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Good Housekeeping: 130 Years Old & Still Necessary, Relevant & Sufficient In This Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine Interview With Jane Francisco, Editor-In-Chief, Good Housekeeping.

January 15, 2016

“Personally, I’m very passionate about print. I love magazines and I love working on magazines. I love the fact that magazines actually are finite. There’s something about that that’s really special. So, I personally have a passion for print.” Jane Francisco

“In terms of how important print is to our business, more than half of our audience is in print. It requires finer attention, shall we say, because of the fact that it can’t be changed once it’s printed. That’s one of the things about print; people keep it longer. I still think it’s a hugely important part of our business and certainly right now, it’s where our audience is, with nearly 20 million readers every single month, that’s a big deal. And when we sort of carve that audience up and look at it and we look at how many women in our audience are in a certain age and stage in life or are of a group, for instance, people who are very interested in beauty or some other category; we still speak to more women in those niches than a lot of the verticals do.” Jane Francisco

GHFeb As Hearst Magazines celebrates several milestones; Good Housekeeping is 130 years strong; Town & Country is 170, House Beautiful is 120 and Harper’s Bazaar is nearly 150, and these are not typos as David Carey wrote in his recent end of the year letter to the global magazine company; one might ask how do legacy brands such as these inimitable titles stay necessary, relevant and sufficient in this digital age?

With Good Housekeeping, Editor-In-Chief Jane Francisco says it has to do with retaining all of the magazine’s strengths and values that it has stood for through the generations, while simultaneously making sure they stay aligned with the lifestyle of each subsequent generation. And at Good Housekeeping the proof is in the pudding or the Good Housekeeping Institute anyway.

I spoke with Jane recently and we talked about her two-year anniversary with Good Housekeeping after a successful tenure as editor in chief of Chatelaine, the leading women’s lifestyle media brand in Canada. We also discussed the multifaceted extensions that the brand is showcasing in this new year of 2016, such as the inaugural Best New Car Awards for 2016 that GH teamed up with Car and Driver magazine to introduce, the celebration of The Year of the Connected Woman, which they have deemed 2016 to be, and the special themed issue in September tied to the year of The Connected Woman.

All in all, 2016 is lining up to be the magazine’s best year yet. And according to its editor-in-chief, it will only get better and stronger in every area, with each successive year to come.

Jane has settled in at Good Housekeeping and is prepared to steer her massive brand-ship into exciting new waters as the New Year unfolds and Mr. Magazine™ is very anxious to board the GH ship. So without any further ado, here is Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Jane Francisco, Editor-In-Chief, Good Housekeeping.

But first the sound-bites:

 

Jane Francisco Headshot-Credit Sian Richards On whether her first two years at Good Housekeeping has been all smooth sailing: The first six months was a lot of absorbing. The magazine that I worked on previously was quite similar, in terms of mix of content, audience, marketing, etc. So that part was a fairly easy transition, but working with a new team and then having the Good Housekeeping Institute also be a part of that, was really an exciting new element for me and sort of a steeper learning curve. Understanding the processes and the methodology of all of the testing and research that’s done there and then working with the team to look at how we could develop more content from that testing and research.

On how it feels in this digital age to edit a legacy brand that’s 130 years old:
First and foremost I feel a huge responsibility to the company that owns the brand and to the audience and their expectations that come with them. It’s a huge challenge because as you go from generation to generation, you have to make sure that this brand continues to be as relevant to the next generation as it was to the previous one. And that’s the challenge.

On whether as an editor she ever feels overwhelmed as the role constantly evolves:
We certainly do have a lot of pots on the stove. A couple of different things about that; one, I would say as someone who has worked on general lifestyle magazines like Good Housekeeping and Chatelaine, the one I worked on previously, and I’ve also worked on verticals, so I’ve worked on shelter publications; I’ve worked on a health and beauty magazine and a fashion magazine. It’s a very different challenge to focus on all of those various areas at one time to a very large audience, than it is to try and deliver depth and expertise in just one area. So, Good Housekeeping presents that challenge on its own, just the magazine because of needing to deliver relevant content for every life stage in health, beauty, fashion and real-life stories; that’s big.

On how important the print edition is to Good Housekeeping in this day and age:
Personally, I’m very passionate about print. I love magazines and I love working on magazines. I love the fact that magazines actually are finite. There’s something about that that’s really special. So, I personally have a passion for it. In terms of how important it is to our business, more than half of our audience is in print. It requires finer attention, shall we say, because of the fact that it can’t be changed once it’s printed. That’s one of the things about print; people keep it longer. I still think it’s a hugely important part of our business and certainly right now, it’s where our audience is, with nearly 20 million readers every single month, that’s a big deal.

On whether her print audience is the same as her digital audience:
Our research is showing that there’s not a huge amount of overlap. Of course, we do have a lot of different audiences within digital as well. There’s online, but then we have Facebook, which is online, but our Facebook audience is really important and that’s fairly sizable as well. And then all of the other social components: Twitter, Instagram, etc.

On her reaction when she was made the offer to become editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping:
I got the offer for the job through several months of very deep conversations and proposals. So by the time that happened I was pretty engaged in the process, so it wasn’t surprising in the sense that it wasn’t like someone just called me up and said, hey, let me give you this job. (Laughs) But of course, I was thrilled and at that point I had made a decision that it was something that I wanted to do.

On the major stumbling block that she’s had to face:
Well, this may tell you more about me than the job, which is kind of sad. (Laughs) I think the biggest stumbling block for me was probably the same stumbling block that I had on my previous job when I started, and that was making assumptions, thinking that because you had done a job similar to this one before that it was going to be smooth and easy. Not saying necessarily that it wasn’t smooth and easy; it’s just that you kind of come in with an assumption that the learning experience you had before you’ll be able to apply directly and of course you can, but it’s more to the point to say that you apply it more indirectly.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning:
I feel like every day there are too many new things to do. Not too many in a bad way; it’s just every day I feel like I can’t wait to get there. I want to get there early so I can get a jump on the day and the things that I need to do.

On whether service journalism is the core of the print edition or the entire Good Housekeeping brand:
I would say that service journalism is really the core of the brand. In the digital space, the highest traffic drivers are often stories that really draw you in. So, I would say that while the site itself may have a lot of service journalism, a lot of the stories that draw people onto the site is the real-life stories.

On anything else she’d like to add:
This year we are celebrating The Year of the Connected Woman, which is something new and exciting for us at Good Housekeeping. Technology has become such a huge part of women’s everyday lives. And not technology for technology’s sake, but it’s a part of how we connect with one another, with our family and friends and the community.

On what’s in store for Good Housekeeping in 2016:
That’s our big focus, celebrating The Year of the Connected Woman. And we’ll have a special themed issue in September tied to the year of The Connected Woman. Women who are making a difference; women who are connected with their communities, and then we’ll also be looking at how we connect.

On what someone might find her doing in the evening if they showed up unexpectedly at her home:
A typical work night, I would either be watching something on my iPad or, depending on what part of the month we’re in, I would have a stack of pages of the magazine in my lap. I would be flipping back and forth and thinking: I should really do my work now or maybe I’ll do it in the morning; I’ll just finish watching this show or movie first. That’s pretty typical for me once my son is asleep.

On what keeps her up at night:
I may have half-answered this before, but what keeps me up at night usually is all of the balls that we have up in the air. I’m actually a pretty good sleeper, but if I was thinking about work, which I pretty much think about work when I fall asleep, and when I wake up I’m usually thinking: how are we going to get done; who’s going to get it done; and how can we move any number of whatever the projects are forward; and is it moving forward.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jane Francisco, Editor-In-Chief, Good Housekeeping.

Samir Husni: You’ve now been at Good Housekeeping for two years; tell me about those two years. Has it been smooth sailing the entire time or have you encountered some choppy waters? How easy has it been to adjust as editor-in-chief of one of the largest women’s magazines in the country?

GHJan Jane Francisco: The first six months was a lot of absorbing. The magazine that I worked on previously was quite similar, in terms of mix of content, audience, marketing, etc. So that part was a fairly easy transition, but working with a new team and then having the Good Housekeeping Institute also be a part of that, was really an exciting new element for me and sort of a steeper learning curve. Understanding the processes and the methodology of all of the testing and research that’s done there and then working with the team to look at how we could develop more content from that testing and research.

So that was the first thing and at that point we were really focusing on the redesign and a lot of that had to do with creating more content around the testing and the Institute, bringing forward some of our experts a little bit more into the pages and developing the lifestyle content in a stronger way.

At that point, we were 129 years old, so the heritage of this brand is really important. We have a very large, loyal reader base that we wanted to keep happy and excited about the brand. So, I would say that was kind of the whole first year of my initial experience.

I would say the last year has been more like measuring how it’s going and continuing to evolve all of the pieces.

Samir Husni: David Carey in his letter to the company and the media mentioned that Town & Country is 170 years old and Good Housekeeping is 130 years old and he followed that directly by saying this was not a typo. How does it feel today in this digital age to edit a magazine that’s 130 years old? And how is that different than editing the other magazine that you were working on?

Jane Francisco: The other magazine that I was at immediately prior to Good Housekeeping was the Canadian magazine, Chatelaine. In my last year there we celebrated 85 years, which is not 130, but once you get multigenerational and you’re enough generations along that there’s no one living who was around when it started, you’re essentially then dealing with the same type magazine.

But in answer to your question; first and foremost I feel a huge responsibility to the company that owns the brand and to the audience and their expectations that come with them. It’s a huge challenge because as you go from generation to generation, you have to make sure that this brand continues to be as relevant to the next generation as it was to the previous one. And that’s the challenge.

So, how do you retain all of the strengths and values that we’ve stood for over the years and at the same time make sure that it’s aligned to the lifestyles of the next generation? So that when the next generation starts to build their homes and start to think about their families, the offering that Good Housekeeping is providing is completely relevant, useful, compelling and exciting to them.

Samir Husni: Do you ever feel overwhelmed because of all of your responsibilities? You teamed up with Car and Driver to do the Best New Car Awards for 2016; you’re taking what the Institute has done with the Miracle Mop and linking it to the movie, and editing the magazine while trying to reach a new generation; that’s quite a plate-full. As the role of editor evolves; do you feel like you have too many pots on the stove?

Jane Francisco: We certainly do have a lot of pots on the stove. A couple of different things about that; one, I would say as someone who has worked on general lifestyle magazines like Good Housekeeping and Chatelaine, the one I worked on previously, and I’ve also worked on verticals, so I’ve worked on shelter publications; I’ve worked on a health and beauty magazine and a fashion magazine.

It’s a very different challenge to focus on all of those various areas at one time to a very large audience, than it is to try and deliver depth and expertise in just one area. So, Good Housekeeping presents that challenge on its own, just the magazine because of needing to deliver relevant content for every life stage in health, beauty, fashion and real-life stories; that’s big. But we have a great team and that’s the expertise that they bring, and as far as that goes, I’m like the conductor or the orchestra leader. I rely heavily on that team.

And then when we look at the business as a whole, there are a number of different things. You mentioned the Car and Driver awards, the Good Housekeeping Car and Driver awards that we launched this year with Car and Driver magazine. So, that’s really exciting and brand new in a way, but also in a way, we have been testing cars with Car and Driver for a number of years. It’s not new for our engineers. The process is not new and obviously testing products is not new for us, our engineers have been doing that for decades.

This year what was new was in how we packaged it and the fact that we decided to craft it in such a way that we were really focusing on the top cars in each category. So that’s the case for a lot of the different stuff that we’re doing.

You mentioned Joy (Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano) and the launch of the movie, and of course her products; she celebrates 20 years since she first got the Good Housekeeping Seal on her products. And that’s really exciting for us.

The Good Housekeeping Seal is the perfect example of the look back and the look forward. It’s something that’s a part of our history and a part of our heritage and very important to the brand.

Joy and her products have been an important part over the last couple of decades. And now here is something that’s really interesting and compelling that’s happening in the popular culture sphere with her and her products and for us to be able to celebrate that and really tell her story and get her personal with her, because of course, those really personal stories are a part of what really drives us at Good Housekeeping and is a big part of the connection with our audience. That was a really wonderful moment for us, to do that and bring all of those pieces together.

So yes, it’s very challenging, but I have fabulous teams and support from Hearst as well. And it is true that our jobs as editors are evolving; beyond the page is more of our job than on the page a lot of the time.

Samir Husni: Mentioning the page; how important is the print edition to Good Housekeeping in this day and age?

Jane Francisco: Personally, I’m very passionate about print. I love magazines and I love working on magazines. I love the fact that magazines actually are finite. There’s something about that that’s really special. So, I personally have a passion for print.

In terms of how important print is to our business, more than half of our audience is in print. It requires finer attention, shall we say, because of the fact that it can’t be changed once it’s printed. That’s one of the things about print; people keep it longer. I still think it’s a hugely important part of our business and certainly right now, it’s where our audience is, with nearly 20 million readers every single month, that’s a big deal. And when we sort of carve that audience up and look at it and we look at how many women in our audience are in a certain age and stage in life or are of a group, for instance, people who are very interested in beauty or some other category; we still speak to more women in those niches than a lot of the verticals do. I feel like we have a huge responsibility to these women.

We speak to more women who are classified MRI as big beauty spenders, than a vertical like Allure. To us our beauty coverage and our beauty lab and the work that we do in there and the information that we give about the products, is really important because we’re speaking to a huge audience of very engaged readers in that category alone.

And on top of that, you add in all of the women who may not be big beauty spenders, but when they do spend money in the category they want to make sure they’re spending it on the right item. What we do is really important.

The growth obviously in the last couple of years, our big growth, has been in the digital space and the big opportunity is how can we expand our audience through the digital space and have a more interactive relationship?

Samir Husni: Those 20 million print readers; are they also your digital audience, or do you have a different audience on the digital side? What’s the percentage of duplication?

Jane Francisco: Our research is showing that there’s not a huge amount of overlap. Of course, we do have a lot of different audiences within digital as well. There’s online, but then we have Facebook, which is online, but our Facebook audience is really important and that’s fairly sizable as well. And then all of the other social components: Twitter, Instagram, etc.

A lot of the online traffic now is being driven from Facebook, so we’re still “search first” and then Facebook. But again, the research is showing that a lot of the audience that we’re getting in the digital space is new audience and when you look at the audience as a whole in digital, the median age is younger. So it is a place where we’re addressing the next generation in terms of growth. And with print, we’re really looking at that as an important element as well.

Samir Husni: Do you remember your reaction when you received the offer to become editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping?

Jane Francisco: I got the offer for the job through several months of very deep conversations and proposals. So by the time that happened I was pretty engaged in the process, so it wasn’t surprising in the sense that it wasn’t like someone just called me up and said, hey, let me give you this job. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jane Francisco: I was pretty highly vested in it by that time. But of course, I was thrilled and at that point I had made a decision that it was something that I wanted to do. I will be honest with you, when I was first approached about it, I was very surprised and not 100% certain, because it was such a big move for me personally. I was working on a brand that I was really excited about and proud of; I’d been there for almost five years and so I felt like we were getting some real traction. We’d had significant growth, both on newsstand and in readership in the last couple years I was there. And I felt like we were starting to build a momentum.

And so when you’re in that situation, you feel like everything is working and it’s good and quality of life is happening for you, and then the next opportunity comes up and sometimes it’s hard to know. And at the same time going into it, I knew it was going to be rigorous and they weren’t just going to say here’s the job, take it. So going into it I wasn’t 100% sure.

But I sort of said, OK; let’s explore this together because certainly as an opportunity, I grew up in a household where Good Housekeeping came into our house every single month, so I was very, very familiar with it and it was really connected to me and my life and my mom and grandmother’s lives. It was my grandmother’s favorite magazine.

My ambiguity around it was not because I didn’t think it was an amazing opportunity; it was almost because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take on that level of commitment. But once I got engaged in the process and the more I learned about the business and the more I explored the possibility with David Carey and Ellen Levine and Michael Clinton, and eventually Pat, who’s the publisher here, I became more and more excited about the possibilities. So when the actual job offer happened, I was very excited and then of course, you sort of click into the, oh no, now what’s; and how do you move your family. (Laughs)

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

Jane Francisco: Well, this may tell you more about me than the job, which is kind of sad. (Laughs) I think the biggest stumbling block for me was probably the same stumbling block that I had on my previous job when I started, and that was making assumptions, thinking that because you had done a job similar to this one before that it was going to be smooth and easy. Not saying necessarily that it wasn’t smooth and easy; it’s just that you kind of come in with an assumption that the learning experience you had before you’ll be able to apply directly and of course you can, but it’s more to the point to say that you apply it more indirectly.

I’m not sure that’s a stumbling block, it’s more of a hindsight thing maybe, because now I feel comfortable in my job and at home with the brand and at home here in this building, with this team and this company and brand.

I guess with every new organization, you have to learn things layer by layer and that can be complicated. And coming into the U.S. market; I’m actually very familiar with it and there’s a huge amount of spillover, but that was new as well because from a human resource perspective, being in the same market you sort of take things for granted. You get to know people; you work with them, whether it’s freelancers or editors; you know of them and of their work indirectly. So coming in here was challenging. It took a little longer to get to know people and to get to know talent.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and think, wow; I can’t wait to reach the Hearst Tower?

Jane Francisco: I feel like every day there are too many new things to do. Not too many in a bad way; it’s just every day I feel like I can’t wait to get there. I want to get there early so I can get a jump on the day and the things that I need to do.

My day is pretty much filled with meetings, back-to-back. And in almost every single meeting there is a new idea or a new partnership or a new program that I get excited about and that my team can get excited about.

I feel like the industry over the last couple of years feels like it’s speeding up, it’s pretty relentless. And as a result, you have to seize your thinking. And there are more and more opportunities being presented and the biggest challenge is figuring out which opportunity you’re going to follow up on and which ones you can execute well. So, every day I wake up and I can’t wait to get to the office and get started. Although, this morning, honestly, what woke me up was my sick son. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Is service journalism still the core of the print edition or is it the core for everything that’s Good Housekeeping?

Jane Francisco: I would say that service journalism is really the core of the brand. In the digital space, the highest traffic drivers are often stories that really draw you in. So, I would say that while the site itself may have a lot of service journalism, a lot of the stories that draw people onto the site is the real-life stories. And at the same time, the Top-10 type of products and services that we’re testing for all of the time also are there.

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

Jane Francisco: This year we are celebrating The Year of the Connected Woman, which is something new and exciting for us at Good Housekeeping. Technology has become such a huge part of women’s everyday lives. And not technology for technology’s sake, but it’s a part of how we connect with one another, with our family and friends and the community.

So, as we look at this year, starting with Joy and our car awards and moving into looking at the kitchen of the future, and really melding what Good Housekeeping is best at, which is what is new and the authority that comes from the Institute, along with our relationship with real women in real time and how they’re living their lives. That’s what we’re thinking about right now and planning for and building.

Samir Husni: What’s in store for Good Housekeeping in 2016?

Jane Francisco: That’s our big focus, celebrating The Year of the Connected Woman. And we’ll have a special themed issue in September tied to the year of The Connected Woman. Women who are making a difference; women who are connected with their communities, and then we’ll also be looking at how we connect. How these changes that are happening all around us are going to impact us and how we can determine which ones we want to use and when we want to shut it down.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening, what would I find you doing; reading your iPad; reading a magazine; or watching television? It’s your own personal “me time” what would you be doing?

Jane Francisco: A typical work night, I would either be watching something on my iPad or, depending on what part of the month we’re in, I would have a stack of pages of the magazine in my lap. I would be flipping back and forth and thinking: I should really do my work now or maybe I’ll do it in the morning; I’ll just finish watching this show or movie first. That’s pretty typical for me once my son is asleep.

I find that reading; real reading, unless I’m reading for work, like excerpting from a book or something; real reading is something that I do mostly on weekends and on vacation, because so much of what we do all day is reading-oriented and I find by the time my son’s in bed, I’m pretty much ready to just wind down. Occasionally, I might have a glass of wine at that time, if my husband and I are hanging out and then I wouldn’t be watching anything.

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

Jane Francisco: I may have half-answered this before, but what keeps me up at night usually is all of the balls that we have up in the air. I’m actually a pretty good sleeper, but if I was thinking about work, which I pretty much think about work when I fall asleep, and when I wake up I’m usually thinking: how are we going to get done; who’s going to get it done; and how can we move any number of whatever the projects are forward; and is it moving forward. So I think the fact that we have so many things on the go is what keeps me up at night. And that’s in a good way.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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