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Traditional Home’s Publisher, Beth McDonough to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Have Seen More Of An Evolution, In That Myself And My Team Aren’t Selling Just Print, We’re Really Selling Integrated Solutions To Our Advertising Partners.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 26, 2018

“A lot of our readers are planning renovations and so for them it goes back to the old-school, tear sheeting as they flip through and see spaces with ideas or colors or patterns that resonate. Something that they may want to consider for their upcoming decorating project or renovation project in the case of a kitchen or bath; it really enables them to either tear sheet or dog-ear the page and bring it to their kitchen designer or interior designer to share what they really love and may want to consider for their own home. And I think print allows them to do that.” Beth McDonough…

“From a team perspective, I’m looking from a marketing side and hiring members of the team who have an understanding of how all of the pieces work together and can really bolster one another, because we would never advocate that somebody shouldn’t be doing digital or shouldn’t be doing social. But what we look to do is figure out how we can come up with a program where the print and the digital and the video and the experiential can all combine together to be successful and to support the various aspects of the overall program.” Beth McDonough…

Traditional Home magazine has been connecting home décor and affluent consumers for almost three decades. The brand today reinterprets classic elegance, but in contemporary and cutting-edge style. So, what began as a special interest title for Meredith has grown into a legacy of beautiful design and a shoppable resource for its readers.

Publisher Beth McDonough comes from the marketing side of the business, so transitioning into the role of publisher seemed like a natural next step for her. I spoke with Beth recently and we talked about the ink on paper magazine and how important that facet was to the brand, while also combining those integrated solutions, digital, video and experiential, to be successful and support the various aspects of the overall program. It was a Print Proud Digital Smart conversation that uplifted all parts of marketing and sales, to not only benefit the brand, but the advertising and consumer customer as well.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a publisher who believes in keeping the “Traditional” side-by-side with the “Digital,” enabling her brand to move confidently forward into the next 30 years, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Beth McDonough, publisher, Traditional Home magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how she would define the word “traditional” in this day and age: That’s a great question. In the research that we’ve done, when we ask 10 readers or 10 designers what traditional design is, we kind of get 10 different answers, but we do see certain adjectives come to the top all of the time. And we hear things like authenticity, craftsmanship and high quality. Those are all things that editorially have always been incredibly important, but I think to define traditional for us is really looking at design that’s rooted in great classic design, but reinvented or reimagined for the way that consumers live today.

On what she attributes the longevity of Traditional Home to and why the print magazine and the brand keeps clicking with readers: We are a millennial; we’re about 28-years-old, as I like to joke. (Laughs) I think the longevity of Traditional Home can be attributed to our editorial point of view in that our readership, when we look at the geographic diversity, we really touch the home enthusiast from coast-to-coast. So, we see a very strong following for our readers in affluent suburbs, places like Grosse Pointe, Michigan and Lake Forest, Illinois. And I think our editors do a very good job and this is a conscious effort on their part to ensure that the homes and the design talent that they’re featuring in the magazine also represents that geographic diversity. They understand that there’s amazing design in Oklahoma and Colorado, and that it’s not just New York and L.A. that are the epicenters of great design.

On whether her job today selling the magazine to advertisers is easier, the same, or harder: Good question. Well, I guess it depends upon who I’m talking to in the advertising community, obviously. (Laughs) If it’s somebody in New York who thinks that the sun rises and sets on the Big Apple, it’s harder to get them to understand a Midwest or a Southern mindset potentially, but I think the numbers help us paint the picture of how popular Traditional Home is and continues to be. We recently met with our circ team to look at the latest AAM (Alliance for Audited Media) publisher’s statement; we’ve seen a six percent growth year over year, looking at December 2017 versus 2016.

On why she thinks people still want a Traditional Home in print: It’s twofold. One I think is the category. We hear from our readers that they love to sit and look at the full bleed images of these gorgeous interiors. A little bit of it is escapism, like any magazine reader, it’s a moment of relaxation for them. It’s a little bit of a luxury for some to have that quiet time for themselves to really enjoy the journey of going through these other people’s homes and understanding the story behind each one of them.

On whether Meredith’s many “Home” titles have helped to nourish Traditional Home or created competition within the company: Honestly, within Meredith I think Traditional Home really does have a unique position. Certainly, there is healthy competition for certain accounts with our brands like Better Homes & Gardens, but if you use the comparison between those two brands, Better Homes & Gardens is just so much bigger, and I think so much more of a reach vehicle, that an advertiser looking to go into Better Homes & Gardens, even in the home category, may have different goals and objectives than somebody coming into Traditional Home, where among the upscale shelter category we are still the largest circulation.

On whether she thinks the acquisition of Time Inc. by Meredith will open new doors for the Traditional Home brand: That’s a great question, but I think it’s too soon to tell. We’re hopeful from a Traditional Home brand perspective that joining our brethren in what I would call the affluent group of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure could potentially introduce us to some new brands in the affluent category that would be non-endemic to us. Those affiliated products like wine or wonderful travel destinations, because we know entertaining is such a core passion point and we know travel is a passion point.

On how her job as publisher has changed over the last few years: I don’t know if you’re aware, but this is my first role as publisher. I have been in the industry for over 20 years, but I have always come up through the marketing side of things, so I am an imposter in the sales role. It will be three years in April that I have served as publisher of Traditional Home. I think that in this role I have seen more of an evolution, in that myself and my team aren’t selling just print, we’re really selling integrated solutions to our advertising partners. For me, it’s not just getting somebody in the magazine so we can hit our numbers on the next issue. It’s really about working with them as a partner to hopefully develop a long-term relationship that can evolve and grow as their business challenges and needs change. And that we can be a trusted and dedicated partner with integrated solutions that help them achieve their goals.

On whether she’s hiring different types of people to help with those “integrated solutions” when it comes to marketing and sales: From a team perspective, I’m looking from a marketing side and hiring members of the team who have an understanding of how all of the pieces work together and can really bolster one another, because we would never advocate that somebody shouldn’t be doing digital or shouldn’t be doing social. But what we look to do is figure out how we can come up with a program where the print and the digital and the video and the experiential can all combine together to be successful and to support the various aspects of the overall program.

On what she would hope to tell someone that she’d accomplished one year from now: That’s a great question. I would like to still see us as something that’s valued in print, but that we’d been able to embrace new technologies. First, to always continue to experiment, I think that’s what’s really fun about this ever-evolving marketplace. All of these new digital technologies give us the opportunity to see how we can take our amazing content from the print product and push it out to attract new audiences.

On any stumbling blocks she’s had to face in her role as publisher: I’d have to say that it’s been a pretty smooth transition. And again, I think because before I made the transition into my new role, marketing and sales are so intertwined, and prior to me sitting in this specific seat I was always involved in conversations with clients in understanding what they were looking for in a partner before we put ideas and proposals and presentations together for them. So overall, it’s been a pretty seamless transition.

On anything she’d like to add: The only thing I might add is that our new editor in chief, Jill Waage, is doing an amazing job. She’s been in her role close to 10 months now and she has accomplished so much with her team. She’s a great collaborator, she’s not somebody to come in and tell everybody how it’s to be done. She has done a good job listening to not only her team, but to the challenges of sales and marketing, meeting designers and clients; it’s just been an absolute pleasure working with her.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: I think being calm, because this is always an industry where challenges will come up along the way. And individuals who know me, know that I’m a thoughtful person who is always looking to find a solution that works for all parties involved. So, I think if I were to leave something, that would be it; to stay calm and to find a positive solution.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Honestly, it would be cooking. My husband and I finally just redid our kitchen. We bought the “money pit” 11 years ago, and we have slowly been lovingly restoring an old Victorian; it’s about 110-years-old. So, last year we tackled the kitchen and I have to say it’s the one room that we spend the most time in when we’re not sleeping and we kind of treated ourselves to a really lovely space. So, ever since we finished our kitchen, I would say we cook in it non-stop.

On what keeps her up at night: Other than my children? (Laughs) I would say how to keep my team energized and curious, because everybody is so busy with the daily demands of life and the job. What keeps me up at night is how do I give them the motivation and the time to read about new things, to get out of the daily grind so they can be inspired? And to learn about new things that potentially we could incorporate into our business model and continue to keep the brand healthy and growing.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Beth McDonough, publisher, Traditional Home magazine.

Samir Husni: Being the publisher of Traditional Home in this new day and age, how would you define the word “traditional” in the 21st century?

Beth McDonough: That’s a great question. In the research that we’ve done, when we ask 10 readers or 10 designers what traditional design is, we kind of get 10 different answers, but we do see certain adjectives come to the top all of the time. And we hear things like authenticity, craftsmanship and high quality. Those are all things that editorially have always been incredibly important, but I think to define traditional for us is really looking at design that’s rooted in great classic design, but reinvented or reimagined for the way that consumers live today.

And I think you see that with so many heritage brands, not only in the home design space, but also in fashion, where they’re legacy brands, they’ve been around for decades; a lot of them have been founded as family businesses and many of them are still family-run.

We’ve talked to different textile companies where some of their bestsellers today were literally introduced 50 years ago. Their designers have gone back in and either recolored those patterns or maybe played with the scale of the patterns just to give them a little more of a modern-day edge or feel. And again, it’s looking to the past and reimagining for today.

Samir Husni: Mentioning the past, what do you attribute the longevity of Traditional Home to and the reason it keeps on ticking and clicking after all of these years as a print magazine and as a brand?

Beth McDonough: We are a millennial; we’re about 28-years-old, as I like to joke. (Laughs) I think the longevity of Traditional Home can be attributed to our editorial point of view in that our readership, when we look at the geographic diversity, we really touch the home enthusiast from coast-to-coast. So, we see a very strong following for our readers in affluent suburbs, places like Grosse Pointe, Michigan and Lake Forest, Illinois. And I think our editors do a very good job and this is a conscious effort on their part to ensure that the homes and the design talent that they’re featuring in the magazine also represents that geographic diversity. They understand that there’s amazing design in Oklahoma and Colorado, and that it’s not just New York and L.A. that are the epicenters of great design.

Our readership resonates when they see projects in their regions because while there are always design trends every year that make the headlines, I think there are always geographic variations from a design perspective. And so, I think our longevity can be attributed to the fact that what the editors are putting out, either in print or on our social and digital channels, really resonates with our readers across the country.

Samir Husni: Do you think your job today selling the magazine to advertisers is easier, the same, or harder?

Beth McDonough: Good question. Well, I guess it depends upon who I’m talking to in the advertising community, obviously. (Laughs) If it’s somebody in New York who thinks that the sun rises and sets on the Big Apple, it’s harder to get them to understand a Midwest or a Southern mindset potentially, but I think the numbers help us paint the picture of how popular Traditional Home is and continues to be. We recently met with our circ team to look at the latest AAM (Alliance for Audited Media) publisher’s statement; we’ve seen a six percent growth year over year, looking at December 2017 versus 2016. We have a six percent growth in our paid subscriber base and I think that speaks volumes in this day and age as to the popularity and the wanted-ness of our brand among affluent design lovers.

Samir Husni: You’ve had a six percent increase in paid circulation, so why do you think people still want a print magazine today?

Beth McDonough: It’s twofold. One I think is the category. We hear from our readers that they love to sit and look at the full bleed images of these gorgeous interiors. A little bit of it is escapism, like any magazine reader, it’s a moment of relaxation for them. It’s a little bit of a luxury for some to have that quiet time for themselves to really enjoy the journey of going through these other people’s homes and understanding the story behind each one of them.

The other piece of that is a lot of our readers are planning renovations and so for them it goes back to the old-school, tear sheeting as they flip through and see spaces with ideas or colors or patterns that resonate. Something that they may want to consider for their upcoming decorating project or renovation project in the case of a kitchen or bath; it really enables them to either tear sheet or dog-ear the page and bring it to their kitchen designer or interior designer to share what they really love and may want to consider for their own home. And I think print allows them to do that.

Samir Husni: Traditional Home is one of the titles that Meredith started as a special interest publication, as a bookazine before the term was ever used. Then it became a frequency magazine, in line with what Meredith has done over the years. Today, Meredith is one the largest magazine publishing companies around. Do you think that environment of Better Homes & Gardens and all of the other “Home” magazines have helped nourish Traditional Home or created a set of competitors within the company?

Beth McDonough: Honestly, within Meredith I think Traditional Home really does have a unique position. Certainly, there is healthy competition for certain accounts with our brands like Better Homes & Gardens, but if you use the comparison between those two brands, Better Homes & Gardens is just so much bigger, and I think so much more of a reach vehicle, that an advertiser looking to go into Better Homes & Gardens, even in the home category, may have different goals and objectives than somebody coming into Traditional Home, where among the upscale shelter category we are still the largest circulation. We have the largest rate base at 850,000 when you look at us against the Hearst Design Group titles and Architectural Digest.

So, within our upscale shelter category we’re still the largest, but I think that an advertiser coming to us is maybe looking for a slightly more affluent consumer who most likely is working with a professional designer. We carry a lot of the “To The Trade” accounts where you can only access those products through a design professional.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the acquisition of Time Inc. by Meredith is going to open new doors for you?

Beth McDonough: That’s a great question, but I think it’s too soon to tell. We’re hopeful from a Traditional Home brand perspective that joining our brethren in what I would call the affluent group of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure could potentially introduce us to some new brands in the affluent category that would be non-endemic to us. Those affiliated products like wine or wonderful travel destinations, because we know entertaining is such a core passion point and we know travel is a passion point.

We hear stories about how our readers go to Europe or Asia and come back with beautiful pieces from their travels that they then present in their home and it gives them the opportunity to tell the story of where they found them or the artists they met. And then having that storytelling aspect incorporated into their home.

So, back to your question, it would be great if we could potentially put some programs together that would help us in those categories, but I think time will tell as to whether that will be possible.

Samir Husni: How has your job as publisher in the last few years changed? Are you still doing the same thing you did three years ago or has the whole job of publisher changed dramatically like the role of an editor has?

Beth McDonough: I was thinking about this question and I don’t know if you’re aware, but this is my first role as publisher. I have been in the industry for over 20 years, but I have always come up through the marketing side of things, so I am an imposter in the sales role. It will be three years in April that I have served as publisher of Traditional Home. Prior to that I have always been in a dedicated marketing role, obviously working closely with the sales team and the publisher.

So, to answer your question, I think that in this role I have seen more of an evolution, in that myself and my team aren’t selling just print, we’re really selling integrated solutions to our advertising partners. For me, it’s not just getting somebody in the magazine so we can hit our numbers on the next issue. It’s really about working with them as a partner to hopefully develop a long-term relationship that can evolve and grow as their business challenges and needs change. And that we can be a trusted and dedicated partner with integrated solutions that help them achieve their goals.

Samir Husni: Well, as a very good imposter who has done a great job…

Beth McDonough: Thank you.

Samir Husni: …are you hiring different types of people to help you with the marketing and sales? You said that you are no longer just selling print, you’re selling integrated solutions. Does that need a different type of people than just salespeople?

Beth McDonough: From a team perspective, I’m looking from a marketing side and hiring members of the team who have an understanding of how all of the pieces work together and can really bolster one another, because we would never advocate that somebody shouldn’t be doing digital or shouldn’t be doing social. But what we look to do is figure out how we can come up with a program where the print and the digital and the video and the experiential can all combine together to be successful and to support the various aspects of the overall program.

So, from a marketing perspective I do look to individuals who may have come up through print, but who have had experience on the digital and social side and still have that holistic view and understanding of how each serves its own particular role within an integrated program.

And it’s the same for the sales side. I love working with seasoned professionals and I would say the majority of them have spent most of their years in print, but some of them have done stints on a more digital-centric property. So again, I think I really look to individuals who still have a passion for print, because that’s where our brand is rooted first and foremost, but understand how all of the pieces can work together to create a successful integrated approach.

Samir Husni: If you and I are talking one year from now, what would you hope to tell me that you’d accomplished in 2018?

Beth McDonough: That my home looks a lot nicer. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Beth McDonough: That’s a great question. I would like to still see us as something that’s valued in print, but that we’d been able to embrace new technologies. First, to always continue to experiment, I think that’s what’s really fun about this ever-evolving marketplace. All of these new digital technologies give us the opportunity to see how we can take our amazing content from the print product and push it out to attract new audiences.

So, I think if we were to look to the future I would like to say that we’d grown our audience even more and that we’d demonstrated to these new generations that beautiful design is still something that is attainable. But also at the end of the day is something that’s very personal and meant to create a wonderful environment for your family where hopefully you can make memories and have wonderful moments.

Samir Husni: Having come from the marketing side of things, has your role as publisher been like a walk in a rose garden for you, where you said to yourself, wow, I love this, or have there been a few stumbling blocks here and there?

Beth McDonough: I’d have to say that it’s been a pretty smooth transition. And again, I think because before I made the transition into my new role, marketing and sales are so intertwined, and prior to me sitting in this specific seat I was always involved in conversations with clients in understanding what they were looking for in a partner before we put ideas and proposals and presentations together for them. So overall, it’s been a pretty seamless transition.

I will say with some of the Excel grids on the financial side; I have gotten glasses (Laughs), so we’re spending more time with Excel grids. But overall, knock on wood, it’s been pretty smooth sailing overall. And I love the challenge. I think it’s been a really nice next step for me professionally to move into this new role and to continually challenge myself, personally and professionally.

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

Beth McDonough: The only thing I might add is that our new editor in chief, Jill Waage, is doing an amazing job. She’s been in her role close to 10 months now and she has accomplished so much with her team. She’s a great collaborator, she’s not somebody to come in and tell everybody how it’s to be done. She has done a good job listening to not only her team, but to the challenges of sales and marketing, meeting designers and clients; it’s just been an absolute pleasure working with her.

So, she too, should be credited with putting a lot of wind into the sails of the brand. I love having her as a partner in crime and I really look forward to what the future holds for the brand under her leadership.

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

Beth McDonough: I think being calm, because this is always an industry where challenges will come up along the way. And individuals who know me, know that I’m a thoughtful person who is always looking to find a solution that works for all parties involved. So, I think if I were to leave something, that would be it; to stay calm and to find a positive solution.

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?

Beth McDonough: Honestly, it would be cooking. My husband and I finally just redid our kitchen. We bought the “money pit” 11 years ago, and we have slowly been lovingly restoring an old Victorian; it’s about 110-years-old. So, last year we tackled the kitchen and I have to say it’s the one room that we spend the most time in when we’re not sleeping and we kind of treated ourselves to a really lovely space. So, ever since we finished our kitchen, I would say we cook in it non-stop.

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

Beth McDonough: Other than my children? (Laughs) I would say how to keep my team energized and curious, because everybody is so busy with the daily demands of life and the job. What keeps me up at night is how do I give them the motivation and the time to read about new things, to get out of the daily grind so they can be inspired? And to learn about new things that potentially we could incorporate into our business model and continue to keep the brand healthy and growing.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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