Archive for October, 2015

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Cooking Light: Bringing Readers Home To A Healthier, Happier Kitchen – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Hunter Lewis, Editor, Cooking Light.

October 7, 2015

“I don’t believe in the death of either of those (the homepage and the tablet) because, you know yourself, the “death of print” has been covered extensively over the last few years; we’ve read hundreds of articles about the death of print and we know that prediction was BS. It’s not about the death of the tablet or the death of the homepage; it’s about where the audience is and how they’re getting their information.” Hunter Lewis

Cooking Light-2 The day magazines and magazine media can conduct business and engage readers on all the various platforms without singling out which is which and who’s in charge of print or digital or mobile or whatever the next phase of our fast spinning world is, will be the day the industry knows true success. Working as one wheel with many spokes is the only way to succeed for the majority of the folks in today’s publishing world.

Cooking Light magazine has achieved that non-biased, non-prejudiced viewpoint and is kicking it in the healthy food space. From its 28-years-old print product to its many arms in the digital realms, the magazine goes beyond recognizing that it’s not an either/or stratosphere, nor is it a simply an integrated one anymore; it’s a normal workday around the magazine offices. It’s innovation that’s become second nature and habitual. And without habitual innovation in today’s magazine media world, the industry as a whole is lost.

Hunter Lewis has been at the helm of Cooking Light for one year now and this matter-of-fact way of looking at the many platforms that magazines must be on today in order to stand out in the very busy marketplace of food magazines, is the main reason for the title’s ability to shine on each and every one: their captain-at-the-wheel sees very few choppy waters when it comes to platform distinctions. To Hunter, each and every one is vital, necessary and all a part of a day-in-his-life.

I spoke with Hunter recently and we talked about how each platform Cooking Light maintains for its content is important to the magazine’s success, and yet, works as one entity instead of many to achieve it. A man as passionate about his brand as he is his cooking, Hunter believes that food brings joy to the people and healthy food brings a happier, healthier life too. His spot-on insights when it comes to print and digital working as one is refreshing and oh-so true in the 21st century. Visual, interactive and written are the elements needed in magazine media today and Cooking Light is serving them up, right along with some of the most delicious recipes around.

I hope you enjoy this cooking lesson that’s on the light and bright side as you read the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Hunter Lewis, Editor, Cooking Light.

But first, the sound-bites:


On whether he’s still as excited about Cooking Light as he was a year ago when he took the editor’s position or whether he’s had any second thoughts:
(Laughs) No second thoughts; I’m more fired up now than I was even then because I feel like I understand the brand much better, it’s become part of my DNA and I understand who the reader is.

On the many responsibilities of today’s editor and how he balances his day-to-day duties and whether he feels he has too many pots on the stove: It’s funny, I keep my daily to-do list in a notebook and I use to divvy up the to-do list for all the jobs, from print to digital to my staff, social and video, and about six months ago I just stopped doing that because now everything is so intertwined. And now it’s about the stories and the content and the recipes and where they go first. And how you deliver them and tell the story on any particular medium.

Hunter Lewis Photo On whether or not he believes in the latest phrases, death of the homepage and death of the tablet:
I don’t believe in the death of either of those because, you know yourself, the “death of print” has been covered extensively over the last few years; we’ve read hundreds of articles about the death of print and we know that prediction was BS. It’s not about the death of the tablet or the death of the homepage; it’s about where the audience is and how they’re getting their information.

On what he’s doing to ensure the future of the printed edition of Cooking Light with its mass audience:
It’s interesting, from on the outside, before I came to Cooking Light, I thought of Cooking Light as a service book. We’re serving up 75+ recipes and 25+ tips a month for readers to go out and use. But it’s not only a service book; it’s an enthusiast’s magazine as well. All of our staff; we’re all passionate about home cooking and we’re bringing that joy to the page. So, when people buy the magazine and they open it up, we want it to be a joyful experience. And we want our readers to go out and act upon the tips and to use the recipes.

On why he believes there has been such an explosion in food magazines in the last few years:
I think it’s a reflection of our culture and it speaks to the explosion of interest and passion for food. If you think about the way that we ate in this country fifty years ago, we don’t eat that way anymore. And if you think about the level of overall food knowledge of the average American, it’s much greater now than it used to be. Our access to good ingredients, at least for the folks that can afford them, has gotten much better. If you look at what’s on the supermarket shelves now versus 10 years ago, supermarkets are following the trends of what’s happening in restaurants, the chefs are the point of the spear for new American cuisine. And you’re seeing those flavors and tastes evolve and then trickle down to consumers in a mass way in supermarkets.

On one moment that happened throughout his first year at the helm of Cooking Light that made him know he had made the right decision and that he was where he belonged:
I think that there are a few touchstones; certainly interviewing Michelle Obama and talking to the First Lady about her goal to get more people in this country back in the kitchen to cook for good health; that was one moment where it really began to crystallize for us to think more about what we were doing here in Birmingham.

On the major stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: I think our biggest stumbling block is just what we’re fighting every day in the sense that, back in the day print was everything. It was the product that we were working on every waking moment. And so the big challenge has been to take a team that’s used to working on that one product and to marshal them together to work on all the different platforms. And that’s not something that happens overnight, because part of the game right now is that the digital platforms are changing so quickly that you have to stay up-to-date and you have to try new things and move into new spaces, while you’re also maintaining the core part of your brand which is print.

On whether he thinks his staff feels more gratified seeing their work appearing in print or digital or it doesn’t make a difference: With print you work on something for many months and you put it out and you might not hear anything. With digital what’s fascinating is that you know immediately whether or not you’ve pleased people and you know immediately, or pretty soon after, if that content has gone viral. So, you can measure that. And I think that’s important. To think about what you can measure and how you can analyze that.

On whether he’s trying to come up with ideas to bring the print audience to the editorial table and make them a part of the creation process:
Absolutely. I think a lot about Cooking Light Diet, which is a new product for us, it’s a completely different digital entity than cookinglight.com; it’s a completely different revenue stream than the magazine and to date we have thousands of subscribers for this new digital product. It’s this amazing, healthy meal planner. And what we’ve seen from these folks that are using the diet is that we’re getting these testimonials on a daily basis and it’s changing their lives. People are losing dozens of pounds on this and their cholesterol is dropping and they’ve convinced their families to eat healthier. So, what we’re doing is taking these testimonials and bringing some of those rock star subscribers to the Cooking Light Diet, some of our most engaged subscribers, and we’re starting a Facebook community with them and we’re featuring them in the magazine.

On what he’d like to accomplish and talk about one year from now when it comes to the magazine:
I hope that we’re talking about video and social video and just increasing the levels of engagement with video. I guarantee that we’ll be talking about the Time Inc. Food Studios and this massive new sweets test kitchens and photo and video studios that we’re opening here in Birmingham. And how Cooking Light and these studios will play together to create best-in-class video and recipes and stories. It’s a big, big deal for Time Inc.

On anything else he’s like to add: A couple of things are the huge November double issue which comes to mind because we’re shipping the last pages today. That’ll be coming out soon and I’m really excited about it. It has twice as many recipes and twice as many pages as we typically publish. Cooking Light Diet is top of mind and then also January is a big, big time for us. That’s when people are making their New Year’s resolutions and they’re thinking more practically about how they’re going to live a healthier life in the New Year. And so right now we’re working on the January issue and making it the absolute best that we can.

On what keeps him up at night:
The exact same thing that I said one year ago and I have it on a sticky note here on my wall. It’s the quote from the guy over at Microsoft, what drives me every morning and what keeps me up every night is one thing, “this business is not about longevity; it’s about relevance.” Every day what we’re doing is prioritizing and reprioritizing, based on how the game is changing.


And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Hunter Lewis, Editor, Cooking Light.


Samir Husni: It’s been a year now since you became editor of Cooking Light; are you still as happy and excited as when you first took the job? Or maybe you’re having second thoughts in hindsight?

Hunter Lewis: (Laughs) No second thoughts; I’m more fired up now than I was even then because I feel like I understand the brand much better, it’s become part of my DNA and I understand who the reader is. I also understand my team and what makes them tick more than I did a year ago when I was just starting out.

So, I’m really fired up about the next year and our next two to three years and the changes that we’re going to continue to make and what we’re going to be doing in the digital space.

Samir Husni: This is something that I hear form almost every editor, that no one is talking about either/or, nobody is talking print or digital; it’s all about the experience and print + digital, plus whatever else is going to be invented. How are you balancing your day-to-day as compared to when you were just working at a magazine? Do you feel that you have too many pots on the stove, so to speak?

Hunter Lewis: It’s funny, I keep my daily to-do list in a notebook and I use to divvy up the to-do list for all the jobs, from print to digital to my staff, social and video, and about six months ago I just stopped doing that because now everything is so intertwined. And now it’s about the stories and the content and the recipes and where they go first. And how you deliver them and tell the story on any particular medium.

So, who we were a year ago as a brand and how we approached digital has changed immensely. And a lot of it is just the mentality of the staff and getting them to think about digital in a different way than they previously had. I think the old way of doing it doesn’t work where you’ve got print editors and digital editors, and where several years ago what we put on dotcom or what we put on Facebook was sort of what was left on the cutting room floor from a print story. And you can’t do that anymore. Everything has to be compelling on every medium.

And every time we are coming up with an edit calendar, we think about what we’re planning and photographing, and how we’re going to make the story compelling on Facebook and the Cooking Light blog, and compelling through a series of 140-character Tweets? How are we going to take that story about chili and make it resonate on Instagram?

So, it’s always a part of who we are everyday to think about how we’re going to surprise and delight people in the digital space.

Samir Husni: I was in New York few months ago with a group of my students and we heard two things that were really stunning to me, one was the death of the homepage and the other was the death of the tablet. That today it’s all mobile and it’s all video; everything is on your Smartphone. Do you agree that after a very few years people are already talking about the death of the homepage and the tablet?

Hunter Lewis: I don’t believe in the death of either of those because, you know yourself, the “death of print” has been covered extensively over the last few years; we’ve read hundreds of articles about the death of print and we know that prediction was BS. It’s not about the death of the tablet or the death of the homepage; it’s about where the audience is and how they’re getting their information.

So, when we think about the rise of mobile and how important it is, in particular for food content, if you’re a consumer and you’re looking for that chili recipe, whether you’re at your desk or you’re at the supermarket and you’re looking at ingredients, you have to think smartly about where the consumer is; what they’re doing at that hour, and what device they’re using, and not only what device; what platform.

For us, we’ve grown Facebook exponentially over the last couple of years and we’ll probably hit five million Facebook followers in a few months. So for us it’s just as important to think about how we’re reaching those people and entertaining them and surprising and delighting them, getting them to come back to the site.

We talk a lot about social referrals and that’s a big, big deal. We talk about more about social referrals now than we do the homepage because if you think about general search and SEO (search engine optimization), those are hugely important, but you have to divvy up the pie with the audience and you have to figure out ways to get people to come back to the site through a compelling video on Facebook, let’s say, or through a compelling Tweet or Instagram. However, not Instagram as much per se; linking back is getting better on Instagram, but it’s really about Facebook at this point and how you use Facebook as its own platform to attract people, but also how you use it to compel people to come back to your site.

Samir Husni: What are you doing at the same time to ensure the future of the printed edition of Cooking Light with its mass audience?

Picture 35 Hunter Lewis: It’s interesting, from on the outside, before I came to Cooking Light, I thought of Cooking Light as a service book. We’re serving up 75+ recipes and 25+ tips a month for readers to go out and use. But it’s not only a service book; it’s an enthusiast’s magazine as well. All of our staff; we’re all passionate about home cooking and we’re bringing that joy to the page. So, when people buy the magazine and they open it up, we want it to be a joyful experience. And we want our readers to go out and act upon the tips and to use the recipes.

So, it’s about making delicious recipes and it’s about creating beautiful photography; as I said last year, the recipes have to be delicious and the photography has to be beautiful. And those two things have to be working hand-in-hand. It’s about writing sharp copy and it’s about writing sharp display; it’s about all the fundamentals that have always been important. Always bringing passion to the page and making people happy.

One thing that we’ve really worked on this year is thinking about our print and about how we can use it to empower people to get into the kitchen, because part of our mission moving forward is teaching people how to cook and getting them excited about being in the kitchen. Healthy is the new mainstream. And we know that when people cook for their families, those families are healthier. And Cooking Light is a real empowerment tool for good health.

Over the past year has really been about dialing in that message and I think it started with the March issue, which was our family dinner issue, and putting Michelle Obama on the cover and really making a splash with that. But it was great to see the staff come together and really think about our weeknight recipes in a different way. We’ve always been known for our healthy weeknight recipes, but we had to dial in the messaging and talk more about how Cooking Light is an empowerment tool for people to manage and take control of their own health, because how you eat can dictate your health.

Samir Husni: Somebody said that food magazines today are what celebrity magazines were in the early part of the 21st century. Why do you think there has been this explosion in food magazines? The specialization is tremendous, from crockpot cooking to how to bake the perfect chicken breast; the titles are plentiful. Why do you think there’s such a demand for food magazines today?

Hunter Lewis: I think it’s a reflection of our culture and it speaks to the explosion of interest and passion for food. If you think about the way that we ate in this country fifty years ago, we don’t eat that way anymore. And if you think about the level of overall food knowledge of the average American, it’s much greater now than it used to be. Our access to good ingredients, at least for the folks that can afford them, has gotten much better. If you look at what’s on the supermarket shelves now versus 10 years ago, supermarkets are following the trends of what’s happening in restaurants, the chefs are the point of the spear for new American cuisine. And you’re seeing those flavors and tastes evolve and then trickle down to consumers in a mass way in supermarkets.

And I think all of these food brands, whether they’re digital magazines or traditional print magazines have a place; the brand extensions of Cooking Light, with our special editions and books have a place. There’s a reason why we’re producing more of these, because the marketplace for all of these magazines has grown.

If we’re talking about Cooking Light in particular and about how we stand out in that very busy marketplace, I think for us in the past we were considered a mass brand and a healthy recipe book. And I’ve said this before, but I really believe it; part of our mantra everyday here with the team is to think about delivering content at that intersection where food and wellness meet. As I said, healthy is the new mainstream and our culture is coming to Cooking Light looking for healthy recipes, but also looking for accessible advice for living a better and healthier life with food at the core of it. But that’s really part of our mission moving forward is for press stories and our blog content, for our Facebook and newsletters to be more and more about how we can share that mission of health and wellness through food.

Samir Husni: Through this last year that you’ve been at the helm of Cooking Light, can you pinpoint one moment where you just knew that you’d made the right decision and you were where you belonged?

Hunter Lewis: I think that there are a few touchstones; certainly interviewing Michelle Obama and talking to the First Lady about her goal to get more people in this country back in the kitchen to cook for good health; that was one moment where it really began to crystallize for us to think more about what we were doing here in Birmingham.

We’ve got this program that’s a couple of years old called The Family Kitchen and we’ve partnered with Jones Valley Teaching Farm, which is a great, very progressive urban farm downtown. It’s also in Birmingham City Schools. And we’ve been preparing Cooking Light recipes and Southern Living recipes with these elementary school students and their families and it’s really broken down a lot of barriers and brought our weeknight recipes to life. It’s taught us more about healthy home cooking and how to reduce and lower as many barriers as possible so that the recipes will really stick and the cooking lessons will resonate. And by that I mean, recipes that are 30 minutes or less and $12 or less for a family of four, and you can buy every ingredient at Wal-Mart; you’re not using very many tools or pots and pans, but the recipes are delicious. And you see the responses and you see the way that these families come together at the table after they’ve made a meal with us; that’s a very empowering thing.

We took that experience with The Family Kitchen and the local elementary school students and we took Mrs. Obama’s message to heart with her “Let’s Cook” movement and her “Let’s Move” movement and we created a curriculum called “Let’s Cook.” It’s a curriculum that’s on our website and it’s in Spanish and English. It’s a series of recipes that fulfill those ideals that I was talking about; the 30 minutes or less and the $12 or less for a family of four. And that’s just a part of what I think really helped to bring our recipes to life and it helped our staff to think about our recipes beyond the page and how they can resonate with people. So, that was important. In terms of big, digital stories, that was a big one for us because we released the story online first.

We had a great summer cookbook this year in June and I think that was the first example for us where we’re going to deliver the story one way in print, but we’re also going to cover the 50 best farmer’s markets in the country and the way that resonated online and the way it resonated on Facebook and the traffic that drew was powerful. And it was a different way of telling a story than we would have done it in print. That was big.

And then we had a really big clean-eating package this spring that we released and that was important for us because clean-eating is in the news, it’s what a lot of companies are pointing to in terms of their value system and we saw a lot of traffic around that. All of this is a part of telling stories in different ways on different platforms.

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

Hunter Lewis: I think our biggest stumbling block is just what we’re fighting every day in the sense that, back in the day print was everything. It was the product that we were working on every waking moment. And so the big challenge has been to take a team that’s used to working on that one product and to marshal them together to work on all the different platforms. And that’s not something that happens overnight, because part of the game right now is that the digital platforms are changing so quickly that you have to stay up-to-date and you have to try new things and move into new spaces, while you’re also maintaining the core part of your brand which is print. So, that’s the real challenge and it’s a challenge every day for every editor.

Samir Husni: Do you think your staff feels more gratified if they see their work appearing in the print edition or in digital or it makes no difference?

Hunter Lewis: I think about it like a series of deadlines and I think about as a cook; when you cook for somebody, whether it’s at home or in a restaurant, you know immediately if that person is happy and you’ve pleased them. You know if they like that dish.

With print you work on something for many months and you put it out and you might not hear anything. With digital what’s fascinating is that you know immediately whether or not you’ve pleased people and you know immediately, or pretty soon after, if that content has gone viral. So, you can measure that. And I think that’s important. To think about what you can measure and how you can analyze that.

Samir Husni: Are you trying to come up with some ideas where you’re actually bringing the audience to the editorial print table, not to comment, but rather to be a part of the creation of the print magazine?

Hunter Lewis: Absolutely. I think a lot about Cooking Light Diet, which is a new product for us, it’s a completely different digital entity than cookinglight.com; it’s a completely different revenue stream than the magazine and to date we have thousands of subscribers for this new digital product. It’s this amazing, healthy meal planner.

And what we’ve seen from these folks that are using the diet is that we’re getting these testimonials on a daily basis and it’s changing their lives. People are losing dozens of pounds on this and their cholesterol is dropping and they’ve convinced their families to eat healthier.

So, what we’re doing is taking these testimonials and bringing some of those rock star subscribers to the Cooking Light Diet, some of our most engaged subscribers, and we’re starting a Facebook community with them and we’re featuring them in the magazine. We just went and shot video with a woman in Georgia who’s one of our star dieters and we’re creating a healthy meal plan for her that we’re putting into the January issue. So, yes, we want that kind of participation; we want that feedback. And just like with the elementary school students here in Birmingham and what they’re telling us about our healthy recipes and how they taste and work, we’re listening to the folks that are using the Cooking Light Diet and figuring out new ways to share their experiences in the magazine.

Samir Husni: Next year, if you and I are sitting down and having a second anniversary interview; what do you hope to tell me? What’s in store for Cooking Light and what’s in store for Hunter as we move toward the second year?

Hunter Lewis: I hope that we’re talking about video and social video and just increasing the levels of engagement with video. I guarantee that we’ll be talking about the Time Inc. Food Studios and this massive new sweets test kitchens and photo and video studios that we’re opening here in Birmingham. And how Cooking Light and these studios will play together to create best-in-class video and recipes and stories. It’s a big, big deal for Time Inc.

And I think we’ll be talking about the continued comeback of Time Inc. and where the company is going and how Cooking Light is innovating and helping to drive that comeback.

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

Hunter Lewis: A couple of things are the huge November double issue which comes to mind because we’re shipping the last pages today. That’ll be coming out soon and I’m really excited about it. It has twice as many recipes and twice as many pages as we typically publish. And that’s exciting because it allows us to publish some long reads that we don’t typically have room to stretch and publish.

Cooking Light Diet is top of mind and then also January is a big, big time for us. That’s when people are making their New Year’s resolutions and they’re thinking more practically about how they’re going to live a healthier life in the New Year. And so right now we’re working on the January issue and making it the absolute best that we can. But we’re also working on a compelling digital package so that every day in January our audience is getting, not just one tip for one recipe, but scores of them that will help them to live a healthier 2016.

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

Hunter Lewis: The exact same thing that I said one year ago and I have it on a sticky note here on my wall. It’s the quote from the guy over at Microsoft, what drives me every morning and what keeps me up every night is one thing, “this business is not about longevity; it’s about relevance.” Every day what we’re doing is prioritizing and reprioritizing, based on how the game is changing. And thinking about the stories that we’re telling and the content that we’re delivering and making sure that it’s going to resonate the most on whichever platform we put it on.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Rachael Ray Every Day Magazine: The “Everyday Name” That Became THE Moniker For Food, Fun & Recipes, Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Lauren Purcell, Editor-in-Chief.

October 5, 2015

“You’re not going to be surprised to hear me say that print is very important, I’m sure, but I will tell you why. And I’ll even go one step further, which is, although I certainly don’t have insight into all of the financials of the Rachael Ray brand, but I would guess that we’re not her main moneymaker, given that she has a national daily TV show. Obviously, we’re profitable and successful, but what I will say is the magazine for her is her legacy piece, no offense to television at all, but television doesn’t really have the longevity that a print product does. Rachael’s books and this magazine are where she can deliver a message that she can be unbelievably passionate about over and over again, so that the message is really sticky.” Lauren Purcell

Rachael Ray Every Day: Before and After

Rachael Ray Every Day: Before and After

With its 10th anniversary, Every Day with Rachael Ray becomes Rachael Ray Every Day Magazine, reaching this milestone with plans for many more as the magazine moves forward into its next decade with an eye on maintaining and achieving even more success and audience relevance. It’s a new name and a new look, but the same resonating content that has made it one of the most popular titles out there for its entire 10 years.

Lauren Purcell has been editor-in-chief of the magazine for four years, coming from her position as executive editor at Self. I spoke with Lauren recently and we talked about the important changes that were made regarding the logo and title. Lauren believes that the new name makes a stronger, more immediate connection for the consumer with Rachael and her unique brand.

Lauren told me that Rachael considered multiple versions with both the original name, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and the new one, Rachael Ray Every Day, and Rachael and Lauren based their decision on both visual impact and reader recognition. She believes the new name more closely echoes what their readers call the magazine in casual use on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and in conversations both Rachael and she have had with readers in person, in which they often refer to the magazine as “Rachael Ray magazine.” In testing, fans were very engaged by seeing Rachael’s name more prominently placed.

Lauren and Rachael Ray have a collegial working relationship that is based on a mutual trust and love for the brand, something that is sometimes rare to find in celebrity/editor relationships.

So, I hope you enjoy this lively and entertaining conversation with a woman who knows how to keep relevance and freshness in a magazine that some might consider mature, but is in fact still evolving “Every day.” And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Lauren Purcell, Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Ray Every Day Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Lauren Purcell, editor-in-chief, Rachael Ray Every Day magazine.

Lauren Purcell, editor-in-chief, Rachael Ray Every Day magazine.

On the 10th anniversary of Every Day with Rachael Ray and what she would say the state of the magazine is today: It’s interesting to be at the point of a 10th anniversary right now, because the tendency would be to perceive that as a mature magazine, but in truth Rachael’s brand has been evolving so quickly that I think we’re really looking forward. In fact, her real directive when I sat down with her about planning this particular issue was, sure, we can do a little bit of a lookback, but forward, forward, forward. Let’s look forward.

On working with Rachael Ray and whether or not it’s all the honeymoon phase or there have been some stumbling blocks: I don’t think it’s a honeymoon as much as it’s our third honeymoon. We’re like colleagues anywhere, we go through cycles of agreeing or disagreeing about things, but my relationship with Rachael has been really collegial from the beginning. The truth about Rachael is that she actually is that person that you see on TV who you believe might be sitting in your kitchen next Tuesday having a glass of wine and telling you a funny joke. It’s not spin; I would spin it, of course, Samir, if I had to, (Laughs) but I don’t have to. I really think that she’s an ideal editorial director.

On the fact that Rachael Ray is so down-to-earth and real: She’s truly a genuine person and one of the things that I hear from all of her people, people who work on her show and hair and makeup people, her PR people; she’s unbelievably loyal and I’ve really experienced that. When we’ve gone through times where we’re really tussling with something in the magazine, what direction we want to go in or should we try a different strategy, and we sit down together, she’s really as interested in coming out of it with me being comfortable and positive about the direction we take moving forward as she is. And we don’t stop until we have achieved some kind of collaboration that we’re both really happy with.

On the reinvention of the magazine for its second decade: It was really just a back and forth, with us doing all the nitty-gritty, really hardcore design work on our end, working with a great designer out in San Francisco, and then bringing them to Rachael and just having her react. And I think her vision of the brand is so internal to her that the easiest way for her to react is not to have to really articulate it, although she is very articulate about the brand; it’s just to say to me, this one feels like us, this one doesn’t. And then Heather and I were able to say, OK, what she’s reacting to is a slightly wider lettering or she likes this color palette of our back color palette and that’s really how Rachael and I handle the magazine in general. It’s really collaborative and yet to her credit, she has hired experts, such as me and my team, and she lets us run with the ball.

On whether we’ll see more or less of Rachael on the cover with the new redesign: We are going to see about the same, perhaps a tiny bit more. To be honest, in all the research, sales of the magazine are about the same, whether the main image on the cover is food or Rachael and there’s always a little image of Rachael. And because we haven’t suffered any sort of loss in showing food, some of it has to do with the fact that Rachael is busier than ever and when we can give her a break from needing to appear in a cover shoot; I think she’s appreciative of that.

On a typical day in her professional life as she puts the magazine together: I don’t know if I can describe a typical day to you, but you do hit on something that is crucial to this brand. And that is, how much Rachael can we deliver to the audience because the magazine is largely about our Rachael fans. Our audience is absolutely Rachael fans, but if there are people who feel lukewarm about her, they might be attracted to a food cover and that’s one of the reasons they began experimenting with just food on the cover and I’ve continued that.

On a major stumbling block she’s had to face and how she overcame it: The one thing that we continue to work on, and it has improved, we’ve done really well with it since I’ve been here, is that the arms of Rachael’s brand are so numerous and are headed by different people, and getting those arms to work together so that the TV show and the magazine and Meyer, which makes her cookware, and Yum-o! her philanthropic effort, even her Food Network show appearances, and they obviously have their own magazine and Rachael has hers, and yet our readers are interested in everything that Rachael does and that includes when she’s on Food Network.

On how important the ink on paper magazine is to a woman like Rachael Ray whose face is everywhere: I think that she sees the magazine as a mouthpiece for her philosophy. And the role of the TV shows is that they are popular and quicker and the ratings drive everything and the message has to be, I think, very upbeat and quick. And the magazine is a place where she can be more heartfelt and more earnest and really delve into why she started to this in the first place.

On anything else she’d like to add: You’ve been very good at letting me get across how excited I am about this 10th anniversary and as editor-in-chief; this is my first editor-in-chief role. And while I’ve put together anniversary books at other places I’ve worked, this is my first anniversary baby. And I’m so, so proud of it. And yet, also kind of grateful to Rachael for even setting me straight and saying, but we’re looking forward. We’re looking forward. So, I think you’re going to see great things from this magazine, whether I helm it or not; Rachael is it’s patron saint and she’s not going anywhere.

On what motivates her to get up in the morning and say it’s going to be a great day: To be honest, it’s the people. I have often said there are lots of great magazine makers out there and I take my cues from lots of them and I’ve borrowed lots of wisdom from people I’ve worked for who I think are great, but I think unless you can make a magazine that’s staff is happy in doing it, especially in this world where we’re constantly bombarded by the whole “print is dead” mantra, which as you can imagine, I completely don’t believe.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is that Rachael will not look both ways when she crosses the street. If you want to talk about the one vulnerability in a celebrity brand it is that she has to be alive and kicking.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Lauren Purcell, editor-in-chief, Every Day with Rachael Ray.

Samir Husni: You’ve arrived at the 10th anniversary of Every Day with Rachael Ray and the magazine has now been under two owners, two major magazine publishers: Reader’s Digest and Meredith. What would you say is the state of the magazine today?

The 10th anniversary issue of Rachael Ray Every Day sporting a new name and logo.

The 10th anniversary issue of Rachael Ray Every Day sporting a new name and logo.

Lauren Purcell: It’s interesting to be at the point of a 10th anniversary right now, because the tendency would be to perceive that as a mature magazine, but in truth Rachael’s brand has been evolving so quickly that I think we’re really looking forward. In fact, her real directive when I sat down with her about planning this particular issue was, sure, we can do a little bit of a lookback, but forward, forward, forward. Let’s look forward.

She’s at the top of her game right now; the brand is incredibly vibrant. Her daytime TV show is popular; her cookware brands are selling like hotcakes; she is one of the most popular talk show hosts in the nation and the magazine is right along with that.

So, I really see the 10th anniversary as a moment to stop just for a second and say, look at what these brands have accomplished and then turn right around and look forward and say, but we’re still going to keep it fresh and interesting. It’s a success and I don’t see that as doing anything else but growing in the future.

What we’ve done to coincide with the anniversary is freshen up the logo, and in fact I’m dying to release it to you because it’s so terrific-looking, we’ve got it embargoed for just another few days.

But it’s the same great magazine, just with a look that reflects the fact that the brand is really contemporary and modern, and keeping up and changing really rapidly with the times. As the times really do right now; there’s nothing complacent, tired or boring about this brand.

So, we’ve changed the look of the cover and the inside, but the content and the message are essentially the same, because it’s just as resonant now. Rachael’s whole message is that “every day” can be a little bit of an adventure and you don’t need to be rich to live a rich life. And that was resonant 10 years ago and it has gone through all sorts of cycles, but the message really connects with readers just as much today. So, I’m looking forward to the next 10 years.

Samir Husni: That’s great and congratulations on this milestone.

Lauren Purcell: Thank you.

Samir Husni: You hear love stories and horror stories from editors about working with “celebrities,” but you sound so radiant when you talk about the magazine. As you work with Rachael, is it all fun, without stumbling blocks? Are you still on a honeymoon period with Rachael?

Lauren Purcell: I don’t think it’s a honeymoon as much as it’s our third honeymoon. We’re like colleagues anywhere, we go through cycles of agreeing or disagreeing about things, but my relationship with Rachael has been really collegial from the beginning.

I think one of the reasons that we hit it off from the very first time that I met her is that I really believe in what she’s doing and what her message is. I don’t know if you know this about my background, but in addition to coming from a women’s lifestyle kind of magazine background, I had also written a cookbook with my sister. But the message of it really was, look we’re just two girls from a small town in the south who moved to New York and proved that you can throw cocktail parties; it was a cocktail party how-to book, without having a culinary degree or hiring caterers or anything like that. And that is essentially so in line with Rachael’s overall message; she too is not a trained chef and she calls herself instead, a cook.

And so I think I just got her and her message from the very beginning and that has enabled her to really relax into letting us run the magazine, which is not to say that she’s not heavily involved. She sees every page, we talk about what we’re planning to do; she is really instrumental in setting new directions that we go in.

So, not so much a honeymoon period as it’s just really an excellent fit, I think. And that’s lucky because I came from Condè Nast and had my share of celebrity run-ins and that’s just not the way of this relationship. The truth about Rachael is that she actually is that person that you see on TV who you believe might be sitting in your kitchen next Tuesday having a glass of wine and telling you a funny joke. It’s not spin; I would spin it, of course, Samir, if I had to, (Laughs) but I don’t have to. I really think that she’s an ideal editorial director.

Samir Husni: I can attest to that. When I first met Rachael at the launch party for the magazine 10 years ago, my daughter, who lived in New York at the time, went with me and Rachael was talking with my daughter as if she had known her for years. I was simply stunned at how down-to-earth she was. She took pictures with my daughter and anyone else there who wanted to and mingled with everyone as if she were simply attending the party, instead of being the celebrity guest of honor.

Lauren Purcell: That’s actually a better description than I could even give you. She’s a real person and I do think that’s rare among celebrities; I don’t think that your observation is off the mark at all. I have funny stories about other celebrities that I’ve worked with in the past, but I just don’t have them about Rachael. The stories about her are always things like, she told me a joke when I was in her office one day and I almost fell off my chair laughing.

She’s truly a genuine person and one of the things that I hear from all of her people, people who work on her show and hair and makeup people, her PR people; she’s unbelievably loyal and I’ve really experienced that. When we’ve gone through times where we’re really tussling with something in the magazine, what direction we want to go in or should we try a different strategy, and we sit down together, she’s really as interested in coming out of it with me being comfortable and positive about the direction we take moving forward as she is. And we don’t stop until we have achieved some kind of collaboration that we’re both really happy with. And that dialogue being that open has been; I won’t lie to you, maybe a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started working with her four years ago, but she is responsive, and the best thing about her is that she’s real, as you saw with her interaction with your daughter. And she’s truly accessible and really interested; none of that is fake and that’s my highest compliment to her.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the process, how the two of you or just you and the team, handled the redesign and essentially the reinvention of the magazine for its second decade.

The last issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray before the name and logo changes.

The last issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray before the name and logo changes.

Lauren Purcell: Well, it’s been an interesting process because we started working on a new logo last December. So, we’re really talking about nine or ten months of working on that. And in the middle of that we had a change in creative directors. So, you can imagine that made things a little tricky in terms of continuity.

And I have to give credit to Heather Haggerty, who is my new creative director who isn’t so new anymore, but who joined us earlier this year, in picking up that ball and running with it. And for the logo in particular, I would take multiple iterations to Rachael, who is very visual, so it wasn’t the kind of thing where I could sit down and say, tell me what you envision or what kind of type styles you like or what would you like it to look like.

What I needed to do was sit down with my team, get a start on what we wanted and those words had to be modern, in keeping with the digital age, fresher, energetic and casual. And then do a bunch of designs and there must have been 70 iterations in the beginning that we just put in front of Rachael that she could say yea or nay to without having to worry about why she liked something. Yes, I like it or no, I don’t. And then we went back and we were able to interpret from that what kinds of things she liked. Would she like it to be more feminine, less feminine? Upper case, lower case; you’ll see a change in the logo towards lower case, which reflects a social media sensibility, a casualness about capitalization.

It was really just a back and forth, with us doing all the nitty-gritty, really hardcore design work on our end, working with a great designer out in San Francisco, and then bringing them to Rachael and just having her react.

And I think her vision of the brand is so internal to her that the easiest way for her to react is not to have to really articulate it, although she is very articulate about the brand; it’s just to say to me, this one feels like us, this one doesn’t. And then Heather and I were able to say, OK, what she’s reacting to is a slightly wider lettering or she likes this color palette of our back color palette and that’s really how Rachael and I handle the magazine in general. It’s really collaborative and yet to her credit, she has hired experts, such as me and my team, and she lets us run with the ball.

Samir Husni: Are we going to see more of Rachael on the cover or less of her?

Lauren Purcell: We are going to see about the same, perhaps a tiny bit more. To be honest, in all the research, sales of the magazine are about the same, whether the main image on the cover is food or Rachael and there’s always a little image of Rachael. And because we haven’t suffered any sort of loss in showing food, some of it has to do with the fact that Rachael is busier than ever and when we can give her a break from needing to appear in a cover shoot; I think she’s appreciative of that.

That being said, she’s happy to appear on all of them and you’ll see her on November and December and then she’s appearing again in March. So, you may see a little bit of an uptick in how often she appears on the cover, but I think we’re doing just as well with food and while that’s unusual to have two very different kinds of cover tracks like that, until I see that it’s confusing the consumer, and I see no evidence of that, I see no reason not to continue with both. They’ve both been really successful.

Samir Husni: Let’s go inside your mind for a moment as you put the magazine together and you’re thinking about the fact that you have a team and you’re working with Rachael, but at the same time you have an audience that could probably be described as a Rachael Ray cult. Can you describe a day in your life as editor-in-chief of a major magazine? How do you go through your day thinking about the millions who follow Rachael and who want everything to have Rachael Ray’s name on it and then knowing you also have an audience that you’re introducing to Rachael for maybe the first time and knowing that you have Rachael herself to consider?

Lauren Purcell: I don’t know if I can describe a typical day to you, but you do hit on something that is crucial to this brand. And that is, how much Rachael can we deliver to the audience because the magazine is largely about our Rachael fans. Our audience is absolutely Rachael fans, but if there are people who feel lukewarm about her, they might be attracted to a food cover and that’s one of the reasons they began experimenting with just food on the cover and I’ve continued that.

If you assume that, and we’re really now mostly talking about a newsstand audience, which is pretty small for us, but of course for an editor-in-chief it’s always a measure of vitality. If you assume that you’re capturing with a Rachael image Rachael fans, you still have to wonder about the people we might be able to convert into Rachael fans by the strength of what’s inside the magazine, which is terrific, accessible food, an approach to lifestyle that really does take into consideration the value and fun of life, and it’s not over the heads of its readers and it really speaks to her. And it’s largely women, although not completely, but it speaks to her where she lives, on a Tuesday or a busy Wednesday. What is she going to do tomorrow or next week as opposed to just special occasions and holidays?

I have actually taken advantage of how strong Meredith is in the research side of things and tested a lot of that, so as I said, one of the first things I did was test to see if the food cover was as popular as a Rachael cover and if not we need to change that. I was lucky to find out that they are and they actually perform the same in sales.

I’ve also asked my readers, frankly I’ve gone directly to them and asked, do you feel there is the right amount of Rachael in this magazine or do you wish there was more or less? And people feel there is the right amount. And I think my team does a very good job of understanding who Rachael is and that the brand is this woman. And also in fusing the magazine with everything we know about her and her voice.

And she’s also of course literally there; she writes her own 30-minute meals, so this is a woman who is very involved in the brand that has her name on it. But when you talk about day-to-day, what we think about all the time, and this is true of any magazine editor, so this is no particular secret sauce of mine, it’s just that I have a celebrity who is a real living, breathing brand, and so it’s easy for us to ask, would Rachael do that or does this feel like Rachael? Is this the kind of thing that Rachael is interested in? And if I don’t have a gut instinct, although I usually do, I text her and I ask her. And that’s really beautiful.

And as Rachael evolves, the magazine has this really natural permission to also change and grow and it doesn’t disconcert the readers; they’re not thinking to themselves, oh my goodness, what happened to my Every Day with Rachael Ray because they are aware of her and they know that, for instance, she is more interested in let’s say, vegetarian cooking, something that she decided she was interested in pursuing, which surprised me. That didn’t surprise the readers at all, they believe that she’s like them and she gets enthusiasm and she pursues them and then she reports back.

So, I have to say that rather than it being a difficult thing to have a celebrity, it makes it really easy. I have a touchstone that’s right there on the other end of the phone line or sitting across the desk from me and I can say, what do you think about doing x, y or z? It’s a great guideline and to her credit, never constraining because she herself shows interest and is open-minded.

Samir Husni: In the last four years since you’ve been at the helm of the magazine, what has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Lauren Purcell: The one thing that we continue to work on, and it has improved, we’ve done really well with it since I’ve been here, is that the arms of Rachael’s brand are so numerous and are headed by different people, and getting those arms to work together so that the TV show and the magazine and Meyer, which makes her cookware, and Yum-o! her philanthropic effort, even her Food Network show appearances, and they obviously have their own magazine and Rachael has hers, and yet our readers are interested in everything that Rachael does and that includes when she’s on Food Network.

And so I think the thing I concentrate on as the magazine is running very smoothly, four years in, I think we do have a really good momentum and it runs very smoothly day-to-day, is how we can get more and more synergy among all the arms. And I know from speaking to the people who run all of those, they’re all concerned about doing that as well.

A good example is Rachael has her own book in print with Simon & Shuster and there just hadn’t been a lot of conversation between the magazine and the book. And that didn’t make any sense. We’re natural outlets for one another. So we just recently finished collaborating on a great program where if you purchase Rachael’s new book which is coming out at the end of October, you also get a free subscription to the magazine. And that sounds so simple, but because the properties are owned by entirely different corporations, it really took a lot of collaboration and me involving a lot of people on my corporate side, Simon & Shuster getting people involved from their corporate side and really working together over the course of weeks.

That was a small win, but a significant one. And I think that’s my major sort of challenge or objective going forward; how can we get more and more of those wins, where the arms of this brand all work together and we’re more than the sum of the parts. You can’t just work in isolation; that’s not how brands work anymore, as we all know. We want the TV show and the magazine to collaborate and the book to get involved too and then the product line and the philanthropic effort and all of the things that she’s going to do. And I expect her to do more and more things.

Samir Husni: So we can easily say that you have been Meredith-ized? That has been a Meredith trend for years. You used to buy the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and you got the magazine subscription free.

Lauren Purcell: Right. And if our brand worked the way Better Homes and Gardens did within Meredith, I think that would be much more seamless and easy to accomplish. And because we are a little bit of a different business model, it has not been as natural a collaboration. I’m really proud of achieving and making strides in that arena and I just want to keep going with that because I think that there’s unlimited potential. The drawback is also the advantage; the fact that there are multiple arms with different companies means that there are lots and lots of resources that wholly-owned Meredith brands might not be able to take advantage of. But it’s my challenge to figure out how to make those collaborations work when they’re not wholly-owned by Meredith, of course, you have to figure out how everybody benefits. And that’s good business negotiation and I’m learning as I go, and as I said, have chocked up some wins, and frankly, have had some things that haven’t worked out in the end and we couldn’t come to an agreement.

But I think that going forward that’s going to be what I look back on and regard as my greatest success. Of course I’m proud of how successful the magazine is on its own, but to be able to look back and say that we really advanced the entire brand, with the magazine as an engine, that would be a terrific legacy.

Samir Husni: How important is the printed magazine for a woman like Rachael Ray, who is everywhere and on almost every pixel on every screen? She’s all over; how important is the ink on paper magazine?

Lauren Purcell: You’re not going to be surprised to hear me say that print is very important, I’m sure, but I will tell you why. And I’ll even go one step further, which is, although I certainly don’t have insight into all of the financials of the Rachael Ray brand, but I would guess that we’re not her main moneymaker, given that she has a national daily TV show. Obviously, we’re profitable and successful, but what I will say is the magazine for her is her legacy piece, no offense to television at all, but television doesn’t really have the longevity that a print product does. Rachael’s books and this magazine are where she can deliver a message that she can be unbelievably passionate about over and over again, so that the message is really sticky.

And so I think that she sees the magazine as a mouthpiece for her philosophy. And the role of the TV shows is that they are popular and quicker and the ratings drive everything and the message has to be, I think, very upbeat and quick. And the magazine is a place where she can be more heartfelt and more earnest and really delve into why she started to this in the first place.

And she’s been on-message from the beginning because it’s something that she feels so passionate about and that’s why she called it “Every Day” because she really believes that food and all the things that surround it are a way to make every single day a little bit better and a little bit more personal and a little bit more filled with love. As cheesy as that might sound, that’s a message that she’s never going to get tired of getting across and the print product is just the place where I think the audience has a lot more tolerance for that kind of deep, thoughtful message, packaged obviously with her humor and brilliant visuals and terrific food and all of those things. And we’ll never stop delivering that, but I know that she’s really proud of having a place where she can accomplish these things. And you’ll find this in the book too, to some extent. But the magazine is a place where over and over again, ten times every year, we can say, this is what Rachael Ray stands for.

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

Lauren Purcell: You’ve been very good at letting me get across how excited I am about this 10th anniversary and as editor-in-chief; this is my first editor-in-chief role. And while I’ve put together anniversary books at other places I’ve worked, this is my first anniversary baby. And I’m so, so proud of it. And yet, also kind of grateful to Rachael for even setting me straight and saying, but we’re looking forward. We’re looking forward. So, I think you’re going to see great things from this magazine, whether I helm it or not; Rachael is it’s patron saint and she’s not going anywhere. And I think everything that she has to say and everything that she’s done for American cooking; I’m really proud to be able to get that message across. It’s an exciting time to be here.

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

Lauren Purcell: To be honest, it’s the people. I have often said there are lots of great magazine makers out there and I take my cues from lots of them and I’ve borrowed lots of wisdom from people I’ve worked for who I think are great, but I think unless you can make a magazine that’s staff is happy in doing it, especially in this world where we’re constantly bombarded by the whole “print is dead” mantra, which as you can imagine, I completely don’t believe.

I only want to go to work each day and make sure that my staff enjoys working there, is proud of what we’re putting out, feels creatively challenged, knows that I’m fostering their careers, and there’s kind of a joke within Meredith that I’m constantly needing to hire new editorial assistants, and the reason for that is because we mentor them so thoroughly that they get snapped up by other media companies and promoted, well beyond what I can offer them and I’m really proud of that. That there is a whole set of people walking around who got their chops working on this magazine under me. I believe in mentoring more than anything else and while obviously it is my job to make a terrific product and to make sure it sells and is relevant, I want to do that as well as create an atmosphere where great editors are being developed on my team and they’re proud of what they’re doing and are happy to come to work every day.

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

Lauren Purcell: What keeps me up at night is that Rachael will not look both ways when she crosses the street. If you want to talk about the one vulnerability in a celebrity brand it is that she has to be alive and kicking. And I have said that to her. She used to a fan of skydiving and I don’t know if it was the insurance company, her husband or her own good sense that made her stop doing that, but I just saw an interview where she said that she would love to take it up again. And I texted her and said, please don’t. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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More Magazines, Less Frequency: The 3rd Quarter New Magazine Numbers…

October 2, 2015

The numbers are in for the third quarter of 2015 and they are good. More magazines were published in the third quarter of this year compared to that of 2014.

A minimum of 194 new titles arrived at the nation’s stands in the third quarter compared with 193 in 2014. The big difference, 43 were published with an intended frequency of four issues a year or more compared to 55 in 2014.

Below is a sample from the September launches and below the pictures the stats for September and the third quarter of 2015 compared with 2014.

via-corsa-2

conde-nast-modern-design-6

roadkill-1

southern-home-1

everyday-wisdom-from-the-bible-8

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And here are the charts:
3rd quarter 2015 vs 2014 pie graphs

3rd quarter top categories 2015 vs 2014

September 2015 vs sept 2014 pie graphs

Sept 2015 v 2014 top categories bar graph

To see each and every new magazine launch, please visit the Mr. Magazine™ Launch Monitor here.

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Hoffman Media: From A Crafting & Needlework Village To An Epic Women’s Interest Empire – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Phyllis Hoffman DePiano & Brian Hart Hoffman.

October 1, 2015

At the Hottest Magazine Launches awards held on Friday Dec. 9, 2016 at the Yale Club in New York City, Phyllis Hoffman DePiano was named the publisher of the year and Bake From Scratch was named the hottest magazine launch of the year. What follows is an interview I did with the hottest publisher of the year Phyllis Hoffman DePiano and Brian Hart Hoffman, the editor in chief of the hottest magazine launch of the year Bake From Scratch, back in October of 2015.  Enjoy the stroll along memory lane…

“…That tactile experience of turning pages and not being glued to a screen is important. I think in the beginning everyone thought digital was going to replace everything, but that quiet restorative experience of sitting down and reading a magazine and marking your favorite page; our readers really enjoy that.” Phyllis Hoffman DePiano

“… In a world where we are consuming digital so often in our day, such as in today’s business and the personal time we spend with our phones and tablets; I think print is still an escape that people love and enjoy. Looking at the indicators in the business and the marketplace, we haven’t seen any reason to abandon introducing new print titles. People love them and they’re selling really well and we’re going to keep delivering that to them based on demand.” Brian Hart Hoffman

Southern Home-4 Everything southern; Hoffman Media publications are the epitome of everything the south stands for: charm, grace, etiquette and delicious food; along with beautiful homes, craftwork and exquisite sewing. The magazines are very much like their owners, down-to-earth and extremely real.

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano and her two sons, Brian Hart Hoffman and Eric Hoffman, along with a team of creative talent, make up Hoffman Media, one of the few remaining family-owned and operated publishing houses around. Starting out very small many years ago, Phyllis took the company and grew it into the women’s interest empire that it is today. From niche titles with frequency to special bookazines that cover diverse topics, Hoffman Media has become a force to be reckoned with when it comes to southern women’s magazines.

And now with her two sons assisting her at the helm, Phyllis sees nothing but growth and success for the future. I spoke with Phyllis and Brian recently and we talked about that very subject: Hoffman Media’s past, present and future. The family connection of passion and dedication to the brand, its readers and the creative people they employ, was vibrant.

Bake from Scratch-3 From Southern Homes to Bake From Scratch to Southern Cast Iron, the Hoffman’s know what it means to be southern and to give their audience the real deal; it’s a total immersion that is both natural and refreshingly authentic.

So sit back and relax, have a mint julep and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Phyllis Hoffman DePiano and Brian Hart Hoffman, Hoffman Media.

But first, the sound-bites:

On the history of Hoffman Media and how it went from a small group of needlework and crafting magazines to the empire it is today: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) We were in the needlework and craft market for 10 years after we started our company in 1983. And then we sold our business to PJS Publications, which was a bigger business in the craft and needlework space. And after five years, all of us, PJS and all of the subsidiaries, were sold to PRIMEDIA and they went through a series of transitions and changes and moving people around, and they started consolidating their offices and wanted me to move to Denver. My boys were seniors in high school and we were embedded here in Birmingham, so I wasn’t open to a move. Steve Elzy asked me would I like to buy the original magazine back. So, in 1998 we bought our business back and started again as Hoffman Media. Fast-forwarding to where we are today, we have added titles in the cooking and entertaining space. In fact, we recently approved the magazine 10 Years with Paula Deen, and so our company took a big transition once we diversified some of the crafts into the cooking and entertaining space. And that has really been exciting for us.

On why Hoffman is immersed in the idea of producing collectible items with every issue they publish today: (Brian Hart Hoffman) One thing that we’ve never been apologetic about is that we are, what we would consider, a premium publisher. Our readers enjoy beautiful photography, very nice paper and they tell us that they want more of it. And for lack of a better word, it’s trendy right now to be using the wide format, larger publications and readers want the high-quality. They love cookbooks and they also love collector’s editions’ publications. We just really try to do our homework and respond to what consumers and the industry are asking for and are enjoying.

On whether she ever felt any competition with the other Birmingham-based publications: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) No, we did not. And Southern Living is what we’re talking about, of course, and what’s so funny is that all of the people who were in the top management years ago are all still good friends of mine today; it’s really a wonderful community here. We wrote our first southern magazine unapologetically geared toward women. And that is something that had not been done in the south because we had the beautiful Veranda, Southern Living and Southern Accents that were geared to the reader period, be it man or woman.

Phyllis shot holding magazines On being a woman at the helm of an operation like Hoffman Media and whether that may have made a difference in her relationship with the readers: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) I think so because I believe that they could relate to us as people who are also going home and setting our tables too. It’s funny, because I do speak at a lot of women’s events, and I think it is a good connection, I really do.

On whether Hoffman Media is trying to dominate the southern women’s market with all of its many titles: (Brian Hart Hoffman) I would say that we would absolutely like to dominate the southern publishing space, but by doing it in a very disciplined manner, where our editorial is still very niche-focused. Southern foods, southern lifestyles, southern personalities and southern décor; these are all things that are in our backyard here in the south and we have relationships with so many people in the industry, with home interior design and shops that own restaurants and food brands that make the south just such a wonderful place to be.

On why in this digital age, Hoffman Media is bringing so many print titles to the marketplace: (Brian Hart Hoffman)When I spoke at the ACT 5 conference last year, I referenced this in my presentation; we’ve heard so many people in the last 8 to 10 years telling us that print is dying and it’s all going digital, and all of these alerts and alarms about what’s going to ultimately happen, but we thoroughly see and believe that there’s an audience for multiple forms of media. You have to have the digital components and the social media presence, but people still love holding that high-quality publication in their hands. They take it to the kitchen with them; they curl up on the sofa and read it like a book.

On a new sewing magazine Hoffman Media is introducing: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) The reason that we’re bringing this back is all of the magazines in that space have been folded. They have fallen into the hands of companies that are digital-only and so the print magazines have gone away. In tune with those audiences, people want print magazines in that sewing space because of the same reason they want the pictures, to put them on their shelves in their sewing rooms. They want to have the patterns so they can reproduce what is going on. Children’s sewing right now is one of the hottest markets that there is and women today who are sewing still love the visual.

On any major stumbling block she’s had to face and how she overcame it: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) Probably in our current days, such as last year with the folding of Source Interlink and the effect it had on the newsstands. That was a huge setback for us, in terms of our distributions; we had to work very, very diligently to overcome that and we did.

On what has been the highlight of Brian’s career so far since joining his mom at Hoffman Media: (Brian Hart Hoffman) In the last eight years, the highlight of learning from mom, the CEO, and the professional development that I’ve been able to experience and tapping into my creative brain that I wasn’t fully aware of, the brainpower and the creative instincts that I had to lead an editorial division of a publishing company; every day is the highlight. We work with such talented people who make the creative process that much more fun. And I get to see my mom and brother, so that’s a pretty good gig.

On anything else they’d like to add: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) In our company, like Brian said, we’re committed to growing this company by keeping our eyes and ears opened to what is going on in the market and what the trends and demands are, and through consultants a well. We’re very cautious in that we don’t just completely jump in without testing markets and listening to our advertisers. From that standpoint, that’s why a lot of what we do is not assuming that we have all the answers; we’re very in tune with the people in our industry and the trends that they’re seeing and the wants and needs of the reader.

Brian Hoffman 2014 On anything else they’d like to add: (Brian Hart Hoffman) I think that I would reiterate Mom’s same sentiment; the DNA of our company is to really just look for voids in the marketplace and opportunities for us to be very niched in our approach to magazine publishing, and again, delivering products that are high-quality into a marketplace of people who are seeking out content in that particular genre of titles. We never wanted to be a mass-reach, broad reader service. We’re not trying to take on the multimillion circulation magazines. We’re trying to be the best Hoffman Media we can be.

On what keeps them up at night: (Phyllis Hoffman DePiano) For me, it’s the self-imposed understanding that we’re responsible for our employees, these people who have committed their lives and their professional careers to us. Making sure that we’re making prudent decisions about our business and growth, giving them opportunities and looking down the road, because to me, as I said when I spoke at one of the ACT conferences, our assets walk in and out of our door between 8-5, or whenever they go home, and making sure they have opportunities to be a part of the growth and to have a good foundation is vital.

On what keeps them up at night: (Brian Hart Hoffman) For me personally, new ideas and creativity keep me up at night. I believe I do some of my best thinking when I wake up at 2:00 a.m. with a good idea that I need to jot down or if I’m writing an article, because it comes to me in the night sometimes. I would say that creativity keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Phyllis Hoffman DePiano and Brian Hart Hoffman, Hoffman Media:

Samir Husni: You’ve been in the publishing business for many years now and a lot has changed. Today, when someone hears the name Hoffman Media, people stop and they listen. Can you take me through that progression from that small group of craft and needlework magazines of yesterday to the “empire” Hoffman Media is today?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: Yes, I can. I’ll try to be brief. We were in the needlework and craft market for 10 years after we started our company in 1983. And then we sold our business to PJS Publications, which was a bigger business in the craft and needlework space. That was also a folio company of John Suhler & Associates.

And after five years, all of us, PJS and all of the subsidiaries, were sold to PRIMEDIA and they went through a series of transitions and changes and moving people around, and they started consolidating their offices and wanted me to move to Denver. My boys were seniors in high school and we were embedded here in Birmingham, so I wasn’t open to a move.

Steve Elzy asked me would I like to buy the original magazine back. At the time that I was with them, we had eight magazines, I think it was; we’d started McCall’s Quilting and just a whole McCall’s needlework franchise. And that stayed with them because they were buying up some other quilting titles as well.

So, in 1998 we bought our business back and started again as Hoffman Media. From there we still had a presence in the needlework and craft industry, but we realized that there was a southern market out there for women that was basically untapped, specifically written for women. And so we launched Southern Lady and from that we have launched several other magazines that are now in our portfolio of magazines.

Fast-forwarding to where we are today, we have added titles in the cooking and entertaining space. In fact, we recently approved the magazine 10 Years with Paula Deen, and so our company took a big transition once we diversified some of the crafts into the cooking and entertaining space. And that has really been exciting for us.

Our readers are people who love to do things with their hands, whether it’s cooking or entertaining, flower-showing, you name it; they’re very hands-on, can-do people. They also love to eat out, so restaurants have a great appeal to our readers too and we do a lot in the food space. And Brian can speak to that, because that’s really where all of these meal publications have come in.

Samir Husni: Brian, from the days of Southern Lady and even Cooking with Paula Deen, which were all good magazines, but didn’t necessarily have that collectible feel as the new magazines you’re putting out today do, such as Southern Home or Southern Cast Iron. Why the change in not only the specialization, but in the quality of the paper and the sizes of the magazines; why are you so immersed in producing collectible items with every issue now?

Brian Hart Hoffman: One thing that we’ve never been apologetic about is that we are, what we would consider, a premium publisher. Our readers enjoy beautiful photography, very nice paper and they tell us that they want more of it. And for lack of a better word, it’s trendy right now to be using the wide format, larger publications and readers want the high-quality. They love cookbooks and they also love collector’s editions’ publications.

We just really try to do our homework and listen to what the industry is asking for and what consumers are enjoying. That higher price point, that premium bookazine product is something that our readers and consumers are really embracing right now.

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: Also, a lot of our magazines are collector’s items. With Southern Lady, we have probably half of our readership that is original and they collect every issue. We treat each magazine as if it were going to be collected because we put things in there specifically that are timeless. We’re trendy, but for example, if we’re doing a feature on Thanksgiving, our recipes and all of the ideas that we have, we try to make them timeless so that these magazines do have value for a long time.

So, the new ones are very exciting to us because they are in the wide format and they do have the matte finish paper which is something people love. Some of our magazines are still on gloss, because that audience likes the glossy, shiny, slick pages. We’re very choosy with our readers because at the end of the day your product has to please your readers and the perceived value a lot of times is in the materials that we use.

It’s funny to me in publishing a magazine on matte finish it’s perceived to be more expensive, more valuable and luxurious than one on a pretty gloss paper. And we’ve seen that coming I don’t know how many times.

Samir Husni: In the beginning when people looked at some of your titles and compared them to the other southern magazines that are based and published in Birmingham, many said yes, they’ll probably be here for a few years, then they’ll be gone. Now, you are a force to be reckoned with; did you ever feel that you were in any competition with your next door neighbors?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: No, we did not. And Southern Living is what we’re talking about, of course, and what’s so funny is that all of the people who were in the top management years ago are all still good friends of mine today; it’s really a wonderful community here.

We wrote our first southern magazine unapologetically geared toward women. And that is something that had not been done in the south because we had the beautiful Veranda, Southern Living and Southern Accents that were geared to the reader period, be it man or woman. In fact, it’s funny we have Victoria now, because when Hearst started Victoria magazine years ago, we at Hoffman Media kept saying, why would someone do a magazine for southern women because we have beautiful homes and talented entrepreneurs and no one is really celebrating them? And one of our art directors looked at me, it was so funny, he asked me, why do you think as a publishing company we have to just stick to needlework? And that was kind of a cold, sobering, ice-in-the-face feeling and I thought, you know, he’s right.

And that’s when we did the prototype for Southern Lady, centering on the traditions of the south and the home and places women love to visit. But we did it from a woman’s perspective, written by women, for women. So, it was a different slant. It was funny because when I had the concept; people at Southern Living wanted to hear my presentation and said they’d love to give me their opinion. And I met with them, and when I think about that now, I realize how huge that was. (Laughs) And they all said, oh, my wife would love this magazine.

We knew that we’d never be the size of a machine like Southern Living, but we knew that we had a market if their wives would love the magazine, many women would. So, we did the prototype and put it out there. And we discovered that it had found a place where it was about women and entrepreneur issues, women who had formed businesses and were doing great things in their communities.

So, yes, they are the big southern giant, but we found that we don’t have to have millions of subscribers to be successful. And we have good circulations, large circulations, but we also have targeted audiences and that makes a difference. We’re not marketing to the masses.

It’s really been an amazing ride. And Tea Time, which is all about afternoon tea, is the only magazine in that market space. And we’ve enjoyed being in that niche market.

One by one, Taste of the South, then Cooking with Paula Deen, and Paula Deen is probably the one that put us on the map, where people actually said, oh, that Hoffman Media because it went huge right alongside Rachael Ray, in fact they launched two weeks apart, and neither one knew the other was doing a magazine, so that was kind of amazing. But it was one of the first celebrity magazines and that kind of put us on the map, so to speak. And from there and the titles that we see today, Taste of the South has grown amazingly.

The south is an exciting place and that’s where we and Brian step in to tell people that we’re really in tune with what’s going on throughout the south, be it a small tea room or a huge, gorgeous restaurant or food festivals and I think that’s what separates us. We’re small enough to be nimble. We can move quickly to cover something that’s important and that I think separates us. We’re very involved, from the top down, with our advertisers and our readers. I’m not saying they’re not, don’t misunderstand me, but when you have the readerships that they do, millions of people, that’s a great thing. But we find that the intimacy in the markets that we’re in has great appeal.

Samir Husni: Being a woman at the helm of this operation, like the founder of Veranda; do you think that created or made a difference in your relationship with the southern woman?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: I think so because I believe that they could relate to us as people who are also going home and setting our tables too. It’s funny, because I do speak at a lot of women’s events, and I think it is a good connection, I really do. Not so much now as it used to be because as in our foods category, we’ve got a great male editor, Josh Miller… He’s wonderful. Of course, Brian is the editor of Bake From Scratch.

Samir Husni: When is Bake From Scratch going to be on the newsstands?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: It won’t be on sale until October. But yes, it was a gutsy move to be honest with you, for a woman to even own a publishing company; to start up a small company amidst the big giants. But we trolled at the more intimate spaces, shops, designers and I think that people could relate to us, I really do, because of that.

Samir Husni: Last time I visited with you both, you were in small, crammed offices where everybody could see everybody. I don’t know how big the offices are now, but…

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: Much bigger. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too) But as you turn that engine where you are producing one title after another, one SIP after another, one bookazine after another; are you planning to dominate this market, in terms of cooking and decorating? With your latest magazine, Southern Home, and with the specialty bookazines, whether they’re for baking or Christmas Baking, or with Celebrate and Enjoy, just all of these titles; from an editorial point of view, are you trying to cast a huge net over the southern ocean?

Southern Cast Iron-5 Brian Hart Hoffman: I would say that we would absolutely like to dominate the southern publishing space, but by doing it in a very disciplined manner, where our editorial is still very niche-focused. Southern foods, southern lifestyles, southern personalities and southern décor; these are all things that are in our backyard here in the south and we have relationships with so many people in the industry, with home interior design and shops that own restaurants and food brands that make the south just such a wonderful place to be.

We absolutely want to be partners with them and dominate the southern publishing space. We are an authority; we work with experts and our publications are beautiful and respected by readers and continue to grow.

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: One thing that I think that sets us apart from other magazines and it’s an intentional thing that we do, is our recipes have to be successful in a home kitchen. The ingredients need to be common ingredients that you can find in the grocery stores and I think that’s part of why people love our magazines. When I say common, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; it’s a celebration of traditional southern foods, with maybe a little twist. But we make an intentional effort that any person in a kitchen can follow our instructions and they’re easy to accomplish recipes. That’s where you have success with readers; when they can relate and when what you publish is relevant.

Samir Husni: Brian, didn’t anyone tell you or remind you that we live in a digital age; why are you bringing all of these print titles to the marketplace?

Brian Hart Hoffman: When I spoke at the ACT 5 conference last year, I referenced this in my presentation; we’ve heard so many people in the last 8 to 10 years telling us that print is dying and it’s all going digital, and all of these alerts and alarms about what’s going to ultimately happen, but we thoroughly see and believe that there’s an audience for multiple forms of media. You have to have the digital components and the social media presence, but people still love holding that high-quality publication in their hands. They take it to the kitchen with them; they curl up on the sofa and read it like a book.

I think in a world where we are consuming digital so often in our day, such as in today’s business and the personal time we spend with our phones and tablets; I think print is still an escape that people love and enjoy. Looking at the indicators in the business and the marketplace, we haven’t seen any reason to abandon introducing new print titles. People love them and they’re selling really well and we’re going to keep delivering that to them based on demand.

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: We have our digital platforms as well and I think they’re two different leaders, with different audience members. But that tactile experience of turning pages and not being glued to a screen is important. I think in the beginning everyone thought digital was going to replace everything, but that quiet restorative experience of sitting down and reading a magazine and marking your favorite page; our readers really enjoy that.

Samir Husni: Phyllis, following your Facebook page, I’ve noticed that you’re going back to your roots and introducing a new craft magazine.

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: It’s going to be sewing and the reason that we’re bringing this back is all of the magazines in that space have been folded. They have fallen into the hands of companies that are digital-only and so the print magazines have gone away. In tune with those audiences, people want print magazines in that sewing space because of the same reason they want the pictures, to put them on their shelves in their sewing rooms. They want to have the patterns so they can reproduce what is going on. Children’s sewing right now is one of the hottest markets that there is and women today who are sewing still love the visual. A lot of these women are sewing on $8,000 to $10,000 sewing machines. It’s not a saving-money thing like it used to be years ago. It is an art form for creating beautiful sewn garments and it’s just like painting a portrait to an artist.

So, that’s the market we’re in and it’s a gutsy move; it’s $75 per year. It’s an expensive magazine to produce, but in the market space that these readers are in, it’s not out of line at $18.75 an issue. That’s for the pattern, instructions and there’s also a lot of digital, there’s downloadable designs, downloadable patterns and so it’s a combination of print and digital in one subscription.

Samir Husni: When is the first issue of Classic Sewing coming out?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: In December.

Samir Husni: From hearing the two of you talk, people might think your journey has been a path through a rose garden; a highway to magazine heaven. What has been one of the major stumbling blocks you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: Probably in our current days, such as last year with the folding of Source Interlink and the effect it had on the newsstands. That was a huge setback for us, in terms of our distributions; we had to work very, very diligently to overcome that and we did.

As far as a major stumbling block, early on in our career when (the national distributor) Select Magazines bellied up, we had just begun putting our magazines on the newsstands and they filed bankruptcy and we had to recover from that.

As with all businesses, I think we have ebbed and flowed with what’s going on with the economy. I can recall two events when we had Desert Storm, that was the first time our country had been at war in modern times; we saw a drying up of people, they were holding on to their incomes, advertisers weren’t advertising, nobody knew what was going to happen. It was a scary time. And we had to weather that slump.

And after 9/11, it was the same thing, the fear in our country and what everyone was going to do. Our readers stayed with us; we weathered the ups and downs of newsstand and advertising and that was a difficult time.

The economics and the economy of newsstand; just like everybody else, those things have been tough. And things that are out of your control, such as paying for postage, you can’t control that. It’s day-to-day things like that. Even Katrina; when it blew away the whole coast, it was the same thing. Our whole southern district was affected. If you’re in the magazine world, you just have to ebb and flow with the national concerns.

Samir Husni: Brian, if you were to select a pivotal moment since you joined the company with your mom, what has been the highlight of your experience so far?

Brian Hart Hoffman: One thing that I always say is I never really knew that I had a dream to be in magazine publishing because my first career in the airline industry was such a big part of my life and my dreams as a child, but I think that I took it for granted growing up in a household where this passion was also in my life, whether I knew it or not.

And in the last eight years, the highlight of learning from Mom, the CEO, and the professional development that I’ve been able to experience and tapping into my creative brain that I wasn’t fully aware of, the brainpower and the creative instincts that I had to lead an editorial division of a publishing company; every day is the highlight. We work with such talented people who make the creative process that much more fun. And I get to see my mom and brother, so that’s a pretty good gig.

Phyllis Hoffman De Piano: It’s a great gig. Eric and Brian were promoted to co-president this year. Eric is the president, chief operating officer and Brian is the president, chief creative officer and I’m the chairman of the board now, because they have moved into areas of responsibilities that I have pushed down to them. As the evolution of a legacy business continues, that’s what has to take place as time moves on, so that was a big event too in their lives. It certainly was in mine because I realized the two kids that I raised are now the presidents of the company I started when they were two-years-old.

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

Phyllis Hoffman De Piano: In our company, like Brian said, we’re committed to growing this company by keeping our eyes and ears opened to what is going on in the market and what the trends and demands are, and through consultants a well. We’re very cautious in that we don’t just completely jump in without testing markets and listening to our advertisers. From that standpoint, that’s why a lot of what we do is not assuming that we have all the answers; we’re very in tune with the people in our industry and the trends that they’re seeing and the wants and needs of the reader. And when it comes to our young people; they’re retreating more back to their homes; they’re entertaining at home and we become a resource for them and that’s something that we always want to do. When you pay for one of our magazines, you get more than your money’s worth.

Brian Hart Hoffman: I think that I would reiterate Mom’s same sentiment; the DNA of our company is to really just look for voids in the marketplace and opportunities for us to be very niched in our approach to magazine publishing, and again, delivering products that are high-quality into a marketplace of people who are seeking out content in that particular genre of titles. We never wanted to be a mass-reach, broad reader service. We’re not trying to take on the multimillion circulation magazines. We’re trying to be the best Hoffman Media we can be. And I think that’s what guides us every day; we’re not always looking outside the walls of other publishers and asking how we can beat them; we’re looking inside and for opportunities to be the best that we can be. That drives our day-to-day creative engine, and why we put the passion, energy and dedication into each and every one of our publications.

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

Phyllis Hoffman DePiano: For me, it’s the self-imposed understanding that we’re responsible for our employees, these people who have committed their lives and their professional careers to us. Making sure that we’re making prudent decisions about our business and growth, giving them opportunities and looking down the road, because to me, as I said when I spoke at one of the ACT conferences, our assets walk in and out of our door between 8-5, or whenever they go home, and making sure they have opportunities to be a part of the growth and to have a good foundation is vital.

With Eric and Brian, it’s rewarding having your sons onboard, because before I was kind of a solo leader. Now, having Eric and Brian as a team, and each one of us has a different personality and different strengths and talents; it’s good to have that team now working and committed to growing the business so that it does have a great future, for not only us as a family, but our employees that work here as well.

Brian Hart Hoffman: The same thing really. As business owners, that’s something that everyone who owns a business worries about because that’s what drives us every day.

But for me personally, new ideas and creativity keep me up at night. I believe I do some of my best thinking when I wake up at 2:00 a.m. with a good idea that I need to jot down or if I’m writing an article, because it comes to me in the night sometimes. I would say that creativity keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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