Archive for January, 2021

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People en Español: The Most Trusted Voice In Hispanic Culture Approaches Its 25th Anniversary As It Continues To Thrive Even During A Pandemic – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Monique Manso, Publisher & Armando Correa, Editor In Chief…

January 18, 2021

“There’s a cultural relevancy to magazines and newspapers for Latinos. And because these are multigenerational households, that cultural relationship, that emotional relationship to print is passed down through the generations. And that’s why so much of our story is about readers per copy.” Monique Manso…

“For me, it’s important that everything is connected here. Print is important; the celebrities love to be on the cover of the magazine and they want to be on the website. But when you’re negotiating an exclusive, it’s print. And the loyalty – we have almost half a million subscribers every month.” Armando Correa…

People en Español has been a defining force in the Hispanic magazine market since its inception in 1996. The Spanish-language American magazine published by Meredith Corporation covers the general world of entertainment, articles on fashion and beauty, and human interest stories. And as Editor in Chief Armando Correa says they do it with truth and passion, “Our audience knows that when they go to People en Español everything is true. Everything is confirmed.”

I spoke with Armando and Publisher Monique Manso recently and we talked about this force to be reckoned with, its diversity and inclusive nature, and its passion for celebrities and great covers. And while the magazine is totally and successfully integrated, Monique says that when it comes to their phenomenal celebrity exclusives, “It’s the print piece that makes them want to give that exclusive.”

Indeed. The magazine cover has and always will be a defining force all on its own. And in the case of People en Español, it’s a very intriguing and eye-catching force.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Monique Manso, publisher & Armando Correa, editor in chief, People en Español. 

But first the sound-bites:

On the secret of People en Español’s 24-year success (Armando Correa): I think first of all it’s trust. Our audience knows that when they go to People en Español everything is true. Everything is confirmed. The next thing is the emotional connection that we have with our audience. That’s a key thing. And when I talk to the editors and the writers who have been with the magazine since the beginning, this is a long run that we are still here. We create great relationships with the celebrities and the audience. 

On diversity and inclusion with the People en Español brand (Monique Manso): It hasn’t always been easy to continue to reinforce with all of our management and our corporate groups in our previous life as Time Inc., it hasn’t always been easy to continue to educate them on the need for this in-language project and to explain to them what we call the “Browning” of America. And how we needed to be ahead of it and that this brand is one way to do that. It’s been an uphill battle for us. But I can happily say, and I think Armando will agree with me, that so much of that has changed with our acquisition by Meredith. We now work with a team that truly does understand and walked through the door embracing multicultural brands.

Monique Manso, publisher, People en Español. 

On some of the advertising challenges the brand has had to face (Monique Manso): I would say fear with the pandemic, with the social justice movement, going into an election; fear was the challenge in 2020 because many marketers really wanted to be there for this community, for the multicultural community at large, and Latinos in particular. However, they were afraid of what that messaging should look like so that it was sensitive to those issues and so that it didn’t seem tone-deaf to what was going on. 

On how content is created for the magazine (Armando Correa): It’s really hard to understand because for everybody, People en Español is an entertainment magazine. And we are an entertainment magazine, but at the same time, and I remember talking to my bosses at Time Inc., People en Español is a business magazine and a Time magazine, Fortune, Money, InStyle, People; we’re the number one Hispanic magazine. And we need to be, at the same time, connected to the audience and with what’s happening in pour community and with what’s happening in the country.

On where they see the role of the print edition of People en Español compared to its digital footprint (Armando Correa): People en Español, you have to understand the brand is a whole. Print, digital, the website, social media and events; everything is related. Monique is selling the website, the events, social media and print at the same time. And I’m the editor for everything. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that our P&L, our concept, the whole brand has to be understood like that. 

Armando Correa, editor in chief, People en Español. 

On anything they’d like to add (Monique Manso): Health and wellness is something that’s huge for us right now because there is such a void in the marketplace of trustworthy in-language content for this community. I don’t know if you followed the press when we launched our Point of Care products. Armando has a team that is editing People en Español that goes into the doctor’s offices, but as we got the feedback from our audience and the Point of Care team, we’ve since launched a Salud hub on People en Español.com and we’re focused on health with our contributors such as Dr. Juan Rivera. So, that’s big for us and we believe that we need to fill the void there, certainly around vaccine confidence moving forward.

On what makes them tick and click (Monique Manso): For me, it’s that social responsibility. It is constantly understanding where our community is being underserved and although Armando spoke so eloquently about the fact that we’re entertainment; how do we take this voice of entertainment and use our relationships and our access to celebrities to fill those needs. So feeling that responsibility deeply, then for me, is what makes me tick and click.

On what makes them tick and click (Armando Correa): Every time I wake up in the morning; I’m a news junkie. I’m reading the news and thinking that this will work for our brand. Or I need to deal with an exclusive, talking to a celebrity or PR with the managers, and then working with the whole team and seeing that this is going to work and looking at the numbers, because data for me is an addiction. That makes me tick and click.

On how they unwind at the end of the day (Monique Manso): I’m a Scorpio and I need to be near water. And I’m very blessed; I live in Connecticut about a block from the Long Island Sound, so I walk down to the beach and I figuratively wash the day away with my wine in hand. And then it’s about spending time with my family and I do a lot of cooking.

On how they unwind at the end of the day (Armando Correa): We have a hectic life working with business and everything. We have a family, Monique has two boys and I have a boy and a girl and they’re teenagers. When I finish the day it’s crazy and then for me, I always say that I’m a reader who writes and edits. I need to have my time with my books. I’m a writer, but at the same time on the weekend this is my yoga. Some people go to the gym, or run, or do yoga, for me writing and reading is my meditation. And I need it.

On what keeps them up at night (Monique Manso): Speed keeps me up. Whether or not we’re moving fast enough is something that I really grapple with all the time. As I said earlier, there are so many things – health and wellness, there’s not enough content out there for this community for them to stay healthy and be ahead of the curve. There isn’t enough financial content in-language.

On what keeps them up at night (Armando Correa): What is next for People en Español. And for our 25th anniversary, I said let’s create 25 different covers. I think the future for People en Español is the integration, it’s the only way. 

 

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Monique Manso, publisher & Armando Correa, editor in chief, People en Español. 

Samir Husni: People en Español will soon celebrate a quarter century; it’s heading into its 24th year of publishing. What do you think is the secret that keeps People en Español thriving and continuing when so many other magazines have come and gone in the marketplace trying to reach the same audience? 

Armando Correa: I think first of all it’s trust. Our audience knows that when they go to People en Español everything is true. Everything is confirmed. The next thing is the emotional connection that we have with our audience. That’s a key thing. And when I talk to the editors and the writers who have been with the magazine since the beginning, this is a long run that we are still here. We create great relationships with the celebrities and the audience.

Monique Manso: To add to that, I don’t know if you’ve looked at the social footprint of People en Español, but it is probably the largest at Meredith, if not one of the top two or three. And it was like that at Time Inc. too, so I truly believe that Armando’s audience and followers, as well as all the other editors, I feel like there’s a two-way dialogue between them and the editorial product. So aside from all the information they’re getting, they feel heard. And I think that’s really been one of the big factors in our success. 

When we think about some of those that have not quite made it, and that saddens us in a very big way because we would like to see a really rich and robust slate of content providers, many of those at some point chose to do direct translations or to do English only for this community. And Armando has kept a balance between the product that his team produces for that cross-cultural, bilingual, millennial and Gen Z family member because we truly are a family product, and then the in-language content that he and his team produce.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the journey you’ve had with diversity and inclusion with the People en Español brand.

Armando Correa: I remember when they decided to create People en Español as a monthly magazine with a full-time staff. I was working as a reporter then for the Miami Herald and a friend from The New York Times told me they were looking for a senior writer for People en Español. I flew to New York and had my interview with Angelo Figueroa, who was editor in chief at that time. And Angelo told me he was worried because I was accepting this job, moving to New York from Miami and selling my house, and he wasn’t sure the magazine would last five years. (Laughs) I told him that I was pretty sure that it would last more than five years. 

At that moment they created People en Español and Teen People. Five years later, Teen People died and we’re still here. And as you know, People en Español was created when Selena, the singer who was killed, they created a special in People weekly. They did a translation for the West Coast and sold one million copies in one week and they saw they had an audience for it. There were Hispanics in the country who wanted this content. 

Monique Manso: And it hasn’t always been easy to continue to reinforce with all of our management and our corporate groups in our previous life as Time Inc., it hasn’t always been easy to continue to educate them on the need for this in-language project and to explain to them what we call the “Browning” of America. And how we needed to be ahead of it and that this brand is one way to do that. It’s been an uphill battle for us. 

But I can happily say, and I think Armando will agree with me, that so much of that has changed with our acquisition by Meredith. We now work with a team that truly does understand and walked through the door embracing multicultural brands. And now, by watching everything that has happened during the pandemic, with immigration reform, with Black Lives Matter, has understood the importance of diversity.

But I’m not going to lie, it has been an uphill battle. We’ve faced that from a brand perspective; from a workplace perspective, etc.

Armando Correa: But when People en Español was created, Time was acquired by Warner and became Time Warner. And then AOL acquired Time Warner. They never really knew what to do with People en Español. It then became independent and was a public company. And I remember we had a couple of meetings, Monique and I, and they were thinking that they needed to change People en Español for the English dominant Latinos. Then it was we have to shut down People en Español. And that was on a daily basis then. 

But we were acquired by Meredith and we have their full support. Meredith understands that our community, our audience is important for the company. 

Samir Husni: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing with advertising during COVID-19 and the social unrest that we’ve all seen this past year? And why are you still selling the magazine with a cover price of $2.99 when the average cover price for a magazine these days is $5 and $6?

Monique Manso: I would say fear with the pandemic, with the social justice movement, going into an election; fear was the challenge in 2020 because many marketers really wanted to be there for this community, for the multicultural community at large, and Latinos in particular. However, they were afraid of what that messaging should look like so that it was sensitive to those issues and so that it didn’t seem tone-deaf to what was going on. So, I would say at the beginning that fear gripping everyone was how do we modulate our messaging so that it is sensitive to what is happening with the community.

The other business challenge right now is that we can’t seem to come out of triage mode, and the current events have certainly shown us that. Every day it’s triage and an emergency, so the way business would normally work for us would be there’s a chain of events, the world changes; we right-side ourselves in terms of content and offerings and everything to fit those needs of the new normal. But we can’t get out of an emergency. So, what is the new normal, fear yet again plays into that. But there are a lot of corporate partners that we have that are working tirelessly every day to make sure that we don’t lose sight of these underserved communities. And I’m hoping that they’re going to serve well for those that aren’t paying attention.

We’ve played around a lot with the cover price and if you were to look at, and I’ll just talk about Meredith and Time Inc., all of the brands in aggregate, you would see that there has been peaks and lows in pricing and it’s something that we continue to evaluate all of the time. 

Armando Correa: And part of the DNA of People en Español is dealing with challenges. We’re dealing with the pandemic, and it’s another challenge for us, but it’s not the only one. Every year we have to deal with challenges. And having Monique as a publisher is a wonderful partnership. She’s a publisher, but she thinks like an editor all of the time. And we were talking about money and about the credibility of our stories. So, we think like a couple all of the time.

Samir Husni: With all of the bad news we are bombarded with these days, do you feel that People en Español is comfort food for your readers? And how do you create that content?

Armando Correa: It’s really hard to understand because for everybody, People en Español is an entertainment magazine. And we are an entertainment magazine, but at the same time, and I remember talking to my bosses at Time Inc., People en Español is a business magazine and a Time magazine, Fortune, Money, InStyle, People; we’re the number one Hispanic magazine. And we need to be, at the same time, connected to the audience and with what’s happening in pour community and with what’s happening in the country. 

And of course, we’re an entertainment magazine. But with everything that happened at the capitol, we need to cover that at the same time. It’s not the main issue for us, but it has to be present in our social media and in the magazine. And we bring the best of the celebrities to our audience, they don’t go to People en Español to see paparazzi pictures in the magazine. If you’re a fan of Jennifer Lopez, you want to see Jennifer Lopez at her best. Of course, at the same time if she’s getting married, this is part of her story, but you don’t want to see her in a bad position. Readers of  People en Español want to see the best of her and the best of the community. 

When we want to cover immigration or the border, they don’t want negative stories. We need to cover it, it’s part of it. We did a cover with a Dreamer in a positive way; we showed the best of our community. And they expected that from us. 

Monique Manso: And I would just say that we are blessed with the ability to invest time, energy and resources into insights. And so we did very early on at the beginning of the pandemic, the first wave which then turned into 12 subsequent waves, because I believe we’ve done 13 overall, on COVID insights, specific to the Latino community. 

We’ve done the same with our Hot Study year after year. We just released our new Hot Study, which is the Hispanic opinion tracker study of where is the Latino woman today. We did a piece on Afro-Latinas and the Black/Latino community at the height of the social justice movement in order to understand how Black Lives Matter was affecting the Black/Latino. We present all of those insights, not only to our marketing partners, but to the editors who tell stories from there. 

So he and the team very early on started to roll out new editorial features like “Our Heroes” or “Hashtag Beautiful Heroes” celebrating those Latinos. And what he’s talking about is coming from the findings, which is there’s enough in the news, in the CNN’s of the world, the CBS’s, ABC’s, you name it, of people dragging themselves across borders, being killed trying to climb walls, being disproportionately affected as a Latino by the pandemic, unfortunately. So they see People en Español as a source of pride because People en Español shows the world the contributions and successes of Latinos and the dreams of Latinos. They take as much in that as we do as editors.

Samir Husni: Where do you see the role of the print edition of People en Español compared to the digital footprint of the brand?

Armando Correa: People en Español, you have to understand the brand is a whole. Print, digital, the website, social media and events; everything is related.

Monique Manso: We’re the only fully integrated brand at Meredith. And we sell to the Hispanic audience across the entire company.

Armando Correa: And Monique is selling the website, the events, social media and print at the same time. And I’m the editor for everything. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that our P&L, our concept, the whole brand has to be understood like that. And everybody thought that print was going to die in a couple of years, but nobody kills it. We started with 120,000 copies and we grew and grew. We are a small team and we always want to keep it that way because we can keep control of our P&L. 

Monique and I have weekly meetings with the business side of the brand. We love to control our P&L. And I think this is unique for the brand, because it’s a small brand. And for me, it’s important that everything is connected here. Print is important; the celebrities love to be on the cover of the magazine and they want to be on the website. But when you’re negotiating an exclusive, it’s print. And the loyalty – we have almost half a million subscribers every month.

Monique Manso: And it’s the print piece that makes them want to give that exclusive. 

Of course, newsstands right now are hard and we’re struggling with that because many things are closed. But at the same time, we’re stable. Since March we have the same numbers, more or less, as selling at newsstands so subscribers are important for sure. 

Monique Manso: And there’s a cultural relevancy to magazines and newspapers for Latinos. And because these are multigenerational households, that cultural relationship, that emotional relationship to print is passed down through the generations. And that’s why so much of our story is about readers per copy.

Armando Correa; And I remember when the crisis started and everybody was working from home in the middle of March and then we had an exclusive; I think it was the May issue – the Mother’s Day issue. We had a celebrity exclusive and I said to Monique we need to do this photoshoot in person and follow all the regulations. We need to talk to the company and make sure it is safe for the celebrity and there was a baby. We did it and it was like a celebration. I like doing Zoom, but in person is always better.

Monique Manso: We were the first ones I think to do a live shoot and it was in that celebrity’s home. Since then we’ve done multiple. All of our live event business had to move to virtual events and because of the trust and the relationship with our talent, we had talent actually allow us into their homes with a crew who had all been tested in advance and approved nine people to tape content to go live on our virtual events. 

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

Monique Manso: Health and wellness is something that’s huge for us right now because there is such a void in the marketplace of trustworthy in-language content for this community. I don’t know if you followed the press when we launched our Point of Care products. Armando has a team that is editing People en Español that goes into the doctor’s offices, but as we got the feedback from our audience and the Point of Care team, we’ve since launched a Salud hub on People en Español.com and we’re focused on health with our contributors such as Dr. Juan Rivera. So, that’s big for us and we believe that we need to fill the void there, certainly around vaccine confidence moving forward. 

That’s some of the tactical stuff in general. Filling voids is something that we feel incredibly responsible for. And so you’ll see us throughout the year, again, relying heavily on insights and research and our audience’s feedback on where they feel they’re not being served.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Monique Manso: For me, it’s that social responsibility. It is constantly understanding where our community is being underserved and although Armando spoke so eloquently about the fact that we’re entertainment; how do we take this voice of entertainment and use our relationships and our access to celebrities to fill those needs. So feeling that responsibility deeply, then for me, is what makes me tick and click.

And also having that support now from Meredith. You can imagine as people of color, and in my case a woman of color, I probably have stories that could make the hair on the backs of people’s necks stand up and what I’ve faced in corporate America. But seeing that shift now at Meredith, that real attention to diversity and inclusion internally and externally of how we serve our followers, users and readers is a tremendous amount of motivation.

Armando Correa: Every time I wake up in the morning; I’m a news junkie. I’m reading the news and thinking that this will work for our brand. Or I need to deal with an exclusive, talking to a celebrity or PR with the managers, and then working with the whole team and seeing that this is going to work and looking at the numbers, because data for me is an addiction. That makes me tick and click.

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

Monique Manso: Armando is laughing because lots of wine is involved. (Laughs)

Armando Correa: (Laughs)

Monique Manso: I’m a Scorpio and I need to be near water. And I’m very blessed; I live in Connecticut about a block from the Long Island Sound, so I walk down to the beach and I figuratively wash the day away with my wine in hand. And then it’s about spending time with my family and I do a lot of cooking.

Armando Correa: We have a hectic life working with business and everything. We have a family, Monique has two boys and I have a boy and a girl and they’re teenagers. When I finish the day it’s crazy and then for me, I always say that I’m a reader who writes and edits. I need to have my time with my books. I’m a writer, but at the same time on the weekend this is my yoga. Some people go to the gym, or run, or do yoga, for me writing and reading is my meditation. And I need it. 

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

Monique Manso: Speed keeps me up. Whether or not we’re moving fast enough is something that I really grapple with all the time. As I said earlier, there are so many things – health and wellness, there’s not enough content out there for this community for them to stay healthy and be ahead of the curve. There isn’t enough financial content in-language. 

Speed in that area and then speed on the diversity and inclusion side internally. I love the support we have from Meredith, so I feel personally responsible. I sit on the D&I committee at Meredith and I think it’s really important that we continue to support our diverse talent and show the world that talent grows within the organization as well as attracting new talent. 

Armando Correa: What is next for People en Español. And for our 25th anniversary, I said let’s create 25 different covers. I think the future for People en Español is the integration, it’s the only way. And I hope the company sees that because the audience understands that. We are so strong in social media and I respond to all the emails that people send to me. We have an open dialogue. And I hope this year is better and we’re live again, because what I need to do immediately is my cover photoshoots. I need to be there to connect with the celebrities. I need that kind of energy. But if we have to do it online, we’re going to do it online. 

Samir Husni: Thank you both. 

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Magazines 2020 Celebrating Blackness… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing.

January 16, 2021
As the country celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday, the Magazine Innovation Center at the School of Journalism and New Media, The University of Mississippi, finalized the wall poster of the magazines of the second half of 2020 celebrating Black subjects. In the last six months alone, mainstream magazines have featured at least five times more covers with Black subjects than in the last century combined. The poster will be available shortly to be mailed to those who request it from the Magazine Innovation Center. Details will appear on the Center’s website. The magazines are from the collection of the Center’s founder and director Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D. and was designed by journalism graduate student MacKenzie Ross.
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Life After The White House: A Revealing Article From A Century Ago

January 16, 2021

Magazines then and magazine now: they still play an important role in informing, entertaining, and educating their audiences. From my vault, The Mentor magazine, March 1921, an article revealing what the presidents of the United States did after leaving office. The article covers presidents Washington to Taft. I wonder who will take the task to cover life after The White House since 1921 until today… Enjoy the article:

The Mentor magazine, March 1921

AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE — WHAT?

What shall we do with our ex-presidents? This question comes up regularly in the United States following presidential elections. History shows that some of the ablest national leaders have left the White House impoverished by their devotion to public affairs. From time to time efforts have been made to provide the retiring executive with a pension or some other form of income. These plans, however, have never passed the stage of discussion.

Five of our 27 presidents have died in office. The average life of the rest, after quitting the presidential chair, was 13 years. Two only held office after leaving the White House – John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson; the former became a senator from Massachusetts, the latter a senator from Tennessee nine years after ending his term as president. John Tyler became a member of the Confederate Congress, but died before it convened. 

Grover Cleveland was the only president to return to the White House after retirement. Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and Roosevelt sought to and failed.

Martin Van Buren lived the longest of any ex-president – 31 years. John Adams and James Madison lived 25 and 27 years respectively. 

John Adams lived long enough to see his son, John Quincy Adams, elected to the highest office; the son had been in office 15 months when his father died, July 4, 1826 at 90 years of age. Thomas Jefferson died the same day; he had been president 17 years before. 

Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather, “Tippecanoe” Harrison, died in 1841, one month after he was inaugurated. 

Misfortune seemed to follow General Grant from the moment he stepped out of office – financial losses, illness and death. 

Following is a record of ex-presidents:

Washington served as commander-in-chief of the army in 1797. 

Adams practiced law at Quincy, Mass.

Jefferson refused a third term and devoted the remainder of his life to educational work.

Madison became a gentleman farmer and was a delegate to a constitutional conference.

Monroe became a regent of the University of Virginia, but suffered great financial distress and was enabled to die in peace only after Congress had voted him a gift.

John Quincy Adams served in the House of Representatives after being President.

Andrew Jackson lived in retirement. 

Martin Van Buren failed in his effort for re-nomination in 1848 four years after ending his term.

Polk retired to his home at Nashville, Tenn. Taylor died in office. Fillmore failed to win re-nomination in 1856 and retired. Pierce retired after failing to win re-nomination. Buchanan retired. Lincoln was assassinated in office. Johnson completed his term in 1869 and was elected senator in 1875. Hayes occupied himself with educational work until his death. Garfield was assassinated in office. Arthur failed to win re-nomination and retired. Cleveland practiced law in New York City; was reelected in 1892, and lectured at Princeton University after completing his second term. Harrison practiced law, wrote and served as a commissioner in the Venezuela boundary dispute settlement. McKinley was assassinated in office. Roosevelt hunted in Africa, wrote, traveled, explored and participated in public affairs until his death. Taft became a member of the faculty at Yale University

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Hoffman Media’s President & Chief Operating Officer, Eric Hoffman, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: The Relationship With Our Print Customer Is Special And We Believe In It And We’re Committed To It. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 12, 2021

“We very much think that the core print business, consumers want it; it’s an invited friend to their mailbox. It’s a wonderful opportunity when our magazines show up in a world where so many things that we get in our mail we don’t like and don’t want to see or is complete junk.” Eric Hoffman…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 8: Eric Hoffman, President & Chief Operating Officer, Hoffman Media.

2020 is now behind us with a brand new year finally here. 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…

Family owned and operated, Hoffman Media is a leading special-interest publisher based in Birmingham, Ala. From Southern Lady to Bake from Scratch, Hoffman Media creates some of the most popular and iconic brands in the marketplace today. But like everyone else in 2020, the company had some major adjustments and shifts to contend with during the pandemic.

I recently spoke with Eric Hoffman, president and chief operating officer of the company, who along with his twin brother, Brian Hart Hoffman, and their mother, founder of the company, Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, runs a tight ship and saw many opportunities and blessings even through this pandemic year of 2020. 

So, please enjoy the eighth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year (2020) interviews with Eric Hoffman, president & chief operating officer, Hoffman Media.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that Hoffman Media faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: Where we’ve shifted, coming off the challenge of 2020, is we’ve shifted to having a lot more emphasis on video education, paid video, and we’ve done that both within our sewing business and also within brands such as Louisiana Cooking and in a broad way, we’ve done it with Bake From Scratch.

On the roadmap for Hoffman Media into 2021: We believe that with the vaccine and when things reach a certain point, and live events are able to come back, I think there will be an enormous pent up demand for those live experiences. We’re being very cautiously optimistic about the event business coming back, potentially in the second half of 2021. That being said, we’re investing heavily in our video platform. We just announced a renewed partnership with Williams Sonoma for an 11-week program kicking off in January.

On the future of print in this digital age: I oftentimes think that people are scared to say because they somehow think it’s going to drive their valuation and their business down. I could care a little bit less about that. As you know we have a family-owned business; we do not have institutional investors and we frankly think that the print business managed right can still be a remarkable business to be in. Having the quality of the customers rather than the quantity is something that resonates better today than maybe ever.

On the changes he sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: In respect to the larger media houses, I do see them making a fundamental shift. Certainly there are several brands and SIPs that have become a meaningful piece of their business and look to be doing quite well. I certainly see them in a leadership role in our industry, both really running that business in the right way to the consumer, but also creating the narrative to the advertiser of why these niche markets actually matter, because changing the conversation with ad agencies can be difficult. And I think you need industry advocates at the top that truly believe that. So, when we see that and I think we are, that’s going to be exciting.

On some of the things Hoffman Media is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company: On the editorial side of the business we certainly have been vocal to that end. Take southern cuisine and food, for example, you go back to the cultural influences that drive the cuisines that we celebrate today, absolutely there’s a voice there and we celebrate that. Hoffman Media is a family business and we love our employees, we love our customers, and we love our clients. And we treat them like family.

On whether he thinks we’re erasing history or trying to learn from history: I’m of the mindset that erasing history is short sided because to celebrate where we are today, it means that much more when you know where we’ve come from. Within the Black community, to have U.S. presidents, to have Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, valedictorians at Princeton University, these are wonderful opportunities to celebrate. When organizations and municipalities choose to completely eliminate history, I question whether it long-term impacts the successes and the achievements that are actually there right in front of us today.

On what makes him tick and click: I’ve been spending a lot more time this past year on things that I would call “on” the business rather than “in” the business. I’ve read several books this year that were exciting to me. I read “Scaling Up,” “The Great Game of Business,” and “Built to Last,” and have really been thinking differently about the way we run our business. I think the intrigue over scaling is interesting and doing it the right way. So, the strategy side of our business is certainly what’s driving my ambition today.

On how unwinds at the end of the day: I’ve gotten into making a really good Old Fashioned. (Laughs) And I love to cook. I spend a lot of time barbequing and I’ve learned to cook a pretty mean gumbo.

On what keeps him up at night: As of recently, I would have to tell you that it’s the political unrest. I was deeply disappointed to see where we are as a country sort of play out on national television. I’m hopeful that as a nation and as a country we can find some unity and find ways to work together on both sides of the aisle. I believe we as a country have never been more divided, at least in recent years. So, I think there is certainly opportunities for us as business leaders in the community to carry that message. To the extent that I have the ability to do that within my role, I hope to do that in my own community.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Hoffman, president & chief operating officer, Hoffman Media. 

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that Hoffman Media has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Eric Hoffman: For us, as a business, if you go back and look, November 2018 we made a strategic acquisition where we acquired the original sewing and quilting expos from F+W, which is a wonderful business that’s been around for a long time. We have nine markets that we’re in. It’s a fantastic business and has great customer loyalty. We had gone into 2020 with projections of growing the business. Obviously, around March 13, give or take, the live event business was brought to a halt.

We were very fortunate in some other respects in that throughout the year we saw our subscriber base not only stay with us, but grow, so we had a remarkable year on the subscription front. Average customer value increased; retention rates were phenomenal; and direct mail performed at probably  the highest level we’ve seen in a long time. 

So, the core magazine business, if you think about the consumer first as a business model, a lot of our larger competitors in the marketplace are sort of speaking this narrative of late, that they’re looking at more consumer-driven businesses and less advertising-ended businesses, which you and I have talked now for the better part of a decade or longer that our business model seems to make a lot of sense. 

Through the pandemic we saw some things happen and one was that the newsstand held up very well in light of everything taking place. If you think about checkout for example, which drives about 70 percent of magazine volume sales in grocery stores, we originally thought that might be challenged, because standing six feet behind the next person might prevent you from perusing and making a last minute purchase. But we saw the newsstand perform well. 

I would say, that while we’re not an ad-driven business, one of the most remarkable things we saw through 2020 was our advertising business and our clients stayed with us. In fact, we were flat on advertising revenue from 2019 to 2020 and if you go back from 2018 to 2019 we grew the business 20 percent. So, we were able to deliver a remarkable year. 

And that was driven by CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies that we do business with, they stayed with us. We do a whole lot more than just sell ad space, most of our clients we deal with on a very custom boutique approach, we create a lot of content for our advertising partners. So, we’ve seen a lot of strength in the core business. 

We were very fortunate in being eligible for our PPP loan, which I think a lot of people would point to as a great thing to have. We were very fortunate not to have to lay off anybody, including within our event business.

Where we’ve shifted, coming off the challenge of 2020, is we’ve shifted to having a lot more emphasis on video education, paid video, and we’ve done that both within our sewing business and also within brands such as Louisiana Cooking and in a broad way, we’ve done it with Bake From Scratch. 

Probably the highlight of the year, and much to my twin brother’s credit who is the face of Bake From Scratch and also our chief content officer, Brian Hart Hoffman, we put together a seven week partnership with  Williams Sonoma, where we did Williams Sonoma’s baking academy. It was a live, one hour baking class on Monday nights during the fourth quarter. It was an incredible opportunity for us, for our brand-building, but also a very unique and interesting way to drive profit opportunities in a non-traditional format. 

All in all, Hoffman Media was able to thrive on a net-net for 2020 with obviously some misses coming out of some areas of the business and our consumers really carrying us in other areas. 

Samir Husni: What’s the roadmap for Hoffman Media as you move toward 2021?

Eric Hoffman: We believe that with the vaccine and when things reach a certain point, and live events are able to come back, I think there will be an enormous pent up demand for those live experiences. We’re being very cautiously optimistic about the event business coming back, potentially in the second half of 2021. That being said, we’re investing heavily in our video platform. We just announced a renewed partnership with Williams Sonoma for an 11-week program kicking off in January. 

We have advertising partners like Bob’s Red Mill that we’re doing other baking academies with. We’ve done some Instagram live work with iconic brands like Tabasco with Louisiana Cooking, where we’ve been able to use our chef relationships and do some interesting programs there.

We very much think that the core print business, consumers want it; it’s an invited friend to their mailbox. It’s a wonderful opportunity when our magazines show up in a world where so many things that we get in our mail we don’t like and don’t want to see or is complete junk. I still believe that relationship between our print customer is special and we believe in it and we’re committed to it. 

We will follow the consumer in how they want to interact with our business. We’ve seen podcasts as a growing opportunity; our book publishing business has actually grown and is doing quite well and we see that as still a growth opportunity. And then I wouldn’t put it past us to potentially even look at acquisition opportunities during this time. We believe long-term in the live event business to the extent that there are incremental opportunities to expand there. I think we’ll be doing that. 

Also, with just more pure play digital opportunities; a business like ours that publishes 11 magazines and has for quite some time, we have an enormous amount of content. So, being able to retool the experience of how perhaps new audiences interact with that content might lend itself to more pure digital opportunities. 

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

Eric Hoffman: I oftentimes think that people are scared to say because they somehow think it’s going to drive their valuation and their business down. I could care a little bit less about that. As you know we have a family-owned business; we do not have institutional investors and we frankly think that the print business managed right can still be a remarkable business to be in. Having the quality of the customers rather than the quantity is something that resonates better today than maybe ever. 

If you think about print buying from an advertiser perspective, I think that reaching a quality audience over quantity, certainly that business model works better. I would be very nervous if I were running mass-reach brands that were running on a legacy business model that was large rate-based-driven and running sort of as a loss leader. I don’t see that as a viable business long-term. 

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?

Eric Hoffman: In respect to the larger media houses, I do see them making a fundamental shift. Certainly there are several brands and SIPs that have become a meaningful piece of their business and look to be doing quite well. I certainly see them in a leadership role in our industry, both really running that business in the right way to the consumer, but also creating the narrative to the advertiser of why these niche markets actually matter, because changing the conversation with ad agencies can be difficult. And I think you need industry advocates at the top that truly believe that. So, when we see that and I think we are, that’s going to be exciting.

I think there’s also opportunity for a lot of new entrants into the market in very niche ways. Magazines that I’ve seen and that I think are doing quite well: Okra Magazine, I’ve certainly seen them growing and I think it’s an interesting brand. So, the entrepreneurial side of this industry exists and always will exist. I’m an industry guy; I hope more people believe in launching their publications and doing things that serve our industry well. 

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality, or inclusion. And at last count in the past several months there have been over 336 magazines that have had Black subjects on the cover, which is more than there has been in the last 60 years. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at Hoffman Media?

Eric Hoffman: On the editorial side of the business we certainly have been vocal to that end. Take southern cuisine and food, for example, you go back to the cultural influences that drive the cuisines that we celebrate today, absolutely there’s a voice there and we celebrate that. Hoffman Media is a family business and we love our employees, we love our customers, and we love our clients. And we treat them like family. 

We’re certainly inclusive and we’re accepting of all. And I think that we demonstrate that day in and day out in our business. 

Samir Husni: Other companies are having seminars and hiring outside consultants on diversity and inclusion and then there are media companies like Condé Nast that I recently read are looking at their archives and erasing things that could be deemed offensive. Do you think we’re need to erase the history or learn from the history?

Eric Hoffman: I’m of the mindset that erasing history is short sided because to celebrate where we are today, it means that much more when you know where we’ve come from. Within the Black community, to have U.S. presidents, to have Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, valedictorians at Princeton University, these are wonderful opportunities to celebrate. When organizations and municipalities choose to completely eliminate history, I question whether it long-term impacts the successes and the achievements that are actually there right in front of us today. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click these days?

Eric Hoffman: I’ve been spending a lot more time this past year on things that I would call “on” the business rather than “in” the business. I’ve read several books this year that were exciting to me. I read “Scaling Up,” “The Great Game of Business,” and “Built to Last,” and have really been thinking differently about the way we run our business. I think the intrigue over scaling is interesting and doing it the right way. So, the strategy side of our business is certainly what’s driving my ambition today.

We are keenly interested in several structural things within the business. Just for reference, we have 12 months left on our lease of 31,000 sq. ft. of office space in Birmingham. We certainly believe that we will have office space that’s collaborative and creative, but what does that look like? We think that there is going to be a lot more emphasis around where the content is created, in terms of remarkable test kitchens and studios and wonderful space for that, but it also presents an interesting opportunity for us to do something maybe more dynamic than we are today. 

So, there are some things that I think will come down the pike in maybe the next year or two that I think will be exciting for our employees. At the same time, I also would say what allows me to tick also is the family. It’s been interesting working remotely in a lot of ways, but it’s given, not just myself, but all of our employees the time to do things within the home that they needed to do and still perform. And they have done a wonderful job with that. They have made a remarkable shift and are excited about the ability to still be a vital team member and do it in a new and modified format. I would expect to some extent that will continue long-term. 

So, those are the main things. It’s exciting. I believe in our industry and I think that COVID has proven the magazine business is resilient in general. And I think that when you look at our industry relative to a lot of the narrative you’re seeing around programmatic ad buying and some other digital ad tech, we may not be valued in the marketplace as high from your EBITDA multiple or whatever you want to measure us by, but it’s a phenomenal business that has stood the test of time. And I think the consumer, if you listen to them, I think we’ll be here to stay for a while. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind after a day working?

Eric Hoffman: I’ve gotten into making a really good Old Fashioned. (Laughs) And I love to cook. I spend a lot of time barbequing and I’ve learned to cook a pretty mean gumbo. 

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

Eric Hoffman: As of recently, I would have to tell you that it’s the political unrest. I was deeply disappointed to see where we are as a country sort of play out on national television. I’m hopeful that as a nation and as a country we can find some unity and find ways to work together on both sides of the aisle. I believe we as a country have never been more divided, at least in recent years. So, I think there is certainly opportunities for us as business leaders in the community to carry that message. To the extent that I have the ability to do that within my role, I hope to do that in my own community.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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