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Keeping It Authentic With The “Real Woman” – From Cover To Content – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Meredith Rollins, Editor-In-Chief, Redbook Magazine.

August 17, 2015

“Could the magazine exist without a print edition? Yes, I guess so. But I know that our readers love the tactile experience of getting a bound magazine in their mailboxes every month. And our subscription sales have been strong. But beyond that, just seeing how our Real Women Style Award winners circled back to our September issue and are on the cover of the magazine is enough to convince you of how much print matters. We unveiled it to one of the winners the other day and she had tears in her eyes and couldn’t believe she was on the cover of a magazine. I think that sums up why print is still an incredibly special medium.” Meredith Rollins

September - Real Women Style Awards Unlike a book, you can judge a magazine by its cover. And by now you’ve seen the cover of the September issue of Redbook magazine on TV, in social media and other outlets. Magazine covers were, are, and will continue to be story generators. This cover is no different in one way and a lot different in many other ways. Real style for real women has been the motto of Redbook magazine for years. In the world of women’s service magazines, Redbook has been around for generations, providing advice, style, recipes and affordable fashion with a down-to-earth mentality that its audience has come to know and love. And to balance all of the useful and helpful hints and tips the magazine offers each month, there are stories that cut right to the heart of the reader, engaging them with an emotional experience they don’t soon forget.

Meredith Rollins has been at the helm of the magazine for just over a year now, but she’s no stranger to Redbook, having been executive editor since 2010. She helped with the magazine’s redesign, which put the focus and the mainline on fun, affordable fashion, beauty and style. Something that Redbook zeros in on brilliantly.

I spoke with Meredith recently about the September issue cover and about her goals and plans for the future of the magazine. With the Real Women Style Awards, which is in its second year, the magazine showcases and honors “real” women everywhere and even featured the winners on the cover of the September issue. It was a fun and lively conversation, much like the personality of the lady herself.

So grab your most comfortable spot, your drink of choice and curl up and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Meredith Rollins, Editor-In-Chief, Redbook.

But first, the sound-bites:

Meredith Rollins Headshot
On the gamble she took by putting a “real” woman on the cover of Redbook’s September issue:
This is our second year of the Real Women Style Awards; we did it for the first time last September and we just featured our winners in the actual pages of the magazine. And we know how much our readers love seeing real women on our pages. It’s so much easier to believe that an outfit or a makeup tip works in real life if you can see it on someone that you can relate to.

On whether she feels she’s taking an actual risk with the September cover or staying true to Redbook’s DNA:
I think I’m staying true to Redbook’s DNA definitely. Whether it’s a risky move or not; I guess time will tell about that, but I feel so passionately about it and I think it’s a perfect moment for this.

On her accomplishments within the last year of being named editor-in-chief:
I feel like I’m just starting, even though I’ve been editor for almost exactly a year. I think I’m really coming into my own as an editor. It takes longer than you might imagine to get up to speed and get to the right creative team in place. I have a new creative team and they’ve totally changed the way the magazine looks, from the covers all the way to the last page. Kirby Rodriguez is our creative director and he joined us last year in early November. And I think he’s a total genius and I’m really proud of the way that we’ve made women’s service look elegant and beautiful, and made affordably-priced fashions look like a million bucks.

On who would appear if she struck the magazine with a magic wand that had the ability to turn it into a living, breathing human being:
That’s a hard question. (Laughs) I don’t think that there’s just one person. I guess that’s what makes answering the question so hard; I know that our readers come in all shapes and sizes, some of them are stay-at-home parents, some of them are working incredibly hard outside and inside the office. They are schoolteachers, executives, parents when they’re not parents, but what they all have in common is they love style and beauty.

On the magazine’s personality and whom it reflects when it arrives at a reader’s home: I think it’s the embodiment of their best friend who has great advice and who knows exactly what she’s going through in her life. And who’s a lot of fun to be around. One of the best quotes that I’ve heard from a reader was that she thought the magazine was someone that she could sit down with and have a glass of wine with at the end of the day. And that’s exactly what I want.

On whether she believes that “best friend” persona of Redbook could be achieved without the print component:
Could the magazine exist without a print edition? Yes, I guess so. But I know that our readers love the tactile experience of getting a bound magazine in their mailboxes every month. And our subscription sales have been strong. But beyond that, just seeing how our Real Women Style Award winners circled back to our September issue and are on the cover of the magazine is enough to convince you of how much print matters. We unveiled it to one of the winners the other day and she had tears in her eyes and couldn’t believe she was on the cover of a magazine.

On the day-to-day process of putting a magazine with such a wide audience as Redbook together:
For me it goes back to this idea of shortcuts and quick information, balanced with stories that will really move you, because our readers still want beautiful writing. They want beautiful journalism and so we balance out all of the tips and advice in the magazine with things that feel meatier. Those are the stories that we get the most letters about honestly.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the mornings and say it’s going to be a great day:
In terms of the magazine, it’s the excitement of working with an amazing team. I’m biased of course, but I really do think I have the best team in the business. We have 7 million readers and it’s such a privilege to talk to them; they’re smart; they’re fiery and they totally keep me on my toes. And I want to give them something that they’ll fall in love with.
Meredith's Editor's Note
On the biggest challenge she expects to face and how she will overcome it:
Our biggest challenge is that we need to be different. We need to have a point of difference and that’s always been true. And I think that’s true of any magazine. It’s finding a voice and having that voice on the pages of the magazine is incredibly important and always hard. And it’s keeping up with our audience, because they don’t want things to stay static; their interested in things constantly changing.

On whether innovation, as in Redbook’s partnership with Dove, has changed her role as editor from being just the voice of the brand to the brand voice of other brands as well:
No, I think as editor you’re inevitably the voice of the brand; you’re the one who’s out there in front of it. And it’s a job that I take very seriously, of course. And in terms of the Dove partnership, it was a purely editorial project; they weren’t part of the editorial process at all. It was great synergy and I think our messages on some levels are very much aligned. But it was a purely editorial project and one that I’m incredibly proud of. And honestly, it was something that I was going to do even before we started talking to Dove about it.

On what keeps her up at night:
My honest answer would have to be my eight-year-old. (Laughs) Every night there’s a new weird dream or he doesn’t have enough water or he’s too hot. He’s in the waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night mode and I love him more than life itself, but I do wish he’d let me sleep because I need the rest.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Meredith Rollins, Editor-In-Chief, Redbook magazine.

Samir Husni: It’s been a little over a year now since you’ve been at the helm of Redbook. Let’s talk a bit about the gamble you’re taking with the September cover. It’s been said that unless it’s them, no one wants to see regular people on the cover of a magazine; they want to fantasize; they want to see a celebrity on the cover. Tell me the reasoning behind your decision to put a regular woman on the cover? Is she an ordinary woman who’s done extraordinary things perhaps?

Meredith Rollins: This is our second year of the Real Women Style Awards; we did it for the first time last September and we just featured our winners in the actual pages of the magazine. And we know how much our readers love seeing real women on our pages. It’s so much easier to believe that an outfit or a makeup tip works in real life if you can see it on someone that you can relate to.

So, it made sense to me that they would love to see them on the cover itself. And the Real Women Style Awards gave us the perfect opportunity to showcase these amazing women right there on the newsstand.

Samir Husni: I saw the piece written in Adweek about Redbook and what they called a “risky move” away from celebrities with this cover; do you feel that you’re taking any risk or just staying true to the nature and the DNA of the magazine?

Meredith Rollins: I think I’m staying true to Redbook’s DNA definitely. Whether it’s a risky move or not; I guess time will tell about that, but I feel so passionately about it and I think it’s a perfect moment for this. Our readers really want to see people who look like them; they want to see diversity and if it’s a risk, it’s one that I’m very willing to take.

Samir Husni: If we go back one year to when you were first named editor-in-chief of Redbook and then look one year ahead from now; what would you have accomplished during that time in either cementing the DNA of the magazine or altering it? Or finding a completely new and different Redbook?

Redbook Cover-2 Meredith Rollins: That’s such a good question. I feel like I’m just starting, even though I’ve been editor for almost exactly a year. I think I’m really coming into my own as an editor. It takes longer than you might imagine to get up to speed and to get the right creative team in place.

I have a new creative team and they’ve totally changed the way the magazine looks, from the covers all the way to the last page. Kirby Rodriguez is our creative director and he joined us last year in early November. And I think he’s a total genius and I’m really proud of the way that we’ve made women’s service look elegant and beautiful, and made affordably-priced fashions look like a million bucks.

I focused on women who are busy. I’m a mom myself and I know how pressed for time that I am. And how much that I’m looking forward to finding shortcuts and ways to make my life easier. So, I focused on that, on the one hand. And I focused on beautiful images, because I think our readers have wonderful tastes and I’m really trying to elevate the look of things, even if we’re photographing a $20 sweater, I want it to look incredible.

And the other thing that I’m really trying to do is focus on confidence and fearlessness and women feeling like they can come into their own. That’s been a true line for me and something that I’m focusing more and more on in the coming months.

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand that had the ability to transform the August or September issue of Redbook into a living, breathing human being and you struck the magazine with it; who would appear?

Meredith Rollins: That’s a hard question. (Laughs) I don’t think that there’s just one person. I guess that’s what makes answering the question so hard; I know that our readers come in all shapes and sizes, some of them are stay-at-home parents, some of them are working incredibly hard outside and inside the office. They are schoolteachers, executives, parents when they’re not parents, but what they all have in common is they love style and beauty. They want the magazine to reflect who they are and to feel like an escape on the one hand, sort of their happy place, which is true for a lot of magazines, but particularly true for us, and they also need the magazine to be a way to make their lives easier.

We’ve certainly had great success with some celebrities on our cover and I think they tend to be women that our readers can really relate to. People like Kelly Clarkson or Alison Sweeney, who’s on the cover of the August issue, which is selling great. Those are the type of women that I think our readers want to see because they have an affinity for them. But by the same token, I’m really celebrating our readers with every issue.

Samir Husni: But when the reader gets her copy of Redbook in the mail; would you say that she feels like Meredith Rollins is coming to her at home and engaging her with a personal conversation, such as offering her advice or would Redbook today reflect more of a younger or older sibling speaking to her? Who would you say the “human” Redbook is when it arrives at the home of one of your readers?

Meredith Rollins: I think it’s the embodiment of their best friend who has great advice and who knows exactly what she’s going through in her life. And who’s a lot of fun to be around.

One of the best quotes that I’ve heard from a reader was that she thought the magazine was someone that she could sit down with and have a glass of wine with at the end of the day. And that’s exactly what I want. I don’t want the magazine to feel judgmental, like she isn’t doing enough or rich enough or she doesn’t have enough time to do an incredibly complicated craft. I want it to feel like a warm, welcoming place. And I think we’ve succeeded in that.

Samir Husni: Do you think that you could accomplish that moment that your reader described; that sit-down-with-a-friend-and-have-a-glass-of-wine appeal without the print component; if it was digital-only?

Meredith Rollins: Could the magazine exist without a print edition? Yes, I guess so. But I know that our readers love the tactile experience of getting a bound magazine in their mailboxes every month. And our subscription sales have been strong.

But beyond that, just seeing how our Real Women Style Award winners circled back to our September issue and are on the cover of the magazine is enough to convince you of how much print matters. We unveiled it to one of the winners the other day and she had tears in her eyes and couldn’t believe she was on the cover of a magazine. I think that sums up why print is still an incredibly special medium.

Samir Husni: You mean you don’t receive calls from celebrities or their people asking to be on Redbook’s website? They’re asking for the magazine cover?

Meredith Rollins: No, we put them on the website too, but for celebrities; I think it’s generally true that a big story in a magazine and also being a cover story still means a lot to them as well.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the day-to-day process of putting a magazine with such a wide audience as Redbook together? What goes through your brain as you perform your daily activities?

Meredith Rollins: As I said, I’m a mom too; I have two little boys who are eight and almost six. So, I think I’m really living the Redbook life. I get up in the morning; my household is crazy; I get them dressed and to school; I get to the office and then I have a moment of calm to think about what a woman like me, whether she works outside of the home or not, or whether her kids are in high school or preschool, might want from a magazine.

And for me it goes back to this idea of shortcuts and quick information, balanced with stories that will really move you, because our readers still want beautiful writing. They want beautiful journalism and so we balance out all of the tips and advice in the magazine with things that feel meatier. Those are the stories that we get the most letters about honestly.

We had a beautiful story in one of our recent issues about a woman who was in her 30s and looking into the future and thinking about her daughter. Her daughter and her sister had a very close bond. It’s a beautiful story and some things about it, of course, were dark and tragic, but at the end it was very hopeful and it was a wonderful musing on family. We received amazing letters about it.

It’s finding that right mix. It’s finding the lipstick she’s going to wear and love; the outfit that’s going to get her out of the door faster and the recipes that are healthy and won’t kill her diet, but are still very delicious, balanced with stories that she can really sink her teeth into.

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

Meredith Rollins: My boys get me out of bed far earlier than I might actually want to. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Meredith Rollins: But in terms of the magazine, it’s the excitement of working with an amazing team. I’m biased of course, but I really do think I have the best team in the business. We have 7 million readers and it’s such a privilege to talk to them; they’re smart; they’re fiery and they totally keep me on my toes. And I want to give them something that they’ll fall in love with.

So, I feel that our readers set the bar really high and it’s a constant, exciting challenge to be rethinking the brand, reinventing the brand and in turn, giving them something that I know they’re going to love.

Samir Husni: You were saying that Redbook has 7 million readers; with a magazine of that size what do you think will be your biggest challenge as you move forward and how are you planning to overcome it?

Meredith Rollins: Our biggest challenge is that we need to be different. We need to have a point of difference and that’s always been true. And I think that’s true of any magazine. It’s finding a voice and having that voice on the pages of the magazine is incredibly important and always hard. And it’s keeping up with our audience, because they don’t want things to stay static; their interested in things constantly changing.

It’s easy to say, well, this page works; we’ll just do it every single month from now until eternity. So, I really like to change things up. Of course, we’ve found a formula that works, so we try to stick with it, but we try to change it in different ways. And I don’t think that you would look at the August issue and then look at the September issue and say, oh, they’re exactly the same. We really try to give our readers something new every single month.

Reflecting back on what I said before about our audience keeping me on my toes, I do think that’s the biggest challenge is to not give them the same old women’s service that they’ve already read in other places. To not give them recipes that they’ve already served; we want to give them something fresh and that’s going to make them excited to open the magazine when it arrives in their mailbox or when they pick it up on the newsstand.

Samir Husni: As you watch the magazine come to fruition, as each issue rolls out; you’re finding new ways of doing things, including teaming up with Dove, for example. Did this change your role as editor in any way? Are you now like the voice of the brand and the brand voice of other brands?

inside Redbook Meredith Rollins: No, I think as editor you’re inevitably the voice of the brand; you’re the one who’s out there in front of it. And it’s a job that I take very seriously, of course.

And in terms of the Dove partnership, it was a purely editorial project; they weren’t part of the editorial process at all. They knew that we were going to put the Real Women star award winner from the cover, obviously, that’s why we were able to have a gatefold cover, which is great, and we love that brand and the alignment was just right. But they were really surprised when they saw our winners and had a sneak preview of the cover last week. And it was fun to unveil it to them; they knew we were doing it, but they didn’t have any input on who we chose or the way we photographed them or any of the rest of it.

It was great synergy and I think our messages on some levels are very much aligned. But it was a purely editorial project and one that I’m incredibly proud of. And honestly, it was something that I was going to do even before we started talking to Dove about it.

Samir Husni: Do you think your role as editor, and the role of editor-in-chief in general, has changed over the last five or ten years?

Meredith Rollins: I think so, although it’s a little bit hard to answer the question because I wasn’t an editor-in-chief five years ago, but even as executive editor, you only see certain angles on the job. I can only tell you what it’s been like for the past year, but I do think there’s an emphasis on being different. And I do think that’s one of the great things that Hearst does, is that we’re constantly looking for new and interesting kinds of projects and that’s definitely an emphasis here at this company and at every single media company at this point.

And it’s just figuring out ways to do it that feels right for the brand and the alignment with Dove was exactly right for us. It might not be right for somebody else or a different kind of magazine, but it was perfect for us.

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

Meredith Rollins: My honest answer would have to be my eight-year-old. (Laughs) Every night there’s a new weird dream or he doesn’t have enough water or he’s too hot. He’s in the waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night mode and I love him more than life itself, but I do wish he’d let me sleep because I need the rest.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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