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Prevention Magazine’s New Editor In Chief Brings Her Own “Healthy” Focus To The Recently Reimagined Legacy Brand – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention Magazine

August 16, 2016

COVER_HI

“These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.” Barbara O’Dair

Barbara O’Dair knows a thing or two about magazines. From Reader’s Digest to MORE; from US to Teen People; Barbara has worked at some of the top magazines in the country and has brought her talents and skills along with her to make a strong impact on each title.

Today, Barbara has taken over the reins of Prevention as editor in chief, and has a clear vision for a legacy brand that has recently switched directions as an ad-free model, which Barbara agrees, offers more freedoms than the title may have ever had. And she’s determined to use those freedoms wisely and extensively.

I spoke with Barbara recently and we talked about this ad-free liberation the new Prevention offers both the reader and the magazine; the new direction that she’s taking with the title, and the overall focus of hard-health that she is implementing.

The September issue, on sale today, will reflect many of those O’Dair-influences she talks about in the interview, the renaming of sections of the book, the energetic new feel, and the experts that have been added to the already prestigious list of doctors and other notables that are a mainstay of Prevention.

It was an exciting and informative discussion that gives you the sense that while a title can be legacy and a trusted product that many people rely on; it can also rejuvenate with new birth, new focus and a new captain at the wheel.

And now, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

BODair_2On how, under her leadership, she plans to make the new Prevention magazine different from the other healthy lifestyle titles: Any magazine can have a claim to healthier and happier; we do. We have 66 years of that under our belt and I think it’s in keeping with what Preventions’ mission has always been, and I’m going to turn that up even more.

On how editing a magazine with no advertising is different from editing one that does: It’s so much fun. I’m really enjoying it. I open the magazine when it comes back from the printer and it’s just great story after great story, with gorgeous visuals and it feels very rich to me. I think that we have all kinds of freedoms now that we might not have had before.

On how she feels the role of an editor has changed today when it comes to print: These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.

On the shopping experience, Prevention Picks: It’s part of the idea of being a brand editor, where I pull in a number of platforms that include our shopping experience, which is shopprevention.com. And we’ve been very careful to curate products for that service to our readers. As much as possible, we choose sustainable, organic products, high-quality; we have guidelines that steer us in the right direction, in terms of what we include in our shopping experience.

On how she differentiates Prevention from other health magazines out there: I actually don’t know of another pure health magazine out there. I know fitness magazines and food magazines, and even websites that are devoted to health, such as everyday health or more condition-related health, but I don’t know any product that brings it all together.

On her focus when it comes to the magazine’s covers: Nothing is a sure bet. I think we’re still looking for just the right approach to the covers. We have had great success in the past with our gorgeous food covers, but we don’t want to be limited to that, so we do test models regularly and I mean models as in people, not as in test runs. So, we’re certainly open to that.

On how her role at Prevention is different from anything else that she’s done: That’s a really good question. To me it feels like the culmination of many different strands of what I’ve pursued in the past, and I have to say that I look an awful lot at Reader’s Digest and MORE about our Prevention reader. Primarily, women of a certain age; however, we do have some male readers and we have younger readers, and I’m sure we’ll attract more with our new direction. But the core readership is someone that I feel I totally understand. And that comes partly from working at Reader’s Digest and MORE in the past, and also having an orientation toward that reader.

On whether the September issue, her first as editor, will have a noticeable change from past issues: That’s a great question. I plan to evolve it, but I’m also interested in establishing a few different things for the reader right away. One is to make the connection outward to them; I feel that with Prevention in the recent past, and with many magazines, it’s a one-way conversation. And it’s really important to me to hear back and for Prevention readers to feel like that they’re part of a community and that their voices are being heard. And then, just a certain level of energy and dynamism that I’d like to think are within the pages. I renamed some of the book’s sections, which I’m evolving slowly toward more hard health, but I wanted it to look really energetic. And so the opener is a great brain image and it’s about how oral storytelling activates the entire brain in ways that nothing else does. So, it’s maybe a slightly different approach to this new section and I renamed it “Pulse.” I’d like to think it gives it more of an edge, more appeal and more urgency.

On whether she feels the magazine now has its finger on the “Pulse” of the reader: (Laughs) Yes, I think that’s it. Pulse is a nice play on words, and it has two definitions; it’s a verb and a noun. And I just liked that idea of a beating heart to begin the magazine. It lays out what you’re going to find in a deeper, longer form as you go along in the magazine.

 On how she stays happier and healthier: I try to eat right, but just as an aside, I was worried about coming to Prevention, because I thought I might have to be perfect. (Laughs) My healthy practices… (Laughs again) So, I started thinking, what sport can I add into my style or would I ever be able to eat a potato chip again? And what I found was that at Prevention, we take our readers and we give them information about how to improve and maintain their health, but we’re really speaking to the everyday person who wants to be healthier, but who is not necessarily a fanatic. They’re looking to learn more.

On how Prevention is an “experience” for the reader: I totally agree that experience is the key word here. I think the idea that Prevention is a community plays into that. I’m striving for that with the emotional connection with the readers that I talked about, and with the overture to the readers to engage themselves with the magazine. I feel that’s experiential on the most basic level. And they usually respond to that.

On anything else that she’d like to add: You’ve seen only the beginning and we have really wonderful projects that are on the table now, going forward into 2017. I think they will be lots of fun and very engaging. I’m not at liberty to go into detail at the moment, but just in terms of what we can see in the September issue, adding some experts, and I would include our humorists among experts, because the humor column has run in the two issues before September. But we’re making a commitment to that, because we feel the magazine can afford to be fun in places too. We really need that, and then the addition of a sexuality expert, along with our standby, Doctor Weil and Doctor Low Dog.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly in the evening at her home: The house is a very busy place, because we have four teenagers and they have lots of people in their lives, so there are a lot of ins and outs, comings and goings, and they’re all very creative, energetic people. Some of the time I’m sending them off, so I can have a little peace and quiet, and anything from weeding my flower garden, to surfing the web, to watching just a couple of TV shows that I consider my mainstays, but I’m not a huge TV watcher.

On what keeps her up at night: As I did mention I’m a night owl. (Laughs) So, I keep myself up at night. But seriously, I and my team have been given an incredible gift here with our new direction and new parameters. And I’m very excited about that. I want it to succeed and I guess I run through different scenarios in my mind, whether it’s about a certain writer or a project that I want to do. I’m not really fretting very much; I’m just thinking, so it’s a creative effort.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Barbara O’Dair, Editor In Chief, Prevention magazine.

COVER_HISamir Husni: In your first editorial in the magazine, you wrote, “When we are healthier, we are happier.” It seems every editor that I speak to these days; the phrase du jour is “healthier and happier.” Can you talk about how the new Prevention, under your leadership, is going to make us “healthier and happier?”

Barbara O’Dair: Yes, any magazine can have a claim to healthier and happier; we do. We have 66 years of that under our belt and I think it’s in keeping with what Preventions’ mission has always been, and I’m going to turn that up even more.

I’m folding in all kinds of stores that gladden the notion of heart health, I would say. And much of it is psychology, sexuality and alternative healing. And that helps to round out the picture for ordinary people who want to know how to improve their health. I think all of that contributes to a healthier, happier life.

Samir Husni: If I’m correct, this is the first time that you’ve worked on a magazine that has no advertising?

Barbara O’Dair: Yes, it is.

Samir Husni: How is this different from editing a magazine with advertising?

Barbara O’Dair: It’s so much fun. I’m really enjoying it. I open the magazine when it comes back from the printer and it’s just great story after great story, with gorgeous visuals and it feels very rich to me. I think that we have all kinds of freedoms now that we might not have had before. We can pay more attention to what the readers want, rather than other sources in the market. And that is really exciting. I love to hear from the readers and I love to work for them. And that’s opened up a whole new avenue in editing and putting the mix together for the magazine.

Samir Husni: I know that you’re overseeing not only the print edition, but the online and digital as well. Being in this business for as long as you have; how do you feel the role of editor has changed today when it comes to print?

Barbara O’Dair: These days we have to think of ourselves as a brand editor, which includes all kinds of digital products, books, events and experiences for the readers, in addition to the print publication. I don’t think print is going out any time soon, that might be a minority opinion, but I believe it has a strong place in our culture and among readers. But, I’m also glad that we have other platforms to work on and build.

And we are actually working on a project right now that is not quite in place, but will be a special for the print readers online, so that’s an exciting prospect.

 Samir Husni: One thing that I noticed you’ve added in this September issue that wasn’t in previous issues is the “Prevention Picks.”

Barbara O’Dair: Yes.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me a bit more about that, because “Prevention Picks” directs you to a website that’s part of Prevention; one that allows you to shop and buy merchandise. Can you tell me more about it?

Barbara O’Dair: It’s actually not new, but I think we’ve called it out more prominently in this issue. It’s part of the idea of being a brand editor, where I pull in a number of platforms that include our shopping experience, which is shopprevention.com. And we’ve been very careful to curate products for that service to our readers. As much as possible, we choose sustainable, organic products, high-quality; we have guidelines that steer us in the right direction, in terms of what we include in our shopping experience. We’re pretty active curators and I think that extends the mission of Prevention, being healthy and accessible.

Samir Husni: If someone stopped you on the street and you introduced yourself as the editor in chief of Prevention and they responded with, oh, it’s another health magazine. How do you differentiate to them that Prevention is not just another health magazine?

Barbara O’Dair: I actually don’t know of another pure health magazine out there. I know fitness magazines and food magazines, and even websites that are devoted to health, such as everyday health or more condition-related health, but I don’t know any product that brings it all together.

As I mentioned before, we have expanded the idea of health, but I’m very much interested in putting health at the front and center of the magazine experience here. We may have wandered from that in the past, and we really provide a unique service to our readers by covering that territory in a serious way. We also try to have fun with it too.

But for the most part, I really want health to be the driving force, and the nutrition, fitness, psychology and other things that round out the idea of health come as part and parcel of that, but I really want the magazine to focus on health.

And to further answer your question, I look at Prevention as having three very strong functions: one is to be a leader in its field and our inclusion of experts all throughout the book is one good example of how we’re a leader. We’re also a guide through the thickets of massive amounts of health information out there online. I think we have become a trusted brand over the years and we’re the authority on so many things that readers know when they come to us they’re getting the real deal, and hopefully surprising stories that they won’t read anywhere else.

And last, I look at Prevention as a coach, and that’s on a more micro level, whether it’s a fitness routine or a recipe, or a way to make some organic product; maybe a mouthwash. So, we offer that kind of service to our readers too. At the very nitty-gritty, they can take care of their everyday health needs. But then we have the bigger picture as well, whether it’s public health or a controversial subject in medicine; I think we’re covering it all.

Prevention 2Samir Husni: With the July issue, and I know that was before you took over the reins, they tested a model on the cover and food. But August and September is food and food; is that a new trend in covers that you will be focusing on? Or will it depend on the content of that particular issue of the magazine?

Barbara O’Dair: Nothing is a sure bet. I think we’re still looking for just the right approach to the covers. We have had great success in the past with our gorgeous food covers, but we don’t want to be limited to that, so we do test models regularly and I mean models as in people, not as in test runs. So, we’re certainly open to that.

There was a time at Prevention where models were on the cover almost exclusively, and then we kind of went with the food route. And now with some new direction, we’re open to trying different things to find out what works from the readers and feedback. So far we’ve gotten incredibly good feedback from readers, it’s a little too soon to tell numbers, but in terms of letters and word on the street, people seem to be excited by the magazine, which is very gratifying. As far as the covers go, I think we’re still open to trying different things.

Samir Husni: Your career in magazines has been extensive and diverse; you’ve edited at US magazine, Teen People, MORE, just a variety of different types of magazines where you’ve had to handle a variety of subjects and topics; how would you define your role now at Prevention and how is it different than anything else you’ve done?

Barbara O’Dair: That’s a really good question. To me it feels like the culmination of many different strands of what I’ve pursued in the past, and I have to say that I look an awful lot at Reader’s Digest and MORE about our Prevention reader.

Primarily, women of a certain age; however, we do have some male readers and we have younger readers, and I’m sure we’ll attract more with our new direction. But the core readership is someone that I feel I totally understand. And that comes partly from working at Reader’s Digest and MORE in the past, and also having an orientation toward that reader, choosing things for her and really trying to make that emotional connection to her really matters to me a lot. And when you have that, you have some measure of success secured, because that’s what people remember. They might read something very useful and that they could apply to their everyday lives, but they come back when there’s that emotional connection.

And I think I’ve learned that through the years at various jobs. When we’ve had that with readers and when we haven’t had that with readers. I know how important it is. And I feel that’s what I can offer.

Not to mention the size of the magazine, which I’m familiar with. I’m used to figuring out how to get the most bang out of the buck when the pages are small, so we have to be very creative, in terms of being thorough in our coverage. But it’s a fun challenge to me. I think it’s great to be this size, because it’s literally something you can put in your back pocket or your purse and carry with you. In that way, it really fulfills its mission as a guide.

Samir Husni: How do you differentiate between the September issue, which is the one that you edited, and the previous issues? Is the reader going to see a major difference; will we see Barbara’s influence dramatically in the September edition?

Barbara O’Dair: That’s a great question. I plan to evolve it, but I’m also interested in establishing a few different things for the reader right away. One is to make the connection outward to them; I feel that with Prevention in the recent past, and with many magazines, it’s a one-way conversation. And it’s really important to me to hear back and for Prevention readers to feel like that they’re part of a community and that their voices are being heard.

I think you’ll see more real women in the pages and an example of that might be the metabolism story, down to weight loss, which is a story about yo-yo dieting. I made sure that we brought in real women’s stories and their pictures. And that may not be as typical of the recent Prevention, but it’s very important to me. I think readers need to see themselves reflected in the pages.

And then, just a certain level of energy and dynamism that I’d like to think are within the pages. I renamed some of the book’s sections, which I’m evolving slowly toward more hard health, but I wanted it to look really energetic. And so the opener is a great brain image and it’s about how oral storytelling activates the entire brain in ways that nothing else does. So, it’s maybe a slightly different approach to this new section and I renamed it “Pulse.” I’d like to think it gives it more of an edge, more appeal and more urgency.

It’s very hard to place any kind of news in a monthly publication, but I think it’s our mandate to surprise and delight readers, so we try to find those stories that are buried or that we can do a second take on, or stories that are just entertaining. There is so much fascinating material and I really want to bring that to the surface in the magazine.

PV0716_COVERSamir Husni: So, rather than being on the edge; you now have your finger on the “Pulse” of health?

Barbara O’Dair: (Laughs) Yes, I think that’s it. Pulse is a nice play on words, and it has two definitions; it’s a verb and a noun. And I just liked that idea of a beating heart to begin the magazine. It lays out what you’re going to find in a deeper, longer form as you go along in the magazine.

And back to my other point about making a connection with the readers, I did reinstitute a “Letters” page, which we hadn’t had in quite a while. And we have this back page that you can pull out, it’s perforated. It’s a coloring page. And we’ve asked readers to submit their artwork and we’ll publish it if we think it’s great.

There are also a couple of other places in the magazine that I’ve added call-outs to the readers for their stories, opinions and recommendations. So that is another thing that differentiates the magazine now.

Samir Husni: How does Barbara stay “happy and healthy?”

Barbara O’Dair: I try to eat right, but just as an aside, I was worried about coming to Prevention, because I thought I might have to be perfect. (Laughs) My healthy practices… (Laughs again) So, I started thinking, what sport can I add into my style or would I ever be able to eat a potato chip again? And what I found was that at Prevention, we take our readers and we give them information about how to improve and maintain their health, but we’re really speaking to the everyday person who wants to be healthier, but who is not necessarily a fanatic. They’re looking to learn more.

So, I would put myself in that category. There have been times in my life where I’ve been deeply into nutrition and/or fitness. And I’m bringing that back into my life now. I’ve been weight turning for a while; I have this amazing Russian trainer, who used to be on a national Russian volleyball team, so he comes to my house and we do workouts two or three times a week and that I care about a lot.

And I try to get downstairs to the organic cafeteria for lunch. I don’t always do it, but that’s a goal. And just also finding a way to incorporate different kinds of experiences into my life, whether it’s travel or friends; when you work really hard it’s easy to let certain things go and it’s really important for me to have a balanced life. And I think that does lead to happiness of a sort. We’re always striving for balance, but I think I’m getting better at it as I get older.

Samir Husni: One thing that I always tell my students is that print magazines are much more than content; they’re an experience. One: do you agree with that? Two: How is the print edition of Prevention an experience?

Barbara O’Dair: I totally agree that experience is the key word here. I think the idea that Prevention is a community plays into that. I’m striving for that with the emotional connection with the readers that I talked about, and with the overture to the readers to engage themselves with the magazine. I feel that’s experiential on the most basic level. And they usually respond to that.

Beyond that, I think it’s just being associated with Prevention. We have very loyal readers. And we have a mandate to produce premium content at this point, and that would include events and experiences that go beyond the pages of the magazine. So, there are things like that in the works. And being a subscriber and a reader, there is definitely an experience, because you’re drenching yourself in this healthy lifestyle material. And I think it really moves the needle for people and they’re largely affected by it.

For me, it’s great to know that we can really have an impact, not just on people’s lives, but maybe in a larger sense, in terms of public policy. If we’re doing deeper, investigative pieces, which I plan to do, maybe we’ll affect something politically and have an impact on culture in that way, and socially. But, for the most part, we’re looking at helping our readers to find their peace and their joy, and their good health.

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

Barbara O’Dair: You’ve seen only the beginning and we have really wonderful projects that are on the table now, going forward into 2017. I think they will be lots of fun and very engaging. I’m not at liberty to go into detail at the moment, but just in terms of what we can see in the September issue, adding some experts, and I would include our humorists among experts, because the humor column has run in the two issues before September. But we’re making a commitment to that, because we feel the magazine can afford to be fun in places too. We really need that, and then the addition of a sexuality expert, along with our standby, Doctor Weil and Doctor Low Dog.

We’re also bringing in a brain science column, written by different experts, and that I’m very excited about, because there are all kinds of rich material in neuroscience these days. And we can tie it to things that our readers are concerned about in an everyday way. So, it’s the addition of some experts that I feel is going to be really exciting and you’ll see that in the September issue and also in subsequent issues. There’ll be more.

And we’ll be doing deeper reads, survey pieces for a deeper dive into a subject or a health topic; a medical topic or a social topic. We have certain freedoms now and I really want to use them. I’m excited about that.

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

Barbara O’Dair: The house is a very busy place, because we have four teenagers and they have lots of people in their lives, so there are a lot of ins and outs, comings and goings, and they’re all very creative, energetic people. Some of the time I’m sending them off, so I can have a little peace and quiet, and anything from weeding my flower garden, to surfing the web, to watching just a couple of TV shows that I consider my mainstays, but I’m not a huge TV watcher.

But mostly, I think it’s communing with my husband, because I keep long hours and I work late, and I’m also a night owl, so I work late at home sometimes. I think it’s important to keep the family relationships going.

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

Barbara O’Dair: As I did mention I’m a night owl. (Laughs) So, I keep myself up at night. But seriously, I and my team have been given an incredible gift here with our new direction and new parameters. And I’m very excited about that. I want it to succeed and I guess I run through different scenarios in my mind, whether it’s about a certain writer or a project that I want to do. I’m not really fretting very much; I’m just thinking, so it’s a creative effort. It’s pretty energizing, so that’s why I stay up late, as opposed to worrying, at least, for now.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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