Archive for September, 2017

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Martha Stewart Living: A Recipe For Magazine Success — Stay Authentic To Your Namesake & Pure To Your Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Elizabeth Graves, Editor In Chief & Daren Mazzucca, VP/Publisher…

September 28, 2017

“I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.” Elizabeth Graves…

“We’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more. Luxury and beauty, those are areas that we’re focusing in on as well. Meredith has done well, and Martha Stewart has been leading a lot of that push.” Daren Mazzucca…

Martha Stewart Living is reveling in its continued energy and commitment to its audience with a brand new redesign that refreshes the already notable brand. The October issue’s cover features Martha herself in the perfect Autumn setting, complete with burnished colors and pumpkins and gourds. The redesign’s cover line is subtly powerful in its statement that “Fall is Fun.” And expresses in no uncertain terms that so is the magazine.

Elizabeth Graves is editor in chief and Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher of this signature brand that is one of the many great titles under the Meredith umbrella. Elizabeth has been on Martha’s team for quite a while, having served as editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings and an editor at Blueprint magazine, before coming to Martha Stewart Living, where she oversees the editorial and visual content.

Daren Mazzucca joined Meredith in 2010, and today is responsible for advertising sales for both Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings and their related business operations.

I spoke with Elizabeth and Daren recently and we talked about the woman, the magazine, and the brand – Martha Stewart. The passion these two people have for all three is fairly palpable. Their vision is clear and strong, following Martha’s own belief that remaining authentic and vital to your audience is fundamental, and that evolvement breeds new energies.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with two people who know what their brand stands for, and more importantly, who their brand belongs to – its audience…Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief & Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

But first the sound-bites:

On the many different screen-to-print brands under Meredith’s umbrella and whether they ever feel as though some of their competition is coming from inside (Elizabeth Graves): From our sister publications? I don’t think so. I think we’re all different in different ways. Martha’s book sort of launched her and got her started on TV, and then of course the magazine, because she is just very prolific in content and had a lot to say every month. Then came Martha Stewart Living. Martha has really inspired a lot of people. There’s room in the world for many points of view and Meredith has a stable of lots of really talented and great people behind wonderful publications.

On the business side of having so many great brands under one roof (Daren Mazzucca): From a business point of view, actually it’s a good collaboration, because if a marketer is trying to reach women 25 – 49, all of our sister titles perform well against those targets and we usually excel. And that’s why we’re happy to report some good sales performance for our brands.

On the key to their successful relationship with Martha Stewart and the brand (Elizabeth Graves): The content has always been good, but one of the challenges in the business was MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) itself was a small company. And to have a company like Meredith come along and help us with covering the production costs, and then getting partnered with Daren, who I have gotten along with since day one; I think we have such an affinity for the brand and a respect for Martha, Daren works wonderfully with her, and I know Martha enjoys and respects him so much, it’s been great. So far, so good.

On the key to their successful relationship with Martha Stewart and the brand (Daren Mazzucca): I’ve said this a few times, and you’ve noticed before I started at Midwest Living, and I worked at Better Homes and Gardens; I say that I have one of the best jobs here at Meredith Corporation representing the Martha Stewart brand , working with Elizabeth Graves, and of course working with Martha Stewart, because we’re taking this 27-year-old print brand and really bringing it forward with corporate marketing efforts behind us.

On Martha Stewart herself being on the October issue’s cover and whether that will continue for other covers (Elizabeth Graves): It just seemed like the right thing to do. It was an image that we loved, and I think we’re always looking at what’s going to be our best cover and she was our best cover. There isn’t a “no Martha rule” for the cover; there never has been. It just seemed to really make sense for it, and it was our favorite one, to be honest.

On Martha Stewart herself being on the October issue’s cover and whether that will continue for other covers (Daren Mazzucca): I would also just say, and it’s Elizabeth’s decision, of course, along with Martha Stewart about what images go on the cover of the magazine, but to her point, it made sense. We don’t have a mandate that she’s going to appear in every issue moving forward. But Martha’s hot right now. She’s more cross-platform than ever before and we’re going to capitalize on her renewed popularity.

On what Martha Stewart Living is offering different from other women’s service magazines (Elizabeth Graves): I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.

On whether her role as editor in chief today is easier or harder as it is ever-changing in this digital age (Elizabeth Graves): I feel very happy to be in this role; I love this job and I’ve loved this magazine from day one. I was an editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings for six years before this one, so my role as editor has changed dramatically in that sense. But the world is changing too, and you have to evolve with it. So, yes, is it more challenging – well, we’re always up for a challenge.

On how the business role has evolved (Daren Mazzucca): We just hosted some clients for a tour and a lunch of Martha’s studios and test kitchens, and we were talking about the genesis behind the beef and mushroom meatballs in the October issue. They’re absolutely delicious. As people tend to try and eat healthier and stay with high proteins, but also intermix vegetables, this recipe really is a perfect blend, if you will, of great taste and the unique use of meat and mushrooms. In the food category, that’s some of the things that we’re doing in pushing the envelope. And at the end of the lunch, someone asked Martha what her next cooking would be, and she said that she wanted to learn Japanese cooking. So, she’s constantly learning herself, and she challenges Elizabeth and the editorial team to push the envelope for the brand. And we just follow that from the business side and leverage it.

On how often they talk to Martha (Daren Mazzucca): I speak to Martha probably once or twice a week, either electronically or on the phone. And I see her probably every seven to 10 days in person.

On how often they talk to Martha (Elizabeth Graves): I would say it’s the same for me. There can be a week where I talk to her every day. I never feel out of touch with her. And I physically meet with her as well. There’s just so much to get to.

On how involved Martha Stewart is with the editorial content of the magazine (Elizabeth Graves): I always talk to her about it. Whether it’s new themes for the issue; she’s always full of ideas. I take her to the book and we talk about her column; we talk about the cover; it’s as it has been since day one, she’s very collaborative in her spirit. She’ll call me up when she’s excited about three story ideas.

On any obstacles they’ve had to learn to overcome (Elizabeth Graves): Of course. When you’re working in any collaborative environment, especially with people who want to excel and are creative, there is always push-pull. My approach is always kind of like, may the best argument win. (Laughs) And sometimes I’m passionate and I want to lay down for it, but it’s usually may the best argument win when it comes to surveying our audience and making sure that the content hits all of the notes that we want it to. I guess there are always challenges, but I never see that as a bad thing.

On who the magazine would turn into if struck with a magic wand that made it human – Martha Stewart (Elizabeth Graves): I think it’s Martha and friends. I think there are a lot of people coming out of the magazine now. Our audiences have very big relationships with our editors, they know who Sarah Carey is; they know who Greg Lofts is; they have a relationship with our home editor or Kevin Sharkey, who is always with Martha. There are a lot of people who are Martha in many ways.

On why they felt a redesign of the brand was needed (Elizabeth Graves): It’s by far not a broken brand, and I think one of the things that Daren and I really gave thought to when we began working as a team almost two years ago, was that this is a magazine that has a great audience and is very healthy. But what we’ve always done is evolve. And one of the things that has attracted people to this brand is that we’re always striving to stay ahead and to continue to inspire people. So, I don’t think you can take the tactic of just letting things be and hoping you’ll continue to get the same effect doing the same thing all of the time.

On whether new advertisers have come onboard since the redesign (Daren Mazzucca): Yes, we’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Daren Mazzucca): For me it would be work smart, have fun, and make money. In that order. (Laughs) It’s a mantra of sorts.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Elizabeth Graves): That’s a hard one. I think above all, be kind. No matter what.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Elizabeth Graves): It could be all of the above, but you would definitely be greeted by my young son, James, who might make you play with his trains because I play with trains every night. And definitely cooking, and being with my family. They’re one thing I definitely love coming home to every night.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Daren Mazzucca): I may have told you this before; I have five beautiful children, so when I’m home I love to unwind with them. Some of them are in college, so we Facetime and we chat socially, and that’s where I spend my greatest moments. It keeps me highly motivated when I return to the office.

On what keeps them up at night (Elizabeth Graves): When I drink coffee after 3:00 p.m. (Laughs)

On what keeps them up at night (Daren Mazzucca): What keeps me up at night is really staying current in this cross-platform world that we live in. We have to be knowledgeable in print, digital, social, and there’s a lot to learn and it keeps us motivated and that’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief, & Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

Samir Husni: Martha Stewart was one of the first brands that came from the screen to print 28 years ago, before it became a trend in publishing. And today, within the same company there is Rachael Ray, allrecipes.com has become a magazine, The Magnolia Journal, which is the Chip and Joanna Gaines’ brand that also came from the screen to print; how does it feel for the both of you to be working for the same company with all of these great brands? Does it feel as though you have inside competition?

Elizabeth Graves: From our sister publications? I don’t think so. I think we’re all different in different ways. Martha’s book sort of launched her and got her started on TV, and then of course the magazine, because she is just very prolific in content and had a lot to say every month. Then came Martha Stewart Living. Martha has really inspired a lot of people. There’s room in the world for many points of view and Meredith has a stable of lots of really talented and great people behind wonderful publications.

Daren Mazzucca: I agree.

Samir Husni: And from a business point of view, Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: From a business point of view, actually it’s a good collaboration, because if a marketer is trying to reach women 25 – 49, all of our sister titles perform well against those targets and we usually excel. And that’s why we’re happy to report some good sales performance for our brands.

Samir Husni: The eternal question that everybody keeps asking is until the Martha Stewart brand came over to Meredith, it had a few rocky relationships; a few editors in chief; a few publishers; what makes your relationship, the two of you, with Martha Stewart, work? There is a simpatico between you, everything is calmer, fresher; she’s back on the cover this month; what’s the key for your successful relationship with her?

Elizabeth Graves: I’ve worked with Martha since 2005, on a number of different publications. When I took over the editor’s position almost two years ago, it’s not that I think I was that much more brilliant than the people in front of me, it was quite different than that. There has been talented editors, as you point out, and great publishers behind it.

The content has always been good, but one of the challenges in the business was MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) itself was a small company. And to have a company like Meredith come along and help us with covering the production costs, and then getting partnered with Daren, who I have gotten along with since day one; I think we have such an affinity for the brand and a respect for Martha, Daren works wonderfully with her, and I know Martha enjoys and respects him so much, it’s been great. So far, so good.

And we’re a good team and we have a lot of fun doing what we do. The brand, Martha Stewart Living, is a fun one. It’s all of the things that people who work on it are naturally into. There’s a lot of great excitement for it and we’ve been having a good time doing it.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ve said this a few times, and you’ve noticed before I started at Midwest Living, and I worked at Better Homes and Gardens; I say that I have one of the best jobs here at Meredith Corporation representing the Martha Stewart brand , working with Elizabeth Graves, and of course working with Martha Stewart, because we’re taking this 27-year-old print brand and really bringing it forward with corporate marketing efforts behind us.

When we develop a Martha Stewart integrated program for an advertiser, we can scale that if they want to have additional reach. We can add our sister titles in, like Better Homes and Gardens or Shape Magazine. The idea might initiate with the great content leader here at our brand, but we can scale them across the Meredith portfolio. I absolutely adore this brand. We were competitors many years ago when she started it, and it’s wonderful and refreshing to be leading it now.

Samir Husni: As you’re leading the brand, I’ve noticed that you’ve brought back Martha to the cover. Is that going to be a recurring theme, with her on every cover, or was this just something you’re doing for October?

Elizabeth Graves: It just seemed like the right thing to do. It was an image that we loved, and I think we’re always looking at what’s going to be our best cover and she was our best cover. There isn’t a “no Martha rule” for the cover; there never has been. It just seemed to really make sense for it, and it was our favorite one, to be honest.

We really just loved it and it felt right, because when we were looking at refreshing the magazine, my whole process for being on this brand has been to look back at what made us great in the beginning, and keep reimagining that. Keep evolving it. And she’s still very much a part of this; this is Martha Stewart Living. It goes full circle for me to have her on the cover for the redesign.

Daren Mazzucca: I would also just say, and it’s Elizabeth’s decision, of course, along with Martha Stewart about what images go on the cover of the magazine, but to her point, it made sense. We don’t have a mandate that she’s going to appear in every issue moving forward. But Martha’s hot right now. She’s more cross-platform than ever before and we’re going to capitalize on her renewed popularity.

Samir Husni: As we talk about that renewed popularity, I read Martha’s quote in the current issue of Forbes Magazine, where she’s talking about being authentic and being vital for your audience. How are we seeing this new genre of women’s service magazines competing with the legacy ones? Elizabeth, from an editorial point of view, what are you offering different?

Elizabeth Graves: I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.

Samir Husni: Daren just mentioned that he has the best job at Meredith, and his job became much easier because he can use the competitive set within the company. Elizabeth, is your job as editor in chief easier or harder as the role these days is ever-changing?

Elizabeth Graves: I feel very happy to be in this role; I love this job and I’ve loved this magazine from day one. I was an editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings for six years before this one, so my role as editor has changed dramatically in that sense. But the world is changing too, and you have to evolve with it. So, yes, is it more challenging – well, we’re always up for a challenge.

I do feel very lucky that I come to work and I’m very inspired by everyone I work with, and inspired by Martha. The content we cover is fun for me. I’m in meetings and find myself thinking that I want to cook that recipe we’re talking about tonight, so it’s things that I use and that I do. Yes, the business has its challenges, but I feel very lucky to be a part of Meredith and have a lot of help and support on that front. And we also work with a great, talented team of editors who come up with great ideas every day.

Samir Husni: And from a business perspective, Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: Well, you mentioned the October issue, and we just hosted some clients for a tour and a lunch of Martha’s studios and test kitchens, and we were talking about the genesis behind the beef and mushroom meatballs in the October issue. They’re absolutely delicious. As people tend to try and eat healthier and stay with high proteins, but also intermix vegetables, this recipe really is a perfect blend, if you will, of great taste and the unique use of meat and mushrooms.

In the food category, that’s some of the things that we’re doing in pushing the envelope. And at the end of the lunch, someone asked Martha what her next cooking would be, and she said that she wanted to learn Japanese cooking. So, she’s constantly learning herself, and she challenges Elizabeth and the editorial team to push the envelope for the brand. And we just follow that from the business side and leverage it, because usually the advertisers, whether it be a spice manufacturer or others, they’re also on the same pulse right behind us, so it’s a beautiful thing.

Samir Husni: How often do you talk with Martha? Is it daily or weekly? Both on the editorial and advertising side.

Daren Mazzucca: I speak to Martha probably once or twice a week, either electronically or on the phone. And I see her probably every seven to 10 days in person.

Elizabeth Graves: I would say it’s the same for me. There can be a week where I talk to her every day. I never feel out of touch with her. And I physically meet with her as well. There’s just so much to get to.

Daren Mazzucca: We take her out on a lot of sales calls too. Elizabeth and I had her in Chicago last year, and we’ve taken her to Detroit to see startups, to align with our “American Made” initiative, which is very important to Martha and to the brand.

Readers want to know about entrepreneurs as they consider their own careers, so we’ve taken Martha out. We’ve also brought her to clients, such as General Motors Corporation and others. We spend a lot of time with her. I often say we have dual citizenship; we’re Meredith employees in representing the Martha Stewart brand, but we have full access to her offices and our test kitchens are located in their studios and address location.

Samir Husni: Elizabeth, how involved is she in the editorial content of the magazine?

Elizabeth Graves: I always talk to her about it. Whether it’s new themes for the issue; she’s always full of ideas. I take her to the book and we talk about her column; we talk about the cover; it’s as it has been since day one, she’s very collaborative in her spirit. She’ll call me up when she’s excited about three story ideas. She generally gets excited about things, and I think she gets us excited about covering them, because usually what we try to do with every story is learn something. So, when she’s wanting to learn about the next thing, that excitement is infectious. And it often turns into a great story.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ll add one comment here. Elizabeth mentioned her tenure with Martha Stewart, both on Weddings and she originally worked on the Blueprint brand as editor, so she has Martha Stewart DNA in her blood and I think Martha trusts her and her vision, and the editorial vision of the team to lay out what we’re going to produce content-wise moving forward.

Samir Husni: Even the best-matched DNA, every now and then they have struggles or difficulties. Has it been a total walk in a rose garden or have there been obstacles you’ve had to learn to overcome?

Elizabeth Graves: Of course. When you’re working in any collaborative environment, especially with people who want to excel and are creative, there is always push-pull. My approach is always kind of like, may the best argument win. (Laughs) And sometimes I’m passionate and I want to lay down for it, but it’s usually may the best argument win when it comes to surveying our audience and making sure that the content hits all of the notes that we want it to. I guess there are always challenges, but I never see that as a bad thing.

Sometimes you can go into a story meeting and I’ve worked with some of the most talented creative directors and I think when people are all pushing for a story to be its very best, it usually gets better.

Daren Mazzucca: I agree.

Elizabeth Graves: I like that idea of swimming in a fast heat, because if everyone is swimming fast, you usually swim fast yourself.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ve seen this happen, Samir, I’ve seen the idea, as Elizabeth mentioned, start with Martha and then our editors make it better. I’ve seen the ideas come from our marketing department and then Elizabeth and the content team make them better, and that’s good. Sometimes you really have to look at things from a different perspective to make it a stronger, better, more compelling story. We’ve had a really good go with Martha for these past two and a half years we’ve been together.

Samir Husni: If I give you a magic wand and you strike the magazine with it, and a human being takes its place, who would that be? Martha Stewart coming out from the pages, or maybe her distant cousin?

Elizabeth Graves: I think it’s Martha and friends. I think there are a lot of people coming out of the magazine now. Our audiences have very big relationships with our editors, they know who Sarah Carey is; they know who Greg Lofts is; they have a relationship with our home editor or Kevin Sharkey, who is always with Martha. There are a lot of people who are Martha in many ways.

And I think our editors live the Martha life. We really join in the pursuit of a life made better, in terms of making our own homes better, our cooking better. So, I think you see a lot of “we” are Martha coming out of the Martha brand now. I would say it’s Martha and friends.

Samir Husni: Why the refresh of the brand?

Elizabeth Graves: It’s by far not a broken brand, and I think one of the things that Daren and I really gave thought to when we began working as a team almost two years ago, was that this is a magazine that has a great audience and is very healthy. But what we’ve always done is evolve. And one of the things that has attracted people to this brand is that we’re always striving to stay ahead and to continue to inspire people. So, I don’t think you can take the tactic of just letting things be and hoping you’ll continue to get the same effect doing the same thing all of the time.

We know that our audience is full of highly-achieving women, and they want to be pushed. They want to open up that magazine and have an experience. They still expect to see new photographers and beautiful images, so that’s where we started. Let’s reorganize it first; let’s refresh it; and then let’s redesign it. And do it in a way that is very true to our DNA. And it continues to really ignite readers too.

Since I started reading the magazine in high school, it was my mother’s magazine, Martha has always made me want to do things. And I think we have to keep that energy going. We have loyal readers who have been with us for nearly 27 years now, and we want to talk to our new audience, it’s so fun to see new readers discover Martha, but we also want to appeal to the people we’ve had for a long time. So, it’s been a lot of fun, and the art team, with our design director, Jaspal Riyait; they just knocked it out of the park with the redesign. It really feels right and we’ve gotten a great response already.

Samir Husni: Daren, are you getting new advertisers that were not onboard before the redesign?

Daren Mazzucca: Yes, we’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more. Luxury and beauty, those are areas that we’re focusing in on as well. Meredith has done well, and Martha Stewart has been leading a lot of that push.

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

Daren Mazzucca: For me it would be work smart, have fun, and make money. In that order. (Laughs) It’s a mantra of sorts.

Elizabeth Graves: That’s a hard one. I think above all, be kind. No matter what.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Elizabeth Graves: It could be all of the above, but you would definitely be greeted by my young son, James, who might make you play with his trains because I play with trains every night. And definitely cooking, and being with my family. They’re one thing I definitely love coming home to every night.

Samir Husni: And Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: I may have told you this before; I have five beautiful children, so when I’m home I love to unwind with them. Some of them are in college, so we Facetime and we chat socially, and that’s where I spend my greatest moments. It keeps me highly motivated when I return to the office.

Samir Husni: What keeps you both up at night?

Elizabeth Graves: When I drink coffee after 3:00 p.m. (Laughs)

Daren Mazzucca: What keeps me up at night is really staying current in this cross-platform world that we live in. We have to be knowledgeable in print, digital, social, and there’s a lot to learn and it keeps us motivated and that’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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PRINT PROUD, DIGITAL SMART. The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 8 Experience – April 17-20, 2018. Save The Date

September 27, 2017

PRINT. The cornerstone of magazines and magazine media.

DIGITAL. The portal by which we all communicate these days and times.

PRINT & DIGITAL. A winning combination that has only been at odds with each other because of our own close-mindedness.

Like most preconceptions, the idea that digital media was born into this world to destroy print is preposterous. The blame game has gone on long enough. The problem is digital and print media have not been properly introduced to each other. And whose fault is that? Certainly not the words and pixels that make up each platform. No, the fault belongs to the people who love both mediums, but who are determined to keep wedging the divide even deeper into their differences. Namely, us, folks.

This next April 17—20, 2018, the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media on the campus of the University of Mississippi will hold its annual ACT Experience. ACT stands for Amplify, Clarify and Testify on and about the future of print in a digital age. This time around we’re up to number eight, and it’s going to be an eye-opener. The theme of the ACT 8 Experience is: Print Proud, Digital Smart. And that’s exactly the phrase we all have to start living by if we want our magazines to be successful in the 21st century.

In an interview I did a few months ago with Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director for Hearst Magazines, I took deep notice of a comment that he made during our conversation. When I asked him where he thought Hearst’s future was heading, part of his answer was, “Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it. Then, of course, like everyone else, have a very significant build-out on all digital and social platforms. All that has to run parallel to our print issues. We want our brands living everywhere. I think that’s a multiplatform approach, with the core always being very important.”

So, basically “Print Proud, Digital Smart.” In fact, I give Michael credit for coining ACT 8’s theme. And he’s absolutely right. If you want to succeed in today’s world in the magazine business, you have to be Print Proud & Digital Smart. It’s not a choice, it’s an absolute. And if you want to hear and learn more about this highly evocative concept, make plans today to join us in Oxford, Miss. for the ACT 8 Experience, April 17-20, 2018. You won’t be disappointed.

More information about the ACT 8 Experience will be added here in the upcoming weeks and months. Stay tuned!

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Tom Harty, President And COO, Meredith, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “What We’re Seeing At Meredith Is That The Demand For Print Products From Consumers Is Still Very Strong,” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

September 25, 2017

“Consumers and women still love the printed format to turn to for inspiration and for more of that lean-back experience. And what we look for more with digital is as a utility to help them to do something in the short-term. So, inspiration versus utility, as I like to say.” Tom Harty…

“When you type into a Google box or a Google search, and you’re specifically looking for chicken dinners or chicken tacos, or swordfish, you know what you’re looking for, at least to start. You’re looking for a recipe around something, but there’s still an inspirational part of curation that our editors can form. So, we started Allrecipes Magazine, where we could curate all of that great content that we have in the back of the database online and bring it forward to inspire. Now, you have an extremely successful magazine built out from a digital-only brand.” Tom Harty…

“You’re going to see us continue to make organic investments, especially in our digital products into next year. We’re also on the acquisition trail, and we’re looking for both organic growth, where we’re making investments in growing organically in the brands and the product lines that we have, and we’re also looking at opportunities to grow our business through acquisitions. And that could be print products, digital products, or broadcast products on the other side of the business.” Tom Harty

From Eating Well to Allrecipes, Martha Stewart Living to Better Homes and Gardens; and more recently, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ The Magnolia Journal, Meredith has been serving their readers with great content for 115 years. And of course, with many, many titles in between. Tom Harty is president and chief operating officer of the company, and under his leadership has played a key role in the development and execution of Meredith’s strategic initiatives, helping Meredith increase its connection to the American consumer through growth in magazine audience, online traffic, brand licensing and marketing services.

Tom’s career in magazines and magazine media is rich with experience, having been senior vice president, general manager for The Golf Digest Companies, a division of Advance Magazines. His broad media company experience includes key leadership positions with TV Guide, where he served as vice president and publisher; and Reader’s Digest, where he was advertising director. So, Tom knows a thing or two about magazines.

I spoke with Tom recently and we talked about his strategic vision for the company. Tom’s plans include continuing to gear great content toward women and to give them that content in whatever way they want to consume it, from the legacy print format to all of their new digital products. He said the demand for print from the consumer was still very strong; and of course, one shining example of that is Better Homes and Gardens, which is still living up to its 7.6 million copy circulation that it had 20 years ago. And from organic growth to acquisitions, Tom is committed to continuing the robust present and very bright future that Meredith works very hard to maintain.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interesting and informative conversation with a man who uses his vast experience to propel Meredith forward in both print and digital, and strives to expand the company’s vision even more, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Harty, president and chief operating officer, Meredith.

But first the sound-bites:

On his strategic vision for Meredith in today’s 21st century: It really hasn’t changed from what we’ve done in the past. We create great content that’s geared toward American women, and we’ve been doing that for 115 years. And that’s our strategic vision. I think that what we want to do as we change is create that content however she wants to consume it, so obviously that is both in a legacy print format and in all of our new digital formats.

On how he strikes a balance between Meredith’s digital approach and the reality of print today: What we’re seeing is the demand for print products from consumers is still very strong. We like to say that 20 years ago we printed 7.6 million copies of Better Homes and Gardens each month, and today we print 7.6 million copies per month too. And not a lot has changed from that perspective. About 90 percent of our circulation is subscription versus newsstand, so as the newsstand troubles have been going on out there, we’ve been less affected by that. Consumers and women still love the printed format to turn to for inspiration and for more of that lean-back experience. And what we look for more with digital is as a utility to help them to do something in the short-term.

On whether they’re looking for a new strategic model when it comes to digital advertising that isn’t similar to the print model: From an advertising perspective, where we’ve been having success digitally is that we have some proprietary products digitally that are digital-ad products. A company called Selectable Media a few years ago, that enables us to gate content, where you might have to watch a video to completion to get our content. So, we’re asking the consumer to do something.

On how he shows his love, or tough love, to both his legacy magazine brands and those products that were already brands before they joined the Meredith team: That’s a good question, and I think it’s a good point. We’re always evaluating where we’re putting our resources for growth. That’s the struggle that people at the top of the house of media companies have to make, and have been making for long periods of time. You can’t treat every single brand, or child, as you put it, always equally. That’s not to say that this doesn’t change all of the time.

On what he hopes to accomplish one year from now: I think you’re going to see us continue to make organic investments, especially in our digital products into next year. We’re also on the acquisition trail, and we’re looking for both organic growth, where we’re making investments in growing organically in the brands and the product lines that we have, and we’re also looking at opportunities to grow our business through acquisitions. And that could be print products, digital products, or broadcast products on the other side of the business.

On a Rolling Stone acquisition: I wouldn’t say that Rolling Stone would fit our current strategy, that’s what I would comment. It’s a great brand, it’s been around for a long period of time, but it probably would not fit our strategy to look at that brand.

On whether he thinks the recent partnerships many publishers have made with celebrity brands is a new business model or one that began in the ‘80s with Martha Stewart and Time Inc.: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new business model. When Martha, or whoever, starts things from scratch, they’re looking to find the experts that are out there to help them. So, I think there’s an opportunity maybe to do some more of these types of things.

On whether he thinks the future for magazines is a more targeted approach, or there is still a desire from consumers for large, mass magazines like Better Homes and Gardens: I think that there’s a place for some of these large-scale magazines to still exist. I see the demand for Better Homes and Gardens and it’s astonishing. But it really strikes at a strong brand; it strikes at consumers who are looking for that type of content on a broad scale. So, it exists. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a magazine from scratch reach that kind of scale again, I just don’t know. That’s a good question, if there will ever be new brands that will come out and do that.

On the question someone asked him once when he was publisher of TV Guide on why he provided the TV listings free online: When I was the publisher at TV Guide and I was getting the furnace replaced in my old house that I’d bought, and the oil sales guy asked me if I was the publisher of TV Guide, why was I giving the TV listings online for free. That was a moment in time. I’ll never forget that; it was a very strategic question. And at the time, I don’t think we had the answer.

On whether he believes they have the answer now: The utility has changed for a magazine. I think that was more of a technology change. I think the utility of finding what’s on television has changed, and I believe that was something that TV Guide saw coming, but yes, I think we have the answer now.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: When I think about people that I’ve worked with and what they will think about Tom Harty, I believe that it would be that he was a decisive, fair leader during a time in the media business of great disruption. That’s what I think about myself. That I make decisive decisions and I’m very fair about it in my leadership style. And I think that’s what people would say about Tom Harty.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You’d probably find me winding down with my wife and I in the kitchen preparing dinner, and doing it together. And me doing all of the cleanup, just helping her out and enjoying a nice evening together.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is what’s kept a lot of people up at night and that is, as this business goes through tremendous transformation and change, what are the new things technology-wise or competition-wise that I’m not thinking about? That’s what keeps me up at night. You can address the things that you know about, but it’s harder to address the unknown.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Harty, president and chief operating officer, Meredith.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the many successes that Meredith has been having with its magazines this year. I see from your bio that Meredith gives you much credit for your leadership when it comes to those successes and your strategic vision for the company. Can you tell me about that strategic vision you have for Meredith today, in the 21st century?

Tom Harty: It really hasn’t changed from what we’ve done in the past. We create great content that’s geared toward American women, and we’ve been doing that for 115 years. And that’s our strategic vision. I think that what we want to do as we change is create that content however she wants to consume it, so obviously that is both in a legacy print format and in all of our new digital formats. I always like to tell people, it’s not one or the other, it’s combined for us, so we continue to focus on our great heritage of print products, which women still enjoy thoroughly. And we’re also focused on the new, emerging digital properties and digital utilities that we can format for her going into the future.

Samir Husni: You’re still investing a lot in print. This year alone we’ve seen the reengineering or refreshing of Parents, Martha Stewart Living, Family Circle, and Better Homes and Gardens. And you’re moving forward with digital as well. How do you strike that balance between the digital approach you’re taking and the reality of print today in this digital age?

Tom Harty: What we’re seeing is the demand for print products from consumers is still very strong. We like to say that 20 years ago we printed 7.6 million copies of Better Homes and Gardens each month, and today we print 7.6 million copies per month too. And not a lot has changed from that perspective. About 90 percent of our circulation is subscription versus newsstand, so as the newsstand troubles have been going on out there, we’ve been less affected by that.

Consumers and women still love the printed format to turn to for inspiration and for more of that lean-back experience. And what we look for more with digital is as a utility to help them to do something in the short-term. So, inspiration versus utility, as I like to say.

But to your point, the headwinds that we’ve been facing are that advertisers have a lot more places to spend their money and there are a lot more impressions being created out there in digital and mobile. That’s the issue that we’re facing. At Meredith, we don’t see a tremendous consumer issue, when it comes to demand for our magazines. We have an advertiser issue that we’ve been facing, and we’ve been planning for that and figuring out ways to grow around that.

And we’ve talked about this years ago; when we launched Allrecipes Magazine, I don’t think there were too many people out there who thought it would be successful, taking a digital-only brand that was started online as allrecipes.com, where it’s user-generated content that we obviously give back to consumers online, and give them that utility of finding a recipe that they’re looking for.

But we also felt like when you type into a Google box or a Google search, and you’re specifically looking for chicken dinners or chicken tacos, or swordfish, you know what you’re looking for, at least to start. You’re looking for a recipe around something, but there’s still an inspirational part of curation that our editors can form. So, we started Allrecipes Magazine, where we could curate all of that great content that we have in the back of the database online and bring it forward to inspire. Now, you have an extremely successful magazine built out from a digital-only brand.

A year ago, one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen in my 30+ years in the business is the Magnolia Journal. We had the opportunity to have a discussion with Chip and Joanna Gaines, of the “Fixer Upper” and the Magnolia brand, and in 60 days we put out a newsstand-only test and when it came back, we had to go back to press in the first week and double the print run. We sold over 75 percent of the copies in a short period of time at $10 a pop.

And that’s when we knew we had a runaway success, and now we’re selling subscriptions and now we’re going to have a one million circulation magazine in less than 12 months. It’s the most profitable magazine launch in the history of the company in 115 years. So, there’s a great print product, great brand, great editors working with that celebrity to put together a product that consumers would react to and you can’t argue with the success and demand for that print product.

You asked about the balance; we’re not giving up on the print products because the utility of print is still in demand from consumers. But at the same time we’re building out a digital business that creates a great utility in finding tools to help consumers do that also.

Samir Husni: Recently, I heard that the chief brand officer at P&G said that the average digital ad viewing is 1.7 seconds, and he’s challenging the industry to find another way for digital advertising. As you develop your digital footprint, are you also trying to find a new, strategic model that isn’t similar to the print model?

Tom Harty: From an advertising perspective, where we’ve been having success digitally is that we have some proprietary products digitally that are digital-ad products. A company called Selectable Media a few years ago, that enables us to gate content, where you might have to watch a video to completion to get our content. So, we’re asking the consumer to do something.

And we’re able to take our proprietary data and overlay that with other things. We bought a company called Couponix that enables us to target at retail prices, because half of our traffic for allrecipes happens in retail stores, as people are searching for recipes. So, we’re building out proprietary ad products that give advertisers more value. I think some advertisers are questioning some of the traditional banner advertising; were they getting the best bang for their buck.

So, as we aggregate these great audiences and give them this utility to get at our content, how can we really engage these advertisers in that conversation, where they can get a return for the dollars they’re investing in that. The digital industry is still always evolving and looking for the right mix of , where it’s not interfering with the user experience, but getting those advertisers’ messages across.

I’ve been in this business for a long time, whenever we did unaided research with editors and our subscribers over the years, we’d do focus groups, and this goes back 25 years ago. I used to sit through these and the editors would be behind the glass and the readers would be on the other side, and the facilitator would pass out the magazines and they’d tell the readers to point out the editorial that they really loved, and it used to drive the editors crazy, because they used to point at advertising. The advertising was part of the experience. That is a great part of the form factor of print for advertising. And I think digital is still making strides to get that same connection with consumers, where it’s not interfering with their experience.

Samir Husni: I feel like you may be the father of too many children, and some of them are very well known children, such as Martha Stewart Living, Rachael Ray, and the Gaines couple. How do you show your love, or your tough love, to legacy brands, like Better Homes and Gardens, Parents; and then all of these brands that stand on their own?

Tom Harty: That’s a good question, and I think it’s a good point. We’re always evaluating where we’re putting our resources for growth. That’s the struggle that people at the top of the house of media companies have to make, and have been making for long periods of time. You can’t treat every single brand, or child, as you put it, always equally. That’s not to say that this doesn’t change all of the time.

We’ve been able to build out a great brand portfolio in recent years, and made some great additions like, as you mentioned, Martha Stewart, Shape, Racheal Ray, and Eating Well. We’ve been able to take advantage of the efficiencies of Meredith, from being what we think is one of the best, if not the best, operators in the business, and take advantage of the efficiencies of a bigger media company with our back office based in Des Moines, Iowa.

But we can also allocate some of those savings, as you would call it, being part of a bigger company, where they’re independent on their own, and reinvest in the brand. So, it’s always a battle, but we always have to keep an eye on where we think we can get the best return for our investment and for our shareholders in the future. We’re constantly waging that kind of allocation battle.

You’ve known in the past where we’ve made tougher decisions on brands like Ladies’ Home Journal or More, or we combined Fitness with Shape, where we make a bigger bet on what we think is a different way to allocate it, and stop allocating to certain brands. It’s not an easy decision to make, but we’ve made that in the past.

Samir Husni: When we look at the Meredith portfolio today, under your leadership, if you and I are speaking one year from now, what would you hope to tell me that you had accomplished in 2017?

Tom Harty: I think you’re going to see us continue to make organic investments, especially in our digital products into next year. We’re also on the acquisition trail, and we’re looking for both organic growth, where we’re making investments in growing organically in the brands and the product lines that we have, and we’re also looking at opportunities to grow our business through acquisitions. And that could be print products, digital products, or broadcast products on the other side of the business.

There are a number of things that we’re constantly looking at, so we’re not shying away from any area, but I always say that it has to, number one, fit our strategy for an acquisition, and then it has to be for sale; you have to have a seller that actually wants to sell something, and it has to be the right price. There’s a sifter that we put things through.

I think that throughout the industry, from print to digital to broadcast, all are ripe for consolidation, and as Meredith has stated, we’re going to be a consolidator, and you’ve seen us look at that and do that over the last few years. And we’re going to continue to do that, while at the same time, making investments in our core organic business.

Samir Husni: Without going into what’s up for sale now, can you rule out a Rolling Stone purchase?

Tom Harty: I wouldn’t say that Rolling Stone would fit our current strategy, that’s what I would comment. It’s a great brand, it’s been around for a long period of time, but it probably would not fit our strategy to look at that brand.

That’s not to say that we wouldn’t look at making investments in men’s brands. If you look at our portfolio, we’re more dominant on the women’s side of the business. I think the current number is we reach 112 million women in the United States on a monthly basis. I believe there’s somewhere around 1,920 million adult women in the U.S., so we’re fast approaching a saturation of how we reach women. So, we might look at more men-focused titles in the future.

Samir Husni: When you look at that portfolio and everything you’ve done so far, do you think that with Meredith, Hearst, and recently, Condé Nast, starting partnerships, such as Meredith and the Gaines couple, Hearst and The Pioneer Woman and Dr. Oz; do you think that’s a reinvention of a business model, or is it something that Martha Stewart actually introduced in the 1980s with Time Inc.?

Tom Harty: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new business model. When Martha, or whoever, starts things from scratch, they’re looking to find the experts that are out there to help them. So, I think there’s an opportunity maybe to do some more of these types of things. It’s us and Hearst that’s kind of really active in that.

We did something with Condé Nast with House & Garden. We’re able to produce content very efficiently and House & Garden is a brand that we think is fantastic, and so does Condé Nast. They decided to stop the print brand, and we’ve come back with it and have our second issue on the newsstand, and it’s been successful. So, there are always models that we’re looking at, even helping each other. Here we are working with Condé Nast on a licensing and profitability share for House & Garden.

So, it’s not a new concept, but I think in this day and age launching a magazine for an independent celebrity or independent company, is more difficult. It makes it much more efficient for a bigger media company to help them do that.

Samir Husni: In your career, you’ve worked at three of the largest magazines in this country: TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens. So, you’ve seen the huge magazines and their huge circulations. And you just shared that Better Homes and Gardens is still the largest, non-membership magazine in this country. But do you think the future for magazines is a more targeted approach, or is there still a desire from consumers for these large, mass magazines?

Tom Harty: I think that there’s a place for some of these large-scale magazines to still exist. I see the demand for Better Homes and Gardens and it’s astonishing. But it really strikes at a strong brand; it strikes at consumers who are looking for that type of content on a broad scale. So, it exists.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see a magazine from scratch reach that kind of scale again, I just don’t know. That’s a good question, if there will ever be new brands that will come out and do that. I don’t know if the Magnolia brand will ever reach that kind of scale; I’m just not sure.

Samir Husni: I remember meeting you once and you told me a story about your furnace in the basement of your home and the guy who came to fix it. I think at the time the story took place you were at TV Guide. Do you remember that?

Tom Harty: You’re exactly right. I used that example of when I was the publisher at TV Guide and I was getting the furnace replaced in my old house that I’d bought, and the oil sales guy asked me if I was the publisher of TV Guide, why was I giving the TV listings online for free. That was a moment in time. I’ll never forget that; it was a very strategic question. And at the time, I don’t think we had the answer.

Samir Husni: Do you have the answer now?

Tom Harty: The utility has changed for a magazine. I think that was more of a technology change. I think the utility of finding what’s on television has changed, and I believe that was something that TV Guide saw coming, but yes, I think we have the answer now.

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

Tom Harty: That’s a good question. When I think about people that I’ve worked with and what they will think about Tom Harty, I believe that it would be that he was a decisive, fair leader during a time in the media business of great disruption. That’s what I think about myself. That I make decisive decisions and I’m very fair about it in my leadership style. And I think that’s what people would say about Tom Harty.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Tom Harty: You’d probably find me winding down with my wife and I in the kitchen preparing dinner, and doing it together. And me doing all of the cleanup, just helping her out and enjoying a nice evening together.

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

Tom Harty: What keeps me up at night is what’s kept a lot of people up at night and that is, as this business goes through tremendous transformation and change, what are the new things technology-wise or competition-wise that I’m not thinking about? That’s what keeps me up at night. You can address the things that you know about, but it’s harder to address the unknown. And that’s what keeps me staring at the ceiling at night, the things that I’m missing.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Venture South Magazine: Connecting The Dots Regionally For People Passionate About Hometown Destinations And All That Goes With It – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Jason Niblett, Co-Founder & Publisher…

September 21, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“There was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel (Miss.). There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county. Once we announced the magazine, it has just been insanely popular. It’s crazy.” Jason Niblett…

It’s always uplifting to Mr. Magazine™ to find that the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in this country, especially when it comes to the magazine business. Venture South Magazine is a hometown publication, but with large regional possibilities. And one of its co-founders and publisher, is not oblivious to that fact. He sees the potential of this magazine reaching far beyond the city limits of Laurel, Miss.

Jason Niblett is a University of Mississippi graduate and a newspaper man that has stepped off the broadsheet and onto the slick and glossy pages of a monthly magazine. And he is ready to move it as far as possible into the marketplace.

I spoke with Jason recently and we talked about this hometown endeavor that has suddenly found itself with a noticeable popularity and readership. And no one could be happier about it than its publisher. Having planned to offer it free to the public, depending on advertisements for its survival, Jason and his two other partners in the magazine, were shocked when they found themselves with about 200 subscriptions before the first issue even came off the presses. But that kind of shock is a good thing to new magazine publishers and owners.

So, grab your glass of sweet tea and come along with Mr. Magazine™ as we “Venture South” and learn about the spirit of one entrepreneur that just won’t be denied, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jason Niblett, co-founder & publisher, Venture South Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Venture South: I’ve been working for newspapers for many years. And of course, with the newspapers we’ve always had the newspaper-style magazine that we were required to do. I’ve always done social and lifestyle magazines, and I’ve had this concept in the back of my mind for a long time; something for everyday, normal people, not all about the million dollar houses, the gardens, huge swimming pools, but a magazine that everyone could use. From girls’ night out, to family weekends; things like that.

On whether he believes people think he has lost his mind for starting a print magazine in a digital age: (Laughs) Probably so. But there was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel. There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county.

On how he is taking what he learned from his newspaper career and applying it to his new magazine business: Definitely market research and demographic information that I’ve learned over the years at the newspaper. We have beautiful lifestyle magazines already, and we did not want to be a lifestyle magazine. There’s a huge audience in Mississippi that’s just normal, everyday people; the nurses, teachers, office personnel; those are the normal people in Mississippi. Of course, there’s the upper class echelon, but that audience isn’t huge, especially in our area. And so, you definitely have to learn how to target your audience.

On whether he has any plans to “venture further south” than his own city limits: Absolutely. We had a name that I’d had in the back of my head for five or six years, and once the three of us starting meeting, we were all leaning toward that name and going in that direction. Then suddenly, we had an epiphany and decided that wasn’t what we needed to name the magazine. We knew that we needed to go in a different direction where we could expand into New Orleans, Mobile, or Pensacola, or wherever. There is potential to do just that, explore and expand more regionally.

On the first conversation he had right after the first issue came out: One of my former high school teachers emailed me and she was just telling me how wonderful the magazine was. She loved the content and the direction and ideas. And she lives in Mendenhall, Miss. She started sharing it around, and that’s why we see the potential for a more regional publication, because once she started pushing it toward the city she lives in, and her friends and family in surrounding areas, and even her hometown of Natchez, Miss., we began to receive requests for subscriptions and we had planned to be just a free distribution-type magazine.

On any advice he would offer students should he ever speak to a class: Keep an open mind. When I was at the University of Mississippi, I was majoring in broadcast journalism. I went to NewsWatch 12 and the SMC (Student Media Center). I didn’t pay too much attention to the Daily Mississippian or to the yearbook, because I wanted to be on TV. I did that for about six months after I left Ole Miss, and I hated it. I ended up in newspapers.

On the advice he would give his newspaper colleagues about their own magazines: A problem that we had at our operation was not to make it a glorified people section of the newspaper. You have your daily, weekly, or biweekly newspaper, or whatever frequency you have, for that people section. Your magazine needs to be something nicer, with exceptional features, photography, and design. Don’t skimp on your freelancers, and if you don’t have the skills to design it yourself, hire a good graphic artist, because there are so many magazines in Mississippi that look like nothing but glossy, people sections.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: That I always tried to be a big community proponent; family first, work second, but if you enjoy your job, you don’t really have to work. (Laughs)

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Definitely playing with the dogs. And I do love to cook; I joined one of those meal delivery services to try different things, and we’ve been doing that for about a year now. We get this cardboard box every week and sometimes the food is great and sometimes it’s not, but we’re always trying it. We love to travel to the Coast a lot, even if it’s just to walk on the beach or grab something good to eat. Here lately, we’ve been reading a lot of magazines and reading industry publications.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s definitely advertising, even though we broke even. It’s one of those things that you have to trust in God, because yesterday was a horrible advertising day and we’re going to press very soon. And then that afternoon late, bam, bam, bam; we booked several ads. So, I try to just have faith, because this is definitely a God-thing when I talk about divine intervention for the timing and everything. It’s all going to be okay. Even when I get stressed out, I know that it’s going to be okay. So, I try not to let that keep me up at night. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jason Niblett, co-founder & publisher, Venture South Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Venture South magazine.

Jason Niblett: I’ve been working for newspapers for many years. And of course, with the newspapers we’ve always had the newspaper-style magazine that we were required to do. I’ve always done social and lifestyle magazines, and I’ve had this concept in the back of my mind for a long time; something for everyday, normal people, not all about the million dollar houses, the gardens, huge swimming pools, but a magazine that everyone could use. From girls’ night out, to family weekends; things like that.

That was in the spring. I was working for a newspaper corporation in Laurel, Miss. And in Laurel, there were two newspapers, which it was a struggle for both newspapers to make it. And I knew that our newspaper was probably in trouble, but I thought that they would get rid of me and put the newspaper operation under a neighboring operation in Hattiesburg. So, we were all surprised when the paper closed completely in June.

In the spring, we had moved our office across town to a place that was a little bit cheaper, and about a week later, I got an email that my salary had been cut drastically. So, I knew that it was time for me to figure out what I was going to do next. I had been laid off from three different newspapers throughout my career and I’m only 38 years old. That’s a lot of layoffs for someone my age.

So basically, me and two of my friends decided that it was time to pull the trigger and do our own thing. So we started meeting that spring, after I received that email about the salary cut, and I had planned on sometime this fall, maybe winter, quitting my job to do this magazine. Then I find out my last day to work would be July 14, because we were being laid off and the paper closed.

So, everything accelerated, but honestly it was perfect timing, and definitely some divine intervention, because right after we started selling advertising, we had our media kits ready, but we didn’t have our premier edition to show everybody, we started hearing that there were two other groups, one an individual and one a corporation, looking at Laurel for starting a magazine. And so we knew we had to get ours out. Thankfully, we were able to break even for the first one, which was wonderful. But we had to get it out to stave off any victims of the competition.

Samir Husni: After seeing what’s happening with newspapers, and after being laid off three different times, do you still believe in ink on paper? Why are you starting a print magazine in this digital age; do people think you have you lost your mind?

Jason Niblett: (Laughs) Probably so. But there was such a desire for something like Venture South in Laurel. There are so many dynamic things happening here right now. We have the HGTV series, “Home Town,” that’s filming its second season. And last year we had the Matthew McConaughey movie, “Free State of Jones,” which is about our county.

And once it was announced that the paper was closing, my own phone and the office phone rang constantly for the next few weeks with people telling me that I had to do something. And of course, while I was still at the office, I was very professional in closing down that operation the way that it needed to be. Once we announced the magazine, it has just been insanely popular. It’s crazy. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: We’re seeing a lot of new magazines appearing, and as you mentioned earlier, almost every newspaper in Mississippi has its own magazine, or two or three. I remember in one of my seminars at the Mississippi Press Association, I challenged the newspaper people to follow more of a magazine style on a daily or weekly basis, because the problem is not with the ink on paper, it’s with what you put on that ink on paper. How are you taking what you learned from your newspaper career and offering it now on a monthly platform to your audience?

Jason Niblett: Definitely market research and demographic information that I’ve learned over the years at the newspaper. We have beautiful lifestyle magazines already, and we did not want to be a lifestyle magazine. There’s a huge audience in Mississippi that’s just normal, everyday people; the nurses, teachers, office personnel; those are the normal people in Mississippi. Of course, there’s the upper class echelon, but that audience isn’t huge, especially in our area. And so, you definitely have to learn how to target your audience.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you broke even with the first issue, which is rare in our business. If you wanted to use your crystal ball for a minute; what does the future hold for Venture South? And also, with a name like Venture South, do you plan on going beyond the city limits, maybe down toward the Gulf Coast?

Jason Niblett: Absolutely. We had a name that I’d had in the back of my head for five or six years, and once the three of us starting meeting, we were all leaning toward that name and going in that direction. Then suddenly, we had an epiphany and decided that wasn’t what we needed to name the magazine. We knew that we needed to go in a different direction where we could expand into New Orleans, Mobile, or Pensacola, or wherever. There is potential to do just that, explore and expand more regionally.

Samir Husni: When you mention the “three” of you, who are you referring to?

Jason Niblett: Lacey Slay, our editor and designer, and Kevin Dearmon, who handles advertising, are the other two owners. And Lacey and Kevin both hold down full-time jobs in addition to the magazine. I’m the only full-time person.

Samir Husni: What was the first phone call or conversation you had after the magazine was distributed?

Jason Niblett: One of my former high school teachers emailed me and she was just telling me how wonderful the magazine was. She loved the content and the direction and ideas. And she lives in Mendenhall, Miss. She started sharing it around, and that’s why we see the potential for a more regional publication, because once she started pushing it toward the city she lives in, and her friends and family in surrounding areas, and even her hometown of Natchez, Miss., we began to receive requests for subscriptions and we had planned to be just a free distribution-type magazine. And we ended up with 200 subscriptions before the magazine even launched.

Samir Husni: If you were to come and speak to journalism students here at the University of Mississippi, what advice would you give them?

Jason Niblett: Keep an open mind. When I was at the University of Mississippi, I was majoring in broadcast journalism. I went to NewsWatch 12 and the SMC (Student Media Center). I didn’t pay too much attention to the Daily Mississippian or to the yearbook, because I wanted to be on TV. I did that for about six months after I left Ole Miss, and I hated it. I ended up in newspapers.

So, keep an open mind and definitely learn the different concepts and multimedia, and always have integrity and do what’s right, and you will be blessed.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give your colleagues at other newspapers about their own magazines?

Jason Niblett: A problem that we had at our operation was not to make it a glorified people section of the newspaper. You have your daily, weekly, or biweekly newspaper, or whatever frequency you have, for that people section. Your magazine needs to be something nicer, with exceptional features, photography, and design. Don’t skimp on your freelancers, and if you don’t have the skills to design it yourself, hire a good graphic artist, because there are so many magazines in Mississippi that look like nothing but glossy, people sections.

And we want to be debt-free, because we know in the publishing industry that debt can weigh you down, or put you out of business. We’re actually working out of my house, we turned a third bedroom into an office. We close the door when we’re done for the day and we stay out of that room, but you also have to be disciplined enough to get up in the morning, get a shower and get dressed, and act like you’re going to work. If you don’t, the day gets away from you.

Samir Husni: Who’s going to be on the cover of issue two?

Jason Niblett: Actually, we’re doing a story on “Phantom of the Opera” at the University of Southern Mississippi. So, that’s probably going to be our cover story.

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

Jason Niblett: That I always tried to be a big community proponent; family first, work second, but if you enjoy your job, you don’t really have to work. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, after you had closed that office door, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; playing with your dogs; watching TV; or something else?

Jason Niblett: Definitely playing with the dogs. And I do love to cook; I joined one of those meal delivery services to try different things, and we’ve been doing that for about a year now. We get this cardboard box every week and sometimes the food is great and sometimes it’s not, but we’re always trying it. We love to travel to the Coast a lot, even if it’s just to walk on the beach or grab something good to eat. Here lately, we’ve been reading a lot of magazines and reading industry publications.

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

Jason Niblett: It’s definitely advertising, even though we broke even. It’s one of those things that you have to trust in God, because yesterday was a horrible advertising day and we’re going to press very soon. And then that afternoon late, bam, bam, bam; we booked several ads. So, I try to just have faith, because this is definitely a God-thing when I talk about divine intervention for the timing and everything. It’s all going to be okay. Even when I get stressed out, I know that it’s going to be okay. So, I try not to let that keep me up at night. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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The Two “Faces” of Family Circle Magazine – Different Covers, One Great Experience…

September 19, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

There’s nothing new about magazines having split covers, or the same magazine having several different covers, this has been happening for as far back as I can recall. However, what we’re seeing lately is how magazine editors and publishers are using the best attributes of technology and their own excellent publishing skills to laser-target their magazines to the intended audience.

Take for example the October issue of Family Circle. The magazine provides two different covers; one sold specifically at and for Wal-Mart, priced at $1.99, and the other sold to the rest of the country at bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million at the $3.79 cover price. The two covers are amazingly different and each has its own personality.

When I asked Family Circle’s editor in chief, Cheryl E. Brown, about the two covers, and noted that besides the well-known fact that at Wal-Mart you always get the magazine a bit cheaper than at the bookstores, I also commented that what really grabbed my attention this month with the magazine was how upscale the bookstore version looked compared to the much more mass market appeal the Wal-Mart issue had. This was Cheryl’s answer:

“On the price difference, Family Circle and a number of other titles (including Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping, in our competitive set) have Walmart-only pricing, mostly due to Walmart’s commitment to “Every Day Low Pricing.”

“On the different cover images, we had shot multiple Halloween covers that we liked, so decided to test a different version in Walmart. Walmart has calendar themes they like to promote, like Halloween and Game Time, so we thought the more playful/brighter image might fit in better with that in-store theme. And we tried a few cover lines that were more aligned with Walmart’s emphasis on everyday value and ease. It will be a couple months before we have results back; it will be interesting to see if the cover experimentation moves the needle on sales in that venue!”

The $3.79 issue shines with a more upscale and elegant look, showcasing golden-etched and silvery pumpkins that invite us to pour a cup of pumpkin spiced cider and sit by the roaring fire as we prepare for the Halloween and jack-o’-lantern season. While the Wal-Mart $1.99 edition begs us to discover easier ways to pick our pumpkin on a budget. And while the Wal-Mart magazine is just as engaging as the more polished one, the differences are subtly depicted, yet comfortably blatant. When one is shopping at Wal-Mart, they’re looking for great sales and short lines. When one is sipping cider by the firelight, the read should be more intimate and refined; a totally different experience. And that’s what magazines provide: different experiences, as any good editor in chief and publisher knows.

Either way, the October issue of Family Circle is a good example of a magazine well done. Depending on your budget, go pick up a copy from a store or a bookstore near you; both choices will give you a good read and a good experience that only magazines can provide.

So kudos to Cheryl Brown and her team for having a focused eye on their customers, both the reader and the retailer. It’s a comforting thought to know that magazine leaders maintain a healthy scrutiny that can only make the magazine experience more customized and fun!

Until the next Mr. Magazine™ Musing…
See you at the newsstands!

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Take Magazine 2.0: Publisher And Founder, Michael Kusek & Its Editor In Chief, Stacey Kors, Reveal To Mr. Magazine™ Why The Second Time Around Is The Real Charm…

September 18, 2017

“We can demonstrate that people who read Take in print really consume the print product and hang onto it. We just did a subscriber survey over the summer and we asked people how long they hung onto their copy of Take, and well over 55 percent of the people in that survey said they never throw their copies away. We’re reaching people who really, not only love our content, but love the magazine as an object that they want to hang onto. And I think that also from a business perspective, translating that and bringing that before advertisers is a really attractive prospect.” Michael Kusek…

“For me, yes, we’re in a digital world. We have access to new information every second and it’s also customized to our tastes. And we get this information, but there’s no real absorption of it because we’re immediately on to the next thing. For me, looking at a magazine is such a different experience, because it’s an active experience. There’s an intentionality to sitting down and reading it. There is an engagement of more than just sight; we hold it; we feel it as we turn the pages; we smell the paper. You’re obviously reading it.” Stacey Kors…

Relaunching a magazine takes real vision and commitment and a significant, underlying reason to do so. Take Magazine has all of that. It has dedication and a strong perception of its future in its publisher and founder, Michael Kusek, and a powerful affection and belief in its existence from its relatively new editor in chief, Stacey Kors. And a valid reason for being: its ever-growing audience.

Stacey Kors came onboard Take about nine months ago and hasn’t looked back since. She is a dynamic force for the magazine and brand with her sheer will and determination that the print component should and would be born back into the marketplace. As a new partner in Take Industries, Stacey, whose publishing career began in Western Massachusetts when she worked as a college intern for the region’s first high-end culture magazine, New England Monthly, has joined efforts with Michael, the magazine’s founder and publisher, to bring the print product back to its loyal readership better and stronger.

I spoke with Michael and Stacey recently and we talked about this Take-2 go-round for the printed magazine. The decision to go digital-only about a year ago was not one that Michael made lightly. His love for the Take brand was strong, but the reality of finances had to be considered. And as with any small, independent title, money is always a behemoth. But with Stacey climbing aboard and offering not only financial support and strength, but a passion for Take as strong as Michael’s, it would appear that the second time around will be the charm for this new duo, who also give much credit to the team behind them that makes everything more stalwartly creative.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interview with two people who share much more than the bottom line, but also a zeal and excitement for all things “Take”-able, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Kusek, founder & publisher, and Stacey Kors, editor in chief, Take Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the resurrection of Take Magazine (Michael Kusek): We ran out of money. By the end of last July, we had had a fair amount of success at selling advertising for that fall, but came up short in terms of the capital we needed to get ourselves there. We needed a bridge to get from June to the fall when we’d sold some revenue. And I had to make the really tough decision about stopping the print edition and staying digital-only. The switch to just digital-only was really made possible because somebody lent us the money to refurbish our website. In late August, Stacey emailed me out of the blue, expressing interest in helping Take come back into print, and I was pretty surprised about getting that kind of email. (Laughs) We met and had coffee, and the conversation started there, and it lasted a few months, while we envisioned what we would need to be a bit more stable.

On the resurrection of Take Magazine (Stacey Kors): I’m an old print junkie. I cut my teeth in this business; I was actually an intern at New England Monthly, our first successful regional magazine. I have been involved with covering arts and culture for a couple of decades now, and have been previously writing for the Boston Globe. In the spring of last year, they started very heavily cutting their arts coverage and their arts staff, like so many other places, unfortunately. I had an opportunity to be able to participate, and see if I could help Michael return the magazine to print. And as he said, we started talking and we were able to make that happen. It’s been a long road, but a wonderful one.

On why they brought Take Magazine back into print in this digital age (Stacey Kors): I can answer from the editorial side. For me, yes, we’re in a digital world. We have access to new information every second and it’s also customized to our tastes. And we get this information, but there’s no real absorption of it because we’re immediately on to the next thing. For me, looking at a magazine is such a different experience, because it’s an active experience. There’s an intentionality to sitting down and reading it. There is an engagement of more than just sight; we hold it; we feel it as we turn the pages; we smell the paper. You’re obviously reading it.

On why they brought Take Magazine back into print in this digital age (Michael Kusek): When we stopped the print issue, we got a lot of emails from readers who were upset to see it go, and then we announced that we were coming back and we received a lot of response from readers who were very excited to be able to add to their stack of Take Magazine’s on their coffee tables. I think that the loyalty that we’re building with our readers is something that, by being local people producing a local magazine, is something that we can demonstrate to advertisers. And because we do have at least a glowing, robust presence online and a real building loyal readership in print, I think that bodes really well for relationships with advertisers down the road.

On any challenges that they had to overcome when they relaunched in print (Michael Kusek): I think one of our challenges, at least on the business side, has been the idea that we went away once, so are we going to be here this go-round. So, it’s that convincing people, particularly advertisers, that if we’re going to build a relationship with them we are going to be here. We’re working our hardest to stay here. We’re definitely having a better response from advertisers than we did the first time around. And I think that’s one of the challenges, certainly from a business perspective.

On whether that first issue made all of the nine months’ of work and worry worth it (Stacey Kors): The two experiences that I’ve had that made it all seem worth it was going to the printer with the team, our amazing printer, Cummings in New Hampshire, watching the process and seeing that all of those ideas we’d had for so long were made real for everyone; it was just amazing. And the other experience happened recently, where our writers and our subjects started to receive the magazine. And everybody was so excited; everybody talked about how gorgeous it was. They were all so pleased and that we did something right and that was definitely worth it.

On what’s next for Take Magazine (Stacey Kors): From an editorial point of view, we have the train on the track and moving, and we’re working on three issues at a time. And we’re trying to create beautiful, timeless copy, with wonderful profiles of artists and culture-makers here.

On what’s next for Take Magazine (Michael Kusek): One of our challenges is figuring out the best way to do distribution. I have to credit ACT 7 this past spring, in particular, for getting good contacts with specifically independent magazines. Lukas Volger and Steve Viksjo from Jarry magazine have become good friends in the months that followed, because both as small, independent titles, we’re trying to figure out newsstand. And we’re trying to figure out the best way to convert digital followers into print subscribers.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Michael Kusek): I think work hard and have fun doing it.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Stacey Kors): Live in the present and be mindful.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Stacey Kors): For me, unwinding is sitting with a glass of wine or a drink and reading the magazine or looking at some magazines and books, taking my eyes off of screens for a while. If the weather is conducive and it’s the right season, I might be in my garden, picking things to cook for dinner, making a beautiful meal ad savoring it fully.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Michael Kusek): For me, probably scrolling social media and watching the Rachel Maddow Show. (Laughs)

What keeps her up at night (Stacey Kors): The state of the world concerns me greatly on a macro level. Otherwise, honestly? Just thinking about the magazine a lot, there are a lot of balls in the air all at once and I’m always thinking about how to not drop one. How to make things better and stronger and successful.

What keep him up at night (Michael Kusek): The amount of unanswered emails that I have. (Laughs) And trying to remember to get back to people on the 10 different platforms that they message me on. That keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Kusek, publisher, and Stacey Kors, editor in chief, Take Magazine.

Samir Husni: It’s always a sad day when a print magazine goes out of business, but it’s also a joyful day when that magazine comes back. Tell me a little about the story of Take 2.0. (Laughs)

Michael Kusek: (Laughs too) We ran out of money. By the end of last July, we had had a fair amount of success at selling advertising for that fall, but came up short in terms of the capital we needed to get ourselves there. We needed a bridge to get from June to the fall when we’d sold some revenue. And I had to make the really tough decision about stopping the print edition and staying digital-only. And that was about the end of June.

The switch to just digital-only was really made possible because somebody lent us the money to refurbish our website. We spent the better part of July working on the website, and then getting that launched in early August. In late August, Stacey emailed me out of the blue, expressing interest in helping Take come back into print, and I was pretty surprised about getting that kind of email. (Laughs)

We met and had coffee, and the conversation started there, and it lasted a few months, while we envisioned what we would need to be a bit more stable. And what resources we needed that we lacked in our first go-round. And we worked on that through December.

Stacey Kors: I’m an old print junkie. I cut my teeth in this business; I was actually an intern at New England Monthly, our first successful regional magazine. I have been involved with covering arts and culture for a couple of decades now, and have been previously writing for the Boston Globe. In the spring of last year, they started very heavily cutting their arts coverage and their arts staff, like so many other places, unfortunately.

It was a combination of my lamenting that and trying to figure out personally what I was going to do next. And also lamenting the state of the print industry as a whole, just seeing it shrink more and more. I had known about Take from the beginning and had seen many copies of it and really liked it. I happened to come across the last issue, was reminded of it again, and thought that it would be a wonderful place to write and engage, and I was so glad that it existed. And then I looked at the website and I read Michael’s post, that unfortunately they weren’t going to continue. And I was heartbroken. It was such a wonderful and important resource. It was so beautifully put together; the stories were so interesting and timeless.

I had an opportunity to be able to participate, and see if I could help Michael return the magazine to print. And as he said, we started talking and we were able to make that happen. It’s been a long road, but a wonderful one.

Samir Husni: My question for the both of you is why print in this digital age? Besides being romantics about print, including myself, if we talk from the business side, why print? What’s the fascination you and Michael have with print that brought Take Magazine back to life?

Stacey Kors: I can answer from the editorial side. For me, yes, we’re in a digital world. We have access to new information every second and it’s also customized to our tastes. And we get this information, but there’s no real absorption of it because we’re immediately on to the next thing. For me, looking at a magazine is such a different experience, because it’s an active experience. There’s an intentionality to sitting down and reading it. There is an engagement of more than just sight; we hold it; we feel it as we turn the pages; we smell the paper. You’re obviously reading it.

And it’s not about disseminating information the way that we get it now; it’s really about the art of storytelling that involves thoughtfully written articles and gorgeous images. And specifically, for us, I love that across the board and I think it’s important that there’s a place for us to all stop and take the time to read a long-form article and engage in that way.

But for what we do, we cover artists and culture-makers in the region, and they’re all people who take their time to make something special, meaningful and beautiful, be it visual art or a well-crafted cocktail. And I think they deserve to have their stories told with that same intentionality.

Michael Kusek: It’s interesting, our period of time where we were digital-only put us in this position where we really had to think about what we were doing digitally for those six months. Beginning last September, we really put more focus on it and have seen some great results in the last year. We’ve gone from just over 3,000 readers per month on our website to being in the mid-thirties now every month in the last year. And that’s like 20 percent growth per month, which as one of my friends would say, is Facebook numbers. (Laughs) And I’m very happy with that, because we’re reaching an audience.

And it’s very interesting on the digital front to see who reads us. In August, our number two city that reads Take online was New York. And it’s not even in New England. (Laughs) So, the digital side of it certainly allows us to reach readers that aren’t part of our geographic focus for the physical distribution of the magazine.

I still think that print, particularly because we’re tightly, regionally focused, it’s easier for us, certainly not easy, but it’s easier for us to make a real connection with our readers, and it’s through our editorial, but also through who’s working for us. We have freelancers who are located all over the region, who help us create our content. So, as a print piece, people are picking it up and we’re not landing in New England from some far off place. We are a publication that is made by New Englanders for New Englanders. And I think that has been the basis of the success that we’ve had so far in reaching readers.

When we stopped the print issue, we got a lot of emails from readers who were upset to see it go, and then we announced that we were coming back and we received a lot of response from readers who were very excited to be able to add to their stack of Take Magazine’s on their coffee tables. I think that the loyalty that we’re building with our readers is something that, by being local people producing a local magazine, is something that we can demonstrate to advertisers. And because we do have at least a glowing, robust presence online and a real building loyal readership in print, I think that bodes really well for relationships with advertisers down the road.

We can demonstrate that people who read Take in print really consume the print product and hang onto it. We just did a subscriber survey over the summer and we asked people how long they hung onto their copy of Take, and well over 55 percent of the people in that survey said they never throw their copies away. We’re reaching people who really, not only love our content, but love the magazine as an object that they want to hang onto. And I think that also from a business perspective, translating that and bringing that before advertisers is a really attractive prospect.

Samir Husni: Since December, when the partnership took place between you and Stacey and the decision was made to relaunch the print magazine, has it been an easy walk in a rose garden, or were there any stumbling blocks that you both had to overcome? And if there were, how did you overcome them?

Michael Kusek: I think one of our challenges, at least on the business side, has been the idea that we went away once, so are we going to be here this go-round. So, it’s that convincing people, particularly advertisers, that if we’re going to build a relationship with them we are going to be here. We’re working our hardest to stay here. We’re definitely having a better response from advertisers than we did the first time around. And I think that’s one of the challenges, certainly from a business perspective.

Another thing, in terms of how we were moving forward from Take-version 1 to Take-version 2, was repairing our relationship with freelancers, who had waited a long time to get paid. And part of this deal was making sure that we made everyone whole that we owed money to. And we were very fortunate that we were in a position that when we restarted the magazine that we were able to start with a clean slate. And the challenge there is that for people who are content creators, they’re happy to work for us, but they also need to know that they’re going to get paid.

And reassuring them of that is a challenge, and certainly in that process, everybody wants to get paid for the work that they do, and some people were very vocally upset about that, some people offered to forego payment, and some folks were just very patient and didn’t say anything one way or another. But that was a really important thing that we needed to do.

Samir Husni: And Stacey, now that the first issue is done and the magazine is back, what was your reaction? Was it worth all of that worry and work for almost nine months, the time is equivalent to an actual birth. (Laughs)

Stacey Kors: (Laughs too) And that’s what it felt like.

Samir Husni: Were the labor pains worth it when the magazine came out? (Laughs)

Stacey Kors: Oh yes, but to continue in that vein, it was a laborious process. We did have some staff who had moved on to other positions. We hired a new art director and a managing editor. So, part of the process was getting our small team together and running smoothly, but of course, the first issue is going to be the most difficult time. To the regrouping and figuring out how we wanted to change things; how we wanted to keep things the same for the magazine, there was a lot of back and forth, we’re a team who shares visions, and there was and is a lot of serious discussion, and certainly a lot of very hard work, assigning and editing and going back and forth on art, and coming up with something that really felt like Take. And even better.

The two experiences that I’ve had that made it all seem worth it was going to the printer with the team, our amazing printer, Cummings in New Hampshire, watching the process and seeing that all of those ideas we’d had for so long were made real for everyone; it was just amazing. And the other experience happened recently, where our writers and our subjects started to receive the magazine. And everybody was so excited; everybody talked about how gorgeous it was. They were all so pleased and that we did something right and that was definitely worth it.

Samir Husni: Now, you’re on top of the mountain, what’s next?

Stacey Kors: (Laughs) The December/January issue.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Stacey Kors: From an editorial point of view, we have the train on the track and moving, and we’re working on three issues at a time. And we’re trying to create beautiful, timeless copy, with wonderful profiles of artists and culture-makers here. From the business point of view, Michael…

Michael Kusek: One of our challenges is figuring out the best way to do distribution. I have to credit ACT 7 this past spring, in particular, for getting good contacts with specifically independent magazines. Lukas Volger and Steve Viksjo from Jarry magazine have become good friends in the months that followed, because both as small, independent titles, we’re trying to figure out newsstand. And we’re trying to figure out the best way to convert digital followers into print subscribers.

And there are no simple answers for that path forward, because even as a small title we get some of the difficulties that larger legacy titles have at the newsstand. But we don’t have the budget to sort of pay to be there. So, we have to get innovative and creative about our distribution efforts. We’re relying on partnering with cultural organizations around the region, where we can distribute copies of Take so that people get it in their hands and get a sense and a feel for it. So, that’s one of our big challenges. And we have really great help from the folks from Tyson Associates in Connecticut, getting around that. So, that’s a piece of the puzzle that we’re working on, figuring out what’s best for a small magazine.

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

Michael Kusek: I think work hard and have fun doing it.

Stacey Kors: Live in the present and be mindful.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Stacey Kors: Yes. (Laughs) All of those, though not at the same time. For me, unwinding is sitting with a glass of wine or a drink and reading the magazine or looking at some magazines and books, taking my eyes off of screens for a while. If the weather is conducive and it’s the right season, I might be in my garden, picking things to cook for dinner, making a beautiful meal ad savoring it fully.

Michael Kusek: For me, probably scrolling social media and watching the Rachel Maddow Show. (Laughs)

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

Stacey Kors: The state of the world concerns me greatly on a macro level. Otherwise, honestly? Just thinking about the magazine a lot, there are a lot of balls in the air all at once and I’m always thinking about how to not drop one. How to make things better and stronger and successful.

Michael Kusek: The amount of unanswered emails that I have. (Laughs) And trying to remember to get back to people on the 10 different platforms that they message me on. That keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Our Belief Is That The Conditions In The World Today, The Pace Of Change And The Disruption, Makes Highlights Even More Relevant Than When We Were Founded 71 Years Ago… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

September 14, 2017

The Story of Highlights Documented in the Movie 44 Pages

“I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.” Kent Johnson…

Highlights has been around for 71 years, educating and entertaining children throughout generations. It is a legacy brand, certainly, but it’s also a brand that believes in creativity and innovation, evolving perfectly with the times, becoming globally successful, while remaining the beloved companion of children across the U.S.

A 90-minute documentary entitled “44 Pages,” chronicling the history, process and philosophy behind the Highlights brand has been released and the film premiered on the national film festival circuit earlier this spring and is now touring across the country making stops in select cities for screenings and events. It’s a poignant look at the family who brought us this great children’s educational tool, exploring the rich and tragic history of the magazine and brand.

Kent Johnson is the CEO and the great-grandson of the founders of the company, Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers. I spoke with Kent recently and we talked about the past, present and future of the brand. We even discussed the controversy surrounding the company’s diversity values and how they handled the situation. It was nothing less than you’d expect from a man who grew up on those same values; ones that are enveloped with ethics, fairness and the firm belief that children are the most important people in the world.

So, I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into a brand that has been around for a very long time, and has found that with age, not only does wisdom come, but also a layer of commitment and ethical truth that the company’s CEO is in perfect step with, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights.

But first the sound-bites:

On his then 12-year-old son’s question of will there be print when he is an adult, which was highlighted in the new Highlights documentary: Well, I had asked him what did he think it would be like when he was an adult, and he had the reaction that he wasn’t sure there would be print magazines. And so they took that quote from me during the filming where we talked about that because I think they liked the way that worked as the lead-in for the section they were going to do. It kind of portrayed some of the tension that our company and our digital partners have had about the role of print versus the role of digital.

On whether, at 71-years-old, he feels the magazine is still relevant and needed in these digital times: Yes. Our belief is that as we look out into the world, many of us feel that we’re living in times that are filled with some contention, trouble and challenges in our society. Our belief is that the conditions in the world today, the pace of change and the disruption, makes Highlights even more relevant than when we were founded.

On having a Ph. D. in physics and whether it’s the scientist in him or the passion for the brand that makes him believe it’s still relevant today: I think it’s both. But I think it’s also the data that we see, and maybe that’s the scientist side of me. We see and measure positive reaction; we see millennial parents; we see parents looking for meaning and connection, and we listen to the feedback. We don’t have advertisers, so the people we listen to, in terms of relevance, are our readers and our subscribers.

On the magazine’s rocky start: There was a rocky start from a business perspective, and I think that if it weren’t for my great-uncle getting involved and having an entrepreneurial inspiration, as well as many others. People who believed in their vision and invested money, and printers and vendors that were critical, the sales team; we probably wouldn’t have made it through the first half dozen years.

On whether he thinks that Highlights’ business model is still just as valid today as it was years ago: Our model includes extending well beyond magazines. And we tend to think of our magazines as products, but there’s also an audience associated with each of our magazines to the progression from infant and toddlers, up to preschool, and then our Highlights readers. So, we’re constantly working to think about new ways to serve those audiences and that might be with digital products that we hope our subscribers would buy, and we do sell digital subscription products. Or it might be with our clubs, where we have people join who want to go deeper into a specific content area or really want to get into puzzling as opposed to something else. To move beyond and extend from a general interest magazine.

On his role (other than CEO) within the company: I’m a relatively humble leader. I try to spend as much of my time as I can talking about our mission, our values, and what we’re trying to do. I think it’s critical that as a leader I’m working to ensure that we’re bringing really talented, skilled people into the company, but also making sure that people who come to work here share our beliefs and our mission. We want to have employees who in addition to being happy and successful in their jobs, we want them to gain an extra sense of satisfaction because of what we do for children. Because they tend to be happier here and more successful.

On the diversity controversy the magazine faced last year: We tend to focus on and think about how does a child see themselves in our magazines. What was interesting when we came under criticism around the issue of same sex, same gender parents, was when we really looked at our magazine, we don’t have many depictions of parents. We tend to focus the content from the kids’ point of view. In some ways, we may have been a little surprised that an adult issue was coming with such strength to us. On the other hand, I think what we learned was that the world has changed pretty quickly on these issues. And Highlights has tended to evolve and change with society and this may have been a case where we were slower than some would have liked to evolve.

On whether it’s easier or harder to take a centrist’s point of view in the magazine with the divisiveness that faces our country today: I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder; it certainly feels like one can be criticized more readily today. I think for us when we did go through the controversy, one of the things that allowed us to not be too distracted was once we decided what we wanted to do, what was consistent with our editorial point of view, our values, and how we wanted to execute it, we were able to shut out the inputs from the outside world. We have an incredible staff, who’s judgement and decision-making I have complete trust in. So, once we knew what we wanted to do, we knew we were doing it with our audience, with children in mind, and we knew there was no way to make everyone happy.

On whether it’s easier or harder to remain ethical these days: I don’t know if it’s easy or hard, it’s just the way we’ve done things from the beginning. And it’s not really a daily choice, it’s the air that we try to breathe as an organization. And I think there are many organizations like that. It can be hard if you’re not rock solid in understanding your commitment to integrity and ethics. It can be difficult in a highly-pressured, highly-competitive world for some organizations.

On the four key values of the company: Our four key values as a company are teamwork, creativity, excellence and integrity. We also have a primary value, which is that children are the world’s most important people. And we carry that along as our primary value to remind everyone that when we look at our values or talk about them, that one is our primary value.

On anything he’d like to add: One thing that I’d like add is we’ve been having some neat success internationally. And a lot of our international success is related to English-language learning and content and products. So, it’s not all magazines. But I found it neat that I got to visit our magazine partner in China back in April. And we are now, I think starting next month, we are simultaneously publishing with our partner in China, both Highlights and High Five, the same issue in China in English, but we also record all of the audio and we print a special layer on the magazines. So, they have a talking pen. The kids in China are reading Highlights and High Five at the same time kids are reading them in the U.S., but they will have a pen where they can touch on anything and it will read them the article, because we’re trying to help them learn English.

On any plans to bring the magazine with the reading pen to the U.S.: Innovative, global partners; every time they do something different that surprises us or often inspires us, we do ask the question: is that something we should bring to us? Or how would that idea work in the U.S. market? And that is often digital, because we feel there’s a lot of great innovation with technology in our foreign markets. We don’t have a distribution approach associated with the talking pen for the U.S., but it’s on our minds to think about whether that would be a retail or a direct to consumer, or something that we need in our market. We don’t have any specific plans yet, but we’re always thinking.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: If it’s about me personally, I just hope people would read that I have had a positive impact on those around me. A positive impact on the world and a positive impact on the company I’m part of and positive impact on my own family. That would be my ultimate goal for someone to see on that tattoo.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m a bit more of an introvert than my job typically requires. I like to try and unplug in the evenings, so you’d see me with my kids. You might see me reading with them or playing a computer game with them, or doing homework. You would probably see me with a glass of wine. If it’s hockey season, you might see me watching a hockey game. And I like to read a lot. If it’s late enough, you might catch me in my bed reading a book, trying to stay awake because it’s interesting or not.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s a good question, because I’m not the best sleeper. Mostly, I’m up at night thinking about all of the opportunities and all of the changes and pressures. So, I’m up a lot thinking about work and how do we adapt to the world that’s changing so quickly, and how do we deliver for our customers on the potential we have, just because of the Highlights brand’s heritage and our ability. We have more opportunities than we know what to do with, and that keeps me feeling a level of pressure and urgency and excitement that does interfere with my sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights for Children.

Samir Husni: I just finished watching the new “44 Pages” documentary about the creation of Highlights, and I was struck by the question your son asked you, “Dad, will there be a Highlights in the future when I’m an adult?”

Kent Johnson: Well, I had asked him what did he think it would be like when he was an adult, and he had the reaction that he wasn’t sure there would be print magazines. And so they took that quote from me during the filming where we talked about that because I think they liked the way that worked as the lead-in for the section they were going to do. It kind of portrayed some of the tension that our company and our digital partners have had about the role of print versus the role of digital.

I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.

Samir Husni: The magazine is now 71 years old, and from the days when I was working with the company, I’ve always heard that you’re a mission-driven, family operation.

Kent Johnson: Yes.

Samir Husni: So, do you think that Highlights today, at 71, is still relevant and needed? And is it still a reflection of our times in this digital age?

Kent Johnson: Yes. Our belief is that as we look out into the world, many of us feel that we’re living in times that are filled with some contention, trouble and challenges in our society. Our belief is that the conditions in the world today, the pace of change and the disruption, makes Highlights even more relevant than when we were founded.

And I think part of that at 71 years, Highlights, even though the majority of people know us for our magazine and know that we’ve had the magazine for that entire time, we tend to think of ourselves as you said, as a mission-driven company, but we also think of ourselves as a company that’s focused on serving children and families. And we have a philosophy and a set of values that we think resonate as much today as they ever have with the aspirations that parents have for their children.

We think that people want to try to raise children to become their best selves, and that’s really what we focus on trying to do with our magazine, but also in our digital products, and across all of our other products throughout the company. We even like to talk that we’re not ultimately trying to create a magazine, it’s the experience that’s created when a child engages with the magazine that we care about. I like to think that what we’re doing is creating experiences that help children grow in positive ways.

Samir Husni: I know that your great-grandparents started the company, but something very few people may know is that you actually have a Ph.D. in physics. So, is it the scientist in you or the passion in you that makes you believe the magazine is still relevant?

Kent Johnson: I think it’s both. But I think it’s also the data that we see, and maybe that’s the scientist side of me. We see and measure positive reaction; we see millennial parents; we see parents looking for meaning and connection, and we listen to the feedback. We don’t have advertisers, so the people we listen to, in terms of relevance, are our readers and our subscribers.

I am passionate; we really try to recruit people to our company who are passionate about what we’re doing, who are believers when it comes to the impact that we have on children, and the positive impact that we have in society. But we’re also a group of data-driven, analytic folks who are looking at the data to say that we think we’re still relevant.

Samir Husni: Very few people, including myself, who thought that I knew the history of Highlights; I did not know that it had a rocky start. That after four years, they were losing money and getting ready to close shop. And then your great-uncle came into it. And the tragedy when your family was flying to New York in 1960, and the planes collided and everyone died on that flight. So, it wasn’t always a walk in a rose garden for Highlights.

Kent Johnson: I think that’s true. And I think that the founders started this company as their final chapter. They were 59 and 61 years old, and they were passionate about the mission. And they were exceedingly knowledgeable about parenting, education, literacy and children, but as we like to say when we’re looking back on history, maybe they weren’t as skilled as businesspeople as they were in child development and as educators and editors.

So, there was a rocky start from a business perspective, and I think that if it weren’t for my great-uncle getting involved and having an entrepreneurial inspiration, as well as many others. People who believed in their vision and invested money, and printers and vendors that were critical, the sales team; we probably wouldn’t have made it through the first half dozen years.

And then to be, as they show in the documentary, to be at the stage where, really at that point in 1960 being at half a million subscribers, it had become clear that this was going to be a viable, long-lived company. And to have a tragedy, which was a tragedy for the Columbus community and many, many families, but to have a tragedy where we lost three of our five senior executive, including two family members, was the kind of blow that I think you could easily imagine would do a company in and cause a family to falter.

But I think the reaction, as I look back, the non-family executives, the family members, our founders, who were living and still in the business, but now had lost their son and their president of the company, everyone decided that the company had to go forward. I think that level of commitment to the mission is what allowed us then to get through crises, but it is the kind of commitment that I was brought up in thinking, believing and understanding that we ought to have at Highlights. And it gives us a bit of resilience to get through whatever the crisis of the day, or the difficulties are. We kind of believe that we can and will keep going, no matter what.

Samir Husni: The magazine has never had advertising, so your source of revenue always depended on circulation and subscription. And for years, you were the most expensive children’s magazine on the marketplace. But now with the slew of new children’s magazines coming out, some with cover prices of $12; do you think that the business model that you follow at Highlights is still as valid as it was years ago? Or do you have any plans to change it or do something different?

Kent Johnson: That’s a great question. I think we have often been relatively high-priced compared to some competitors. But we are a mass market magazine, and it’s part of our mission, we want to reach as many children as possible here in the U.S. and around the world, so we try to price in a way that is a good value, given the quality of the content and the investment of the content, but is also enough that we’re able to continue to invest in the content. So, we believe that content has value and the experience we create with magazines justifies the expense. And that it’s a good investment for the quality of time it creates in a family and for a child.

That being said, our model includes extending well beyond magazines. And we tend to think of our magazines as products, but there’s also an audience associated with each of our magazines to the progression from infant and toddlers, up to preschool, and then our Highlights readers. So, we’re constantly working to think about new ways to serve those audiences and that might be with digital products that we hope our subscribers would buy, and we do sell digital subscription products. Or it might be with our clubs, where we have people join who want to go deeper into a specific content area or really want to get into puzzling as opposed to something else. To move beyond and extend from a general interest magazine.

And we’re also trying to go into retail, because we know that in addition to our subscriber base, many people are familiar and have positive emotional connections to the Highlights brand. And to be there in retail with Highlights’ branded products, books and activities, and a variety of categories gives them another way to engage with us. So, I think our business model is evolving, and will continue to evolve, but is evolving to try and really shift from people thinking they are a Highlights subscriber; we want people to say they are part of the Highlights family, and we want them to say they engage with Highlights products beyond the magazine.

Samir Husni: I understand that now Highlights is platform agnostic. What role do you play, besides CEO, when we look at the theme that Highlights will always be an evangelist for children, helping kids be happier and healthier; are you the high priest or are you the altar boy? (Laughs)

Kent Johnson: (Laughs too) I’m a relatively humble leader. I try to spend as much of my time as I can talking about our mission, our values, and what we’re trying to do. I think it’s critical that as a leader I’m working to ensure that we’re bringing really talented, skilled people into the company, but also making sure that people who come to work here share our beliefs and our mission. We want to have employees who in addition to being happy and successful in their jobs, we want them to gain an extra sense of satisfaction because of what we do for children. Because they tend to be happier here and more successful.

I go in and out of a lot of different things with the company, but mostly I try to fertilize and cross-fertilize aspects of our mission and values, and keep us all energized on the things that we’ve been doing for 71 years. We have an incredible energy right now about magazine publishing and I think that’s what you see in the documentary “44 Pages.” The passion and energy for something we’ve been doing for 71 years, but it’s new with every issue. And we’re having a blast on international, on digital, and doing apps. So, I try to keep the excitement and enthusiasm up, because I think that makes it a much more fun place to work. And it ultimately means we’ll create better things for kids, if those things are true.

Samir Husni: I have to ask the question about the diversity issues that took place last year, and some of the criticisms you received in the press regarding the LGBT community. Those who don’t study Highlights; I rarely look at an old issue of Highlights that I don’t see a white child, a black child, a woman, a man, a boy, a girl. Why do you think that for the magazine that has diversity as part of its DNA, you were in that maelstrom of controversy? How did you deal with it? And was it a big surprise to you that someone thought Highlights wasn’t diverse?

Kent Johnson: I do think that a sense of tolerance and a sense of inclusivity and the idea that as humans we always share more with each other than we differ; those have been core tenants that we at Highlights have always tried to focus on. These are human values that we believe in, and we’re proud of our heritage. We have had a lot of diversity within the pages of our magazine over the years. Actually, someone wrote a paper looking at our representation of women and minorities in roles related to science. And it was rewarding for me as a scientist to see the report card that we had been well ahead of the curve, in terms of going against stereotypes, with respect to math and science, because we do have a problem in the science industry with the diversity of folks who are successful and advancing in those careers.

We tend to focus on and think about how does a child see themselves in our magazines. What was interesting when we came under criticism around the issue of same sex, same gender parents, was when we really looked at our magazine, we don’t have many depictions of parents. We tend to focus the content from the kids’ point of view. In some ways, we may have been a little surprised that an adult issue was coming with such strength to us. On the other hand, I think what we learned was that the world has changed pretty quickly on these issues. And Highlights has tended to evolve and change with society and this may have been a case where we were slower than some would have liked to evolve.

We were surprised at the level of intensity of feedback. And I think it all happened at a time, and I think we’re still in this time, but at a high level of contention or divisiveness in our society. And the digital means of communication allow people to pour a fair bit of emotion or intensity in their communications. So, we were a little surprised at the intensity when that all happened.

Samir Husni: One of your editors told me once that Highlights tried to be like an island of clarity in the world that kids are living in. That reminded me of what the former CEO of the Wall Street Journal told me once, that the WSJ had been referred to as an island of clarity in a sea of madness when it comes to business. As we live in this, not only digital age, but with everything that is taking place in our country today, is it easier or harder for Highlights to take that centrist’s point of view and try to provide this island of clarity in a very divided country today?

Kent Johnson: I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder; it certainly feels like one can be criticized more readily today. I think for us when we did go through the controversy, one of the things that allowed us to not be too distracted was once we decided what we wanted to do, what was consistent with our editorial point of view, our values, and how we wanted to execute it, we were able to shut out the inputs from the outside world. We have an incredible staff, who’s judgement and decision-making I have complete trust in. So, once we knew what we wanted to do, we knew we were doing it with our audience, with children in mind, and we knew there was no way to make everyone happy.

But I think it’s easier for a company like Highlights, being privately-held and committed to the audience and the readers, when we make our decision and make our judgements about what’s in the magazine, we go forward with those decisions. So, we will never sit in the middle of any discussion and try to make the calculation of what exactly does that do to our subscriptions or our marketing, or did people cancel because they didn’t like that decision.

I think as a company, we feel we have a responsibility to be comfortable in our own skin and own our decisions and implement them in the way that we think is best for children in our society. So, I think it’s hard because there’s more external pressures, but it’s also, I think, something that is our obligation as magazine publishers to make and commit to how we want to do things based on the expertise and experience of the team we’ve put together.

Samir Husni: And is it easier or harder to remain ethical? Somebody mentioned in the documentary that you’re one of the few remaining ethical publishing companies.

Kent Johnson: I would never try to compare us to others, because I think there are so many ethical people in the world. Integrity is one of our four key company values. So, for us we have all bought in that being ethical is not a choice, it’s part of who we are. When we make that level of commitment to being ethical, you realize that you have to own up that sometimes that means you’re willing to sacrifice things to be and strive to always behave in the most ethical way one can.

I don’t know if it’s easy or hard, it’s just the way we’ve done things from the beginning. And it’s not really a daily choice, it’s the air that we try to breathe as an organization. And I think there are many organizations like that. It can be hard if you’re not rock solid in understanding your commitment to integrity and ethics. It can be difficult in a highly-pressured, highly-competitive world for some organizations. We try to take it off the table and just say that first and foremost we have to do the right thing.

Samir Husni: You mentioned integrity and ethics, what are your other two core values for the company? You said there were four.

Kent Johnson: Our four key values as a company are teamwork, creativity, excellence and integrity. We also have a primary value, which is that children are the world’s most important people. And we carry that along as our primary value to remind everyone that when we look at our values or talk about them, that one is our primary value.

Those values really came out of a process where we discovered those and engaged our whole organization to define them. What was remarkable is that we went through that process recently, I had my cousin, Pat Michaelson, who is a granddaughter of the founders, to look at it and she said that was exactly what we’d been about since day one. I thought it was neat that today’s organization reflects in an ongoing, consistent way the values that we’ve had for 71 years.

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

Kent Johnson: One thing that I’d like add is we’ve been having some neat success internationally. And a lot of our international success is related to English-language learning and content and products. So, it’s not all magazines.

But I found it neat that I got to visit our magazine partner in China back in April. And we are now, I think starting next month, we are simultaneously publishing with our partner in China, both Highlights and High Five, the same issue in China in English, but we also record all of the audio and we print a special layer on the magazines. So, they have a talking pen. The kids in China are reading Highlights and High Five at the same time kids are reading them in the U.S., but they will have a pen where they can touch on anything and it will read them the article, because we’re trying to help them learn English. And it’s been fun to watch that business grow knowing that audio recorded and content created in Honesdale, Pennsylvania is appearing across China at the same time every month.

We’re printing them; we send the audio and they print a fifth layer that’s readable by a sensor in the pen, so it knows where your touching. They encode it and we record the audio and we’re printing and selling them vinyl copies for their growing subscriber base. We’re somewhat non-traditional as a magazine by going international, so we’ve had to find our way. A lot of our applications have to do with our core identity as a kid’s company and an educational company, so reaching English-language learning in many different ways, a lot of time digitally, but also in print around the world.

Samir Husni: Any plans to bring that reading magazine here?

Kent Johnson: Innovative, global partners; every time they do something different that surprises us or often inspires us, we do ask the question: is that something we should bring to us? Or how would that idea work in the U.S. market? And that is often digital, because we feel there’s a lot of great innovation with technology in our foreign markets. We don’t have a distribution approach associated with the talking pen for the U.S., but it’s on our minds to think about whether that would be a retail or a direct to consumer, or something that we need in our market. We don’t have any specific plans yet, but we’re always thinking.

I’ve tried to say to our company that we should be, not only global, in terms of our sales and distribution of product, but we want to allow being a global company to accept how we think about everything. So, more and more we think about our systems and our ways that we tag our content, or even some of our decisions about product development. We think they all have to at least be looked at through a global lens to make sure we’re doing the very best we can and serve kids all over the world.

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

Kent Johnson: I’ll answer that two ways. One; what I used to weave into speeches, and I still do, if someone ripped me from my sleep and said: quick, you have to tell me about the identity of Highlights for Children or the company, what matters? I always say there are three things: we’re mission-driven and for-profit, two – we’re always balancing the short and long-term time horizons, we’re always thinking both short-term and long-term, and three – we’re an ethical company.

If it’s about me personally, I just hope people would read that I have had a positive impact on those around me. A positive impact on the world and a positive impact on the company I’m part of and positive impact on my own family. That would be my ultimate goal for someone to see on that tattoo.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Kent Johnson: I’m a bit more of an introvert than my job typically requires. I like to try and unplug in the evenings, so you’d see me with my kids. You might see me reading with them or playing a computer game with them, or doing homework. You would probably see me with a glass of wine. If it’s hockey season, you might see me watching a hockey game. And I like to read a lot. If it’s late enough, you might catch me in my bed reading a book, trying to stay awake because it’s interesting or not.

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

Kent Johnson: It’s a good question, because I’m not the best sleeper. Mostly, I’m up at night thinking about all of the opportunities and all of the changes and pressures. So, I’m up a lot thinking about work and how do we adapt to the world that’s changing so quickly, and how do we deliver for our customers on the potential we have, just because of the Highlights brand’s heritage and our ability. We have more opportunities than we know what to do with, and that keeps me feeling a level of pressure and urgency and excitement that does interfere with my sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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