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Sid Evans, Editor In Chief, Southern Living, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “This Pandemic Has Made People Value The Simple Things In Life More Than Ever.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 19, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (34)

“This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers. They also value Southern Living more than they have ever valued it. We’re hearing that through letters and emails, that when their magazine shows up in their mailbox it’s an exciting and happy moment. It connects them to the world in a way that has become very important.” … Sid Evans

“We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.” … Sid Evans

The little things in life have become the most important things in life for many of us during this pandemic. Staying at home has become the norm and making home the best place to stay has become vital. Enter the comfort of Southern Living magazine and brand. Southern Living has been making us feel happy and secure for decades. The magazine offers up delicious recipes, amazing home ideas and inspiration to make each day better than the last.

Sid Evans is editor in chief at Southern Living and knows a thing or two about what the brand gives to its readers. Joy, happiness and a sense of home are just three of the attributes the magazine provides to its loyal audience. I spoke with Sid recently and we talked about publishing this tried and true brand that people trust and depend on. And while Sid admitted things were definitely different now than before the pandemic hit, Southern Living is still publishing the same quality content and joyful ideas and inspiration that it always has.

And now the 34th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Sid Evans, editor in chief, Southern Living..

But first the sound-bites:

On looking for the little things in life during a pandemic: This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers.

On how easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home: It has been a challenge, that’s for sure. There are aspects of it that we adapted to very quickly. We have a very digitally-savvy staff and most of our communications and systems are built on digital platforms. In some ways we were able to adapt quickly and well and keep the production cycle moving.

On whether there will be a different type of content in the summer issues: Fortunately, much of the content that we have produced already is very timely and very relevant to what’s going on right now. For example, in June we have stories about what to do with all of those tomatoes you may have. And great summer cocktail recipes. Things that I think people will appreciate. How to brighten your porch and make it a prettier place to spend time. All of those things are very relevant.

On whether he thinks Southern Living’s content is more relevant today than ever: It’s more relevant than ever because if you think about what people are doing right now, they’re cooking every day, three meals a day. They can’t go to restaurants right now, they are cooking at home. They need ideas and inspiration. They need something to break them out of their rut and that’s something that we do every month in the magazine and every day on the website.

On whether he ever imagined that he would be working during a pandemic: No, I never imagined that I’d be living through a situation like this. I never imagined it for my family, my friends or my colleagues at the office. If you’d said to me two months ago that we would be putting out Southern Living from home without going into an office, I couldn’t even have conceived of that. But I will say that this team has surprised and amazed me with what they’ve been able to do.

On what message he is communicating with his staff and readers during these uncertain times: I tell my staff to stay focused on the reader, think about what they’re going through, think about what they need from us and what we can provide. And think about how Southern Living can improve their lives and give them something hopeful every month. I think that really motivates this team.

On how the pandemic is impacting the relationship with the advertisers: We stay in close touch with our advertisers. We’re listening to them, particularly in the travel space where we’re talking to them, rooting for them, hoping that they’re going to get back online in a safe and responsible way. And that they can start to see some of their businesses come back.

On what he thinks justifies the continued printing of the ink on paper Southern Living: We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.

On anything he’d like to add: On the innovation front, we have a lot going on. We’re launching a new podcast series called “Biscuits & Jam,” where I’ve been interviewing musicians who are holed up at home and who are going through a lot of the same things that our readers are. I’ve been talking to them about food and family, and that’s been really interesting and a great use of this new platform. It will launch on June 2.

On what keeps him up at night: First and foremost, the health and safety of my team. That’s the thing that is top of mind and that I’m most concerned about. Also, what is creating content going to look like going forward? Creating content is a social endeavor. We get together in teams and create and shoot recipes and we decorate porches and we also brainstorm ideas together. So much of what we do is social in nature.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sid Evans, editor in chief, Southern Living.

Samir Husni: You wrote in the June issue about the little things in life. Do you think publishing during a pandemic is forcing magazine publishers and editors to look more into those simple things? Did it take a pandemic for us to search for a simpler philosophy?

Sid Evans: This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers. They also value Southern Living more than they have ever valued it. We’re hearing that through letters and emails, that when their magazine shows up in their mailbox it’s an exciting and happy moment. It connects them to the world in a way that has become very important.

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

Sid Evans: It has been a challenge, that’s for sure. There are aspects of it that we adapted to very quickly. We have a very digitally-savvy staff and most of our communications and systems are built on digital platforms. In some ways we were able to adapt quickly and well and keep the production cycle moving.

In other ways it has been much harder because we can’t produce content the way we used to. We can’t photograph food in the food studios; we can’t go into people’s homes and do home shoots; we don’t have any restaurants to take pictures of. So, all of that has really changed the kinds of stories that we can do and the way that we produce them.

Samir Husni: If we look forward to the summer issues, are we going to see a different type of content than usual? Or are you readjusting your publishing schedule because of the pandemic?

Sid Evans: Yes. Fortunately, much of the content that we have produced already is very timely and very relevant to what’s going on right now. For example, in June we have stories about what to do with all of those tomatoes you may have. And great summer cocktail recipes. Things that I think people will appreciate. How to brighten your porch and make it a prettier place to spend time. All of those things are very relevant.

We shoot a lot of stuff a year in advance, because seasonality is so important to Southern Living. I would say that more than 50 percent of our content we plan and shoot one year in advance so that we can capture the absolute peak of the season. All of that is going to make for very strong June and July issues that will be really relevant right now. Looking ahead to next summer, that’s a little harder.

Samir Husni: Why do you think Southern Living’s content today is more relevant than ever? Or do you think it is?

Sid Evans: It’s more relevant than ever because if you think about what people are doing right now, they’re cooking every day, three meals a day. They can’t go to restaurants right now, they are cooking at home. They need ideas and inspiration. They need something to break them out of their rut and that’s something that we do every month in the magazine and every day on the website. They need ideas for how to make their home more livable, more enjoyable, and more of a sanctuary. That’s something that we do. People really appreciate that content right now; it’s just so important. It’s part of what’s helping them get through this whole ordeal.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and what was your first reaction when it hit?

Sid Evans: No, I never imagined that I’d be living through a situation like this. I never imagined it for my family, my friends or my colleagues at the office. If you’d said to me two months ago that we would be putting out Southern Living from home without going into an office, I couldn’t even have conceived of that. But I will say that this team has surprised and amazed me with what they’ve been able to do. And the creativity that they have brought to this whole enterprise and their devotion to the brand and to the readers. We’ve been figuring it out one day at a time, and somehow we’re making it work. We’re all motivated by the response we’re getting from our audience.

Samir Husni: What message are you communicating with your staff and readers during these uncertain times?

Sid Evans: I tell my staff to stay focused on the reader, think about what they’re going through, think about what they need from us and what we can provide. And think about how Southern Living can improve their lives and give them something hopeful every month. I think that really motivates this team.

I will tell you that one area that is a challenge, especially right now, is travel. That’s a really important part of Southern Living. We are a guide to the South. We’ve covered the cities, small towns, the beaches and the mountains. We recommend the best places to go and we have a lot of stories lined up that spoke to that. All of that is on hold right now. Until places start to open up, we’ve really had to put a lot of great travel coverage on hold. I’m looking forward to bringing that back and I know that our readers are looking forward to getting back out there, back on the road to start visiting places again.

Samir Husni: How is this impacting the relationship with the advertisers?

Sid Evans: We stay in close touch with our advertisers. We’re listening to them, particularly in the travel space where we’re talking to them, rooting for them, hoping that they’re going to get back online in a safe and responsible way. And that they can start to see some of their businesses come back.

One of the things that we’ve been doing is to share a lot of research with our advertisers about what our audience is going through. We have access to phenomenal research. We have panels that we can tap into; we have audiences that we can reach out to in real time and very quickly take their temperature and get a sense of what they’re worried about, what they’re looking forward to, and how they’re dealing with this pandemic.

We’ve been sharing that research on calls with some of our advertising partners and they’ve been really grateful and appreciative to hear this information, because these are their consumers. That’s something that has been a real advantage for Southern Living right now.

Samir Husni: What do you think justifies the continued printing of the ink on paper Southern Living?

Sid Evans: We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.

That being said, we’re also seeing incredible traffic to our digital platforms. The online traffic has been remarkable. There is a ton of engagement on our social platforms and we’re doing a lot of innovating on that front as well. So, I think you have to do both at the same time. You have to keep reaching those new audiences and you also have to take care of your print audience.

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

Sid Evans: On the innovation front, we have a lot going on. We’re launching a new podcast series called “Biscuits & Jam,” where I’ve been interviewing musicians who are holed up at home and who are going through a lot of the same things that our readers are. I’ve been talking to them about food and family, and that’s been really interesting and a great use of this new platform. It will launch on June 2.

We have a television show that just launched in April called “The Southern Living Show” that’s on a lot of the Meredith Television networks. It’s in 12 markets. That’s seeing a lot of audience growth week over week.

We have a Facebook group devoted to cooking where it’s become a really important community and a way for people to share Southern Living recipes and talk about them. And show each other what they’re making and what they’re baking. These are all important things to the brand, in terms of reaching out to new audiences and continuing to innovate. This is a time for innovation. Now more than ever.

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

Sid Evans: First and foremost, the health and safety of my team. That’s the thing that is top of mind and that I’m most concerned about. Also, what is creating content going to look like going forward? Creating content is a social endeavor. We get together in teams and create and shoot recipes and we decorate porches and we also brainstorm ideas together. So much of what we do is social in nature.

We photograph restaurants and towns and so I worry about what that is going to look like and how we’re going to do it. At the moment, I don’t see that breaking for a while. I do worry about that.

I do think that even though we’re living under this dark cloud of the virus, there are things to really value and appreciate right now. And there’s an opportunity to reconnect with family and to reset priorities. That only comes along once in a lifetime. So we have to take advantage of that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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