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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. 

One comment

  1. […] is a market-leading special interest publisher. President and COO Eric Hoffman recently spoke to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni about where they are, what they learned last year, and how they are approaching what’s […]



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