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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.

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