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Bauer Media Group’s President & CEO, Steven Kotok, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni On Publishing During A Pandemic: “It’s Just About Keeping That Human Connection.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

April 2, 2020

“Publishing During A Pandemic” Part 4

“So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.” … Steven Kotok (On changing any of Bauer’s publishing schedules at the moment)

Bauer Media publishes two of the largest selling magazines on the newsstands: Woman’s World and First for Women. One is published weekly and the other 17 times a year, so publishing schedules are tight, even when the world isn’t the uncertain place it is today.

Steven Kotok is president and CEO of Bauer Media Group USA. Bauer’s focus through this whole tragic pandemic has been the safety of its employees and staying engaged with its audiences. According to Steven the transition to working from home was a lot of work, but went surprisingly well and now they’re just concentrating on producing the same quality content and connecting with their readers. As far as changing anything about their publishing schedules right now, he said everything was, “So far so good, but it’s still pretty early.”

Steven also adds that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word, with a fifth generation of ownership, and taking care of its employees and readers is paramount during this precarious time in everyone’s life. Be it business or personal, the company cares about what’s going on in everyone’s lives. He believes that keeping that human connection will see them through, after all, that has been Bauer’s core since the beginning.

So, please enjoy this fourth in a series of  Mr. Magazine™ interviews on Publishing During A Pandemic with Steven Kotok, president and CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On the status of Bauer Media during this pandemic: It certainly took a lot of work, but it was surprisingly smooth migrating to 100 percent working from home. Things happened a lot faster than we expected. I think it’s been about three weeks ago that we set a week where every department was going to have a practice day from home. We planned this in advance, but that practice day actually became everyone’s first day working from home. No one came back after that. Things definitely overtook us in a rapid way, but we’d done enough planning that in a sense it was, I don’t want to say seamless because everyone put so much hard work into it, but it wasn’t very disruptive because of the level of planning that we’d done.

On any change in Bauer’s publishing schedules or frequencies: So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.

On whether having titles on newsstands in supermarkets is a blessing in disguise for Bauer since grocery stores are remaining open: It’s definitely not a blessing in any way, because of how negative it is, but I would say that it has changed patterns. And as far as newsstand, a lot of the disruption is definitely in travel and terminals, that sort of thing. But we’re still pretty early into this thing right now. We’re not seeing a lot of ups or downs. In Europe they’re seeing some lifts in their television magazines and puzzle magazines. Here, it may just be too early.

 On what message he would send out to his staff, readers and advertisers during this pandemic: Number one is that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word. We’re fifth generation ownership, but we’re also a company that’s had some of the same people who have worked for us since the ‘80s. First and foremost, it’s family first and people have to take care of their families and make sure that their families are safe. That’s always been a part of who we are; we’re very serious about business, but we want to do it in a way that the families can be taken care of. And that’s number one.

On whether he had ever imagined anything like the pandemic happening in all his years of publishing: Certainly not something like this, but I think in publishing these muscles are pretty well developed for people in all types of media. It’s an industry that has seen a lot of rapid change and a lot of challenges, so whether it was 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis or just the structural changes that have been going on, this is an industry that’s really built up those muscles of adaptation. I believe we’re well able to adapt to this new business reality. There are only so many times you can be shocked at a sudden change.

On whether he thinks once the pandemic is over, it will force the industry to change, such as in the logistics of publishing: That’s a good question. I think there’s certainly a lot of things, such as if we were going to all move to work from home on purpose, we probably would have planned it after a year. Then here we are doing it basically in one week’s notice. I do think a lot of rapid changes that seemed large can really happen swiftly, but I believe it all depends on the consumer. We’re in the business of reaching and engaging with the consumer, so if consumer behavior changes in some material way, that would change the industry.

On anything he’d like to add: Just on the working from home front, the last company I worked with, we were 100 percent from home and I learned a lot from that. For our business at least, we ask the managers that the first thing they do each day is spend 15 minutes with their team in a little group, and I think that human connection is important. We’re not together physically, but we can still start the day with a check-in, whether it’s on business or just personal stuff, just getting that point of contact.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, president and CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

Samir Husni: What is the status of Bauer Media during this pandemic?

Steven Kotok: It certainly took a lot of work, but it was surprisingly smooth migrating to 100 percent working from home. Things happened a lot faster than we expected. I think it’s been about three weeks ago that we set a week where every department was going to have a practice day from home. We planned this in advance, but that practice day actually became everyone’s first day working from home. No one came back after that. Things definitely overtook us in a rapid way, but we’d done enough planning that in a sense it was, I don’t want to say seamless because everyone put so much hard work into it, but it wasn’t very disruptive because of the level of planning that we’d done.

Samir Husni: Any change in plans in terms of your publishing schedules; any change in frequency or so far so good?

Steven Kotok:  So far so good, but it’s still pretty early. But it’s still the same going forward. The weeklies are weekly; the 17 times per year are still 17 times per year; the SIPs are on sale for three months, so there’s ample opportunity for shoppers, even if they’re in the stores less or more to run across them. And if they fit their needs, they will still fit. The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.

Samir Husni: Is this a sword with two edges for you? Most of your sales are on newsstands in supermarkets, which are still open. Is it a blessing in disguise that you have titles in grocery stores?

Steven Kotok: It’s definitely not a blessing in any way, because of how negative it is, but I would say that it has changed patterns. And as far as newsstand, a lot of the disruption is definitely in travel and terminals, that sort of thing. But we’re still pretty early into this thing right now. We’re not seeing a lot of ups or downs. In Europe they’re seeing some lifts in their television magazines and puzzle magazines. Here, it may just be too early.

We have a travel page and obviously we’re treating that a little less actionable and more aspirational, something you might want to dream about, rather than like you’re going to take a trip next month. It’s not a blessing in disguise, certainly, but it may just be too early to see the effect.

Samir Husni: What message would you send out to your staff, readers and advertisers during this pandemic?

Steven Kotok:  Number one is that Bauer is a family company in every sense of the word. We’re fifth generation ownership, but we’re also a company that’s had some of the same people who have worked for us since the ‘80s. First and foremost, it’s family first and people have to take care of their families and make sure that their families are safe. That’s always been a part of who we are; we’re very serious about business, but we want to do it in a way that the families can be taken care of. And that’s number one.

Number two comes out of that. Part of being a family company and having five generations of ownership is, we’re not a public company; we’re debt free and owned by the family, so we think in terms of decades and generations. Our strategy hasn’t changed and that’s not by default, that’s by an act of decision from the top that has been discussed. As unfortunate as this is, this strategy of our business and our ability to reach people and to be paid for the content that we produce, and to connect with our audience, all of that remains. If ad budgets are different in Q2 or Q3; if store traffic is up or down, we don’t see anything changing about the long-term trend.

It really is being a family company that permeates everything, in our concerns for the employees and their families and in how we approach this, as a generational project more than a quarter to quarter project.

Samir Husni: In all your years in publishing, did you ever imagine anything like this would happen?

Steven Kotok: Certainly not something like this, but I think in publishing these muscles are pretty well developed for people in all types of media. It’s an industry that has seen a lot of rapid change and a lot of challenges, so whether it was 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis or just the structural changes that have been going on, this is an industry that’s really built up those muscles of adaptation. I believe we’re well able to adapt to this new business reality. There are only so many times you can be shocked at a sudden change.

The human cost and the human factors are very shocking when you hear some of the numbers of the potential toll, but from a business perspective, as much as this is something that we never certainly foresaw, it’s not out of the range of types of challenges that we’ve faced at a business level. I certainly wish it was more of a financial crisis than a health crisis, in terms of the human toll of the people in this country, but from a pure business perspective, I think all of us in this industry have become accustomed to facing unexpected challenges.

It’s not  that we’re frozen and don’t know what to do, we all know what to do, the specifics of how we execute. The tactics we’ll have to figure out as we go. I don’t think anyone expected that we’d all be working from home, but that  level of change is something that as an industry we’re at least, emotionally prepared for.

Samir Husni: Once this pandemic is behind us, do you think it will force the industry to change, as far as maybe the new logistics of publishing?

Steven Kotok: That’s a good question. I think there’s certainly a lot of things, such as if we were going to all move to work from home on purpose, we probably would have planned it after a year. Then here we are doing it basically in one week’s notice. I do think a lot of rapid changes that seemed large can really happen swiftly, but I believe it all depends on the consumer. We’re in the business of reaching and engaging with the consumer, so if consumer behavior changes in some material way, that would change the industry.

I don’t think our production processes and so forth would necessarily change. Because even though we were working in our offices, things had become so electronic that moving files from editor to an art director, even if those people are sitting farther away, those processes were already in place and completely digitized.

So, I think the big question that, whether it’s Coca-Cola or a magazine company, how will this impact consumer behavior. That remains to be seen. I don’t think any of  us know the answer to that, but in terms of how we operate, I don’t think that’s going to change drastically. We need to adapt to whatever consumer behavioral changes are coming, but I don’t know that anyone knows what those are going to be.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add? Any words of wisdom?

Steven Kotok: Just on the working from home front, the last company I worked with, we were 100 percent from home and I learned a lot from that. For our business at least, we ask the managers that the first thing they do each day is spend 15 minutes with their team in a little group, and I think that human connection is important. We’re not together physically, but we can still start the day with a check-in, whether it’s on business or just personal stuff, just getting that point of contact.

As far as words of wisdom, we have to keep that human connection with our employees and our readers. In our case, with our ownership, Mrs. Bauer has really spoken from the heart about what this business means to her and how much she appreciates what everyone has done to adapt. If there are any words of wisdom, it’s just about keeping that human connection, whether it’s with the people you work with or whether it’s with the readers who really keep the whole thing running.  That’s been our focus, even though it’s how we operated already, and in a time of crisis you reach for your core. And our core is human connection and audience engagement. And it’s more important now than ever, throughout the organization.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

5 comments

  1. […] topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now,” Kotok explained in his interview with Husni. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less […]


  2. […] Bauer Media USA’s CEO Steven Kotok had a similar story, in another Husni interview. […]


  3. […] topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now,” Kotok explained in an interview with Samir Husni. “Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less […]


  4. […] Bauer Media USA’s CEO Steven Kotok had a similar story, in another Husni interview. […]


  5. […] Bauer Media USA’s CEO Steven Kotok had a similar story, in another Husni interview. […]



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