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Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Print Plays A Very Important Role In The Ecosystem Of Our Brands.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 20, 2020

“For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand.” Debi Chirichella

“We know that print validates our brands’ authority with our consumers and with our advertisers. And that ultimately strong print supports strong digital growth. We’re committed to great print products and excellence in editorial, not just in print, but also in digital. And we’re investing in both.” Debi Chirichella

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 4: Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines 

Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines 

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. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy… 

Hearst Magazines has always been a staunch believer in print, and as 2021 approaches, new President Debi Chirichella, confirms that nothing about that faith has changed. Debi feels strongly that print validates the company’s brands with authority and trust. 

I spoke with Debi recently and we talked about the direction Hearst Magazines would be taking in the New Year and the effects the pandemic has had on the daily operations of the business. As she stressed, 2020 was a challenging year, but challenges present opportunities and Hearst is well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities. And as a new leader at the helm, Debi is excited to take the company into 2021 and beyond with conviction and dedication as she helps to seize those opportunities. 

Now, please enjoy the fourth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Debi Chirichella, president, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge Hearst Magazines faced in 2020 and how she overcame it: Obviously 2020 has been a very challenging year and honestly, I’ve been in this industry for a while, it’s probably been one of the toughest years that I’ve ever experienced. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges that the magazine industry was facing and Hearst Magazines was not immune. But, Hearst is a very disciplined and resilient organization and I am very proud of our performance.

On her roadmap for Hearst Magazines as the company moves toward 2021: For several years now we’ve been on the path of redefining the magazine model based on the power of our brands. And we’re staying on that path. Despite the challenges of 2020, we’re exiting the year with momentum. And in 2021 we just want to build on that momentum. We’ve made great strides in diversifying our brands across platforms, and then taking the audiences we’re building and diversifying them across multiple revenue streams.

On Hearst’s strategy to invest more in print: For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand.

On what she feels is the future of print in this digital age: Print plays a very important role in the ecosystem of our brands. Again, it validates our brands’ authority through trust with our consumer, it separates us from our digitally native competitors, and it allows us to have stronger brands overall. And so we feel like it plays an important role in the future.

On the changes she sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: In this new media environment, choices are abundant. So, we need to focus on getting closer to the consumer and deepening our relationships with our growing audiences. We think it goes beyond scale and we need to build personal connections with our audiences. And then to take those deep connections and monetize them in new ways.

On some of the things Hearst Magazines is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company:Hearst Magazines is committed to being a workplace, and also creating media, that reflects the world we live in. And that’s one that respects and protects and represents voices and opinions of all people. In 2020 we made significant progress against our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. And I think this had actually started a little bit before 2020 — we’ve been implementing operational changes and launching key initiatives to support the enlightened and inclusive workplace that we strive to build.

On whether she believes the move toward more people of color reflected in magazines is a sign of the times or an idea that’s here to stay: Again, we’re on a journey; we’re not done. I don’t think this is a one-time thing. We are really committed to creating media that is reflective of the voices and the opinions of all people.

On anything she’d like to add: It’s been a challenging year, but we have lots of opportunities and I think Hearst is really well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities in 2021 and beyond.

On what makes her tick and click: I love the company I work for; I love the work we do, creating content. I love the people I work with and again, we’ve had lots of challenges, but we also have lots of opportunities and that’s what makes me very excited to get out of bed every morning.

On how she unwinds at the end of the day: You know, I try to find a silver lining through this health crisis. I have three children, they’re not really children anymore, they’re kind of grownup. Two of them came home from college early, I still have a high school student at home and one of the things that I’ve been able to do as a way to unwind is actually spend more time with my family at the end of the day.

On any new launches that are up and coming for the New Year: I think in 2021 we’re going to add some smaller publications as part of our membership. But I’ll have to just let you wait and see for now.

On what keeps her up at night: Again, I’m very family-oriented, and I am a mom. Usually the only thing that keeps me up at night is anything to do with my kids. My kids are young adults, like I said, and they’re thriving. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about them.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Debi Chirichella, president, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: 2020 has been anything but a normal year, on all fronts. With the changes that took place at Hearst Magazines, with you being appointed interim and now the president of Hearst Magazines, what has been the biggest challenge that you faced in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

Debi Chirichella: Obviously 2020 has been a very challenging year and honestly, I’ve been in this industry for a while, it’s probably been one of the toughest years that I’ve ever experienced. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges that the magazine industry was facing and Hearst Magazines was not immune. But, Hearst is a very disciplined and resilient organization and I am very proud of our performance.

If I think about some of the challenges, one that we all faced was the need to switch to a virtual environment overnight. We had to quickly adapt to meet the needs of this new normal and to meet our customers and clients where they were. And we did just that. Our content team produced from home 150 print issues; we produced 3,000 videos without the benefit of our normal expanded video team. We invested in the quality of our print products; and we grew our digital audiences to unprecedented levels, hitting all-time highs. We did all this all at home in a way that, I think at the beginning of January and February, we would have never thought possible. 

So, I’m very proud with how we pivoted and how we met this challenge. 

Samir Husni: Each president, each CEO, when they come to a job they have their own plans and their own ideas. What is your roadmap for Hearst Magazines as you move toward 2021?

Debi Chirichella: For several years now we’ve been on the path of redefining the magazine model based on the power of our brands. And we’re staying on that path. Despite the challenges of 2020, we’re exiting the year with momentum. And in 2021 we just want to build on that momentum. We’ve made great strides in diversifying our brands across platforms, and then taking the audiences we’re building and diversifying them across multiple revenue streams. 

We’ve been focused on leveraging the power of our brands to create the best products and to build strong audiences. We are investing in deepening our consumer relationships. We’re supporting growth in our digital offerings. We’re leveraging our sophisticated data and our technology capabilities to serve our advertisers. All of these are things that we started in and prior to 2020 and will continue in 2021 because they’re working and we see great growth opportunities there. 

At the same time, we are continuing to evolve our culture and we are making Hearst Magazines a great place to work. 

Samir Husni: I’ve heard from other CEOs and presidents of magazine groups that during 2020 they’ve seen an increase in print subscriptions and people are utilizing their digital platforms. What’s the current status of your relationship with the audience? Are you seeing a larger demand for print? I know you’re investing in print and you’ve hired an editorial director for print, tell us a little bit more about that investment.

Debi Chirichella: For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand. 

We know that print validates our brands’ authority with our consumers and with our advertisers. And that ultimately strong print supports strong digital growth. We’re committed to great print products and excellence in editorial, not just in print, but also in digital. And we’re investing in both. 

Not only did we move Lucy Kaylin into a new role as vice president of print content, but we’ve also invested in the actual product itself. We’ve launched Premium Print, which is a multimillion investment across several brands in our portfolio to strengthen our position in the marketplace and enhance the quality of our print products. And this is something that we’ve been doing and will continue to do in 2021 and in the future.

Samir Husni: What do you feel is the future of print in this digital age? 

Debi Chirichella: Print plays a very important role in the ecosystem of our brands. Again, it validates our brands’ authority through trust with our consumer, it separates us from our digitally native competitors, and it allows us to have stronger brands overall. And so we feel like it plays an important role in the future. 

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? What are some of the changes you see taking place, is it in the business model, in the quality of print, or something else?

Debi Chirichella: The magazine media landscape is evolving and changing. And consumer behavior is shifting. We do have what we think are the most powerful brands in the industry and we know we have the most talented group of people in the industry working on those brands. 

In this new media environment, choices are abundant. So, we need to focus on getting closer to the consumer and deepening our relationships with our growing audiences. We think it goes beyond scale and we need to build personal connections with our audiences. And then to take those deep connections and monetize them in new ways. 

We’re building ways for consumers to connect directly with our brands through memberships, bundles and products. We’re putting effort behind our new product “Mylo” through CDS-Global,  making it easier for customers to use and work with our brands. We’re working on personalizing the content experience. So, I really do think it’s all about deepening relationships with the consumer.

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was the social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality and Hearst, like every other magazine company, was not safe from that environment. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at Hearst Magazines? 

Debi Chirichella: Hearst Magazines is committed to being a workplace, and also creating media, that reflects the world we live in. And that’s one that respects and protects and represents voices and opinions of all people. In 2020 we made significant progress against our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. And I think this had actually started a little bit before 2020 — we’ve been implementing operational changes and launching key initiatives to support the enlightened and inclusive workplace that we strive to build.

We put new training programs into place and added some advisory groups across the company to help us with this. It’s a journey and we know it’s a journey. I don’t think you’re ever finished. We made progress in 2020, but we’re going to continue to build on that progress.

Samir Husni: We’ve seen a lot of Black subjects appearing on the covers of mainstream magazines in the last few months. In fact, the last count I had was 318 magazine covers in the last six months that have Black subjects on the covers, which is almost 10 times more than we had in the last 100 years. Do you think this is going to be the new normal or do you think this is just in response to the times we live in now?

Debi Chirichella: Again, we’re on a journey; we’re not done. I don’t think this is a one-time thing. We are really committed to creating media that is reflective of the voices and the opinions of all people. 

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about Hearst or your position?

Debi Chirichella: It’s been a challenging year, but we have lots of opportunities and I think Hearst is really well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities in 2021 and beyond. 

Samir Husni: As president of Hearst Magazines, what makes you tick and click?

Debi Chirichella: I love the company I work for; I love the work we do, creating content. I love the people I work with and again, we’ve had lots of challenges, but we also have lots of opportunities and that’s what makes me very excited to get out of bed every morning. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

Debi Chirichella: You know, I try to find a silver lining through this health crisis. I have three children, they’re not really children anymore, they’re kind of grownup. Two of them came home from college early, I still have a high school student at home and one of the things that I’ve been able to do as a way to unwind is actually spend more time with my family at the end of the day. I am now cooking dinner most every day, not something that I did. I do like to cook and I have great ideas to pull from because we have Good Housekeeping and Food Network and Delish, so I have a wealth of new recipes to try. 

And so I find unwinding at the end of the day cooking dinner and spending time with my family, something that I didn’t do as much in the past, but again, I think it’s the silver lining coming out of this pandemic. And it’s absolutely the best way to end the day after a steady diet of Zoom calls.

Samir Husni: Hearst Magazines has been known, almost every other year, for launching a major new publication. Do you have anything on the horizon?

 Debi Chirichella: I think in 2021 we’re going to add some smaller publications as part of our membership. But I’ll have to just let you wait and see for now.

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

Debi Chirichella: Again, I’m very family-oriented, and I am a mom. Usually the only thing that keeps me up at night is anything to do with my kids. My kids are young adults, like I said, and they’re thriving. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about them. So, if anything keeps me up at night it’s because something is going on in their lives and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

One comment

  1. […] several years,” Debi Chirichella told Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni in a recent interview, “our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And […]



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