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Bonnie Kintzer, President & CEO, Trusted Media Brands, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Our Print Magazines Are Very Strong And They Are A Very Important Part Of Our Brand Identity… We Feel Really Good About Where We Are From A Business Perspective.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 14, 2020

“We’re a completely integrated company with our print businesses and our digital businesses; we don’t have separate editorial groups; we don’t have separate marketing groups. We’re one company. We’re one Reader’s Digest, one Taste of Home, one Family Handyman; the content may look different in the different mediums, but it’s the brand ownership and those multiple touchpoints. It’s all about delivering the content the way the customer wants to consume it.” Bonnie Kintzer…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom… Magazine Media 2021  Part 1:  Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, Trusted Media Brands

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general.

Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, Trusted Media Brands

Up first is Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO of Trusted Media Brands, a media and direct marketing company that connects with more than 58 million unduplicated consumers across industry-leading brands such as Taste of Home, Reader’s Digest and Family Handyman. 

Since Bonnie has been at the helm of the company, Trusted Media Brands has doubled its digital reach and launched new direct-to-consumer products such as MyDiyUniversity.com, Taste of Home’s Cookware and Bakeware, and Special Delivery subscription boxes.

I spoke with Bonnie recently and we talked about the past, present and future of the company. From Reader’s Digest to Family Handyman to the pandemic and diversity and inclusion, Bonnie has a firm hold on the vision she has for Trusted Media Brands throughout every facet of the business. She is clear, decisive and very optimistic about the future for both print and digital.

Now, please enjoy the first of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, Trusted Media Brands. 

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge the company faced in 2020: Actually, our business has done really well during the pandemic, which I know is an amazing thing to hear. Our fiscal year began July 1 and we’re up in digital ad revenue by 25 percent and also overall company revenue is up and our EBITDA is way, way up. So, we feel really good about where we are from a business perspective.

On the plans for Trusted Media Brands in 2021: We’re very focused on making sure that we’re best-in-class digital marketer. We are absolutely the best-in-class direct mail marketer and our goal is to make sure that we have that same competency digitally. Our digitally-sold businesses, whether it’s magazines or books or DIY University or the subscription box are all growing significantly. So, we feel like we’re on a path and that investment will continue, whether it’s an investment in people or infrastructure.  

On what she thinks the future of the printed product will be in this digital age: Our print magazines are very strong and they are a very important part of our brand identity. When I talk about digital, I’m talking about selling those products digitally. That allows us to form a digital marketing relationship with these individuals. And so I think there’s a lot more that we can do with consumers once we have that digital relationship set up.

On where she sees magazine media when it comes to the digital business: You do have to make a lot of investments. We have made a lot of investments over the last three to four years in making sure that our digital infrastructure  is as good as it needs to be. I think that if we hadn’t done all of those investments then we wouldn’t have had this big boon from the pandemic. Basically, food content and DIY content and gardening content is super important right now to people and we have excellent content in those areas.

On where she sees social responsibility, diversity and inclusion for the Trusted Media Brands: It’s very important to us and very important to our employees. We have a diversity and inclusion team. They have four pillars that spell out the word MORE within our diversity and inclusion and that’s Mentoring, Opportunity, Recruiting and Education. And honestly, I look at these initiatives and I think these are things that we talked about that we should have always been doing. And now we have so much employee involvement to get these things done.

On anything she’d like to add: People that I know that are running media companies, we’re very realistic; we look at the good and the bad and we manage our businesses accordingly. And if we are all true to our customers and have good financial acumen, we will have strong businesses. And that’s definitely what I expect for us.

On what makes her tick and click: I’m very grateful for my health and the health of my family. Obviously, I don’t take any of that for granted. As you may know, I got remarried five years ago and my husband and I are having a really good time being at home together. I’m in a very fortunate category to really enjoy being with my partner. We are now home with four dogs, we got two pandemic puppies in the midst of all of this, so there’s always something going on here and a lot of joy and happiness.

On what she does to unwind at the end of the day: I’m sorry to say that we’ve become binge TV watchers which we never were before. (Laughs) That’s definitely a new thing. And in addition to enjoying wine, I have developed a taste for bourbon, so I would say that probably sums it up.

On what keeps her up at night: The pandemic definitely keeps me up. We, as you know, have had more employees in the Midwest, so this cycle of Northeast and Midwest; I mean now everyone is being hit hard, but at the beginning it was the Northeast and then it was the Midwest, so it’s always on our minds, always on my mind. Are people being safe? We’ve had a number of people lose very close family members and that’s been very heartbreaking. So, that definitely worries me.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, Trusted Media Brands. 

Samir Husni: It has been a tough year, what has been the biggest challenge that you faced in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

Bonnie Kintzer: Actually, our business has done really well during the pandemic, which I know is an amazing thing to hear. Our fiscal year began July 1 and we’re up in digital ad revenue by 25 percent and also overall company revenue is up and our EBITDA is way, way up. So, we feel really good about where we are from a business perspective. 

If you go back to March and April, the biggest thing was of course how are you going to run your company with everybody in their homes, not knowing what everyone’s situation was from a space perspective and children, and all of that. I think we’ve come through really strongly in that way. We had already done a lot of technology investments previously, so that really paid off. And we’ve done a lot of outreach to our employees and that’s really our primary concern is their health and safety. 

We’ve brought back probably about 30 people into the Milwaukee office to work in the test kitchens and the photo studio. And about 10 or so in Family Handyman just outside of Minneapolis to work in the workshop. But other than that, we have very few people going in and I’m amazed at the quantity and quality of work. Truly, it’s inspiring to me the way people have operated. 

The biggest challenge is definitely around people with childcare or a sick family member or some other disruption. We try to just pay attention to that and meet the needs of our employees. But business is the best it has been in my six years. Knock on wood all day long. (Laughs) Our content really provides a lot of value during the pandemic. 

Samir Husni: As you look toward 2021, what’s the roadmap for Trusted Media Brands? You have legacy publications, such as Reader’s Digest which is almost 100 years old. You have the Family Handyman that just celebrated its 70th birthday. And you have Taste of Home and the rest of the magazines that are newbies compared to the other two. What is your plans for all your brands as you move forward?

Bonnie Kintzer: We’re very focused on making sure that we’re best-in-class digital marketer. We are absolutely the best-in-class direct mail marketer and our goal is to make sure that we have that same competency digitally. Our digitally-sold businesses, whether it’s magazines or books or DIY University or the subscription box are all growing significantly. So, we feel like we’re on a path and that investment will continue, whether it’s an investment in people or infrastructure.  We have rebuilt really every system in this company and we continue to make more investments, particularly in the area of data science and that will be a very significant part of our roadmap. 

Ultimately, we want to be launching more products, more non-published products, so scaling the subscription box and DIY University and the digital project plans are top of mind for us for calendar 2021. 

Samir Husni: What do you think the future of the printed product will be in this digital age?

Bonnie Kintzer: Our print magazines are very strong and they are a very important part of our brand identity. When I talk about digital, I’m talking about selling those products digitally. That allows us to form a digital marketing relationship with these individuals. And so I think there’s a lot more that we can do with consumers once we have that digital relationship set up. 

We’re a completely integrated company with our print businesses and our digital businesses; we don’t have separate editorial groups; we don’t have separate marketing groups. We’re one company. We’re one Reader’s Digest, one Taste of Home, one Family Handyman; the content may look different in the different mediums, but it’s the brand ownership and those multiple touchpoints. It’s all about delivering the content the way the customer wants to consume it.

Samir Husni: I have a heard a lot of stories about audiences and customers and media businesses having a lot of trouble with digital. In fact, recently somebody told me that their digital business was like the Sony Beta when the VHS was king. Yet Trusted Media Brands is doing good in both print and digital. Where do you see magazine media when it comes to the digital business? 

Bonnie Kintzer: You do have to make a lot of investments. We have made a lot of investments over the last three to four years in making sure that our digital infrastructure  is as good as it needs to be. I think that if we hadn’t done all of those investments then we wouldn’t have had this big boon from the pandemic. Basically, food content and DIY content and gardening content is super important right now to people and we have excellent content in those areas. 

I look at our magazines as part of our portfolio of the brands. I don’t look at our business as here’s our magazines and here is our digital business. I look at it as here’s our Taste of Home business and that Taste of Home business includes many different lines of business of course, including the magazine, but we do a tremendous cookbook business. And we have a strong SIP business, and we have cookware and bakeware. And we have the subscription box. So I look at it holistically, how do we get the right products to the right consumers? And do we have the opportunity to sell more products to the same consumer and also attract more into our brand?

It’s the same thing for Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest is obviously one of the largest magazines in the country, but also a growing website and has a great book business as it has had for years. So, we feel good about it. And again, we look at a brand as a holistic brand and the relationship that we have with the consumer. 

Samir Husni: Besides the pandemic, this year we have also seen a lot of diversity issues, with the George Floyd murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. There was an article recently in The New York Times about how even the book business is discovering Black subjects and Black authors. I did an article for the Poynter Institute about how in the last six months we’ve seen more than 300 magazine covers featuring Black subjects, which is almost six times more than what we’ve seen in the last 100 years. Where do you see social responsibility, diversity and inclusion when it comes to the Trusted Media Brands?

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s very important to us and very important to our employees. We have a diversity and inclusion team. They have four pillars that spell out the word MORE within our diversity and inclusion and that’s Mentoring, Opportunity, Recruiting and Education. And honestly, I look at these initiatives and I think these are things that we talked about that we should have always been doing. And now we have so much employee involvement to get these things done.

We did our first education program, which was Women in Digital. We had five amazing women on our staff who worked on our digital business and it was really great. Recently, one of our employees retired after forty years and people who never worked with him or really knew him came from this online video chat Q&A. We just launched our mentoring program and in less than 24 hrs. we got 10 mentors signed up. Our employees are eager to be part of the solution and now we have a lot of plans underway for what’s due for Black History month and Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s birthday. 

If you think about our brands, and when you think about Reader’s Digest, we have always been talking about social justice. And for our other brands, Taste of Home has been covering some of the baking groups that have cropped up to fight against racism and Birds & Blooms has been covering a Black birding group and Farm & Ranch Living, there have been other places writing about Black farmers, and I think they have enjoyed being a little bit more proactive and making sure that we’re showing people of color in the pages of everything that we do.

Samir Husni: Speaking of diversity and inclusion, this is the first year that I’m interviewing eight of the leading magazine media companies where four of the CEOs or presidents of the groups are women. 

Bonnie Kintzer: We’ve come a long way, baby. (Laughs)

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

Bonnie Kintzer: People that I know that are running media companies, we’re very realistic; we look at the good and the bad and we manage our businesses accordingly. And if we are all true to our customers and have good financial acumen, we will have strong businesses. And that’s definitely what I expect for us. 

It’s interesting, the magazine that is doing unbelievably well during this pandemic is Birds & Blooms. And that’s been very cool to see. They’ve had a real boost. People are home and they’re looking at their birds and their flowers, they want to learn. It’s just very interesting. 

Samir Husni: In the midst of working from home and being at home, what makes you tick and click these days?

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m very grateful for my health and the health of my family. Obviously, I don’t take any of that for granted. As you may know, I got remarried five years ago and my husband and I are having a really good time being at home together. I’m in a very fortunate category to really enjoy being with my partner. We are now home with four dogs, we got two pandemic puppies in the midst of all of this, so there’s always something going on here and a lot of joy and happiness. 

We’ve had our kids come home for extended periods of time, which has been amazing. Those are the silver linings. My daughter and her fiancé were here for five weeks from San Francisco. So, that’s a great thing, to be able to have the experiences that just wouldn’t have happened without a pandemic. I do try to focus on the positives that have come out of this very scary time and make sure that people are safe.

Samir Husni: What do you do to unwind after a busy day with Zoom meetings and team meetings throughout the day?

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m sorry to say that we’ve become binge TV watchers which we never were before. (Laughs) That’s definitely a new thing. And in addition to enjoying wine, I have developed a taste for bourbon, so I would say that probably sums it up. 

We do a lot of cooking, my husband even more than I do. So, we’re enjoying good meals and seeing people outside even in the cold weather. We’re going to see some friends to light the menorah and eat outside and soon we’ll be celebrating someone’s birthday outside. It’s cold, but we’ll keep on seeing people and celebrating the important milestones. 

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

Bonnie Kintzer: The pandemic definitely keeps me up. We, as you know, have had more employees in the Midwest, so this cycle of Northeast and Midwest; I mean now everyone is being hit hard, but at the beginning it was the Northeast and then it was the Midwest, so it’s always on our minds, always on my mind. Are people being safe? We’ve had a number of people lose very close family members and that’s been very heartbreaking. So, that definitely worries me.

And upcoming postal increases keeps me up at night. So, we will work through that too. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

Up next, Catherine Levene, president, Meredith National Media Group.

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like a trusted friend that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

 

One comment

  1. […] done really well during the pandemic, which I know is an amazing thing to hear,” she told Husni in the interview. “Our fiscal year began July 1 and we’re up in digital ad revenue by 25 percent and also […]



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