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Woman’s Day Magazine’s Content Director, Meaghan Murphy, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Our Job Is To Be A Beacon Of Positivity.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

July 8, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (37)

“I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. I know the magazine is called “Woman’s Day,” but I want us to think of it as “Woman’s Yay.” Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine. I mean, Woman’s Day was doing a ton of things right, but I really wanted to surface the joy and the happiness. What I said to the team was let’s just put everything through a fun filter, anything we’re doing let’s put it through that fun filter and make sure there’s joy, discovery and excitement and energy on every page.” … Meaghan Murphy

“We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.” … Meaghan Murphy

High energy and upbeat. Two descriptions that fit the content director of Woman’s Day magazine to a perfect T. Meaghan Murphy has been at the helm of the brand since right before the pandemic hit, but she was executive editor at Good Housekeeping for years and has a very long and successful career in service journalism, such as her time as the deputy editor and fitness director of Self at Condé Nast.

I spoke with Meaghan recently and we talked about the infusion of joy and happiness that she and her team are bringing to the magazine. Woman’s Day is a legacy brand that has undergone a bit of a change and revitalization, all during a pandemic. But  Meaghan’s energetic and upbeat nature didn’t let a global pandemic stop her, she looked at it as a challenge that would hone the magazine and bring out all the talents her creative team and she had to make Woman’s Day even better.

And now the 37th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Meaghan Murphy, content director, Woman’s Day.

But first the sound-bites:

On reinventing a magazine with the legacy of Woman’s Day during a pandemic: Maybe it’s the okayest of times. (Laughs) I’m going to take the middle road. It was incredibly challenging, but also incredibly fun.

On whether the reinvention started before or during the pandemic: It’s pretty surreal. I got the job right before quarantine, so I was just in the midst of wrapping my head around what Woman’s Day was and what I wanted it to be. I was putting together a team, and the next thing I knew I had my new art director and my new team. I hired someone virtually, from my kitchen table, as my deputy.

On how she approached her new team in that first Zoom meeting with her new ideas for the magazine: I think I just explained that I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine.

On the new message from the reinvented Woman’s Day to its readers and advertisers: I think the message is that there is joy and goodness in every day. And we want the good to be louder, especially in tough times. We want to give you tiny moments of celebration on a daily basis. We have a section of the magazine called the “Smile File” and it’s really based on national days. So, if it’s “National S’mores Day” we’re going to give you an epic new S’mores recipe.

 On what role she thinks print plays in helping people find escape and happiness: We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.

On what role spirituality will play in the new vision for the magazine: It’s very interesting because one of the first things people asked me when I took on this position was if the Bible verse was going away? And I said why would it? It’s something that people love. We have a faith-based readership and it’s something they really care about. So, instead of putting a little Bible verse on the table of contents or by the masthead, I wanted us to really stand for it. Now is a time people really need to have faith more than ever.

On whether the last four months as she planned for this new issue during a pandemic was a walk in a rose garden or there were some challenges along the way: Yes, there were challenges. First of all, I have three kids, a nine, eight and six-year-old. My husband works full-time and I work full-time. We had no help for the first three months, our babysitter wasn’t able to come into the house, so trying to homeschool, build a new team, finish a book, I have a book coming out in February, doing my podcast; I was juggling three jobs and three homeschool educations.

On whether she thinks the changes the pandemic brought about will remain in place even when it’s behind us: It’s the new “new.” I love the scrappiness of it. I get such a jolt at how scrappy we’ve had to be. Our new cover with our fruit rainbow was created in a garage in the Poconos with fruit from a grocery delivery. And it’s epic.

On how Woman’s Day can bring that message of hope and joy to its readers during these troubling and uncertain times: I think we all have this natural negativity bias and you could watch the news all day and feel like crap all day. And I don’t think that’s healthy. We have to have time for that reality every day and then we need to have more time for the opposite of that for our mental health and our sanity. And I don’t think we need to feel guilty about also finding the joy and having fun, just looking at the flip side of all that stuff.

On anything she’s like to add: I’m super excited about the magazine. We have a small and amazing team. I also have a book coming out in February, which I’m really passionate about. It’s called “The Fully Charged Life” and it’s a radically simple guide to having endless energy and filling every day with Yay. And it’s based in positive psychology. It looks at the signs of  positive psychology within different charges of your life and it gives action-packed tips based on my 25 years as a service journalist in magazines.

On what keeps her up at night: One of my superpowers is a shut-off button. I have an ability to power down at the end of the day and just zone out. It might be because I move at a 150 MPH and just wear myself out, but I do think one of my superpowers is an ability to let it go; just to shut off. And then to pick back up the next morning. So, I don’t lose a lot of sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Meaghan Murphy, editor in chief, Woman’s Day.

Samir Husni: We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Is this the best of times or the worst of times to reinvent a magazine, especially a magazine with a legacy such as Woman’s Day?

Meaghan Murphy: Maybe it’s the okayest of times. (Laughs) I’m going to take the middle road. It was incredibly challenging, but also incredibly fun.

Samir Husni: Did the reinvention start before or during the pandemic? Did you say, what the heck, I have a new job so let’s the start the magazine over from scratch?

Meaghan Murphy: It’s pretty surreal. I got the job right before quarantine, so I was just in the midst of wrapping my head around what Woman’s Day was and what I wanted it to be. I was putting together a team, and the next thing I knew I had my new art director and my new team. I hired someone virtually, from my kitchen table, as my deputy. So, it was a very crazy process. As magazine editors we’re used to throwing up inspiring visuals on the wall, but this was more Zoom calls. And we had the built-in excuse that if it failed, it was the pandemic. (Laughs)

I made this magazine from my kitchen table. I went into it pretty fearless, realizing that it was the most insane circumstances under which to take on a new job and to reinvent a legacy brand. So, I said what the heck, I have absolutely nothing to lose, it’s a crazy scenario.

Samir Husni: How did you approach your new team during that first Zoom meeting? New leader, new ideas – how did that go?

Meaghan Murphy: I think I just explained that I wanted to make the magazine a destination celebration, a place where no holiday is left behind, from Taco Tuesday to Christmas, where we celebrate and find the joy in every single day of our lives. I know the magazine is called “Woman’s Day,” but I want us to think of it as “Woman’s Yay.” Everybody got very excited about that vision for the magazine. I mean, Woman’s Day was doing a ton of things right, but I really wanted to surface the joy and the happiness. What I said to the team was let’s just put everything through a fun filter, anything we’re doing let’s put it through that fun filter and make sure there’s joy, discovery and excitement and energy on every page.

My team had already seen me dancing around the hallways as the executive editor of Good Housekeeping, so they knew my energy. And knew that I wanted to bring that energy to the magazine. Woman’s Day was doing a great job, but I wanted to give it a little lightning bolt zap and fully recharge it. That’s kind of what I’m known for.

Yay is my favorite word. I do something called the “Yay List” which is like a virtual gratitude item, asking people to find the good in everything. So, I wanted to bring that Yay to “Woman’s Yay.”

Samir Husni:  What is the new message from the reinvented Woman’s Day to your readers and advertisers?

Meaghan Murphy: I think the message is that there is joy and goodness in every day. And we want the good to be louder, especially in tough times. We want to give you tiny moments of celebration on a daily basis. We have a section of the magazine called the “Smile File” and it’s really based on national days. So, if it’s “National S’mores Day” we’re going to give you an epic new S’mores recipe. If it’s “National Swimming Pool Day” and we know you can’t get to a swimming pool, we’re going to give you the coolest sprinkler for your backyard to make that more fun.

On “National Junk Food Day” we’re going to ask you to match the celebrity to their favorite junk food. On “National Book Lover’s Day” we’re going to give you the ultimate beach reading list. It’s really about realizing that every day, every second, you have a choice to find the good and to celebrate life. We lead with love and we look at the world through that fun filter. And I really want Woman’s Day to be an escape for people. A place where you can go to feel happy and excited; to forget for a second everything that’s going on in the world and everything that could be bringing you down. To escape the news cycle.

Samir Husni: What role do you think print plays in helping people to escape and find that happiness and joy?

Meaghan Murphy: We’re definitely finding the “Yay” across all platforms, but the print edition – when you see this first issue, it’s the kind of thing you’re going to want to put on your coffee table and by your bed. The images are beautiful and happy and it feels like a big sunshiny hug. It is a really bright, colorful, happy magazine. And I think people are really going to be excited about it. I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait to share it.

Samir Husni: I’ve heard that you’re also adding a chief spiritual editor; there’s been a Bible verse by the masthead in every issue since the magazine started. What role will spirituality play in the new vision of the magazine?

Meaghan Murphy: It’s very interesting because one of the first things people asked me when I took on this position was if the Bible verse was going away? And I said why would it? It’s something that people love. We have a faith-based readership and it’s something they really care about. So, instead of putting a little Bible verse on the table of contents or by the masthead, I wanted us to really stand for it. Now is a time people really need to have faith more than ever.

So, I tapped my friend  Candace Cameron Bure, who is someone I’ve always admired for her strong faith and her commitment to her family. I told her that I would love to give her an opportunity every month to share a Bible passage that was meaningful to her and to talk about how it shaped her life, then invite other people into that conversation.

Some of the things that do incredibly well for us digitally are our Bible verses. Bible verses for hope in trying times; Bible verses for love. So, it was something that I felt was very important to stand for and to shine a light on. And to bring it further into the conversation versus a small Bible verse kind of buried in the front of the book. If this matters to our readers, I want to make it louder. Candace was honored and incredibly thrilled to be able to have this platform to speak about her faith because it is so important to her.

Samir Husni: Have the last four months, as you planned for this first new issue during a pandemic, been a walk in a rose garden for you or were there some challenges along the way?

Meaghan Murphy: Yes, there were challenges. First of all, I have three kids, a nine, eight and six-year-old. My husband works full-time and I work full-time. We had no help for the first three months, our babysitter wasn’t able to come into the house, so trying to homeschool, build a new team, finish a book, I have a book coming out in February, doing my podcast; I was juggling three jobs and three homeschool educations. My husband is amazing, he cooks dinner and that’s our secret sauce because I don’t do any cooking, but I will share great recipes in Woman’s Day for my husband to make.

So, there were endless challenges. It’s almost laughable. I’d think how did I do that? That was nuts! It’s really been a surreal trajectory, but I’m also really grateful for the new perspective. I realize that I don’t need to commute to the city five days a week to make a killer magazine. I think it will forever change the way that I work, even when we’re back in the Tower. I don’t see myself commuting five days a week. We’ve done an incredible job remotely. We’ve been a very nimble, small, but mighty team.

And I’m really grateful for the time I’ve gained with my family. Family dinners weren’t something that we were able to have every night before this, because I was commuting from the city, my husband was commuting home from Princeton. But now Taco Tuesday is a national holiday at Team Murphy house. Every Taco Tuesday since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve added a decoration, just other elements, to it. I have many sombreros for the night. We have taco napkins and plates; my daughter made garland. We made our own placemats. My kids are always saying when the pandemic is over, we can never walk away from Taco Tuesday again. And I say don’t worry we won’t.

It’s also sort of informal the way I’m making the magazines. In our recipe section “What’s For Dinner Tonight?” we still have the amazing 20-minute meals that you can put on the table, but we added an element that became incredibly important to me, with the eye-opening experience of the pandemic and the return to family. We have “Table Talk.” You’re eating with people and you’re engaging and communicating. It’s these moments of family and connection and engagement that are really going to get us all over these tough times.

Samir Husni: What are your expectations for the future? Do you think that the changes that the pandemic has brought about will remain in place even when it’s behind us?

Meaghan Murphy: So, it’s the new “new.” I love the scrappiness of it. I get such a jolt at how scrappy we’ve had to be. Our new cover with our fruit rainbow was created in a garage in the Poconos with fruit from a grocery delivery. And it’s epic.

I’m so proud of this magazine. We did it and we wouldn’t have gotten that same sense of accomplishment if it had been easy. When things are hard, it just makes it that much more awesome when you succeed. And we even changed the logo. It’s just so exciting. I can’t wait to frame it in my office. We looked back at the 1950s and some old iterations of Woman’s Day and did some of that.

And my favorite thing about the magazine is there are little moments of discovery on every page. You’ll notice a little flag that reads “Yay” on a watermelon. There are these little moments of joy throughout. My other favorite section is called “Hello, That’s Adorable.” It’s the wreath of the month on a front door. And because it’s a front door, every month it says “Knock, knock, we’ve got a joke for you.” And there’s a joke on the door. The wreath is a flamingo and we made it in quarantine and shot it somehow. And we asked what’s the opposite of a flamingo? A fla-ming-stop. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: How can Woman’s Day bring that message of hope and joy to your readers during these troubling and uncertain times?

Meaghan Murphy: I think we all have this natural negativity bias and you could watch the news all day and feel like crap all day. And I don’t think that’s healthy. We have to have time for that reality every day and then we need to have more time for the opposite of that for our mental health and our sanity. And I don’t think we need to feel guilty about also finding the joy and having fun, just looking at the flip side of all that stuff. There is a lot that sucks right now; there’s a lot that’s tough and hard. And if that’s all you dwell on and you just live in that place, you’re going to be miserable. And miserable people don’t change the world.

It’s okay to be positive and it’s okay to find moments of joy and to celebrate. Celebrations are good for our mental and physical health. We cannot allow ourselves to only be sucked into that negative vortex. It’s so easy to find the bad right now because the bad is so very loud. Our job is to be a beacon of positivity and to give people moments of reprieve from that.

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

Meaghan Murphy: I’m super excited about the magazine. We have a small and amazing team. I also have a book coming out in February, which I’m really passionate about. It’s called “The Fully Charged Life” and it’s a radically simple guide to having endless energy and filling every day with Yay. And it’s based in positive psychology. It looks at the signs of  positive psychology within different charges of your life and it gives action-packed tips based on my 25 years as a service journalist in magazines.

It all spring boarded from an article I wrote for Cosmo called “The Seven Secrets of Happiness” many years ago that finally flipped a switch for me that happiness is a choice and there are exercises and things that we can do to move toward happiness. That book and the tips and strategies in there have 100 percent informed everything that I’m doing with my team. When I’m coaching them through tough days and when we’re weathering some tough storms. It’s not easy to work remotely with everyone having different challenges. I’m using all those tips and strategies to do this. And it really does inform where Woman’s Day has come.

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

Meaghan Murphy: One of my superpowers is a shut-off button. I have an ability to power down at the end of the day and just zone out. It might be because I move at a 150 MPH and just wear myself out, but I do think one of my superpowers is an ability to let it go; just to shut off. And then to pick back up the next morning. So, I don’t lose a lot of sleep.

That’s not to say I don’t have worries during the day and I’m not fully aware of the challenges that life is bombarding us with right now, but I have found an ability to say it’s time to let go and recharge and pick it back up in the morning.  I sleep like a baby.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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