Archive for November, 2015

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Wallpaper* Magazine: Refining The World One Issue At A Time… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Tony Chambers, Editor-in-Chief, Wallpaper* Magazine

November 30, 2015

From London with Love

Wallpaper* Magazine and The Stuff That Refines Us – Coming to America With Gracious Elegance, Superb Content, Beautiful Imagery & Creative Design – Discovering What Refines The Magazine’s “Refiner-in-Chief” Tony Chambers.


“In terms of revenue from luxury advertisers, we’ve seen growth in print. Obviously, we’ve seen it in digital too; that’s a growing area, everyone knows that. But it’s rewarding to know that for a product like Wallpaper* in print, there is a market for it. It’s something that people treat as a moment to absorb media in a luxury way, as opposed to on your mobile phone, which is much more about news and immediacy and for solving immediate problems. I think print still has that place where you sort of lose yourself and relax.” Tony Chambers

Wallpaper* Visual journalism that captures the imagination with that ethereal spirit of art, beauty and the finer things in life; Wallpaper* Magazine has been around for 20 years and has proven over and over again that high quality, beautiful aesthetics and a commitment to its readers is something that still holds much value in the world we live in today, even though that world is fast-paced and bombarded with more information and venues to receive that data from than we can handle.

In a move to amplify the magazine’s discerning message, Time Inc. is bringing a bespoke edition of the magazine to the United States, in addition to keeping the mother ship magazine on the American stands as it has been since its inception, for an entire new audience of believers, people who are longing for the brush of beauty and elegance the magazine offers its readers.

Tony Chambers joined Wallpaper* as Creative Director in January 2003, and was appointed Editor-In-Chief, make that Refiner-in-Chief, in March 2007. Under Tony’s editorship, Wallpaper* magazine has been transformed into a highly-regarded global brand. He introduced a series of over 100 pocket City Guides, a hugely successful website and an iPad edition, an in-house creative agency, as well as an interior design service. He is also the creator of Wallpaper*Handmade, an annual exhibition at Salone del Mobile which brings together the finest designers, craftsmen and manufacturers to collaborate on one-of-a-kind pieces.

I spoke with Tony recently and we talked about the brand he knows and loves so well. We talked about what it means to him to strive for that refinement that flows from every page of the magazine and how he incorporates that beauty into his own philosophies on life. And about how excited he and his team at Wallpaper* are at the prospect of expanding their readership even more globally and allowing another audience the opportunity to cultivate the magazine’s easy elegance into their lives as well.

So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man whose idea of refinement makes him one very nice human being who truly cares about his brand, his colleagues and his readers…Tony Chambers, Editor-In-Chief, Wallpaper* Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:


Tony_Chambers_0618 On the reversal transplant of Wallpaper* from the U.K. to the United States:
Wallpaper* from its beginning has been available globally on newsstands, but this is a brilliant idea by Time Inc. and one of those that sometimes make you ask: why we didn’t have it before? (Laughs) I think I know why; one reason is that I think Wallpaper* is more relevant now than it has ever been before. It’s at a moment where I think the audience is now more receptive; it’s a larger audience, because we’re quite a progressive title, avant-garde in many respects.

On the growth of Wallpaper* in print:
In terms of revenue from luxury advertisers, we’ve seen growth in print. Obviously, we’ve seen it in digital too; that’s a growing area, everyone knows that. But it’s rewarding to know that for a product like Wallpaper* in print, there is a market for it. It’s something that people treat as a moment to absorb media in a luxury way, as opposed to on your mobile phone, which is much more about news and immediacy and for solving immediate problems. I think print still has that place where you sort of lose yourself and relax.

On the co-existence of print and digital:
Ink on paper is a very clever, simple piece of technology. It’s been around for over 500 years now and it’s not going anywhere. Digital just challenges us all with the excitement of what you can accomplish and it makes you more thoughtful about what you do with print and what is more appropriate for ink on paper and what is more appropriate for pixels on a screen.

On his design philosophy:
As a designer and then an art director, to me content was king. We always used to say content is the most important thing and your job is to bring these great photographers, whether they’re fashion photographers or war photographers in the case of the Sunday Times, and these great writers and editors, as a designer you have this incredible job of being the person in the middle who puts them all together. And you can either make something average brilliant or make something brilliant average. It’s a big responsibility. So, from a very young age I knew that I was in a privileged and very important position.

On whether his background in design and art direction has helped him with the innovation behind Wallpaper* and his role as editor-in-chief: Oh, absolutely. Again, going back to art school and my early days printing, that was a real fascination because as a designer the more you know about the technology, particularly printing, the more you really understand it and the more you learn about it and investigate it, then you know what the boundaries are; you know what is possible and what isn’t possible.

On why he believes it took the magazine industry five or six years to realize that print and digital could co-exist: It’s a brilliant question and I wish I knew the exact answer to it. (Laughs) When you’re in the storm, the fog of war; when you’re right in the middle of it, it’s very hard to be objective and step back. Hindsight is a great thing; you can always look back and say: now it seems obvious that the two can survive, if they’re done well.

On the death of the tablet: I think novelty is the big thing; the tablet was such a novelty. But I don’t think it’s the death of the tablet at all. You see what’s happening with the Pro and the fact that you can do so many things with it. Again, the tablet will just find its place. It will be another element within this rich variety; this rich palette of ways that we consume media. And still, the important thing is the content and of course, it was a novelty in the beginning. It did add a new way of looking at content and new ways of designing content and presenting it.

On how to get your audience addicted to ink on paper:
If you’re in the luxury magazine business, which we are, it clearly has to be about the seduction of the quality of the imagery and the quality of its printing, because the still image, again going back to the difference between when TV came out versus radio, the death of magazines was predicted then, in the 1950s or 1960s. News imagery on TV, with the still image, added so much more to the moving image. It has to do with the frozen moment. It’s just different. The still image has certain powerful qualities that you’ll never get from the moving image. Moving images have their own qualities.

On the “common sense” approach to the coexistence of print and digital:
Unfortunately, during great technological change, you lose common sense. You see it all the time. One gets so excited about what is possible, you don’t have the common sense to step back and say, it’s possible to do that, but it’s not needed.

On the importance of typography in the design process:
It requires a certain amount of mathematical knowledge and rigor, with aesthetics. But if you don’t have the rigor, the aesthetics are meaningless really. But people know more about it now and that helps because more people are typing their own stuff. When I graduated nobody even knew what a typeface was, so it should be better. Again, people just need to step back and appreciate the experts because it’s such a subtle and a refined skill when it’s done properly, where it’s elegant and relevant to its time. But the main job is, as a reader you don’t notice it, and that’s the skill of good typography; you shouldn’t notice it. You should just read the text and have a pleasant experience.

On what refines him:
That’s a very good question. I think fine arts are the thing. I believe being inspired and continually fed by high art, and not just as in a painting, but art that’s from the past and the present and that strives to reach perfection. Having artists, people like that as your mentors and as inspiration is something that makes you refined yourself.

On anything else he’d like to add:
We’re all so excited that this new project that we’ve produced is now being amplified in the most sensible and practical way, both in print and in digital, to get that message across more. It’s a really thrilling and exciting time for the brand.

On what he could be found doing if someone showed up unexpectedly at his home: A combination of all of them really. I’m finding less time to actually engage with television, even though I think it’s still a very super-relevant medium. But just because of time and also because I have a young daughter, which absorbs a lot of my time (Laughs), I don’t have a lot of time for television. But definitely reading a magazine or a book, and yes, I love a good glass of wine. I love nice surroundings with good furniture; it doesn’t have to be expensive furniture, just well-made and well-designed.

On what keeps him up at night:
The emails that I haven’t replied to. (Laughs) I know that sounds awful, but I do wake up and think about them. Not that it keeps me up at night; I do go to sleep, but then I wake up, more so lately, with the thought that: oh no, I haven’t replied lately. And I’m a stickler for replying to emails and I do have a brilliant assistant; he’s a genius who helps me. I remember when I was just starting out; if I wrote an email and sent it to somebody I admired or a magazine or a designer, that feeling of not getting a reply stayed with me. But the thrill of actually getting a reply; I’ve always remembered that.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Tony Chambers, Editor-In-Chief, Wallpaper* Magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the first Time Inc. reversal transplant of a magazine with Wallpaper*. This is the first time that Time Inc. has brought a magazine from the U.K. and published it in the United States.

Wallpaper 1-1 Tony Chambers: Yes, but remember we are a global title. So, we’ve always been available on newsstands in the U.S. from day one and have had a very healthy presence there. But this is a very targeted edition.

As I said, Wallpaper* from its beginning has been available globally on newsstands, but this is a brilliant idea by Time Inc. and one of those that sometimes make you ask: why we didn’t have it before? (Laughs) I think I know why; one reason is that I think Wallpaper* is more relevant now than it has ever been before. It’s at a moment where I think the audience is now more receptive; it’s a larger audience, because we’re quite a progressive title, avant-garde in many respects.

I think maybe 10 years ago we were a little too avant-garde for a broader audience, whereas now I believe the audience is educated and understands design and the lifestyle, and they travel more and are more visually literate. Therefore, I think the timing was right now.

Also, the way distribution in magazines is changing and this incredible data that Time Inc. possesses, which enables you now to really target more specifically who your audience is, so that you can deliver your product to the right people.

And those combinations of things is just music to our ears because we have this wonderful product that’s been around almost 20 years now, but you know traditional distribution methods for a global title are extremely challenging financially, very expensive with shipping costs, but this enables us to reach so many more people in a very targeted, simple and practical way.

Samir Husni: I have followed Wallpaper* since its inception. In fact, I have a subscription and I also buy the newsstand edition so that I can have both covers.

Tony Chambers: Thank you. That’s great to hear. And I have followed you for many years as well. And it’s lovely to know that there are people like you out there who are as passionate about magazines as we are. Long may it last.

And I think more and more people are getting more passionate. The top-end, particularly, is the area that’s thriving and I think that’s the other reason that Time Inc. wisely thought that Wallpaper* was the right type of title because I think in the luxury end, the high-end of magazine journalism, the markets are still there for print as well as digital. For quality, it’s growing actually. We’ve seen growth, in terms of our revenue sales and it’s been very steady over the years. And I think sales are going to catapult now with this new edition.

In terms of revenue from luxury advertisers, we’ve seen growth in print. Obviously, we’ve seen it in digital too; that’s a growing area, everyone knows that. But it’s rewarding to know that for a product like Wallpaper* in print, there is a market for it. It’s something that people treat as a moment to absorb media in a luxury way, as opposed to on your mobile phone, which is much more about news and immediacy and for solving immediate problems. I think print still has that place where you sort of lose yourself and relax.

So, it’s wonderful and that’s what I had always hoped and what we’d felt would be the case if we were good enough. That the two would exist side-by-side and it seems to be true.

Samir Husni: Yes, no matter how many times you try to push your finger through the cover of the magazine onscreen, it will never work as it does on the printed edition. (Laughs)

Tony Chambers: No, it won’t. Ink on paper is a very clever, simple piece of technology. It’s been around for over 500 years now and it’s not going anywhere. Digital just challenges us all with the excitement of what you can accomplish and it makes you more thoughtful about what you do with print and what is more appropriate for ink on paper and what is more appropriate for pixels on a screen.

We always look back when we’re caught in the whirlwind of new technology and it is hard to focus when you look back 10 or 20 years later and say: wow that was such a common sense approach to what would work and what wouldn’t and what exists and what doesn’t.

I always use the analogy of TV and radio. Radio should surely be dead since TV was invented because TV is radio plus pictures, therefore how can radio exist? But of course, radio just finds its own way to make itself relevant. And I think radio has never been stronger. You use it when appropriate and you use TV when appropriate and it’s the same with print and digital.

As time passes, the past always survives and the best gets stronger because you cut your costs accordingly and you apply certain rules to certain things. Ink on paper is a very clever and a very functional technology.

Samir Husni: I’ve always said the problem is not the ink on paper, but what we’re putting on the ink on paper.

Tony Chambers: Exactly.

Samir Husni: You’re the second person who I’ve interviewed recently that started as an art director and moved to the role of editor-in-chief.

Tony Chambers: Really? Who was the other one?

Samir Husni: Stefano Tonchi from W Magazine.

Tony Chambers: Yes, he’s brilliant. Well you know, we live in a visual communication world and it’s always been important. Cave-painting is graphic design basically, isn’t it? It’s the most immediate way of communicating, but I was always an art director that loved the word and was trained very well at my art school to be very respectful of the written word. And I studied typography, which is of course about making the word visible and being very respectful to text. And the Sunday Times Magazine taught me a very journalistic approach to being a designer and not to be self-indulgent, that the content was the most important thing.

So as a designer and then an art director, to me content was king. We always used to say content is the most important thing and your job is to bring these great photographers, whether they’re fashion photographers or war photographers in the case of the Sunday Times, and these great writers and editors; as a designer you have this incredible job of being the person in the middle who puts them all together. And you can either make something average brilliant or make something brilliant average. It’s a big responsibility. So, from a very young age I knew that I was in a privileged and very important position.

Moving to Wallpaper* as creative director and being offered the job many years ago, it was a surprise because it wasn’t something that I ever thought I would do, but the people who made that decision at Time Inc. they could obviously see that it was relevant, that the magazine was in a good moment, because it’s such a visual magazine; it made sense. It’s probably the ultimate in visual communication, where it’s all luscious photography and illustration and layout and design, it’s something that people buy into. Now I look back at it and I can see that it wasn’t a surprise at all and not as much of a gamble as I thought at the time. And I had that experience; I felt confident that I had always been on the content side as a designer, more interested in telling stories visually in a sensible way, rather than in a self-indulgent way. So, I felt confident that I could do it. And I also had a brilliant team that could plug any gaps that I may have had and it seems to have worked. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Samir Husni: Do you think your background as an art director and a designer helped with those innovative ideas that you used in print?

Tony Chambers; Oh, absolutely. Again, going back to art school and my early days printing, that was a real fascination because as a designer the more you know about the technology, particularly printing, the more you really understand it and the more you learn about it and investigate it, then you know what the boundaries are; you know what is possible and what isn’t possible.

And when I was doing freelance graphics when I was younger; if you knew what print was you couldn’t be blinded with science. And that’s the way it is today with digital technology. If they think you’re a little bit ignorant of some things, then they can pull the wool over your eyes and tell you that’s not possible. But if you know, if you’re armed with knowledge, then you’ll always know what’s possible. And I realized early on that that was such an important skill and knowledge to have; to know what is possible. So, if somebody said you couldn’t print green ink on a red background hypothetically; if you knew that you could and that it is possible to do it, and it wouldn’t be economically prohibitive, if it’s done in a particular way, then knowledge is the best tool you have really.

Knowledge of print and a fascination and a love for it too; those things are great assets to have. There are certain things that you can do that may help to give you impact visually and enable you to reach more people and sell more copies and excite advertisers as well, so there are two-for-two goals that we have. And if you know how to do it and you know how to do it economically and you know where to push and where to pull back and what is possible, that makes for a huge advantage.

When I became editor, of course just pushing my design team and the success that’s followed has really propelled us forward. So, if you’re going to do print, you may as well make the most of it. And make the most of digital for what its properties are. But even more so, let’s push the qualities of print and I’m glad that you’ve noticed the things that we did, because they really have helped to keep the brand fresh and talked about and made it relevant in this age where we’re juggling two very distinct parts of publication: digital and print. You have to just push and make both relevant and it seems to have worked; we’ve had great responses from the readers and advertisers. So, we’re going to be pushing it even more.

Samir Husni: Why do you think it took the magazine industry five or six years before they discovered that digital is not the enemy of print and print is not the enemy of digital?

Wallpaper 2-2 Tony Chambers: It’s a brilliant question and I wish I knew the exact answer to it. (Laughs) When you’re in the storm, the fog of war; when you’re right in the middle of it, it’s very hard to be objective and step back. Hindsight is a great thing; you can always look back and say: now it seems obvious that the two can survive, if they’re done well.

But at the time people panicked and worried, and with publishers, they’re looking at the bottom line, looking at cost. And of course, some publishers think that digital doesn’t cost much, the outgoing seems to be so low. But of course, people don’t understand that initially the outgoing was so low because the editorial content was being produced by the whole family, by the print. And the cake was being cut open and it would end up some in digital and some in print. By and large the costs were put onto the print side.

Obviously, they were thinking it would be more economic to just go digital, but of course, it’s not, you still have to use great photographers and editors; great writers and designers to produce the content. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a computer screen or ink on paper, it’s the content that’s the most important thing.

And I think five or six years ago people loved to strike at that, particularly in newspapers. They just thought it was cheaper and wouldn’t be as expensive, without realizing of course; the costs were just on a different column. (Laughs) And then when that penny dropped, everyone realized that print and digital must work together because when the costs are shared, it’s a happier ship.

But you need both; the consumer wants both. And they’ll use them in two different ways. We’re just at the beginning of the renaissance in publishing now, I think, where you’re seeing print and digital sitting so comfortably together. And both sides understanding the properties of both and thankfully intelligent people at the top understanding what is possible with both and finding the different platforms exciting editorially and rewarding financially.

Samir Husni: I was at a conference in New York recently and I heard people talking about the death of the tablet; the death of the homepage and I said, it’s only been seven years since the tablet was touted as our salvation, what went wrong?

Tony Chambers: Again, I think novelty is the big thing; the tablet was such a novelty. But I don’t think it’s the death of the tablet at all. You see what’s happening with the Pro and the fact that you can do so many things with it. Again, the tablet will just find its place. It will be another element within this rich variety; this rich palette of ways that we consume media. And still, the important thing is the content and of course, it was a novelty in the beginning. It did add a new way of looking at content and new ways of designing content and presenting it. I think therefore it was the savior if anything.

Of course, it wasn’t a complete savior, but neither is it the death of the tablet. All these things just take time to find their places. Novelty is the thing that we all have to be careful of. We get seduced by new things and we always will; we’re human beings. That’s what fashion is about, isn’t it? The whole fashion industry is based on the seduction of the new and the novelties. The fashion industry has found its way to survive in that, but with things like this we have to just be a little more objective and step back a bit and say, OK – this is interesting; we’ll give this a try. We can’t just continually keep throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It just adds to the rich palette of what’s possible with the great things we do with content, whether it’s ink on paper or on a digital screen or poetry or radio; it’s the ideas that count and knowing what is the appropriate medium for that message.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the important cornerstone that should be used to seduce people to print, or as I like to call it that “art of addiction” that hooks people? How can I get my audience addicted to ink on paper?

Tony Chambers: If you’re in the luxury magazine business, which we are, it clearly has to be about the seduction of the quality of the imagery and the quality of its printing, because the still image, again going back to the difference between when TV came out versus radio, the death of magazines was predicted then, in the 1950s or 1960s. News imagery on TV, with the still image, added so much more to the moving image. It has to do with the frozen moment. It’s just different. The still image has certain powerful qualities that you’ll never get from the moving image. Moving images have their own qualities.

Similarly, I think we’re talking about the power of the frozen moment; the quality of that frozen moment, both in terms of its relevance of content and its beauty. Also editing is another facet that I think we lost our way in when everyone was crying the death of print. Having a printed product is about the edit, because it’s a limited number of pages. You might have 100 pages, a story can be 10 pages sensibly because you have a limited imagery space, and therefore you have to try a lot harder, think a lot harder and make tougher decisions and ultimately I think, you have to make a better result.

And the reader or the consumer will thank you for that because you’ve done a lot of work for them, instead of presenting a thousand pictures on the Internet, every thousand images that you choose, you have to become an expert, saying these are the best 10 pictures. And I think that’s the thing that we lost a little bit, seven or eight years ago when people thought the web would destroy print because we could all make our own decisions about what we wanted to consume in information. But we don’t want that. We want to trust and be inspired by a publication, an editor, a photographer that is saying these are the best five or ten pictures of the lot.

So, I think those are the key things; the power of editing, which is so relevant in a print product. And as we get busier and we work harder and have less leisure time, which we all seem to be busy, busy; that’s something that we lost our way in, in terms of its relevance and its power and value. You trust an editor and if you don’t trust them, you don’t buy the product. If you think that you trust Wallpaper* or you trust The New Yorker or TIME Magazine, because you’re busy, but you want to buy a news magazine that’s going to give you the best news stories, edited properly, photography and words, and you want a weekly magazine, so you decide that’s TIME Magazine, Fortune Magazine for financial issues.

It’s so obvious now, but with the excitement and the novelty of the Internet, where everything is available, the whole world is on the screen; we immediately think it’s amazing and it’s everything, but we don’t really want everything. I want to be told by a trusted travel expert that if I go to Beirut, these are the best 10 things I should do in my two days there. I don’t want a thousand things and to make my own choice. I think we forgot how important that was. It’s so obvious now. And it has great value.

And in print, I think it’s germane to what print is all about. You have to edit. It’s a limited space you have and often in our world having restrictions makes your product better because you have to think a bit harder and make tougher decisions and therefore you choose the best things, rather than having no limitations and no restrictions, because sometimes you can get a bit lost.

Samir Husni: And as you said earlier; it’s just common sense.

Tony Chambers; Yes, it is. And unfortunately, during great technological change, you lose common sense. You see it all the time. One gets so excited about what is possible, you don’t have the common sense to step back and say, it’s possible to do that, but it’s not needed.

Typography is interesting and has always been a big passion of mine. If you look through the history of technological developments in printing techniques and ways of the industry levels, you could do things with cutting type; you could cut the most extremely fine and thin letters because the technology was there.

Then the typography became the most extremely big, fat-shaped letters, which was extraordinary technologically, but you couldn’t read them. And what is the point of typography? It’s to make the text legible to the reader. And of course, the actual function of the thing was lost because everyone was so excited.

And the same thing happened when computers first came out and you could stretch letters. Everyone was saying, wow; we can stretch letters or put huge or tiny letter-spacing. So you had this rash of typography that was more about expressing how brilliant it was that a computer could stretch these letters than anything else. And then looking back five years later, you realized how horrible the whole idea was.

And this happens time and again with technology. You get so impressed by what is possible, that you don’t step back and see that it’s really not something that you want to do in the first place.

It’ll happen again, I’m sure. And we’ll go through these troughs and then, as I said, I think that we’re in a moment now where we’re out of the fog and we’re seeing it with clearer eyesight and thinking about everything that’s possible, but also deciding on whether we want to do it or not. And we’re going to have a really good period where people are respecting experts again and I think we’re coming into some really good moments.

Samir Husni: I wish that typography was more in the forefront of our design courses these days the way it used to be. It has taken a backseat to other things and I think it is so very important.

Tony Chambers: Yes and you know why; it’s very hard. It requires a certain amount of mathematical knowledge and rigor, with aesthetics. But if you don’t have the rigor, the aesthetics are meaningless really.

But people know more about it now and that helps because more people are typing their own stuff. When I graduated nobody even knew what a typeface was, so it should be better. Again, people just need to step back and appreciate the experts because it’s such a subtle and a refined skill when it’s done properly, where it’s elegant and relevant to its time. But the main job is, as a reader you don’t notice it, and that’s the skill of good typography; you shouldn’t notice it. You should just read the text and have a pleasant experience.

Samir Husni: Tony, what refines you? To steal a tagline from Wallpaper*. (Laughs)

Tony Chambers: That’s a very good question. I think fine arts are the thing. I believe being inspired and continually fed by high art, and not just as in a painting, but art that’s from the past and the present and that strives to reach perfection. Having artists, people like that as your mentors and as inspiration is something that makes you refined yourself.

I read something really lovely that Murray Moss, the former owner of Moss Gallery in New York, once said. He talked about the Austrian glassmaker Lobmeyr. They make the finest, most delicate glassware ever. And Murray Moss stocked that in his store at one time, it was one of his favorites, and it’s one of mine as well. It’s an old Austrian family company. They make the most exquisite glassware, whether it’s drinking glasses or decanters or anything else.

Moss said he had a guy to wander into his store once and ask him what made the Lobmeyr glassware so special. It seemed stupid to him. The man said it was so delicate that if he knocked it or dropped it, the glass would smash, therefore it was bad designing. He didn’t want a glass that he would have to worry about smashing every time he used it.

And going back to the word refinement, Murray Moss told the man this; what better thing could there be for a human being than something that could actually make you take more care as you lift that glass of wine or water to your lips? Something that forces you to take extra care and be a little more refined; to hold it in a more thoughtful way and as you put it to your lips and sipping its contents, you’re really thinking about it a little more and being cautious.

And I thought that was such a beautiful way of describing a function of something. Something that could make us all as human beings more refined. It may not be answering your question exactly, but I agree totally with what Murray Moss is saying. And maybe it does go back to what we’re trying to produce at Wallpaper* or at any other quality publication, that yes, it’s about information and it’s about informing people in our fast and busy world, but if you hold this magazine and its content, its design and printing, just its general production value, and it makes you feel a bit more refined, then that’s amazing.

And as you look through it and you see a beautiful piece of architecture or some gorgeous travel photography or beautiful fashion; if it just lifts you a little bit and makes you think about the finer things in life; the great achievements of these designers, architects and chefs, I think that’s a great thing. I think sometimes holding a magazine like Wallpaper* makes you feel a little bit better and that’s the kind of job we’re trying to do. Inform and entertain and feel a bit more refined about what is possible out there. These are such troubled times, barbaric times. So let’s focus a little more on the beautiful and wonderfully great things that humanity is capable of creating. And maybe take our minds off of the destructive side of humanity for a moment.

Samir Husni: Marvelous answer. And it’s music to my ears.

Tony Chambers: Well, thank you. I think we need to spend more time on the refined things in life, that’s what makes us more civilized, rather than these barbaric, medieval things that are happening at the moment. We need to focus on the great achievements of mankind and the things that we champion.

Another thing that makes me more refined is looking at and feeling enlightened by the great achievements in art, design, food and all of the beautiful things we cover in the magazine. And being exposed to that is healthy; it’s like medicine. It makes you feel better. And it makes you hopeful about the future.

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

Tony Chambers: We’re all so excited that this new project that we’ve produced is now being amplified in the most sensible and practical way, both in print and in digital, to get that message across more.

It’s a really thrilling and exciting time for the brand. For 20 years we’ve been producing this title to a modest audience, because highly-produced things are expensive, therefore high-quality things tend to have a more modest circulation. But now suddenly because of the things that we’ve talked about with Time Inc.’s access to this extraordinary data and with the website’s growth, with them being able to produce this high-end product to actually reach more people and we’re confident that there are more people out there who will be receptive to it, more so now than there was 20 years ago. They’re more educated and they’re receptive and hungry for these fine things in life and that’s great for all of us because the more we talk about these things, the more people engage with these finer things in life. And the better everyone will be because of it.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home, what would I find you doing? Maybe reading a magazine with a glass of wine; reading a book; watching TV; reading your iPad?

Tony Chambers: A combination of all of them really. I’m finding less time to actually engage with television, even though I think it’s still a very super-relevant medium. But just because of time and also because I have a young daughter, which absorbs a lot of my time (Laughs), I don’t have a lot of time for television. But definitely reading a magazine or a book, and yes, I love a good glass of wine. I love nice surroundings with good furniture; it doesn’t have to be expensive furniture, just well-made and well-designed.

And you might find me pouring over some beautiful typography from my vast archives; it’s all there, because I’ve collected things for 25 or 30 years. Nothing gives me more pleasure than a beautifully designed book or a perfectly produced bit of typography, whether that’s in book form or poster or even digitally. I have less and less time suddenly to really indulge in typography, but any time I do get I’ll be refreshing myself with trying to remember obscure typefaces and what country they were designed in.

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

Tony Chambers: The emails that I haven’t replied to. (Laughs) I know that sounds awful, but I do wake up and think about them. Not that it keeps me up at night; I do go to sleep, but then I wake up, more so lately, with the thought that: oh no, I haven’t replied lately. And I’m a stickler for replying to emails and I do have a brilliant assistant; he’s a genius who helps me. I remember when I was just starting out; if I wrote an email and sent it to somebody I admired or a magazine or a designer, that feeling of not getting a reply stayed with me. But the thrill of actually getting a reply; I’ve always remembered that.

Now, I get so many emails, but you just have to do your best to respond. So sometimes at night I’ll wake up and remember that I haven’t replied to someone. And I think it is important to reply. The brand, Wallpaper* is so important that if someone tries to contact us, especially if it’s an artist, photographer, writer or designer, because by the grace of God go I. I always try to give an appropriate reply. Either it’s good for us or it isn’t good for us. Or if it is very good, get back to them, because if you ignore them, you might miss the next great designer or photographer.

So that does sometimes keep me awake at night because to me it’s a reflection of the brand and I would hate for anybody, whether it’s a student in Beirut or a credible designer or architect, thinking that Wallpaper* doesn’t get back to you. I just don’t think that’s right, because we are very much about supporting the industry and all of the things that we talk about. It’s a very important part of our role. We report on the best of what’s out there, but we have to support and encourage the next generation to keep that wheel moving. It’s an obsession of mine to respond and get back to people and I also stress that to my team. We do respond to people who reach out to us and we do support and encourage as well.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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GX – A Magazine Designed For The National Guard Experience & Mr. Magazine’s™ Interview With The Man Who Watches Over That Design Proudly – Dustin McNeal, Senior Art Director at iostudio*

November 24, 2015

“I like being able to hold our product. All of the design is done on a computer in the digital space, but we even have a wall that we put up and place the printouts of the design on so that we can take a look. Even then these flat spreads are just single sheets of paper. It’s just a completely different experience when we get our advances in from the printer and we can actually flip through it and it’s a bound piece of work. It really comes together then in a way that, for me at least, is hard to replicate in a digital space.” Dustin McNeal

GX_11-5_Cover Taking care of the dignity and the reverence that is The National Guard is a job that iostudio takes very seriously. As part of the reserve components of the United States Armed Forces, The Guard has units from each state in the country and its stories of heroism and courage come from its service members on a regular basis. GX magazine, a product created by iostudio and the official magazine of the United States Army National Guard, brings the conviction of the Guard’s mission to the forefront with this publication.

Dustin McNeal is senior art director at iostudio and leads the marketing agency’s design staff. Dustin’s leadership and creativity has led to more than 30 industry awards for publication, advertising and book design, including the prestigious 2015 Folio Award for Design Team of the Year. Dustin leads the editorial design of GX magazine with a creative and loving hand.

I spoke with Dustin recently and quickly discovered that he combines his passion for the military with his passion for design, producing an excellence in contemporary editorial design which resulted in a best-in-class print magazine. He is a man who believes in every facet of the editorial design process and has a love for his work that won’t be denied. Not that he’d ever want to.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy this very fascinating discussion with a man who led his design team to win the 2015 Folio Award for Design Team of the Year, an achievement that isn’t easy to do. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dustin McNeal, Senior Art Director, iostudio.

But first, the sound-bites:


dustin_mcneal_7225 On winning the 2015 Folio Award for Design Team of the Year:
We normally send all of our entries into the custom publication categories and to be recognized as the best design team overall, for everyone, was quite a humbling experience. But it let us know that our work is definitely paying off and getting noticed.

On the day-to-day interaction of his design team with the editorial staff:
For something that editorial would maybe like to see in the design; they never hesitate at all to say – could we try this or try that. Similarly, with the design team, if we have something that just doesn’t seem to be working or if we have a great idea that would need the editorial team to maybe look at the copy a bit differently; it’s an easy request and most times both teams are really eager to work with each other to make something that could really stand out.

On a day in the professional life of Dustin McNeal:
Pretty much first thing in the morning our small teams get together for a review of what’s taken place since our last meeting the day before. And we talk about different stories and how they’re coming along; our different sources and our different writers; things that people are getting hung up on. We deal with an editorial slate and we kind of break that down into a tier calendar. We work on basically about a quarter of the magazine per week.

On the way the design team incorporates the photography with the typography:
We’re inspired by a lot of different things and a lot of different publications. Sometimes we push the envelope as to what we think our readership might be comfortable with, but we don’t push it far enough where it starts to have a disassociation with the content, especially on some of those articles where we’re dealing with a unit, a training event or an historical article.

On one design he and his team created that he’s most proud of:
Oh wow. We had an article that was a blowout kind of feature of a small article series called “Survival Skills” and in it the story would teach soldiers how to catch fish without a fishing line or a pole; how to start a fire in damp conditions, and things like that. So, we decided that we were going to have this feature where instead of one tip list; we’d have 15 or 20. All the different pieces; photography, illustrations, hands-on type, and all of the copy and the different blurbs; everything was at different lengths. It just came out beyond my expectations. And it was one of the pieces that we submitted for the Design Team of the Year nomination and I can’t say that it won it for us, but I would like to think personally that it was one among the collection that stuck with the judges.

On when he realized that design was in his future:
I’ve always been a doodler and liked to draw, starting around age five. We’ll be at my parents’ house and my mother will pull out some drawing I did with a red Magic Marker on a cardboard box top and I’ll ask her why she’s keeping such stuff. (Laughs) But the fact is I’ve always been interested in art. And it baffles my mom, because she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body. Around high school I got into my first art classes. I guess I was drawing in a particular way, it wasn’t exactly great at that time; I hadn’t had formal education, but something in that made the instructor say to me that I might want to look into graphic design and that I saw things in dynamic shapes and colors.

On whether he thinks all of iostudio’s success with GX magazine would have been possible without a printed edition, if they were only working within the digital space:
No, I’m really old school. I like being able to hold our product. All of the design is done on a computer in the digital space, but we even have a wall that we put up and place the printouts of the design on so that we can take a look. Even then these flat spreads are just single sheets of paper. It’s just a completely different experience when we get our advances in from the printer and we can actually flip through it and it’s a bound piece of work. It really comes together then in a way that, for me at least, is hard to replicate in a digital space.

On the one facet of design that excites him the most:
I’m a big color guy. A very close though would be contrast. It’s a very interesting thing; the type, you really have to focus on it to understand it. And images, they’re kind of an evolution of color, but for a purely basic mental stimulation, I think that color and contrast is really what grabs people.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: Our client, The National Guard, is one that is in no short supply of inspiring stories or individuals. And there’s a common insulation, just among the team, to know that our work on GX is possibly influencing the current and future generations of service members. The Guard soldier who can see their service celebrated in GX might consider extending that service.

On what keeps him up at night:
The client. As a custom publication there’s no one in our office making the final call on anything, so we can put together the absolute best product that you could imagine, but at the end of the day we send it up to The National Guard Bureau in D.C. for someone to review and they have to approve it. And our content has to be reflective of the Guard’s integrity.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dustin McNeal, Senior Art Director, iostudio.


GX_12-3_Cover Samir Husni: Congratulations on your big win at this year’s Folio Awards; as senior art director of the iostudio team; well-deserved to all of you.

Dustin McNeal: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Tell me, when you heard the news that you’d won the overall design award over everyone else out there from all the other publications; what was your first reaction? I mean, it’s a very tough competition.

Dustin McNeal: A little bit of disbelief, I guess. I’m not always the most boastful person, so part of me was thinking why in the world, because as you may know that particular category was open to all entrants. It wasn’t exactly commercial, consumer, association or anything like that. We normally send all of our entries into the custom publication categories and to be recognized as the best design team overall, for everyone, was quite a humbling experience. But it let us know that our work is definitely paying off and getting noticed.

Samir Husni: As the lead designer; what value do you put on the design of the magazine and the day-to-day interaction with the editorial team?

Dustin McNeal: Our day-to-day interaction with the editorial team is quite close. We have a very small team; there are three people on the editorial side, including our editor-in-chief, Mark Shimabukuro, and then there are three on the design team. Many times we can do a quick turnaround on things just because of the close proximity, we sit back-to-back of each other, and the camaraderie that our team has with one another.

For something that editorial would maybe like to see in the design; they never hesitate at all to say – could we try this or try that. Similarly, with the design team, if we have something that just doesn’t seem to be working or if we have a great idea that would need the editorial team to maybe look at the copy a bit differently; it’s an easy request and most times both teams are really eager to work with each other to make something that could really stand out.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little bit more about your role as senior art director at iostudio. Describe a day in the professional life of Dustin McNeal.

Dustin McNeal: Pretty much first thing in the morning our small teams get together for a review of what’s taken place since our last meeting the day before. And we talk about different stories and how they’re coming along; our different sources and our different writers; things that people are getting hung up on. We deal with an editorial slate and we kind of break that down into a tier calendar. We work on basically about a quarter of the magazine per week. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. (Laughs) And that takes into account all of the time prior to that four-week schedule of writing assignments and that sort of thing.

We also kind of scatter it so that the editorial team will work on a set of stories and then they’ll have a two-design deadline and that usually takes place on a Friday. What that means is on Monday morning we should have everything that editorial worked on the week prior ready to go. And then we work on designing that quarter of the magazine during that week as well as working on the next quarter during that same time.

So, in those morning meetings, we’ll talk about which stories are ready for design; which stories may need a little more of a sit-down just to talk things out, whether it’s a story that has maybe veered away from our initial ideas or if there’s a change needed. We have an entire section of the magazine up toward the front of the book that deals with a lot of the more current news type things going on in the National Guard world. And you wouldn’t believe how often news changes, especially toward the end of the process when we have to constantly swap stories in and out of that section.

GX_11-6_WorkoutFeatureSpread After the morning meetings, designers will have their stories that are ready to go. And I’m a big proponent of you have to read the copy before you start any kind of design, before you try to fit any copy into a particular mold. They might come across something very inspiring that they want to try and match. They need to make sure the content will fit that mold and that they’re just not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak.

A lot of times if they’re just simple one-page articles, the editorial staff has found a way to format those in a way that’s pretty straightforward, quick hitting and are really easy reads. We might support that with one piece of art versus the stories that are multiple pages and more in depth. For those type stories we might send a photographer or hire an illustrator to represent the art for us.

The biggest amount of research on our part is for our legacy features and the legacy section is once in every issue and it deals with the historical aspect of Guard service and that could mean a past conflict or battle, or a unit’s past achievements, or even the National Guard as a whole for an entire state. It’s quite fact-based and we have to typically pull a lot of historical images. We can usually find those either online through the U.S. National Archives or from different states’ historical associations. And then we also have a wonderful collection of contacts through state public affairs officers that we kind of partner with.

But just going through those and finding these images that correlate with the particular story that we’re telling; say we have a story on the 29th Infantry divisions of their role in the D-Day invasion of France; there are a lot of different D-Day images, but we have to make sure that the ones that we’re featuring are actually featuring the soldiers from the unit that we’re depicting in the editorial copy. And sometimes that can take a bit of legwork to make sure that you have the right images.

Samir Husni: You’re type of design, the role that you play at GX; the way that you incorporate the photography with the typography, has to also be historically relevant and accurate?

GX_11-4_SurvivalSkillsFeature5 Dustin McNeal: Correct. We’re inspired by a lot of different things and a lot of different publications. Sometimes we push the envelope as to what we think our readership might be comfortable with, but we don’t push it far enough where it starts to have a disassociation with the content, especially on some of those articles where we’re dealing with a unit, a training event or an historical article. You don’t want to have something that look like it just came out of Wired or something, and represented with those particular pieces of copy.

We just have to walk that line and go with things that are going to keep the readers engaged, but also choose something in reverence to the subject matter that we’re in charge of.

Samir Husni: If you were to pick one design; one story that you’ve done, and tell me that was the design that you take the most pride in that you and your team have created, and quite possibly is the one that resulted in your winning the 2015 Folio Award for Design Team of the Year; which would that be?

Dustin McNeal: Oh wow. We had an article that was a blowout kind of feature of a small article series called “Survival Skills” and in it the story would teach soldiers how to catch fish without a fishing line or a pole; how to start a fire in damp conditions, and things like that. So, we decided that we were going to have this feature where instead of one tip list; we’d have 15 or 20.

And for it I had an idea that we would try and combine equal weights of photography and illustration and sometimes that might not work out, but it was one that I was directly in talks with the illustrator, giving very detailed instructions on the type of style that I was wanting, thinking back on the old Boy Scout handbook illustrations, where they were more instructional looking.

And then I partnered up with a photographer here in our area. One of the great things about working at iostudio is that there’s no shortage of National Guard members on staff. So, we got a nice-looking guy and went out to the state park and shot the images to correlate with four of the tips that were going to be spread out through the feature.

GX_11-4_SurvivalSkillsFeature We had these rangers, one per spread, who talked about the things in the story, like traversing a river and catching wild game, topics like that. And we had all of these different kinds of tips around it and a lot of different things that were illustrated. And then I had the illustrator letter out the opening art and everything just sort of fell into place.

All the different pieces; photography, illustrations, hands-on type, and all of the copy and the different blurbs; everything was at different lengths. It just came out beyond my expectations. And it was one of the pieces that we submitted for the Design Team of the Year nomination and I can’t say that it won it for us, but I would like to think personally that it was one among the collection that stuck with the judges.

Samir Husni: When did you realize that design was in your future and it was what you wanted to do with your career?

Dustin McNeal: I’ve always been a doodler and liked to draw, starting around age five. We’ll be at my parents’ house and my mother will pull out some drawing I did with a red Magic Marker on a cardboard box top and I’ll ask her why she’s keeping such stuff. (Laughs) But the fact is I’ve always been interested in art. And it baffles my mom, because she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body.

Around high school I got into my first art classes. I guess I was drawing in a particular way, it wasn’t exactly great at that time; I hadn’t had formal education, but something in that made the instructor say to me that I might want to look into graphic design and that I saw things in dynamic shapes and colors. Before that, I was completely oblivious to what design was. Obviously, I saw it around me all of the time, but I didn’t really identify with it, such as this is a type of commercial art that I could do, and not commissioned-based art, where you’re doing things your own way and on your own time and trying to sell those, but this could be a job that I could do day in and day out.

You could pair that with my lifelong infatuation with publications. I’ve always been somewhat of a collector as well and I can remember probably back in middle school I had every issue of “Electronic Gaming Monthly,” I was big into video games as a kid. And this confused my mother, she couldn’t understand why I was keeping all of those magazines; she read them and then threw them out. But they meant so much more to me than that; it was almost like they were little collector items and I could go back and reference things that I had read in the past.

So, in college, fast-forwarding to that point, I went to school at kind of an odd time. It was right around 2000, the web was obviously gaining in importance, but as far as the curriculum at the school that I went to, it wasn’t quite moving at the pace that it needed to, so a lot of my art instruction was in the old style where you have your T-square and you’re doing hand-lettering and mock-ups with paper, exactos and all sorts of things. The desktop publishing course, which of course is basically what I do day in and day out, was actually taught through the Computer Science program and they had all sorts of prerequisites that I was never going to get through because of my bachelor of fine arts curriculum. But I had an instructor come to me and ask if I wanted to do the layout for an art and literary type zine and of course, I agreed because I wasn’t doing anything at the time. But that was my first experience with Adobe InDesign and that was still back in the day when the majority of folks were using Quark, but because I had the equivalent of the Creative Suite back then and I had to supply my own software to do the layout, I really got introduced to the program that I couldn’t live without today.

So, getting into the page layout and putting that little zine together, it just hearkened to something in the back of my mind that reminded me of all of those magazines that I was collecting as a child and I started getting interested in editorial design and publication design, things that I had been drawn to, but never dreamt that I would be able to do for myself. I knew that I was going into graphic design, but I guess that I didn’t put much thought into what it might become after school.

GX_11-1_Cover I got my first job in Nashville and it was at a book publisher-on-demand type company where out-of-print books and other items were sent and would basically get torn apart, the covers photographed, all the pages scanned and then put back together again. And I was on the quality assurance team that would go in and look at the image of the covers and compare the originals to the ones the designers would basically create with Photoshop. We had these crazy large libraries filled with hundreds of thousands of colors and I would take color samples and try to match them; it was very monotonous work. I don’t want to say that it wasn’t fulfilling, but my creative drive was beyond that.

It just so happened as I was being considered for a permanent hire, I get a call that there was a company looking for someone to help with magazine design. I didn’t hesitate; I was saying yes, I’ll be in and we’ll talk, this has got to work out. And I had to let the other company know that I was going to go off and do something else.

And of course the company needing magazine design help was iostudio and this was eight or nine years ago. And then we started working with GX magazine. Even from the point that I came in at as a beginning designer, the magazine has changed so much. We used to get copy from public affairs officers, plus we had a couple of staff writers and other projects in the company as we were trying to get the ad agency going. But it was people trying to do a bunch of different jobs as we were starting up. We had to rely heavily on outside sources to put the magazine together.

Fast-forwarding through the years, we hired an art director named Laurel Petty and I really attribute her as being one of my best mentors, especially when coming up through editorial design and through GX. GX was the only magazine that I had ever known, but she’d come from a background where she had worked in D.C. and New York and all sorts of places. She showed me what true art direction was through editorial design. I learned so much from her and I received a promotion to senior designer and then when Laurel decided that she was going to go back to school in Chicago, that was when the opportunity came up for me to move into the art director position.

By that time, I had already established all kinds of creative goals and aesthetics that I wanted to shift the magazine toward and it was quite a change. Laure ended up moving on at a really good point, because it was at the very end of one volume and we were ramping up for the new volume.

I don’t particularly like to make major changes in the middle of the year; I try to make any significant changes between December and January. So it was me and another designer and we put our heads together, worked hard and came up with this new visual language for GX that really kicked things off for us to see the success that we have over the last couple of years.

Samir Husni: Do you think all of that success would have been possible without a printed edition of GX, if you were only working with digital?

Dustin McNeal: For myself? No, I’m really old school. I like being able to hold our product. All of the design is done on a computer in the digital space, but we even have a wall that we put up and place the printouts of the design on so that we can take a look. Even then these flat spreads are just single sheets of paper. It’s just a completely different experience when we get our advances in from the printer and we can actually flip through it and it’s a bound piece of work. It really comes together then in a way that, for me at least, is hard to replicate in a digital space.

I think just having pages with copy and art on them takes me back to those relationships that I had with magazines in my youth, where you can hold onto them and reference back to an article if you need or want to. For me, it’s a lot easier to go to our layout room where we have shelves and shelves of old GX’s, but we also have shelves and shelves of reference materials from other magazines that we use and subscribe to so that we can look at for inspiration or something like that. And for me, I just can’t get that in a purely digital space.

Samir Husni: People may think I’m speaking with an older person with your media philosophy; how old are you, Dustin?

Dustin McNeal: I’m 33.

Samir Husni: And you’re referencing the good old days. (Laughs)

Dustin McNeal: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: What excites you more in design: color, pictures, typography, white space; if you could name only one thing about the art of design that really gets your creative juices flowing, what would it be?

Dustin McNeal: I’m a big color guy. A very close though would be contrast. It’s a very interesting thing; the type, you really have to focus on it to understand it. And images, they’re kind of an evolution of color, but for a purely basic mental stimulation, I think that color and contrast is really what grabs people.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

GX_12-5_IntelOpener Dustin McNeal: Our client, The National Guard, is one that is in no short supply of inspiring stories or individuals. And there’s a common insulation, just among the team, to know that our work on GX is possibly influencing the current and future generations of service members. The Guard soldier who can see their service celebrated in GX might consider extending that service. And because of that choice they may be the ones contributing aid after a natural disaster in our hometown or fighting a wildfire that’s endangering a relative’s home on another coast.

And we’re also creative professionals who just love and enjoy the process of seeing an issue come to life on our production wall. We love to be inspired by work from others, whether that’s from other publications, web designs, or photography and we think about how we can implement those things that we find ourselves enamored with into the magazine in a way that pays off for the readership.

You have to love what you do and it might be a little easier to do that when you’re working in a creative job. And with our editorial team, we have such a strong relationship that we can usually power through anything that comes up. It’s a very rewarding job.

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

Dustin McNeal: The client. As a custom publication there’s no one in our office making the final call on anything, so we can put together the absolute best product that you could imagine, but at the end of the day we send it up to The National Guard Bureau in D.C. for someone to review and they have to approve it. And our content has to be reflective of the Guard’s integrity.

That’s really the only thing that keeps me up at night is making sure that our client is going to be happy with our work and is pleased.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

*Truth in reporting: I am a publishing consultant with iostudio but was not involved with this design award for the magazine.

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BurdaInternational: Bringing The World Of Magazines and Magazine Media To A Global Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media

November 20, 2015

From Germany with love…

“I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain.” Frances Evans

IMG_9545 Burda Media is a German magazine publishing company that started back in 1898 and BurdaInternational, one of its subsidiaries, currently publishes different magazines in 20 markets internationally. They are the licensures for brands such as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Elle and many others throughout the world.

Frances Evans is the Director of International Licensing & Advertising with Burda and also a woman who is passionate about innovation and all of the brands that she handles and works with. From Asia to the U.K., Frances has her finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the globe with each of her titles, providing support, encouragement, innovation education and a strong team spirit that reverberates back to each and every member of Burda’s wide-reaching family and the audiences that love their magazines deeply.

I spoke with Frances during the FIPP Congress last month in Toronto, Canada, and we talked about Burda and the many titles they have. About the support and open communication she gets from the powers-that-be at the top of the company chain and how much she loves magazines and her job. It was a truly delightful conversation.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows her way around the globe and also around the world of magazine media, Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media.

But first, the sound-bites:


IMG_9543 On an introduction to BurdaInternational:
BurdaInternational is a subsidiary of Burda Media, which is the holding company and the main company. Burda has four main platforms and one is the publishing business in Germany, so we have many brands in Germany, such as Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Out, Playboy, but also digital brands like Huffington Post and we also have a lot of digital properties attached to the magazine brands. The second part of the company which is the printing business is the legacy part of the business, so we have printers in Germany, France and a very big printing company in India. Then we have the digital business with brands such as the German version of LinkedIn, which is XING.com; a German version of something like TripAdvisor, it’s called HolidayCheck.com; we have brands that are related to computer sales, such as Computer Universe and Cyberport. And then we have a lot of VC capital invested in digital and technology properties.

On how easy or difficult it was to move from that legacy business of printing to where Burda is today:
I would say that the start was very difficult. Not many people really like change. You can’t always affect change with people who have been there for a long time, so yes, there was some changeover with the managers, but also in the way the managers were then briefed. So, a lot of change had to come from the top.

On that “aha” moment when she realized it wasn’t either/or, print or digital, but both:
The last two or three years have been a huge learning curve for all of us. The more we’ve done; the more we’ve seen what used to be those ancillary revenues grow and in some cases the magazine is the ancillary revenue and the other business is the revenue model and I think with some titles that’s happened.

On why it took so long for media professionals, described by some as some of the “smartest people on earth,” so long to realize the truth about print and digital, that they must both be utilized in this day and age:
It’s very simple actually. Media owners were used to making money with their eyes closed. And when you have your eyes closed, you don’t see change coming. You don’t see it because you’re not looking.

On the most pleasant moment she’s faced over the last three to five years:
There have been a couple of very pleasant moments. And they’ve all been emails. I had two emails this year from one particular editor of a brand and I’ve known her for a very long time. I spent a lot of time training her 10 years ago and she went off and went to work for another company, but now we’re back together again in way. I spent a long evening explaining to her pretty much what I’ve just explained to you, and if she wanted to not be obsolete that she would need to learn Google Analytics because it would help her to create better content for her title. We had this discussion in Paris on a Wednesday night. She got back to her country on Friday and on Friday one week later, I got a message from her saying that she had just completed a Google Analytics, Google Trends and Facebook training and she’d also had her team to do it and how amazed she was by this data. And what it could do for her, so that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having these conversations and being able to explain to people that they can do things differently and then affecting change.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face:
People. (Laughs) People don’t like change, in general. Most people find change difficult. It’s normal and it’s human nature. You have to create an environment where change is a part of the fabric of the society you’re working in and as I said earlier; people were used to making money with their eyes closed. So, it’s not always that easy to persuade people to do something that they don’t know how to do. You need to review short-term conflicts and medium-term conflicts that might arise during an innovation process. In an innovation process there will always be conflicts; there will always be areas where people are uncomfortable.

On whether she has a favorite country or magazine to work with out of all the international brands Burda owns:
No, not really. I like working with most of them actually. I have maybe a few brands that I work on more than others. We have four editions of Marie Claire and I like working with those guys, because Marie Claire is quite a difficult magazine. It’s not as easy to do as something like Cosmopolitan or maybe even Elle, because they’re very well-established brands. Marie Claire is also very well-established, but it has a much more journalistic approach to it. And it’s not always the number one brand on the market, so I like to work with those teams because they try really hard to innovate.

IMG_9544 On anything else she’d like to add:
We’re not really a top of mind licensure; we’re not somebody you’d come running to for content, because it’s German. But what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that people will come to us for many other things. What we’ve done in the past few years is get people to want to partner with us or collaborate with us and that’s something that’s very special about the company, because I think we’re seen as a very collaborative and good partner.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning:
I’m stubborn. (Laughs) I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain.

On what keeps her up at night:
Planning my next diving holiday. (Laughs) I’m an avid diver and I spend hours researching dive sites and livable dive boats and where I’m going to find some hammerhead sharks. You have to have a nice balance and a couple of years ago I did my first professional qualification in diving, so if it all goes wrong with magazines I can always go and work as a dive master.

And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Frances Evans, Director of International Licensing & Advertising, Burda Media.

Samir Husni: Introduce me to BurdaInternational and tell me about your tagline, “Burda Magazine Media and Beyond.”

Frances Evans: BurdaInternational is a subsidiary of Burda Media, which is the holding company and the main company. Burda has four main platforms and one is the publishing business in Germany, so we have many brands in Germany, such as Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Out, Playboy, but also digital brands like Huffington Post and we also have a lot of digital properties attached to the magazine brands.

The second part of the company which is the printing business is the legacy part of the business, so we have printers in Germany, France and a very big printing company in India.

Then we have the digital business with brands such as the German version of LinkedIn, which is XING.com; a German version of something like TripAdvisor, it’s called HolidayCheck.com; we have brands that are related to computer sales, such as Computer Universe and Cyberport. And then we have a lot of VC capital invested in digital and technology properties. And I think I mentioned that we do Huffington Post Germany; we also have one of the biggest news sites in Germany called Focus Online. And so we have a very large digital section of the business.

And the fourth part of the business is BurdaInternational, which is all of the publishing activities outside of Germany. BurdaInternational is in 20 markets, ranging from Central and Eastern Europe, so Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Czech and Romania, to Brazil, Spain, Portugal, France, the U.K., India, five other markets in Asia, Turkey and some small startups in China as well.

So, we have all different types of businesses. Some of our businesses are crafting-related businesses, or food-related; so very small and very focused on verticals. And then a couple of our markets are big companies with a wide range of service magazines; also luxury and fashion titles. Just a wide portfolio like we have in Germany.

Our Asian business is based on high net worth individuals. They’re data-based driven products that are aimed at multimillionaires and their individual experiences and individual products aimed and geared at that very high society.

So, because we try to be a media and tech company, we’re trying all of the time to move beyond magazines and we’ve moved beyond magazines into magazine media quite successfully. A lot of our brands are really working in a 360° way. We have a very strong event business; in some cases, some very strong digital platforms and apps and all kinds of different things.

Now we’re trying to move into the next phase where we’re having really strong digital platforms with transactional capabilities. We want to be the electrical current between the advertisers on the one hand and the consumers on the other hand. So, we want to be in that value chain and be the connecting wire, but taking money out of the value chain as we go along.

Samir Husni: How easy was the transformation from the legacy business, which was printing, to where you are today, the 360° way of conducting business?

IMG_9542 Frances Evans: I would say that the start was very difficult. Not many people really like change. You can’t always affect change with people who have been there for a long time, so yes, there was some changeover with the managers, but also in the way the managers were then briefed. So, a lot of change had to come from the top.

And there was a lot of training involved and discussion and communication involved. And best-practice changes involved as well. Not only was it quite hard-going, but it was also quite expensive to train everyone and to communicate on a regular basis how to do things; to get people together to see what other people were doing.

Eventually, we managed that quite successfully, especially with some of our vertical brands. With those titles like BurdaStyle magazine, a magazine that is our legacy brand and was launched by the mother of our company’s owner, Hubert Burda; the magazine is very close to his heart, so we have to take great care to do any changes in a very good way. And for him the most important thing with the brand is to make sure that it transitions into the future. Now, if we don’t do anything with the title, it won’t transition, so it’s clear that we have to do certain things and it’s also clear that not everything we do will work immediately. So, there’s a lot of tweaking and testing that goes on.

With a lot of the digital products that we’ve tried, or certain platforms that we’ve tried, they might work for a while, or maybe that don’t work and they need a bit of tweaking and testing and rearranging. And then you learn because you have new partnerships, so you bring new things to the table and that helps you to improve.

I think to answer the question; what we’ve done is a lot of collaboration and training; a lot of communication and there’s been quite a few exchanges of people in certain roles. That doesn’t mean they’ve left the company, but they’ve been moved out of maybe that innovation role and other people who have been more innovative have taken over naturally as well.

For some people and in some countries it was harder, but then in other countries, they’ve had no choice. In the Ukraine, where 90% of your advertising revenue disappears in months, weeks or days, then you’ve got no choice but to innovate really fast and try to find revenue streams wherever you can and that’s not necessarily going to be a classical advertising revenue and it’s also most probably not going to be in distribution revenue, so it’s events or it could be all kinds of different things, trunk sales for fashion clients or doing innovation days for clients and helping them to innovate, doing shopping events or entertainment events; just a host of different things.

Samir Husni: Can you recall that pivotal moment or that “aha” moment where you said it isn’t either/or, print or digital, but rather we have to be involved in all of it?

Frances Evans: The last two or three years have been a huge learning curve for all of us. The more we’ve done; the more we’ve seen what used to be those ancillary revenues grow and in some cases the magazine is the ancillary revenue and the other business is the revenue model and I think with some titles that’s happened.

I’d say the last two or three years we’ve been working very hard. We knew that it had to be done and there have been quite a few changes within our company and in how our company has been set up in those last few years. So, that’s what we’ve been pushing significantly and no we have a lot of proof cases so there’s no way out for people who aren’t doing it any longer. There are proof cases for everything in all of the verticals and in all of the segments and now it’s the case of just getting stuff done.

I’d say the last three years have been instrumental, but I’d also say for the last 18 months of that we’ve known exactly what to do. And then going forward, there will be other things that we’ll need to do because the speed of change isn’t going to slow down according to Moore’s Law. It’s only going to get faster and faster.

Actually, one of the things that we try to preach to everybody is the way that they work today is going to change, more than what they’re doing, but the way that they do their work. In 2010, 100% of someone’s time was print-focused. And we have a paragraph now when we’re training someone that reads they need to be spending 40% of their time on print, which means they’re going to have to let stuff go, so we talk about decluttering quite a bit. Letting go of old projects that might not be as important and not focusing on that high quality project that isn’t as beneficial to them as spending another 20% of their week on Instagram and social media would be, and developing ideas for online.

I also think a significant part of the time that we spend nowadays has to be on education and on how to develop you. If you don’t learn what’s going on in the market and you don’t learn about technology, data, analytics and conversions, you will become obsolete. So, an essential part of what we do today is educating ourselves.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the “smartest people on the face of the earth,” as journalists and media professionals have been described, took so long to realize this stage where we are now, that print and digital must both be utilized and work together in this day and age?

Frances Evans: It’s very simple actually. Media owners were used to making money with their eyes closed. And when you have your eyes closed, you don’t see change coming. You don’t see it because you’re not looking.

Samir Husni: That’s a great answer.

Frances Evans: I think that’s actually it.

Samir Husni: In that three to five year journey, what was the most pleasant moment that you experienced and what was the biggest stumbling block you had to face and how did you overcome it?

Frances Evans: There have been a couple of very pleasant moments. And they’ve all been emails. I had two emails this year from one particular editor of a brand and I’ve known her for a very long time. I spent a lot of time training her 10 years ago and she went off and went to work for another company, but now we’re back together again in way. I spent a long evening explaining to her pretty much what I’ve just explained to you, and if she wanted to not be obsolete that she would need to learn Google Analytics because it would help her to create better content for her title. It would help her to create better content for her online products too. And she needed to learn how to use Facebook marketing and how to use Google Trends; to use data to create content and to understand her readership better. And it would help her to know if what she was doing was working or not and she could tweak and test accordingly.

We had this discussion in Paris on a Wednesday night. She got back to her country on Friday and on Friday one week later, I got a message from her saying that she had just completed a Google Analytics, Google Trends and Facebook training and she’d also had her team to do it and how amazed she was by this data. And what it could do for her, so that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having these conversations and being able to explain to people that they can do things differently and then affecting change.

Then I received a follow-up email from her two weeks ago where she told me that she had increased her Facebook likes and shares over 10 times. The change was enormous. They’ve managed to increase the traffic on their website by spectacular amounts with no money. They’ve spent no money; they’ve just done what they have done very well. And they’ve been watching and learning and then applied it. And it worked. That I think probably is one of the best things that has happened to me.

Another one was I recently did a bunch of trainings for our team in Thailand and they liked it so much. They don’t all speak very good English, but the CEO thought it was so useful that she translated the entire training program into Thai and redid it herself a week later. And they sent me all of these photos, which was quite awesome because it was very unexpected that they would feel so grateful to have had that training.

Also, I was asked to set up some kind of content repository for those practices and I spoke to a trainee in the company about it and he said that I should use “Slack.” I told him that I had never heard of it, but he encouraged me to try it. He did a five minute presentation for me and I said OK, let’s use this; it’s free, so let’s give it a go.

Within two months I had 450 people from a 2,500-peopled company, of which I would guess a significant proportion do not speak English, but they’re on there and the number of messages is growing every week and the knowledge transfer is growing enormously and they now write to each other. I’m watching, so I can see it. They’re asking each other things like: has anyone tested this tool; has anybody tested that software and so they now have a platform, it’s significantly used by the digital team, but the publishers and the marketers and the salespeople exchange best practices or if they crack a new client with a certain, really cool idea, they share it. And the others pick it up and ask.

So, trying to change the company from a push mentality to a pull mentality has been incredibly difficult. But that tool has been quite successful in a very short period of time to do that. I personally find that quite successful. But I think it’s working because we can see best practices being put into place in sales, distribution, product and digital. And when you start seeing the speed of change then there has to be some money behind it. So, maybe this innovation will turn into money; we’ll see.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve faced?

Frances Evans: People. (Laughs) People don’t like change, in general. Most people find change difficult. It’s normal and it’s human nature. You have to create an environment where change is a part of the fabric of the society you’re working in and as I said earlier; people were used to making money with their eyes closed. So, it’s not always that easy to persuade people to do something that they don’t know how to do. You need to review short-term conflicts and medium-term conflicts that might arise during an innovation process. In an innovation process there will always be conflicts; there will always be areas where people are uncomfortable.

Even dealing with that can create other conflicts, so it’s difficult. And it’s very challenging because it’s very stressful for a lot of people. Where there’s that much of a stress level ongoing, it can create a difficult environment, which can always be solved, but it just means that there’s a high level of pressure and you can feel it.

In the last three years, especially for us because we have a lot of business in Russia and Ukraine, which have been very difficult markets, we have business in Thailand which continuously every year something happens. When you just get back up on your feet, it happens again. Turkey is very similar as well. This year Malaysia has been a nightmare with the exchange rates. The exchange rates in Brazil have been a nightmare too. So, you can be doing everything right and the world can be against you. The exchange rates just are terrible and so whatever you’re doing, it’s working in local currency, but when you have to bring the money home, it doesn’t make for a pleasant story.

Samir Husni: From all of the countries that you work with; is there one that’s a favorite or a dear to your heart country or a favorite brand?

Frances Evans: No, not really. I like working with most of them actually. I have maybe a few brands that I work on more than others. We have four editions of Marie Claire and I like working with those guys, because Marie Claire is quite a difficult magazine. It’s not as easy to do as something like Cosmopolitan or maybe even Elle, because they’re very well-established brands. Marie Claire is also very well-established, but it has a much more journalistic approach to it. And it’s not always the number one brand on the market, so I like to work with those teams because they try really hard to innovate.

Recently, I’ve been doing a little bit more in Asia than I’ve done previously and that’s been quite a nice experience because they’re very grateful for the knowledge-sharing, so that’s been great. But I also have very high quality team of peer colleagues, so working in that team with a lot of incredibly intelligent people who are very dedicated and who are all fighting for the company. That’s actually a real honor to work with a group of people who are really dedicated and very good at what they do across the board.

I think the headquarter team that we have, the regional director and everyone else, is really a strong team and that’s really nice to have. Having colleagues that you can exchange with and who bring so much to the table that you can learn from them is terrific. And no one is very proprietary about information; everybody is open and we have a lot of discussions, and a lot of arguments as well, obviously, as you would, but everyone pushes together to propel the company forward whether it’s from exchanging their best practices or whether it’s giving people content for free because someone else’s country is having real problems and they need content. And that kind of thing is very unusual and I think that it defines the way that we work at BurdaInternational; it’s trial and error and collaboration.

We know what we need to do; we just don’t know how to get there, but nobody does. I don’t think anybody really knows the route, but we do know where we need to go and so we work together to get there. And we have a vision of what we want to achieve and we have the commitment from a shareholder and a group CEO to support us to do that.

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

Frances Evans: I think that a lot of the big international publishers have really great, amazing brands. And at Burda we actually license most of those brands. So we have a lot of inbound licensing as well. And we learn a lot from our partners. We’re very lucky because we do a lot of cool things, but we also learn from a lot of cool people too. And what we’ve done is built a really solid base in vertical and food publishing and garden publishing, those kinds of areas; crafting and things like that.

So, we’re not really a top of mind licensure; we’re not somebody you’d come running to for content, because it’s German. But what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that people will come to us for many other things. What we’ve done in the past few years is get people to want to partner with us or collaborate with us and that’s something that’s very special about the company, because I think we’re seen as a very collaborative and good partner.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Frances Evans: I’m stubborn. (Laughs) I’m stubborn and I don’t give up. I really like magazine media. I’ve loved it forever. And I really want our brands to succeed and I believe that magazine media is an excellent platform to reach consumers because it’s trusted quality brands that they love and I like to be in that value chain. I used to work for an advertising agency. And I’d do projects; the client would like it; the client wouldn’t like it, and I liked that working with media. And working with magazines; people love what you’re giving to them. From a work perspective, I love the brands and I think that there’s a real reason for us to be there.

Now, we have to be there in many different ways than we were before. And that challenge and helping people to develop those platforms, I find incredibly challenging and very gratifying when it works.

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

Frances Evans: Planning my next diving holiday. (Laughs) I’m an avid diver and I spend hours researching dive sites and livable dive boats and where I’m going to find some hammerhead sharks. You have to have a nice balance and a couple of years ago I did my first professional qualification in diving, so if it all goes wrong with magazines I can always go and work as a dive master.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Flow Magazine: For Life’s Little Pleasures And Paper Lovers Here, There And Everywhere – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Joyce Nieuwenhuijs, Brand Director & Irene Smit, Creative Director.

November 16, 2015

From The Netherlands With Love…

“I think it’s good to say that we are an example of the fact that print is not dead. And I think that we show the power of print, but I also believe in digital. The goal must not be about the medium, but the consumer’s needs. We started off in print and it’s more a luxury and a passion for women, but we can’t exist and grow fast internationally without digital and social media. So, certainly, we also need digital and not just print.” Joyce Nieuwenhuijs

“As for the digital part, we were never opposed to digital; it was just that we love paper so much that we put all of that emotion for paper into the magazine. And when we started Facebook and other social media, it helped us to grow very much.” Irene Smit

Flow3-2 Flow is a magazine that takes its time; it promotes celebrating creativity, imperfection, and life’s little pleasures. And it does so beautifully. The magazine and all of its special extensions and creative products are a print-lover’s dream. The different papers that are used with each issue are heavenly to the touch and mesmerizing to eye. It has become an international sensation with its many editions across the globe, having started out as a small Dutch magazine at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. It has since proven that if you follow your heart and your passion, anything is possible.

I still have vivid memories of holding that first issue of Flow magazine in my hands, together with its media kit, as the co-founders, flowing with joy (pun intended) presented me that first copy of the magazine. I was visiting the offices of Sanoma in The Netherlands where Joyce Nieuwenhuijs and Irene Smit work. Joyce is the brand director of Flow and Irene is the creative director. Both women have a firm grip on their seven-year-old’s hand and know how to lead it down the long and sometimes very winding road that is today’s magazine media world.

I spoke with Joyce and Irene recently and we talked about the concept of mindfulness and about how the magazine educates and encourages its readers to slow down and be conscious of every minute that they can. It was a look into a lifestyle that is both sought-after and needed in the busy world that we live in today.

So, I hope that you enjoy this respite with Joyce, Irene and Mr. Magazine™ as we take you into a world that will teach you how to go with the “Flow.”

But first, the sound-bites:

Joyce_Nieuwenhuijs On the birth of Flow Magazine (Joyce): Seven years ago we started Flow Magazine. It was 2008 and we got the go-ahead from the Board in July of that year. In September, the crisis began, so it was really a tough time to launch a new magazine. But actually, I think the crisis was a good point for us because everybody, especially Irene, the creative director, found a plan for the new concept, and a new magazine was born that didn’t exist until then.

On Irene’s recollection of the beginning of Flow (Irene):
I was with my Co-Editor-in-Chief, Astrid van der Hulst, and we were sitting with papers all around us, talking about what kind of magazine we would like to read. And we had both brought everything that inspired us with us, wrapping paper, little cards and all of these paper things. That was the time when we found out that we wanted to make a magazine that focused on living mindfully and being inspired.

On Flow presenting itself as the “anti-digital” and its DNA (Joyce): First, I think it’s good to say that we are an example of the fact that print is not dead. And I think that we show the power of print, but I also believe in digital. The goal must not be about the medium, but the consumer’s needs. We started off in print and it’s more a luxury and a passion for women, but we can’t exist and grow fast internationally without digital and social media. So, certainly, we also need digital and not just print.

flow2-1 On the biggest stumbling block she’s faced since the launch of the magazine (Joyce):
I only thought in opportunities in the beginning. But the challenge was Flow is an experience and you can’t just say that you have a new magazine, you have to see Flow before you can believe it’s a good idea. So, from the beginning really, that was a challenge. People get that Flow-feeling, and if they have a Flow Magazine in their hands; they’re in love. And for sure, if you have a brand that people love, you also have some people who don’t like it, but that’s OK, because you have to focus on the people who do love it. And if you’re mainstream; everybody likes you, but you’re not special. And I think that’s why Flow is good; it’s a love brand, but some people, mostly men, don’t understand what the magazine is. And from the beginning, we have to tell the story and that’s why I created the marketing strategy in ambassadors.

Irene Smit On how Irene coped with the economic crisis and the digital explosion in 2008 when the magazine was launched (Irene):
Well, the economic crisis was more of a natural thing that happened, because when we started the magazine it was something that we already felt. Everything was getting bigger, people were not getting happier, and the shift was to more expensive and purer products. So, I think the crisis helped us because the feeling that we wanted to put in the magazine was reflected in the people at that time. A lot of them recognized themselves in our magazine. And that was OK for us, certainly. I mean, the crisis wasn’t good for the sales market, of course, but I do think it helped to grow the magazine. A lot of people felt like there was no more welfare and were looking for new ways of living. And that’s what Flow is all about.

On the ambassador program that she strategized to get the magazine into the hands of people (Joyce):
Physically giving them their magazine to show them Flow, because before we did that, they couldn’t understand the magazine without it being in their hands; you couldn’t tell them the story. I think that’s another secret of Flow; it’s a true experience. It’s not just reading a magazine; it’s much more. And that’s why we’re able to grow the brand quickly.

On any cultural issues the magazine has faced crossing borders (Joyce):
That’s a good point. We thought when we launched Flow that we’d focus on the Dutch market because we didn’t really consider the international market eight years ago. But we received so much feedback from abroad, people who had seen it in airport shelves that we knew that we had to do something internationally, but we had to figure out how. We wondered if we’d need to change our content for something more local or culturally different. But that’s why the prices for us and the changes in the world are so good, because in the world we have the oppressions; everybody is under the same pressures with their jobs or working very hard to balance their daily lives. It’s a worldwide challenge. And digital really helped us because the world is nearby now. Eight years ago it wasn’t so nearby.

flow5-4 On defining Flow Magazine (Joyce): What is Flow? The essence of Flow is that we are a magazine that takes its time. And we help people to learn to do the same. And it helps people look for the imperfections, because we are living in a world of perfections. Flow shows you that life doesn’t have to be perfect.

On the success of Flow (Irene): The success is that we really make the magazine ourselves; it comes from us. And every Wednesday, we still sit together and drink coffee and come up with new ideas and new products. And we have to find time for that. We are creative directors, but we’re magazine makers as well.

On the most pleasant moment for her during the last seven years (Joyce):
When you’ve worked with Flow from the beginning; I think working with such a creative team every day and growing from a small magazine into a big, strong international brand makes each day so very pleasant. Also, the moment that we broke even and the return on our investment became really big was great.

On Irene’s most pleasant moment (Irene):
The best moment for me is that Astrid and I sit together every Wednesday morning in a very nice coffee shop and we drink coffee together and talk about everything that’s going on. New products we want to make; problems we have to deal with, just everything that’s going on.

On anything else she’d like to add (Joyce):
I think we have always had, and I will always have, a big ambition to grow the brand. But I believe it’s good to start small; think big, act small. That’s the secret of how we made Flow such a big brand. Nowadays, you have to learn by doing and you have to be an entrepreneur. More and more in the big challenge that we have as publishers you have to stay innovative with your product. And content is key for sure.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning (Joyce):
Life is good, for sure. You have to claim the energy and look forward to doing things with your family. I love my job and love growing the brand. And being a part of today’s transformation gives me energy.

On what motivates Irene to get out of bed in the morning (Irene):
Truthfully, my children. (Laughs) My family life is still the most important thing to me. And my work life is important as well, and I love what I do. It’s so nice that I can invent new products and think about new products. I get a lot of letters from people worldwide who tell me that the magazine helps them so much. I even received a letter from someone in London who told me that her husband had just died and she read the magazine and it helped her tremendously. And I love these readers; they’re so special to us. Their letters mean so much.

On what keeps her up at night (Joyce):
I learned that if you get up very early and you work very hard, you have to sleep. (Laughs) We can work 20 hours, for sure, there is enough to do. But sometimes you have to take off and I learned that from Flow.

On what keeps Irene up at night (Irene): I never stay up at night. (Laughs) I sleep a lot. I go to bed very early and I’m so tired, I fall right to sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Joyce Nieuwenhuijs, Brand Director and Irene Smit, Creative Director, Flow Magazine.

Samir Husni: Joyce, Flow Magazine is your baby.

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: Yes, it is.

Samir Husni: Recreate that birth moment for me.

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: Seven years ago we started Flow Magazine. It was 2008 and we got the go-ahead from the Board in July of that year. In September, the crisis began, so it was really a tough time to launch a new magazine. But actually, I think the crisis was a good point for us because everybody, especially Irene, the creative director, found a plan for the new concept, and a new magazine was born that didn’t exist until then.

We actually started Flow Magazine in November, 2008 and now seven years later, it’s growing very fast into a really beautiful, strong brand. The process we used was learning by doing and not starting with big budgets and huge print runs, but as entrepreneurs, with at first, a frequency of just six issues, so that we could grow the brand and surprise the readers.

From the beginning there was a lot of demand from readers in the Netherlands, but also from abroad. They couldn’t read it, but they thought it was amazing. It has grown very fast and now we have eight issues per year and six specials for the Netherlands, but we also have two licenses in Germany, France and the international edition in 20 countries.

So, in seven years and through entrepreneurship, we have 39 products now and we’re really proud of the baby we gave birth to in such chaotic times as it was for media then. Flow is a magazine that will give you rest in your hectic life.

Samir Husni: As the creative director, Irene, can you recall that moment of conception for you?

Irene Smit: Yes, very much. I was with my Co-Editor-in-Chief, Astrid van der Hulst, and we were sitting with papers all around us, talking about what kind of magazine we would like to read. And we had both brought everything that inspired us with us, wrapping paper, little cards and all of these paper things. That was the time when we found out that we wanted to make a magazine that focused on living mindfully and being inspired. We wanted to use four lines to describe the magazine.

So, we came up with those four lines that first day. I can remember vividly we were saying how nice this was or that was, and let’s do this or that. (Laughs) And we both did a mindfulness course, and mindfulness wasn’t as big then as it is now. But we really felt like it brought us so much.

We both finished the mindfulness course together and we learned so much. The idea of life and just accepting it as it is more, and to try and not to struggle so much. And this concept gave so much relief that we decided to use the idea for a magazine.

And I think that’s part of Flow’s success now; the message that you shouldn’t work too hard or try to be happy all of the time, just accept life with its ups and downs and be as happy as you can.

Samir Husni: We live in a digital age, and I don’t think anyone would argue with that statement. However, Flow presents itself as the “anti-digital.” So, what’s the DNA? What’s the philosophy behind Flow and can you describe the magazine a little bit, Joyce?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: First, I think it’s good to say that we are an example of the fact that print is not dead. And I think that we show the power of print, but I also believe in digital. The goal must not be about the medium, but the consumer’s needs. We started off in print and it’s more a luxury and a passion for women, but we can’t exist and grow fast internationally without digital and social media. So, certainly, we also need digital and not just print.

But the secret of Flow is we are a perfect fit for women, men too of course, but women lead very busy lives and it’s not only in the Netherlands, it’s worldwide. And I think that’s the secret behind how we have grown so fast. Also from abroad too, because times are changing; everybody has digital products and we all need a break from our hectic lives and Flow gives you the present of staying in the present, and Flow is a tool that they can use as me-time for themselves.

Samir Husni: Irene, when you brought the idea for the magazine to the powers-that-be, what was the initial reaction? Was everyone jumping up and down and telling you what a great idea it was?

Irene Smit: (Laughs) No, no one said what a great idea it was.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Irene Smit: We tried to put it in a magazine format and it was a little bit difficult. And there were a lot of people who had ideas about it; some said we should go this way and some said that way. But we said just believe in us and let us do it how we think we should do it. If not, it will be just another magazine like all of the others out there. If you want to do things differently, you need to skip all of the other people and let us do it. So it was a struggle to get everyone to agree, for sure.

Samir Husni: What about you, Joyce; I remember when I first met you and the magazine was just coming out. A lot of people were happy and excited about the magazine, but some were skeptical and wondered could it really work; there were so many different types of paper; so many different sizes inside the magazine and pullouts. It was and continues to be a very interactive magazine with the readers. What was the biggest stumbling block or challenge that you faced since the launch and how did you overcome it?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: I only thought in opportunities in the beginning. But the challenge was Flow is an experience and you can’t just say that you have a new magazine, you have to see Flow before you can believe it’s a good idea. So, from the beginning really, that was a challenge. People get that Flow-feeling, and if they have a Flow Magazine in their hands; they’re in love. And for sure, if you have a brand that people love, you also have some people who don’t like it, but that’s OK, because you have to focus on the people who do love it. And if you’re mainstream; everybody likes you, but you’re not special.

And I think that’s why Flow is good; it’s a love brand, but some people, mostly men, don’t understand what the magazine is. And from the beginning, we have to tell the story and that’s why I created the marketing strategy in ambassadors. So, we started with a small ambassador group and then it grew to a wider reach. I invested a lot, not in big marketing budgets, but just in giving people that Flow-feeling, a sample of Flow.

We didn’t have social media until 2008; can you imagine? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: We invest very much in marketing personally to give Flow to people, and now, when we launched in Germany and France, I said we have a very big marketing tool that doesn’t cost anything; we can use social media to spread the word. And we definitely spread the word with social media. So, that’s why social media is so important to us. It helps spread the word of Flow internationally.

Samir Husni: So, the ambassador program is actually having people physically taking the magazine?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: Physically giving them their magazine to show them Flow, because before we did that, they couldn’t understand the magazine without it being in their hands; you couldn’t tell them the story. I think that’s another secret of Flow; it’s a true experience. It’s not just reading a magazine; it’s much more. And that’s why we’re able to grow the brand quickly.

From the beginning, the strategy has been to expand the brand and form brand awareness in order to entrepreneur with other products in the magazine, especially products such as stationery. To build the brand and bring awareness is important because the engagement was so strong from the beginning. People love the brand and they want to have more of it. That’s why we now have 39 products, to build the brand. And I think it’s good because with Flow, your readers are really investors, so that’s why we invested a lot in the marketing plan. But that’s also why my strategy is to expand the brand in a healthy way, not too strong as a concept, but give surprises to the reader and encourage them to buy new products.

Samir Husni: Irene, as you were ready to do that first issue, something major was about to take place on the world’s stage.

Irene Smit: Yes, the economic crisis.

Samir Husni: The economic crisis and digital. We had both exploding at that time. So, how did you cope with both of those dramatic happenings during the launch of a brand new magazine that uses – how many types of paper?

Irene Smit: I don’t even know. I think maybe eight or nine every edition. Well, the economic crisis was more of a natural thing that happened, because when we started the magazine it was something that we already felt. Everything was getting bigger, people were not getting happier, and the shift was to more expensive and purer products.

So, I think the crisis helped us because the feeling that we wanted to put in the magazine was reflected in the people at that time. A lot of them recognized themselves in our magazine. And that was OK for us, certainly. I mean, the crisis wasn’t good for the sales market, of course, but I do think it helped to grow the magazine. A lot of people felt like there was no more welfare and were looking for new ways of living. And that’s what Flow is all about.

As for the digital part, we were never opposed to digital; it was just that we love paper so much that we put all of that emotion for paper into the magazine. And when we started Facebook and other social media, it helped us to grow very much. We have so many followers on Instagram and we have illustrators and crafters worldwide that we connect with on Instagram and Flow readers too. Digital helps us a lot to make connections so that we can be in contact with fans and readers all over the world. Also stay in touch with creative people who can help spread the word about Flow.

When we connect with someone like an illustrator from another part of the world, such as Australia, it’s a really great feeling to know they’re reading your magazine and you have that brand awareness.
flow 1-1

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: That’s a good point. We thought when we launched Flow that we’d focus on the Dutch market because we didn’t really consider the international market eight years ago. But we received so much feedback from abroad, people who had seen it in airport shelves that we knew that we had to do something internationally, but we had to figure out how. We wondered if we’d need to change our content for something more local or culturally different.

But that’s why the prices for us and the changes in the world are so good, because in the world we have the oppressions; everybody is under the same pressures with their jobs or working very hard to balance their daily lives. It’s a worldwide challenge. And digital really helped us because the world is nearby now. Eight years ago it wasn’t so nearby.

We also have a lot of freelancers working internationally with us, we have a really international team, and we work many people from abroad, so that’s also a really nice thing. Also, with our digital and social media, everyone is looking on their emails or mobile devices for us and our videos.

Flow allows you to relax and step out of the busy world and that means that we are for everybody, that concept is universal.

Samir Husni: How does it feel, Irene, seven years later, and Flow being your creation, to see all of the imitations like Flow in the marketplace today? When you came there was nothing like it on the market. But today, almost everywhere I travel, people tell me how much they would love to do a magazine like Flow. Does that fact change anything about the present creation of the magazine; the fact that so many others, either have imitated it or want to? Your feet may be still on the ground, but is your head in the clouds with all of the admiration for the magazine?

Irene Smit: No, our heads are the same as they were in the beginning. (Laughs) We just want to create the most beautiful magazine that we would want to read ourselves. We still put everything from our lives into the magazine. It still feels very much like our baby and all the competitors aren’t real, because to me, some of them don’t come from the heart. And I think a reader can feel that. People may use a different kind of paper and try to do a remake of Flow, but it’s not the same. And that’s why I don’t think they’ll ever be as successful as our magazine.

It feels strange that it’s grown so big, because in daily life we’re still doing the same work. The success is that we really make the magazine ourselves; it comes from us. And every Wednesday, we still sit together and drink coffee and come up with new ideas and new products. And we have to find time for that. We are creative directors, but we’re magazine makers as well.

Samir Husni: What about you, Joyce; if somebody asked you to define Flow today, seven years later, what would you tell them?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: What is Flow? The essence of Flow is that we are a magazine that takes its time. And we help people to learn to do the same. And it helps people look for the imperfections, because we are living in a world of perfections. Flow shows you that life doesn’t have to be perfect.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you during the last seven years?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: When you’ve worked with Flow from the beginning; I think working with such a creative team every day and growing from a small magazine into a big, strong international brand makes each day so very pleasant. Also, the moment that we broke even and the return on our investment became really big was great.

But for me, working with a good creative team is what makes every day pleasant and we also love being entrepreneurs. When we are here at FIPP and have become one the growing brands, I will be even more proud of the magazine.

Samir Husni: And Irene, what has been the most pleasant moment for you during the seven years?

Irene Smit: The best moment for me is that Astrid and I sit together every Wednesday morning in a very nice coffee shop and we drink coffee together and talk about everything that’s going on. New products we want to make; problems we have to deal with, just everything that’s going on.

We drink coffee for two hours and then everything feels OK and we come up with a lot of new ideas and those are the best moments of the week. And I think those two hours are some of the most successful hours of Flow. And we have to fight for the time to keep those Wednesday morning coffee sessions.

Samir Husni: Irene, what has been the biggest challenge that’s faced you over the seven years and how did you overcome it?

Irene Smit: The growth is still the most difficult challenge for us. To find a way to grow, but still keep this feeling that you’re a small team with quick decisions. There are more meetings now and more people that we have to inform and who are involved in the magazine.

Also the international teams; it’s difficult for us to tell them how to make the magazine because it’s just something that we do on our intuition. Now, we have to write down or tell them how we do it. (Laughs) How do you tell them when it’s just a feeling that we have? So, it’s a challenge to explain it, to let it grow, and to let it go a bit. Letting go is the most difficult for me.

Samir Husni: We have the Dutch, French and German editions and the English one in 20 different countries. Irene, can anyone actually claim that this is a Dutch thing – that Flow comes from the Dutch mentality?

Irene Smit: I think one of the strengths of Flow is that it’s not your typical Dutch magazine, because the Dutch magazine is now already so international because we work with a lot of illustrators. All our ideas about life and mindfulness, we put them into articles from our daily lives and we get letters from all over the world: Australia, Brazil and Canada. They tell us that we feel like their friends because we all have the same life and the same ideas.

I think this feeling and the things that we write about are so worldwide and that’s why the magazine is such a success. People recognize themselves in the magazine. There is an international vibe throughout the magazine that no matter where you’re from you can relate to it.

Samir Husni: Do you and your Co-Editor-in-Chief, Astrid, live the relaxed Flow-lifestyle and are you very close friends?

Irene Smit: No, we don’t live the relaxed Flow-lifestyle, because if we did we wouldn’t have the inspiration for the magazine anymore. (Laughs) We always say that our lives aren’t perfect and that’s what we write about, the things that come up in our lives. We are very good colleagues, but try not to be real friends. We are in a working relationship and we try not to do anything too personal together. We already spend a lot of time together at the office. And we live in the same town.

We think alike very much; we feel the same vibes when we enter a room. We get along so well together that it makes it very nice to work on the magazine.

Samir Husni: Joyce, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Flow4-3 Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: I think we have always had, and I will always have, a big ambition to grow the brand. But I believe it’s good to start small; think big, act small. That’s the secret of how we made Flow such a big brand. Nowadays, you have to learn by doing and you have to be an entrepreneur. More and more in the big challenge that we have as publishers you have to stay innovative with your product. And content is key for sure. The medium isn’t the goal, but it’s the consumer’s needs that we have to focus on, and growing our brands.

Samir Husni: Irene, is there any message you’d like to give your readers worldwide?

Irene Smit: It’s good to be more conscious of your time. I think that’s one of the biggest problems in the world at the moment. I just received some wonderful articles recently about mindfulness and all the pressures people have on their time. We’re always putting new stuff in our head. We should try to be more conscious of time off and empty our heads. Just be idle for a while. It’s very important to rest your mind.

Samir Husni: Joyce, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: Life is good, for sure. You have to claim the energy and look forward to doing things with your family. I love my job and love growing the brand. And being a part of today’s transformation gives me energy.

Samir Husni: And Irene, what about you?

Irene Smit: Truthfully, my children. (Laughs) My family life is still the most important thing to me. And my work life is important as well, and I love what I do. It’s so nice that I can invent new products and think about new products. I get a lot of letters from people worldwide who tell me that the magazine helps them so much. I even received a letter from someone in London who told me that her husband had just died and she read the magazine and it helped her tremendously. And I love these readers; they’re so special to us. Their letters mean so much.

With Joyce at the FIPP Congress in Toronto, Canada.

With Joyce at the FIPP Congress in Toronto, Canada.

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

Joyce Nieuwenhuijs: I learned that if you get up very early and you work very hard, you have to sleep. (Laughs) We can work 20 hours, for sure, there is enough to do. But sometimes you have to take off and I learned that from Flow. Sometimes you have to take off and be in the present. A good sleep will help you to grow.

Samir Husni: And Irene; what keeps you up at night?

Irene Smit: I never stay up at night. (Laughs) I sleep a lot. I go to bed very early and I’m so tired, I fall right to sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

h1

Marie Claire Spain: Speaking The Language Of Women Internationally With Humor, Style & Class – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editor-In-Chief, Maria Pardo de Santayana

November 13, 2015

From Spain with love…

“I think the printed magazine’s mission is to curate all of these things that might be of the reader’s interest and put it into the perfect format that you don’t need to plug in and charge; in fact, you don’t need to do anything with it except enjoy it. You can take it with you everywhere and you can keep it forever. It’s a good photography of the time that it shows. If you see the magazine in 20 years’ time and you pick it up and read it; you’ll find that it’s a perfect history book because you can see the time represented in its pages vividly.” Maria Pardo de Santayana

MC2-2 Marie Claire is a unique fashion magazine. Mr. Magazine™ likes to call it “the fashion magazine with a conscience,” because of the high bar it sets for a rigorous standard for journalism. It is a fashion and beauty magazine, of that there’s no doubt, but it doesn’t shy away from the important issues that matter to women in the 21st century.

And Marie Claire Spain is the perfect international extension of the brand by offering its readers ideas for improving both their life and their personal image, by providing the latest trends, with a sense of humor and from an avant-garde but also close point of view.

Maria Pardo de Santayana is the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Spain and has a passion for the brand that is palpable. Maria comes from an extensive magazine background, having worked at GQ for many years and also Hachette Spanish Press. She has a journalism degree in Information Sciences and a broad range of knowledge when it comes to what it takes to be at the helm of a magazine like Marie Claire Spain.

I spoke with Maria recently and we talked about her penchant for humor when it comes to most situations, whether good or bad. Her spirit of joy and laughter and her take on life in general was contagious as it spilled over into our conversation and made the interview wonderfully light-hearted and filled with confidence for her brand’s future.

Maria is a woman who has seen disappointment, but talks it all with a grain of salt as she keeps the optimism flowing and never forgets her passion and love for magazines.

So, I hope you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ conversation with a lady who can make you laugh and make you admire the many facets of life in the magazine realm.

But first, the sound-bites:


FullSizeRender On the day in the life of an international magazine editor:
It depends very much on the time of the year. A normal day within the office starts with our first meeting with the team to look at the job that needs to be done for that day. And then the rest of the day moves on between meetings, readings, approvals and more meetings…(Laughs), more readings, and then giving birth to new ideas for the magazine.

On whether digital has made her life as an editor easier or harder:
Digital has made life 24/7; now you can’t close the office ever. And there are no Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, in some ways it’s made life easier too because technology is always helpful, but it also requires more dedication.

On how she balances the international theme of the magazine with the Spanish content:
Marie Claire is a brand that really takes care of its uniqueness and its DNA. More than that, because of Marie Claire’s long history in Spain, more than 20 years, it’s very well-established and it has managed to create its own uniqueness. In terms of the balance, it’s quite simple because the French and the Spanish women are quite similar; they’re both European and western; they share, more or less, the same difficulties and the same struggles and ambitions. So, it’s much easier, I believe, for our European Marie Claire to become nearer to the core of Marie Claire than maybe one from Asia, America, South Africa or Australia. For us, it’s much easier because we are really near the French culture.

On whether her entire team is tuned into the DNA of Marie Claire Spain:
One good point that I have with my team is that I have people from the founding of Marie Claire Spain, so they are still working here and they’re really able to teach me about the DNA of Marie Claire because these people have been working here for over 20 years, so they know a lot about Marie Claire.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning: The thing that I like most is magazines. It’s always been like that with me since I was 14 years old. When you have the opportunity and the chance to work in something that you like so much; you don’t feel like it’s a job. It’s more like your hobby or something that you love to do, so there are not enough hours in the day for you to enjoy it. And that’s one of the things that motivate me. My father wanted me to be an engineer because I have a mathematical brain. I was a very good student; all A’s or A+’s. But I really liked magazines and that’s why I’m dedicated to them.

On any stumbling blocks she’s had to face:
I started as a journalist and I liked it very much and I believe that I have good managerial skills. I was moved and promoted to the management side. I was an Internet Director for five years for a large retail company and then I moved into an executive position and it was fun. I received good information from the MBA and I learned a lot, but I wasn’t happy. Of course, I was well-paid, but I just wasn’t happy. For me it’s very important to be happy and have fun where I work. So, I had to come back to the magazine business, but when I left I was just a normal editor, but I was a director at the time so I wanted to try to find a way to come back in a higher position. It took quite a lot.

On whether some of the covers of the spinoff specials that Marie Claire is publishing are a reflection of her own personality, such as “Shoes First”:
Yes, they are. I believe that life without humor is useless. You have to laugh at yourself and at all of the bad situations that might come up. It’s not like being superficial, but it’s taking life with optimism. And that’s what we want to reflect. As I take my life with a lot of humor; I find that it is very important to life itself and to the magazine. And trying to make a 100-page supplement about shoes could bore someone to death, going from shoe-to-shoe-to-shoe. So, if you don’t put humor into that subject, it will be dull and boring.

On whether she believes in the future of print in this digital age:
Yes, absolutely I do, because I think that printed magazines work as the perfect curator for all of these platforms, the visual and audio impacts of digital; all of these things coming up to you in notifications, the nonsense and the important things. This generation has access to more information than ever, but less analyzed. So you see a lot of things, but there is so much that you don’t even have the time to take in what you’re seeing.

On what keeps her up at night:
Marie Claire. (Laughs) You know what, the thing is I was telling someone, when I go on holiday I can’t sleep the night through, but then when I start working again; your mind needs several hours of sleep and then it turns on. My head is full of Marie Claire in every way, Marie Claire ideas; Marie Claire people; Marie Claire stories, and so my mind is just awake all of the time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Maria Pardo de Santayana, Editor-In-Chief, Marie Claire Spain.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the day in the life of an international magazine editor, such as Marie Claire, in Spain?

IMG_9069 Maria Pardo de Santayana: It depends very much on the time of the year. A normal day within the office starts with our first meeting with the team to look at the job that needs to be done for that day. And then the rest of the day moves on between meetings, readings, approvals and more meetings…(Laughs), more readings, and then giving birth to new ideas for the magazine.

When it comes to the first of the season, things change a little bit because we have to meet much more in terms of fashion to try and plan the whole season. And then we do that again for beauty and another for the covers. And then we have all of these spinoffs and supplements that we try to create.

So, it’s always a lot of work, but then again when we are at the shows, all of my days off are there and I have to do everything by mobile.

Samir Husni: It’s my understanding that the job of editors worldwide have dramatically changed since the dawn of the digital age. You’re no longer just editing a printed magazine, but you have so many other outlets that you have to care about. If you compared your life at GQ when you were there, and your life today at Marie Claire; did digital make life easier on you?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: Not at all. It’s become more troubling. When I was at GQ I was the deputy editor, I wasn’t the editor-in-chief, so I had a bit of an easier time, because I didn’t have the responsibility or the stress that comes with the editor-in-chief position. And also because the men’s market in Spain is much smaller than the women’s, so it’s a bit more relaxed work.

In terms of digital, the peculiar side of my job position at Marie Claire is that I don’t really take care of the website because it has an independent team. And they work it separately. So, for me it was more complicated at GQ because I did take care of more of the digital side, with GQ.com, but not here.

Digital has made life 24/7; now you can’t close the office ever. And there are no Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, in some ways it’s made life easier too because technology is always helpful, but it also requires more dedication.

Samir Husni: With Marie Claire specifically; with this magazine I always like to refer to as “fashion with a conscience,” as I flip through the pages of the magazine, there are a lot of similarities with all of the other Marie Claire international editions and there are also unique facets to the magazine. How do you balance that mix between international and Spanish?

MC1-1 Maria Pardo de Santayana: The Marie Claire DNA is quite clear for all of the international editions and they work very hard to make this real and happening. For instance, in June we’re all meeting in Paris, Marie Claire International, and we’ll have a two or three-day summit where we’ll discuss everything through the eyes of Marie Claire as a whole.

Marie Claire is a brand that really takes care of its uniqueness and its DNA. More than that, because of Marie Claire’s long history in Spain, more than 20 years, it’s very well-established and it has managed to create its own uniqueness.

In terms of the balance, it’s quite simple because the French and the Spanish women are quite similar; they’re both European and western; they share, more or less, the same difficulties and the same struggles and ambitions. So, it’s much easier, I believe, for our European Marie Claire to become nearer to the core of Marie Claire than maybe one from Asia, America, South Africa or Australia. For us, it’s much easier because we are really near the French culture.

Samir Husni: As you sit with your team and try to establish that issue in/issue out; I take it all of your team is Spanish?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: The fashion director is half American, but apart from that, yes, we are all Spanish.

Samir Husni: So, everyone is tuned into the DNA of Marie Claire or do you have any difficulties with that?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: One good point that I have with my team is that I have people from the founding of Marie Claire Spain, so they are still working here and they’re really able to teach me about the DNA of Marie Claire because these people have been working here for over 20 years, so they know a lot about Marie Claire.

And we’re a very small team, there are only 10 of us, it’s very easy to make the magazine work from one way to another. Also, it’s quite an international team because our deputy editor, she was raised in France, and also I had an international education. The syndication manager is also German, French and Spanish. So, it’s quite an international team.

But more important than that, on the core of the team we have people who have been working for Marie Claire since its beginning in Spain.

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

Maria Pardo de Santayana: The thing that I like most is magazines. It’s always been like that with me since I was 14 years old. When you have the opportunity and the chance to work in something that you like so much; you don’t feel like it’s a job. It’s more like your hobby or something that you love to do, so there are not enough hours in the day for you to enjoy it. And that’s one of the things that motivate me. My father wanted me to be an engineer because I have a mathematical brain. I was a very good student; all A’s or A+’s. But I really liked magazines and that’s why I’m dedicated to them.

When I first told my father that I was going to be a journalist, he was like: Really? I was hoping that you’d be an engineer. And I told him that wasn’t going to happen because I really loved magazines.

I think that there has to be good people everywhere and if you’re doing what you love, good people help you do it better. I’m very lucky because this is my dream job.

Samir Husni: Has it been all smooth sailing for you or have you had to deal with a stumbling block or two along the way?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: I started as a journalist and I liked it very much and I believe that I have good managerial skills. I was moved and promoted to the management side. I was an Internet Director for five years for a large retail company and then I moved into an executive position and it was fun. I received good information from the MBA and I learned a lot, but I wasn’t happy. Of course, I was well-paid, but I just wasn’t happy.

For me it’s very important to be happy and have fun where I work. So, I had to come back to the magazine business, but when I left I was just a normal editor, but I was a director at the time so I wanted to try to find a way to come back in a higher position. It took quite a lot. I had several opportunities but they didn’t crystallize into anything because some of the offers I didn’t like enough to leave my then current position, and some of the others just didn’t happen.

After 5½ years of being out of the editorial business, and in the internet business for a big retail company, I managed to get back into magazines. Life isn’t always an easy path, but I always take it with a lot of optimism and I really enjoy my life. And even the bad times for me are a way of learning. When I see the glass it’s always half-full instead of half-empty.

MC3-3 Samir Husni: Looking at the covers of your spinoffs, especially with the “Shoes First,” are the covers a reflection of the fun, passionate Maria?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: Yes, they are. I believe that life without humor is useless. You have to laugh at yourself and at all of the bad situations that might come up. It’s not like being superficial, but it’s taking life with optimism. And that’s what we want to reflect.

As my CEO always tells me, we are absolutely disposable; you have to make people happy. There is no reason they should buy us, except for having fun and providing them with joy and something inspirational.

As I take my life with a lot of humor; I find that it is very important to life itself and to the magazine. And trying to make a 100-page supplement about shoes could bore someone to death, going from shoe-to-shoe-to-shoe. So, if you don’t put humor into that subject, it will be dull and boring. I always try to put some humor into everything that I do.

Samir Husni: Why do you think in this digital age that we live in, amidst all of these social media giants that we actually compete with, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter; why do you think there’s still a reason for a printed magazine? Do you believe in the future of print?

Maria Pardo de Santayana: Yes, absolutely I do, because I think that printed magazines work as the perfect curator for all of these platforms, the visual and audio impacts of digital; all of these things coming up to you in notifications, the nonsense and the important things. This generation has access to more information than ever, but less analyzed. So you see a lot of things, but there is so much that you don’t even have the time to take in what you’re seeing.

I think the printed magazine’s mission is to curate all of these things that might be of the reader’s interest and put it into the perfect format that you don’t need to plug in and charge; in fact, you don’t need to do anything with it except enjoy it. You can take it with you everywhere and you can keep it forever. It’s a good photography of the time that it shows. If you see the magazine in 20 years’ time and you pick it up and read it; you’ll find that it’s a perfect history book because you can see the time represented in its pages vividly.

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

Maria Pardo de Santayana: Marie Claire. (Laughs) You know what, the thing is I was telling someone, when I go on holiday I can’t sleep the night through, but then when I start working again; your mind needs several hours of sleep and then it turns on. My head is full of Marie Claire in every way, Marie Claire ideas; Marie Claire people; Marie Claire stories, and so my mind is just awake all of the time. By the time I lay down to go to sleep, I might get a few hours and then it’s right back on. It’s all about Marie Claire now. I’m a little bit obsessed. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Architectural Digest: Marrying All Platforms As One & Putting Audience First With The Nuptials – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Giulio Capua, Publisher & Chief Revenue Officer, Architectural Digest.

November 11, 2015

“It’s fascinating, the last thing that we feel in our brand here is that print is a difficult sell or that print is dying. I think that AD lives in a very unique place in the marketplace in that the subject matter is an extremely tactile one. It is still a product that our reader demographic wants to consume as a printed product.” Giulio Capua

Unknown Architectural Digest has been the authority on design for over 90 years, having published its first issue in 1920. And while those early editions may not have held the same international design-savvy and beautiful interiors that today’s magazine offers, it was still a pictorial of residences that included not only interiors and exteriors, but also floor plans, a guide for people who wanted to know the latest trends and information on design. And it’s stayed true to its DNA and has matured beautifully over the years.

Today the magazine has grown into a luxury brand that offers its readers the same informational trends and topics, with a 21st century outlook on design and content. Its partnerships are unique and well-blended with the magazine’s discerning eye and give the audience exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to decorating tips and renovation makeovers for their homes.

Giulio Capua is the Publisher and Chief Revenue Office of Architectural Digest, a position he has held since February 2007. Under his stewardship, since 2009 the magazine has experienced four consecutive years of sustained advertising page and revenue growth, and was named to the 2012 Advertising Age A-List.

Giulio continues to oversee the digital evolution of Architectural Digest, including the rapid growth of archdigest.com. In 2013, the brand launched AD DesignFile, a top online destination for design inspiration, and continues to expand its digital partnerships, content, and video offerings.

Before joining AD, Giulio served as Vice President and Publisher of Gourmet and prior to Gourmet he was Associate Publisher at GQ. To say that Giulio knows a little about magazines and magazine media, especially the brands at Condè Nast, would definitely be an understatement.

I spoke with Giulio recently and we talked about his vision for AD and how he planned on achieving that vision through a continuation of their beautiful print product and by expanding their digital presence to an even stronger component. The recent relaunching of AD’s website was one step in that direction. And we discussed the special partnerships and unique relationships he tries to form with each of his ad clients. It was an extremely interesting conversation and one I know you’ll enjoy as much as I did. So, without any further ado from me, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Giulio Capua, Publisher & CRO, Architectural Digest.

But first, the sound-bites:

Giulio Capua

Giulio Capua

On the shift when he moved from Gourmet to Architectural Digest: I think that was a fascinating time for everyone in media business and particularly as it related to Gourmet. We were coming off of the best year in the history of the magazine. And then boom, as often happens in companies, we got the call from the CEO about changes the company was going to make. And he told me that he’d really like for me to go and run another company – Architectural Digest. And then of course, you’re hit with a recession the likes of which, certainly in my career, you’ve never seen before. It was an interesting storm. I was dealing with that and I was dealing with the typical transition that occurs when new leadership comes in, which was some people wanting to move with the old leader, some wanting to stay; you’re evaluating your team now in the context of a business climate where you have to make very different decisions about what you can and can’t afford.

On whether his degree in finance and marketing helped him through the storms of the recession or rather his experience at magazines like GQ and Gourmet did instead:
I think all of the above. The harsh reality of our business is that even though I have a degree in finance, I could never be in the leagues of working with the financials and options on how we restructure. You have to have a really great finance person on your team to do that, but I think I’ve gained great understanding of what the option team presents to me, so I could probably pick it up pretty quickly. But what got me through that time period more than anything was the experience I had; the executives in the company that were around me and my team. So, it’s the people above you; the people who work with you day-to-day in the trenches and all of the experience that you’ve garnered over the years.

On the moment when he felt they were out of the storm and back on the right track:
That’s a great question. I think there were so many stops and starts. Between 2009 and 2010, we started to feel it. But what would happen, particularly for the housing market, was they would get a couple of months where business was good and then literally the bottom would fall out again. So, it was an erratic recovery. I can tell you though without question that this year (2015) was the first year where I could say in my endemic business there’s been sort of a universal consistency to it.

On the expansions at Architectural Digest and whether or not they could have happened without the print component in the picture:
Absolutely not. It’s fascinating, the last thing that we feel in our brand here is that print is a difficult sell or that print is dying. I think that AD lives in a very unique place in the marketplace in that the subject matter is an extremely tactile one. It is still a product that our reader demographic wants to consume as a printed product.

On the digital platform and digital editions:
And I think the real question that’s out there now is what the future of the digital edition is? Is that really the place for the future or is the notion of having original content out there the way to go? And we’re all sort of struggling with that. And I think editors are going through this process where you have to think about your brand a little bit differently in the digital space and be willing to take a few more licenses with the things that you may want to test and try. The beauty of the digital content is that we know immediately what content is sticking and what content isn’t. And we feel like with that type of information you can map a strategy that could lead you to a different understanding of what your brand might be digitally versus what it is in print.

On what one might find him doing in the evenings – iPad versus printed magazine: (Laughs) It depends on the evening. If it’s a Friday evening it’s usually a glass of wine and everything is shut down and I’m sitting with my family. But I am absolutely a print junkie. I love print and I read, not just my magazine, but I love other magazines as well; I love fashion and sports magazines. But I think the thing that I’m continually comfortable doing is consuming content on my phone. For example, restaurant content I’ll look at on my phone, but I still pull out my Gourmet cookbook when I’m cooking certain recipes because I just love it and I’m so personally connected to that brand.

On anything else he’d like to add: Yes, one thing that I would like to add, and I think this is important for your students to understand as well, is that the thing that’s been the most refreshing for me is sort of watching your team embrace the way the marketplace has changed and really become marketers. We attack our clients’ business almost as a consultant and my team has produced over 115 pages of content this year. Those are scenarios where we’re working hand-in-hand with the client and you sort of transcend the relationship of media vendor and become a marketing partner.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: I’m blessed, truly I am. I love my job. I have the incredible privilege of working in a privately-held company that has incredible brands and whose clients are from so many diverse industries. I have clients from the automotive industry, the home industry, the luxury industry and the list goes on. And there are really, really smart people running those businesses. Every day is a new challenge. And the other thing that really gets me up and that I love is my team. When you get the opportunity to work and hire really smart people and empower them and watch them grow, there’s nothing better than that.

On what keeps him up at night:
Continuing to grow and develop our digital business so we can be sure that we can keep pace and keep the brand at this market-meeting position. Also, making sure that we’re doing enough to fortify alternate revenue streams, primarily digital, for the business long-term is important to me, and helping my 12-year-old to pass middle school. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Giulio Capua, Publisher & Chief Revenue Officer, Architectural Digest.

Samir Husni: You took over Architectural Digest in 2007 and then everything went south with the digital explosion, but a year later you were able to turn things around. And now, for the last six years that you’ve been there you’ve seen nothing but growth, in terms of advertising pages and revenue. Can you describe that shift when you moved from Gourmet to Architectural Digest?

AD November cover Giulio Capua: I think that was a fascinating time for everyone in media business and particularly as it related to Gourmet. We were coming off of the best year in the history of the magazine. We had a television series on PBS that had been nominated for an Emmy Award and I had this magical relationship with my editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl. She was just an amazing partner and we were firing on all cylinders and then boom, as often happens in companies, we got the call from the CEO about changes the company was going to make. And he told me that he’d really like for me to go and run another company – Architectural Digest.

But AD was a brand that I had great reverence for; I can’t say that I really had a strong understanding of the design business. I knew the part of AD that lived in the luxury space, but the design business to me, and the importance that AD has to the design industry, was something that I really didn’t understand.

And then of course, you’re hit with a recession the likes of which, certainly in my career, you’ve never seen before. There was the first Gulf War, but I was a young salesperson then and you felt it, but you really weren’t looking at it from a business leader’s standpoint. But that recession when it hit was like no other.

And to us our advertising volume is 50% what we call endemic. So, that would be anything that you renovate, decorate or build a high-end home with. For the most part it’s five or six categories within that 50% and they’re small businesses and they stick exclusively to print. And their cash flow is critical to their day-to-day existence.

So, when the business went over a cliff like it did, business just stopped. For some people who had projects in the pipeline, they saw those come to fruition because they were started and they were almost paid for, but for the most part, construction, building and renovations ground to a halt.

And the same thing was going on with the other 50% of our volume, which was luxury lifestyle. And those categories are automotive, travel, luxury, which categorizes jewelry, watches and fashion, technology and finance. Those are the five or six categories in luxury lifestyle. And they were all faced with the same challenges, budgets being cut back and that sort of thing. And I think at the time that we walked something like 42% of our volume over the course of that year. It was a really interesting challenge.

You know, Architectural Digest sat in this very important place because we still had a very profitable consumer business, meaning consumers were paying on average $22 – $24 for a subscription. And that’s very impactful on the bottom line. This is a title that was selling 12 issues for $8. Not that we could fall back on that, but it helped to sort of look at the business in a way that could show us how to navigate through the bottom and stay a relevant resource for our partners. And also look at the way we were doing business differently and move forward.

So, yes, it was an interesting storm. I was dealing with that and I was dealing with the typical transition that occurs when new leadership comes in, which was some people wanting to move with the old leader, some wanting to stay; you’re evaluating your team now in the context of a business climate where you have to make very different decisions about what you can and can’t afford.

I like to say that it was for sure an amazing learning experience, but I don’t necessarily want to go through it again. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Did your degree in finance and marketing then become a great asset in your role as publisher and chief revenue officer at Architectural Digest or maybe instead, the experience you gained from your years at GQ and Gourmet helped you to navigate that perfect storm?

Giulio Capua: I think all of the above. The harsh reality of our business is that even though I have a degree in finance, I could never be in the leagues of working with the financials and options on how we restructure. You have to have a really great finance person on your team to do that, but I think I’ve gained great understanding of what the option team presents to me, so I could probably pick it up pretty quickly.

But what got me through that time period more than anything was the experience I had; the executives in the company that were around me and my team. So, it’s the people above you; the people who work with you day-to-day in the trenches and all of the experience that you’ve garnered over the years.

And I think a lot of it was also the readership experience that you have to show, both in terms of how you’re talking to your clients and your team. This was a time period where we had to really underscore, particularly to our endemic advertising base, again those small businesses that rely so heavily on Architectural Digest and other brands in that space; we had to underscore the fact that we were with them and we were going to figure out how to get through it together. And that was a tough time.

And the biggest transformation that also happened during that time was as the economy started to recover you had this parallel path happening in the world with this huge technology change. It wasn’t that we went into the recession and then when we started to build back up the media dynamic was the same; the media dynamic was completely transformed by the evolution of the digital space, primarily with mobile phones, tablets and social media.

So, suddenly coming out of the recession your clients weren’t faced with getting back a little bit more of their marketing budget and going right back to what they were doing before; it was an entirely different ballgame, with all of the many options. So they had to see how that tied in with their marketing dollars and then how that money was to be allocated.

Samir Husni: When was the moment you felt that you were out of the storm and back on the right track?

Giulio Capua: That’s a great question. I think there were so many stops and starts. Between 2009 and 2010, we started to feel it. But what would happen, particularly for the housing market, was they would get a couple of months where business was good and then literally the bottom would fall out again. So, it was an erratic recovery.

If you think about someone who’s running a business that’s really reliant on cash flow, their ability to set a plan for the year and stick to it, and I don’t mean just a marketing plan; I mean an overall business plan, such as what they were going to shoot for next year and really lay all of their targets out against that, their ability to do that was tough. So, we had a lot of month-to-month and a lot of stops and starts.

I think you saw that also in the luxury environment as well. It really wasn’t until I would say when we hit the end of 2012, we sort of felt like we could predict a year ahead. And we pretty much stuck to it.

I can tell you though without question that this year was the first year where I could say in my endemic business there’s been sort of a universal consistency to it. There’s a variety of categories in those businesses. There’s appliance, which operates in much larger channels, and their business has been really strong for two or three years. But these companies that are making very high-end fabric and lighting and selling to the design people; I think they’ve had a variety of experiences over the last couple of years.

In the broader marketing channels this was a very challenging year for luxury, primarily because of China Cooling and the strengthening of the dollar. So people who are selling Swiss watches and French luxury goods, even though their sales in the States in the last couple of years were flying, a good percentage of those sales was tourists shopping in America. And when that cools off; you know they had a real lucky year this year and now they’re all hoping that the next eight weeks are going to pull them out.

Samir Husni: You mentioned 2012, which was the year that you were once again named to the Advertising Age’s A-List, so I think the industry is watching you and the magazine. And you’ve expanded. You started the Architectural Digest’s Design File and the AD 360, and there’s a lot of, I don’t want to call them “native advertising” because you actually call them advertising and they’re labeled advertisement in the magazine. So, taking all of that into consideration, what role does the printed magazine play in this expansion and could it have happened without the print component?

Giulio Capua: Absolutely not. It’s fascinating, the last thing that we feel in our brand here is that print is a difficult sell or that print is dying. I think that AD lives in a very unique place in the marketplace in that the subject matter is an extremely tactile one. It is still a product that our reader demographic wants to consume as a printed product. And for the smaller advertisers they know immediately if their advertising is working. They let me know right away too, because we are typically their single largest expense on their marketing budget. So we really have to work very closely to make sure the program we give them meets the objectives going in, but they’ll know if the rug that they put in that ad is getting traction with the design community.

And then on the flip side, with our corporate advertisers, my biggest challenge to growing my business over the last two years has been having a companion digital product that meets the criteria that they’re looking for. There are certain times where you have to be at a certain traffic level on your site to appear in comScore measurements. If you’re not on comScore, when a digital agency is delivering a target, you’re site might not even pop up if you’re not at the minimum threshold.

So, what we’ve really been trying to do over the course of the last year and a half is re-platform our site, which we just did in September, it’s moved off of a rickety foundation to a more stable one that is universal to every platform, meaning web, tablet and phone. Universal also meaning how easy is the system for the editorial team to produce once and produce frequently and have the content be optimized for all of those screens.

But then also it was put into the kind of platform that allowed us to then build an editorial team that could meet the demands of a digital business. And what that means is we are producing original content at a very ramped-up scale on a daily basis; we’re producing 10-15 pieces of original web content a day. And with that comes the ability to grow your traffic and with growing traffic comes the ability to have a more scaled positon for your partners because in many ways if I could help them check the digital box, it would give me more print.

Samir Husni: And that scale on the digital side is so important, but it’s like when I interviewed Bob Garfield and we talked about trash advertising. We can build scale, there are so many ways to get scale, but is it the scale that you really want?

Giulio Capua: And there lies the big challenge. And when I say scale; I don’t think any of us think that AD is going to be this massive site. We need to be a premium digital destination for people who want design-industry news and want to use our imagery to garner inspiration for projects. And I think there’s an audience there for it that we just haven’t really tapped yet.

It’s amazing, we all live in our own little bubble and I’ve walked into many meetings at agencies where we’re doing a group presentation and two or three of the planning people at the table don’t even know our brand. It’s never crossed their radar screen. What that tells me is for another generation their experience with our brand may need to be digital at first and then later they may become subscribers.

But the one thing that we do know is that not a lot of our web users are readers of the magazine. Yet demographically they look relatively similar, they’re younger, but the income and the sensibility is the same. So I think that if we continue to build that content base we can develop a digital complement to the brand that will allow us to continue to bring the marketplace the complete offer.

Samir Husni: I’m hearing that more and more and yet when it comes to the practice, people are confused as to how to do it. I hear some say they may have only 8% duplication between the print and digital reader. And yet we’re struggling. But I am seeing a lot of changes taking place. We’re no longer dumping print content on a digital platform and proclaiming that’s a digital edition.

Architectural Digest-1 Giulio Capua: And I think the real question that’s out there now is what the future of the digital edition is? Is that really the place for the future or is the notion of having original content out there the way to go? And we’re all sort of struggling with that.

And I think editors are going through this process where you have to think about your brand a little bit differently in the digital space and be willing to take a few more licenses with the things that you may want to test and try. The beauty of the digital content is that we know immediately what content is sticking and what content isn’t. And we feel like with that type of information you can map a strategy that could lead you to a different understanding of what your brand might be digitally versus what it is in print.

And for something like AD, I don’t think it’s far afield or that it’s going to be dramatically different. But I believe the web is about service. There’s a service element that we can bring to our user that you probably wouldn’t see in the monthly magazine. Not because the editors don’t want to do it, but because they’re limited with that package every month.

And there’s also a level of reporting that we can do that you just simply can’t do in a monthly magazine any longer because of the lead time. And that’s extremely exciting and it opens up for the team a whole new opportunity to develop their content strategy in a way and test it. Take your brand for a test drive and see what it could be.

Samir Husni: If I surprise you one evening and knock on your door for a visit, do I catch you with an iPad in your hand or a printed magazine or watching TV, or simply having a glass of wine with everything shut down?

Giulio Capua: (Laughs) It depends on the evening. If it’s a Friday evening it’s usually a glass of wine and everything is shut down and I’m sitting with my family. But I am absolutely a print junkie. I love print and I read, not just my magazine, but I love other magazines as well; I love fashion and sports magazines.

But I think the thing that I’m continually comfortable doing is consuming content on my phone. For example, restaurant content I’ll look at on my phone, but I still pull out my Gourmet cookbook when I’m cooking certain recipes because I just love it and I’m so personally connected to that brand. I have probably seven or eight issues that sit in my kitchen because in those issues there are recipes that I know my family loves and that I love. And even though I can almost do them by rote, I still like to pull them out to look at the pictures and experience it as we packaged it at that moment.

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

Giulio Capua: Yes, one thing that I would like to add, and I think this is important for your students to understand as well, is that the thing that’s been the most refreshing for me is sort of watching your team embrace the way the marketplace has changed and really become marketers. We attack our clients’ business almost as a consultant and my team has produced over 115 pages of content this year. Those are scenarios where we’re working hand-in-hand with the client and you sort of transcend the relationship of media vendor and become a marketing partner.

For example, we’re in our second year of a five-city tour with Cadillac called “Driven by Design.” For Cadillac they really wanted to vision that brand as a luxury brand, not a luxury car, but a luxury brand. And part of the consumer profile that really pops is obviously, design is extremely important. And when they were launching one of their vehicles, the Escalade, which was last year, they really wanted us to partner with them on curating this five-city tour where we would garner access to unique spaces that were architecture-significant, program it, meaning have an interesting architect or designer there to talk about what was special about the space and work hand-in-hand with their events agency to create the tour. So the idea was, over the course of the day or morning, 70 to 100 people would be driven or drive their vehicle to these different spots where they would have some sort of interesting architectural experience.

This was an extremely successful program, both for them and for us, but when you think about that partnership; I don’t think many people out there would ever dream this was something that people on a magazine staff actually do. (Laughs) So, we literally had two staff members dedicated to this program all year because five cities, usually three or four stops per city, then you have to locate the city and program each experience and it’s really very rewarding, but it can be involved.

That type of marketing partnership is something that really brings you close to your clients and helps you understand their goals.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed all of these AD 360 pages; it’s a very good example to show the marriage of print and digital and journalism and marketing altogether, the merger of all of these entities.

Giulio Capua: Thank you.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Giulio Capua: I’m blessed, truly I am. I love my job. I have the incredible privilege of working in a privately-held company that has incredible brands and whose clients are from so many diverse industries. I have clients from the automotive industry, the home industry, the luxury industry and the list goes on. And there are really, really smart people running those businesses. Every day is a new challenge.

And the other thing that really gets me up and that I love is my team. When you get the opportunity to work and hire really smart people and empower them and watch them grow, there’s nothing better than that. And we all work really hard at AD and we love being with each other. There are times when we all put our heads down; a good group of us worked two weekends in a row. And I’m not going to lie to you; when you’re not getting home on a Sunday and you’ve been working all week, you’re tired, but at the end of the day I think we all look at each other and think: we’re doing great work; we’re working really hard and we really enjoy each other’s company.

To me that’s the most important thing. I could not imagine waking up every day having to go to a job that you don’t like. That’s the one thing that I said to students when I spoke to them; it might take them awhile to find that job, particularly at their young age, and they might have to think about what motivates them and be a contributor also.

I have seven or eight millennials on my staff and none of them fit the mold of the privileged kid that doesn’t want to work hard. They’re all interesting, hardworking, smart and curious, and we love to promote that. There’s nothing better than seeing that. You walk into a room and see, making a presentation, that one young person who is going to challenge you and ask you questions and I think that’s really great. I love that.

Samir Husni: When you were in college, did you ever dream that this would be what you’d be doing in your career?

Giulio Capua: I don’t know. I was in a program at Ithaca College where a good portion of your senior class would work in a group, and at that time it was structured sort of like an ad agency, and you had a case study and you had to develop a campaign. And then we had to present that in competition and in our particular group we made it all the way to the national competition and placed third.

We were working as a team the entire year. There were a lot of personalities; you had to understand a little bit about how to agree and disagree, fight, get to a common goal and then ultimately rally around the creation of the campaign. That was a really good taste of management and work-culture.

And I also worked at the college newspaper, so I did have a sense of what it felt like to publish something, sell advertising and create content. Did I know that it would carry me here? Absolutely not; I had no clue. (Laughs) I remember putting on my wall at home all of the rejection notices that I had gotten from big ad agencies about jobs. That was my first love, to work in an ad agency.

And then I ended up landing a job as a sales representative for an independent web firm and they had all of these obscure trade magazines. But the two guys that owned it really taught me what it was like to sell and to run your own business. That gave me great experience. A couple of years later I ended up at General Media and then Condè Nast in 1990.

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

Giulio Capua: Continuing to grow and develop our digital business so we can be sure that we can keep pace and keep the brand at this market-meeting position. Also, making sure that we’re doing enough to fortify alternate revenue streams, primarily digital, for the business long-term is important to me, and helping my 12-year-old to pass middle school. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Better Homes and Gardens: The Mother Of All Consumer Magazines Prepares For Its Next Century Under New Leadership. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Stephen Orr, BH&G New Editor-in-Chief.

November 9, 2015

“Magazines to me are not the thing that people carry around in their purse or under their arm as much as they used to, but the magazine to me is a quieter activity; it’s a less hectic information experience. It’s not like going through your Twitter feed or your Instagram feed where things are coming at you from every space. It’s a highly-curated space in time that you have for yourself. Before I even came here, I thought to myself, what is the BH&G reader doing and how is he or she looking at the magazine and I think it’s like a me-time moment where he or she has a moment during the day when things are quiet, kids are in bed or there’s a quiet space in the day and she’s going to sit for a while and look through her favorite magazine. We want to be that magazine.” Stephen Orr

BHGNovember Better Homes and Gardens was born in 1922 and in seven years will celebrate its 100th birthday. It is the largest paid consumer magazine in the country with 7.6 million in circulation (mainly subs) and 40 million readers.

Commanding a ship that large is a huge responsibility, but Stephen Orr is the man to do it. Combining both his art and editorial skills; he could easily be just what the doctor prescribed for the magazine as it moves into its next century. Stephen was Executive Editor of Condé Nast Traveler, and has more than 25 years of experience in content creation and design leadership across many of the media industry’s most recognizable brands.

Throughout his career, he has been very successful at developing brands across multiple channels. Prior to Condé Nast Traveler, Stephen was a VP/Editorial Director for the Martha Stewart Living brand, where he created multi-channel content with a special focus on style, food, and gardening as well as licensed product development. He has also held senior content creation leadership positions at multi-platform brands such as House & Garden, Domino, Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Epicurious. Early in his career he held senior design positions at The New York Times Magazine, W, and WWD. He is a man both experienced and passionate about the world of magazines.

I spoke with Stephen recently and we talked about this passion of his for magazines and for people. In fact, he believes wholeheartedly that magazines are people and Mr. Magazine™ would have to agree with him on that. He loves the opinions and ideas of his staff and thrives on their energy and creative talent, which he feels overflows into the brand and makes it even more content-engaging and reflective of what BH&G’s audience expects from their favorite magazine.

With a few new surprises coming up down the pike from Stephen’s own creative energy and talent, the largest consumer magazine in the country can sail confidently into its 100-year-old berth, knowing that around the corner is the beginning of the next centennial which promises to be even better than the first.
And now without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Better Homes and Garden’s new Editor-In-Chief, Stephen Orr.

But first, the sound-bites:

StephenOrr On his feelings when he was offered the job of editor-in-chief at Better Homes and Gardens: Certainly, it was an honor. I had been working in magazines for 25+ years and I had worked at a lot of different titles, but I had never worked at Meredith before. Meredith is a very disciplined company, which I really respect. They did a lot of interviews; I met a lot of different people during the process. It was a long interview process and I was really happy when I finally got the offer.

On whether the thought ever crossed his mind that he was moving from “class” to “mass” by joining a title that had 40 million in readership from specialized titles that had a more targeted audience: I think some of my other experiences that I’ve had helped with that. For instance, I’d say two places in particular; Domino Magazine, even though that was a Condè Nast Magazine and had a very elevated level of shopping. The original idea of Domino, and I was there in the early days until it shuttered, was to bring an accessibility to design and a feeling of how to combine kind of cheap-and-cheerful and this mix of high and low, and also point out to people when they should spend a little extra money on something, while giving them tips on ways to save money at the same time. And I also think Martha Stewart where I once worked was like that. Martha is the empress of bringing a level of knowledge and visual sense to a mass market audience. That’s what Martha has done so well for the American consumer.

On his multifaceted career as a journalist/designer/editor and how he plans to bring those personas into play at Better Homes and Gardens:
I think one of my strengths is, if I can say it about myself; I’m half visual and I’m half words. For half of my career I was an art director and a graphic designer and then the other half so far has been more of an editor with words and a writer. So, I definitely have those two sides of my brain and I think a magazine like Better Homes and Gardens, and in fact most magazines these days, unless you’re speaking of The New Yorker or something like that, are visually-driven. We only have the readers’ attention for such a brief span of time, so I think that my career as an art director does allow me to see things very visually.

On the February issue, which will be the first totally original issue under his guidance, and the changes readers can expect:
We’ve been feeding new things into the magazine; it’s been sort of a development over time. I’ve been here since July, so when I arrived they already had October’s issue basically done; I just did a few tweaks and changes, but not much; we didn’t shoot anything new. The only thing new there was my editor’s letter and in it I wanted to make a statement, so my editor’s letters will all be shot with an iPhone; the first one was a bit of a mix, but eventually they all will be shot with an iPhone. I wanted to immediately telegraph to people that these are new days here at Better Homes and Gardens; we are a print magazine, but we’re also BHG.com and we have our social media channels and I interact with our readers over all of those different ways, so I’m not a hidden editor-in-chief; I want to be connected with our readers, especially through our social media.

On whether he heard any media or reader feedback about the fact that once again a man was editor of Better Homes and Gardens, mainly a women’s magazine:
I haven’t heard anything about the fact that here’s a man doing this job at all. I think women are very accepting of men in roles where we talk to them about different things. I don’t know if women care as much whether it’s a man or a woman telling them about home décor or cooking or flower arranging, as long as people seem to know what they’re talking about.

On how important the printed Better Homes and Gardens is to him:
It’s all of equal importance. We talk about Omni-channel consumers, and that’s something we were discussing in a recent presentation. We have about 50 million readers, if you look at the whole audience, print and digital. It’s a gigantic number of people, and we want to appeal to them on whatever platform they’re on. And this is the way it is today with all of us; we consume information in the way that we find most convenient for us. So, magazines to me are not the thing that people carry around in their purse or under their arm as much as they used to, but the magazine to me is a quieter activity; it’s a less hectic information experience. It’s not like going through your Twitter feed or your Instagram feed where things are coming at you from every space.

On if we are talking seven years from now, on the 100th anniversary of the magazine, will the readers say it’s still they’re same Better Homes and Gardens or something totally different:
No, I want them to say it’s still theirs. I was saying in a meeting the other day; we get letters where people get upset if we give them a story that doesn’t particularly pertain to them; I mean, they do feel like it’s their magazine, but it’s hard with that many readers to hit a chord with every single person. And so I do hope the readers will realize that sometimes there might be a story that’s more kid-focused and they might be empty-nesters, so they might just glance at it and keep moving. But we’re trying to offer a wide range of stories so that the majority of every issue is appealing to our established audience as well as a new audience.

On the biggest challenge that he’s faced since becoming editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens and how he overcame it:
There have been more perceptual challenges, I think. Maybe perceived challenges would be a better way to describe it, ones that I thought I might have. I felt like maybe I would encounter people who were set in their ways and resistant to new ideas or change, and I have to say that what I have encountered has been the exact opposite of that perception. I had never been to Iowa before in my life and coming here I found that people are categorically open to new ideas and change. And they’re eager for something new.

On anything else he’d like to add:
People might have a hard time understanding my living in Des Moines after living in New York City for so long, and people might have a hard time understanding, like you said, my coming from Condè Nast and now working at a gigantic, more mass general interest magazine, but I think what’s most exciting about working in media is it never stops changing. And I always tell people if you don’t like change, don’t work in media. (Laughs)

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings:
What I like is when I come to the office in the mornings, the office is humming and people are going at full-tilt. I tend to come in slightly later than they do and stay later. That gives me a nice time at the end of the day to catch up on emails and read proofs and do the more concentrated work, because with a large staff like this we do a lot of meetings during the day, so the schedule is working great for me.

On what keeps him up at night:
I don’t have stress like I’ve had with other jobs. What I have isn’t stress. I guess with the responsibility of this title, I do think about the people here a lot. I’m a very people-focused editor-in-chief, so I would say that I spend time not worrying or stressing, but I spend time thinking about the people I work with and I spend time thinking about how they can be the best at their jobs.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Stephen Orr, Editor-In-Chief, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on being named editor-in-chief of the largest paid consumer magazine in the country.

Stephen Orr: Thank you.

Samir Husni: When you received the offer to take over at the helm of the mother of all consumer magazines, Better Homes and Gardens; what were your feelings at the time?

Stephen Orr: Certainly, it was an honor. I had been working in magazines for 25+ years and I had worked at a lot of different titles, but I had never worked at Meredith before. Meredith is a very disciplined company, which I really respect. They did a lot of interviews; I met a lot of different people during the process. It was a long interview process and I was really happy when I finally got the offer.

It was a real honor because I knew they didn’t take this job lightly. Their management and the executive team here know that this is their flagship brand, so they didn’t take anything about this job lightly.

Samir Husni: From all of these other titles that you’d been working with which were technically very specialized magazines to Better Homes and Gardens which has a big, mass 40 million-audience readership; did you at any given moment throughout that long interview process feel like you were moving from “class” to “mass?”

BHGSept15Cover Stephen Orr: I think some of my other experiences that I’ve had helped with that. For instance, I’d say two places in particular; Domino Magazine, even though that was a Condè Nast magazine and had a very elevated level of shopping.

The original idea of Domino, and I was there in the early days until it shuttered, was to bring an accessibility to design and a feeling of how to combine kind of cheap-and-cheerful and this mix of high and low, and also point out to people when they should spend a little extra money on something, while giving them tips on ways to save money at the same time. So, Domino Magazine was very much like that.

And I also think Martha Stewart where I once worked was like that. Martha is the empress of bringing a level of knowledge and visual sense to a mass market audience. That’s what Martha has done so well for the American consumer. And she educates people.

When I think of working at Domino and Martha Stewart Living; I think I learned a lot of those lessons here too, because we’re always talking to a huge range of people.

Samir Husni: From following your career and looking at what you’ve done; you yourself are a multiplatform journalist/designer/editor. You’ve worked in design and editing positions. How are you going to bring this multifaceted Stephen Orr to Better Homes and Gardens?

Stephen Orr: That’s a nice question. I work in both Des Moines and New York City, but primarily in Des Moines, and we have a very talented staff of people here. And they’ve been making a beautiful magazine for years. So, when I came in, I didn’t say: out with the old and in with the new. I wanted to build on what we had that’s really great and make it even better.

I think one of my strengths is, if I can say it about myself; I’m half visual and I’m half words. For half of my career I was an art director and a graphic designer and then the other half so far has been more of an editor with words and a writer. So, I definitely have those two sides of my brain and I think a magazine like Better Homes and Gardens, and in fact most magazines these days, unless you’re speaking of The New Yorker or something like that, are visually-driven. We only have the readers’ attention for such a brief span of time, so I think that my career as an art director does allow me to see things very visually.

We talk about things very visually and for me it’s how do we create engagement with the reader in the print page, but also how do we engage our reader at BHG.com and also our social media channels. All of those things have equal importance to me and with our staff and our editors we’re constantly talking about social media and how to get the word out about BHG and how to attract new readers, while we have our loyal audience base; we want to keep them really happy as well. That, to me, is the real challenge.

Samir Husni: It’s my understanding that February will be the first completely original issue under your leadership. Can you tell me a little about the changes you’ll be unveiling with that issue?

Stephen Orr: We’ve been feeding new things into the magazine; it’s been sort of a development over time. I’ve been here since July, so when I arrived they already had October’s issue basically done; I just did a few tweaks and changes, but not much; we didn’t shoot anything new.

The only thing new there was my editor’s letter and in it I wanted to make a statement, so my editor’s letters will all be shot with an iPhone; the first one was a bit of a mix, but eventually they all will be shot with an iPhone. I wanted to immediately telegraph to people that these are new days here at Better Homes and Gardens; we are a print magazine, but we’re also BHG.com and we have our social media channels and I interact with our readers over all of those different ways, so I’m not a hidden editor-in-chief; I want to be connected with our readers, especially through our social media.

One of our art director’s takes her iPhone and shoots my editor’s letter and then we pick up shots from either my Instagram or our staff’s Instagram’s. If it’s a food issue, we’ll have me with Nancy Hopkins, our food editor, and then we’ll have some shots from her Instagram and then another food editor’s Instagram.

People have had a very good response to it, even the editor’s letter. I think they find it very personable and they like how casual it is; it doesn’t feel staged like some do, which is why I we did it that way; I felt kind of uncomfortable just having a shot of me in a suit and tie, all posed and everything. I wanted it to show how as editors we lead the life. So for us, that was one of the first things that changed.

And then we’ve kind of loosened things up. One of the things that we’re trying to do at Better Homes and Gardens is try to loosen up the presentation a little bit, with more color and people. We’re trying to show people kind of an elevated version of real life and the best life can be in an accessible version.

And then we’re also trying to weave together some other themes: acknowledging that women have jobs at the same time that they’re trying to make a nice home that people work, but also have a home life. We’re trying to talk to new types of readers; we’re looking at young entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of all ages and home-based businesses.

BHGOctober15 We’re also looking at trying to show a new type of BHG reader, but at the same time one of the things that’s very important to me is to highlight Better Homes and Gardens’ heritage because I believe if you run away from what you are; you’re denying what’s been accomplished over these almost 100 years, and the authority that Better Homes and Gardens has.

For instance, we’re doing a story on our own test kitchen to show people that we have all of these amazing resources here that sometimes get hidden just because they’ve been around the magazine for so long. Sometimes people forget how special they are because they’ve just always been there. But there are treasures here. We have an amazing test garden and test kitchen full of amazingly knowledgeable people and I want to bring that knowledge into the pages.

Samir Husni: I don’t know if you know this, but my magazine program here at the University of Mississippi was started by Meredith and Better Homes and Gardens.

Stephen Orr: That’s amazing. Meredith has so many deep community roots in so many places and that’s why it’s such a wonderful company. I’ve worked at Condè Nast primarily; I’ve also worked at The New York Times and other places, but you know, I love the culture of Meredith.

There are a lot of values at Meredith that I think we’re trying to show in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. It’s has a very democratic appeal to a wide range of people and I think I understand that because I’ve lived in New York before being in Des Moines and New York now. I lived in New York for nearly 30 years, but before that I was raised in West Texas, so I really understand how it is to be brought up in the middle of the country and the values there.

Samir Husni: I love your ideas about the test gardens and test kitchen; I’ve seen them all and they’re amazing. I’ve often thought they should be written about.

Stephen Orr: Yes, there’s so much to do with it. We’re going to have regular features on the test kitchen and test gardens, whether they’re specific lessons or other things. Before I came, I don’t know how often there was a regular meeting, but now I have regular meetings with our head test gardener and she comes and tells us seasonally what’s interesting and she’s working on what plants she’s obsessed with. She’s on the front lines of gardening, doing her thing there. I planted 1,000 bulbs this weekend myself, but I don’t have the time to garden every day with my job, as much as I’d like to.

Samir Husni: When I received the note that you’d been appointed editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens, I was taken back to almost 30 years ago when David Jordan was editor-in-chief of the magazine. Was there any response from the media or from readers about the fact that a man was now editor-in-chief of mainly a women’s magazine? When the first woman was hired as editor-in-chief, there were a lot of stories reflecting the sentiment that finally women’s magazines were getting women editors.

Stephen Orr: I haven’t heard anything about the fact that here’s a man doing this job at all. I think women are very accepting of men in roles where we talk to them about different things. I don’t know if women care as much whether it’s a man or a woman telling them about home décor or cooking or flower arranging, as long as people seem to know what they’re talking about.

Obviously, I’m not the only authority here, so for me when it comes to family and what a woman really thinks about something, I never tell women what they think, I always ask people who work with me, my executive editor or one of my other editors. I’ll ask then what do they think about something as a mom with young kids; what do you think we should do. From a health standpoint, Amy Brightfield will tell me what she does as a mom.

We have so many great experts here and I’m a very collaborative non-hierarchical kind of editor-in-chief, so we have a lot of talks and meetings. We’re all getting to know each other and I just want the communication to flow. That’s where I think the reader will feel that this is a team effort; it really is not just about me. It’s a team effort with people who have all kinds of expertise.

Samir Husni: You’ve emphasized the fact that you have print, BHG.com and all of your social media channels; how are you going to strike this balance between the 7.6 million subscriber/newsstand-based audiences and the website? How important is the printed Better Homes and Gardens to you?

Stephen Orr: It’s all of equal importance. We talk about Omni-channel consumers, and that’s something we were discussing in a recent presentation. We have about 50 million readers, if you look at the whole audience, print and digital. It’s a gigantic number of people, and we want to appeal to them on whatever platform they’re on. And this is the way it is today with all of us; we consume information in the way that we find most convenient for us.

Increasingly for people, it’s on their phones. We all go everywhere and we see people on their phones all of the time. You don’t see people flipping through magazines that much; you see people on their phones.

So, magazines to me are not the thing that people carry around in their purse or under their arm as much as they used to, but the magazine to me is a quieter activity; it’s a less hectic information experience. It’s not like going through your Twitter feed or your Instagram feed where things are coming at you from every space. It’s a highly-curated space in time that you have for yourself. Before I even came here, I thought to myself, what is the BHG reader doing and how is he or she looking at the magazine and I think it’s like a me-time moment where he or she has a moment during the day when things are quiet, kids are in bed or there’s a quiet space in the day and she’s going to sit for a while and look through her favorite magazine. We want to be that magazine.

It’s interesting that we get a lot of letters that say that and the other day we actually got a wonderful phone call from a woman, I believe in Tennessee, and she just talked about that she’d been going through some family trouble, health problems with relatives or something, she didn’t go into details, but she just left us a long phone message that was forwarded to me. She said that she loved Better Homes and Gardens and she was so excited by the new direction and she wanted to call and tell me that, because she’d walked in the door from a challenging week and she sat down with her magazine and she said it was almost like a healing moment for her, to sit there and look at all the beautiful images and flip through it at her own pace.

And that’s what I think we offer as a printed magazine. But we also offer people engagement on social media, which we’re trying to continually improve, and also quick and easy solutions and tips that they might encounter through their Facebook feeds and on BHG.com and videos. We all live in this multifaceted information world and I don’t think one aspect is better than another. I’m grateful that the printed page is still there for people because I do think that it offers them a respite during the day.

Samir Husni: If I’m talking with you seven years from now and you’re launching the Centennial edition, the 100th anniversary issue of Better Homes and Gardens; do you think the readers who have been with the magazine for 20 or 30 years and the new readers too, will say wow, it’s still my same Better Homes and Gardens or they’ll see a drastically different magazine?

Stephen Orr: No, I want them to say it’s still theirs. I was saying in a meeting the other day; we get letters where people get upset if we give them a story that doesn’t particularly pertain to them; I mean, they do feel like it’s their magazine, but it’s hard with that many readers to hit a chord with every single person. And so I do hope the readers will realize that sometimes there might be a story that’s more kid-focused and they might be empty-nesters, so they might just glance at it and keep moving.

But we’re trying to offer a wide range of stories so that the majority of every issue is appealing to our established audience as well as a new audience. I’ve worked at magazines before where they kind of discounted their existing audience and were rushing after a new audience and I didn’t want to do that here. I am very conscious of the fact that I want our magazine to appeal to people of all ages, of multi-generations; I’m a GNX, but barely. I’m on the cusp of Baby-Boomer.

I’m not a millennial at all, but I have the millennial mindset; I really follow what millennials are doing. I’m the type of person who is on their phone and Instagram all of the time. I read my news off of Twitter a lot, both in-depth news and looking through to primary news sources. I also get inspiration from Twitter and people who are doing interesting things. I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram every day. And so that’s how I get my information, but also when one of my favorite magazines comes through the door, I stop and I read that magazine.

I feel like I exist at the point where people that are older than me are less computer native in many ways and people younger than me are more computer native and information-technology native. And I feel very much at my age and my experience level, and how I started working with computers in college, I feel I’m very much a good representative of both groups. I’m neither too much of one nor not enough of the other. And I want to try and be that divining rod or whatever phrase might be used, to try and speak to all of the different audiences that we have.

And I feel like people in this day and age, especially marketers, put people into these groups and talk about how different we all are; I tend to focus more on how similar we are.

Samir Husni: I think your role at your age; you’re the two-lane bridge that connects both sides of the spectrum. I’m a little bit older than you and having grown up during the print platform and having adapted to the digital platform; to me that’s more powerful than just being a digital native or a print native.

Stephen Orr: I’m very happy with my position. I’m happy that I love print and I love books and magazines and I love the visual appeal of those things and I also love digital. I love being online.

But like most people and maybe younger people don’t feel this way, I actually look for ways to not be online. So a magazine is a way for me not to have to be connected. I don’t have to be connected all of the time; I’m the kind of person who might say, OK – I’m putting my phone in the drawer and I’m going outside. And that’s why I love gardening, because I can go outside and if I bring my phone with me, it’s too expensive to replace should I drop it…(Laughs)

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face since you became editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens and how did you overcome it?

Stephen Orr: There have been more perceptual challenges, I think. Maybe perceived challenges would be a better way to describe it, ones that I thought I might have. I felt like maybe I would encounter people who were set in their ways and resistant to new ideas or change, and I have to say that what I have encountered has been the exact opposite of that perception.

I had never been to Iowa before in my life and coming here I found that people are categorically open to new ideas and change. And they’re eager for something new. So, the wide range of people that I’m working with here on a day-to-day basis are open to change and everybody is willing to try something new; people are quick to get onboard.

They really know what they’re about and I value their expertise, because for me I don’t want to come in as a change agent and not listen to the people who have been doing it for a long time. I always want to hear: why did we do it that way and when did we last change it and what was the reaction? I don’t just blithely discard the past. For me it’s a combination of the past and the future. I’m a dual person; I love both.

But I don’t think I’ve encountered any enormous challenges. The things that I wondered might be challenges turned out not to be problems. The Meredith Corporation has been very supportive. We had a presentation a couple of weeks ago where they saw some of the ideas for some of the changes and they couldn’t have been happier and more supportive.

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

Stephen Orr: People might have a hard time understanding my living in Des Moines after living in New York City for so long, and people might have a hard time understanding, like you said, my coming from Condè Nast and now working at a gigantic, more mass general interest magazine, but I think what’s most exciting about working in media is it never stops changing. And I always tell people if you don’t like change, don’t work in media. (Laughs)

Our world, because of technology and everything that’s happening, everything changes all of the time. And I think as editors our job is to be nimble. People overuse that word, but it’s such a nice word to think about because it implies that you’re able to skate over the surface and keep nimbly moving no matter what to make it all work. And I think that’s’ what’s exciting about what we’re doing in this day and age with media. The changes, even though they’re challenges, are what offer the most excitement.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings, especially now that you’re out of the City and in the Midwest? Does farm life get you out of bed any earlier these days? (Laughs)

Stephen Orr: (Laughs too) It does. They work on an earlier schedule and that took some getting used to. But there’s no commute here. In my last job, my commute was an hour. And that was killing me, an hour each way. Now my commute is five minutes, so I don’t have much to complain about.

What I like is when I come to the office in the mornings, the office is humming and people are going at full-tilt. I tend to come in slightly later than they do and stay later. That gives me a nice time at the end of the day to catch up on emails and read proofs and do the more concentrated work, because with a large staff like this we do a lot of meetings during the day, so the schedule is working great for me.

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

Stephen Orr: I don’t have stress like I’ve had with other jobs. What I have isn’t stress. I guess with the responsibility of this title, I do think about the people here a lot. I’m a very people-focused editor-in-chief, so I would say that I spend time not worrying or stressing, but I spend time thinking about the people I work with and I spend time thinking about how they can be the best at their jobs.

So, that’s basically it. I’m just thinking about the people I work with a lot. I hope that doesn’t sound insincere, but that’s what I believe. I believe magazines are people and so for me all of the people that we work with here at Better Homes and Gardens are all friends, including digital and social media and our special issues. It’s thinking about everybody’s strengths and how to get everybody super-excited about making this product over all its platforms.

Samir Husni: Thank you.