Archive for October, 2019

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The Technoskeptic Magazine: Leading A Revolution In Framing Today’s Role Of Technology In Our Life & Society – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mo Lotman, Founder, The Technoskeptic Magazine…

October 18, 2019

“I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.”… Mo Lotman

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

The mission of The Technoskeptic is to promote awareness, critical thinking, and social change around the use and impact of technology on society and the environment. In short, the magazine’s founder, Mo Lotman, thinks it’s time we all reflect on what the Internet, social media and the many devices and platforms this media offers is doing to us, the human race, and our planet.

The Technoskeptic, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporation which produces a magazine, podcast, and events exploring the intersection of technology and society from a humanistic perspective. In pursuing its mission, the magazine and the movement aspire to serve as a resource, build community, and change culture.

Mo Lotman, its founder, is an author, public speaker, voice-talent, and radio personality. He wrote the pop-culture retrospective Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 and he was the host and originator of Nerd Nite in Northampton, Massachusetts. I spoke with Mo recently and we talked about this very dynamic attempt to make people more aware of what technology has implemented into our society and everyday lives. From social media to screens in front of our faces almost 24/7, Mo seeks to share his belief that we don’t need technologies to survive in our world today. We have them, yes, and we all use them, but we don’t have to give our souls to them in the process.

According to Mo, The Technoskeptic was first imagined in 2013, partially in response to the Edward Snowden revelations of that year. Mo became disillusioned and somewhat angry at what he deemed was a serious problem with how people felt and thought about technology. It’s a fascinating discussion with a man who asks us to rethink what we may be allowing technology to do to ourselves and our environment.

So, without further ado, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

On why he felt creating a print product was the answer to all of his skepticism: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

On how he would define the magazine: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology. And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things.

On whether he views the magazine as a serialized manifesto: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

On whether it has been a challenge for him since launching the magazine in the fall of 2018 or a walk in a rose garden: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

On whether he feels like the lone wolf in the wilderness when it comes to his views about technology: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

On the next step for the magazine: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

On whether he feels the media industry left its “spouse” print too soon for its “mistress” digital: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

On anything he’d like to add: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

On what keeps him up at night: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mo Lotman, founder, The Technoskeptic magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of The Technoskeptic magazine.

Mo Lotman: It was really born out of a lot of frustration, sadness, heartbreak and anger that came out of a number of things, but I think the precipitating factor was the Snowden revelations in 2013. That’s what really moved me from just sort of raging, with my fists shaking toward the sky, to wanting to be more active and trying to do something to address what I saw as some serious problems with how we were thinking about technology and how we were using it. I don’t want to overstate that, because it wasn’t just that, but that was the precipitating moment. I think with Dolly the Sheep, there had been a kind of skepticism growing in my mind for 15 years or longer, by that point, so it was more like the culmination.

And then I had a friend at the time, we were both talking about this same sort of feeling. Initially, she was involved and we started working on the idea together, but she ended up going off and doing other projects, so she didn’t stay around for long, but we’re still very good friends. But that was enough to get the momentum building to the point where I got the site up and running and started to really work on it in earnest.

Samir Husni: Why did you think creating a print publication was the answer to all of this skepticism?

Mo Lotman: It wasn’t a print publication at first. Although, I will say it was always my intention that it would be a print publication, because I feel like, among the many other problems that some of our technologies has caused, the Internet culture has really lowered people’s attention spans, comprehension and their retention of information. And I think that’s been borne out by the work of various people that have studied it, like Maryanne Wolf. And the work of Nicholas Carr, he gets into the way we differ in our comprehension and retention reading online versus reading in print.

I always felt print was important; it’s always been important to me. I don’t read the same way online as I do in print; I much prefer reading in print. In fact, I often don’t even bother reading things online, because I’m just too frustrated and annoyed with the whole process. I feel it’s very difficult to even grasp things. There is that physicality of print that helps to establish some kind of tactile permanence to the material you’re reading.

And it is a cultural change in the sense that how is it competing for information in your brain and when you’re online you’re really always just constantly searching around for more information, clicking links and going down endless rabbit holes. Whereas in print, you’re really focused on whatever it is you’re reading. Your attention is not constantly being tugged away. For all of these reasons I thought print was important. And I still do.

Samir Husni: How would you define the magazine? What’s your elevator pitch for The Technoskeptic?

Mo Lotman: The magazine was born out of the mission, which is to foster awareness, critical thinking and behavioral change around the use and impact of technology, society and the environment. That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you could say, we need a revolution. (Laughs) I think a lot of people think that same thing, just in different spheres. Some people think we need a political revolution; some people think we need an economical revolution; I think we need a revolution, and we may need all of these things, but we need a revolution in the framing of technology.

And in order to have a revolution of the way we use technology, you first have to have a revolution in thought. Any revolution of any kind has to have a framework or a basis in some kind of theory or thought or… I hesitate to say manifesto, but there has to be some kind of change in the way people think about things or relate to things. I believe everyone has a unique set of gifts that they can offer to the world in whatever way they that they’re able to offer them and in the services of whatever they find meaningful and important.

For me, this seemed to be where my skills lie. I would not preclude doing other activism and I do sometimes, but I seem to be pretty good at this type of thing – communications. And so this is the way that I believed I could hopefully make some kind of small impact.

Samir Husni: Do you view the magazine as a serialized manifesto?

Mo Lotman: That’s interesting, no one has asked me that in quite that way. Actually, I would like it to be, because I believe a lot of the problems that we’re facing, societally and culturally, do relate back to technology, even when it’s unconscious. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of superficial examination of different technologies, and I think what we’ve seen recently is encouraging, in the sense that there has been a pushback against some of the excesses of what, I guess you could call, some of the platform, monopolistic capitalism of the 21st century: the Facebooks and the Googles, and the surveillance model.

That’s finally come out into the open more and people are finally starting to acknowledge that there’s something really screwed up about it. And that’s incredibly gratifying and hopeful. But at the same time I don’t think people are really questioning the underlying premises of some of these things, it’s more as though: well, there’s this problem with social media because the companies that are running social media aren’t doing it right. Or we’re having this climate crisis because we’re just not consuming the right types of things, instead of saying that perhaps social media as a concept is just not beneficial for human flourishment because of the ways that it encourages people to interact with each other. No matter how you do it.

And maybe the goal of this intense consumption is causing problems of global warming, regardless of how green the products you’re using are. So, I think there has to be a more fundamental reimagining of how we are using technologies, and how they change us, and what the ultimate aims of the technologies are, because at the moment everyone is trying to get the most efficient… everything is about efficiency or speed or money, but those are not really the highest goals of human flourishing.

Samir Husni: Since you launched the magazine in the fall of 2018, and with the website and everything you’ve been doing, has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have you had some challenges along the way?

Mo Lotman: No, I can’t imagine launching anything that would be a walk in a rose garden. It’s incredibly challenging, and you’re fighting against huge currents of culture. What we’re trying to do is countercultural. It may be less countercultural now than it was when we started, which is great, but it’s still countercultural. And anytime you’re doing something like that, you’re going to struggle and I knew that going in, so that was the bargain I made.

And my guess is, it would continue to be that way; it’s going to be hard to have people reimagine things that they’ve pretty much taken for granted for decades or even centuries. It’s a difficult thing to root up these deeply-held convictions, and I don’t really want to call them that, because it’s more like the air you breathe. It’s not even something you consciously think about. The goldfish doesn’t know what water is. It’s just there surrounding us all the time and people don’t think about it all. So, it’s difficult. It’s a challenge to get people to think about it. I certainly run into people who vehemently disagree with what we’re doing and that’s par for the course.

We also see a lot of people who are very encouraging and are extremely happy that we’re doing what we’re doing, and are grateful to just find out there’s something else and some other people who get it, so that they’re not feeling so alone. And I do think a lot of people do feel kind of like lonely voices in the wilderness if they have the temerity to say that they’re disturbed by our relationship with technology.

Samir Husni: Do you feel like the lone wolf in that wilderness when it comes to your views about technology?

Mo Lotman: I don’t think it’s a complete wilderness, I believe there are other people out there, which is why I wanted to do this. And I feel like those people are probably feeling incredibly isolated, frustrated and helpless, because that’s how I feel often. So, I do want to reach out to those people and I want there to be a sense of solidarity among a group of people that could lead to a movement and a change in thought. Anything like this has to start small because, again, you’re kind of fighting against prevailing culture, but as we’ve seen time and time again through history, all of these great social movements started small and had to gradually build up recognition and steam.

Sometimes it takes decades or even centuries. I hope it doesn’t take that long in this case. But there are obvious cases with civil rights and the feminist movement, anti-slavery and many more; it took tremendous lengths of time and dedication. But even smaller things like the relationship of smokers; I do think that there is a lot of analogs there, the way smoking was so prevalent in this country and at some point people just said, enough. this is killing people. There’s an entire industry devoted to addicting people, including children. It’s killing them and it’s also ruining the quality of life for everyone around them.

When that recognition started; when the surgeon general came out with that first warning in the ‘60s, it was 30 or 40 years before there were real cultural changes in this country regarding smoking, but now there is such a difference. I grew up when you could smoke on airplanes and I’m sure you did too, so it’s a tremendous cultural difference. With something that was incredibly addictive, with maybe not the majority, but at least half the country doing it, the change we have seen is pretty remarkable. I do think things like that are possible. Unfortunately, sometimes they take longer than you’d like.

Samir Husni: As you move forward, what’s the next step for the magazine, the movement, everything?

Mo Lotman: I guess the next step is to hopefully be able to reach more people, to gradually grow the circle. There are things that I would love to be able to do that we can’t quite do right now for lack of resources. I would love to have a more proactive investigatory arm of The Technoskeptic, because I think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be looked into, that requires more intensive journalistic effort, and unfortunately, that is expensive and takes a lot of time. So, I wish we could do a bit of that.

I would also love to do some more community-level outreach. We’re actually about to start something here in Boston, I think we’re going to call it “Analog Sundays.” We’re going to have an event at a bar where everyone is not allowed to use their cell phones, they have to actually talk to each other. So, ways to get people to interact without technology, and that can remind them of what is great about the things we have already.

Obviously, there’s much to criticize, but you also want to be able to bring something positive to the table. I think the flip side of whatever criticism we get is that there’s so much that we’re capable of without technologies. And we’ve forgotten that. I think we’ve lost faith in our own abilities, which is very depressing to see. People have forgotten that we have these capabilities; we can find our way in the world, both literally and metaphysically without an app.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that the media industry has failed to recognize what you’re describing and fell in love with this new mistress called “digital” too quickly and left its spouse “print” high and dry?

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Maybe you’re leading the witness here, but yes, I do feel they lost their way, not just about print versus digital, but also the model through which they’re attempting to bring the news to us, if we’re talking about the news specifically. Journalism has been decimated by the digital era, there has been a lot written about this. I think it’s either a 50 or 60 percent loss in the ranks of journalists over the last, however many years, since the Web exploded, which is an extraordinary loss because that’s the gatekeeper or the watchdog of democracy. And if people don’t know what’s going on in their towns, especially with local journalism, it’s impossible to have a democracy when you’re in complete darkness about what’s happening.

I have a friend who works in city government and she tells me that she can’t believe the stuff that the administration is doing, but there’s no one to report it. There’s just no one there. So, it’s like the stuff we don’t know that’s probably going to get us more than the stuff we do know that’s horrible. (Laughs)

So, I think the media was just completely infatuated by the Internet, and in a way it’s hard to blame them, because we all were that way. No one knew what was going to happen; no one knew what it meant; no one knew how to monetize it. The result was they just fell behind and they sold out. They sold their souls to the aggregators, mostly because I don’t think they knew what else to do. But what they probably should have done was create the paywalls initially that they tried to scramble and put up 10 or 15 years later. Had they done that, maybe we’d be in a different place right now.

If there’s anything positive from it, it’s that you are now beginning to see the makings of a new model for journalism, which is the nonprofit model and that’s what we are. And I do hope that works, but of course, nonprofits are constantly scrambling for money, so I do wonder if that’s the real solution.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about the magazine or being a nonprofit?

Mo Lotman: Just that we need help. If people are resonating with this message and are interested and want to get involved, we absolutely need help. And that means any kind of help; we certainly need financial help and any other kind of help, such as any writers out there, editors or marketers; people who want to volunteer to work, they should feel free to get in touch.

Samir Husni: What is the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Mo Lotman: To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I would say that the misconception is I’m against technology just because I hate technology, or something of that nature. But there’s actually a perfectly good reason for the way I feel and it has to do with thinking of a sort of balance. The universe has worked, certainly on earth anyway; we think of natural systems as reaching an equilibrium and being in balance.

Of course, there’s change all the time and these changes, over great periods of time, can transform things. But within those grand time scales there’s a lot of homeostasis, there’s equilibrium, and there’s a natural balance to the world, and that is what keeps the natural world healthy. And I think we’ve really upset that balance. We’ve really blown through all the boundaries and we think that we can control everything and force the world to bend to our will. And we can’t. When we do it, we create a lot of sickness. And I think the sickness is in ourselves and it’s a sickness that’s obviously effecting the environment right now, which almost everyone should be able to acknowledge at this point.

And so, that’s the problem and I don’t think that adding new technology is going to help us because it is that technological mindset that has really caused the problems to begin with.

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

Mo Lotman: Just that I care. I’m trying to make the world a better place.

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 iPhone; or something else? How do you unwind?

Mo Lotman: (Laughs) Well, I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t have a cell phone at all, for one thing, but I love to play music: I play games; sometimes I sing; I like to go dancing. But I’m probably just spending time with friends, that’s very important to me. And that usually means in conversation, more so than going to a movie, for example. Not that I’m against movies. Being in communion with others is really the best thing and I think that’s what all of us want.

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

Mo Lotman: Honestly, if anything would keep me up, it would be just trying to keep this organization going, because it is very challenging.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

For more information about The Technoskeptic and its mission, click here.

     

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1919: A Pivotal Year For Magazines… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

October 16, 2019

Mr. Magazine™ was relaxing in his vault recently when it dawned on him that the magazines of 1919 were looking back at him from all around the massive room. The faces of a century ago seemed to be channeling his psyche pointedly, beseeching him to tell their story. He stared back at them, turning slowly in a circle, absorbing their loud but silent pleas completely. And then he wrote this…

 The Year Was 1919

Reflecting the times has always been something that magazines do well; 100 years ago and today. The covers told the stories vividly. From Teddy Roosevelt on the cover of “The New Success,” to an editorial his son, Theodore Jr., wrote in “Our Boys” magazine, 1919 served as a year to remember in magazine history.

Highlights Of The Times

 In 1919, the first World War (or the Great War, as it was called back then) had just ended and the country was trying to absorb the effects, financially and emotionally. Woodrow Wilson was the leader of the free world and his dream of a League of Nations becomes a reality after the League Covenant is adopted at the Paris Peace Conference.

Also in 1919, a group of 19 magazine publishers from across the entire magazine publishing scene, from consumer to trade and farm publications, came together to form the National Association of Periodical Publishers, Inc., which later became MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.

The Role Of The Magazine

The role magazines played as experience makers was and still is remarkable. “Harper’s Bazaar,” for example, had its Christmas, 1919 edition, in which the magazine offered an invitation to its new and enlarged offices in the heart of fashionable Paris:

We cordially invite all Americans visiting on either pleasure or business to make these new Harper’s Bazar offices their Paris headquarters. Particularly do we wish to point out the advantages of consulting with our resident representatives there before embarking on shopping expeditions in fashion’s capital.  

In short, Harper’s Bazar was offering American newcomers to the city of Paris a verbal guide to the shops and couturiers of the city, advising Americans where to find what they wanted, how to get there, and even how much they should pay. A total experience with one of their favorite magazines, indeed.

When Magazines Ruled The Land

A century ago magazines ruled the land. From the mass general interest titles like “The Saturday Evening Post” and “The National Geographic Magazine” to the more specialized and niche publications such as “The Farm Journal” and “Field and Stream,” 100 hundred years ago the scepter of information and entertainment belonged to magazines.

And when it comes to specialty titles, niche magazines do not just belong to the 21st century. In 1919, there were singular topics covered on a regular basis in magazines: “Successful Farming,” “The American Legion Weekly,” “Photo-Era,” and the list goes on and on. So, being a niche magazine is not a new idea, it’s just a good idea that continues today.

Looking Good For Your Age

When something or someone lives to see 100 years or more, they know what the word longevity means. Magazines that have such a long heritage are indeed something very special. Today there are more than 50 print magazines that have flourished for more than 100 years.

From “Harper’s Bazaar” to “Scientific American,” “Good Housekeeping,” to “The Nation,” these legacy titles have become generational favorites over the years and each one of them are as relevant, informational and entertaining today as they were during the eras of their infancy. Magazines reflect our society no matter the year on the calendar. They always have and they always will.

When The Presses Stopped

Wanting higher wages and better hours in their work week, local unions in New York City made their demands clear in 1919 to their international unions, closing every magazine printing establishment in New York City by striking. The end result was magazines that were late being delivered and in some cases, not being delivered at all, such as with the November issue of Harper’s Bazar:

Harper’s Bazar, December, 1919

 In not publishing a November number, Harper’s Bazar skipped an issue for the first time in fifty-one years. This unprecedented occurrence was a result of the stand taken by New York Publishers in their controversy with the radical local printers who went on strike in defiance of the orders of their international unions. Even at the sacrifice of one of our most important issues of the year, Harper’s Bazar believed it necessary to stand together with all other New York Publishers in resisting the tyrannical demands of certain irresponsible leaders who were disowned by their own international unions and the American Federation of Labor. Subscribers will receive, instead of their November issues, one more number after the date on which their subscriptions would ordinarily expire.

And read the ad from the Periodical Publisher’s Association of America that appeared in the November issue of The National Geographic Magazine:

The Reason Why Magazines Published In New York City Will Be Late

Differences between certain local unions and their international unions have closed every magazine printing establishment in New York City. Some of the local unions have retained their membership in their international union, while the pressmen, feeders, and paper handlers have seceded and struck. These local unions demand a 32½ to 44- hour week and an increase of $14 per week, with double and triple pay for overtime, to take effect immediately. The international unions contend that the men should return to work and the entire matter be left to arbitration.

The publishers of the magazines meanwhile must suspend publication until the unions fight out their differences. This means “Collier’s Weekly,” “McClure’s,” “Pictorial Review,” “Cosmopolitan,” “Hearst’s Magazine,” “Harper’s Bazar,” “Good Housekeeping,” “Harper’s Magazine,” “Metropolitan,” “Scribner’s Magazine,” “Century,” “Munsey’s,” “Popular,” “Delineator,” “Everybody’s Magazine,” “McCall’s,” “Popular Science Monthly,” “Vogue,”  “Vanity Fair,” “Motion Picture Magazine,”, and 152 others, as well as many of the largest trade papers in the country, will not appear on time as usual.

Some of the publishers are making plans to remove their plants from New York to other places, and many Western cities are bidding vigorously to induce these publishers to consider their particular localities. Three very large publications have already completed plans for permanent removal, and their printing machinery and paper supply are now being shipped to Chicago.

The millions of readers of the publications affected by the strike are requested to be patient and to refrain from writing the publishers concerning delays in receipt of magazines. It will be only a question of a short time until the presses will again be running.

(Signed): Periodical Publisher’s Association of America.

NEW YORK CITY, October 10, 1919

The times were difficult, but magazines stayed strong.

Audience First

Putting the reader first was always important to magazines, even in 1919  and remains the mantra today. A magazine that was the backbone of what is now the Meredith Corporation, “Successful Farming” proudly stated it was for: the busy, practical working farmers of America whose interests determine its policy. The magazine published in the interest of the reader. And you can’t argue with that statement. If you don’t take care of your readers, your publication will not know success. It was true in 1919 and it’s still true today. Without your audience, what do you have? A nice book of information that no one is interested in.

Mr. Magazine™ Reflects…

Suffice it to say that 100 years have passed since 1919. Many things have changed; many things. However, some things haven’t. Information, entertainment, niche brands, and the most exquisite experiences can all still be found in magazines. That is a fact that has not, and will not ever change. Magazines and Mr. Magazine™ himself, if I may be so bold as to toot my own horn, are staunch advocates for the print experience. Both of us love to inform, entertain and create inimitable happenings in people’s lives that no pixels can recreate. Seeing us both in the flesh is quite the experience. And you know what they say… if it’s true, it ain’t bragging.

Until the next time…

Mr. Magazine™ will see you at the newsstands, somewhere between today and the portals of the past…

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Tom Witschi, President Of Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Magazines Are Still Popular And Strong… And So Is Our Consumer Marketing Business.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

October 14, 2019

“I will say that The Magnolia Journal success, which you have certainly written about, is a great poster child for the magazine industry. Meredith is certainly proud and vocal about this phenomenon, but the press and the media industry seem quite muted. Magnolia is an example of a great idea created around a popular topic and noted celebrities that has become very profitable and successful. This new magazine model of high subscription pricing and less dependence on advertising is an interesting formula for the future and we have additional titles in the pipeline that will replicate this format. Magazines are still very popular and strong. As I said before, our consumer marketing business is experiencing strong results. Sourcing opportunities are expanding and direct mail continues to deliver high response rates. The marketplace would lead you to believe that consumer interest in magazines is declining, but we’re seeing quite the opposite.”… Tom Witschi

Tom Witschi is president for Consumer Products for Meredith Corporation and he oversees the operations and marketing of Meredith’s consumer facing products. It’s a wide scope of products and services that both challenges and excites him. Previously, Tom was president of Meredith’s Lifestyle Group. In this position, he had oversight for 10 Meredith brands and businesses including Shape, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Rachael Ray Every Day, Traditional Home, Midwest Living and More along with Brand Licensing, Content Licensing and the Special Interest Publishing Group. So, Tom has always known a bit about challenges that he always looks at as opportunities

Tom Witschi is president for Consumer Products for Meredith Corporation and he oversees the operations and marketing of Meredith’s consumer facing products. It’s a wide scope of products and services that both challenges and excites him. Previously, Tom was president of Meredith’s Lifestyle Group. In this position, he had oversight for 10 Meredith brands and businesses including Shape, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Rachael Ray Every Day, Traditional Home, Midwest Living and More along with Brand Licensing, Content Licensing and the Special Interest Publishing Group. So, Tom has always known a bit about challenges and he always looks at them as opportunities.

I spoke with Tom recently and we talked about the challenges, but more importantly, we talked about the opportunities that presented themselves, especially with Meredith’s acquisition of the Time Inc. brands. Tom may have become a bit more challenged, but his excitement increased two-fold with all the possibilities and opportunities the merger provided.

In addition to running Meredith’s large Consumer Marketing activities, Tom also oversees Meredith Brand Licensing which includes over 50 partnerships across multiple brands including Better Homes & Gardens flagship alignment with Walmart and over 3,000+ home and outdoor products available at 4,000 + stores and at Walmart.com. In addition, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate in partnership with Realogy, EatingWell frozen meals, snacks and side dishes in an alliance with Bellisio Foods and Real Simple home products in conjunction with Bed, Bath and Beyond.  He also oversees Synapse and Bizrate Insights, two affinity marketing businesses that were acquired as part of Meredith’s 2018 acquisition of Time Inc. Through their proprietary distribution channels, Synapse and Bizrate generate over 17 million annual subscriptions for over 250 publishers and these businesses are aggressively moving into marketing other products and membership services in the wellness, music and entertainment categories. In addition, Tom oversees Meredith’s digital consumer product initiatives including their fast-growing e-commerce activities across content, promotional offers and their proprietary shopping engine as well as their lead generation business (Meredith Performance Marketing) and finally paid products that includes Apps, brand memberships and their emerging partnership with the recently launched Apple News +.

It’s a busy day for Tom, but one that gives him excitement, reward and satisfies the passion he has for what he does. And according to Tom, there are some new irons in the fire that will soon come to fruition that are sure to make his day even busier and better. So, stay tuned. And magazines are still strong and vibrant and showing no signs of waned interest from their readers.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a man who was born to be busy and creative; in fact, he thrives on it and feels very fortunate to be a part of it, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Witschi, President, Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation.

But first the sound-bites:

On his very extensive career in the magazine media industry and what about that makes him tick: What makes me tick is hard to say (HA)…..I think I have broad knowledge of the media business that has really helped me, and good instincts both for differentiated products, business pacing, and certainly personnel and the right people to put into the right positions. I guess my background has prepared me well to handle the portfolio that I have today, which is also very broad, quite different and evolving. I certainly enjoy building businesses and looking for new and unique ways to get results. The businesses I run today are for the most part very different from each other and require different approaches and skillsets from our teams.

On his description of the magazine media times today: Well, I think there a couple of things going on today. First, I would say that conditions are changing rapidly, not a surprise to anyone.  But it’s very difficult to predict the future and that makes change even harder. There are many people out there who seem to know what will happen 18 months from now, but I’m not so sure prognostication works too well in the media business these days. I’ve never seen a time where it’s more difficult to predict where things are going to go. And that’s both exciting and challenging at the same time. When I look back at the earlier part of my career, things were much more predictable, and you had a good idea of what was going to happen two years out. Three-year plans could really be achieved!! (HA) Today it’s really, really difficult. On the other hand, I would say from a very positive standpoint that the magazine media business today is way more complex and there are more opportunities for great ideas and brands.

On a quote a colleague of his in the industry made that said they no longer publish magazines, they create brands: Yes, I think that’s a fair and reasonable statement. Meredith remains very brand-focused and our strong content and engaged audiences are driving our point of difference. When we consider the larger media landscape….. we look at Facebook and Google for instance, the largest companies that are certainly in a very strong position today, but where Meredith stands out and delivers is with our exceptional brands and high-quality content. And that’s something that we will always hold onto provided we continue to invest and nourish but we cannot underestimate powerful brands and we need to continue to put them front and center.

On why he thinks today, suddenly, the talk has changed from being a magazine publishing company to a brand company: Obviously the economics and the fundamentals of magazine publishing have changed dramatically. I would argue that there still many good days ahead for magazines and certainly, consumer demand continues to be encouraging. I’m still a believer in magazines, but I’m also a realist and the formula is different today and we understand that declining advertising puts great pressure on the traditional model. But in the end, great magazines are great brands and thus have fantastic opportunities in the digital, video, commerce and licensing spaces to just name a few natural extensions……as we continue to demonstrate, great brands can expand their wings into so many new areas.

On whether he thinks it would have been possible to have the 15 year relationship Meredith has had with Walmart without a brand like Better Homes & Gardens and a print magazine like Better Homes & Gardens: Probably not… I mean I think it’s an extraordinary relationship that we have built with Walmart. It would be extremely difficult to replicate largely because the retail environment has changed so dramatically since that arrangement was first put together over 15 years ago. We have certainly grown with it and it’s become a huge business for both Walmart and us. But it would be extremely difficult to replicate that in today’s retail environment. We continue to grow this business nicely and were up double digits in our fiscal year that ended June 30th. For as large of a business as we have, to experience 12½ percent annual growth is extraordinary. It’s certainly a testament to the scale and power of Walmart and it involved lots of new product introductions, the refreshing of existing products and innovative marketing and promotional support. We now have over 3,000 skews in Home and Outdoor-related products, so there’s a lot of merchandise and a lot of choice, but in the end very high quality, well designed products at great prices. And now Walmart’s Internet side is really ramping quickly and we’re certainly a part of this exciting growth.

On whether he was overwhelmed by all the different brands he obtained when Meredith acquired Time Inc.: It’s been a very interesting and challenging merger. It’s always difficult to bring two large companies together; they have different approaches to business; they certainly have some differences in products, and it’s always a challenge to bring together two separate and distinct cultures but I can honestly say it has all come together extremely well. We shared alot in common coming into this merger in terms of expertise and business practices. Without question, I view this acquisition as a very big positive for us and for the future. Time Inc. had extraordinarily strong brands and they complemented the Meredith brands. Ultimately, together we are just that much more powerful and distinctive.

On Meredith’s licensing business being one of four cornerstones that falls under the Consumer Products umbrella and what are the other three: The first is Consumer Marketing, which is magazine subscription marketing and the digital storefront for our magazines called magazine.store. It’s also our continuous books business and it’s our digital editions. So that’s the consumer marketing piece. The second is Synapse and Bizrate Insights, and that came with the Time Inc. purchase, two highly successful companies that work sort of as brother/sister. They are affinity marketing businesses that generate magazine subscriptions, owned and operated clubs and other third-party products and services. The third group is what I would call our digital growth initiatives and that’s really broken into three areas. First paid products which include our apps (Cozi, largest family calendaring app and cooking light diet), membership and partnership programs and our just launched alliance with Apple and the Apple News + product. The second area is Meredith Performance Marketing, our lead generation technology and platforms that sources leads in the home improvement, healthcare and soon to be launched Streaming Services sector. And the last piece of the digital growth area is our fast growing and highly successful e-commerce business. We own and operate a proprietary shopping engine called Shop Nation that sources millions of products options and presents them to consumers through Meredith branded store fronts. Also, we operate a fast-growing content for commerce group that works closely with our digital editors to drive shopping activity through stories and product showcases. And lastly Linfield Media which operates the award-winning site PromoCodesForYou. We work directly with some of the largest retailers to push out promotional offers and discounted opportunities to consumers. Our three ecommerce areas work closely together and have developed excellent chemistry.

On whether he thinks Meredith should give him a few more responsibilities since he has so few (jokingly asked): (Laughs) I have plenty to think about and plenty to do, that’s for sure. I am very fortunate to be challenged and it’s a very exciting period to be in the media space. When you reflect on the assets that a company like Meredith has, our large database of loyal customers really stands out. But historically, magazines were the only products that we were charging our passionate brand fans. So now what we’re charged with doing today is saying that we want a larger piece of the consumer wallet and there are certainly more great and appropriate products and services that we can market to our customers.

On why he thinks the media always seems so negative when it comes to reporting news about magazines and magazine media: Not always, but it does seem like the press has painted an unbalanced picture of our media segment. As I said to you earlier, we had a sensational year in our magazine subscription business; the year ending June 30th. When we brought Meredith and Time Inc. together, we realized that both companies had strong direct marketing expertise. But we also had different ways of marketing our magazines. And so, we were able to very quickly find out and test into what practices would effectively transfer. We have seen some very encouraging results that are now being pushed out across our portfolio. Regarding the negativity. I guess a big part of it is being driven by the decline in print advertising but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think new consumer products is certainly one of those exciting areas where we are seeing meaningful growth and it’s becoming a big part of the overall Meredith portfolio. The key is brand diversification and ultimately diversification of the company’s revenue that is better balanced between advertising and consumer streams.

On what he would tell someone the highlights of 2019/2020 were if it was a year from now: We’ve made three acquisitions, one in March of 2019 that I talked to you about earlier, the digital couponing company, Linfield Media which is off to a great start and fits so well into our ecommerce strategy. In addition, we recently purchased Magazine.com, which is really a competitor to our Magazine.store which we built and launched three years ago. Sourcing magazine subscriptions digitally is increasingly an important area for us and through these two sites, we will generate millions of subscriptions for Meredith titles as well as other publishers.   And the third acquisition will be closing shortly and fits nicely into our Synapse growth strategy as well as enhance Meredith’s content quality and expertise.

On anything he’d like to add: I think this is a very positive time in the media business. Yes, there are challenges, but the opportunities and possibilities continue to grow and it is our job the make the right bets and direct our resources to the best payoffs. There is a great deal of optimism at Meredith; we’re in a very exciting period and I’m fortunate to be a part of a smart and highly engaged leadership group that’s helping to steer the way.

On what he thinks is the biggest misconception people have about him: (Laughs) That’s a hard one to answer. I view myself as pretty straight forward and I think the people who work for me know that… I’m very detailed oriented and I guess that trait could be viewed as difficult at times, but I’m very open and I think very fair, balances and inclusive. And I try to operate this way, not only with my direct reports, but with all levels in our organization. We’re only as good as the people who work on our businesses. We can build great products and have great strategies; we can do all kinds of things the right way, but if we don’t have the right personnel in place and those people aren’t passionate and motivated and work well together, we not going to be successful.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Passionate.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m very passionate about sports, both doing and watching. I’m really focused on certain sports that I like to play (racket sports in particular) as well as just working out. I’m also a huge music fan. So, I would say that both music and sports are my passions and you would find me probably doing something related to those two categories if you spent a weekend with me or a couple of evenings.

On what keeps him up at night: I’m really driven to meet goals and do things well. So, what keeps me up at night is usually the 30-60-90-day plan of what we as a group want to accomplish and the outcomes we’re hoping for or expecting. That’s what keeps me up at night. The macro issues of the world crumbling or the media business changing, I feel like I have that relatively under control. It’s probably more about the 30-60-90-day execution plan that I’m constantly thinking about and working on. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night, but it’s certainly on my mind quite a bit.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Tom Witschi, president of Consumer Products, Meredith Corporation.    

Samir Husni: In your career you have been publisher at Hachette, vice president/international publisher at Reader’s Digest Association, CEO of the EatingWell Media Group, and now you’re at Meredith as president of Consumer Products. What makes you tick and click in your professional life?

Tom Witschi: It’s been a very interesting professional journey, for sure. I’ve been very fortunate to have been exposed to different parts of the media business. I obviously started in the sales area and then went into sales management. Then that propelled me into general management and along the way I got experience with new products and international, and eventually my stint as the CEO of EatingWell, which was more of a startup and is now part of the Meredith family. I started here in mid-2011 as President of what we called the Lifestyle Group and a little over three years ago (in August 0f 2016) I moved on to become the President of Consumer Products.

What makes me tick is hard to say. I think I have a broad knowledge of the media business that has really helped me, and good instincts both for products, business pacing, and personnel and building teams to execute on the strategy. I guess my background has prepared me well to handle the portfolio that I have today, which is also very broad and largely very different. All of the businesses under me require different skillsets.

Samir Husni: To say the least in this magazine media climate, these are interesting times.

Tom Witschi: Very, very.

Samir Husni: Can you describe the times for us? (Laughs)

Tom Witschi: (Laughs too) Well, I think there a couple of things going on today. First, I would say that conditions are changing rapidly, as we all know. But it’s very difficult to predict the future and that makes change even harder. There are many people out there who seem to know what will happen 18 months from now, but I’m not so sure prognostication works too well in the media business these days. I’ve never seen a time where it’s more difficult to predict where things are going to go. And that’s both exciting and challenging at the same time. When I look back at the earlier part of my career, things were much more predictable, you had a good idea of what was going to happen two years out. Three-year plans could really be achieved! Today it’s really, really difficult.

On the other hand, I would say from a very positive standpoint that the magazine media business today is way more complex and there are more opportunities for great ideas and brands. In our case, I think content is driving the brands. When you think about the different areas that Meredith is involved in today versus going back 10 years ago, that’s the exciting part.

I would follow that by saying the challenge to all of these opportunities is you have to make the right bets. You don’t have unlimited resources. Let’s say there are 20 choices, I’ll use that as an example, of businesses that you can go into and you’re probably not going to be able to do them all well, so where you focus your attention and your resources is critical to success in today’s media world.

Samir Husni: A counterpart colleague of yours in the industry was quoted recently as saying, they no longer publish magazines, they create brands and the magazines are a part of that brand.

Tom Witschi: Yes, I think that’s a fair and reasonable statement. Meredith remains very brand-focused and our strong content and engaged audiences are driving our point of difference. When we consider the larger media landscape we look at Facebook and Google for instance, the largest companies that are certainly in a very strong position today, but where Meredith stands out and delivers is with our exceptional brands and high-quality content. And that’s something that we will always hold onto provided we continue to invest and nourish but we cannot underestimate powerful brands and we need to continue to put them front and center.

We have all kinds of other expertise, we certainly have data and insight that puts us in a very unique position. We know our customer and we know how to serve our customer, market to our customer. We have great marketing expertise, direct marketing expertise, but at the real center of it is brands and content. And to the person’s point before, again, our job is to decide what products and services we want to attach to these brands. And magazines are one piece of it.

Samir Husni: My relationship with Meredith goes all the way back to 1984 when I started the magazine program here at the University of Mississippi through funding from Meredith. And even back then they had Better Homes & Gardens real estate agencies. They were always much more than just a magazine. Why do you think today, suddenly, the talk changed from being a magazine publishing company to a brand company?

Tom Witschi: It’s a necessity. Obviously, the economics and the fundamentals of magazine publishing have changed dramatically. I would argue that there still many good days ahead for magazines and certainly, consumer demand continues to be encouraging. I’m still a believer in magazines, but I’m also a realist and the formula is different today and we understand that declining advertising puts great pressure on the traditional model. But in the end, great magazines are great brands and thus have fantastic opportunities in the digital, video, commerce and licensing spaces to just name a few natural extensions……as we continue to demonstrate, great brands can expand their wings into so many new areas.

We formed the Consumer Products Group in August 2016 really with that intention. We needed to accelerate our growth and we needed to focus on the consumer. For the most part, our model had been advertising-centric. And you’re right, in our past, we have done other things, for sure, such as brand licensing, but a big chunk of our business was tied to the advertising piece. So, we made a conscious decision that we needed to put more effort into the consumer products area, and really diversify our portfolio or our business model. And that’s what we’ve been really focused on.

So, I would say it’s a necessity and again, getting back to the exciting part of it, there are lots of things that brands can participate in within this media space. The list is long, and you learn every day and you learn which avenues to take and which avenues will be most beneficial for your business, both long-term and short-term.

Samir Husni: With this business, the consumer products, needless to say, one of the biggest businesses you have is your relationship and licensing business with Walmart. Do you think that would have been possible if you hadn’t had a brand like Better Homes & Gardens and a print magazine like Better Homes & Gardens?

Tom Witschi: Probably not… I mean I think it’s an extraordinary relationship that we have built with Walmart. It would be extremely difficult to replicate largely because the retail environment has changed so dramatically since that arrangement was first put together over 15 years ago. We have certainly grown with it and it’s become a huge business for both Walmart and us. But it would be extremely difficult to replicate that in today’s retail environment. We continue to grow this business nicely and were up double digits in our fiscal year that ended June 30th. For as large of a business as we have, to experience 12½ percent annual growth is extraordinary. It’s certainly a testament to the scale and power of Walmart and it involved lots of new product introductions, the refreshing of existing products and innovative marketing and promotional support. We now have over 3,000 skews in Home and Outdoor-related products, so there’s a lot of merchandise and a lot of choice, but in the end very high quality, well designed products at great prices. And now Walmart’s Internet side is really ramping quickly and we’re certainly a part of this exciting growth.

It’s really an extraordinary story, but it spans 15 years, so a lot of people have worked very hard on this business from both companies to make it successful.

Samir Husni: Less than three years after establishing the Consumer Products Division and becoming president, Meredith acquired Time Inc., so you’ve had more brands to come onboard. Were you overwhelmed by all the different brands you suddenly had?

Tom Witschi: It’s been a very interesting and challenging merger. It’s always difficult to bring two large companies together; they have different approaches to business; they certainly have some differences in products, and it’s always a challenge to bring together two separate and distinct cultures but I can honestly say it has all come together extremely well. We shared a lot in common coming into this merger in terms of expertise and business practices. Without question, I view this acquisition as a very big positive for us and for the future. Time Inc. had extraordinarily strong brands and they complemented the Meredith brands. Ultimately, together we are just that much more powerful and distinctive.

No, it’s been very helpful for the Consumer Products business. In August 2016 when we launched it, then it was just Meredith and we were somewhat limited, but today we’ve been helped by the addition of the Time Inc. brands. It has made our business much bigger and also the opportunities are much greater as a result of the two companies coming together.

Our licensing business is one of the four areas under Consumer Products, Grand Licensing. And we now have about 50 partnerships through 10 of our brands. And many of those relationships are through the Time Inc. brands. Now nothing that approaches the size and scale profitability of the Walmart relationship, but some very strong licensing arrangements that came with the Time Inc. deal. That gives you some idea of what scale can do and that puts us in a very great position to grow that business moving forward.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that this is one of four cornerstones of the Consumer Products Division, what are the other three?

Tom Witschi: The first is Consumer Marketing, which is magazine subscription marketing and the digital storefront for our magazines called magazine.store. It’s also our continuous books business and it’s our digital editions. So that’s the consumer marketing piece. The second is Synapse and Bizrate Insights, and that came with the Time Inc. purchase, two highly successful companies that work sort of as brother/sister. They are affinity marketing businesses that generate magazine subscriptions, owned and operated clubs and other third-party products and services.

First paid products which include our apps (Cozi, largest family calendaring app and cooking light diet), membership and partnership programs and our just launched alliance with Apple and the Apple News + product. The second area is Meredith Performance Marketing, our lead generation technology and platforms that sources leads in the home improvement, healthcare and soon to be launched Streaming Services sector. And the last piece of the digital growth area is our fast growing and highly successful e-commerce business. We own and operate a proprietary shopping engine called Shop Nation that sources millions of products options and presents them to consumers through Meredith branded store fronts. Also, we operate a fast-growing content for commerce group that works closely with our digital editors to drive shopping activity through stories and product showcases. And lastly Linfield Media which operates the award-winning site PromoCodesForYou. We work directly with some of the largest retailers to push out promotional offers and discounted opportunities to consumers. Our three ecommerce areas work closely together and have developed excellent chemistry.

Synapse is based in Stamford, Connecticut and Bizrate Insights is actually in Los Angeles. Just to give you some idea, they did about 18 million magazine subscriptions last year and we work with 250 publishers through our programs, our touchpoints and our distribution channels. So, that’s a very exciting business and we’re actually going to be making a big announcement in the next week about an acquisition for that group that will really add an additional, what I would call product and service, to the Synapse and Bizrate infrastructure. They have mostly been focused on magazines and it’s very, very successful, but we see that we have the infrastructure to support other products and services that have similar models to magazines.

This is a good example of a growth opportunity where we already have the retailers in place; we already have the online channel with Bizrate Insights and we’re predominantly selling magazines, but we can sell health-related products; we can be in the streaming services business, we’re already working with Spotify in the music business, so these are very similar membership models to what we have with magazines. And that’s a natural fit.

That’s the second group. The third group is what I would call our digital growth initiatives and that’s really broken into three areas. First is paid products and we operate two app businesses, one is called Cozi, which is the largest calendar-joined application for busy families; the other one is called Cooking Light Diet, which is a meal planning app. We also run Apple News Plus, our new relationship with Apple that just launched in April. That’s out of the paid products group. And then House Plans, which is a nice little business but growing, and also membership programs. We build membership programs around our brands.

The second area is called Meredith Performance Marketing, which is our lead generation business. We bought a company 2½ years ago out of Boston, and they predominately work in the Home Services space, and they’re a very close tie to Home Advisor. But we’re now moving into healthcare and also into streaming services as well, where lead generation is becoming a very important thing.

And the last area, which is probably our biggest growth area, is ecommerce. We are growing that business extremely quickly through three areas. We have a shopping platform called Shop Nation, which we bought in 2013. Time Inc. was very adept in an area called Affiliate Content Marketing, where we’re really using content on websites to drive commerce. And that business has accelerated in the last 18 months since we purchased Time Inc. in a big way. So, we’re doing a lot more of what we call affiliate content work with our websites.

And then lastly, we bought a small company back in March that is now turning out to be a real jewel for us called Linfield Media and they focus on the digital coupon space. So, that was a very important piece of the ecommerce area that we didn’t really touch and we were able to purchase that company back in March. The three areas, between Shop Nation, Affiliate Content Marketing, and Linfield, are now working very much together and it’s propelling our ecommerce growth to really big numbers right now. So, in a nutshell that’s my world.

Samir Husni: It doesn’t seem like you have too much to do. Do you think Meredith should give you a few more responsibilities since you have so few? (Laughs)

Tom Witschi: (Laughs too) I have plenty to think about and plenty to do, that’s for sure. I am very fortunate to be challenged and it’s a very exciting period to be in the media space. When you reflect on the assets that a company like Meredith has, our large database of loyal customers really stands out. But historically, magazines were the only products that we were charging our passionate brand fans. So now what we’re charged with doing today is saying that we want a larger piece of the consumer wallet and there are certainly more great and appropriate products and services that we can market to our customers.

That’s what we’re focused on – really leveraging the assets of Meredith. And as part of that either requiring or starting new areas where we can leverage Meredith assets and invite consumers to try and get involved with more products and services.

Samir Husni: I’m sure since assuming this position it hasn’t exactly been a walk in a rose garden. You’ve probably had some challenges that you’ve had to overcome. Why do you think the media always focuses on the negative instead of the positives? You really don’t read about the success stories, such as the 12½ percent increase Meredith had with its Walmart relationship.

Tom Witschi: Not always, but it does seem like the press has painted an unbalanced picture of our media segment. As I said to you earlier, we had a sensational year in our magazine subscription business; the year ending June 30th. When we brought Meredith and Time Inc. together, we realized that both companies had strong direct marketing expertise.

But we also had different ways of marketing our magazines. And so, we were able to very quickly find out and test into what practices would effectively transfer. We have seen some very encouraging results that are now being pushed out across our portfolio. Regarding the negativity. I guess a big part of it is being driven by the decline in print advertising but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think new consumer products is certainly one of those exciting areas where we are seeing meaningful growth and it’s becoming a big part of the overall Meredith portfolio. The key is brand diversification and ultimately diversification of the company’s revenue that is better balanced between advertising and consumer streams.

Just bringing together two organizations that not only have good brands, but also have great individuals, great personnel, and applying best practices has been a big win for us. I don’t know about the negativity. I guess a big part of it has been because of the advertising challenges on the magazine side, but there are so many other positive things to talk about, and I think consumer products is certainly one of those things, where we’re seeing meaningful growth now and it’s a big part of our overall portfolio. And that’s something that we’re really excited about and think there’s a lot more growth to be had.

It’s a balancing act, but to get to the point that you and I discussed earlier, what’s exciting today is that we have so many opportunities out there. We’re not lacking in opportunities, it’s picking the right ones. But when you have that many opportunities, you’re always going to have some things that are down and not doing as well, and other things that are growing and on a different trajectory than they were maybe a year ago. So, that’s part of my job. And part of our job at Meredith is balancing all of that. And again, choosing the things that we want to invest our time and resources into. I think it’s a wonderful, exciting time in the business. I also think there are great things to talk about with companies like Meredith that have first-rate brands and first-rate content.

I will say that The Magnolia Journal story, which you have certainly written about, is a great poster child for the industry. Nobody ever talks much about that. There’s an example of a great idea; the magazine is obviously very, very profitable and successful. We have a lot of examples of that and we have more that are coming in the near term. Magazines are still very popular and very strong. As I said before, in our consumer marketing business we’re seeing really good results and direct mail continues to work well. We’re sourcing our subscriptions through all kinds of areas. People would lead you to believe that there isn’t interest anymore, but we’re seeing quite the opposite.

Samir Husni: If you and I are chatting a year from now, what would you tell me were the highlights of the 2019/2020 year in consumer products at Meredith?

Tom Witschi: We’ve made three acquisitions, one in March of 2019 that I talked to you about earlier, the digital couponing company, Linfield Media which is off to a great start and fits so well into our ecommerce strategy. In addition, we recently purchased Magazine.com, which is really a competitor to our Magazine.store which we built and launched three years ago. Sourcing magazine subscriptions digitally is increasingly an important area for us and through these two sites, we will generate millions of subscriptions for Meredith titles as well as other publishers.   And the third acquisition will be closing shortly and fits nicely into our Synapse growth strategy as well as enhance Meredith’s content quality and expertise.

I’m going to be very focused on the success of those three acquisitions, integrating the people and the businesses into Meredith and taking advantage of the synergies we have. And where it’s appropriate, branch it out to other parts of the company where there is crossover. So, I would say the acquisitions are going to be a big part of our success over the next 12 months.

And we have a lot of things percolating in every business. We expect to grow our commerce business by roughly 80 percent over the course of the next year, that’s going to keep us awfully busy. We’re seeing huge increases in our lead generation business right now. And with our brand licensing, we’re on the verge of announcing two very sizeable deals over the next two months. We think we’ll be closing those and announcing them by Christmas.

There are things happening all the time. We have our wonderful leadership team, and we’re always looking for new things to do and think about and to acquire. So, there’s never a dull moment, but we have a lot on our plate and a lot to execute on for this year. That’s just a sampling of the things that are happening or about to happen.

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

Tom Witschi: I think this is a very positive time in the media business. Yes, there are challenges but the opportunities and possibilities continue to grow and it is our job the make the right bets and direct our resources to the best payoffs. There is a great deal of optimism at Meredith; we’re in a very exciting period and I’m fortunate to be a part of a smart and highly engaged leadership group that’s helping to steer the way.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Tom Witschi: (Laughs) That’s a hard one to answer. I view myself as pretty straight forward and I think the people who work for me know that… I’m very detailed oriented and I guess that trait could be viewed as difficult at times, but I’m very open and I think very fair, balances and inclusive. And I try to operate this way, not only with my direct reports, but with all levels in our organization. We’re only as good as the people who work on our businesses. We can build great products and have great strategies; we can do all kinds of things the right way, but if we don’t have the right personnel in place and those people aren’t passionate and motivated and work well together, we not going to be successful.

It’s hard for me to answer misconceptions of me, but I guess at the end of the day I always want to be approachable, so if people feel I’m not approachable, I want to be. I know the power of people in this business. You want to work at a place where you’re motivated at and you want the leadership to be clear on the vision. It’s probably more of a feel than a misconception, and that feel would be that I’m not communicating enough or I’m not approachable enough. And I always want to be.

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 Witschi: Passionate.

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? How do you unwind?

Tom Witschi: Maybe all the above. (Laughs) No, I’m very passionate about sports, both doing and watching. I’m really focused on certain sports that I like to play (racket sports in particular) as well as just working out. I’m also a huge music fan. So, I would say that both music and sports are my passions and you would find me probably doing something related to those two categories if you spent a weekend with me or a couple of evenings.

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

Tom Witschi: I’m really driven to meet goals and do things well. So, what keeps me up at night is usually the 30-60-90-day plan of what we as a group want to accomplish and the outcomes we’re hoping for or expecting. That’s what keeps me up at night. The macro issues of the world crumbling or the media business changing, I feel like I have that relatively under control. It’s probably more about the 30-60-90-day execution plan that I’m constantly thinking about and working on. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night, but it’s certainly on my mind quite a bit.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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La Cucina Italiana: Let’s Do Lunch & Let’s Do Launch. Condé Nast Brings A Nearly Century-Old Brand to American Shores – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Maddalena Fossati, editor in chief, and Alessandro Belloni, business director, Condé Nast Italia…

October 12, 2019

“The real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.” … Maddalena Fossati (On why Condé Nast Italia brought the magazine in print to the United States)

“It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.” … Alessandro Belloni (On why Condé Nast Italia brought the magazine in print to the United States)

 A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

Earlier this month the British landed once again on our American shores with the legacy brand The Spectator, one of the oldest magazines in the world, and now the Italians have decided to hit the U.S. with their own heirloom brand: La Cucina Italiana.

The century old magazine is Italy’s first and only food and wine magazine with a kitchen in its editorial office. So, you know authenticity and tradition mean something to this brand. But so does health and well-being, hence the Italian recipes you’ll find in this new magazine have been modernized with more natural and health-conscious ingredients.

Condé Nast Italia acquired the brand in 2013 and since has seen tremendous growth; September 2019 saw the first La Cucina Italiana website for the American market and the new quarterly print magazine was previewed recently at Eataly Flatiron in New York.

Maddalena Fossati is editor in chief and Alessandro Belloni is the brand’s business director. I spoke with Maddalena and Alessandro recently and we talked about this magical magazine that has always made food an art form and given Italian food lovers a delicious and long standing commitment to all that’s beautiful and good in food and drink.

The constantly-evolving brand boasts a total audience of more than 7 million, a prestigious cooking school and a series of partnerships and brand extensions, and is about to launch on the U.S. market, then subsequently arrive in the U.K., Germany, France and Spain, effectively becoming a global name.

All this is accompanied by a geolocalized weekly newsletter with the latest info about upcoming new Italian restaurants, food and wine tasting events and recipes for classic Italian dishes interpreted by renowned American chefs.

The first American issue of the magazine features more than 100 recipes designed for the U.S. market, from updated versions of granny’s recipes to regional desserts, traditional “Made in Italy” specialties, to foodie travel guides. There are unexpected pairings like wine and pizza, and exquisite party panettoni in new vegan variants.

It’s an explosion of the senses and taste buds and a welcome addition to the food categories in America. So, please help me welcome our Italian friends to our neck of the woods and enjoy this entertaining conversation with the brand’s editor in chief, Maddalena Fossati, and business director, Alessandro Belloni in this Mr. Magazine™ interview.

But first the sound-bites:

On why Condé Nast Italia is bringing its print version of La Cucina Italiana to America in this digital age (Maddalena Fossati): Basically, we’re crazy Italian people, you know? (Laughs) But the real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.

On why Condé Nast Italia is bringing its print version of La Cucina Italiana to America in this digital age (Alessandro Belloni): It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.

On the brand’s secret sauce ((Maddalena Fossati): I’m not sure we do have a secret sauce. When I took the brand, and I was lucky and honored to be nominated as the editor, I studied the first issue a lot. And all the answers were there because the magazine at the time was really contemporary and modern. Of course, we keep going with the traditional and we’re very careful about what we do in terms of recipes, in terms of being very careful about the Germanese point of view. Older recipes are strictly created and tried in our kitchen for the magazine. This is crucial to keep La Cucina Italiana authentic. Also we have added more stories about Nonna (grandmother) just to keep our heritage. It’s also a way to always stay attached to the brand.

On food being one of the fastest growing magazine categories in America and why people seem to have this affection for them (Maddalena Fossati): I can tell you this story. I grew up in a family where my mama wasn’t the typical Italian woman that cooked. So, I read food magazines since I was sixteen-years-old, because they really resonated with me. I think people like to read food magazines even if they don’t cook, because it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s something that really relaxes you and makes you think about what you’re going to prepare for your family and friends and yourself. It helps you escape reality and ease the stresses of the day.

On the business model for the American version of the magazine (Alessandro Belloni): La Cucina Italiana is so well established now in Italy, we have a business model that is 50 percent advertising driven and 50 percent consumer sales driven. This gives us a good balance when it comes to Italian business. On the other hand, we also sell our magazine through a subscription model. And then we have the school where the students are paying a tuition fee for the lessons. I think this is really one of the foundational elements of the brand that we will want to bring to the U.S.

On her first editor’s letter being titled “Let’s Have Lunch” instead of let’s have dinner (Maddalena Fossati): Let’s have lunch because lunch is more for everybody, dinner is more like going out. I was thinking a lot about family. What if a family doesn’t mean just mother, father and children? Any kind of family, even a group of friends. I think lunch is a good moment because you can stay over and talk, maybe spend the entire afternoon and just take it easy. It’s a very Italian moment, the Sunday lunch, where you basically spend the whole day at the table,  you’re so happy and relaxed.

On the expectations for the new U.S. magazine (Maddalena Fossati): I think Italian food nowadays is really a good food, in terms of it has modernized and is healthier than ever. So, knowing that more Americans are having the new Italian food that we are doing in Italy, food that is less fat and has more happiness for the body, I think it would be a good target because it would be nice to know that more people are in good shape. Good shape, in terms of being healthier, happier, and in a good mood. We did a manifesto in Italy about the new happy Italian cuisine that had great success, because the idea was to modernize all the traditional recipes. Sometimes they can be quite heavy and quite fat. Now they have more natural ingredients, in terms of quality, and less fat. So, we keep the tradition alive, but at the same time we keep our health in the forefront. So, my expectations would be to know that more people in the U.S. could eat well.

On if she had the opportunity to appear on national TV to give a message to the American people, what would she say (Maddalena Fossati): I would tell them to invest in the ingredients that they put on the table, because quality is crucial to being safe and staying well. Instead of investing in other things, first I think we should invest in the quality of the food that we eat. That’s the first thing that I would say to them.

On the biggest challenge from a business point of view that they have had to face (Alessandro Belloni): Probably the biggest challenge was to find the right formula to make the magazine visible. That’s why we decided to approach the U.S. through this deal with Italy, which is giving us good visibility at point of sales, with good flow displays. That’s why it is a fantastic way of presenting the wonderful product that we have at all the points of sale, collaring from a geographic point of view, all the regions. As you know the biggest challenge is the size of the U.S., so you need to prioritize or be very prudent in finding the right way to reach the major cities. So, I think the fact that we are working with them has been such a helpful idea from the start. On the other hand, I think Condé Nast is so strong from a digital standpoint that it was a little bit easier than if we had been a startup with just a good and quality website.

On whether the creation of the magazine is all done in Italy (Maddalena Fossati): We have journalists in the United States, one based in New York, and then we have several contributors who are freelancing from all over the country. We need this combination of Italy and America. We want to be a window for our Italian audience in Italy, but we also want to call out what is fundamentally interesting in America too, especially for the website. The magazine has stories about New York and stories from all over the country. But for the website it’s so important that we have everything.

On anything they’d like to add (Maddalena Fossati): Just that we are really happy and proud to be here, because there has always been a love between Italy and America, so we are very happy about this endeavor.

On the biggest misconception he feels people have about him (Alessandro Belloni): I think we are very happy and hope that people can recognize all the care that we have put behind this magazine, from both an editorial and marketing standpoint. It’s very hard to be internationalized and stay a pure Italian brand with a very rich history. This is really something that is valuable to us.

On the biggest misconception she feels people have about her (Maddalena Fossati): The important thing about La Cucina is that we are having fun, but we are damned serious.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Maddalena Fossati): For sure cooking, because in my family we cook every day. In the meantime, having a glass wine, absolutely.

On what keeps her up at night (Maddalena Fossati): I don’t sleep that well when I think about the day.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Maddalena Fossati, editor in chief and Alessandro Belloni, business director, Condé Nast Italia.

Samir Husni: I just received the first issue of La Cucina Italiana and all I can say is wow! But who in their right mind publishes a print magazine in this day and age, 200 gorgeous pages, to enter a marketplace where everyone is saying print is out of style, while you’re publishing something so in style; what were you thinking?

Maddalena Fossati: Basically, we’re crazy Italian people, you know? (Laughs) But the real reason is that we still believe in print. Of course, not just print because the brand in Italy is a strong magazine because it has existed for 90 years. But we are also very strong Internet-wise because our website has five million unique users. And that five million in Italy is a huge number compared to the population. We think that print is still something that readers need at some point. Of course, we tried to do more of a coffee table type magazine, it’s quarterly and this is because just the website is not assertive enough, I don’t think.

Alessandro Belloni: It’s a balance between the print magazine and the website, which gives us continuousness. When it comes to the magazine we decided to start with a good partnership with Italy, so we are present at the same time in six stores. We celebrated this initiative in New York recently. This was, in our opinion, a nice way to tackle a complex market in America, being very selective and taking advantage of the presence of Italian food lovers so that they have something for them in the stores.

Samir Husni: How do you take a brand that’s almost 100 years old and modernize it, while keeping its DNA? What’s the brand’s secret sauce?

Maddalena Fossati: I’m not sure we do have a secret sauce. When I took the brand, and I was lucky and honored to be nominated as the editor, I studied the first issue a lot. And all the answers were there because the magazine at the time was really contemporary and modern. Of course, we keep going with the traditional and we’re very careful about what we do in terms of recipes, in terms of being very careful about the Germanese point of view. Older recipes are strictly created and tried in our kitchen for the magazine. This is crucial to keep La Cucina Italiana authentic. Also we have added more stories about Nonna (grandmother) just to keep our heritage. It’s also a way to always stay attached to the brand.

We also publish a lot of travel and a lot of new trends, staying with tradition and eating well and eating Italian. But at the same time we are open to other food cultures, while staying Italian. We aren’t saying this is the only recipe of your grandmother’s and you have to do it this way, we try to modernize what we eat because the food is changing, the ingredients are changing; basically everything is changing. So, we try to keep a good balance between what is coming from the future trends and what is coming from the past.

Samir Husni: I’m sure you know that the food category in magazines has been one of the fastest growing categories in the United States. I think we have more food magazines than any other category in the marketplace today. Why do you think people have this affection and fascination with food brands?

Maddalena Fossati: I can tell you this story. I grew up in a family where my mama wasn’t the typical Italian woman that cooked. So, I read food magazines since I was sixteen-years-old, because they really resonated with me. I think people like to read food magazines even if they don’t cook, because it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s something that really relaxes you and makes you think about what you’re going to prepare for your family and friends and yourself. It helps you escape reality and ease the stresses of the day.

Samir Husni: What’s the business model behind the idea of this quarterly, coffee table magazine? You have advertising; you have the website and an app and you have the school. What’s the thinking behind Condé Nast International’s business plan for the American version of this magazine?

Alessandro Belloni: La Cucina Italiana is so well established now in Italy, we have a business model that is 50 percent advertising driven and 50 percent consumer sales driven. This gives us a good balance when it comes to Italian business. On the other hand, we also sell our magazine through a subscription model. And then we have the school where the students are paying a tuition fee for the lessons. I think this is really one of the foundational elements of the brand that we will want to bring to the U.S.

Of course, we are starting with the website and with the magazine, but we want to grow a good base of Italian food lovers. And we want to start selling services and additional products to them. So, we want to bring it in the way that it has been so successful in Italy. We now have additional licenses in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Serbia. We have plans to internationalize this brand, but for now we are focusing all of our energy on the U.S. launch.

Samir Husni: Your first letter to the editor is titled: Let’s Have Lunch. Why did you decide lunch and not dinner?

Maddalena Fossati: Let’s have lunch because lunch is more for everybody, dinner is more like going out. I was thinking a lot about family. What if a family doesn’t mean just mother, father and children? Any kind of family, even a group of friends. I think lunch is a good moment because you can stay over and talk, maybe spend the entire afternoon and just take it easy. It’s a very Italian moment, the Sunday lunch, where you basically spend the whole day at the table,  you’re so happy and relaxed.

Samir Husni: What are your expectations for the magazine?

Maddalena Fossati: I think Italian food nowadays is really a good food, in terms of it has modernized and is healthier than ever. So, knowing that more Americans are having the new Italian food that we are doing in Italy, food that is less fat and has more happiness for the body, I think it would be a good target because it would be nice to know that more people are in good shape. Good shape, in terms of being healthier, happier, and in a good mood.

We did a manifesto in Italy about the new happy Italian cuisine that had great success, because the idea was to modernize all the traditional recipes. Sometimes they can be quite heavy and quite fat. Now they have more natural ingredients, in terms of quality, and less fat. So, we keep the tradition alive, but at the same time we keep our health in the forefront. So, my expectations would be to know that more people in the U.S. could eat well.

Samir Husni: If you had the opportunity to appear on national TV and send a message to the American public about the magazine, what would you tell them?

Maddalena Fossati: I would tell them to invest in the ingredients that they put on the table, because quality is crucial to being safe and staying well. Instead of investing in other things, first I think we should invest in the quality of the food that we eat. That’s the first thing that I would say to them.

Samir Husni: From a business point of view, what was the biggest challenge that you were faced with and how did you overcome it?

Alessandro Belloni: Probably the biggest challenge was to find the right formula to make the magazine visible. That’s why we decided to approach the U.S. through this deal with Italy, which is giving us good visibility at point of sales, with good flow displays. That’s why it is a fantastic way of presenting the wonderful product that we have at all the points of sale, collaring from a geographic point of view, all the regions. As you know the biggest challenge is the size of the U.S., so you need to prioritize or be very prudent in finding the right way to reach the major cities. So, I think the fact that we are working with them has been such a helpful idea from the start. On the other hand, I think Condé Nast is so strong from a digital standpoint that it was a little bit easier than if we had been a startup with just a good and quality website.

Samir Husni: Is all the creation of the magazine done in Italy or do you have help in the United States?

Maddalena Fossati: We have journalists in the United States, one based in New York, and then we have several contributors who are freelancing from all over the country. We need this combination of Italy and America. We want to be a window for our Italian audience in Italy, but we also want to call out what is fundamentally interesting in America too, especially for the website. The magazine has stories about New York and stories from all over the country. But for the website it’s so important that we have everything.

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

Maddalena Fossati: Just that we are really happy and proud to be here, because there has always been a love between Italy and America, so we are very happy about this endeavor.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

 Alessandro Belloni: I think we are very happy and hope that people can recognize all the care that we have put behind this magazine, from both an editorial and marketing standpoint. It’s very hard to be internationalized and stay a pure Italian brand with a very rich history. This is really something that is valuable to us.

Maddalena Fossati: The important thing about La Cucina is that we are having fun, but we are damned serious.

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; gardening; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Maddalena Fossati: For sure cooking, because in my family we cook every day. In the meantime, having a glass wine, absolutely.

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

Maddalena Fossati: I don’t sleep that well when I think about the day.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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Magazines 2041: The Present Is The Future…*

October 10, 2019

© 2019 By Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

It’s a daunting task to try and think about what the world of print will look like in 2041 as the American magazine industry celebrates its 300th anniversary. While trying to see the future of the industry, almost a quarter century from now, I began to think back to when I first fell in love with magazines, more than a half century ago. Did my imagination live up to what really happened? Can I relive all the changes that have taken place since?

More than fifty years ago I was a teenager in Tripoli, Lebanon when I befriended the wholesaler who served all of Tripoli. Before school, I would go by his shop once a day, where I would look at all the magazines being distributed to shop owners and newsstands and admire the ones getting ready to leave the warehouse and head to the stands. Ultimately this would make me late. One day he decided to take pity on me and told me to come by the evening before so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for being late over and over again.

A Kid In The Candy Store

I was like a kid in a candy store. Each weekday I would be see the magazines before anyone else in town, and my friend the wholesaler would even let me take copies home with me. I became one of his newsagents who would order only one copy of each magazine. Having early access to tomorrow’s publications was a part of the experience that those magazines created within me. The paper, the ink, the photos, the stories all of it formed an interactive relationship, between the magazines and me that got me hooked and kept giving me reasons to return day after day.

Fast forward some 42 years, I am in the United States sitting in my house in my new home country, far away from my home in Lebanon, and reading a Lebanese newspaper. Yes, reading the same paper published in Lebanon on the same day of publication. If you told me that 50 years ago, I would have laughed at you and accused you of being crazy. I never would have believed you. But today, with the eight-hour time difference I can sit at my computer in the evening and see the next day’s newspaper from Lebanon before it hits newsstands. Once I download the paper and hit print, I know it will be sitting in the printer at my office the next morning. Crazy has become reality.

The first issue of Superman magazine published in Jan. 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon

Since I first picked up a copy of a Superman comic book when I was a boy and became hooked on ink on paper, I have always wanted to pick up a magazine to lose myself in its pages. No changes in technology can ever replace that. So instead of talking about technology and how it will change the industry over the next 22 years, editors and publishers need to continue to ask the question: How can I provide quality content and an engaging experience in my publication for those looking to interact with the print platform? The industry has to ask that question because each time prospective customers pick up a product, they ask themselves the exact same thing: what is in it for me? This is what I fondly call the WIIIFM factor.

While many things have changed in the last 42 years and many things will continue to change over the next 22 the experience will always stay the same. Compared to when I was a teenager, printing quality is better, publications are more specialized, magazine dimensions have greater range and marketing may be more exact and targeted. However, I still go to magazines for the experience I can only have with ink on paper. It’s ONLY experience where I can “lose myself” through it and in it.

Amplifying The Future Of Print

This is why I have created the Magazine Innovation Center. The sole purpose of this organization is to amplify the future of print. Print is not a dead medium with nothing to offer, and it should stop bemoaning its own demise. The magazine industry has become stagnant in an economy that calls for movement and change. It just takes the right thinking to get there. Because there will be changes, and there is no way around it. Change is the only constant in our lives.

Progress will be made, but progress for the sake of progress moves you no closer to a better future. The industry is already seeing progress with smaller printers, more advanced office printers, virtual publications, instant delivery of printed products to your desktop and personal printer and even a drastic decline in waste in the printing and distribution world. While in all of this the industry can stay current with technology and the like, it still doesn’t change the fact that the experiences the customers have with that particular magazine or magazines must continue to be engaging and interactive. When you lose sight of that, you can’t regain ground with gimmicks on the internet or special inks on the covers.

One of the biggest changes will be in mentality about everything. The industry has to change the way it thinks about how publications are done and how business is conducted. I have been saying for quite some time that the way magazine media conducts business is outdated and acting as an anchor for the industry. It cannot continue to give content away for a devalued price or for free while advertising reigns as the make or break factor in publications. If publications create good content, people will want to read it and to pay for it.

For more than 60 years, the majority of the industry has relied on a publishing model that devalued subscribers and focused heavily on the customers supplying advertising, not the customers who they were actually supposed to reach: the readers themselves.

I know it may be disappointing to some of you that my forecast for the next 22 years is based on the last 50, but would I have believed when I was walking to the wholesaler in Tripoli that 50 years later, I would be reading magazines and newspapers from thousands of miles away in the exact same way?

The Present Is The Future

There are three things that the future will benefit from if it is constantly considered. First, focus on the present. For all the talk about tomorrow and next year, there is no point planning for the future if you can’t survive today.

Second, publications must create the complete experience. As everything changes around us, publications must provide a total package to reach readers. They don’t need to create something that relies on another medium to finish the job. Readers shouldn’t have to go to another source to get the rest of the story. Henry Luce recognized this a century ago when he started TIME magazine. With over 20 newspapers in New York City at the time, he saw that readers wanted a one-stop alternative to get their news in less time and space.

Third, there will be a more compelling need to know the readers. With increased technology, it is becoming easier to know more about readers. Publishers have to start treating them like customers: know what they want, who they are, what they read and what they buy. The more they let technology help them learn about their readers, the better they can serve them as customers.

I know you expected me to write about the future and create a vision of the next 22 years, there are only two people who can tell the future: God and a fool. I know I am not God, but if you want to read it, here is a future scenario from a fool. Everything I have written up to this point I can guarantee, but feel free to read the rest at your own risk.

Fantasy Time

In 2041, I will receive a package in the mail (yes, the mail will still be delivered). I place the package on my desk, open it and find a magazine called Samir’s, the magazine about my lifestyle. The cover has a striking image of exactly what I am wearing except in a different color. It is trendy, hip and relevant. In big type below the title is a tagline that screams “The magazine you can read, listen to and watch.” I open the cover and turn to the first of the 90 high quality glossy pages. As I open it I am greeted by a screen in the middle of the pages, a disposable screen with a menu that allows me to interact with the magazine in different ways unique to the articles. After I have read a great review about the latest Britney Spears Golden Oldies collection, I have the option of opening the interactive screen to view videos from years gone by. The paper provides me with the experience I have always loved and cherished. I am able to touch and feel the pages while the interactive screen hooks me with its multimedia experience. With all the benefits, it still remains under $15, ensuring that I won’t feel guilty leaving it behind after I have enjoyed it exactly like disposing of a chocolate bar’s wrapper after I can eat it. Inside the magazine are subscription offers for Samir’s sister publication Elliott (one of my grandsons), the magazine for grandchildren.

Back To Reality

Time to wake up. Years from now, I will be still reading the magazines the same way I read them today and some 50 years ago. Others may be engaged in futuristic types of new media. As for me, the past, the present and the future are all summed up in that wonderful “lose myself” experience while reading the printed magazine. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just see me 22 years from now as we celebrate the magazine’s 300th anniversary and you will see if my present is still my future.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*A slightly different version of this article appeared in the German magazine GIT on its 40th anniversary in 2009.

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Dolphin Entertainment Company: The Transformation Story Of A Talent Agency Into A Multi-Media Magazine Company – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Owner & CEO, Robert White…

October 10, 2019

For the first year of the company, Dolphin was a talent agency, and then about six months to a year into that, I had a bunch of models that I was working with and we were working with a couple of music artists, and I was asking all these models what was the one thing they wanted that would make them feel like they had made it in their career. And they said they would all love to be published in a magazine.”… Robert White

Robert White is the owner and CEO of Dolphin Entertainment Company Inc. Dolphin Entertainment encompasses a wide variety of media services, from publishing an array of magazines to talent management. In fact, the company’s foundation was in the talent management category until the models that Robert was photographing responded to a question he proposed to them: what was the one thing that would make them feel they had “made it” in their careers? Their response: being published in a magazine. So, a can-do kind of guy, Robert set out on a mission  to get his models in published in print. But unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. What did his tenacity cause him to do? Well, start his own magazine, of course. Nothing legitimizes like print magazines and Robert was fully aware of that.

Today, Robert has several titles under his belt with a partnership lined up to produce another. And while digital really fascinates him, at the moment he’s doing print and digital products, and according to him, seeing amazing success. From Splash Magazine to Savoir Faire, Robert has the beginnings of his own magazine and media empire.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Robert about his company and his magazines. What follows is the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a true entrepreneur, Robert White, owner and CEO, Dolphin Entertainment Company.

But first the sound-bites:

On how Dolphin Entertainment got started: For the first year of the company, Dolphin was a talent agency, and then about six months to a year into that, I had a bunch of models that I was working with and we were working with a couple of music artists, and I was asking all these models what was the one thing they wanted that would make them feel like they had made it in their career. And they said they would all love to be published in a magazine.

On what role he thinks a magazine plays in this digital age: It’s a tough one, because I’m in the modeling world and 95 percent of the subscribers to my magazines are digital subscribers. And I want them to be digital subscribers, but the industry itself has not let go of the fact that if you’re not in print, you’re not legitimate. It’s a weird vibe in the entertainment industry, and so I’m trying to fight through that. We also like a one-off, kind of on-demand print option, but the idea is that digital is more of the role that I want to be in. But I’m fighting against something that’s not ripe for change yet, there’s not a welcoming vibe in the entertainment industry for digital magazines. People think that if you’re an online magazine or if you’re on an online website, you’re just not legitimate and that’s what I’m fighting against. But I think maybe three to five years from now, things will change. It’s not going to change now, but in three to five years, I think it will.

On launching another magazine called Luxury & Entertainment: One of the cool things about the publication world that I like is the people that you get to meet. A very cool PR company reached out to me to give me a lot of content, some of their really high profile people that I publish come from that PR company, and they want to create their own magazine. So, they called me to ask about the process and about what they needed to do. I told them that I didn’t have time to teach them everything that I had learned in six years, but let me help you with this product; what do you want it to be like? We discussed some options and some business ideas, and Luxury & Entertainment was what we settled on.

On what he is offering on his digital platform that looks or feels different than the ink on paper: There are so many cool features. What I like about digital is that there’s no limitation to the creative side right now. You could definitely go out and do some research and see a lot of col things that can happen with digital. One of the biggest collaborations that I’ve seen recently was Wired magazine and Adobe got together and did this very cool, kind of virtual –based magazine. They built it together and I read a lot about how they did that. The idea that you can embed videos or that you have click-through links on ads and stuff; you can put music in the magazine. I do articles about different musical artists and we have direct, playable click options in the digital publication. You can listen to their music right then and there. If you don’t know who they are, just click play and you can listen to them.

On his biggest stumbling block: I think my biggest stumbling block was the learning curve. We’re in a modern-day age where digital magazines and content and getting people involved in your brand is extremely hard, because everything is available to everybody on the Internet. And you’re competing for space and that’s so hard. If I was only putting out print products, I could name 100 magazines that would be my competitors. But because I’m putting out digital products, there’s thousands of magazines that are my competitors, so the things that I have to strategize about the most is overcoming the learning curve and figuring out little details of stuff that I don’t know about the industry still.

On telling Authority Magazine that it’s lonely at the top and whether it’s still lonely: Oh my gosh, yes. (Laughs) I have this really good analogy of that to throw around often: it’s all about climbing the mountain. And everyone wants to be at the top, but they don’t realize that when you get there there’s not room for a lot of people there. And so, it’s a lonely place when you start climbing really fast, but I think that my strategy is that I always want to give back, my success should be shared.

On anything he’d like to add: We’re going through some changes right now. Savoir Faire was a brand that was supposed to fix the problem and the problem didn’t get fixed. Long story short, we had Splash Magazine for five years and we were getting some advertisers who said, which Splash was all focused around swimwear, they didn’t really want their ads around swimwear models, basically. So, we changed to the Savoir Faire brand. So we had this GQ/Esquire men’s lifestyle type of brand and we could go with it more fashion-based. And all of those advertisers that wanted to change, they still didn’t come onboard after we changed. (Laughs) So, I took a gamble and it didn’t work out.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: Honestly, I think it’s that playboy term. I think people see me in that light. I’m kind of a playboy type of guy because I’m around beautiful people all the time or I’m always taking photos of people and I think that’s a persona that people have put on me and sometimes you just have to play a character as though you were in a movie. But the real me is a very relaxed, very chill guy. I like to have fun; I’m a little flirty.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: It depends on what night of the week it is. I’m not a big drinker, so Monday through Thursday, I’m probably catching up on a Netflix show, trying to relax around my house, maybe even cleaning my house, doing some domesticated things because I am working all day, I’m non-stop. On the weekends I don’t mind going out and having a beer or two with some friends.

On what keeps him up at night: I would say just success in general. In the other magazine article that I just released, I mentioned something and I’ll mention it with you again, I have this really big pressure that I put on myself a few years ago and part of that is the change, not only with my company having this amazing growth, but the change in genealogy or the family tree in my family completely.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Robert White, owner and CEO, Dolphin Entertainment Company.

Samir Husni: I did some research on your background; you fell in love with music, went to Nashville from age 16 to 20, and then you went back to New York, worked at a newspaper, became unemployed, but suddenly Dolphin Entertainment started. You first started it as a talent agency and now you’re also a magazine publisher, a designer and a marketer. How did all of this happen?

Robert White: I’ve always had a creative bug, so I’ve always been able to create art and write and have those abilities. I can think back to my college years or even high school, and people would say, you’re such a creative writer and you write so well. Songwriting was my first love and that took all of my talents in, so I was in Nashville for a little while, then I moved to New York.

And when I moved to New York, I was still writing music lyrics and poems, really getting into a lot of creative writing. Then in 2013, I was working as a salesperson for a newspaper publication, and I kept on banging heads with my sales manager, we just had two different paths that we wanted to go to get sales. Finally, I just said this job isn’t for me, I had way too much creative energy that needed to be released and I knew I had to find another way to do it.

So, I actually quit that job and was able to get unemployment. And from unemployment, there was a program that was released in 2013 in New York state where you could actually start your own business and be on unemployment at the same time. You had to go through some stuff, you had to write a business plan; I had to get a business coach at one of my local B.A. offices. So, I went through that process and basically it gave me some freedom to be able to focus on what I wanted to do.

For the first year of the company, Dolphin was a talent agency, and then about six months to a year into that, I had a bunch of models that I was working with and we were working with a couple of music artists, and I was asking all these models what was the one thing they wanted that would make them feel like they had made it in their career. And they said they would all love to be published in a magazine.

So, I started taking their photos and putting them out all over, sending them to all the big names in the publication industry. And we kept on getting no’s or no response at all, people just weren’t interested in the people that I had. Finally, I said there is always a way to do this, you can either bust your way through the door or you can sneak around the back and go through the window. (Laughs) So, we decided that we were going to sneak around and build our own magazine.

Originally, it was Splash Magazine and it was the first brand that I ever created and that was in 2014. And it was basically a glorified, very creative newsletter and all of my talent was in there and that was pretty much it. And I had a lot of talent at that time, probably 60 or 70 people I was working with. I had lots of content and we were always doing photo shoots and putting people in

Then eventually the outside world starting reaching in and saying that they really wanted to get into this magazine, it had started to grow a little bit and everyone was seeing it. So, that’s when we started to take outside submissions and from there it kind of expanded, it went from a lot of no-name people to now we’re actually publishing a lot of entertainment stories from people who are very well-known in the music industry and the acting world, and now in the modeling world too. We’ve expanded quite a bit, but that’s how it all started. It’s a really great creative place for me to create and release. I love designing and I love the writing; I write some of the stories, but not all of them. That’s a really cool release for me and kind of why it all switched into the publication world.

Samir Husni: That combination of all of the talents you were working with telling you that they wanted to be in a magazine and then you publishing a magazine, what role do you think a magazine plays in this digital age?

Robert White: It’s a tough one, because I’m in the modeling world and 95 percent of the subscribers to my magazines are digital subscribers. And I want them to be digital subscribers, but the industry itself has not let go of the fact that if you’re not in print, you’re not legitimate. It’s a weird vibe in the entertainment industry, and so I’m trying to fight through that.

There are some really good success stories that I know of, like one of my favorite magazines that I actually subscribe to is Foundr Magazine, without the “e.” It’s 100 percent digital, they really are. And then they have a print product too, but they’re huge for digital. I want that same format, we’re actually revamping and changing stuff with our publication to do 100 percent digital someday and completely wipe out the idea of having a print copy sent to anybody.

We also like a one-off, kind of on-demand print option, but the idea is that digital is more of the role that I want to be in. But I’m fighting against something that’s not ripe for change yet, there’s not a welcoming vibe in the entertainment industry for digital magazines. People think that if you’re an online magazine or if you’re on an online website, you’re just not legitimate and that’s what I’m fighting against. But I think maybe three to five years from now, things will change. It’s not going to change now, but in three to five years, I think it will.

Samir Husni: I understand you’re launching another magazine, Luxury & Entertainment?

Robert White: Yes, one of the cool things about the publication world that I like is the people that you get to meet. A very cool PR company reached out to me to give me a lot of content, some of their really high profile people that I publish come from that PR company, and they want to create their own magazine. So, they called me to ask about the process and about what they needed to do. I told them that I didn’t have time to teach them everything that I had learned in six years, but let me help you with this product; what do you want it to be like? We discussed some options and some business ideas, and Luxury & Entertainment was what we settled on.

I love the name, it’s very cool and very classy and the website is under development and hopefully the first issue of that magazine will be out in January. But I’m basically working hand-in-hand with a PR team in L.A. to build it. I’m kind of the builder behind the scenes and they’re getting all of the content, so they’re going to be a big part of it, it’s almost a partnership. We’re looking at possibly bringing on another company in Miami, Florida to help with that, so it’s going to be a three-way partnership. And that magazine should hopefully grow quickly.

I think I’ve learned a lot of mistakes that I’ve done with my own brands and learned a lot of lessons, if I can just implement them into that brand, it should grow pretty fast.

Samir Husni: I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe it’s a magazine if it isn’t ink on paper, we have to come up with a new name for this new world. As I look at your website and at your magazine covers, and at what you’re trying to do; what are you offering in your digital platform that looks or feels different than the ink on paper?

Robert White: There are so many cool features. What I like about digital is that there’s no limitation to the creative side right now. You could definitely go out and do some research and see a lot of col things that can happen with digital. One of the biggest collaborations that I’ve seen recently was Wired magazine and Adobe got together and did this very cool, kind of virtual –based magazine. They built it together and I read a lot about how they did that. The idea that you can embed videos or that you have click-through links on ads and stuff; you can put music in the magazine. I do articles about different musical artists and we have direct, playable click options in the digital publication. You can listen to their music right then and there. If you don’t know who they are, just click play and you can listen to them.

I like the idea that you can embed videos. I really want to go forward in this industry as taking advantage of all these new technologies in the world. There’s virtual reality and there’s foldable tablets and glass tablets that are coming out. There’s always cool technical things happening. And I kind of want to turn, especially my Savoir Faire brand, into the brand that travels with that stuff, so as technology advances my brand will adapt to those advancements.

As an example, I’d like to have my covers come to life with virtual reality. Or have very cool stories inside where people can be completely immersed into driving a car ad, or seeing a fashion runway show right in your living room, instead of having to see photos in a magazine. I think some of those really cool technological things are going to be what drags people to digital magazines in the future, because the experience is going to be so much more in depth than we can do with paper.

In paper, the one thing that I’ve seen that’s cool is different inserts that you can engage with like with 3-D glasses or something. But the digital world is so much more advanced and those products are going to be very cool things in the next three to five years. You can see it in TV now where people grab stuff and put it up on a wall and use their fingers just to touch it and move it. It’s all going to be embedded into digital magazines in the future.

Samir Husni: If you think back over the last six years, what would you consider the biggest stumbling block that you had to face and how did you overcome it?

Robert White: I think my biggest stumbling block was the learning curve. We’re in a modern-day age where digital magazines and content and getting people involved in your brand is extremely hard, because everything is available to everybody on the Internet. And you’re competing for space and that’s so hard. If I was only putting out print products, I could name 100 magazines that would be my competitors. But because I’m putting out digital products, there’s thousands of magazines that are my competitors, so the things that I have to strategize about the most is overcoming the learning curve and figuring out little details of stuff that I don’t know about the industry still.

I build a magazine based off of my vision and my idea, but there’s still a very prominent status with certain magazines: this is the way that we do text; this is the way that we do certain layouts, and there’s a very uniqueness to that. And that’s the things that I’m trying to learn. I’m actually a cold-caller, I love to call people at random and get information. I’ve made phone calls to the biggest companies in the publication world and I’ve talked to some pretty incredible people on the phone about the publication industry and their belief on stuff.

I’ve called Hearst, Condé Nast, and I’ve been on the phone with Anna Wintour and a handful of other people, people that I really respect in the publication world. And I’ve gotten a lot of information from them about where they think things are going to move forward to, so I’m glad that I have that, because I think it keeps everything very interesting, but I think there’s still a lot to learn. And by the time I learn it all, there will be new stuff I’ll have to learn all over again. And that’s what’s unique about the publication world, there’s always something new.

 Samir Husni: You told Authority Magazine that it’s lonely at the top, is it still lonely?

Robert White: Oh my gosh, yes. (Laughs) I have this really good analogy of that to throw around often: it’s all about climbing the mountain. And everyone wants to be at the top, but they don’t realize that when you get there there’s not room for a lot of people there. And so, it’s a lonely place when you start climbing really fast, but I think that my strategy is that I always want to give back, my success should be shared.

And when I do get to the top of the mountain, where I see the top, and I don’t think I’m there yet, I want to be able to bring other people to that level. It’s very cool being in the publication industry because I have a little bit of magic power, I guess, because I can make people smile when they get published. It’s a really great feeling when someone reaches out to you and tells you they would love to be in a magazine, and then when you make that dream happen for them they’re legitimized.

And that’s what I love about the industry in general, but that’s what I love about what I do, it’s that people are excited and they smile and they share the content when they’re published with me. That makes me feel amazing, so I know I’m doing the right thing on that level. There’s a lot of financial goals that I have and some other things that I still want to reach, but I think getting to the top of the mountain, I know it’s going to be lonely, but I’m trying to find the right team to put around me so that I’m not sitting up there by myself.

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

Robert White: We’re going through some changes right now. Savoir Faire was a brand that was supposed to fix the problem and the problem didn’t get fixed. Long story short, we had Splash Magazine for five years and we were getting some advertisers who said, which Splash was all focused around swimwear, they didn’t really want their ads around swimwear models, basically. So, we changed to the Savoir Faire brand. So we had this GQ/Esquire men’s lifestyle type of brand and we could go with it more fashion-based. And all of those advertisers that wanted to change, they still didn’t come onboard after we changed. (Laughs) So, I took a gamble and it didn’t work out.

But I’ve seen a lot of changes with this brand that I like. There’s growth in sales, people appreciate the brand. We’ve seen more subscribers coming onboard almost every day now. And we’re starting to revamp it a little bit more even now. What I mean by that is Savoir Faire is a French word that to me means well-spoken. A lot of people thought that I built the magazine based on me and who I am, because those people feel like I’m well-spoken guy, a little bit of a playboy at times, or I have a lot of confidence in who I am. So, we’re playing off of that now.

We’re actually going to start a podcast that will be launching about some articles and things that are going to be released about being savoir faire and having the ability to have strong confidence. We’re going to launch some training courses and some stuff like that. But it’s all built around Savoir Faire and part of that magazine. I think that brand is going to expand very quickly in the next two years. We’re really expanding some really cool stuff.

And if anyone wants to know more about my perspective from the publication industry or about it, then they can listen to my podcast because that’s where I’m going to put a lot of information about the trials and tribulations that I have to go through as a publisher. So, it’s a little bit more of a behind-the-scenes look of being in this industry and not just putting out content that I think people will want to listen to. It’s more educational.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Robert White: Honestly, I think it’s that playboy term. I think people see me in that light. I’m kind of a playboy type of guy because I’m around beautiful people all the time or I’m always taking photos of people and I think that’s a persona that people have put on me and sometimes you just have to play a character as though you were in a movie. But the real me is a very relaxed, very chill guy. I like to have fun; I’m a little flirty.

But the idea is that I work really hard and people see this as maybe a glorified thing, but the truth is I sit a computer probably 12 hours a day working on content, networking, contacting people for the magazine and it’s a completely different lifestyle than what people think you actually live. It’s kind of like what you put on social media is what they’re going to see and I play that game. I want people to think that I’m that type of character, but it really is just a character that play. It’s not really who I am.

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; looking at models’ pictures; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Robert White: It depends on what night of the week it is. I’m not a big drinker, so Monday through Thursday, I’m probably catching up on a Netflix show, trying to relax around my house, maybe even cleaning my house, doing some domesticated things because I am working all day, I’m non-stop. On the weekends I don’t mind going out and having a beer or two with some friends.

Here and there, I get to travel a little bit for my job, so there’s some of that around, but I come home and I’ve worked a long day and I’m probably just watching Netflix and relaxing. But the truth is, I don’t ever relax, my phone is always dinging and I’m very responsive to everyone that reaches out to me. Every message, every email, I answer it promptly. If it’s 2:00 a.m. and I’m lying in bed and my phone dings, I’ll probably respond to your message. I’m just not the type of person that put anything off for any amount of time.

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

Robert White: I would say just success in general. In the other magazine article that I just released, I mentioned something and I’ll mention it with you again, I have this really big pressure that I put on myself a few years ago and part of that is the change, not only with my company having this amazing growth, but the change in genealogy or the family tree in my family completely.

And I recently got really involved with my family history and wanted to know where we came from and what we were all about. Everywhere that I went to look at information about family, it was all about working 9 to 5 and being labor workers, and being in the factory, just whatever the case may have been. I just didn’t want that to be my future lineage with my children or grandchildren, or whatever. So, I wanted to put something in the family tree that would get people excited; like wow, I had a great uncle that owned a magazine publication and it was successful. I want some more content in my family tree history.

Part of that is taking on a lot of personal sacrifice that I take on. Family really suffers, friendships suffer, your health suffers a little bit when you focus so hard on this massive goal. And so there are things like that which keep me up at night, such as when am I going to see my doctor again and talk to her about working out a little bit more or this pain in my back. The other piece is just getting my growth to a point where I can be a little bit more comfortable financially, so I can focus on growing that magazine. And making sure that my lineage and reputation are both strong, because that’s what I really want when it’s my time to go. I want people to remember what I created and what I did for my family going forward.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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HearstMade: Threading The Needle Between Clients & Hearst’s Own Brand Voices – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Editorial Director, Brett Hill, HearstMade…

October 7, 2019

“This is really all about authentic storytelling. And consumers are really savvy, they know when they’re being delivered an ad and it’s our job to deliver something that feels editorial and feels like it has a plot to it. And we think about that all the time when we’re creating campaigns, whether it’s for print or digital. The idea that it feels authentic and organic to the client is really important. And coming at that editorially is what makes these things work and why more and more people are coming to us for it.”… Brett Hill

Connecting clients with audiences and spurring them toward action is something HearstMade has become extremely good at. From creating content for print products to storytelling across every major digital and social platform, HearstMade partners with advertisers to set real-world goals and then work toward them, first determining a distribution strategy, and then crafting a creative approach that marshals the unique voices of the brands, the authority of the editors and the depth of the audience data. It’s branded content at its best.

Brett Hill is editorial director at HearstMade and comes to this position after nine years as executive editor of Hearst Magazines’ HGTV Magazine. Brett is a wordsmith and a firm believer in telling a good story, no matter the media form it takes. While some might think launching a print magazine from a digital app was both unnecessary and impossible, Brett and her team did it with Bumble magazine. Their latest creation is an ink on paper product for REI called Uncommon Path, a title that tells the stories of the experiences, events, issues and ideas that shape the relationship between people and life outside. Brett believes that everyone has a story to tell, even advertisers.

I spoke with Brett recently and we talked about her extremely busy life at HearstMade and how she wouldn’t have it any other way. Between meetings and clients (of which they have over 200-plus, Brett’s daily work schedule is challenging, but satisfying. She leads a team of editors, writers and producers to create and distribute campaigns, products and custom publications on behalf of clients. Brett has described HearstMade as a rapidly growing, dynamic operation that creates data-informed print, digital and social content on a global scale, providing best-in-class solutions for its advertising partners. And with partners like Airbnb, REI and Bumble, along with many, many more, it’s definitely easy to see why Brett and her team are so busy and so very proud of what they do with their multiplatform storytelling.

And now, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brett Hill, editorial director, HearstMade.

But first the sound-bites:

On how she would sum up her first year as editorial director of HearstMade: It has been incredibly busy, I’ll tell you that. We have worked with over 200 clients this year; we’ve created over 350 campaigns; we’ve launched two magazines, I’m wearing lots of different hats. It has been incredibly exciting and every day something new is happening and that’s really what I love about it.

On what exactly she and her team do at HearstMade: HearstMade is basically two arms of the unit of Hearst Magazines. We create branded content for clients that live on our own Hearst platforms and we also create custom content for clients like Airbnb, REI and Bumble. So, the first part of my job, which was really up and running already when I started, is creating digital content, whether that lives on our own site, whether it’s amplified on social media, and that takes up a huge part of what we do at HearstMade. We have a creative director, myself, and a team of about 45 people who are creating all of that digital content.

On whether naming this division of Hearst “HearstMade” is like putting the Hearst seal of approval on all the content created under that umbrella: We use the same creative sensibilities and acumen for our advertising partners as we do when we create our own products, so yes, there’s a Hearst stamp of approval, if you will. Our tagline at HearstMade is: Editorial Minds Solving Business Problems. I’m an editor; I’ve always been an editor and I think like an editor. What I like doing best is telling stories through products, and stories that really resonate with our audience and our clients’ audience. It’s like we’re threading the needle between the clients’ KPIs and our brand voices. And that’s our job at HearstMade.

On the thinking behind bringing the digital app Bumble to print: When Bumble came to us, what they wanted was for their audience to become aware that they were more than just a dating site. There’s a platform for making friends or a platform for building your career, and there’s a platform for feeling good about yourself. So, their goal was to help us market them as more than just a dating app. And that’s really what we’ve done with the magazine. The magazine is divided into four sections: one is about feeling good about yourself, one is about making connections through friends, one is about making connections through work, and then of course, there’s the dating section.

On whether in today’s digital world there is still a need for an editor who knows what he or she is doing: Absolutely, 100 percent. This is really all about authentic storytelling. And consumers are really savvy, they know when they’re being delivered an ad and it’s our job to deliver something that feels editorial and feels like it has a plot to it. And we think about that all the time when we’re creating campaigns, whether it’s for print or digital. The idea that it feels authentic and organic to the client is really important. And coming at that editorially is what makes these things work and why more and more people are coming to us for it.

On whether she needed to change hats between creating the print Bumble and their latest creation, the print magazine for REI called Uncommon Path: It’s interesting, the people that are working for me and who work on these projects know the category, so we’re hiring people who know the outdoors category; we’re hiring people who understand the Bumble audience. I don’t need to understand the audience as well as I need to understand how to talk to the clients about telling the stories that they want to tell in a way that we feel really proud of. And we can sort of teach them along the way, much like you teach. And it’s really interesting to work with them. So yes, I wear the same hat in that I’m overseeing creatives, it’s just for different categories and I’m lucky that the people who work under me on those categories know the brands and the audiences really well. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s for a Bumble audience or an REI audience.

On whether she differentiates among her babies: I feel proud of all of them. And so much work goes into each one of them and the relationship with the clients is all different. Obviously, when you get a print product in your hand and you hold it, and you know this better than anyone, that’s a really proud moment, speaking of babies. But it’s equally exciting to see a video campaign that was shot in Switzerland and that we’ve been talking about for months come to life online. It’s a different process, but in the end it’s most important that it feels like a good, cohesive, compelling story that reaches the right audience.

On what she would hope to tell someone she had accomplished in another year as editorial director of HearstMade: I will say that we have had a lot of interest based on the work that we’ve done for Airbnb, REI, and Bumble with creating content for other clients. And I feel really good about it; I feel like we have a great portfolio already in our hands. I know that we’re going to continue doing more of that. The branded content that we’re producing is really nonstop and it’s only going to get busier and busier. I think that we do a really good job of being good partners with our clients. I feel like there’s just more and more excitement every day on the 20th floor where we live.

On whether she feels the audience is multiplatform or more segmented: The audience is a multiplatform audience and they want a lot of content, that’s what they want. It’s our job to figure out how to deliver it to them most effectively. They want content on their phone, on their laptop, on their iPad; they want content they can read on the subway, they want content they can take with them on vacation and read leisurely by a pool, so the platforms that we’re creating for are the platforms that audiences are craving. Obviously, we target, depending on who the client is, but it’s not black or white.

On the biggest challenge she’s faced since taking the job: I think it’s a combination between switching gears between meetings with, let’s say, a food client, then fifteen minutes later brainstorming about a high-end fashion client, followed an hour later by a brainstorming meeting about a car company, combined with launching two magazines. It’s very different from when I worked at HGTV Magazine, where I worked for nine years, where I was focused on one brand. I’m now working with 25-plus first brands and 200-plus clients. So, it’s about delivering what all of those people want and there’s a lot of players in every game.

On what keeps her sane: Oh my gosh, working out. I have to work out in the morning before I come here so that I can clear my head. And I know everyone says that, but I’ve realized this year how important it is to come in really clearheaded and feeling physically strong every day. I can’t stress that enough.

On any new print magazines that are up and coming that she can talk about or anything she’d like to add: There are a lot of things percolating that I can’t really talk about right now, but I do want to say that just the way we create content for any of the Hearst brands is by using data to inform the content we create. We use the same strategy in creating content for any client; we understand what an audience is responding to. We create content that we know is going to resonate with them and we see how it performs, and then we create content that continues to drive those channels that we know the audiences are responding to.

 On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I’m a really honest person and I think I’m pretty easy to read, and I believe that’s what makes me good at my job. I work with so many different departments here at Hearst, marketing, sales, all the editors, all the brands, plus all the clients, and I think I have to be straightforward and clear or we won’t get anything done. So, I don’t know that there are any misconceptions about me, but it’s kind of why I think I’m good at my job.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’m wondering if there’s a word for a multiple of multitasking, because that’s really what I feel like I do when I get home. Laptop is open on the kitchen counter, cooking dinner, responding to emails, chopping broccoli, texting the dog walker, and proofreading a college essay, just loads of multitasking. We have to come up with a name for that. 

On what keeps her up night: Honestly, my six-month-old puppy. That’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brett Hill, editorial director, HearstMade.

Samir Husni: As you approach your first anniversary, you started the job on October 30, 2018, how would you sum up your first year as editorial director of HearstMade?

Brett Hill: It has been incredibly busy, I’ll tell you that. We have worked with over 200 clients this year; we’ve created over 350 campaigns; we’ve launched two magazines, I’m wearing lots of different hats. It has been incredibly exciting and every day something new is happening and that’s really what I love about it.

Samir Husni: When you got the job, Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines, said that you would be in charge of creating data-informed content for all platforms, can you expand a little bit on that?

Brett Hill: HearstMade is basically two arms of the unit of Hearst Magazines. We create branded content for clients that live on our own Hearst platforms and we also create custom content for clients like Airbnb, REI and Bumble. So, the first part of my job, which was really up and running already when I started, is creating digital content, whether that lives on our own site, whether it’s amplified on social media, and that takes up a huge part of what we do at HearstMade. We have a creative director, myself, and a team of about 45 people who are creating all of that digital content.

We have editors, a photo team, a video team, a post-production team, a talent team, so all day, all week, they’re creating campaigns for clients that have to, not only resonate with the clients’ KPIs, but feel authentic to the Hearst-brand voices. For example, if we’re creating a campaign for a beauty client that is going to live on Cosmopolitan, that is going to look and sound very different from a campaign for that same beauty client that’s going to live on Elle or Bazaar. So, it’s our job to make sure that the client is getting what they need, in terms of their deliverable, but that we’re also making something that feels really authentic to our brand.

Samir Husni: By naming it HearstMade, is that like putting the Hearst seal of approval, such as a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, on all of the content that is being produced?

Brett Hill: We use the same creative sensibilities and acumen for our advertising partners as we do when we create our own products, so yes, there’s a Hearst stamp of approval, if you will. Our tagline at HearstMade is: Editorial Minds Solving Business Problems. I’m an editor; I’ve always been an editor and I think like an editor. What I like doing best is telling stories through products, and stories that really resonate with our audience and our clients’ audience. It’s like we’re threading the needle between the clients’ KPIs and our brand voices. And that’s our job at HearstMade.

Samir Husni: Tell me about your first print magazine launch, Bumble. Anytime I mention to my graduate students, who some of them are users of Bumble, I think, when I mention that Bumble launched a print magazine, they’re astonished. And many ask: why? So, what was the thinking behind bringing that platform to ink on paper?

Brett Hill: When Bumble came to us, what they wanted was for their audience to become aware that they were more than just a dating site. There’s a platform for making friends or a platform for building your career, and there’s a platform for feeling good about yourself. So, their goal was to help us market them as more than just a dating app. And that’s really what we’ve done with the magazine. The magazine is divided into four sections: one is about feeling good about yourself, one is about making connections through friends, one is about making connections through work, and then of course, there’s the dating section.

What they had was a very clear voice when it came to dating and women feeling empowered to make the first move, but it wasn’t clear to their audience that they do all of these other things. And that was our job, to make these other platforms that they stand for tangible to their audience, and also to engage new members. And it was sent out through Bumble marketers, that’s how it was distributed. All of the copies were distributed through Bumble marketers at their own Bumble events. It was really exciting to work on, because it really helped us give their brand a voice, and that is something that we talk a lot about at HearstMade.

Samir Husni: With your creative background, do you think the skills that you learned as an editor and that you applied to Bumble, and now you’ve also applied to your latest print launch, Uncommon Path for REI,  do you think those skills are needed in today’s marketplace? That no matter which platform you’re going to be on, there is still a need for an editor who knows what he or she is doing?  

Brett Hill: Absolutely, 100 percent. This is really all about authentic storytelling. And consumers are really savvy, they know when they’re being delivered an ad and it’s our job to deliver something that feels editorial and feels like it has a plot to it. And we think about that all the time when we’re creating campaigns, whether it’s for print or digital. The idea that it feels authentic and organic to the client is really important. And coming at that editorially is what makes these things work and why more and more people are coming to us for it.

So, we have dedicated teams of editors on all of these projects and they come from editorial backgrounds. And thinking like an editor is a really important aspect when we’re considering who is going to work on these projects. It’s really about creating a paper connection with the audience, no matter who that audience is and that’s what editors are good at.

Samir Husni: Did you need to change hats when you went from creating Bumble to creating Uncommon Path? Those are two print products, but if I heard you right, you also created another 198 other things. (Laughs)

Brett Hill: At least. It’s interesting, the people that are working for me and who work on these projects know the category, so we’re hiring people who know the outdoors category; we’re hiring people who understand the Bumble audience. I don’t need to understand the audience as well as I need to understand how to talk to the clients about telling the stories that they want to tell in a way that we feel really proud of. And we can sort of teach them along the way, much like you teach. And it’s really interesting to work with them. So yes, I wear the same hat in that I’m overseeing creatives, it’s just for different categories and I’m lucky that the people who work under me on those categories know the brands and the audiences really well. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s for a Bumble audience or an REI audience.

Samir Husni: Which one of all of these products do you feel like: wow! When you look at those 200 + platforms; when you’re holding Bumble in your hands or you’re looking at a screen, do you differentiate among your babies or they’re all your babies?

Brett Hill: I feel proud of all of them. And so much work goes into each one of them and the relationship with the clients is all different. Obviously, when you get a print product in your hand and you hold it, and you know this better than anyone, that’s a really proud moment, speaking of babies. But it’s equally exciting to see a video campaign that was shot in Switzerland and that we’ve been talking about for months come to life online. It’s a different process, but in the end it’s most important that it feels like a good, cohesive, compelling story that reaches the right audience.

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation a year from now, where you’ll be in your second year as editorial director, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished in that year?

Brett Hill: I will say that we have had a lot of interest based on the work that we’ve done for Airbnb, REI, and Bumble with creating content for other clients. And I feel really good about it; I feel like we have a great portfolio already in our hands. I know that we’re going to continue doing more of that. The branded content that we’re producing is really nonstop and it’s only going to get busier and busier. I think that we do a really good job of being good partners with our clients. I feel like there’s just more and more excitement every day on the 20th floor where we live.

Sometimes the magazine is just the starting point of what a client is asking for, but we’re thinking of these business opportunities as more of a larger ecosystem of delivering content. They might say that they want a print product, and that’s great, we can deliver an amazing print product, but once we start talking to them they also realize that we can create really compelling digital content and still show content somewhere very efficient. We can do a photo shoot or a video shoot and from either of those get 50 assets that a client can use in all different ways.

And it’s the same with a print product. Just because a client says at first: I love Airbnb magazine, which everyone does by the way, loves Airbnb magazine, as they should, that’s often just a starting point of a conversation and it turns into a much larger conversation about creating content in a bigger ecosystem.

Samir Husni: As your team learns about that audience and you’re putting the audience first, do you feel that audience is broken into segments: a group that wants social media, a group that wants print, or the entire audience has become more of a multiplatform group in and of itself?

Brett Hill: The audience is a multiplatform audience and they want a lot of content, that’s what they want. It’s our job to figure out how to deliver it to them most effectively. They want content on their phone, on their laptop, on their iPad; they want content they can read on the subway, they want content they can take with them on vacation and read leisurely by a pool, so the platforms that we’re creating for are the platforms that audiences are craving. Obviously, we target, depending on who the client is, but it’s not black or white.

Samir Husni: Since you took this job, what has been your biggest challenge, or has it been a walk in a rose garden for you?

Brett Hill: No, not quite a walk in a rose garden. I think it’s a combination between switching gears between meetings with, let’s say, a food client, then fifteen minutes later brainstorming about a high-end fashion client, followed an hour later by a brainstorming meeting about a car company, combined with launching two magazines. It’s very different from when I worked at HGTV Magazine, where I worked for nine years, where I was focused on one brand. I’m now working with 25-plus first brands and 200-plus clients. So, it’s about delivering what all of those people want and there’s a lot of players in every game.

Samir Husni: What keeps you sane in that environment?

Brett Hill: Oh my gosh, working out. I have to work out in the morning before I come here so that I can clear my head. And I know everyone says that, but I’ve realized this year how important it is to come in really clearheaded and feeling physically strong every day. I can’t stress that enough.

Samir Husni: Is there any new print magazine coming up that you can talk about or anything you’d like to add?

Brett Hill: There are a lot of things percolating that I can’t really talk about right now, but I do want to say that just the way we create content for any of the Hearst brands is by using data to inform the content we create. We use the same strategy in creating content for any client; we understand what an audience is responding to. We create content that we know is going to resonate with them and we see how it performs, and then we create content that continues to drive those channels that we know the audiences are responding to.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

Brett Hill: I’m a really honest person and I think I’m pretty easy to read, and I believe that’s what makes me good at my job. I work with so many different departments here at Hearst, marketing, sales, all the editors, all the brands, plus all the clients, and I think I have to be straightforward and clear or we won’t get anything done. So, I don’t know that there are any misconceptions about me, but it’s kind of why I think I’m good at my job.

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; gardening; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Brett Hill: I’m wondering if there’s a word for a multiple of multitasking, because that’s really what I feel like I do when I get home. Laptop is open on the kitchen counter, cooking dinner, responding to emails, chopping broccoli, texting the dog walker, and proofreading a college essay, just loads of multitasking. We have to come up with a name for that.

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

Brett Hill: Honestly, my six-month-old puppy. That’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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