Archive for March, 2020

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Diane Silberstein, Former Playboy Publisher, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “This Is A Time For Reinvention.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 30, 2020

“I am very privileged. I’ve worked with some amazing people in my career, and it’s not over yet. I’ve met some incredible people… I’ve worked with some of the most incredible marketers around, people at agencies and on the client’s side. And my colleagues that have never failed to impress and inspire me. And we just keep going. This is a time of reinvention, that’s for sure.” … Diane Silberstein

Playboy is folding the print component of its iconic brand, citing the Coronavirus as the reason. A victim of the pandemic and its tragic hold on the world as a whole right now? Some may believe that, but as for me personally, I don’t think so. I believe the brand as a whole, and not just the magazine, lost its relevance long before Hefner’s death or the Me Too movement.  But rather than lead with my assumptions, I decided to go to an insider who has been at the helm of Playboy and ask her opinion.

Diane Silberstein is no novice when it comes to the world of magazines. From launching Allure to  being at Elle and The New Yorker, combined with her days at Playboy and Opera News, she is a woman who knows her way around magazines and publishing. And when it comes to Playboy and being the first female publisher at the gentlemen’s magazine, well, she is definitely a groundbreaker.

I spoke with Diane recently about her illustrious career in publishing and all of those wonderful brands she worked on. It was a delightful conversation and one where she agreed that Playboy was Hugh Hefner and Hef was Playboy: “Mr. Hefner was a big part of the brand. I wish that Playboy had continued on building the brand in a way that evolved it for the next generation.” The idea of being a part of a brand that was at one time untouchable in circulation when it came to men’s magazines, makes Diane an inimitable part of magazines and magazine publishing.

So, I hope that you enjoy this informative interview with a woman who has had a magnificent career in the past and has no intention of slowing down when it comes to the future. Once this pandemic has passed, and she firmly believes it will, the time for reinvention is at hand. For magazine brands and their publishing mantras. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, former publisher, Playboy.

But first the sound-bites:

On being a former publisher of Playboy and her reaction to the news that the print magazine was closing up shop: My first emotions were very sad, another iconic brand shuttering its doors. I had the same reaction when I heard that Glamour magazine was suspending publication, which is the first place I worked; it was my first job out of college. But here was an iconic brand that meant so much to such a great number of men. The circulation was three million when I was there. I was there in 2003, 2004, and 2005. So, that’s going back a number of years, but with a circulation of three million, the readership was up to almost seven million. We reached a lot of men in America. So it was just heartbreaking to hear that it was going away.

On whether she feels the reason the magazine didn’t make it was because Hefner was no longer there: I think Mr. Hefner was a big part of the brand. I wish that Playboy had continued on building the brand in a way that evolved it for the next generation. During the early 2000s, Playboy was battling against Maxim, which was a huge brand at the time as well for young men. And I don’t think there’s been another brand that has taken over and stepped into the role to really capture the attention of young men today.

On whether she was comfortable showing the photography to the ad community considering she was a female publisher for Playboy: It was very comfortable for me to talk about the magazine and it was very comfortable to be in a presentation, and especially talk to other women who were buying media, about the magazine and explain the mindset of women talking about Playboy, and marketing Playboy, with it being the magazine that was entertainment for men.

On the transition of going from working at Elle and fashion to Playboy and skin: You’re not necessarily working with solely the editorial content, you’re really working as a publisher with an audience, and that’s what you’re marketing. So, at Elle, we were really marketing an audience of women who were interested in fashion and beauty. At Playboy we were marketing an audience of men, red-blooded American men, who were interested not just in women, but who were also interested in cars and electronics and in looking good and grooming. And that was the audience that we were marketing.

On Diane Silberstein the publisher and the difference between working for a nonprofit and a profit publication: My publisher self and my experience in sales and marketing stays with me and continues with me now into my career in real estate. I think the differences between not-for-profit and profit is everything looks at the bottom line for profitability. In my own experience in the nonprofit world, I found change to be slow in spending and very challenging, because the approval process is many layered between management and reporting to a board that has varying points of view. So, it just takes much longer to get things accomplished. And to me that’s the biggest difference.

On some of the highlights of her career: When I look back on the whole of my career, one of the highlights that stands out in my mind is launching Allure magazine, because rarely do you have the privilege of working for a man like S.I. Newhouse. And being able to launch a magazine where you have incredible resources at your disposal and the top talent that’s in the business, and the ability to create something from the ground up. And probably the most interesting as a highlight was certainly working at Playboy, because it was so varied and it was the first time I had ever worked for a public company, so it involved quarterly reporting; it was a different set of skills that were needed and I was able to work with so many different areas.

On whether visiting the Playboy mansion was ever part of an advertising coup: (Laughs) Every client wanted to go to the mansion, but no, that wasn’t a prerequisite for signing, not at all. But a lot of clients did use the mansion for events and programs, and we certainly allowed that. But no, that was not a carrot for clients. Not at all.

 On what Hefner was like as a boss: Well, I reported to Christie Hefner who was CEO of the company, I did not report to Hef. I think to get more in depth knowledge that probably came from Jim Kaminsky, who was editorial director during my term there. But Mr. Hefner, from my observations, did make the final call on everything.

On the advice she would give someone today (after the tragic pandemic is behind us) who wanted to launch a new magazine in this digital age: I think you have to be really honed in on a niche topic. And you have to build your audience really from the ground up. It has to happen organically and it’s a tough thing to do today. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it, especially if they’re investing their own capital in it. It’s a very difficult time for all media brands and everybody is struggling for support. And when I say support, I mean marketing and advertising support.

On her vision of the future of the printed magazine: I think it’s obvious that the migration to online and how we consume media is in a digital world going forward.

On how she proposes people can make money from digital media: With digital media, you’re either charging the consumer for exclusive content or you’re very specifically charging for your audience that you can target and micro-target.

On whether anyone today can replicate her own footsteps in the marketplace or advertising world or those were the good old days: I hate to discourage anyone from going into the business today, because obviously we need journalists and people to report on what’s happening today in the industry. So, I would say if your passion is writing, definitely do it. But there is a new way in which we do business. My friends who are still in the industry on the business side, they are all stretched so thin because they’re not doing single titles anymore, they’re working on multiple titles, everything has been condensed. We do talk about the fun that it used to be. It was such a great business, both from the client side and our side as media sellers. It was fun and it was great, money was free flowing because advertisers only had the choice of print media or television to get their eyeballs. That was it. Business wasn’t as fractured.

On any other career highlights she’d like to mention: Other highlights that were very challenging for me; my time at Ziff Davis Media, Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, which was back in 2001 and 2002, I was there as publisher at 9/11 and right after 9/11, Ziff Davis Media closed its entire consumer magazine division and that included Expedia Travels, Yahoo! Internet Life, and a small magazine called Family Internet Life. And there was no advertising. Certainly nothing in the travel industry, because no one was traveling after 9/11.

On being the first female publisher of Playboy magazine: It was an amazing time to be there. It really was. And Christie (Hefner) was my role model because I was on the fence about working there, but she was so smart, she pointed out to me that many of the writers who wrote for The New Yorker also wrote for Playboy. I took home two years’ worth of the magazine and read them. My whole background had been basically marketing to women and here was my opportunity to market to men on a very grand scale. And it just made sense. And to be able to work for a public company, which was a big draw.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I think the biggest misconception people have about me is that I don’t eat junk food, (Laughs) I’ve always been pretty much the same size. But I have a wicked sweet tooth and a weakness for ice cream. And I’ll never turn down pizza.

On what keeps her up at night: What really keeps me up is what will happen to this country should Trump be reelected. And I’m very worried about the Coronavirus, but I feel that this too shall pass if everyone will stay in and stay home. But I’m worried about longer-term when it comes to what’s going to happen in this country.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Diane Silberstein, former publisher, Playboy.

Samir Husni: Amidst the horrible reports of Covid-19 all over the world came the news that Playboy has decided to stop its print edition. As a former publisher of Playboy magazine, were you surprised by that decision? What were your first emotions when you heard the news?

Diane Silberstein: My first emotions were very sad, another iconic brand shuttering its doors. I had the same reaction when I heard that Glamour magazine was suspending publication, which is the first place I worked; it was my first job out of college. But here was an iconic brand that meant so much to such a great number of men. The circulation was three million when I was there. I was there in 2003, 2004, and 2005. So, that’s going back a number of years, but with a circulation of three million, the readership was up to almost seven million. We reached a lot of men in America. So it was just heartbreaking to hear that it was going away.

Samir Husni: Did you ever have the feeling that without Hefner being there the magazine wouldn’t make it, as though he and the brand were one in the same?

Diane Silberstein: I think Mr. Hefner was a big part of the brand. I wish that Playboy had continued on building the brand in a way that evolved it for the next generation. During the early 2000s, Playboy was battling against Maxim, which was a huge brand at the time as well for young men. And I don’t think there’s been another brand that has taken over and stepped into the role to really capture the attention of young men today.

What are young men looking at? I feel like I have almost a focus group here between my own sons and their friends. What do they look at and what do they read? They’re not really consuming media, lest it’s a complete vertical. They’re not consuming general interest media, unless it’s online. And I think addressing young men, you really had to morph brands online much quicker and include much more content. They all talk about Thrillist, they all look at Thrillest. And then they go vertical; they go into the sports; they follow food; they listen to podcasts; they all follow their entertainment online, but there’s not a general interest option. And Playboy was general interest, but Playboy was a little bit too risqué for general interest tastes. It didn’t follow the times; it needed to adjust itself and take the nudity out of the magazine to be much more politically correct. Certainly in today’s times with everything that we’re going through with the “Me Too” movement.

Samir Husni: Steve Cohn said to me that you once told him that being a female publisher at Playboy was to your advantage because you were more comfortable showing the pictures, the photography, to the ad community than your male sales people were.

Diane Silberstein: Yes, that’s true. It was very comfortable for me to talk about the magazine and it was very comfortable to be in a presentation, and especially talk to other women who were buying media, about the magazine and explain the mindset of women talking about Playboy, and marketing Playboy, with it being the magazine that was entertainment for men.

Samir Husni: You’ve been at Elle, The New Yorker; you’ve worked with Tom Florio and Tina Brown, you’ve been there. How was the transition going from working with Elle and fashion, to Playboy and skin?

Diane Silberstein: You’re not necessarily working with solely the editorial content, you’re really working as a publisher with an audience, and that’s what you’re marketing. So, at Elle, we were really marketing an audience of women who were interested in fashion and beauty. At Playboy we were marketing an audience of men, red-blooded American men, who were interested not just in women, but who were also interested in cars and electronics and in looking good and grooming. And that was the audience that we were marketing.

Samir Husni: The last time you and I talked, you were the publisher of Opera News and I asked you if there was a difference between being a publisher for a not-for-profit and for a profit publication. And you told me that once a publisher, always a publisher. Tell me more about Diane, the publisher. I know you’re in real estate now, but you were in publishing for years. Tell me about that time.

Diane Silberstein: My publisher self and my experience in sales and marketing stays with me and continues with me now into my career in real estate. I think the differences between not-for-profit and profit is everything looks at the bottom line for profitability. In my own experience in the nonprofit world, I found change to be slow in spending and very challenging, because the approval process is many layered between management and reporting to a board that has varying points of view. So, it just takes much longer to get things accomplished. And to me that’s the biggest difference.

And wearing a publisher hat is really the managerial and executive skills that I take now into my own business; I’m my own boss now. And how I run my business are the same marketing skills and the same bottom line skills, I’m running a P & L for my business. And the same people skills that I use now in meeting people every single day. Each person is a new client and it’s a new adventure. It’s wonderful.

Samir Husni: If you were going to tell me three highlights of your career so far, what would they be?

Diane Silberstein: It’s very hard to edit it down to three highlights, but when I look back on the whole of my career, one of the highlights that stands out in my mind is launching Allure magazine, because rarely do you have the privilege of working for a man like S.I. Newhouse. And being able to launch a magazine where you have incredible resources at your disposal and the top talent that’s in the business, and the ability to create something from the ground up.

The idea of launching Allure was very controversial at the time because the industry said who needs another magazine about beauty, but it was a different approach and it was the new face of beauty, but there were a lot of naysayers. It was a very tenacious group of people and staff that we hired to get it off the ground. It was so much fun; it was hard work, but it was so much fun and we were all in it together.

When you hire a staff and you pick people and you put them together, it’s such a cohesive bunch when you’re working together on a launch, there’s really nothing like it when you’re creating something from the ground up. So, I would have to say that’s one of the highlights of my career.

Certainly, working at Elle magazine was another highlight, because being publisher at Elle, at the time Elle was in the third place position after Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and we were able to rebuild Elle into the number two position behind Vogue. That took a lot of hard work, and again it was the team there and they were amazing.

And probably the most interesting as a highlight was certainly working at Playboy, because it was so varied and it was the first time I had ever worked for a public company, so it involved quarterly reporting; it was a different set of skills that were needed and I was able to work with so many different areas. I worked with the group that did international licensing, I worked with product licensing; I was able to work with our dotcom team, somewhat with the entertainment division. The brand had so many different legs that it just made the job so much more interesting.

 Samir Husni: One of your colleagues said that the reason advertising flourished at Playboy during some stages of the magazine’s lifespan was that before some signed the deal they wanted a visit to the mansion. Did you get a lot of requests to visit the mansion before you closed a deal with clients?

Diane Silberstein: (Laughs) Every client wanted to go to the mansion, but no, that wasn’t a prerequisite for signing, not at all. But a lot of clients did use the mansion for events and programs, and we certainly allowed that. But no, that was not a carrot for clients. Not at all.

Samir Husni: What was your experience with Hefner? I had heard he was somewhat of a control freak, but in your view what was he like as a boss?

Diane Silberstein: Well, I reported to Christie Hefner who was CEO of the company, I did not report to Hef. I think to get more in depth knowledge that probably came from Jim Kaminsky, who was editorial director during my term there. But Mr. Hefner, from my observations, did make the final call on everything.

Samir Husni: Was he involved with the advertising at all, as he was with the editorial?

Diane Silberstein: No, he wasn’t involved in the advertising.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give someone today, after this tragic pandemic is behind us, on launching a new magazine in today’s digital age?

Diane Silberstein: I think you have to be really honed in on a niche topic. And you have to build your audience really from the ground up. It has to happen organically and it’s a tough thing to do today. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it, especially if they’re investing their own capital in it. It’s a very difficult time for all media brands and everybody is struggling for support. And when I say support, I mean marketing and advertising support.

Samir Husni: Can you envision a future without print magazines and being only online? What is your vision of the future of the industry?

Diane Silberstein: I think it’s obvious that the migration to online and how we consume media is in a digital world going forward.

Samir Husni: And how do you propose people can make money from digital media?

Diane Silberstein: With digital media, you’re either charging the consumer for exclusive content or you’re very specifically charging for your audience that you can target and micro-target.

Samir Husni: Can anyone replicate your steps in today’s marketplace or those were the days?

Diane Silberstein: I hate to discourage anyone from going into the business today, because obviously we need journalists and people to report on what’s happening today in the industry. So, I would say if your passion is writing, definitely do it. But there is a new way in which we do business.

My friends who are still in the industry on the business side, they are all stretched so thin because they’re not doing single titles anymore, they’re working on multiple titles, everything has been condensed. We do talk about the fun that it used to be. It was such a great business, both from the client side and our side as media sellers. It was fun and it was great, money was free flowing because advertisers only had the choice of print media or television to get their eyeballs. That was it. Business wasn’t as fractured.

When digital was introduced, and I was there at the early beginning with Phase 2 Media, it was the wild, wild west in 1999 and 2000, because no one knew what the Internet would become or how to advertise on it; how would they reach people? And no one knew that ecommerce would become such a big part of how we live, especially today. With how we’re living today, thank God for ecommerce because we can sit home and we can order electronics and no one has to go out and shop. You can have anything delivered to your doorstep. It’s wonderful and keeps you from feeling isolated. But no one ever thought that 15 or 20 years ago.

It was just a very different way in which we all lived. The way we entertained clients; the way we went out; the events; the way we had sales meetings. You tell these stories and the young people in the business today scratch their heads. You did what? You took your whole staff to Puerto Rico for a sales meeting? I can’t believe you did that. (Laughs) Those are the days that will probably never repeat themselves, that’s for sure.

Samir Husni: Any other highlights from your career that you’d like to add or mention that we haven’t talked about?

Diane Silberstein: Other highlights that were very challenging for me; my time at Ziff Davis Media, Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, which was back in 2001 and 2002, I was there as publisher at 9/11 and right after 9/11, Ziff Davis Media closed its entire consumer magazine division and that included Expedia Travels, Yahoo! Internet Life, and a small magazine called Family Internet Life. And there was no advertising. Certainly nothing in the travel industry, because no one was traveling after 9/11.

This was in September, so Yahoo! Internet Life was about to close its holiday issue, which was all about electronics and gadgets and gear. No one was advertising so we had no revenue streams coming in, everyone pulled their marketing and media budget. And finally Ziff Davis just said they couldn’t support it; they couldn’t go forward. I think we published two or three more issues and then they pulled the plug. We had to tell the staff that the magazine was closing. We didn’t even own the title of Yahoo! Internet Life; Ziff Davis’s contract said that it was licensed with Yahoo and it said that if they made any changes that Yahoo got the title back, they weren’t even able to retain the Yahoo title.

The hardest thing was facing an entire room of people and thinking my first job now as publisher is to help everybody get a new job. And I did. I called everybody I knew in publishing and everyone had a new job within two and a half weeks. Then I thought, what am I going to do. (Laughs) So, I started talking to people and that’s when I ended up at Playboy.

Samir Husni: I remember that was groundbreaking. You were the first female publisher of Playboy magazine.

Diane Silberstein: It was an amazing time to be there. It really was. And Christie was my role model because I was on the fence about working there, but she was so smart, she pointed out to me that many of the writers who wrote for The New Yorker also wrote for Playboy. I took home two years’ worth of the magazine and read them. My whole background had been basically marketing to women and here was my opportunity to market to men on a very grand scale. And it just made sense. And to be able to work for a public company, which was a big draw.

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

Diane Silberstein: I think the biggest misconception people have about me is that I don’t eat junk food, (Laughs) I’ve always been pretty much the same size. But I have a wicked sweet tooth and a weakness for ice cream. And I’ll never turn down pizza.

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

Diane Silberstein: That’s a loaded question. What really keeps me up is what will happen to this country should Trump be reelected. And I’m very worried about the Coronavirus, but I feel that this too shall pass if everyone will stay in and stay home. But I’m worried about longer-term when it comes to what’s going to happen in this country.

But overall, I am very privileged. I’ve worked with some amazing people in my career, and it’s not over yet. I’ve met some incredible people, including yourself and Steve Cohn. I’ve worked with some of the most incredible marketers around, people at agencies and on the client’s side. And my colleagues that have never failed to impress and inspire me. And we just keep going. This is a time of reinvention, that’s for sure.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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“The Gravest Danger Was Fear Itself.” Words of Wisdom From The Pages of Magazines

March 30, 2020

Here is a great picture and a quote from a special edition of TIME magazine on the 100 Photographs The Most Influential Images of All Time.  The cover image and its description caught my attention and that description could not be any less appropriate today than it was in 1932.

“One September day in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, the PR team for one of the world’s wealthiest clans set out to fan excitement for the family’s latest project: Rockefeller Center, some 6 million square feet of skyscraper space built on 22 acres in the heart of Manhattan. The team took a lot of photos that day, but only one became iconic. It showed 11 men sitting casually on a girder 800 feet above the pavement. They chat, scan newspapers, cadge a light, all while dangling their feet in an ocean of thin air. Lunch Atop a Skyscraper suggests the peril that yawned in 1932, when America, and the world dangled over an abyss. And it contains the crazy confidence of a nation that knew the gravest danger was fear itself.”

 

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Publishing During A Pandemic: Doug Olson, President, Meredith Magazines, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “It’s Important For Us To Stay Laser-Focused On Creating Relevant And Essential Content For Consumers And Supporting Our Partners…We’re All In This Together” – A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview…

March 27, 2020

“If you would have told me six months ago that in the middle of March every employee would be working from home and creating the same premium content, that we would be selling advertising, putting our magazines together, and updating our websites from our home environments, I would have said that would be very difficult. But within a matter of a day or two, we had all of our operations up and running from work-from-home scenarios thanks to a talented and tireless team working behind-the-scenes to make that happen seamlessly and they continue to do so. I’m so proud to be part of this stellar organization.” … Doug Olson

 “I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis.”… Doug Olson

These could certainly be described as the “worst of times” in some ways. The world is facing a pandemic of gargantuan proportions; people are sheltering inside their homes to prevent the spread, allowing those who can to work from home and try and go about their normal duties as efficiently as possible.

The world of magazines is no different. With the added challenges of bookstores and newsstands temporarily closing, the already stretched profitability of some magazine media companies has become an even thinner line of revenue. As everyone awaits the end of Covid-19 and hope that we and our friends and families stay safe and healthy, we also know that we are strong and resilient. That our country as a whole will come back and be better than ever.

Over at Meredith Corporation, Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines, has the same opinion. And while before this pandemic, Meredith was launching and publishing new titles at successive speeds, believe it or not, not much has changed for them. Their “secret sauce” is still working, even in this time of uncertainty.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about his team’s ability to just jump in and do what was needed to be done during this time. And about how proud he was of them and their dedication. His belief that we’re all in this together is an attitude that permeates Meredith before and during Covid-19.

So, I hope that you enjoy this ray of hope that Doug and his team offer all of us as we try and get past this tragic time in our lives and focus more on the positive side of things. And always remember, this too shall pass. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines.

 But first the sound-bites:

On his message to his staff during these trying and uncertain times: Our number one message throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. We’re all in this together. We are so proud of how our Meredith family is overcoming the extremely difficult circumstances throughout this crisis. Obviously, most of our offices are closed because of state directives or local guidance, and in locations where we’re able to remain open, we’re recommending that everyone work from home.

On any plans he has to slow down the publication schedule of the special interest titles: We clearly evaluate our publishing schedule every week, but currently there are no changes. We do realize that Barnes & Noble is not currently taking any new products given the circumstances. We saw an uptick at newsstand in the first week when everybody began working from home. The last week has been virtually flat. We sell the bulk of our product at Walmart, Target and the big grocery chains. There’s a lot of traffic, and keep in mind, every checkout aisle is open. Under  normal circumstances, a lot of those checkout lanes are not open and people do a lot of the self-checkouts. Under the current circumstances, with the number of people in the store, all checkout lanes are open. As consumers wait to check out o, as they’re waiting to check out, they have the opportunity to take a look at some of our products and many are putting them in their cart and their hard-earned money toward the immersive experiences our brands provide.

On whether Meredith plans to launch the new Ayesha Curry magazine as scheduled during the tragic pandemic: Yes, the magazine is complete and we’re talking to Ayesha’s team about the launch. We’re currently planning to launch it as scheduled in late April.

On whether they have a name for the new magazine yet: We do have a name for it. I believe she is going to announce it on her social media a little closer to launch. The magazine is printed and ready to go. Ayesha has over nine million social media followers, so she plans to unveil the name to those brand enthusiasts.

On Meredith’s positive attitude toward their continued publication of new titles and the company’s secret sauce for success: I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis. That said, magazine media is a challenging business. We continue to read about the doom and gloom, but we’ve proven that with a powerful portfolio and trusted premium content leading the way, you can outperform the market significantly. There are definitely obstacles ahead for all of us. It’s important for us to stay laser-focused on creating relevant and essential content for consumers and supporting our partners. That, I believe, will carry the day.

On his message for the future to his readers, customers and advertisers: Our message is we’re all in this together. By banding together this country has always proven that it can overcome any situation. I believe we play a small part in that at Meredith, whether it’s a magazine, website, video, or social media, we’re going to continue to inform, inspire and entertain our audience. Together, all of us will overcome this crisis and move ahead to brighter days.

 On whether he thinks working from home could turn into a future business model for Meredith: I know that we have many employees who work for us that would love to come back to the office for the socialization aspect of their regular jobs, but I see your point. Some of this may be looked upon differently when we move forward.

On anything he’d like to add: Again, our number one focus throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. Obviously, keeping the business moving forward is very important to us, especially as a publicly-traded company. But our paramount focus continues to be the safety and well-being of our team. At the end of the day, that’s the most important priority right now. I believe the business is thriving because our employees are safe and secure.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines, Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: It seems that the people in the media business are always quick to sound the alarms of doom and gloom, not only for the country, but for magazine media as well. When Playboy magazine folded, it’s because of the Coronavirus and when Esquire goes to six times per year, it’s also the pandemic. You’re the president of the magazine division of Meredith, the largest magazine group in the world; in the midst of all of this Covid-19 and all of these shutdowns, what’s your message to your magazine people?

Doug Olson: Our number one message throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. We’re all in this together.

We are so proud of how our Meredith family is overcoming the extremely difficult circumstances throughout this crisis. Obviously, most of our offices are closed because of state directives or local guidance, and in locations where we’re able to remain open, we’re recommending that everyone work from home.

If you would have told me six months ago that in the middle of March every employee would be working from home and creating the same premium content, that we would be selling advertising, putting our magazines together, and updating our websites from our home environments, I would have said that would be very difficult. But within a matter of a day or two, we had all of our operations up and running from work-from-home scenarios thanks to a talented and tireless team working behind-the-scenes to make that happen seamlessly and they continue to do so. I’m so proud to be part of this stellar organization.

PEOPLE has put out two issues in the last two weeks, completely done remotely, with a 200-member team. These are tremendous accomplishments and there is enormous innovation, creativity and collaboration happening across the board.  I’m humbled and grateful for our employees’ response to all of this.

Our employees are dealing with a lot of different circumstances right now. Some are caring for their elderly parents; some are homeschooling their kids now that Spring Break is mostly over, at least in the Midwest.

The fact that we’re overcoming all of the challenges, putting out the same premium quality content in our magazines and across all of our platforms is deeply satisfying and prideful.

Samir Husni: Excluding the magazines that are subscription-driven, whether it’s PEOPLE, Better Homes & Gardens or REAL SIMPLE, how do you think this shutdown or stay-at-home way of working is going to impact the strategy for the special interest publications? With all of these millions of copies you’ve been putting on the newsstand and with Barnes & Noble stopping shipments of magazines because people can’t got to the bookstores or newsstands, any change in plans or slowing down in those titles?

Doug Olson: We clearly evaluate our publishing schedule every week, but currently there are no changes. We do realize that Barnes & Noble is not currently taking any new products given the circumstances.

We saw an uptick at newsstand in the first week when everybody began working from home. The last week has been virtually flat. We sell the bulk of our product at Walmart, Target and the big grocery chains. There’s a lot of traffic, and keep in mind, every checkout aisle is open. Under  normal circumstances, a lot of those checkout lanes are not open and people do a lot of the self-checkouts. Under the current circumstances, with the number of people in the store, all checkout lanes are open. As consumers wait to check out o, as they’re waiting to check out, they have the opportunity to take a look at some of our products and many are putting them in their cart and their hard-earned money toward the immersive experiences our brands provide.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 96 percent of all of our rate-based titles are subscription-based. We only have four percent that are newsstand. And subscriptions have sold at a higher than normal average as well. So, if something’s index is normally at 100, we’ve seen most of our direct mail campaigns and some of our digital subscription activities actually over index, past that 100 mark.

The special media titles, to your point, we do put out roughly 300 products per year, the higher-priced, higher quality magazines that we’re famous for here at Meredith.  And so far the sales trends are holding as well.

Samir Husni: Are you still going to launch the new Ayesha Curry magazine as scheduled?

Doug Olson: Yes, the magazine is complete and we’re talking to Ayesha’s team about the launch. We’re currently planning to launch it as scheduled in late April.

Samir Husni: Is there a name for it yet?

Doug Olson: We do have a name for it. I believe she is going to announce it on her social media a little closer to launch. The magazine is printed and ready to go. Ayesha has over nine million social media followers, so she plans to unveil the name to those brand enthusiasts.

Samir Husni: You sound very optimistic and you continue to publish magazines, while many cry doom and gloom, touting the closure of some magazines as the end of days. Why does the media only shout the bad news, rather than the good news, such as Meredith’s continuation of new titles? And what is Meredith’s secret sauce that secures that positive attitude?

Doug Olson: I think from our perspective, our content and premium storytelling is resonating with consumers right now, even more so than usual. Our content is vital and an important much-needed escape from the current C-19 crisis.

That said, magazine media is a challenging business. We continue to read about the doom and gloom, but we’ve proven that with a powerful portfolio and trusted premium content leading the way, you can outperform the market significantly. There are definitely obstacles ahead for all of us. It’s important for us to stay laser-focused on creating relevant and essential content for consumers and supporting our partners. That, I believe, will carry the day.

Samir Husni: If you were going to send a message to your readers, customers, advertisers; whether you called it a message of hope or simply Doug looking into his crystal ball for the future, what would that message be?

Doug Olson: Our message is we’re all in this together. By banding together this country has always proven that it can overcome any situation. I believe we play a small part in that at Meredith, whether it’s a magazine, website, video, or social media, we’re going to continue to inform, inspire and entertain our audience. Together, all of us will overcome this crisis and move ahead to brighter days.

Samir Husni: Do you think working under pressure, working from home will be a model for the future or this is just temporary and everyone will return to the office once the pandemic is over?

Doug Olson: I know that we have many employees who work for us that would love to come back to the office for the socialization aspect of their regular jobs, but I see your point. Some of this may be looked upon differently when we move forward.

We’ve proven that we can execute many parts of our jobs remotely, including some tasks we never dreamed we could do. In all of our business continuity plans we always assumed that one office within Meredith would have some kind of challenge that we’d have to overcome, but I don’t think any of our scenarios took into account that all of the employees would be working from home.

Again, I’m so proud of our team. I know that there are a lot of other organizations out there that have accomplished similar Herculean efforts and this speaks to the silver lining of this crisis — it brings out the best in everybody. So, we’re going to continue to support one and all and do the best job we can.

Samir Husni: Anything you’d like to add?

Doug Olson: Again, our number one focus throughout this crisis continues to be keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. Obviously, keeping the business moving forward is very important to us, especially as a publicly-traded company. But our paramount focus continues to be the safety and well-being of our team. At the end of the day, that’s the most important priority right now. I believe the business is thriving because our employees are safe and secure.

When we’re able to bring them back together, we’re going to learn and apply some great lessons from this, and make some adjustments. Now more than ever, I love our Meredith family, our business, our portfolio and I genuinely appreciate people like you who support our organization and industry. Stay well!

Samir Husni: Thank you, stay safe, stay well, and stay inside.

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Nothing New Under The Sun… Words of Wisdom and Words of Warning From A Century Ago

March 26, 2020

From The Vault…

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

“If you do not put good men into office bad men will put themselves in.” Calvin Coolidge, April 24, 1920

When it comes to journalism and the media, the platforms may change, but the message is still the same.  Today is just like yesterday and tomorrow is going to be like today.  There is really nothing new under the sun. A new twist from here, another from there, but at the end of the day, it is all the same.

Take a look at the April 24, 1920 (yes, you read that right), Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, The Oldest Illustrated Weekly Newspaper In The United States then, and my aforementioned statement will be as clear as crystal.

The cover shows a grim-fisted Uncle Sam with an open and empty U.S. Treasury safe box. The headline touts The Red Success in Russia and on the editorial page under the tag line: “STAND BY THE FLAG: IN GOD WE TRUST” has a guest note from Stephen C. Mason, then president of Association of Manufacturers.  Under the heading  “We Need the Open Shop,” he writes:

“The only truly American standard is the open shop, with equal opportunity for all. I believe every good citizen will agree with us that the time has arrived when organized labor in the United States had better take stock of its policies and practices from a thoroughly American standpoint. The American people are no longer going to accept lip service from those organizations which are leading the nation to the brink of the most serious economic and social crisis in our history. Oft-repeated declarations of Americanism and frequent disclaimers of Bolshevistic beliefs are not sufficient to conceal their constant efforts to stimulate unsound and dangerous industrial theories.”

I asked professor Joe Atkins, my colleague at The University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism and New Media, and our resident expert on labor unions and all things labor, to comment on Mr. Mason’s editorial.

His response: “Sounds like classic “Red Scare” verbiage from that era, a time when J. Edgar Hoover and the predecessor to the modern FBI were raiding unions and shutting down foreign language newspapers (the so-called “Palmer Raids”), all in the name of “democracy” when in reality it was a kind of American brand of fascism. All a “closed shop” means is a worker at a unionized factory shouldn’t enjoy the hard-won benefits that the union fought and struggled for without being a member of that union. All an “open shop” is, is a sweet-sounding effort to destroy the union.”

Another article entitled All Progress The Result of Economy (with great advice from a man who ended up being president himself, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge) and a subtitle: Some plain truth from Calvin Coolidge, “The Silent Man on Beacon Hill.”

By Fred John Splitstone

But the most amazing part of that interview was this section:

“The Men We Need in Office

“Here I thought of a remark made that morning by one of the Governor’s friends, who said: “The ruler of Italy is credited with saying that being a king is a business like any other, and that it is the duty of one who follows it to make good on the job. That is the conception that Calvin Coolidge has of office-holding, and he has devoted the past twenty-two years of his life to fitting himself to make good in whatever capacity the people may call him.”

I asked the Governor how we were going to get the kind of men he specified into public office.

“By each citizen realizing and doing his duty at the polls. If you do not put good men into office bad men will put themselves in. If you put good men into the elective offices they will see that the subordinate administrative places are properly filled. What we require, both in State and National affairs, is a class of officers who realize that the duty the government now owes to the people is to reduce their burdens by paying off the obligations that came from the war, rather than imposing additional burdens for the support of new projects. Government expenses must be reduced from a war to a peace basis.”

True words of wisdom, yesterday, today and tomorrow…

And as Robert Heinlein once wrote…
“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

Peace in our times and stay well, stay safe and stay inside….

 

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From The Archives: On Playboy and Esquire… A Mr. Magazine™ Moment

March 25, 2020

From the archives, a Mr. Magazine™ 2019 moment on video about Playboy and Esquire. Both magazines were in the news this week, Playboy folding its print edition and Esquire reducing its frequency to 6X a year.

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Smithsonian Media Group’s Chief Revenue Officer, Amy P. Wilkins, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni On The Future Of Magazine Media: “Focus On What You Do Best And Then Give It To The Audience In Every Format You Can Think Of.” The Mr. Magazine Interview…

March 20, 2020

“I think that in this day and age, something that can just completely delight, entertain and engage you is what makes a huge difference. And we see that in all of our communications from our readers.” … Amy P. Wilkins

Even in the midst of gloom and doom, Smithsonian Magazine shines with its 50th anniversary issue which focuses on and celebrates the future of our planet. While Americans, along with much of the world, learns to work from home and to self-distance themselves from others to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, Smithsonian offers a look back at half a century of covering the planet, and also offers some reasons for optimism, even in today’s climate of uncertainty.

When Smithsonian magazine debuted in 1970 in the midst of cultural havoc surrounding the first Earth Day—including concerns such as oil spills, the looming energy crisis, the rise in pollution and the decline of wildlife— the magazine promised to examine the circumstances and ideals that shape humanity. In the five decades since, the magazine has continued to be optimistic in its exploration of the challenges and discoveries of life on Earth in a nonpartisan manner.

Earlier this week I talked with Chief Revenue Officer Amy P. Wilkins about this 50th anniversary issue and the state of the magazine media world today. Amy was the epitome of optimism as she firmly believes the world will return to normal and be better because of what we as a global community have endured together. Hope for our planet’s future abounds and the Smithsonian and its flagship print publication celebrates that profound optimism.

So, please enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy P. Wilkins, chief revenue office, Smithsonian Media Group as we all connect through the power of magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she thinks the Smithsonian magazine and brand has not only survived, but has thrived for 50 years: It’s a combination of things. The first thing is, there’s something about the Smithsonian itself that inspires people. So, it’s mission-driven. And then what happens is somebody receives the magazine and they become a national member of the Smithsonian. And the magazine is the core member benefit. And the minute they get it, they’re like wow! Every issue of Smithsonian is a surprise. They have no idea what’s going to be inside.

On being in an age where there is a divided media landscape, among other things, and how she thinks the Smithsonian has managed to deal with some very important and sometimes controversial subjects, yet stay away from any particular political party: I love that you said we’ve stayed away; I feel that the truth is it’s very hard to stay away completely because almost any topic can become politicized in an environment like this. I would say that our editors work very, very hard to deliver truthful, balanced reporting and journalism. It’s less about reporting, because we don’t “report” news, we tackle topics and subjects and we deliver them in a way that is meant to explain or delve deeper into a topic and really cover it in the most balanced way we can. And it’s a mandate really for us, because when you think about it, the Smithsonian is a nonprofit and we feed the central trust, that is our responsibility. So, we have to be nonpartisan, because we are basically everyone’s magazine. The Smithsonian belongs to everyone.

On how she thinks the media landscape has changed since the ink on paper magazine began 50 years ago: It has definitely changed a lot. There are some fundamentals that still oddly work for the moment, in terms of how we reach new subscribers and new members. And that is, direct mail still works for us. And overall, the industry becomes less efficient and we’ve had to create teams who can handle both print and digital, whether they be on the ad sales side or what is happening now with our editorial team newly uniting to create our future. So, we are definitely having to look at how we will invest digitally and where those investments will be best-placed, where we will reap the most benefits. And that’s where a lot of our energy and effort is going right at this moment.

On how she plans to sustain the magazine for the next 50 years as the chief revenue officer: Some of what we’re looking at right now is how we can actually expand the way we look at membership. Membership is an important part of who we are and why people actually come to us. It’s not why they always stay, but it’s definitely why they initially will join. But there are a lot of memberships throughout the Institution and we’re working very closely with some of those other important memberships, which are more about philanthropy, to figure out if there are other member benefits that we can be offering that would dramatically impact what people are willing to give.

On whether she can envision a day without the ink on paper magazine: I think that’s possible, at some point in time. I don’t see that right now because the commitment and connection that this existing membership base has is  really strong. And we are going to have to bring new people into the fold. What we find is that because we are really all about curiosity and that love of learning, it’s clear and it’s true that there are lifelong learners at every stage of life, but it’s also true that there’s a moment in time when you get to actually learn just because you love learning. And that has often been the audience that is attracted to Smithsonian, which tends to be older. Because at that point you’re not necessarily learning because you’re trying to learn about a specific career or you’re trying to forward something in your business; you’re learning because you want to learn. And that’s something that we’re grappling with. How can we attract a younger audience?

On whether she uses a different side of her brain when she works for a non-profit versus a for-profit entity: People have said that when you think of Smithsonian, it’s almost like you have to think of a massive university; it’s a little like that at times. (Laughs) For me, the most important thing, the only part of my brain that I get to use here that maybe I didn’t get to use anywhere else is – I love what we stand for, this mission is inspiring to me, increasing and diffusing knowledge, that’s what the Smithsonian exists to do. So, I’m inspired by the mission.

On how she thinks the pandemic will affect the Smithsonian and the magazine going forward: It’s going to be impacted. We’re seeing a significant impact in the upcoming months and that’s across both our print and digital. We are highly reliant on the travel category and that’s a category that’s obviously hurting significantly in this moment. But we’re also noticing the other sectors are pulling back. I think they’ll return and I’m already hearing that; we have a travel business that’s already planning for what’s coming. I’m fortunate that we have our own business in travel and they can keep me informed about what’s happening at the lowest part of the funnel in travel, so that we are in a position to respond when things are ready to go.

On living and working in these uncertain times, and the message she sends to her team and those in the industry: I am on phone calls with my team every day and it’s saying that this too shall pass, and we may feel some pain from it. We’re fortunate that we went into our fiscal year that started in October way ahead of the game, so I’m not concerned at all. We were really strong, both on our consumer marketing side, to the point where we were reinvesting in direct mail and still are, and we were way ahead on our digital ad sales. And our print ad sales were really strong as well. I know we may miss our budget this year due to what’s happened, but it’s not going to be anywhere near what it could have been if we weren’t so far ahead.

On how her role has changed, going from publisher previously to chief revenue officer today: When I was the publisher I was responsible for ad sales only. In the role of CRO, consumer marketing is also my responsibility, so all of the revenue that gets generated flows through me. So, that’s a different role and that’s how it changed. I didn’t have that responsibility when I was the publisher previously.

On whether her present-day role is easier or harder: (Laughs) It’s more exciting. It’s a huge challenge, but I love it. I learn something every day and I have to be on my toes at all times and that I love.

On anything she’d like to add: Only that people should really pick up this issue. They can pick it up or get it on all of our platforms. They can visit our site and get access to it. It’s chocked full of hope for the future of our planet.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Most likely I would be re-watching Schitt’s Creek and laughing my butt off. (Laughs)

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: I’m not sure I can answer that. Oh wow…I just don’t know. (Laughs) Maybe that I’m too serious. They might actually think that.

On the future of magazine media in one sentence: I would say focus on what you do best, and give it to them in every format that you can think of.

On what keeps her up at night: Right now it’s how to support my team remotely.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amy. P. WIlkins, chief revenue officer, Smithsonian Media Group.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the Smithsonian has survived for 50 years as an ink on paper magazine and now has expanded to all of these other platforms? What are the secret ingredients that have seen the brand not only survive but thrive with 1.6 million subscribers?

Amy P. Wilkins: It’s a combination of things. The first thing is, there’s something about the Smithsonian itself that inspires people. So, it’s mission-driven. And then what happens is somebody receives the magazine and they become a national member of the Smithsonian. And the magazine is the core member benefit. And the minute they get it, they’re like wow! Every issue of Smithsonian is a surprise. They have no idea what’s going to be inside.

And it’s going to be this range of topics that really just delights them; it’s science, history, nature, the arts, and it’s always this idea of “it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know.” They don’t even know that this is something that they’re interested in. It would be difficult to Google this topic because you didn’t even know it existed or you didn’t know it existed in this way.

So, that’s what the Smithsonian is capable of doing. And I think that in this day and age, something that can just completely delight, entertain and engage you is what makes a huge difference. And we see that in all of our communications from our readers. When they send us mail, and they send us a lot, the number one thing that they like to do, they like to correct us, every once and awhile there might be a typo. (Laughs) We have had that happen, which is hilarious. But on top of that they tell us that we are a respite from a weary world. We’re there to entertain and engage, and really challenge them intellectually. They love that we speak up to them. If we’re speaking at their level; we’re not dumbing things down, we’re delivering it in a really intelligent way. And they like that too.

Samir Husni: You deal with a lot of controversial subjects, yet at the same time you deliver the information in a nonpartisan way. You’ve managed to stay that trusted media brand. In this age of the divided media landscape, among other things, how has the Smithsonian managed to deal with those very important and sometimes controversial subjects, yet stay away from any particular political party?

Amy P. Wilkins: I love that you said we’ve stayed away; I feel that the truth is it’s very hard to stay away completely because almost any topic can become politicized in an environment like this. I would say that our editors work very, very hard to deliver truthful, balanced reporting and journalism. It’s less about reporting, because we don’t “report” news, we tackle topics and subjects and we deliver them in a way that is meant to explain or delve deeper into a topic and really cover it in the most balanced way we can. And it’s a mandate really for us, because when you think about it, the Smithsonian is a nonprofit and we feed the central trust, that is our responsibility. So, we have to be nonpartisan, because we are basically everyone’s magazine. The Smithsonian belongs to everyone.

Samir Husni: In April, you’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ink on paper magazine. And you’ll be looking at the future of our planet. What about the future of the magazine and the future of ink on paper? How has your media landscape changed since 1970?

Amy P. Wilkins: It has definitely changed a lot. There are some fundamentals that still oddly work for the moment, in terms of how we reach new subscribers and new members. And that is, direct mail still works for us. And overall, the industry becomes less efficient and we’ve had to create teams who can handle both print and digital, whether they be on the ad sales side or what is happening now with our editorial team newly uniting to create our future. So, we are definitely having to look at how we will invest digitally and where those investments will be best-placed, where we will reap the most benefits. And that’s where a lot of our energy and effort is going right at this moment.

Samir Husni: As the chief revenue officer for the Smithsonian, I know you’re not for profit, but to sustain the ink on paper magazine and all of its expansions, what are your plans for sustainment?

Amy P. Wilkins: Some of what we’re looking at right now is how we can actually expand the way we look at membership. Membership is an important part of who we are and why people actually come to us. It’s not why they always stay, but it’s definitely why they initially will join. But there are a lot of memberships throughout the Institution and we’re working very closely with some of those other important memberships, which are more about philanthropy, to figure out if there are other member benefits that we can be offering that would dramatically impact what people are willing to give.

And it’s going to take something. It’s going to take some creativity on our part to figure out what kind of member benefits are going to make a real difference, given the fact that our audience – our members live everywhere. They’re not in the DC/Metro area where a number of our most logical member benefits would exist, our physical member benefits. So, that’s one area that we’re looking at very closely. We’re in the middle of a very big project on that as we speak. We see membership as a big part of that.

Samir Husni: Do you believe that the printed magazine is that membership card or can you envision a day without the ink on paper magazine?

Amy P. Wilkins: I think that’s possible, at some point in time. I don’t see that right now because the commitment and connection that this existing membership base has is  really strong. And we are going to have to bring new people into the fold. What we find is that because we are really all about curiosity and that love of learning, it’s clear and it’s true that there are lifelong learners at every stage of life, but it’s also true that there’s a moment in time when you get to actually learn just because you love learning. And that has often been the audience that is attracted to Smithsonian, which tends to be older. Because at that point you’re not necessarily learning because you’re trying to learn about a specific career or you’re trying to forward something in your business; you’re learning because you want to learn. And that’s something that we’re grappling with. How can we attract a younger audience?

And we see that we do that digitally; we’re looking at a lot of different ways of capturing that. We’re in the middle of this massive project to look at both how we are offering ourselves up digitally, expanding and attracting new audiences, which we already can see that we do digitally because our digital audience is significantly younger by almost 10 years than our magazine audience. So, that’s an important area for us.

The other is the alignment that we have within our own division; we have a travel unit, which obviously is having some challenges at the moment, but that won’t be forever, and we work with them very closely because our audiences love to travel. And so the ways in which we can actually feed and support other businesses within Smithsonian Enterprises is important, whether it’s ecommerce or travel; whether it’s our book unit, those are areas that we can continue to be an important player in and supportive of.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked with a for-profit, you were the group publisher at Martha Stewart Media and you worked with Martha Stewart Omnimedia before Meredith; do you have to use a different side of your brain when you work for a for-profit entity as opposed to a non-profit?

Amy P. Wilkins: People have said that when you think of Smithsonian, it’s almost like you have to think of a massive university; it’s a little like that at times. (Laughs) For me, the most important thing, the only part of my brain that I get to use here that maybe I didn’t get to use anywhere else is – I love what we stand for, this mission is inspiring to me, increasing and diffusing knowledge, that’s what the Smithsonian exists to do. So, I’m inspired by the mission.

I’m driven every day to make sure that we’re delivering what the castle and the central trust need from us, and that is trying in these moments. Over the years we have given millions and millions of dollars back to the Institution, but we’re giving less. So, we’re consistently looking at how we can serve the broader organization and still be a financial contribution, but also find other soft contributions that make a difference.

Samir Husni: As we look forward, past this horrible pandemic, how do you think revenue will be affected for the Smithsonian and the magazine?

Amy P. Wilkins: It’s going to be impacted. We’re seeing a significant impact in the upcoming months and that’s across both our print and digital. We are highly reliant on the travel category and that’s a category that’s obviously hurting significantly in this moment. But we’re also noticing the other sectors are pulling back. I think they’ll return and I’m already hearing that; we have a travel business that’s already planning for what’s coming. I’m fortunate that we have our own business in travel and they can keep me informed about what’s happening at the lowest part of the funnel in travel, so that we are in a position to respond when things are ready to go.

But there’s no doubt that we’re going to be impacted by this. We had some significant wins around our anniversary, both because we were celebrating the planet at a time when the Institution was also celebrating the planet with a program called “Earth Optimism,” and they’ve had to cancel that live event. It’s now going to be digital only. We had a number of sponsors that were part of that and they’re still with us, but they’re not going to be able to do the event.

We’d also moved Museum Day, which I actually created on our 35th anniversary as a way to celebrate members across the country. It was getting free access to a museum on one day. We launched it on our 35th anniversary and this year we decided to move it from the fall because that happened when I left the Smithsonian, they actually moved it to the fall (Laughs). We moved it back to the spring this year, it was going to be April 4 and we did have to cancel that. Lexus was our partner on that. To be responsible, there was no way that event could move forward. We had over 1,200 museums that were going to participate in the spring event. It’s one of the biggest events that we do a year. And it will come back, but not this spring.

Samir Husni: When you are meeting with your staff, either in person or as today, virtually, are you telling them “Have no fear, Amy is here?” What’s your message to the people in the industry, including your own team?

Amy P. Wilkins: I am on phone calls with my team every day and it’s saying that this too shall pass, and we may feel some pain from it. We’re fortunate that we went into our fiscal year that started in October way ahead of the game, so I’m not concerned at all. We were really strong, both on our consumer marketing side, to the point where we were reinvesting in direct mail and still are, and we were way ahead on our digital ad sales. And our print ad sales were really strong as well. I know we may miss our budget this year due to what’s happened, but it’s not going to be anywhere near what it could have been if we weren’t so far ahead.

So, what I’m doing right now is working with each member; we’re on the phone often with each other and we’re going to be creating a strategy for when things get moving. And we’re going to be respectful of how we communicate. One of the questions my team has is how do I call people no in the middle of this pandemic? I tell them that people want to connect right now. I’ve actually noticed that people want and need to connect, so as long as you’re adding value to a conversation, they’re going to want to have it with you. If you’re just calling and asking, hey, when are you going to start advertising again, then that’s going to be a problem. (Laughs) But if you’re calling them with an offer of how can I help you, such as when this thing gets moving, I want to be ready to support you in your message.

We’re looking at all the areas that matter to the Institution and that matter to our audiences: the environment, education, equality; all of the topics that are just so important. And we’re going to look at the companies that have already said those things also matter to them, and be ready to have those conversations and to build a case for why we can help support them when they’re ready to go. Because they will be. They’re going to be ready to go; just right now, maybe not. So, I think it gives us space to do that.

And at the same time we’re looking at initiatives within the Institution that are important and that we believe could be in perfect alignment with us, so we can partner. Like we did with “Earth Optimism,” that was an event, a program, an initiative of the Institution and we got really close to the unit that was responsible for it. And we have identified a few others like that which will be great for us in 2021. So, I’m optimistic.

Samir Husni: Twenty years ago you were the publisher of the Smithsonian and then you came back as the chief revenue officer; how has your role changed since then?

Amy P. Wilkins: When I was the publisher I was responsible for ad sales only. In the role of CRO, consumer marketing is also my responsibility, so all of the revenue that gets generated flows through me. So, that’s a different role and that’s how it changed. I didn’t have that responsibility when I was the publisher previously.

Samir Husni: Is it easier for you or harder?

Amy P. Wilkins: (Laughs) It’s more exciting. It’s a huge challenge, but I love it. I learn something every day and I have to be on my toes at all times and that I love.

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

Amy P. Wilkins: Only that people should really pick up this issue. They can pick it up or get it on all of our platforms. They can visit our site and get access to it. It’s chocked full of hope for the future of our planet.

Samir Husni: Once we’re done with the social distancing and I show up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what do I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Amy P. Wilkins: Most likely I would be re-watching Schitt’s Creek and laughing my butt off. (Laughs)

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

Amy P. Wilkins: I’m not sure I can answer that. Oh wow…I just don’t know. (Laughs) Maybe that I’m too serious. They might actually think that.

 Samir Husni: Could you sum up the future of magazine media in one sentence?

Amy P. Wilkins: I would say focus on what you do best, and then give it to the audience in every format you can think of.

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

Amy P. Wilkins: Right now it’s how to support my team remotely.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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From Isolated Connectivity To Social Distancing… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

March 18, 2020

“I can’t get any closer, you know, it is this ‘social distancing’ thing.”

I have always said that digital introduced what I termed “isolated connectivity.”  So in reality we had over 20 years plus of practicing “social distancing.”

The big difference now is “isolated connectivity” was done by choice, “social distancing”  is not. So please don’t complain about staying at home for 14 days or so, you should, you must.

Stay well and stay safe.

Pick up a magazine or a book. Lose yourself in its great content and experience the magic of holding and touching the magazine or book and reading like never before. Also, it may not be a bad idea to turn off the television for few hours a day.

Just saying.

And this shall pass too.

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