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Parents Magazine & Its Editor In Chief, Liz Vaccariello, Both Offering Inspiring Storytelling & A Quieter Editorial Experience In This Manic Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Liz Vaccariello…

August 17, 2017

“When she’s (the consumer) reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.” Liz Vaccariello…

“I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.” Liz Vaccariello…

With the recent redesign of Parents Magazine under the direction and leadership of Parents Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello, the brand known for its credibility and stalwart trustworthiness, has been at the forefront of media these days, and its editor interviewed about the redesign many times over.

So, in true Mr. Magazine™ fashion, I decided to do something entirely different, and mention the redesign minimally, focusing instead on something that both Parents Magazine and its editor in chief have in common: storytelling.

Liz Vaccariello comes home to Meredith (she served as executive editor at Meredith’s Fitness for seven years) after several very successful positions with other titles, most recently as chief content officer and editor in chief for Reader’s Digest. Her storytelling drives her belief in the power of magazines, and the value of the journey they take you on.

I spoke with Liz recently and we talked about the role of print in this most digital age. She was adamant; when someone is reading a magazine, they’re seeking a different type of experience than digital can provide. They’re questing, as Liz put it, for a “quieter editorial experience” and inspiration. That’s very hard to find in the busy, noisy, notification-filled world that roams online.

And while the redesign of Parents Magazine is important and a value unto itself, what fills the pages of those designs, the stories, are always icing on the designer’s cake. So, come with me and experience the passion of a storyteller, a woman who believes magazines have the magical power of telling stories in the most unique of ways, and someone who knew from the sixth grade what her life’s journey would be, a wordsmith, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she feels the Parents brand needs a printed magazine in this digital age: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

On being a storyteller first: I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience. And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration?

On what’s different for her as an editor for Parents Magazine as opposed to other magazines she has edited, such as Reader’s Digest: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

On her reaction when she was offered the job of editor in chief of Parents Magazine: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

On the biggest stumbling block that faced her: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

On why she felt the need for a change in the magazine when it was already strong and healthy: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

On anything she’d like to add: This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

On why there are more line extensions from main titles in the Hispanic market than in the African American market: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby. And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture.

On a memory or memories that she reflects on in her role as editor in chief and main storyteller of Parents Magazine: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

On what keeps her up at night: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, and it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

Samir Husni: Since the redesign of Parents Magazine, you’ve given quite a few interviews about that, so for this interview I thought I’d ask you something a bit different. In this digital age, why do you think the Parents brand needs a print magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

We did a digital focus group where we had subscribers send in video tapes and show us precisely where in the house they kept their Parents Magazines. It was next to the big, comfy chair, or on their nightstands, or next to the bathtub.

So, when she’s reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.

Samir Husni: The first thing that comes to mind when I read about you or think about you is storyteller.

Liz Vaccariello: Thank you. I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.

And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration? How do we tap into nostalgia when it comes to being a mom? Then suddenly, you’re nostalgic for your childhood, for example. There’s so much humor that goes with being a parent. And oftentimes, failing to be a perfect parent. Let’s be able to laugh at ourselves.

You can see in the new magazine, we have very short stories, some are longer, but there are little ways to tell those emotional stories in a way that feels like a complete and authentic life.

Samir Husni: Did you have to make any adjustments when you came to Meredith from Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Reminisce? All these magazines that you’ve edited; what’s different about Parents Magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

So, I had to do a lot of research into “what is meaningful right now for this millennial, and even coming up soon, Gen Z mom?” And that was unique. You still want to tell good stories, but you also want to speak in a way that is familiar to your audience so that they get you.

Samir Husni: A little less than a year ago, you and I were talking and this job was in the making. And no matter how much I tried, you wouldn’t tell me the name of the magazine. (Laughs)

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: Can you describe that moment when you were offered this job as editor in chief of Parents Magazine? What was your first reaction?

Liz Vaccariello: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

The magazine; the business was very, very healthy heading into the redesign. Our MRI, our household income, they were both high. We’d experienced a boost of 3.3 percent in household income. So, there was nothing at all broken about the magazine. The fact that my predecessor was leaving was a shock. That was my absolute first reaction.

And then my second one was just feeling my heart swell, because I love to lead brands that touch people’s hearts. You always want to improve people’s lives, but I loved Reader’s Digest because it spoke to positivity and hope. And an oasis of optimism in a world of snark. And with Parents, when you think about optimism and hope, and happiness and meaning, very few things rival being a parent. So, this really hit my sweet spot of service and soul.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Liz Vaccariello: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

Normally, when you come in, the new editor in chief will often bring in their new photo director, their new assistant, their new creative director, and I didn’t do any of that. I found that the team here was filled with superstars. Agnethe Glatved, who did the redesign with me, has been with the magazine eight years, and this is her third refresh of the magazine. When you have that level of talent, they’re able to pivot and embrace change. It was a nice experience.

Samir Husni: Let me go inside your great magazine maker mind, you come to a magazine that is doing well, there was nothing wrong with it; why change?

Liz Vaccariello: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

For 90+ years, Parents Magazine has stood on the shoulders of its credibility. We’ve always done partnerships with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every word and picture in Parents Magazine had a reputation for being absolutely trustworthy and credible. So, this generation of reader not only expects that kind of creds from our pages, they want that enhanced by what other parents are doing.

They want to know what the experts say, they want to know that trampolines are dangerous; the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents against having any kind of trampolines in the backyard. But they also want to make their own decisions. Maybe to them the benefit of family exercise and the hours spent jumping on the safest trampoline they can get is worth the mild risk that somebody might twist an ankle. So, what are other parents doing? And how do they justify having a trampoline? So, you need to add how other people in their world are interpreting the news and the guidelines.

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

Liz Vaccariello: I think it’s interesting. We call it the Meredith Parents Network, and Parents Magazine is the jewel in the crown of the Network. And by far, the largest of the magazines, but it also includes Fit Pregnancy and Baby, FamilyFun Magazine, Parents Latina and Ser Padres.

This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

And then think about the baby space and the pregnancy space, and what kind of digital products; what apps; what magazines can we offer the pregnant mom or the wanting-to-be pregnant woman. So, there is always something new; the business is constantly evolving and shifting. It’s a bigger job in that I get to do a lot of fun things, in addition to editing the one magazine.

Samir Husni: Why have we seen more line extensions in the Hispanic market than we have in the African American markets when it comes to the main titles?

Liz Vaccariello: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby.

And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture. And it’s important that her child be perhaps bilingual and understand the Spanish language. Maybe she doesn’t know it, so she wants to learn it too. So, the cultural touchpoints become very important to her in the parenting space. That’s why in my network Parents Latina made sense.

Samir Husni: What memories from your own childhood do you reflect on in your role as editor in chief and head storyteller of a parenting magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

In that moment, there was a knock on my bedroom door and in walked my dad. He said you’re up late, you must be doing homework. He had come in to say goodnight. And I remember saying to him that I had just decided that I wanted to be a writer. I remember that moment and the idea of creating a story and telling it in a rhythmic, pleasing way. And working with the words. The words acting like a puzzle. So, I always remember my father being a witness to that pivotal moment in my life.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

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

Liz Vaccariello: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace. And also of Steve. Our September issue is nice and thick; our October issue is even thicker, so it’s looking really good. I’m actually sleeping quite well. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] Parents magazine is one of many Meredith Corp. editors who value the power of collaboration between media platforms. “Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story – the way pictures, […]



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