covers: We do not and I’ll explain why. For many, many years we’ve believed that the cover of the magazine is the front door of the brand. For five years now, we’ve been embracing a people-centric cover strategy where individuals grace the cover of our magazine. And coinciding with that philosophy, five years ago we also launched the concept of BrandVoice, where brands tell stories through their lenses and from their points of view from the business world.

On why there seems to be a different set of rules for magazine media from other platforms when it comes to native advertising and product placement: I think for many years there were a set of rules that people for the most part followed, in terms of best practices for the industry. And quite frankly, I think that the times progressed faster than those rules, so we lived in an interim period where the way consumers behaved and certainly the way that those other mediums evolved was just quicker when it came to best business practices.

On the fact the Forbes’ model has been leading the way in programmatic buying and native advertising before anyone else was even talking about it: You know I think the driving force behind all of this was really when the Forbes family took a chance and acquired True/Slant, which was of course created by Lewis DVorkin, who has since stayed on and really transformed the overall vision for Forbes media.

On whether he thinks other media companies may replicate the Forbes model: In various forms there have been a lot of other companies that have replicated either digitally or in print the expansion of contributor-based content creation. I don’t think very many of them, certainly none that have the brand cache of a Forbes; none of the other brands at our level necessarily tout it the way that we do, where we put it front and center and we talk about the fact that the economics of content creation were broken and disruptions like digital media and programmatic media and social media were changing the way that you had to think about your business.

On whether he believes Forbes could have reached its present 70% digital revenue without a print component: When you think about the Forbes brand and you think about our history and the equity that the Forbes name carries in the marketplace; that has absolutely given us an opportunity to build our digital business in a way that we would not have been able to do otherwise without it.

On whether he can ever envision Forbes media without a printed Forbes magazine: Today, no, and in the near future, no, absolutely not. The types of content pieces that are created in the magazine, the opportunities that it affords us from an editorial perspective to continue to celebrate the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial capitalism around the world that the world is increasingly moving to a place where those are the types of people that do tell the stories of business; it gives us access in a way that we would not have with just digital.

On the fear that a smaller company will look at Forbes business model and start selling their covers as cover stories: It’s always possible. I think what it will come down to is what value do readers place on that brand? If they’re starting from scratch, they don’t have the equity in the marketplace that a Forbes does. They certainly don’t have the cache.

On the definition of the term BrandVoice in the world of advertising today: It’s content that’s told in the voice of the brand, not something that’s been created necessarily in the Forbes voice on behalf of a brand.

On the difference between BrandVoice and the whole genre of content marketing and custom publishing: Obviously, custom publishing still represents a lot of business for us as well. That’s actually doing particularly well, which is exciting for us. But I think the big difference is the content is intended to read more like an article or be presented as an infographic or an online post in the same sort of format and read the same way that editorial content would be presented.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face: I inherited the business at a time when the digital revenue had just, at that point, equaled print revenue. And of course, digital was continuing to grow. The big challenges in the marketplace surrounding the plateauing or slight decline overall of print advertising of course is something that we addressed as well as the continued migration of digital ad dollars in the programmatic.

On the fact that everything Forbes has done to improve their model and digital business has been with an eye on their print component as well: You’re absolutely right. We have tremendous readership; in fact, we’re at our all-time high in terms of average issue readership, according to MRI, with essentially seven million readers per issue. We actually had with our Billionaire’s issue, which was the last issue that was reported on; we had 7.4 million readers, which was the largest readership of an issue since 2009.

On media critic’s reactions, on a scale from one to ten, on Forbes’ BrandVoice model – ten being the opinion that Forbes sold out: In 2010 when we first launched this, I would say the reaction was a 10. There are articles online about how Forbes had officially sold itself out and this was the beginning of the end of premiere journalism. And the reaction was pretty intense.

On what he would tell Mr. Magazine™ a year from now about Forbes if they were having a conversation: I would tell you that the way in which we’ve used technology and design in both print and digital could further expand the way that brands are telling stories and creating content on Forbes.com and in Forbes magazine.

On anything else he’d like to add: All of these partners are looking at us as cross platforms, integrated partnerships for them. And I think that that’s really where we’re going to continue to see high value for our ability to work with which ever brands; when we can leverage live events featuring the content or at least content ideas; where we can use the magazine to beautifully lay out data that a brand is able to provide for our readership, in context with the flow of the book.

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest thing that I’m thinking about is mobile. It’s mobile and it’s also how do we continue to make sure that we’re quantifying value of the print product.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mark Howard, Chief Revenue Officer, Forbes Media.

Samir Husni: Lately, magazine covers seem to have become very hot, most recently the Vanity Fair cover with Caitlyn Jenner comes to mind. No other medium that I can think of can deliver a topic with the same impact as a magazine cover. And when it comes to the cover of Forbes and what you’ve done with the NorthWestern Mutual voice; do you see anything negative that can result from that move?

AT&T on second cover 012014 Mark Howard: We do not and I’ll explain why. For many, many years we’ve believed that the cover of the magazine is the front door of the brand. For five years now, we’ve been embracing a people-centric cover strategy where individuals grace the cover of our magazine. And we think that it’s reflective of the way that we tell the stories of business through the lens of individuals who are doing interesting and amazing things in the world.

And coinciding with that philosophy, five years ago we also launched the concept of BrandVoice, where brands tell stories through their lenses and from their points of view from the business world. And because we’ve been consistent, in terms of the way that we’ve been presenting our content, labeling our content and calling out that material on the table of contents, as we’ve moved into this year and we had the second cover of the magazine, which was an AT&T BrandVoice, then in the following issue, the retirement guide; Fidelity actually got called out as part of our retirement package on the cover with their BrandVoice.

And now the execution with NorthWestern Mutual, which was a content experience that was very consistent with our Top Women’s issue; we feel that there’s a consistency here, in terms of the way that we’ve developed this program over the last few years and then their inclusion on the cover we believe fits with that concept of being fully transparent, connected with the issue seen, but also separated and identified so that the consumer knows that it’s different from a Forbes editorial product.

Samir Husni: For years other platforms such as television and movies have used the brand voice, have put product placement, native advertising, you name it, into their different environments; why is it when it comes to magazines, and anytime I refer to the word magazine I mean the printed product, why are we treated differently do you think?

Mark Howard: I think for many years there were a set of rules that people for the most part followed, in terms of best practices for the industry. And quite frankly, I think that the times progressed faster than those rules, so we lived in an interim period where the way consumers behaved and certainly the way that those other mediums evolved was just quicker when it came to best business practices.

And so I think it took a number of different executions and publishers to break beyond the governing rules that had existed for many decades and do things that weren’t necessarily accepted as being something the industry as a whole was comfortable with, but like any change I think somebody has got to go first and do things that are reflective of the times that we live in and the fact that consumers are able to comprehend the difference between an ad and editorial.

Samir Husni: For five years now you and Forbes have been leading that revenue strategy based on programmatic buying and native advertising even before anybody else was talking about it. What prepared you from your background to take this leading role and do you think it would have worked at any other media company other than Forbes?

Mark Howard: That’s a great question. You know I think the driving force behind all of this was really when the Forbes family took a chance and acquired True/Slant, which was of course created by Lewis DVorkin, who has since stayed on and really transformed the overall vision for Forbes media.

He really set out with this notion that he’s going to disrupt business journalism and that the tools of the web and the behaviors of consumers as a result of living their lives on the web, increasingly the social web, were capable of experiencing a different type of content-based media company.

Lewis came and shared that vision and at that time, 2009 and 2010, with all the challenges businesses were facing, but especially the business press. The market was right for disruption and Forbes being an independent, at that time family-owned business, we always celebrated that concept of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurism, so it was time for us to also embrace it ourselves, in terms of our own business. That was something that inspired a lot of people. It really did take somebody like Lewis who had a vision, understood where he wanted to go with it and could very clearly articulate that.

I think if you look at all of his posts dating back to 2010; he published our blueprint for what we were doing, not just what we had already done, but also looking forward. And he was fully transparent to anyone who read him about where we were going and that form of communication for the individuals, myself included, who were part of it at Forbes, was very inspiring. We really were a part of a change that was happening with a model that had yet to be proven, but it was absolutely a model that was differentiated.

Samir Husni: Do you expect that model to now be replicated by other magazine companies?

Mark Howard: In various forms there have been a lot of other companies that have replicated either digitally or in print the expansion of contributor-based content creation. I don’t think very many of them, certainly none that have the brand cache of a Forbes; none of the other brands at our level necessarily tout it the way that we do, where we put it front and center and we talk about the fact that the economics of content creation were broken and disruptions like digital media and programmatic media and social media were changing the way that you had to think about your business.

But I think that you see varying degrees of it and I think you see with a lot of the new media that they’re building similar types of businesses knowing that they’re not tied to some of the legacy infrastructure that exists with a lot of traditional companies.

The model has proven itself in that our print business has really stabilized, which is exciting. We’ve been able to hold where we are, and yet the digital business now represents about 70% of our revenue and we’re not in the situation some of the other traditional media companies and traditional publishers are, where they’re trying to make the lead to sustainable growth business; we’ve already made that transition and are profitable and are continuing to grow at a significant clip every year.

Samir Husni: Do you think you could have reached 70% digital revenue without the print component of Forbes as the brand’s cornerstone?

Mark Howard: When you think about the Forbes brand and you think about our history and the equity that the Forbes name carries in the marketplace; that has absolutely given us an opportunity to build our digital business in a way that we would not have been able to do otherwise without it. There is absolutely an expectation around quality of content, quality of organization and quality of audience that comes when you have a background like we do. And that does not necessarily exit with the new media startup companies. So, yes, I think it played a significant part in what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Samir Husni: Can you imagine Forbes media without a printed Forbes magazine?

Mark Howard: Today, no, and in the near future, no, absolutely not. The types of content pieces that are created in the magazine, the opportunities that it affords us from an editorial perspective to continue to celebrate the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial capitalism around the world that the world is increasingly moving to a place where those are the types of people that do tell the stories of business; it gives us access in a way that we would not have with just digital.

And I also think that it gives us access to editorial talent that we might not necessarily get if we only had a digital property.

Samir Husni: One CEO of a media company was telling me that with the legacy brands it’s so hard to change. His thoughts were it’s easier to kill a legacy brand than start something new because with something new you can do so many different things that you can’t do with a legacy. But when you look at Forbes and what you’ve done; in fact, investing in the print editions and launching international editions all over the world; do you think that there’s a fear that a smaller company or an entrepreneur will look at your model and start actually selling their covers for cover stories?

Mark Howard: It’s always possible. I think what it will come down to is what value do readers place on that brand? If they’re starting from scratch, they don’t have the equity in the marketplace that a Forbes does. They certainly don’t have the cache.

From a reader’s perspective, I think the notion of being on the cover of Forbes magazine can carry such great weight from a business and cultural perspective that it would be very hard for somebody else to be able to replicate that. Now, would I see a place where other startups would take that approach and offer that? Certainly. But would consumers be accepting of that? Probably, as long as they understood that that’s why that individual or that company was placed there. Then it would come down to the merits of the story and if the story behind it was something that was relevant to whatever brand was telling that story, then you’re on to something.

But the worst thing is when your integration of the advertiser isn’t authentic to the way that your brand is positioned in the expectations of your readers.

Samir Husni: Define for me the term BrandVoice in the world of advertising today.

Mark Howard: The quick history is when we launched it as a product in 2010 it was called AdVoice, but AdVoice wasn’t an accurate description of what it is. It wasn’t intended to be an advertisement or advertorial; it was intended to be content told through the voice of a brand.

Almost three years ago there was a team: Lewis DVorkin, myself, Meredith Levien, when she was still at Forbes, Andrea Stegall, who was on Lewis’s team and then of course, with the guidance of Mike Perlis, our CEO, we decided in order to more accurately describe what the product is we were going to change the name from AdVoice to BrandVoice, which has been a tremendous success for us.

To boil it all down and answer your question, it’s content that’s told in the voice of the brand, not something that’s been created necessarily in the Forbes voice on behalf of a brand. And we believe that more and more brands are looking to tell good stories and connect with consumers through the content, but we really want the stories that are being told to feel like they’re coming from that brand, but they need to be nuanced so that’s it’s very appropriate to be consumed on Forbes or in Forbes magazine.

Samir Husni: I know this is a very obvious question and I know what you’re going to tell me, but how is this different from the whole genre of content marketing and custom publishing?

Mark Howard: Obviously, custom publishing still represents a lot of business for us as well. That’s actually doing particularly well, which is exciting for us. But I think the big difference is the content is intended to read more like an article or be presented as an infographic or an online post in the same sort of format and read the same way that editorial content would be presented.

The custom content still reads very much brand-centric, whereas the BrandVoice tells the story of the brand and its products. The BrandVoice is telling the story of the business marketplace or finance marketplace through the lens of the brand, but not necessarily about them.

It’s a nuance thing and sort of in the eyes of the beholder, but I think the other big difference is within context. So, a BrandVoice program, if you look at it in the magazine, always runs within relevant editorial content. An advertorial or a special section is its own thing that’s siloed in the magazine and is not really working to the flow of the content.

Same thing on the website; each of the brands select which editorial stream they want their content to flow through. So, if it’s an article by SAP on cloud computing, they would select something in our cloud computing stream; NorthWestern Mutual would select retirement or one of the other relevant investing streams.

It’s all about the contextual discovery of the content as well as the nuance approach to how it reads more about a topic as opposed to about a brand, if it’s going to be BrandVoice.

Samir Husni: Mark, since you assumed the job as chief revenue officer; what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Mark Howard: I inherited the business at a time when the digital revenue had just, at that point, equaled print revenue. And of course, digital was continuing to grow. The big challenges in the marketplace surrounding the plateauing or slight decline overall of print advertising of course is something that we addressed as well as the continued migration of digital ad dollars in the programmatic.

And then increasingly the biggest issue for all publishers is how consumers are now finding and consuming content more and more on mobile devices and yet, a brand advertising marketplace does not yet fully exist to capitalize on that traffic. So, there is very much a macro of factors that are weighing in on us that we’re addressing.

But to your point; we were very aggressive in 2010 on building out the BrandVoice product and creating a new revenue stream, even very aggressive since 2012 in the first quarter and hyper-aggressive with programmatic. And both of those debts have paid off and have continued to stay the course for the rest of our business and helped us to achieve the gross success that we have.

Samir Husni: One of Lewis’s famous quotes when I interviewed him when he was visiting with us here at the University of Mississippi was: “We do not have a magazine problem; we have an advertising problem,” when referring to the print product. And looking at what Forbes has done; it seems to me that you’ve also enhanced the print product; that all of this digital growth didn’t come at the expense of your print entity, but rather, it’s finding ways to ensure that there will be a future for print in this digital age. Am I right or am I wrong?

fidelity on cover 030215 (2) Mark Howard: You’re absolutely right. There are two things; one is that quote is absolutely correct. We have tremendous readership; in fact, we’re at our all-time high in terms of average issue readership, according to MRI, with essentially seven million readers per issue. We actually had with our Billionaire’s issue, which was the last issue that was reported on; we had 7.4 million readers, which was the largest readership of an issue since 2009.

So, the readership is strong and certainly if you look at the MPA 360 data to look at our overall brand footprint, depending on the given month, we’re either the 4th or 5th largest brand in the entire study, that’s with all magazine brands included. Certainly, the digital has given us exposure to a new audience.

We also think that the unwavering commitment that we’ve had to always represent entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial capitalism and the business world that we live in today, which is all about that, plays true to us as we’ve never had to chase trends or try and reinvent ourselves.

In terms of the print commitment to the product, I think that what’s been spectacular is that the editor of the magazine, Randall Lane, has been very methodical in terms of how he’s evolved the look, feel and flow of the magazine. And while we haven’t done any form of a full-fledged redesign, I think what you would notice is if you laid out an issue from April 2015 to April 2014 and April, the year before that; it’s a very, very different looking product and he puts it together very differently than he used to, but he’s been doing that through a series of small integral changes as opposed to any dramatic shifts, which has resulted in a completely differentiated product that we’re working with right now.

So, it’s been exciting to see that and yet we haven’t necessarily done the things that get some of the big splashes of attention like a full-fledged redesign. But to your point, we have been making very significant investments in photography and design that makes a big difference for the business.

Samir Husni: Since BrandVoice has been in the marketplace; how would you gauge the media critic’s reactions? What has it been on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the opinion that Forbes has sold out and journalism is dead and what in the world is Forbes doing? From your connections, what do you think the reaction has been?

Mark Howard: In 2010 when we first launched this, I would say the reaction was a 10. There are articles online about how Forbes had officially sold itself out and this was the beginning of the end of premiere journalism. And the reaction was pretty intense.

Just a couple of years ago in 2012 when native advertising really came onto the scene, all of those same publications and many of the same reporters were writing stories about how Forbes had created a new line of business understanding the new opportunities of the digital world. And then because everybody, every publisher at that point, had essentially built some form of a native content business; I think that the media world has gotten very comfortable with the various forms that native content comes in, but certainly in January and February, when we did the AT&T and Fidelity covers, people popped back up again. I would put it at a five on that go-round because it involved the cover.

But at the same time, there are also a number of phenomenal posts that said we don’t understand what all this reaction is about; it’s logical and transparent and Forbes has been consistent in the way that they’ve presented themselves over the years. So, that’s why I would put it at a five with this cover, because of the recent cover treatment.

Samir Husni: If you and I are engaged in a conversation one year from now, what would you tell me?

Mark Howard: I would tell you that the way in which we’ve used technology and design in both print and digital could further expand the way that brands are telling stories and creating content on Forbes.com and in Forbes magazine. It’s been very exciting in that a number of very interesting approaches and concepts have been released in the last year.

Samir Husni: Anything else that you’d like to add?

Mark Howard: What’s really exciting for us is that if you look at a partner who has participated in the BrandVoice spread so far this year; you have AT&T, Fidelty, NorthWestern Mutual and ADP in the last issue; we’re taking new approaches to how we’re having their content and usually their data presented.

But more importantly is that all of these partners are looking at us as cross platforms, integrated partnerships for them. And I think that that’s really where we’re going to continue to see high value for our ability to work with which ever brands; when we can leverage live events featuring the content or at least content ideas; where we can use the magazine to beautifully lay out data that a brand is able to provide for our readership, in context with the flow of the book.

We’re starting to see a lot more interest in brands in that level of equal partnerships and that’s very promising for media overall, especially print. And these high impact executions are important. We’re very excited. We have a whole queue of content now that we’re working on and I think you’re going to continue to see the evolution of what you have with BrandVoice, especially in print today, but digital as well. And you’re going to continue to see us push through with creative concepts that hopefully will be very interesting to the readers and will allow us to bring it forward with different advertisers.

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

Mark Howard: The biggest thing that I’m thinking about is mobile. It’s mobile and it’s also how do we continue to make sure that we’re quantifying value of the print product. If we can continue to build more data stats per print and our current readership, then that’s helpful and really the big frontier is a mobile world where most of the monetization takes place with apps and direct response. How do brands break through and use the medium as a brand-building platform and how do we as a publisher continue to create opportunity to do so.

And certainly, BrandVoice, because it’s optimized for mobile and it’s the first step in that process, but I really think that we’re at the first stages of figuring all of that out.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Digging ‘Print Is Dead’s’ Grave – Sounds Like Fun. A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

June 3, 2015

Photo illustration of the dearly departed "PRINT IS DEAD" by Darren Sanefski.

Photo illustration of the dearly departed “PRINT IS DEAD” by Darren Sanefski.

From http://transom.org/2011/four-feet-under/ Picture used for illustration from http://transom.org/2011/four-feet-under/%5B/caption%5D I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the self-appointed media critics and analysts that seem to be coming out of the woodwork today when it comes to the vital signs of American magazines and magazine media. From a slight pulse to no pulse, these “chosen” ones have deemed it their mission in life to report negatively on the heart rate of magazines and magazine media.

I’m not sure when the pontificators of print’s demise were put upon their lofty thrones, or who dubbed them kings and queens of the print-is-dying court, but nevertheless, they know who they are, no matter how much they claimed to have never said ‘print is dead.’ I am sick and tired of reading and hearing their opinions on what I should think and how I should interpret what’s happening in the magazine industry today.

Not even in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined myself in a position where I could commandingly influence a CEO, an editor, or a magazine publisher on what they should be reading or how they should be running their company. I consult with them and offer my opinions, but never try to bewitch them to agree. Needless to say that with all my years of and in education, with my doctorate and all of my life’s studies, I have not considered that ability among my many talents.

I have always tried to be the bearer of positivity, rather than negativity when it comes to the status and health of magazines and magazine media. True, sometimes when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, be careful, because it could be the train coming. However, more often than not that scenario is the exception, rather than the rule. Usually, light doesn’t mean darkness; usually light is self-explanatory, it means light. Hope. Possibilities. The dark times have been illuminated.

I try never to curse the darkness; you never know what you may discover while you’re stumbling around in there; instead, I try to dig the match out of my pocket and light the candle.

Having said all of this; a few things have taken place over the last few days that motivated this particular justifiable tirade, justifiable because every con has a pro and every action has a reaction and this is mine.

One is the story of Caitlyn Jenner. If you’re a person who knows the media and knows how the media works; was it really a surprise to you that Caitlyn Jenner chose a magazine such as Vanity Fair to release the story and her first pictures to? What other medium could have created the same lasting effect, the same day in and day out, in-your-face exposure as a magazine like Vanity Fair? Every means of communication out there, from television to Internet, was talking about Vanity Fair magazine. Every social media site that digital media has brought into being was consumed with one thing: the subject matter of an ink on paper magazine, a print entity that was lighting the Internet up with more curiosity and concern than the latest pop-up ad from this store or that.

xeyqffdecqgbr9m9dyzz-2 That print publication, Vanity Fair, is as powerful today as it was yesterday, if not more. And the Caitlyn Jenner cover validates that.

Oh, the cynics will cry from their familiar spot at Complaining’s table that we have to be realistic and look at the condition of the newsstands and the numbers. But how often do we need to remind those same cynics (who have also appointed themselves media prophets) that in the United States of America, newsstands are only 8% of the total distribution for regularly published magazines?

I wish those same naysayers would try to tell someone like Tony Romando of Topix Media Lab, who’s making his entire living from the newsstands with his Bookazines, which really are only glorified magazines, that print is in decline or out the door completely. Tony has adapted his business model to the needs and the desires of the American public and it’s working.

I have decided to stop reading all of these opinionated, emotionally driven, power-seeking editorials and comments that continue to tell me how bad off the industry is and will remain, whether it’s circulation revenue in newspapers is starting to be larger than advertising revenue, which by the way should be reason to celebrate, we are finally charging the consumer the fair price for our products.

It was always known that if we created a product that’s worthy of buying, consumers would pay for it, because we’re not just in the content delivery business. The media company as a whole may be a content-generating company, but magazines are much more than content. Magazines are experiences. And the experience that Caitlyn Jenner’s story in Vanity Fair will generate, you can bet will be much more than a five-second click of the mouse.

When I travel overseas and bring back all of these new magazines and first editions; when I talk to these companies’ CEO’s, editors, and publishers and I see the energy and the intriguing responses they have for how media is changing; I never hear that negativity or that phrase: Print is dead or dying.

Needless to say, for those of us, including myself, who don’t have a horse in this race; I feel if we don’t have anything good to say, then we should keep our mouths shut. That’s just plain common sense. If we can’t edify the industry that we all claim to love; if our opinions shed misplaced doubt and negativity on the very profession that allows us to be talking about this today; then we should all stay quiet.

Look at any other medium, any other platform, any other product, and tell me where do you find as much negativism, as many energy-draining articles and predictions about an industry where every CEO you’ve spoken with tells you they’re still making money, good money, and if they start something that doesn’t work, they kill it and start something else. And that has always been the mantra of the magazine business. The death of one publication doesn’t mean the death of an industry. If so, when they removed your favorite TV program; your entire television experience was over. I guess you just haven’t realized it yet.

I am a student of the newsstands; I am a student of the streets; I am someone who spends almost $30, 000 a year buying magazines from the newsstands. I’m not just writing fiction. I live the newsstands; I walk it everyday. I purchase magazines every single day. My monthly magazine bill is larger than my monthly food bill.

And when I see those negative comments, I think about all of the digital entities that have either added a print component for the first time or brought one back from the grave. People like Creativ Magazine, who were digital before print; C-Net; Pitchfork Review, Porter and the list goes on and on. How do the naysayers of print pigeonhole those people?

Or major publishers who have launched new titles: Bauer’s Simple Grace, National Geographic’s History, Smithsonian’s Journeys and Rodale’s Organic Life, to name a few. These are people who don’t take their money lightly and yet, they’re investing in print. And they’re not listening to the self-appointed media critics? How dare they?

Like many in the publishing world, I will continue to refuse the gravediggers of print as they spout their invitations to join their negativity. And as their shovels toss dirt upon print’s coffin, I’ll refuse to play a part in that as well.

In fact, the only shovel you will ever see Mr. Magazine™ touch is the one that will be used after they lower the lifeless (pun intended) phrase “Print is Dead” into the ground. For that one, I will toss a shovel or two…

Until the next Mr. Magazine Musing…

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Compelling & Visually Addictive – There Are No Rules In Creativity – Only The Realization Of Human Potential – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Blake Brinker, Publisher & Brad Thomas, Editor-In-Chief, Creativ Magazine

June 3, 2015

“How it all worked out was we were seeing so many dynamic people and so many amazing creations and these great efforts in curation and sharing, but we thought, it’s still not enough. We wanted to propagate it further in a way that was almost sacred to people and we thought that magazines were in that category.” Blake Brinker


“I get motivated every day when people come up to us and say, creativity is the most important thing we have and you’re putting it into this beautiful print publication that I can get on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Just wow; what you’re doing is so inspiring and the world needs this, with the things that are happening in the world today, we need something like this to give people hope and optimism. With all the negativity that we hear every day, this is an incredible amount of positivity showcasing people doing absolutely amazing things.” Brad Thomas

Creativ April-1 (2) What can you say about a magazine that literally takes your breath away? One that is so visually and design prolific that your reaction each and every time you pick it up is nothing short of amazing?

Creativ is a concept born from the minds of Blake Brinker and Brad Thomas, publisher and editor-in-chief respectively. The magazine is an extension of their global online network that is serving to integrate print and digital to the acme of their intertwined possibilities.

A showcase for the creativity of the Creativ community; the magazine celebrates the human imagination and originality in tangible form, cradling creativity of all kinds. With every spread between the magazine’s covers, links are offered to the featured artist’s individual portal on Creativ.com. It’s a unique and ingenious gratuity that conjoins the tangible with the conceptual.

I spoke with Blake and Brad recently about the inspiring and wonder-filled magazine and about the celebration of human potential they offer with every issue. Gracious and fun-spirited; the two men offered a glimpse into the Creativ world and their hopes and expectations for the brand’s future.

I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Blake and Brad; the powers-that-be behind Creativ Magazine as you open your mind and let your ‘Creativ’ juices flow. And be sure to watch the two Creativ videos embedded in this blog by the Creativ team… I will not spoil the surprise, but I know you would thank the Creativ team for creating them and me for embedding them in this Mr. Magazine™ interview.

But first, the sound-bites…


Brad Thomas  (left in blue) and Blake Brinker (right in black)

Brad Thomas (left in blue) and Blake Brinker (right in black)

On the Creativ story: (Blake Brinker) Early in my life and pretty much early in Brad’s life, we just developed this fascination around the human potential. And around what makes good people great. What makes some people leave lasting marks on the world? What is it that makes up their character? What are the things that they do and what are the thoughts that they have that enable them to push further and look at the world differently and create things which ultimately make a difference; things that create inspiration and wonder?

On being a bit crazy to start a print magazine after being a digital-only entity first:
(Brad Thomas) (Laughs) I believe we’re just crazy enough to try things that make other people want it. Cheers to the crazy ones, right? (Laughs again) Creative jobs are a little bit crazy; otherwise, we wouldn’t have the iPhones or anything else creative, so I think being crazy to a certain extent is a good thing, because doing what we’re doing, and not even just what we’re doing, but just being an entrepreneur in general, is really a scary thing. You have to be a little naive and a little crazy to even go forward with it.

On why they decided on a print component:
(Blake Brinker) How it all worked out was we were seeing so many dynamic people and so many amazing creations and these great efforts in curation and sharing, but we thought, it’s still not enough. We wanted to propagate it further in a way that was almost sacred to people and we thought that magazines were in that category.

On a major stumbling block they’ve had to face:
(Blake Brinker) The execution; the actual publishing side of it has been a huge stumbling block, a lot more than it was, but thankfully we have a very tendered gentleman that has helped us. He has a lot of history in manufacturing and working with tradesmen and he’s really came in here and helped us take this dream of making this magazine and turned it into what you see today, which is this ultra-high quality piece.

On the decision to start out as a monthly magazine:
(Blake Brinker) We chose to go monthly mainly at first because we really wanted to see what the market opportunity was. Where I think strategically what we realized was, one might be the best idea for us to do in all reality considering the fact that we are attempting to create impact, but bimonthly is actually probably better for us for a certain period of time because it allows us to propagate awareness about each issue much longer, instead of running into that distribution triangle problem that we have for the last month or two.

On the most pleasant surprise they’ve encountered along the way:
(Blake Brinker) Seeing people’s reaction in 2015 when we hand them our quality publication that comes from a company that has a social media platform, seeing that reaction to a tangible product is great. People say: oh, I get it. People who may not have gotten what we were doing before who get it and say: there are 72 pages here; I can see who you guys are and I can see what you’re doing. That was a very pleasant surprise.

On whether they’re stronger believers in the power of print now that they have a print component within their brand:
(Blake Brinker) I think that to some degree we are, but I would say we always understood the power and the beauty of print. And as students of history, we look back at how the printing press changed the world so dramatically and it’s such a special thing to humanity, so I think that it’s on par with this mission that we have.

On what motivates them to get out of bed every morning and say it’s going to be a great day:
(Brad Thomas) I get motivated every day when people come up to us and say, creativity is the most important thing we have and you’re putting it into this beautiful print publication that I can get on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Just wow; what you’re doing is so inspiring and the world needs this, with the things that are happening in the world today, we need something like this to give people hope and optimism.

On what motivates them to get out of bed every morning and say it’s going to be a great day:
(Blake Brinker) I just wanted to say Brad did a really good job of expressing some really good examples that are contextual as to why we wake up in the morning. I’ll just say this from my own level; as entrepreneurs and creatives and as humans, we’re not remembered by how we projected ourselves to be; we’re remembered by the stories of our own paths and by the paths that we’ve forged.

On whom Creativ Magazine would be if they had a magic wand that could turn it into a human being with one strike: (Blake Brinker) Honestly, I would say a combination between Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela.

On anything else they’d like to add:
(Blake Brinker) Just how everything is so all about digital. It makes me think of a science fiction movie where the future is really dark and people are scared and depressed, but there’s an underground movement where people are holding onto art, because it’s so sacred and real. It’s funny how accurate sometimes science fiction can actually be.

On anything else they’d like to add:
(Brad Thomas) Getting people out there to buy the magazine and to support this movement, to support all of these people who are really putting their lives on the line to do something that matters, to realize that they can be a part of effecting change and a part of inspiring curiosity.

On what keeps them up at night:
(Brad Thomas) All of the unknowns. It’s knowing that we feel we have something so incredible here that the world is craving. And it’s the worry that you have something so beautiful and something that you believe people truly want and you just want it to succeed.

On what keeps them up at night:
(Blake Brinker) I think about people who haven’t seen the light. I think about people who are living their lives in a way that they’re being told to and they’re living their lives in ways they don’t even understand because they’re not awake. I think about how good it would feel to help be a part of something that brings them to the light, so to speak.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Blake Brinker, Publisher and Brad Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, Creativ Magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the magazine. It is just beautiful.

Blake Brinker: Thank you very much.

Samir Husni: Blake, allow me to quote from your publisher’s letter; you write: curiosity drives imagination, imagination sparks creativity, and creativity manifests solutions, inspiration, and wonder. Creativity is the realization of human potential.

Tell me the story about Brad approaching you with the idea and how, after two hours in a hot tub, it really began to take shape. And also have you graduated yet; are you an M.D. now?

Blake Brinker: I actually dropped out of medical school to build this company with Brad. It’s one of those choices that you can’t necessarily look back from.

Early in my life, and pretty much early in Brad’s life, we just developed this fascination around the human potential. And around what makes good people great. What makes some people leave lasting marks on the world? What is it that makes up their character? What are the things that they do and what are the thoughts that they have that enable them to push further and look at the world differently and create things which ultimately make a difference; things that create inspiration and wonder?

We just believe that when we look at the attributes of the human condition, that pathway quote that you just read from the publisher’s note; you encounter the pathway to finding ourselves and connecting with each other in a way which breaks down borders, creeds, religion, and race. It connects us in such unique ways; creativity is this invisible cord between people.

When you look back at history, which is something that Brad and I like to do often, you see what happened as a result of the Renaissance, in Europe and throughout the world. You see what happened when a few key members of society engendered artisans and creators and encouraged them and gave them venues for expression. It ultimately connected them and had a real economic impact.

We looked at this new era, with this huge technological boom and we saw the opportunity to create a similar catalyst as was done with the artisans in Italy back in the day. We wanted to create a place that further catalyzed that primal element of ignition, which was the tie between curiosity and the manifestation of imagination, which was creativity, and which is the most powerful tool that we have.

And I will say lastly that we see so many people in this world who are doing great things. There are a lot of them that are focusing on the problems and that’s great, we need people focusing on the problems to provide solutions, but we look at the world a little bit differently. We said, OK, there are a lot of problems, we get that, but who are the people who ultimately create solutions? And who are the people who ultimately inspire solutions?

And when you look at that, you look at the population, which is overtly creative, the ones who are carving their own path and we ultimately just wanted to provide a resource and a catalyst for them to see that they’re not alone and that it’s a really good balance.

Samir Husni: Brad, I know this was your idea and your brainchild. I always I tell my students that you can’t be creative unless you’re crazy. Are you crazy to publish a print magazine in today’s digital age, after beginning on the digital front first?

Brad Thomas: (Laughs) I believe we’re just crazy enough to try things that make other people want it. Cheers to the crazy ones, right? (Laughs again) Creative jobs are a little bit crazy; otherwise, we wouldn’t have the iPhones or anything else creative, so I think being crazy to a certain extent is a good thing, because doing what we’re doing, and not even just what we’re doing, but just being an entrepreneur in general, is really a scary thing. You have to be a little naive and a little crazy to even go forward with it. (Laughs)

There is so much uncertainty with everything, but I don’t think we’re crazy. I consider ourselves smartly creative and we’re just going for it. We’re trying to do something that’s different. Whatever direction everyone else’s path is going in; we’re trying to go in a slightly different one and to show that there are a lot of amazing people out there, doing a lot of incredible things using all types of creativity.

Samir Husni: You started with digital; the first four issues were digital-only. Then with issue five you moved to print. Why?

Blake Brinker: Our thought was to get the word out about what we were doing. We had been out in the world at a few different conferences internationally and we had brought some sample issues with us that we had digitally printed, because we wanted to get reactions to the concept.

Another thing to remember is we started this company by building an online social media platform first and we really started when it was the foremost current of the digital realm.

How it all worked out was we were seeing so many dynamic people and so many amazing creations and these great efforts in curation and sharing, but we thought, it’s still not enough. We wanted to propagate it further in a way that was almost sacred to people and we thought that magazines were in that category.

So, we wanted to test it out. We printed the copies and we took them to the conferences at different places in the world. And the reaction was great. People were asking; what are you doing; is this like a brochure? It was really amazing to see the reaction of people who were covered in our social media platform and people who were sharing on social media, because many of these people had never even thought about being published in a magazine. And when it happened, it was just different for them. It was different from being featured on a blog; it was different from someone sharing a Facebook post about them. It felt different; it felt real.

It was then that we said you know what; what the heck? Let’s see how far we can get this thing out there and bring physicality to what we’d been doing all along.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face, from the point of conception to the point of delivery?

Creativ May-2 (2) Blake Brinker: The execution; the actual publishing side of it has been a huge stumbling block, a lot more than it was, but thankfully we have a very tendered gentleman that has helped us. He has a lot of history in manufacturing and working with tradesmen and he’s really came in here and helped us take this dream of making this magazine and turned it into what you see today, which is this ultra-high quality piece.

So, publishing definitely would have been a lot bigger stumbling block had we not had him, but it’s still challenging, because there are so many pieces to put together, from the creation to the binding, to the palletizing and shipping for distribution.

Ironically, we didn’t even realize it, but living in Phoenix, there are some very high-tech training platforms about 30 minutes from our office. When we started investigating how we would create these magazines, especially the covers, and have the quality be so high, we started realizing that we could now do something extremely different in terms of the design and the quality and we could do it at a cost that wouldn’t bury us and we could sell the magazine at a good price and still make a little money.

And the second thing is we got a major distribution deal two months ago, which is the reason why you saw the magazine. And we got it on our first print issue. We were placed in all the Barnes & Noble’s in the country and lots of other stores, around 300 stores initially. Now we’re double.

I’d say the biggest stumbling block for us now is trying to put the pieces together and create the whole circle. We want to create a really valuable and meaningful magazine on top of extending our distribution in intelligent ways and commanding exceptional ad prices for the publication and also extending into the digital platform that we have. So, the challenge now is really to put all those pieces together and turn it into a viable and self-sustaining project.

We consider ourselves a media company, so the print publishing is one side and the digital side is the other; we have this huge online community. We also have a whole development team in Vietnam that’s currently working on the version 3 of our community platform, which is going to be really exciting because we’ll be making the whole experience online very cohesive with the experience of the magazine.

So, that’s the other challenge. We have all of this stuff going on with the magazine and then we have this huge platform that we’re building. We have 20 or 22 employees that are solely tech. And one thing that we’ve realized, all the conferences that we have gone to all over the world, especially last year, what we have realized without a doubt, between the publication and the platform online, is that we’re serving a recipe that everyone wants. We have the dish; but what’s the most effective way to get it out there so that people know it exists. We can’t tell you how many people have said: this is what I’ve been waiting for. And that’s validation for us.

Samir Husni: Where most of the new magazines that are coming out into the marketplace, which I might say, have much less creativity and much less production value and the expensive look than Creativ, are published four or six times a year, you’re publishing monthly.

Blake Brinker: It’s interesting; I think because we started in a space that we probably really shouldn’t have been in, there are no rules for us, which is kind of invigorating, right? We don’t have to abide by a certain set of rules that are handed down by a big multinational company or something.

We chose to go monthly mainly at first because we really wanted to see what the market opportunity was. Where I think strategically what we realized was, one might be the best idea for us to do in all reality considering the fact that we are attempting to create impact, but bimonthly is actually probably better for us for a certain period of time because it allows us to propagate awareness about each issue much longer, instead of running into that distribution triangle problem that we have for the last month or two.

You’re working and working, turning things out and you take a day off; then you’re working doubly hard again for the next 26 days trying to get the next one out. We realized that our team may be a little too small still to be able to knock out that exceptional quality of a magazine every 15 to 20 days and make sure that we obviously focus on the rest of the business at the same time. We don’t have any rules on this, but we’ve strategically decided now that for the time being we are going to go to a bimonthly, so that we can really make sure that every future issue is better than the least. Not only better, but also equally important, making sure that every issue has, at least with the size team that we have, making sure that every issue is properly marketed.

As soon as we got this last one done, we actually just finished up what would have been the June issue, we realized we really hadn’t spent any effort in trying to figure out how to effectively market the May one or any future ones. We’re just spinning in circles here. We need to slow down a little bit and really figure out how to let people know we have the dish that they want. How to do that takes time to learn. So, we’re going to slow things down just a bit, at least until the end of the year. Our intention is to be monthly again and we’re going to be doing a weekly newsletter digitally too.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise that you’ve had during this experience?

Blake Brinker: The reaction of people when they receive something that is beautiful like this; the reaction, especially of young people, because again, it’s almost foreign to them. I’m 31 and Brad’s 35 and we grew up with National Geographic on our coffee tables and TIME magazine and it was sacred to us, almost as sacred as it was to our parents’ generation.

Seeing people’s reaction in 2015 when we hand them our quality publication that comes from a company that has a social media platform, seeing that reaction to a tangible product is great. People say: oh, I get it. People who may not have gotten what we were doing before who get it and say: there are 72 pages here; I can see who you guys are and I can see what you’re doing. That was a very pleasant surprise. You see 17 year-olds who get a copy of it and their eyes light up and they’re intrigued and want to know what it is. We actually had someone tell us last week that their young kids couldn’t put it down.

Samir Husni: Are you now stronger believers in the power of print than you were before you brought the magazine to print?

Blake Brinker: I think that to some degree we are, but I would say we always understood the power and the beauty of print. And as students of history, we look back at how the printing press changed the world so dramatically and it’s such a special thing to humanity, so I think that it’s on par with this mission that we have.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed each morning and say wow; this is going to be a great day?

Brad Thomas: Well, I could give you a million examples. Recently, we were in Las Vegas at a major tech convention. Our tech company is being showcased as one of the top special companies in 2015 and we’re a tech company with a print publication, so we were getting a lot of attention.

And I get motivated every day when people come up to us and say, creativity is the most important thing we have and you’re putting it into this beautiful print publication that I can get on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Just wow; what you’re doing is so inspiring and the world needs this, with the things that are happening in the world today, we need something like this to give people hope and optimism. With all the negativity that we hear every day, this is an incredible amount of positivity showcasing people doing absolutely amazing things.

Someone else came up to us recently and she almost had tears in her eyes when she was looking at the magazine and she said, oh my gosh, you guys are doing exactly what I’m so passionate about. And she pulled up her sleeve and she showed us this tattoo that was in Arabic and it read “Bring Arab Creativity Back,” and it was a pretty special moment. I mean, she literally started crying.

Samir Husni: It’s an amazing thing you’re telling me about the younger generation falling in love with print. So many times I’ve thought that it is we who are our own worst enemy; we who predicted the demise of our own medium; we who predicted the death of print and almost force-fed the new generation the idea that everything is now digital, from E-paper to E-books, which of course now, we’re reaching a plateau in that area.

Blake Brinker: I just wanted to say Brad did a really good job of expressing some really good examples that are contextual as to why we wake up in the morning. I’ll just say this from my own level; as entrepreneurs and creatives and as humans, we’re not remembered by how we projected ourselves to be; we’re remembered by the stories of our own paths and by the paths that we’ve forged.

And so for us, this whole project; this whole endeavor is about creating impact that creates a legacy of impact where that new generation is affected. And that we change at least one paradigm into a positive reaction and I think that from a high level, we think about that every day and every morning, despite the fact that we’re a startup and it’s so hard. There are so many different things that startups have to do, that they’ve always had to do, no matter what age it is. We call them startups now, there weren’t necessarily called that before, but the impact of what we’re working on is the sole reason that we get up every morning.

Samir Husni: I read both of your backgrounds and it looks like curiosity and creativity are the common denominators between the two of you. What would be an additional ‘C’ besides curiosity and creativity that drives the both of you?

Blake Brinker: I would say opportunity in the largest sense. We both look at the future and we see opportunity more than we see challenge. We didn’t know each other four years ago and we’ve become such great business partners because we became such good friends. Our deep belief in everything we’ve just discussed over the course of this interview has actually made us into better friends than could have ever happened. And even though this is very scary, being a startup and everything, with all the unknowns that we have to deal with; it’s great knowing that you’re in it with a best friend who is right there with you on the exact same page, which I think is a huge advantage for us.

Brad Thomas: We have a very human connection with one another and it’s not based on profit.

Blake Brinker: It’s a very deep connection.

Samir Husni: If I gave either or both of you a magic wand and you struck Creativ Magazine with it and a human being appeared instead of the magazine; who would that person be?

Blake Brinker: Can it be a combination of two people?

Samir Husni: Yes, it can.

Blake Brinker: Honestly, I would say a combination between Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela.

Samir Husni: That’s a very good answer.

Blake Brinker: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Blake Brinker: Just how everything is so all about digital. It makes me think of a science fiction movie where the future is really dark and people are scared and depressed, but there’s an underground movement where people are holding onto art, because it’s so sacred and real. It’s funny how accurate sometimes science fiction can actually be.

I mean, when you think of digital; digital creates a lot of things of course, but there comes a point when we have to keep some things sacred. It’s important for our past and it’s important for our future.

Brad Thomas: Getting people out there to buy the magazine and to support this movement, to support all of these people who are really putting their lives on the line to do something that matters, to realize that they can be a part of effecting change and a part of inspiring curiosity.

The biggest thing is just trying to call all people and that is our thing right now, to get as many people as possible to join the movement. We’re reaching out with open arms to the world and saying: join us.

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

Brad Thomas: All of the unknowns. It’s knowing that we feel we have something so incredible here that the world is craving. And it’s the worry that you have something so beautiful and something that you believe people truly want and you just want it to succeed.

We have a picture on our wall of a pie. One slice of the pie is 15% and the rest of the pie is 85%. And the slice of pie is the 15% of what you can control and the last 85% you’re dealing with circumstances. I have a difficult time sometimes dealing with the fact that there are uncertainties. And all that we can focus on is the 15% that we can control. And that you have to pretty much roll with the punches and when you do that and you have an awesome partner and a great team, you can take those punches a little easier. And that’s the one thing that helps me sleep at night. Otherwise, I’d be a wreck. (Laughs)

Blake Brinker: I agree with that as well, but for me; I think about people who haven’t seen the light. I think about people who are living their lives in a way that they’re being told to and they’re living their lives in ways they don’t even understand because they’re not awake. I think about how good it would feel to help be a part of something that brings them to the light, so to speak. I come from a place where many, many people are just accepting of the circumstances handed to them and I think that can be said about a lot of places in the world. There is a big part of the population that does that. And I think about how much happier so many of them would be if they just kind of looked on the brighter side of things. And it’s really not just about that; it’s a matter of seeing opportunity everywhere and showing up, opening the door and then running through it. I think about people who are struggling to run through that door, who are doubtful of doing it and are scared.

And that makes us want to work harder to get to them, to show them that they are not alone.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor: A Very HOT, HOT, HOT May…

June 2, 2015

May turned in some very serious numbers for 2015 – 28 new titles with frequency & 53 specials – 81 new magazine launches total. An absolutely beautiful way to kick off the upcoming summer months. And from every indication Mr. Magazine™ has; it’s going to be a sizzling-hot summer for magazines and magazine media.

May showed us once again print’s stamina and its ability to showcase content the way no other media can. Frequency titles tempted us to sit back and relax with everything from tips on genealogy to 3D printing. And the special issues were just as entertaining and diverse; from the party of the year; Vogue’s Met Gala, to American’s Most Notorious Criminals – and no, none on that list attended the Gala; at least, I hope not.

Check the numbers below and click here to see each and every new magazine cover on the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor.

Chart Number 1: New Magazines May 2015 vs. New Magazines May 2014
Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.35.07 AM

Chart Number 2: New Magazines by Categories May 2015 vs. New Magazines by Categories May 2014
Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 10.35.28 AM

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Mornings With Jesus Magazine Joins Guideposts In ‘Guiding’ The Way Spiritually; A New Launch From The Folks Who Brought Hope And Inspiration To Millions – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts

June 2, 2015

“The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print. And people like the tactile feel. In my view, print is never going to go away. It’s never going to go away.” John Temple

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

A prototype cover of the new magazine Mornings with JESUS.

A prototype cover of the new magazine Mornings with JESUS.

In a world oftentimes filled with frenetic and spiraling conflicts, cataclysmic happenings and mayhem in general, it seems natural and spontaneous that people would begin a quest for a more peaceful and even-keeled existence, where life becomes more inspirational and there is a meaning and a method to the madness. And one place the masses are turning to for that piece of spirituality and comfort is magazines and magazine media. The trend is becoming one of the most popular in the industry today and with good reason.

For 70 years Guideposts has been leading the pack when it comes to content that is encouraging, uplifting and inspirational and the brand shows no sign of slowing down now, with the upcoming launch of a new magazine in the wings and a deep commitment to both their print and digital platforms. My own memories of Guideposts date back to 1979 when my first feature writing professor in the United States, Ben Peterson, was one of the magazine’s senior editors. I was able to learn a lot about Guideposts, the magazine, first hand from him, and until now, my learning about this inspirational magazine has never ceased.

So, during the IMAG Annual Conference, which took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado; I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with John Temple, president and CEO of Guideposts, to talk about the magazine and the brand. From the spiritual movement which seems to be sweeping the land and the magazine industry, to the strategy Guideposts is implementing to fulfill and keep up with its audience’s needs; John and I talked the spectrum about the magazine, the brand and the new launch: Mornings with Jesus. It was as informative a discussion as the conference itself was. I thoroughly enjoyed John’s take on the subject matter and was excited to hear about yet another new title we can all welcome into the fold.

So, sit back and be inspired and encouraged by the Guideposts brand, which has been providing those comforts for generations as you read the Mr. Magazine™ reports from the IMAG conference with John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts.

But first, the sound-bites:


IMG_6730 On his opinion about the sudden spirituality trend in magazine media:
I think the country is changing. The country is getting older and the baby boomers are getting older, so they start thinking about things that maybe they didn’t think about when they were young and building careers and having children and all of these kinds of things. I think there’s a natural progression to faith and religion and some of the other things. It may manifest itself in different ways because people aren’t so much going to church as they used to. But I don’t think that they’re any less spiritual than they were.

On his strategy for leading the company in today’s digital world:
In my view, this is the best of all times. I’ve been in this business a long, long time and I’ve never seen the opportunities so great for companies like ours, media companies, content companies, inspirational and religious companies, because we can now use the digital environment to build communities and talk to different groups in ways that we could never do it before.

On how he plans to double the company’s digital revenue: We’re going to do it really by leveraging digital and brands and making sure that we use a lot of the digital content and the digital audiences that we have. We have 800,000 people on Facebook, and they really are our friends, and yet we don’t do anything with them now. We don’t tell them about anything that we’re doing.

On the launch of the new title, Mornings with Jesus:
When I came back two years ago, they had this book that they had created in 2010 called Mornings with Jesus, it was daily devotionals. And I looked at it and I said wow; I love that brand. It’s a tremendous brand. And you can just see a young mother in her kitchen, the sun’s shining through, she’s got a cup of coffee there; the kids have gone to school; she hasn’t gone to work yet and she opens up this magazine called Mornings with Jesus. And it’s just really, really powerful.

On the fact that the company is moving toward a more Christian perspective, rather than the Judeo-Christian views the brand was founded upon:
The reason for that is we haven’t left the Judeo-Christian point-of-view with Guideposts and others, but we’re broadening the reach. So, we’re reaching into people who want a little more than what we had provided, because there’s a connection there, a kind of funnel. You bring in a whole bunch of people through Guideposts and the faith and inspiration, but as you go down the funnel there are people who want more and more of the religious component. So, we’re providing that.

On whether the new magazine, Mornings with Jesus, will be ad-free:
It’s going to be ad-free for a while. We have to see how this thing is going to work and we’re going to grow it organically.

On the new title’s circulation base: We’re looking for 100,000 at the end of the fiscal year within the next 12 months. But we’re going to do a lot of testing.

On whether he sees today’s market as a return to the ‘power-of-print’ days:
Absolutely. The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and overcome since becoming CEO of Guideposts:
The digital component has to sit at the same table with print; it has to. So that when you talk about a new idea; it isn’t just a print idea, it can be a digital idea or a digital handprint as well. And that’s the biggest task, to get people to understand that and kind of unlearn old habits.

On what keeps him up at night:
I do worry; I’m taking such a big transformation risk and I’ll kind of wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, am I right? Do I really have the vision right? I do worry a little about that.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with John Temple, President & CEO, Guideposts.

Samir Husni: Suddenly, there seems to be a resurgence of spiritual-like magazines. We saw this recently with Simple Grace and the many bookazines about Jesus, Mary and the Bible. Of course, Guideposts has been doing this for 70 years or so. What do you think about this trend? Is the country changing; is the overall mood changing, or are people simply looking for some kind of relief?

John Temple: Yes, I think the country is changing. The country is getting older and the baby boomers are getting older, so they start thinking about things that maybe they didn’t think about when they were young and building careers and having children and all of these kinds of things. I think there’s a natural progression to faith and religion and some of the other things. It may manifest itself in different ways because people aren’t so much going to church as they used to. But I don’t think that they’re any less spiritual than they were.

The other area which I find very exciting is the new millennials. These people are coming along and they have a commitment; a social commitment; a spiritual commitment and it’s not manifested in the same old ways, but it’s there and I have great hopes for that generation, and for the changes that they’ll bring about in this country.

Samir Husni: How do you think Guideposts is adapting to all of these changes? Is it benefiting from these changes, especially since we now live in a digital age and you’re reaching both the millennials and the baby boomers? What’s your strategy; how are you leading the company now in this digital age?

IMG_6731 John Temple: In my view, this is the best of all times. I’ve been in this business a long, long time and I’ve never seen the opportunities so great for companies like ours, media companies, content companies, inspirational and religious companies, because we can now use the digital environment to build communities and talk to different groups in ways that we could never do it before.

Samir Husni: And you mentioned in your speech that you’re hoping to double your digital revenue; how are you going to do that?

John Temple: We’re going to do it really by leveraging digital and brands and making sure that we use a lot of the digital content and the digital audiences that we have. We have 800,000 people on Facebook, and they really are our friends, and yet we don’t do anything with them now. We don’t tell them about anything that we’re doing. We’re launching this new magazine next month and we’re going to tell them; we’re going to say hey, come to the Guideposts website because we have a new magazine that we think you would really be interested in. So, there’s going to be a lot of cross-fertilization between digital, promotion and print and just everything else that we’re doing.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me a little bit about the new magazine?

John Temple: It’s called Mornings with Jesus. When I came back two years ago, they had this book that they had created in 2010 called Mornings with Jesus, it was daily devotionals. And I looked at it and I said wow; I love that brand. It’s a tremendous brand. And you can just see a young mother in her kitchen, the sun’s shining through, she’s got a cup of coffee there; the kids have gone to school; she hasn’t gone to work yet and she opens up this magazine called Mornings with Jesus. And it’s just really, really powerful.

And what we’ve found is the test results are spectacular. They’re just wonderful. And we’ve tested some outside lists and things like that and it’s going to lists that we don’t normally mail. We tested a whole bunch of different ideas; we tested the donor’s campaign; we tested the fundraising club and we tested the magazine; all three of them worked.

Samir Husni: With Mornings with Jesus; you’re taking the company one more step toward Christianity, rather than the Judeo-Christian principles that were what Guideposts was based on.

image.aspx John Temple: That’s very astute. Yes and the reason for that is we haven’t left the Judeo-Christian point-of-view with Guideposts and others, but we’re broadening the reach. So, we’re reaching into people who want a little more than what we had provided, because there’s a connection there, a kind of funnel. You bring in a whole bunch of people through Guideposts and the faith and inspiration, but as you go down the funnel there are people who want more and more of the religious component. So, we’re providing that.

Samir Husni: And is it going to be ad-free, or are you going to be depending on advertising, circulation and digital?

John Temple: It’s going to be ad-free for a while. We have to see how this thing is going to work and we’re going to grow it organically. We’ll see about ads as time goes on.

Samir Husni: Any idea about the circulation?

John Temple: We’re looking for 100,000 at the end of the fiscal year within the next 12 months. But we’re going to do a lot of testing. So, within the next year we’ll know where this magazine is going.

Samir Husni: Any newsstands or just subscriptions for now?

John Temple: Not yet, just subscriptions.

Samir Husni: So, I need to know how to get my copy then. (Laughs)

John Temple: (Laughs too) We’ll send you one.

Samir Husni: It seems that suddenly we are seeing almost every media company in this country going back to print. How has your experience been with Guideposts; it was one of the largest magazines in the country and I’m sure you suffered when everybody else suffered. So, are you seeing the power of print coming back now?

John Temple: Absolutely. The industry has gone through some peaks and valleys. I can remember when some of the people, where I serve on the board; some of the people there would say well, print is dead. We have to shift to digital; we have to get out because of postage and paper and all of these kinds of things. We don’t have to do that anymore. People understand that there is a very valuable role for print. And people like the tactile feel. In my view, print is never going to go away. It’s never going to go away.

Samir Husni: Since you became the CEO of Guideposts; what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

John Temple: The major stumbling block was, as I said in my speech today, was to really get people to understand about digital. And I used the expression ‘infused Guideposts with a digital soul’ which really means putting the digital component into the DNA of the company. The digital component has to sit at the same table with print; it has to. So that when you talk about a new idea; it isn’t just a print idea, it can be a digital idea or a digital handprint as well. And that’s the biggest task, to get people to understand that and kind of unlearn old habits.

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

John Temple: (Laughs) I just get very excited about everything. I wake up in the middle of the night and I have things on my mind and I just can’t go back to sleep. And some of my best ideas come at 3:00 a.m.

But I do worry; I’m taking such a big transformation risk and I’ll kind of wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, am I right? Do I really have the vision right? I do worry a little about that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Domino’s Second Wind Is Blowing The Magazine And The Brand Full-Speed Ahead – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Beth Fuchs Brenner, Chief Revenue Officer, Domino Media Group

June 1, 2015

“The print magazine was the foundation by which we brought the brand back, so even the savviest digital people on our team know how important the print vehicle is. No, I don’t think we could have brought it back without print; I mean that’s what people knew and loved and adored. And frankly, people don’t necessarily know that we’re back online, but they know that we’re back in print.” Beth Fuchs Brenner


The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the IMAG conference.

IMG_6720 Reinventing something requires the ability to take the foundation of the original and build something better and stronger upon it. And that’s just what Domino Media Group has done with Domino, the print magazine, and Domino, the brand. It’s still the same brilliant home design go-to destination as it always was, but has a newer, fresher more synergetic appeal.

During the IMAG Annual Conference, which took place May 18th to 20th in Boulder, Colorado; I was able to sit down with Beth Fuchs Brenner, Chief Revenue Officer for Domino Media Group and talk a bit about the magazine and the brand itself. Beth was very succinct when she said the print magazine was the foundation by which the brand was resurrected from its 2009 grave.

We talked about where the magazine is today; the power of the print component of the brand and how her life is different today than it was in Domino’s former years. It was a very illuminating discussion, with a woman as engaging as the Domino brand itself.

So I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ reports from the IMAG conference with Beth Fuchs Brenner, Chief Revenue Officer, Domino Media Group. I know it was Mr. Magazine’s™ pleasure to be a part of it.

But first, the sound-bites:

On where Domino is today: Well, we’re light years ahead of where we were in 2009 and also from where we were a year and a half ago. I’ve been known to say in the last few months that everything is really starting to hum.

On whether the brand could have been resuscitated without the print component:
The print magazine was the foundation by which we brought the brand back, so even the savviest digital people on our team know how important the print vehicle is. No, I don’t think we could have brought it back without print.

On whether she believes Lucky is taking a page from Domino’s reinvention book:
I do think that the new Domino Media Group wrote the script and Lucky is playing us in the movie. Clearly the deal itself — the sale of Lucky Magazine to LA-based Beachmint by Condé Nast — was inspired by the success of Domino’s new model.

On how her life has changed today since her former Domino days:
In my former Domino life, I worked for a huge corporation and my new life is a start-up; that alone counts for the difference. I think about the weeks and months that it took to get decisions worked up the chain at a big company versus the many, many decisions we make every day now. And if they’re good ones, great and if they’re not, we pivot and we choose another path.

On the major stumbling block she’s had to face:
I would say that I think it’s harder today to spread the word about a brand and let people know that you’re really back. So, I think just communication and brand awareness is a challenge. Lucky for us we have a lot of that. But if you’re launching a brand today from scratch, that’s a really tough challenge.

On what motivates her to get out of bed every day: Exhilaration. I’ll say that and the fact that I have skin in the game this time and everyone on the team has skin in the game. So, we’re all working toward something that we feel we’re really a part of.

On what keeps her up at night:
Everything. (Laughs) Everything from this job to my kids. And if you ask my staff, they’ll tell you that I’m always up sending messages to them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Beth Fuchs Brenner, Chief Revenue Officer, Domino Media Group.

Perfect for the coffee table: The latest issue of Domino

Perfect for the coffee table: The latest issue of Domino

Samir Husni: It’s been almost two years since Domino’s return from the dead.

Beth Fuchs Brenner: Exactly.

Samir Husni: Tell me, where is Domino today?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: Well, we’re light years ahead of where we were in 2009 and also from where we were a year and a half ago. I’ve been known to say in the last few months that everything is really starting to hum.

We’re a quarterly magazine that has 200,000 in circulation and an incredible wanted story, with people paying $12 per copy, $48 for 4 issues. I’m so pleased to hear the same sort of passion and engagement that we had back in the days before we were dead still exists today. And we’re hearing that anecdotally from everywhere.

And on the website; we have a dynamic website that has over half a million uniques every month and we have a full-on retail store; we’re an official commerce business and we’re selling hundreds of thousands of products every month.

Samir Husni: Do you think any of that would have existed if you hadn’t brought the print magazine back?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: I think the print magazine was the foundation by which we brought the brand back, so even the savviest digital people on our team know how important the print vehicle is. No, I don’t think we could have brought it back without print; I mean that’s what people knew and loved and adored. And frankly, people don’t necessarily know that we’re back online, but they know that we’re back in print.

Samir Husni: Do you think Lucky is taking a page from Domino in their new plan of action?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: I do think that the new Domino Media Group wrote the script and Lucky is playing us in the movie. Clearly the deal itself — the sale of Lucky Magazine to LA-based Beachmint by Condé Nast — was inspired by the success of Domino’s new model.

But the structures of the companies are vastly different — Domino was essentially a start-up business whereas Beachmint is an established e-retailer with a pre-existing corporate structure. We started from scratch and built a team and a business from the ground up, whereas Lucky and Beachmint have to merge their businesses and their employees. Their transition is still going on — and we will all be watching to see where the company goes next.

Samir Husni: You were gracious enough to show me your latest issue that’s not yet on the newsstands. It looks to be the biggest issue yet.

Beth Fuchs Brenner: It’s not the biggest issue ever, but it’s the biggest issue since the re-launch. And they did look that up, because it felt bigger to me than anything we’d ever published. It’s 184 pages with about 55 pages of ads, so that tells you how lovely our ad-to-edit ratio is. We’re putting in more editorial than we ever have before, so there’s that commitment to really engage people with a lot of editorial.

Samir Husni: If someone asked you to describe Beth’s life with the former Domino versus Beth’s life today with the resurrected Domino; how has your 24-hour day changed?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: That’s such a good question. In my former Domino life, I worked for a huge corporation and my new life is a start-up; that alone counts for the difference. I think about the weeks and months that it took to get decisions worked up the chain at a big company versus the many, many decisions we make every day now. And if they’re good ones, great and if they’re not, we pivot and we choose another path.

But it’s hugely different. Domino alone had about 120 people back in 2009. Domino today has about 30 people and that’s across print, digital and commerce. So, it’s a horse of a different color today.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face with the re-launch and how did you overcome it?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: I would say that I think it’s harder today to spread the word about a brand and let people know that you’re really back. So, I think just communication and brand awareness is a challenge. Lucky for us we have a lot of that. But if you’re launching a brand today from scratch, that’s a really tough challenge.

And the other challenge, I would say, is just growing digitally. You know this from your blog; if you put it out there, people don’t just come. So, you really have to engage people; you have to target people; you really have to work towards that in a big way. And I think our biggest challenge digitally is growing our traffic, because we know as the traffic grows everything else rises to meet it.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed every morning and say it’s going to be a great day?

Beth Fuchs Brenner: Exhilaration. I’ll say that and the fact that I have skin in the game this time and everyone on the team has skin in the game. So, we’re all working toward something that we feel we’re really a part of.

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

Beth Fuchs Brenner: Everything. (Laughs) Everything from this job to my kids. And if you ask my staff, they’ll tell you that I’m always up sending messages to them. (Laughs again) I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep much these days.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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