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Matt Bean Comes Home Again To Men’s Health: “Magazines Have Been, And Always Will Be, A Vibrant And Powerful Spotlight In Our Society” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Matt Bean, Editor In Chief, Men’s Health

October 7, 2016

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Some people say that you can never go home again, but that old adage doesn’t apply to Matt Bean. Matt has come home to Men’s Health and he’s never been happier. Formerly at Time Inc., Matt is back at the helm of a brand that he started at in 2004 as an associate editor. By 2012, he was in charge of digital product development at Rodale. He knows the brand, but more importantly, he is passionate about Men’s Health and plans on bringing an entrepreneurial perspective to the job of editor in chief.

I spoke with Matt recently and we talked about how he wants to evolve the brand, while keeping its core content and value delivery to the reader the constant goal. As Matt explains it, Men’s Health is a service magazine that is directly connected to its audience. Nothing is more important than that relationship, and while he plans on moving the brand forward, both in print and digitally, the foundational essence of the title will not change. You don’t fix what isn’t broken. But he has many ideas on growing the digital side and bringing in new readers to the print magazine, while continuing to satisfy the magazine’s loyal, legacy audience.

So, I hope you enjoy this great conversation with a man who proves you can go home again, and you can do it with gusto, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Bean, Editor In Chief, Men’s Health.

But first the sound-bites:

Matt Bean photograph by Miller Mobley  hair, makeup and grooming by Sonia Lee for Exclusive Artists using Kevyn Aucoin and Baxter

On coming “home” to Men’s Health: It’s what I know and it fits my lifestyle directly as a reader. And being able to channel what I know and love in to my day-to-day job is a rare and fortunate occurrence. Journalism is an obscenely cool business because you get to focus on things you love if you play it right. And you get to learn day in and day out. So, it’s been great.

On that moment when he received the call that he had the job as editor in chief of Men’s Health: I wish I could, but it wasn’t so much just one decisive moment as it was a series of conversations. Imagine, if you will, that you haven’t seen a really good friend in a long time, and a lot of stuff has happened to both of you in the meanwhile. You can’t possibly jump right back into that friendship all at once; there are so many different layers for you to get through.

On when his fingerprints will show up on Men’s Health: I don’t think it will be until the Jan./Feb. or the March issue, because these magazines work very down-the-road. I’ve said to the staff that I don’t want to change things for the sake of changing them. There’s a lot of good that’s being done at the magazine.

On how he plans to take a very good magazine already and make it better: There’s such great brand equity that you can’t hope to change any of that. What you can do is evolve the magazine packaging; try to come up with new ways to communicate with the reader on the newsstand. And convert those first-time readers into subscribers or multiple-issue customers. To me, that’s the real goal here.

On what role he thinks the cover of Men’s Health plays in today’s digital marketplace: I think the cover is an important tool in the digital marketplace, but I think perhaps it’s a less important tool for a magazine such as Men’s Health, which is all about the reader. We certainly have many tools in our quiver as we look to piece together the cover, but recently working with Michael Lafavore, who’s our editorial director; we’ve been testing models on the cover, because for the Men’s Health reader, the most important decision-making points to them is whether or not, as it pertains to the cover subject, they want to have a beer with that guy, in other words, is he approachable, personable, someone who resonates with them emotionally? Or do they want to be that guy?

On how he decides what goes into the printed magazine versus the content that goes online: I think the magazine has scarcity designed into it as a format and that forces you to be a little bit more sensitive to the mix so that you represent all of the different content that there is men might be interested in. But also you want to make sure that you’re elevating the content so that it really feels as though it’s delivering value. Online I think there’s a direct correlation between volume and reach. Not to say that we want the quality to suffer, but there is an opportunity to provide content that is, shall we say, more immediate, but might not have such a long shelf life.

On why, after all of his digital experience, he still believes in print: Magazines have been, and I believe always will be, a vibrant and powerful spotlight in our society for what matters most.

On what will be his biggest challenge and how he’s going to conquer it: Right now the challenge for most publishers is how to accelerate the crossover from print to digital revenue? It’s sort of an inevitable future for us. There is a decline in many newsstand circulations. I think though there is a natural caring level that we’ll reach and it will stabilize. And the questions will be how do we stabilize that at the highest level possible? And how do we continue to communicate our value proposition to our readers and potential readers? But also how do we develop new potential streams of revenue?

On anything else he’d like to add: One of the reasons that I’m so bullish on this period in history for magazines and for Men’s Health, is men have never really, say in the past 200 hundreds, undergone such a radical transformation in the way that we perceive ourselves and the way we are perceived. And I think part of improving every aspect of a man’s life is that conversation about the role of a man in the world today.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: If you come to my house, what will you find me doing? It really depends. I just bought a Mig welder and I’ve been welding furniture and trying to really get into the craft of it. I kind of feel so much of what we do digitally lacks an end product that can really be experienced physically and tangibly and there’s a deep satisfaction in being able to step away from a project and point to it and say I made that.

On what keeps him up at night: I don’t know. Just two nights ago, I had the best night of sleep that I’ve had in years. And it may have been just because I’m now in Pennsylvania. Aside from having a general problem of getting to sleep late at night, I’m probably the worst offender of the rule that you shouldn’t use a device with a screen before going to bed. I oftentimes find myself catching up on Facebook. It’s hard to go to bed when you’ve got all of that in your head. Really, everyone should just keep the devices out of the bedroom; it’d be a lot easier for them.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Matt Bean, Editor in Chief, Men’s Health.

mh1016_news_loSamir Husni: Welcome back to Men’s Health. And as I’m sure everyone there has said; welcome home.

Matt Bean: Thank you. That’s how it feels. It’s really a cool thing to have so many smiles and so much love from people in that building. It’s a rare thing in publishing these days, certainly. And actually, I’m surprised at just how much fun I’ve having already. Surprised and thrilled.

Samir Husni: Anytime you and I have gotten together, you’ve always had a place in your heart for Men’s Health. I could just feel it, and for your job there. Every time we met you talked about it, in one way or the other.

Matt Bean: (Laughs) Yes, it’s what I know and it fits my lifestyle directly as a reader. And being able to channel what I know and love in to my day-to-day job is a rare and fortunate occurrence. Journalism is an obscenely cool business because you get to focus on things you love if you play it right. And you get to learn day in and day out. So, it’s been great.

Samir Husni: Can you relive that moment when you received the call that you had the job as editor in chief of Men’s Health?

Matt Bean: I wish I could, but it wasn’t so much just one decisive moment as it was a series of conversations. Imagine, if you will, that you haven’t seen a really good friend in a long time, and a lot of stuff has happened to both of you in the meanwhile. You can’t possibly jump right back into that friendship all at once; there are so many different layers for you to get through.

But I would say, for me, the moment where it all really clicked was when I started sitting down with some of the team that Maria (Rodale) had either recently hired or recently promoted, in other words, folks who I hadn’t met yet. And then sitting down with folks that I had known for more than a decade and who I respected, trusted and loved, and really getting a chance to see them in their new roles; it became clear to me that this was a different Rodale than the one I had been at before. And it was especially well-suited now for the challenges that are facing this industry, because of the personnel and because of the experiences that they all brought to the table.

I was so happy to become reacquainted with the brand that I already knew and loved and was delighted by many of the changes that I saw here. Beth Buehler, who is our COO now; she is just exceptionally talented. And she’s smart and appreciated the challenges and opportunities of this business in a very entrepreneurial way.

So, to think about what it would be like to be back here really seemed to me that it was delayered in a sense. That if you had an idea and you had to bring that idea to life, there were two or three people that you’d need to call. It wasn’t this whole juggernaut or gauntlet rather; that you’d have to get through in order to put that good idea into action.

And I think speed is something that publishers require more than ever now as they adapt to the changing marketplace. Publishers used to wait five years for a magazine to break even; when is the last time you’ve heard of anyone having the patience to do that today? Everything needs to happen more quickly whether it’s your ability to comment on current events on the website, or your ability to turn a profit on a business venture. I was really delighted by what I found when I became reacquainted with the brand.

Samir Husni: When are we going to see your fingerprints on Men’s Health?

Matt Bean: I don’t think it will be until the Jan./Feb. or the March issue, because these magazines work very down-the-road. I’ve said to the staff that I don’t want to change things for the sake of changing them. There’s a lot of good that’s being done at the magazine and we do have a position open for a new site director, which is the top role digitally. I certainly want to spread the word about that. That’s an opportunity for us to continue to evolve our strategy online. You’ll probably end up seeing impact on that front more quickly. Obviously, I have a lot of experience in digital and mobile through the years. And I’d like to be able to partner with Beth and Heidi Cho, who runs digital for all of the brands, to help bring that to life.

Samir Husni: How do you plan on taking a very good magazine and make it better?

Matt Bean: I feel as though there are these immutable concerns and hopes and dreams and fears that may have been around for a millennium. And much of that has not changed. In a certain respect, what Men’s Health offers is a value proposition to its readers that we will work harder than any other title to make sure the advice we’re giving you will pay off. The promises that we make are worth the cost that’s printed on the cover. And I think that’s why we have such a devoted and large circulation of more than 1.8 million. You earn that over the course of many, many years, because readers follow your advice and find that it works.

There’s such great brand equity that you can’t hope to change any of that. What you can do is evolve the magazine packaging; try to come up with new ways to communicate with the reader on the newsstand. And convert those first-time readers into subscribers or multiple-issue customers. To me, that’s the real goal here.

You look at the newsstand, which I’m sure you spend a lot of time doing, and it’s a crowded marketplace more than it’s ever been, and magazines are in fewer pockets than they’ve ever been in before. I’m going to have a lot of fun really trying to understand how to be very clear with the promises that we’re making to the reader. How to strip away layers so that it really becomes a tool of communication with, not only fans of the brand, but also potential new converts.

Samir Husni: When we spoke at the panel in Cannes three years ago, you said there’s nothing like the printed magazine cover; that nobody would ever ask you to place their story on a website, it had to be on the cover of a printed magazine. What role do you think the cover of Men’s Health plays in today’s digital marketplace?

Matt Bean: I think the cover is an important tool in the digital marketplace, but I think perhaps it’s a less important tool for a magazine such as Men’s Health, which is all about the reader. We certainly have many tools in our quiver as we look to piece together the cover, but recently working with Michael Lafavore, who’s our editorial director; we’ve been testing models on the cover, because for the Men’s Health reader, the most important decision-making points to them is whether or not, as it pertains to the cover subject, they want to have a beer with that guy, in other words, is he approachable, personable, someone who resonates with them emotionally? Or do they want to be that guy?

And sometimes celebrities, much like certain athletes, can seem so otherworldly to us. The average potential reader can be divorced from that. Depending on who you’re choosing, the average guy might not see himself in that person’s shoes. We’ve always found that men are perhaps less invested in reading about the workout habits of an NFL lineman because a) the lineman can bench press 1,000 lbs. and b) they spend their lives in the gym or on the field, so it’s not as applicable to the average guy. They can’t see themselves in that person’s shoes, and I think you might say the same for certain celebrities.

Now, there’s a sweet spot for celebrities. Take a guy like Mark Wahlberg; who wouldn’t want to sit down and have a beer with him and listen to some of his stories? He’s a little bit more like the average guy who hit it big. So, we really try and consider the holistic purpose of our covers as we go to put them together. And I think that’s something you’ll see us experimenting with more as we move forward.

This is a unique challenge for service magazines as a whole. But it’s also an important edge for us, because we’re offering you the opportunity to improve your life with every page of the magazine. And other titles, whether it’s Real Simple magazine or Afar magazine, they’re not putting celebrities on the cover either because it’s all about the reader. How can we help to improve the lives of the reader?

Samir Husni: What would you put in print that you wouldn’t put online? With such a large brand; how do you decide what goes into the printed edition of Men’s Health as opposed to the content you place online?

Matt Bean: I think the magazine has scarcity designed into it as a format and that forces you to be a little bit more sensitive to the mix so that you represent all of the different content that there is men might be interested in. But also you want to make sure that you’re elevating the content so that it really feels as though it’s delivering value.

Online I think there’s a direct correlation between volume and reach. Not to say that we want the quality to suffer, but there is an opportunity to provide content that is, shall we say, more immediate, but might not have such a long shelf life.

That’s really how we approach those different media. When it comes to looking at something like Instagram or Snapchat, certainly, you want the work that you put onto those platforms to be made for them, to be tailor-made for them, because otherwise the audience just doesn’t respond. If all you’re doing is taking a feature story and breaking it up into small chunks to dump on Instagram, no one is going to read that. There’s a storytelling vernacular that fits every platform.

And I think it’s possible to do incredibly thoughtful content that takes place in consecutive 15 second bursts, but it just takes a different perspective. For us, we try to match the story to the platform as best we can.

Ultimately, I think most of what we print in the magazine has reason to end up online. Magazines consistently struggle with the question of cannibalization; you’ve seen several magazines, including Entertainment Weekly, experiment with paywalls digitally, some are successful, some eventually roll it back. And that’s one of the challenges that we deal with repeatedly, but fortunately Men’s Health, as a flagship property, the print magazine remains very strong.

Samir Husni: After working on all forms of digital and mobile; why do you still believe in print?

Matt Bean: I believe in the global brand. I think the most exceptional brands exist on all platforms and have permission from their readers to really expand that relationship. That includes the Essence Festivals, for example, which is a fantastic idea.

But the magazine occupies a special place in our hearts and our culture. That is absolutely undeniable. Magazines have been, and I believe always will be, a vibrant and powerful spotlight in our society for what matters most. And it all comes down to scarcity. There are only so many pages in a magazine and there are only so many issues in a year, so that contract with the reader that what we’re putting in there matters most to them right now. You’re never going to run out of pixels on a website, so that scarcity is simply not part of the medium. And as I’ve said before, you can’t book anybody, whether it’s a celebrity or an astronaut to be on the cover of your website. You need to have a foot in both fields.

Samir Husni: What’s going to be your biggest challenge and how are you going to conquer it?

Matt Bean: Right now the challenge for most publishers is how to accelerate the crossover from print to digital revenue? It’s sort of an inevitable future for us. There is a decline in many newsstand circulations. I think though there is a natural caring level that we’ll reach and it will stabilize. And the questions will be how do we stabilize that at the highest level possible? And how do we continue to communicate our value proposition to our readers and potential readers? But also how do we develop new potential streams of revenue?

For many potential readers of the website they do feel as though some information has been commodified. People tend to not pay for commodified content; if you can get everywhere, why would you pay for it anywhere? Therefore, it’s incumbent upon publishers to find a model that works to find a value proposition for their content, even to find a package for that content that has a perceived value.

There are a lot of things that can convey value to the reader. Utility – is it easy to use? Beauty – is it well-designed? Authority – are these the experts? And is their advice available anywhere else? Those are things that all go into the calculus of communicating value and I think that’s the greatest challenge. How do we set that up for the reader and the viewer and the visitor on our digital channels?

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

mh0916_newsMatt Bean: One of the reasons that I’m so bullish on this period in history for magazines and for Men’s Health, is men have never really, say in the past 200 hundreds, undergone such a radical transformation in the way that we perceive ourselves and the way we are perceived. And I think part of improving every aspect of a man’s life is that conversation about the role of a man in the world today.

I think that Men’s Health has always had an incredibly erudite audience. And that audience is often equated with its abs and wanting to be in happy relationship or be good in bed, and all those other things; but ultimately, they’re an audience of optimizers and experimenters. To me, having a scientific background, that’s incredibly exciting to be a part of and that readership is one that I’m honored to be a voice for, because I think it’s never been as important for us to provide a voice for those men and it’s never been more a part of our culture as a whole to want to improve oneself.

What I’m saying is that Men’s Health may be more than 25 years old, but it’s only begun to reach its peak. I’m very excited about where we can take the brand.

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

Matt Bean: I am an absolute hoarder of magazines, probably second only to you, Samir. (Laughs) I have every issue of Portfolio; all of the good issues of Giant magazine; many of the issues of Radar magazine; dozens and dozens of back issues of Spy magazine; innumerable copies of vintage Sports Illustrated; I’m just a huge fan of magazines and really believe in collecting them. That becomes a problem (Laughs) when you don’t have a library to put them in as you do.

Each year I judge the Regional Magazine Awards for the folks at Mizzou. And the problem is that I can’t get myself to get rid of any those magazines, because they’re so fascinating to look at. Each magazine offers a different approach to presenting their audience with actionable text, service and advice. And it’s just so essential to me that I can’t myself to part with them. I will say that if I get any relief from my magazine hoarding, it would be that the Texture App is just so damn good right now. It feels comprehensive and I think it’s more than worth the money.

If you come to my house, what will you find me doing? It really depends. I just bought a Mig welder and I’ve been welding furniture and trying to really get into the craft of it. I kind of feel so much of what we do digitally lacks an end product that can really be experienced physically and tangibly and there’s a deep satisfaction in being able to step away from a project and point to it and say I made that.

And you’ll often find me doing retrograde analog craftsmanship projects, or cooking. I cook probably five nights a week. Lately, I’ve been cooking a lot from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Zahav has a cookbook, which is a fantastic Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia. I just can’t get enough of Turkish, Mediterranean, Greek and Israeli food. My favorite recipe lately has been and I think it’s called Jerusalem Chicken. And it’s phenomenal.

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

Matt Bean: I don’t know. Just two nights ago, I had the best night of sleep that I’ve had in years. And it may have been just because I’m now in Pennsylvania. Aside from having a general problem of getting to sleep late at night, I’m probably the worst offender of the rule that you shouldn’t use a device with a screen before going to bed. I oftentimes find myself catching up on Facebook. It’s hard to go to bed when you’ve got all of that in your head. Really, everyone should just keep the devices out of the bedroom; it’d be a lot easier for them.

I read all of the time and I like to wrestle with some heavy fare. Lately, I’ve been reading Knausgaard’s autobiography, which is six volumes and each is about three inches thick. It’s incredibly raw and honest, and can lead you to some dark places. I think that’s a good answer, instead of saying that I just can’t get to sleep because my brain won’t shut down. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs) Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] “Journalism is an obscenely cool business because you get to focus on things you love if you play it right. And you get to learn day in and day out,” he told Husni in an interview. […]



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