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Liz Vaccariello, Editor In Chief, REAL SIMPLE Magazine, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When You Make A Magazine, It’s Important To Look Around And Realize How Much Of What We Do Is Relevant In The Best Of Times, And Also During The Worst Of Times.” The Mr. Magazine Interview…

April 30, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (26)

“No matter if it’s 9/11 or if it’s a global pandemic, people care about their happiness and their families. They want to find ways to be healthier; they want to find ways to simplify their lives; they want to see the world, whether they’re able to travel at that moment or if they want to travel vicariously through others, and so the nature of magazines is to transport our readers. To make our readers’ lives a little better warms my heart. We’re not curing brain cancer, but we do improve people’s lives. It shows by how excited they are when the magazine arrives in their mailboxes.” …Liz Vaccariello

“When you look at the brands in the magazine industry, they all have that serendipitous connection right now with their readers. This is exactly what readers need at this moment. And that’s why I love this brand.” … Liz Vaccariello

Nothing has been “Real Simple” of late. Not the news; not the world we live in; not the way of life we all knew and quite possibly took for granted. Nothing. Nothing that is, except that loyal and trusted friend we all call REAL SIMPLE magazine. Even during a pandemic, REAL SIMPLE has stayed true to form by giving us useful and helpful tips that are “simply” what we need at this uncertain time we’re living in. The May issue offers “Life Made Easier” by showing us how to Get It Done while we have quite a bit of time on our hands. It’s, as Editor in Chief, Liz Vaccariello calls it, “a serendipitous connection.”

I spoke with Liz recently and we talked about this bit of serendipity that REAL SIMPLE has with its readers. While the world may seem like its spinning out of control, REAL SIMPLE, the brand, keeps us focused and alert to what is really important: our friends and family and keeping them safe and as happy as possible.

And now the 26th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, REAL SIMPLE.

But first the sound-bites:

On if it has been “Real Simple” or tough operating REAL SIMPLE during the pandemic: It’s been both. It’s been “REAL SIMPLE” because at the end of the day, life is about our families, our homes, the spaces around us, feeling at peace and finding a way to discover happiness. It’s about making a good dinner for the family; it’s about loving my dog more than I ever have before. Those are “REAL SIMPLE” things. At the same time, this is a very complicated time because uncertainty is complicated.

On how easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home: One of the many surprises about working from home has been how much more connected I feel with my team. We are having Webex staff meetings at the beginning of every day instead of once a week.

On whether she thinks once the pandemic is behind us the way things are done might change or be influenced by the pandemic: So much has changed, but so much is the same. When I’m working on a print product, I’m working with paper, so I often want to see a layout on paper. Right now, we don’t have that luxury.

On whether she thinks readers will be ready to get back to a “normal” mode of operation: I always post the cover of my editor’s letter on my Instagram and social media feeds, and I often hear from readers that way and I watch our REAL SIMPLE feeds. Readers are also excited to get the issue in the mail. It’s this treat that arrives. Bless the U.S. Postal Service. (Laughs)

On whether she ever imagined she’d be working during a pandemic: No, not at all. I’ve read stories about epidemiologists and global health experts warning about a global pandemic and I watched SARS carefully years ago. There’s a certain element of humanity that believes it’s not going to happen to us, or it’s not going to happen in the United States, or the people in charge are on top of it and they would never let it get out of hand.

On any additional words of wisdom: It’s been heartwarming for me to look around at the publishing industry, not just REAL SIMPLE and not just Meredith, but all of our colleagues. When you make a magazine, it’s important to look around and realize how much of what we do is relevant in the best of times, and also during the worst of times. No matter if it’s 9/11 or if it’s a global pandemic, people care about their happiness and their families.

On what keeps her up at night: People who interpret dreams and who charge for it could probably make a killing these days. (Laughs) I will just say that the metaphors of my dreams are quite something. It’s about stress; it’s about, yes, we’re going to come back, the economy is going to come back someday, but we might be in this for a long slog.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, REAL SIMPLE magazine.

Samir Husni: Has it been “REAL SIMPLE” or tough operating during this pandemic?

Liz Vaccariello: It’s been both. It’s been “REAL SIMPLE” because at the end of the day, life is about our families, our homes, the spaces around us, feeling at peace and finding a way to discover happiness. It’s about making a good dinner for the family; it’s about loving my dog more than I ever have before. Those are “REAL SIMPLE” things. At the same time, this is a very complicated time because uncertainty is complicated.

We’re all working remotely. We sorted all of those things out very quickly and we’ve all had to adjust. Change is often complicated.

Samir Husni: How easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home?

Liz Vaccariello: One of the many surprises about working from home has been how much more connected I feel with my team. We are having Webex staff meetings at the beginning of every day instead of once a week.

I speak with every member of the REAL SIMPLE team by phone one-on-one much more regularly. Whereas before in the office this one-on-one communication was less, I’m getting to know people even more. I’m calling them up and asking them how they’re doing; how their family is doing. There has been a higher level of connection in some ways.

Samir Husni: Do you think in the six or so weeks we’ve been dealing with the pandemic, it’s going to force you to change the way you do things once it’s behind us?

Liz Vaccariello: So much has changed, but so much is the same. When I’m working on a print product, I’m working with paper, so I often want to see a layout on paper. Right now, we don’t have that luxury. Everything has gone electronic, which I think is a good thing in terms of ecology and the environment. If we print less paper in our daily work lives, that’s better.

When I’m shipping the magazine, there is this need and desire as an editor in chief to see that one page, that one layout, on real paper. Even though you’ve seen it on your screen a hundred times, the experience of the product is paper. It’s holding it in your hands. I look forward to getting my final proof on paper and bringing out my red pen again.

Samir Husni: Do you think readers will feel the same? Yes, they will see REAL SIMPLE online and they will see a PDF edition, but it’s not the same as when they get their copy in the mail and actually hold their ink on paper magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: That’s been one of the delights of this entire experience and I can talk about it in terms of advertisers, readers and staff. First of all, in terms of the staff, when the May “Get It Done”-themed issue came out, it was about the little projects on your to-do lists that you’ve been meaning to get done for the last year and that you seem to never get around to. This came out and I called the Production team and asked them to send me two big boxes of the issue. Then I went to Staples with my mask on, I bought envelopes, my own set of office supplies, and then I mailed a copy of the issue to everyone on my staff. I sent a quick note that read, “Liked your story on dusting,” or “Glad we ran this photo,” or something personal about something they had done with that issue.

I was surprised at how touched they were. I wanted them to see the issue. I almost teared up. We’ve been apart and we’re making this magazine that lives and breathes and exists in people’s hands. To see it and hold it was a point of pride.

We also did a mailing to some of our advertisers in which we provided a digital edition of the issue to people so they could see it. We also continue to mail boxes of magazines that Meredith publishes to our biggest clients and they receive these issues with a note that reads: Happy Reading. And our partners are thrilled because there is something very special and magical about the print edition.

I always post the cover of my editor’s letter on my Instagram and social media feeds, and I often hear from readers that way and I watch our REAL SIMPLE feeds. Readers are also excited to get the issue in the mail. It’s this treat that arrives. Bless the U.S. Postal Service. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: You’ve been editor of Prevention magazine, Reader’s Digest; you’ve seen it all in terms of categories, from health to making life easier. Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic?

Liz Vaccariello: No, not at all. I’ve read stories about epidemiologists and global health experts warning about a global pandemic and I watched SARS carefully years ago. There’s a certain element of humanity that believes it’s not going to happen to us, or it’s not going to happen in the United States, or the people in charge are on top of it and they would never let it get out of hand.

To your point, I was at Fitness magazine during 9/11. The world can change in a day and that’s what happened here. It’s nice to be able to tell my daughters, who are 15, that this feels like we’re in this pit of something truly awful, and yes, the world has changed, and life will change, but there is hope. Life will go back to normal — a new normal. We will get through this. So yes, there is something to be said for being an old lady like me who has seen it all.

Samir Husni: Any additional words of wisdom?

Liz Vaccariello: It’s been heartwarming for me to look around at the publishing industry, not just REAL SIMPLE and not just Meredith, but all of our colleagues. When you make a magazine, it’s important to look around and realize how much of what we do is relevant in the best of times, and also during the worst of times. No matter if it’s 9/11 or if it’s a global pandemic, people care about their happiness and their families. They want to find ways to be healthier; they want to find ways to simplify their lives; they want to see the world, whether they’re able to travel at that moment or if they want to travel vicariously through others, and so the nature of magazines is to transport our readers. To make our readers’ lives a little better warms my heart. We’re not curing brain cancer, but we do improve people’s lives. It shows by how excited they are when the magazine arrives in their mailboxes.

Our April issue of REAL SIMPLE was the “spring-cleaning issue, spring clean your life.” It hit newsstands on March 20 and people have asked if we knew something, and of course, we didn’t. However, what we do organically is perfect for the times.

When you look at the brands in the magazine industry, they all have that serendipitous connection right now with their readers. This is exactly what readers need at this moment. And that’s why I love this brand.

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

Liz Vaccariello: People who interpret dreams and who charge for it could probably make a killing these days. (Laughs) I will just say that the metaphors of my dreams are quite something. It’s about stress; it’s about, yes, we’re going to come back, the economy is going to come back someday, but we might be in this for a long slog.

So, keeping me up at night is how long the pain is going to be for Americans, for my family, and for my readers. For people who are buying food and trying to put dinner on the table, and who want to maybe make their homes look a little better, or they want to take a trip. I want those people to have that ability sooner rather than later. I’m hopeful, though there is uncertainty.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

One comment

  1. […] That statement from Real Simple’s editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello is part of her recent interview with “Mr. Magazine” Samir Husni. […]



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