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The Magnolia Journal Celebrates One Year Of Publishing Success – Proving The Power Of Print Is No Longer Under Debate – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group…

October 19, 2017

“I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.” Christine Guilfoyle…

Almost one year to the date, I spoke with Christine Guilfoyle, senior VP, publisher, upon the launch of Meredith’s then brand new title, The Magnolia Journal. At that time, no one really knew the phenomenal success that the magazine would enjoy, in really less time than you could say, Chip and Joanna Gaines, but it did. The ink on paper magazine debuted in October 2016 as a newsstand-only title with an initial run of 400,000 copies and a cover price of $7.99. Within one week, it had sold out certain places across the United States, and was going back to press.

Not hard to see, when you have the right print product, consumers are as anxious to embrace ink on paper as they ever were. It’s as I’ve always said, publishers don’t have a print problem, they have a content problem. There is nothing wrong with the delivery of ink on paper, but instead, it’s what is being put on that paper.

But with The Magnolia Journal, there are definitely no problems with the content inside the very auspicious magazine, nor the Magnolia brand that Chip and Joanna Gaines brought to Meredith. And even though their very popular TV show, “Fixer Upper” is ending its run with this next season (by the Gaines’s choice), number Five, which airs in November, they are by no means slowing down with the Magnolia brand.

According to Christine Guilfoyle, it’s really quite the opposite. I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about the dynamic duo that make up the Magnolia brand, and the couple’s insatiable desire to connect with their audiences, across all platforms. She is convinced that the magazine, an integral part of the empire the Gaines’ have created, has only just begun and still has many plateaus to reach before it gets to the top of the mountain. And while the TV show may be a thing of the past for them, it only opens more doors for the time to do other projects, and move the magazine forward into its very bright future.

After one year, Chris is still as excited as when she spoke to me last October. When I asked her what she thought she would tell me a year from that first interview about whether she would be as positive and upbeat about print publishing as she is today, part of her answer then was: “I can’t imagine, honestly, that I will ever really run out of enthusiasm, even if you told me that I had to do it for 22 more years versus 11, because I think you create your own opportunity. You surround yourself with smart people of all ages and levels of experience.”

And one year later that enthusiasm and positivity is still just as strong as ever, especially when it comes to The Magnolia Journal. So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation I had with a very special and wise lover of print, Christine Guilfoyle, because it’s a given Mr. Magazine™ did.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she thinks The Magnolia Journal is surpassing everyone’s wildest print dreams in this digital age: As you know, I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.

On The Magnolia Journal being launched from Meredith’s Core Media, only to become part of the Mothership after the first two issues with Christine herself overseeing the sales: It was always me and it’s still part of our core business, so I would say that this is a bit of a hybrid. The management team, Scott Mortimer, from a lead publisher’s standpoint; he manages that group, but I was assigned the sales responsibility for The Magnolia Journal from the very first issue. And actually, for the first issue it was just me, so who knows how it became successful with just my one extra set of hands.

On the magic Meredith used to translate two human beings, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and their personalities, into an ink on paper magazine so successfully: Here’s the thing; it has nothing to do with what we were able to do, it really has to do with how incredibly involved the two of them are. And really, let’s face it, it’s Jo. Chip appears, he has a column, but the magazine is really her labor of love. It is her ability to translate all of her passion and enthusiasm around things that she loves: her family, the celebration of holidays, being grateful and hospitable; all of those types of things are translated into the magazine in her voice.

On whether she had to do any recalculating or rethinking when all of the celebrity editors came onboard at Meredith: I think the thing is with each of those celebrities they’re integrated into the family, but in the way that works the best for them. So, I think it’s more individualized versus democratized.

On the future of the magazine and whether she feels there’s still more climbing to do with the brand or they’ve reached the top of the mountain: For The Magnolia Journal, I feel like we’re just getting started. We haven’t even reached the base camp yet. We just closed the fifth issue, which is November. Chip and Joanna announced their Target partnership; they announced that Season five is the last of their TV show. But believe me, they’re nowhere near retirement. And I think it’ll be very interesting to watch them grow and develop new ways of connecting with their consumer constituents.

On whether they will increase the frequency of the magazine from a quarterly: At this point we are continuing with the quarterly frequency, so we’ll do four issues again next year: February, May, August and November. And each one of those issues has a theme, like we had this year. So, it’s intentionality, curiosity, generosity, and contentment. Every issue has a theme, and the content; when Jo sits with the editorial team, it brainstorms around that theme, and then that package is delivered to the consumer.

On whether she feels her job is different now than it was five or 10 years ago: Oh my, are you kidding me? Absolutely! There is hardly anything the same about my job. If you think back to 2005 when I was launching Everyday with Rachael Ray, which at the time was also only two people, Tracy Hadel and myself. I don’t think I can launch a magazine without a Tracy. (Laughs) How we launched Rachael Ray, and it was a different company then, Reader’s Digest, but similar family values under Mr. Ryder (Thomas Ryder, CEO, Reader’s Digest), as The Magnolia Journal is under Mr. Lacy (Steve Lacy, Chairman and CEO, Meredith), it was completely and utterly different.

On the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray (Now Rachael Ray Every Day) at Reader’s Digest: When I think about the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray at Reader’s Digest, we were a very small, but mighty team, and I think the company’s senior management took the launch very seriously, but it seemed the majority of the workforce that worked on Reader’s Digest did not really take it seriously.

On The Magnolia Journal’s current rate base: It’s currently 800,000 and that is our first claimed rate base, and we claimed that in August. And we’re holding that rate base for August and November. And then we’re increasing our rate base in February to 1.2 million.

On anything she’d like to add: I just think that you have to be open to the situation and the circumstance that you’ve been dealt, and use your past experience to help and guide you, but not specifically to set the rule book for you.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Don’t take anything for granted.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: It’s so interesting; my oldest daughter just went off to college, so I only have one teenaged daughter home, who is 16, and I have to tell you, I don’t know what to do with myself. I said to my husband recently, I can fill my Saturdays with normal things that women do when they’re not working: cooking, cleaning, friends, etc. But when I’ve done all of that on Saturday, for Sunday, I need to find a hobby. I’m tortured with not knowing exactly what to do with myself. (Laughs)

On what keeps her up at night: The disruption that is taking place in the media industry keeps me, and anybody who is employed in it, up at night for a variety of reasons. Are we challenging ourselves? Are we prioritizing our time and resources? Do we have the right talent? If we do, in fact, have the right talent, are we showing them that we appreciate them enough and giving them every opportunity? There are lots of things that keep me up at night, that’s for sure.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group.

Samir Husni: I received a phone call recently from a friend of mine who owns a midsized magazine company and he was telling me that everyone working for him was declaring there was no future for print; he better sell the company because he isn’t going to make any more money in print ever again. And of course, the first thing that popped into my mind was The Magnolia Journal. So, what gives, Chris? Why is The Magnolia Journal, a print magazine, surpassing everyone’s wildest dreams in this digital age?

Christine Guilfoyle: First of all, I have 11 more years until I can retire, so I hope those people who told your friend all of that are completely and utterly wrong. And as you know, I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.

And you can look at that thinking with Martha Stewart; with Rachael Ray; with Oprah Winfrey. You can look at it in the continuing production of bookazines and specialty titles, such as WholeFoods Magazine or Kraft’s magazine. So, to the very broad or to the very niche, if you provide consumers with something useful and entertaining, I believe there’s a market for it.

Samir Husni: The Magnolia Journal was launched from Meredith’s Core Media and then after the first two issues, it immigrated to you and now it’s part of the Mothership. Is this the new business model today when launching a magazine?

Christine Guilfoyle: It was always me and it’s still part of our core business, so I would say that this is a bit of a hybrid. The management team, Scott Mortimer, from a lead publisher’s standpoint; he manages that group, but I was assigned the sales responsibility for The Magnolia Journal from the very first issue. And actually, for the first issue it was just me, so who knows how it became successful with just my one extra set of hands.

And at that point, I was overseeing Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living at the time. And you’re right, the first two issues were to see if there was going to be consumer want for the magazine. And I think when you and I spoke a year ago, ultimately, we weren’t sure that the consumer was going to respond to a paid product, and a premium paid product to that end; it’s $7.99 on the newsstand and the sub offer is four issues for $20. So, we wanted to make sure that the consumer, who received a lot of Chip and Jo and Magnolia content for free, was actually going to step up and pay for it. We had a pretty good hunch, just like with Allrecipes, which also if you’ll remember, was completely free content that we curated and charged the consumer for, and there has been a great success around that product as well.

So, the first two issues worked, and they worked incredibly well. And obviously, we renegotiated our contract and said yes, we’re in this now, and let’s move forward and build toward being a rate based model. It’s still managed out of the Core Media Group, as it relates to content and distribution and P&L oversight. But from a sales and marketing standpoint, I manage it here in New York, and the team is incredibly lean; incredibly. There are two dedicated sellers, myself and one other seller who is an ad director, Tracie Lichten. And then one marketer, Tricia Solimeno, who is dedicated 100 percent. And really, the rest of it is good Meredith family values; everybody helping out their sisters.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) No room for brothers?

Christine Guilfoyle: Oh, we’ll take brothers, not just sisters. It’s a non-sexual orientation world nowadays. (Laughs too) You are always welcomed.

Samir Husni: Chip and Joanna Gaines have departed from HGTV, yet they’re on the cover of People this week; they’re on the cover of HGTV Magazine this week; everybody talks about them, and every now and then they appear here in Oxford, Miss. on campus, in our Grove at Ole Miss, what’s the magic that you used to translate two human beings into an ink on paper magazine so successfully?

Christine Guilfoyle: Here’s the thing; it has nothing to do with what we were able to do, it really has to do with how incredibly involved the two of them are. And really, let’s face it, it’s Jo. Chip appears, he has a column, but the magazine is really her labor of love. It is her ability to translate all of her passion and enthusiasm around things that she loves: her family, the celebration of holidays, being grateful and hospitable; all of those types of things are translated into the magazine in her voice.

We were able to do that because, guess what, it’s her voice. She is incredibly hands-on, active, and involved in not only the planning stages, but all the way through until the magazine is sent to the printer.

Samir Husni: We read a lot today in the media about all of these celebrity editors, but for years, no one knew who the editor of Better Homes & Gardens was; it was more about the brand than the person at the helm. But now you’re dealing with quite a few, whether it’s Martha or Rachael or Jo; did you have to do some recalculating or rethinking when all of these celebrities came onboard, or everyone is still one big Meredith family?

Christine Guilfoyle: I think the thing is with each of those celebrities they’re integrated into the family, but in the way that works the best for them. So, I think it’s more individualized versus democratized.

I do agree with you that in the past all brands here at Meredith were about the brand and not necessarily the editorial voice that was behind it. But frankly, many of our brands are traditional media brands and that’s what the relationship was between the content and the consumer. And nowadays, just look at Liz Vaccariello at Parents, or Stephen Orr at Better Homes & Gardens, or Cheryl Brown at Family Circle; these are editors in chief that have their own social platform. And as a result, their voices are being heard as individuals to support the brands.

So, I think that we have shifted toward there being a better understanding of who the editors are, because of where the industry and the consumer has gone. That has happened naturally with our heritage brands. And in this instance, like the Rachael Ray and the Martha Stewart instances, those people had a relationship with consumers already, so we wanted to make sure that we were enhancing that experience, and have the experience be additive, and however that worked for them best personality-wise. Not necessarily what was our model.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you still have 11 years before you can retire.

Christine Guilfoyle: Yes, but my husband would argue with that. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: So, for the future – do you think you’re at the top of the mountain now and you’re going to hope that it’s like a tabletop – flat and holding steady, or do you feel there’s still more climbing to go?

Christine Guilfoyle: For The Magnolia Journal, I feel like we’re just getting started. We haven’t even reached the base camp yet. We just closed the fifth issue, which is November. Chip and Joanna announced their Target partnership; they announced that Season five is the last of their TV show. But believe me, they’re nowhere near retirement. And I think it’ll be very interesting to watch them grow and develop new ways of connecting with their consumer constituents.

For example, recently was their “Silobration” at their Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas. And although I was not there, I watched the video and members of our management team were there, and there were double the number of consumers there this year versus last year. And I would almost suspect that will continue to evolve, and where it’s only a day and half event now, it will eventually become a complete weekend or even a full week of activities. I think it probably will. And then they’ll wake up and have a delicious Cinnamon Bun from their Magnolia Bakery, which are spectacular, and when the fog clears by that afternoon, they’ll be planning for next year’s event.

I think they are just getting started. And that’s exciting. They have books that are coming out; Chip is on a book tour for his book now, and I think their book deal was eight or ten hardcover books, something like that. So, that’s a whole other new area for them.

And you mentioned People magazine, they’ve been on the cover three times since we launched The Magnolia Journal and having worked at People magazine, I know very well that the only way you get to be on the cover is if you sell copies at the newsstand. And frankly, that continues to reinforce our position. And by the way, Jess Cagle (editorial director, People and Entertainment Weekly) is also from Texas, so I’m sure he is voting for the hometown heroes. Actually, Jess Cagle and Stephen Orr, the editor in chief of Better Homes & Gardens, are from the same small town, Abilene, Texas, and they went to rival high schools. So, it’s a small world.

Samir Husni: Are you going to increase the frequency of The Magnolia Journal or stick to the quarterly format; stay with that high cover price? What’s the future of the magazine?

Christine Guilfoyle: At this point we are continuing with the quarterly frequency, so we’ll do four issues again next year: February, May, August and November. And each one of those issues has a theme, like we had this year. So, it’s intentionality, curiosity, generosity, and contentment. Every issue has a theme, and the content; when Jo sits with the editorial team, it brainstorms around that theme, and then that package is delivered to the consumer.

And again, I think the whole notion of more frequency, less frequency; at this point, the amount of frequency that we have, quarterly, is what Jo feels comfortable committing to, based upon her high level of involvement.

Samir Husni: I want you to put on your publisher’s hat, your chief revenue officer’s hat, for a moment; let’s say your dispensing advice to students who are future magazine industry leaders, would you tell them that your job now is any different that it was five or 10 years ago?

Christine Guilfoyle: Oh my, are you kidding me? Absolutely! There is hardly anything the same about my job. If you think back to 2005 when I was launching Everyday with Rachael Ray, which at the time was also only two people, Tracy Hadel and myself. I don’t think I can launch a magazine without a Tracy. (Laughs) How we launched Rachael Ray, and it was a different company then, Reader’s Digest, but similar family values under Mr. Ryder (Thomas Ryder, CEO, Reader’s Digest), as The Magnolia Journal is under Mr. Lacy (Steve Lacy, Chairman and CEO, Meredith), it was completely and utterly different.

Everything about the launch was different. I think the only two things they had in common were they both had a celebrity who appeared on the cover and they were both runaway consumer circulation successes. Outside of that, there wasn’t a single thing that I did the same.

Samir Husni: Could you expand a little bit on that?

Christine Guilfoyle: No one has really ever asked me the question like that before, but when I think about the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray at Reader’s Digest, we were a very small, but mighty team, and I think the company’s senior management took the launch very seriously, but it seemed the majority of the workforce that worked on Reader’s Digest did not really take it seriously.

I think Rachael’s popularity at that particular moment in time, May 2005, if my memory serves me correctly, is when the article was published in The New York Times about Rachael launching a magazine. And there were many people, including all of my contacts at Unilever, remember I had come from Better Homes & Gardens, so I was calling on all of the major national advertisers, People at Unilever did not know who Rachael was. And she had three shows on the Food Network at the time; probably around 10 cookbooks out at the time, she was a celebrated cookbook author, and you couldn’t turn on the Food Network without seeing Rachael Ray.

The difference was that a celebrity at that particular time, and yes, there was Oprah and her show and O The Oprah Magazine, and yes, there was Martha and all of her great extensions, but celebrities on the Food Network or HGTV, they weren’t looked upon or even known to have extensions beyond just what that program was. I know it seems so completely hard to believe.

I knew Rachael before she had met Oprah, before she had her own talk show, just as she was launching her South by Southwest footprint, and we were all under 40. It was a pretty amazing time. In her particular lifecycle and development, at that time, she wasn’t married, and who she wanted to be as a brand was being defined, and the magazine really got to help shape that footprint of who Rachael was and what she was going to stand for. The consumer is who is important to her and that’s the charm of Rachael. If I can do it, you can too; it’s the whole collective girl-next-door thing.

And with The Magnolia Journal, it’s the same, we don’t need to teach Chip and Jo who it is that they are and what it is that they stand for, and how it is that they relate to their consumer constituency. Like Rachael, they are masterful in the dissemination of their own story, utilizing all forms of social and digital to make sure that who it is that they are, what they stand for, their values and business proposition; all of it is so incredibly crystal clear. So, none of the time that we spend with them is about that. We’re here to be a mentor and a guide on how to produce great consumer content in a magazine format. And that’s something that they haven’t done before.

Our go-to-market sale; at Reader’s Digest, there really weren’t corporate deals, there weren’t any sharing of proposals, the targeted audiences were completely different between the Reader’s Digest and Everyday with Rachael Ray. Here at the Meredith Corporation, we work completely in cooperation. Our book of business is quite similar, but our cost of entry, because of the limited inventory not only in the number of ads, but also in the frequency of publication, allows us to put together a very consumer-centric 85 percent editorial, 15 percent advertising, and that is completely and utterly by design.

Samir Husni: What is your rate base now?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s currently 800,000 and that is our first claimed rate base, and we claimed that in August. And we’re holding that rate base for August and November. And then we’re increasing our rate base in February to 1.2 million.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: I just think that you have to be open to the situation and the circumstance that you’ve been dealt, and use your past experience to help and guide you, but not specifically to set the rule book for you.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: Don’t take anything for granted.

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?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s so interesting; my oldest daughter just went off to college, so I only have one teenaged daughter home, who is 16, and I have to tell you, I don’t know what to do with myself. I said to my husband recently, I can fill my Saturdays with normal things that women do when they’re not working: cooking, cleaning, friends, etc. But when I’ve done all of that on Saturday, for Sunday, I need to find a hobby. I’m tortured with not knowing exactly what to do with myself. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: You can always buy some magazines and sit down and read them. (Laughs)

Christine Guilfoyle: Are you kidding me? You know me, I don’t just read them, I sit down and tear sheet them. And that is a voracious hobby of mine. But I would actually say that falls into the work bucket, versus my leisure bucket. (Laughs)

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

Christine Guilfoyle: The disruption that is taking place in the media industry keeps me, and anybody who is employed in it, up at night for a variety of reasons. Are we challenging ourselves? Are we prioritizing our time and resources? Do we have the right talent? If we do, in fact, have the right talent, are we showing them that we appreciate them enough and giving them every opportunity? There are lots of things that keep me up at night, that’s for sure. But I also think it’s a very exciting time, and one that when we come out of it on the other side, which I hope is sooner rather than later, those of us that have persevered, people and companies, will be better for it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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