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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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