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allrecipes Magazine: A Redesign That Reinforces An Even Stronger Digital-To-Print Connection Proves To Be Just The Right Ingredients – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Cheryl Brown, Editor In Chief, allrecipes Magazine.

April 4, 2016

“I think it’s being proven again and again that consumers want the content everywhere. They don’t see it as mutually exclusive to only one platform. And as I said, they use the web for very specific things; and in terms of recipes and food, they’re going on, whether it’s 3:00 p.m. and they know dinnertime is coming; they’re searching for something, they saw a picture of something that they want to make and they go online to find it. With the magazine, again, it’s the general inspiration. We’re serving up ideas for food that they never would have searched for. And in fact, it’s recipes that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. And readers love that.” Cheryl Brown

“I just think that there’s a place for everything. The photography in a magazine will always be so glorious and such a different experience than online. It’s another way to obtain information and all of the platforms serve different purposes. Print takes a bashing sometimes and that thinking is misinformed, because consumers still want it.” Cheryl Brown

image002 One of the world’s largest recipe sites, allrecipes.com, launched their print magazine in 2013 and since then, the ink on paper component (published by Meredith six times per year) has seen steady customer growth and engagement over those almost three years. But with the redesign and re-launch of the website in 2015, the print publication felt the need to freshen-up its attire a bit too. And with the April/May issue, the magazine has done just that.

Cheryl Brown has been editor in chief of the print publication since its launch and watches over each and every facet of the magazine like a proud parent. I spoke with Cheryl recently and we talked about the magazine’s desire to reinforce the digital-to-print connection with its own redesign, which mirrors the website even more than before.

The chemistry between Cheryl, the website and the printed magazine is apparent as she talks about the brand as a whole and about each of its individual platforms, which she believes every consumer wants and has a right to. Cheryl has a strong volition that the audience comes first always and what the audience wants is to consume their content wherever and whenever they choose. And as their engagement grows stronger, so does their loyalty to the brand. By giving their readers content on each and every available platform, Cheryl honors that loyalty and avidly advocates it. And according to her, in the ever-growing food category, cherishing that audience connection is vital.

So, grab your favorite allrecipes ingredients for a relaxed read and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cheryl Brown, Editor In Chief, allrecipes Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

Cheryl professional soft focus 2 On the redesign’s difference in covers between the last issue and the current one: In terms of the actual food or image, it goes both ways. I think the big difference you see in our cover between the February/March issue and the April/May is the whole graphic design of it. Our approach has really changed to make the cover feel more graphic, fresher and more modern. And to mirror some of the design elements that you’re seeing on the site.

On why the word magazine was added to the allrecipes title: We were trying to let people know that we are multiplatform; that we’re everywhere the readers are and sometimes people immediately associate allrecipes with the dot com, which we make sure that is on the cover as well.

On why she thinks there is such audience engagement with the printed magazine and the website of allrecipes: I think the allrecipes brand itself is a very positive and accepting space. You can go to other food brands and there’s more of a set mission and Cheryl Brown may or may not fit within what their mission is or what their goal is. But with allrecipes, we’re very democratic; there are all kinds of cooks there who are very supportive. There are fewer critical community comments at each other and more helpful ones.

On how the redesign is deepening the engagement with readers: I know it’s a small thing, but we’ve always had the reader comments and reviews on recipes, but the subtle design move to add their photos, their faces, to their comments, literally putting a face to the reader review, is again showing our readers that these are people just like them, real people, not just editors behind the green curtain. I think that we’ve introduced some new content areas that speak to them. Our new column “Cook 2 Follow,” which profiles a community member; we have a huge community, but we’re picking out some interesting community members.

On why the reader’s pictures and their pets’ pictures are in black and white: As a design person, you and I both know that black and white can be much more forgiving and the quality of the photo – well, when a community member puts a photo on the site, they’re not thinking that it needs to be high resolution for print. Why would they think that? And so, a lot of the photos that are uploaded by users to the site; we struggle with the resolution levels being high enough for print and black and white got us around a little of that problem. It was just a little more forgiving when it came to that.

On whether there was anything she regretted not including in the first issue of the redesign: We just went through the magazine again recently and we talked about how we liked this or that, kind of doing a postmortem. And overall, we’re really happy with it, not to pat ourselves on the back. There weren’t many things that we wished we could do over. I mean there are always little things that you look at and say maybe we could have done something else. But overall, we’re really happy with it. I think what we’re looking forward to is that this is the first iteration and we’re now pushing forward. How can we keep pushing the needle and improving on this?

On whether pleasing advertisers played a part in the redesign: I believe we really did have our consumer first and foremost, but as you know, in this day and age an editor is always thinking about all aspects of the business. There’s no more of we just deal with the words and pretty pictures; we also have to look at the business side like a publisher. That is also very much in tandem with my job, so of course, I’m always thinking about creating a great environment for my readers, but I’m also creating a great environment for advertisers and content that they want to be around, that would entice my reader to engage with the advertiser’s brand.

On how her role as an editor in chief has changed since the dawn of the digital age: It’s the same, just bigger. I just think the way that we consume media has more platforms and more options today. An editor touches all of those things now. So, when you’re creating content for a print page, you do always have in the back of your mind how will this translate to an article on the site; could we do something with this in video? How could we push this out socially; is there a social element behind the scenes to this shoot that we could have fun with?

On how social media is used to promote the printed magazine: The allrecipes brand has the big dot com team in Seattle and then we have the print team in Des Moines, and I sort of float in New York. So, our social media is largely run by the dot com team, but they obviously are our sister in the allrecipes family. They really use social media, in terms of us the printed magazine, to boost subscription; again, a lot of people still don’t know that there is a magazine, so they promote it on the site a lot just to boost awareness of the print product and also to engage with subscription users and let them get to know the brand, such as a Facebook chat with one of our editors around baking season.

On her most pleasant moment since taking the job as editor in chief of allrecipes Magazine: This is my first time being an editor in chief with this magazine and I think for me, not only is this the first time for me as an editor in chief, I launched it. I am so attached to this magazine; it’s literally like my baby. From the minute that we put out a 32-page booklet, seeing if people would be interested in this magazine, to the first prototype that came out; to me it’s just been so exciting.

On any problems that were encountered along the magazine’s journey: Some of the bumps that have happened behind the scenes were with getting a brand new staff and in figuring everything out. And with every step making sure that what we did was strictly allrecipes. How we opened up conversations about story ideas and the discussions that were: yes, that’s a great idea, but how is it an allrecipes idea? I’ve seen that same story five times. It was really digging into the core of what the brand is. And I’m going to say that definitely wasn’t an emergency room trip, more of a healthy workout event. No, nothing catastrophic has happened.

On why in this digital age she still believes in the power of print: I think it’s being proven again and again that consumers want the content everywhere. They don’t see it as mutually exclusive to only one platform. And as I said, they use the web for very specific things; and in terms of recipes and food, they’re going on, whether it’s 3:00 p.m. and they know dinnertime is coming; they’re searching for something; they saw a picture of something that they want to make and they go online to find it. With the magazine, again, it’s the general inspiration. We’re serving up ideas for food that they never would have searched for. And in fact, it’s recipes that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. And readers love that.

On anything else she’d like to add: We’re just so proud of this redesign. We’ve been producing the magazine for over two years now and I think that we’ve always had content that we used to keep people digitally informed, but the design has lagged behind a little. If you had asked me how the design was digitally, I’m not sure that I could have given you a clear answer, but I feel like now I can. Suddenly, the fog has lifted and we have a really clear mission on our design and anybody who visits the site is seeing those echoes and can see that the magazine and the site are all the same family, and that’s really exciting for me.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up at her home one evening unexpectedly: It could go either way. I often have a magazine opened if I’m having dinner at the table. Sometimes if I have used my iPad to make the dinner, I’ll continue reading on that while reading a magazine too. I still have a big stack of magazines next to my bed, and after dinner is done and everything is cleaned up, reading a magazine really is the way that I unwind.

On what keeps her up at night: How we’re going to keep growing. I feel like we’re on this really exciting trajectory And I’m both nervous and eager to keep surprising and exciting our readers and engaging them more and putting something in every issue that makes them excited and looking forward to the next issue. And that’s no small feat. When I look at magazines that have been around for 40 or 50 years; I was at Gourmet magazine for a long time and that was an older brand, and I used to think, we have to keep engaging the reader issue after issue, so I’m both excited and somewhat daunted by the challenge of it sometimes.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cheryl Brown, Editor In Chief, allrecipes Magazine.

F M 16 Cover Photo Samir Husni: Do you think the pizza cover on the current issue of allrecipes Magazine works better than the doughnuts cover that was on the last issue?

Cheryl Brown: In terms of the actual food or image, it goes both ways. I think the big difference you see in our cover between the February/March issue and the April/May is the whole graphic design of it. Our approach has really changed to make the cover feel more graphic, fresher and more modern. And to mirror some of the design elements that you’re seeing on the site.

With April/May we introduced the sheer bars of color and when you go on the homepage of the site, you see they’ve also introduced those sheer, gray bars. So, what we want is to very subtly mirror those design elements to really marry the two parts of the brand: the digital and the print, together. And I also think those sheer bars help balance the film strip of faces across the top.

And it’s not so much the food itself, because I got lots of emails about that donut cover, how people loved it and they may not have wanted to bake, but they wanted to make donuts. But they were both very sensible too. Pizza is every day, but you can elevate it, and donuts are every day, but you can elevate those as well.

Samir Husni: Why did you feel you needed to add the word magazine to the allrecipes title?

Cheryl Brown: We were trying to let people know that we are multiplatform; that we’re everywhere the readers are and sometimes people immediately associate allrecipes with the dot com, which we make sure that is on the cover as well. We want to always pay homage to our parent of the family. (Laughs) But we also thought it would be nice to offer a subtle nod and let people know that there’s the dot com; there’s the magazine; there are apps; there are videos, and that we really are everywhere the readers are. And we thought it was nice to be proud of print, to call that out.

Samir Husni: I thought you were just doing it to please me, but…(Laughs)

Cheryl Brown: (Laughs also) Well, that too.

Samir Husni: In 2013, the magazine launched with a half million and now it’s at 1.3 million; you have almost seven million readers, so, how are you translating this phenomenon of putting audience first and really listening to them onto the pages of the magazine? Of course, I see quite a few of the faces of the people who engage with the magazine on the cover, but why do you think the brand allrecipes has such a strong engagement with its audience, both with the printed magazine and the website?

Cheryl Brown: There are a couple of layers to that question. I think the allrecipes brand itself is a very positive and accepting space. You can go to other food brands and there’s more of a set mission and Cheryl Brown may or may not fit within what their mission is or what their goal is. But with allrecipes, we’re very democratic; there are all kinds of cooks there who are very supportive. There are fewer critical community comments at each other and more helpful ones. For example, if someone is struggling with a recipe, there are six community members jumping in to offer suggestions, rather than beating someone up or attacking them. So, I think that positive environment of the dot com is huge.

And I also think in the last decade user-generated content went from being a dirty word, to actually being the norm. There are many consumers out there who now trust their fellow consumers more than the special test kitchens for instance, because they know if their neighbor or their friend had success, that they can too. And that makes them feel encouraged and gives them permission to explore. And I believe that’s another layer of it that they feel like the brand is one that other people like best. We hear that phrase a lot “other home cooks like me.” And there’s truth to that. You feel like you’re in a friendly place with other people who understand you and understand the kind of life you’re living.

And then the magazine layer has captured a lot of that spirit. The people are already very familiar with this brand; we’ve maintained that positivity and those great recipes, with our main focus on everyday recipes to help during the busy weekdays. But we’ve also offered a way for people to be inspired, which is a phrase that may be overused, but what we’re learning as we work together with the dot com team is that when people go to the site they have something in mind, maybe a certain recipe that they want to make or remember making. They’re on a mission. When they spend time with the magazine, and I’m hearing this in focus groups now, they’re getting ideas that they never would have had or they never would have thought to search for. Or they never would have considered making “that” and now they can’t wait to try it.

So, I think in tandem, that’s where the acceptance of this brand is coming from. We’re meeting a lot of the needs for the average home-cook on a lot of different platforms and they want all of those platforms.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that part of the reason for the redesign, besides echoing the redesign of the website, was to deepen the engagement with the reader. How are you doing that?

Cheryl Brown: There are a couple of ways. One is, and I know it’s a small thing, but we’ve always had the reader comments and reviews on recipes, but the subtle design move to add their photos, their faces, to their comments, literally putting a face to the reader review, is again showing our readers that these are people just like them, real people, not just editors behind the green curtain.

I think that we’ve introduced some new content areas that speak to them. Our new column “Cook 2 Follow,” which profiles a community member; we have a huge community, but we’re picking out some interesting community members. And again, I’m already hearing from focus groups that people are enjoying seeing somebody like them; they like the fact that they can relate to them: she’s another busy mom and gets what it’s like to struggle each day to feed her family.

We’ve kind of created a community where other people can fit in, where we introduced a new entertaining feature, but we’ve made it really casual, not a big fancy blowout. Fancy is not how people entertain all of the time, this is casual. And so we’ve introduced that to our pages.

Again, it’s touching all aspects of their life. We want to make sure that no matter where they are, whether it’s a single, professional woman or a stay-at-home mom, there’s something within the pages that speaks to them and that content expansion is part of that for sure.

Samir Husni: The designer in me has to ask, why are most of the reader’s pictures and their pets pictures in black and white?

Cheryl Brown: As a design person, you and I both know that black and white can be much more forgiving and the quality of the photo – well, when a community member puts a photo on the site, they’re not thinking that it needs to be high resolution for print. Why would they think that?

And so, a lot of the photos that are uploaded by users to the site; we struggle with the resolution levels being high enough for print and black and white got us around a little of that problem. It was just a little more forgiving when it came to that.

And the other thing is it creates a distinction between people and lifestyle and then food. The food is always going to be in big, bold colors, capturing your attention, whereas when you see black and white, you know that’s going to be about lifestyles and people. It creates a division a visual cue for different types of content.

Samir Husni: What was the one thing, after you saw the April/May issue that you wished you’d done differently? Did you leave anything out that you wished that you’d included?

Cheryl Brown: My creative director, who I do need to give out a nod to, while the launch last September on the site was obviously the big push to the redesign, my new creative director, who came onboard the end of August, was also the big push to do this. I feel like the planets came into alignment with the site redesign and his arrival.

And he had historically been creating and designing content for both web and print and so I then had somebody who understood how to translate digital design to print pages. So, I do want to give Michael Belknap a nod on that one.

And we just went through the magazine again recently and we talked about how we liked this or that, kind of doing a postmortem. And overall, we’re really happy with it, not to pat ourselves on the back. There weren’t many things that we wished we could do over. I mean there are always little things that you look at and say maybe we could have done something else.

But overall, we’re really happy with it. I think what we’re looking forward to is that this is the first iteration and we’re now pushing forward. How can we keep pushing the needle and improving on this? So, I don’t think that we missed anything on this issue, but I think we’re excited about pushing forward and how to keep growing.

Samir Husni: Steven, your publisher, has been quoted as saying that the advertisers were also happy and excited about the redesign.

Cheryl Brown: Yes.

Samir Husni: Were you thinking about them when you started the redesign?

Cheryl Brown: I believe we really did have our consumer first and foremost, but as you know, in this day and age an editor is always thinking about all aspects of the business. There’s no more of we just deal with the words and pretty pictures; we also have to look at the business side like a publisher. That is also very much in tandem with my job, so of course, I’m always thinking about creating a great environment for my readers, but I’m also creating a great environment for advertisers and content that they want to be around, that would entice my reader to engage with the advertiser’s brand.

There is no advertiser out there that doesn’t want to be around a clean, fresh modern design, so yes, I always have the advertiser in my mind as I do my reader. That’s how we stay in business and there’s a lot of competition in the food category. So, I want to give advertisers a reason to come to our brand.

Samir Husni: How has your role as an editor in chief changed since the dawn of the digital age? Do you feel that you’re now more of a curator than a creator?

Cheryl Brown: It’s the same, just bigger. I just think the way that we consume media has more platforms and more options today. An editor touches all of those things now. So, when you’re creating content for a print page, you do always have in the back of your mind how will this translate to an article on the site; could we do something with this in video? How could we push this out socially; is there a social element behind the scenes to this shoot that we could have fun with?

For me it’s just really parceling apart, where it used to be kind of a one-in-done, you created a feature and it went into the magazine pages and boom! The magazine went out. Now, that same piece will have a different lifecycle. So, the story needs to have multiple components and they need to function differently on all of those platforms.

I think it’s exciting. There are a lot of things that happen, and once upon a time in magazine photo shoots, you might have had a really cool moment to happen, but you didn’t have a way to use it then, and now you do. You can post them on Facebook or Instagram.

It’s fun to be able to use all of those elements that in the past might have gone, not to waste, but may not have been able to appear in front of the consumer, but now they can and do. To me, it’s actually more exciting now and I like having my fingers in a lot of different areas of the business and to be mindful of it and to be helping my dot com peers come up with content ideas, helping Steve pitch packages to an advertiser. To me it’s become a more exciting and dynamic world.

Samir Husni: How are you utilizing social media to promote the printed magazine?

Cheryl Brown: The allrecipes brand has the big dot com team in Seattle and then we have the print team in Des Moines, and I sort of float in New York. So, our social media is largely run by the dot com team, but they obviously are our sister in the allrecipes family. They really use social media, in terms of us the printed magazine, to boost subscription; again, a lot of people still don’t know that there is a magazine, so they promote it on the site a lot just to boost awareness of the print product and also to engage with subscription users and let them get to know the brand, such as a Facebook chat with one of our editors around baking season. Again, they just leverage us for more engagement with the brand overall.

2014 December January Samir Husni: What has been your most pleasant moment since you took the job as editor in chief of allrecipes Magazine?

Cheryl Brown: That’s a good one. This is my first time being an editor in chief with this magazine and I think for me, not only is this the first time for me as an editor in chief, I launched it. I am so attached to this magazine; it’s literally like my baby. From the minute that we put out a 32-page booklet, seeing if people would be interested in this magazine, to the first prototype that came out; to me it’s just been so exciting.

And professionally, I saw aspects of the business that when you’re not an editor in chief, you just don’t see or experience, because why would you need to know about that or why would you ever be involved in that part of the business? So, you see all of the parts of the business that goes into creating the magazine; the marketing and ad sales; the research, suddenly just this whole world opens up to you and you understand how complex launching a magazine is.

Of course, personally I’ve had moments where I’ve seen a story and thought, I wish that had turned out differently, but you also realize that this is a close process; you’re not going to knock it out of the park every time, because if you did, it would be tough to continue. And you’re always growing and you’re always evolving. So, to me professionally, it’s been an amazing almost three years now since I’ve been doing this and it’s just very exciting.

You have moments in your career where something exciting happens and there’s a spike, and you have a renewed energy for what you do and watching this brand was that for me. It was a rebirth of why I was in media in the first place and why it was so exciting.

Samir Husni: So the baby is born and you make it through the terrible-twos and now you’re entering the three-year-old stage. Any growing pains or visits to the ER? (Laughs)

Cheryl Brown: (Laughs too) Some of the bumps that have happened behind the scenes were with getting a brand new staff and in figuring everything out. And with every step making sure that what we did was strictly allrecipes. How we opened up conversations about story ideas and the discussions that were: yes, that’s a great idea, but how is it an allrecipes idea? I’ve seen that same story five times.

It was really digging into the core of what the brand is. And I’m going to say that definitely wasn’t an emergency room trip, more of a healthy workout event. No, nothing catastrophic has happened. Occasionally, when you test covers, you’ll get some feedback that you didn’t want to hear on something that you loved and other people don’t like it. But we’ve been very good at listening to our consumers and putting them first and acting on that. And it has served us very well. No emergency room trips yet, and I’m knocking on wood as I say that to you.

Samir Husni: In this digital age, why do you still believe in print and its power?

Cheryl Brown: I just spent 10 hours yesterday watching one-on-one interviews with readers about the magazine, and I’ll watch more tomorrow; I think it’s being proven again and again that consumers want the content everywhere. They don’t see it as mutually exclusive to only one platform. And as I said, they use the web for very specific things; and in terms of recipes and food, they’re going on, whether it’s 3:00 p.m. and they know dinnertime is coming; they’re searching for something, they saw a picture of something that they want to make and they go online to find it.

With the magazine, again, it’s the general inspiration. We’re serving up ideas for food that they never would have searched for. And in fact, it’s recipes that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. And readers love that. What I keep hearing again and again is they just need ideas. They’re going to spend a lifetime making dinner and eventually they just get worn out. Everyone gets tired of their own dishes, so that’s why they turn to media at all, be it digital, a book, or a magazine.

I just think that there’s a place for everything. The photography in a magazine will always be so glorious and such a different experience than online. It’s another way to obtain information and all of the platforms serve different purposes. Print takes a bashing sometimes and that thinking is misinformed, because consumers still want it. We’re talking about fashion catalogs, just everything. You may go online to buy your outfit, but you got the idea from the catalog. Consumers still very much want print and they understand how to utilize it.

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

Cheryl Brown: We’re just so proud of this redesign. We’ve been producing the magazine for over two years now and I think that we’ve always had content that we used to keep people digitally informed, but the design has lagged behind a little. If you had asked me how the design was digitally, I’m not sure that I could have given you a clear answer, but I feel like now I can. Suddenly, the fog has lifted and we have a really clear mission on our design and anybody who visits the site is seeing those echoes and can see that the magazine and the site are all the same family, and that’s really exciting for me. I feel like the whole magazine is really coming together now and we’re positioning ourselves to just grow even more in the coming years.

Samir Husni: If I came to your house one evening unexpectedly, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; watching television; or something else?

Cheryl Brown: It could go either way. I often have a magazine opened if I’m having dinner at the table. Sometimes if I have used my iPad to make the dinner, I’ll continue reading on that while reading a magazine too. I still have a big stack of magazines next to my bed, and after dinner is done and everything is cleaned up, reading a magazine really is the way that I unwind.

I spend so much time during the day with some kind of screen in front of me, whether it’s my phone or my laptop, it’s a treat for me to just get away from the screens and spend some time with the print page.

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

Cheryl Brown: How we’re going to keep growing. I feel like we’re on this really exciting trajectory And I’m both nervous and eager to keep surprising and exciting our readers and engaging them more and putting something in every issue that makes them excited and looking forward to the next issue. And that’s no small feat.

When I look at magazines that have been around for 40 or 50 years; I was at Gourmet magazine for a long time and that was an older brand, and I used to think, we have to keep engaging the reader issue after issue, so I’m both excited and somewhat daunted by the challenge of it sometimes. It’s a challenge to your own creativity to make people loyal and passionate about your brand and to keep presenting something fresh and exciting to them.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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