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Woman’s Day Magazine: A Woman’s Helpmate With Heart, Passion And Zest That Is As Relevant Today As It Was Yesteryear – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Susan Spencer, Editor-In-Chief, Woman’s Day.

February 5, 2016

Woman's Day March “No, never. I just can’t. I think it’s important for a legacy brand like ours to continue in print. I believe our readers want it very much. What’s happening in digital and on the website is amazing and wonderful, but I think that the print edition will always be core to our brand and core to what we do.” Susan Spencer (on whether she can ever envision Woman’s Day without a print component)

“Yes, I do. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if I didn’t. I believe the question has almost become moot in the last few years. Readers have shown us time and time again that print magazines are here to stay. I love print magazines and I always have; it’s how I got into the business and I can’t imagine them going away.” Susan Spencer (on whether she believes in the future of print)

As far as legacy brands go, Woman’s Day holds a spot among the women’s service magazines that have texture and substance when it comes to longevity in the industry. The magazine’s content is as relevant today as it was nearly 80 years ago (79 to be exact) and has proven that fact with its total immersion into the wants and needs of its audience and a commitment to excellence in the coverage of many topics of interest, most especially health and food.

As the magazine gears up for its 13th Annual Red Dress Awards to be held February 9 at The Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York, Editor-in-Chief Susan Spencer is passionate about the brand’s diligence to continue to heighten awareness of heart disease throughout the country.

RDA_2016 Logo I spoke with Susan recently and we talked about the Red Dress Awards, their past, present and future fusion with Woman’s Day and how readers and the public in general have come to recognize the Awards’ connection with the magazine. And we talked about the magazine itself, where it’s been and where it’s going and about how Susan believes that both print and digital together will be the catalyst that propels the legacy brand forward and keep it relevant and healthy for many, many more years to come, with the foundation and cornerstone core of print still being an integral part of the readership’s involvement with the brand.

Susan is as delightful as the magazine itself and brings an aura of joy, fun and animation to the brand that’s contagious. Zest and relevant information keeps the essence of Woman’s Day always reflective and pertinent to its audience and that’s just the way Susan wants it.

So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Susan Spencer, Editor-In-Chief, Woman’s Day.

But first, the sound-bites:

Susan Spencer On what Woman’s Day means to its readers today, in the 21st century: Woman’s Day today, as it has done for many years, takes the concerns, the things that are truly relevant and important to her right now and really helps her. And I see us as a real helpmate to this woman; to make that complicated, messy life a little bit easier.

On how it feels to edit a magazine that Ellen Levine once edited: It has never felt awkward; I feel like I stand on Ellen’s shoulders and some other wonderful editors before me who I think created something that American women really turn to. And I think Ellen was pivotal and critical in doing that.

On the history of the Red Dress Awards: Again, turning to past editors, my predecessor, Jane Chesnutt, 13 years ago put together a luncheon to bring together some of the players in the heart disease world. I think at that time she felt that it was a disease that wasn’t getting a lot of attention, but it’s so pervasive and so huge in the lives of our women that she felt that it needed to be brought more into the open. And again, I’m standing on her shoulders; I think what I did when I came on four years ago was that I saw that the disease was still the number one killer of women and while a lot of progress has been made, it hasn’t gone far enough. I wanted to put more resources and more thinking and more pages against this disease.

On whether the power of the brand and the ink on paper magazine made it easier for the Red Dress Awards to be recognized and connect with readers: Yes, very much so. The amount of space that we devote to this topic, again, all year-round, I think our readers now associate us with the Awards. They don’t see it as simply a marketing cause, they see it as something that we’re really deeply passionate about and I think our readership has come to recognize that.

On how as editor-in-chief she maintains balance with the many diverse topics that the magazine covers: I’m both blessed and cursed to edit a magazine that covers many, many topics. (Laughs) Health and food, by far, are our two most important topics. We do a lot of research and Hearst has been very supportive of that. I’m a real research geek and Hearst has been very supportive of me and my desire to understand our reader. So, health and food are the two biggest topics.

On if she could instantly strike the magazine with a magic wand and turn it into a person, who that person would be, herself or some composite woman: I don’t think she would be me, although I come pretty close. I’m a suburban New Jersey mom like many of my readers. (Laughs) But I think that she’s a lot of women. Again, when you have an audience this big, she can be married or not married. She can be an empty-nester or a young mom. She can have kids or not have kids. So, I think that she’s a lot of different people.

On whether the Bible verse that remains today, even after all of the changes to the magazine, is part of its DNA and will never leave: I would say that it’s definitely part of the DNA that will never leave Woman’s Day. We have it there and we have no intention of taking it away. What’s important about the magazine is that we’re not a Christian magazine; we embrace many, many different viewpoints in the magazine and always have. But the Bible verse is intrinsic to who we are and what we are.

On the biggest stumbling block that she’s had to face: For me personally, I think my biggest stumbling block happened about four years ago when I started at this magazine and my publisher at the time told me that in a week I had to make a speech in front of about 500 people. (Laughs) That was a big stumbling block for someone who had never done any public speaking.

On the most pleasant moment so far that she’s had working at Woman’s Day: There have been so many pleasant moments that I can’t even begin to list them. I think getting this job in the first place was such a wonderful experience and I’m really deeply grateful for the opportunity that David Carey gave me four years ago. There have been some moments that have been sort of mindboggling. Last year standing next to Elvis Costello on the red carpet at the Red Dress Awards; I don’t think I’ve ever put up a Facebook post that’s gotten more likes than that one did. (Laughs) It was pretty amazing.

On what has kept Woman’s Day vibrant throughout the years: I think that we work really hard to stay relevant to our readers. When I mentioned research before, that’s definitely part of what we do. Women’s service magazines can tilt into evergreen territory very quickly and I think that we really work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen with Woman’s Day. We make sure that we’re relevant to the moment; our health coverage; in telling women what to cook for dinner; just the things that we put into the magazine, we’re reflecting their lives back at them and really trying to understand where they are.

On whether she can ever envision a day when there is no print component to Woman’s Day and it’s digital only: No, never. I just can’t. I think it’s important for a legacy brand like ours to continue in print. I believe our readers want it very much.

On whether she believes in the future of print: Yes, I do. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if I didn’t. I believe the question has almost become moot in the last few years. Readers have shown us time and time again that print magazines are here to stay.

On how she got into the magazine business: A long time ago I graduated from college and moved to New York City and got a job at Redbook magazine. My first job was with Hearst and I have just been passionate about magazines my whole life and was a big consumer of Seventeen and Time magazine and Cricket magazine. I was able to get started and find a job and stay in this industry for almost 28 years now.

On what motivates her to get out of bed every morning: What I love about running a magazine is when I’m sitting in a meeting with my staff and suddenly we click on an idea and then all of us are firing up on all cylinders and this idea is being batted around and we’re figuring out how we’re going to do it and how it’s going to be pertinent and relevant and those are the moments that I live for, as I’m sure most editors do.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up at her house one evening unexpectedly: As I said before, I’m a suburban New Jersey mom; I have two daughters, one of whom is at home and the other is in college. In the evenings, you might not even catch me at home. I might be driving my kid around or I do a ton of volunteering; I might be making dinner or trying to get my husband to do it. (Laughs again) Like my readers, I have a big, messy complicated life and I think if you were to come over in the evening you would catch a glimpse of that.

On anything else she’d like to add: I thank you for this opportunity. I think that Woman’s Day is a really special brand and I think that we speak to a mass market audience, but I think that we connect with her in a very special way.

On what keeps her up at night: (Laughs) Not much keeps me up at night. I’m usually pretty exhausted by the end of the day, to the point where my 12-year-old actually comes and tucks me in at night. Nothing keeps me from falling asleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Susan Spencer, Editor-In-Chief, Woman’s Day.

Samir Husni: When you hear the words Woman’s Day, what comes to your mind? Having a magazine that has always been a status quo on the newsstand; everybody has always known it and seen it and every woman has been in touch with the magazine on a regular basis, but what does Woman’s Day mean today?

Woman's Day Feb. Susan Spencer: When I think about our reader, she’s the average American woman. I think that’s the simple answer to who she is. But in reality I believe it’s a lot more complicated than that because she’s a lot more complicated and she has this wonderful, big, joyous, messy life and I think that the magazine today is reflecting that. And we’re adjusting her concerns and giving her solutions for all of the things that make her life messy, whether it’s wanting to get dinner on the table or not being sure of what clothes to buy in the store or house concerns, which are huge for our readers.

Woman’s Day today, as it has done for many years, takes the concerns, the things that are truly relevant and important to her right now and really helps her. And I see us as a real helpmate to this woman; to make that complicated, messy life a little bit easier.

Samir Husni: I asked Ellen Levine once how she felt when Woman’s Day came to Hearst; did it feel like a reunion or a homecoming? Do you ever have an awkward feeling that you’re editing a magazine that Ellen Levine once edited?

Susan Spencer: It has never felt awkward; I feel like I stand on Ellen’s shoulders and some other wonderful editors before me who I think created something that American women really turn to. And I think Ellen was pivotal and critical in doing that. So, I definitely stand on their shoulders, but I’m also moving it forward in my own way, with lots and lots of support from Ellen. I feel very grateful to work with her.

Samir Husni: I know you have a big event coming up on February 9, the Red Dress Awards. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the Red Dress Awards and why it’s such a big event for Woman’s Day?

Susan Spencer: Again, turning to past editors, my predecessor, Jane Chesnutt, 13 years ago put together a luncheon to bring together some of the players in the heart disease world. I think at that time she felt that it was a disease that wasn’t getting a lot of attention, but it’s so pervasive and so huge in the lives of our women that she felt that it needed to be brought more into the open.

And again, I’m standing on her shoulders; I think what I did when I came on four years ago was that I saw that the disease was still the number one killer of women and while a lot of progress has been made, it hasn’t gone far enough. I wanted to put more resources and more thinking and more pages against this disease.

And because it’s so widespread and because our audience is so enormous, we have 16 million women, it touches everybody. Many of the cancers absolutely touch a lot of lives, but heart disease is different; it’s really, really widespread and pervasive in both men and women.

So, I put some more pages and ink against this idea; we started a column called “Live Longer and Stronger,” which is a monthly column, so we don’t just run our heart disease coverage in February, it’s year-round.

Out of that column we grew an editorial franchise called “Live Longer and Stronger.” And basically what we do is we go out and find a group of women, four to five women, every year that are at high risk or have heart disease and we put them on a plan with our nutritionist, Joy Bauer, and help them lose weight and lower their risk factors.

This program sprang out of our desire to bring to our readers what we’re saying in the magazine and really activate it for them. We just finished up with our third group and they’re going to be onstage February 9 at the Red Dress Awards and they bring a lot of heart to the event and a real sense that the event is more than just honoring the doctors and the researchers; it’s also about the women who are being impacted by this disease every day.

Samir Husni: Do you think the power of the brand; the power of the ink on paper magazine, made it easier for the Red Dress Awards to be recognized and known, to actually connect with the audience, with those women?

Susan Spencer: Yes, very much so. The amount of space that we devote to this topic, again, all year-round, I think our readers now associate us with the Awards. They don’t see it as simply a marketing cause, they see it as something that we’re really deeply passionate about and I think our readership has come to recognize that.

And not just heart disease, I have to say. We’ve had a halo effect, where it’s impacted all of our health coverage, which has become increasingly popular in recent years with our readership.

Samir Husni: As an editor-in-chief, how do you balance the health coverage with the food coverage with the everyday life coverage and as you continue to move Woman’s Day forward, what’s the secret recipe? What are the ingredients that you put together to create this magazine called Woman’s Day?

Susan Spencer: I’m both blessed and cursed to edit a magazine that covers many, many topics. (Laughs) Health and food, by far, are our two most important topics. We do a lot of research and Hearst has been very supportive of that. I’m a real research geek and Hearst has been very supportive of me and my desire to understand our reader. So, health and food are the two biggest topics.

As I said in the beginning of our conversation, she has concerns that range from “is this the right mascara” to “what am I going to put on the table for dinner.” So, we try to address those and we have a rich balance of content. I try to put together a magazine every month with the help of an amazing team that reflects back at her with all of these things. So, it’s a little bit of a balance certainly.

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand that could instantly humanize the magazine, turn it miraculously into a person, who would that person be? Would it be you or some composite woman?

Woman's Day Jan. Cover Susan Spencer: I don’t think she would be me, although I come pretty close. I’m a suburban New Jersey mom like many of my readers. (Laughs) But I think that she’s a lot of women. Again, when you have an audience this big, she can be married or not married. She can be an empty-nester or a young mom. She can have kids or not have kids. So, I think that she’s a lot of different people.

What we do when we think about her is not think about the details of her life; we think about her in terms of her values and I think that’s what pulls our readers together and that’s why they come to Woman’s Day because we do reflect her values back at her. We think about what’s really important to her. We know that her family is number one; they’re absolutely the most important thing that she values.

She’s also deeply involved with friends and her community. We’ve had a lot of success in the magazine with columns that show readers doing good deeds and helping other people. Her faith is also something that is important to some of our readers and drives them.

So, we think of her in those terms as opposed to what she is or who she is. It’s really more of the shared values that all of these women have.

Samir Husni: If you feel blessed and cursed because of the variety of the content; do you feel even more blessed and cursed for having all of these women rolled into one? (Laughs)

Susan Spencer: (Laughs too) No, I think it’s wonderful.

Samir Husni: One thing I’ve noticed over the years with Woman’s Day, with all of the changes that have taken place, that Bible verse is still there.

Susan Spencer: Yes.

Samir Husni: Is it part of the DNA that will never leave Woman’s Day?

Susan Spencer: I would say that it’s definitely part of the DNA that will never leave Woman’s Day. We have it there and we have no intention of taking it away. What’s important about the magazine is that we’re not a Christian magazine; we embrace many, many different viewpoints in the magazine and always have. But the Bible verse is intrinsic to who we are and what we are.

Samir Husni: It’s a positive lift-up verse then?

Susan Spencer: Certainly. It’s meant to put a little stamp on the table of contents and the magazine to give women a lovely moment that’s important to them.

Samir Husni: You’ve been at Woman’s Day now a little over four years; as you approach your next anniversary with the magazine, what has been the most challenging stumbling block that you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?

Susan Spencer: For me personally, I think my biggest stumbling block happened about four years ago when I started at this magazine and my publisher at the time told me that in a week I had to make a speech in front of about 500 people. (Laughs) That was a big stumbling block for someone who had never done any public speaking. But with training and lots of support, I got through it.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment; if you can identify THE most pleasant moment so far in your four years?

Susan Spencer: There have been so many pleasant moments that I can’t even begin to list them. I think getting this job in the first place was such a wonderful experience and I’m really deeply grateful for the opportunity that David Carey gave me four years ago.

There have been some moments that have been sort of mindboggling. Last year standing next to Elvis Costello on the red carpet at the Red Dress Awards; I don’t think I’ve ever put up a Facebook post that’s gotten more likes than that one did. (Laughs) It was pretty amazing.

I presented an award two years ago to President Bill Clinton and last year to the head of the FDA, so we’ve really had some wonderful moments just in the context of Red Dress. And some wonderful moments just putting issues together and having stories that really resonate with our readers and with us and that makes every issue we do worth it. So, there have been a lot of wonderful moments.

Samir Husni: When I was in college in the early 80s, Woman’s Day was referred to as one of the seven sisters. Today, we’ve lost some of the seven sisters, they’ve aged and disappeared; some have renewed their energy and are still alive and kicking and doing very well. What’s the secret of Woman’s Day that has kept it vibrant over the years?

Susan Spencer: I think that we work really hard to stay relevant to our readers. When I mentioned research before, that’s definitely part of what we do. Women’s service magazines can tilt into evergreen territory very quickly and I think that we really work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen with Woman’s Day. We make sure that we’re relevant to the moment; our health coverage; in telling women what to cook for dinner; just the things that we put into the magazine, we’re reflecting their lives back at them and really trying to understand where they are.

I’d also like to say about the magazine; we’re not an aspirational magazine, we’re an inspirational magazine. We’re not showing her the life that we think she should have; we’re celebrating the life that she has right now. And I think that goes a long way toward keeping us relevant. I’d like to share a quote with you that I got from a reader; she started following me on Instagram and in the comments she thanked me for the magazine and was really excited about it and she said that it helped her to be “the woman that she really was, rather than the woman marketers said that she was.” And I really like that. It’s very nice.

Samir Husni: As you get all of the social media interaction: the Instagram comments; the likes on Facebook; can you ever envision a day when Woman’s Day has no print component and is digital only?

Susan Spencer: No, never. I just can’t. I think it’s important for a legacy brand like ours to continue in print. I believe our readers want it very much. What’s happening in digital and on the website is amazing and wonderful, but I think that the print edition will always be core to our brand and core to what we do.

Samir Husni: Do you believe in the future of print?

Susan Spencer: Yes, I do. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if I didn’t. I believe the question has almost become moot in the last few years. Readers have shown us time and time again that print magazines are here to stay. I love print magazines and I always have; it’s how I got into the business and I can’t imagine them going away.

Samir Husni: How did you get into the business?

Susan Spencer: A long time ago I graduated from college and moved to New York City and got a job at Redbook magazine. My first job was with Hearst and I have just been passionate about magazines my whole life and was a big consumer of Seventeen and Time magazine and Cricket magazine. I was able to get started and find a job and stay in this industry for almost 28 years now. I feel very fortunate.

Samir Husni: After 28 years in the industry, what motivates you to get out of bed every morning and still be excited about your job?

Susan Spencer: A couple of things. First of all, I’m a natural problem solver; it’s something that I really enjoy doing and I really love a good challenge. So, that definitely gets me up in the morning, knowing that I have a pile of problems that I have to solve.

What I love about running a magazine is when I’m sitting in a meeting with my staff and suddenly we click on an idea and then all of us are firing up on all cylinders and this idea is being batted around and we’re figuring out how we’re going to do it and how it’s going to be pertinent and relevant and those are the moments that I live for, as I’m sure most editors do. And it’s being in the company of people who are just so creative and know their brand and their audience so well that you can really come up with these amazing ideas and figure out how to execute them.

Samir Husni: If I were to show up unexpectedly to your home one evening, what would I find you doing, reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching TV, or something else?

Susan Spencer: You’re always invited. (Laughs) As I said before, I’m a suburban New Jersey mom; I have two daughters, one of whom is at home and the other is in college. In the evenings, you might not even catch me at home. I might be driving my kid around or I do a ton of volunteering; I might be making dinner or trying to get my husband to do it. (Laughs again) Like my readers, I have a big, messy complicated life and I think if you were to come over in the evening you would catch a glimpse of that.

Samir Husni: How often do you cook the recipes that you feature in the magazine?

Susan Spencer: A lot, although my food director wants me to cook them more than I do. It’s more a reflection of the time I have to actually cook. It’s one of the secret benefits of being editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day; I can run up to an incredibly accomplished and experienced food director and ask what should I make for dinner? (Laughs) And she has an answer for me.

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

Susan Spencer: I thank you for this opportunity. I think that Woman’s Day is a really special brand and I think that we speak to a mass market audience, but I think that we connect with her in a very special way. I love talking about the magazine and reminding people that we have scale and we have voice and I think it’s a pretty amazing group of women that we speak to, so it’s a real privilege.

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

Susan Spencer: (Laughs) Not much keeps me up at night. I’m usually pretty exhausted by the end of the day, to the point where my 12-year-old actually comes and tucks me in at night. Nothing keeps me from falling asleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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