Archive for March, 2021

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Scott Omelianuk, Editor In Chief, Inc. To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Have This Audience That Still Sees Value In Print; Still Sees Value In Being On The Cover.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 30, 2021

“In general, we have an interesting audience in that they still value the print product. I mentioned Daymond John before. When I first started the job he called me and said he had a book coming out and asked if we would cover it. He’s been on our cover before; he’s spoken at our events. So I said certainly, we’ll look at it, but your publication date is March and our next issue that we could get it into wouldn’t be until May, so we’ll do something online. And he said no, he didn’t want that. It needed to be in print. And to me, I was like really? (Laughs) Why? And he said that anyone can stand up a website, not anyone can own a printing press. There’s value in that.” Scott Omelianuk…

“Unfortunately, as wonderful as the Internet is, in some respects it has cheapened and demeaned some things. And made us take them less seriously. That is still not the case for print.” Scott Omelianuk…

Scott Omelianuk spent almost a dozen years as editor of This Old House magazine and enjoyed a long history with the brand and its many platforms, developing his natural talent for multiplatform strategies and content. Today Scott continues his multiplatform expertise with the entrepreneurial business magazine and brand Inc.

I spoke with Scott recently and we talked about the mission of Inc. and the different roles of its many platforms. Supporting small business and growing companies, especially during a pandemic, is the number one goal for Inc., which has been the premiere voice of America’s entrepreneurs, owners and business builders via Inc.com, Inc. Magazine, the Inc. 5000, the Inc. Uncensored podcast and much more, since its founding in 1979. 

And talking to him about operating during a pandemic, which happened basically two weeks after he’d been hired as editor in chief, Scott said the first thing that needs to be realized is that all businesses are different and that he has absolutely no regrets. The pandemic has made it tough, but the brand has made it exciting and a remarkable opportunity for many reasons.

So please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief, Inc.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether he has any regrets about accepting his position as editor in chief of Inc. just two weeks before the pandemic hit: I have no regrets. It has been a remarkable opportunity, but it has been really difficult. One of the things that I was asked to do was to come in and energize the brand a little bit, which the brand had been described as a little rudderless and a little sleepy. I quickly learned, unlike my prior media jobs, how much harder that is to do when you haven’t had time to establish a rapport with people. 

On how he has taken his expertise for rebuilding and refurbishing homes from This Old House to his current business brand Inc.: I was always entrepreneurial, even in media traditionally. My success at This Old House in particular relied on a lot of first-to-market things that media brands didn’t do at the time and now are fairly common and I think the same is true for us here at Inc. At Inc. our brand purpose is supporting the American entrepreneur. And at one point that was a print magazine that just did stories, but the idea of supporting the American entrepreneur today can be so much broader than that.

On the role of each of Inc.’s platforms: First of all, you’re a father and grandfather, right? I would presume you love all of your children and grandchildren equally; so that’s the way I think about all of my platforms. I love them all equally. Sometimes some of them disappoint me more than other times; sometimes they surprise me and that’s wonderful.

On any future challenges he may face: I actually think a lot of our challenges are internal, not external. We’re hopeful that there’s a lot of pent-up demand that’s going to come and help us financially. We think that people are going to want to get back together face-to-face. We know this because we have conversations over Zoom with our audience all of the time. So we know they’re anxious to get back together. 

On the advice he would give small businesses when it comes to a balance between the pandemic, screen fatigue and returning in person: I think the first thing we have to realize is that all businesses are different. And that there are some businesses that remote work can make perfect sense for, and others it doesn’t. And I think that’s true of individuals as well. Some people perform better on their own and some need the office environment. I know I’ve been back to our office a handful of times to take some things or just to get out of the house and away from my family for a bit, who I love dearly, but enough is enough. (Laughs) And I find myself much more productive sitting at my desk in the office than I do sitting at my desk at home.

On how Inc. deals with diversity and equality: For us, we had always done quite a good job of covering a very diverse group of entrepreneurs. The traditional trope of an entrepreneur is a white guy who went to Stanford and launched a business with their college roommate. We try to be much broader than that and  far more inclusive. One thing we realized during the social protests this past summer was that as a staff we were not integrated at all. It was almost an entirely white staff. A gender split, fine, but largely white. And so we’ve made a significant effort since then to change that.

On what he thinks the role of print is in this digital age: The print business is a lot like the vinyl record business to some extent in that it had a moment and it was an incredibly powerful one, but the consumers’ tastes and advertisers’ interests have shifted somewhat. And like vinyl records, that doesn’t mean it has to go away, but it has a more particular audience now.

On what makes him tick and click: This morning I got up and I was excited about the emails I didn’t get to send yesterday because they represented opportunity. And for me the opportunity was I’m connecting with a man who owned a company called Big Ass Fans, which was an industrial fan company that he has sold, hundreds of millions of dollars, and now he’s an accelerator. And he’s a wonderful storyteller. I was excited about engaging him on the potential of hosting a podcast called Office Hours, where he would help entrepreneurs.

On how he unwinds in the evenings: I used to go to the gym every day, but I stopped doing that with the pandemic. So I actually installed one in my basement and I use that. And when I’m done with that, I do have a glass of wine or a cocktail and I’m right now embedded in the NCAA tournament. When that goes away, baseball season is around the corner. My son and I like to watch a lot of sports together. I also have to sit around and watch him play Fortnite because that’s a thing too in this house. (Laughs)

On what keeps him up at night: I worry about things that as an individual I have little control over, but as a society we could change. I do worry about the social inequality that we have; I worry about climate change. I actually worry about all of those geo-political things that I can’t do. I worry less about business, because I know we have an absolutely terrific mission and a very strong brand purpose and people who care about that. And as long as we deliver on that mission, we’ll be successful.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief, Inc.

Samir Husni: After you took an oath that you wouldn’t come back to the media world after more than a decade at This Old House, you just celebrated your first anniversary at Inc. And two weeks after you took the job the pandemic happened. Any regrets?

Scott Omelianuk: First, I don’t think those two things were related; they were coincidental. I have no regrets. It has been a remarkable opportunity, but it has been really difficult. One of the things that I was asked to do was to come in and energize the brand a little bit, which the brand had been described as a little rudderless and a little sleepy. 

I quickly learned, unlike my prior media jobs, how much harder that is to do when you haven’t had time to establish a rapport with people. A physical rapport that’s in the same place, so they know that once you have a difficult conversation on Zoom, you don’t turn off the machine and grow horns. (Laughs) In the office they see you and you can have a difficult conversation, interact later in the day, and understand that you’re both two people who ultimately want the same thing, but just have different ideas about how to get there. 

That has been, I wouldn’t say a regret at all, but a remarkable challenge. And I think that we’ve worked through a lot of it, but it wasn’t easy.

Samir Husni: With This Old House, you were an expert in rebuilding and refurbishing homes. Now with Inc., which is a magazine for growing companies, how do you apply your talents for rebuilding something toward one of the worst economic crises we’ve ever had, the pandemic, in terms of small businesses closing and vanishing?

Scott Omelianuk: It hasn’t been easy for our audience. There are some interesting things for me, parallels actually between these two brands. One is that when I ran This Old House we had this audience that maybe grew up watching the television show with their parents and then they were watching it with their children. There was this enormous reservoir of trust and goodwill for the brand that made the audience part of the brand, made them our marketers, not just consumers. 

And I found that the same thing is true of Inc. We have people like Daymond John, Mark Cuban, Keith Ferrazzi, and Seth Godin, who are all famous marketers, and who believe that Inc. was responsible for their own success as entrepreneurs or marketers and educators. They feel the same way about Inc. as This Old House’s audience felt about it, and they’re willing to do anything for the brand. So having that as a secret weapon is really useful. 

And it’s one of the reasons I was interested in the job because as you know as a professor, having a passionate audience to connect with is incredibly rewarding and really useful. 

I was always entrepreneurial, even in media traditionally. My success at This Old House in particular relied on a lot of first-to-market things that media brands didn’t do at the time and now are fairly common and I think the same is true for us here at Inc. At This Old House we realized that our brand purpose wasn’t about remodeling, it was actually about making a safe home for your family. And when you recognize that, suddenly a whole other world of opportunity opens up to you. 

At Inc. our brand purpose is supporting the American entrepreneur. And at one point that was a print magazine that just did stories, but the idea of supporting the American entrepreneur today can be so much broader than that. So I feel like, in this pandemic in particular, we have the opportunity certainly to bring attention to people who were struggling. We were able to give away free advertising to businesses, because we didn’t have any of our own, by the way, it had dried up. (Laughs) 

So we were able to give it to small businesses and we were able to help educate them in ways of the PPP by doing partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce and things like that. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s just the start of it. We have a lot more work to do in that, which might include things that aren’t traditionally considered journalistic at all, like data products that come from our intimate knowledge of the businesses that we speak to. Or advocacy on behalf of small businesses. 

I interviewed Senator Amy Klobuchar recently who is on the Senate Commerce Committee and the Antitrust Sub-Committee. And Big Tech puts a big squeeze on small business. I can see us engaged in conversation on an ongoing basis because of that. So you look for your opportunities.

And we learned a lot from our consumer too; really smart entrepreneurs. They have an idea and then they know how to get things done. They know how to find a way forward even when people tell them no. And they know how to pivot when they hit an obstruction. So we have lots of people in our audience who have actually had successful years because they found a different way of connecting with their own audience and that’s what we’ve tried to do as well.

Samir Husni: You’ve been using multiplatform way before anyone else thought about using it. With This Old House, there was the television show and the magazine, so you know about working within a multiplatform brand. Now with Inc. as you mentioned, there are a lot of big-named marketers who credit Inc. with their success. How are you implementing this platform agnostic Inc. brand? Because even during the pandemic, last year you redesigned the print product; you expanded the events segment of the brand. Tell me more about the role of each of the platforms.

Scott Omelianuk: Sure. First of all, you’re a father and grandfather, right? I would presume you love all of your children and grandchildren equally; so that’s the way I think about all of my platforms. I love them all equally. Sometimes some of them disappoint me more than other times; sometimes they surprise me and that’s wonderful. 

I think about it in a very agnostic way. And that is how do we reach the consumer where they are now? Not in a way that’s going to cripple our business, I’m not going to move Inc. entirely onto the Clubhouse platform, which is a very popular and hot place to be and has no monetization. We’ve been down that road before and lost with Facebook and lots of other places. But I do think it’s incumbent upon us to take advantage of those opportunities and help use that to drive people back to us. 

So in general, we have an interesting audience in that they still value the print product. I mentioned Daymond John before. When I first started the job he called me and said he had a book coming out and asked if we would cover it. He’s been on our cover before; he’s spoken at our events. So I said certainly, we’ll look at it, but your publication date is March and our next issue that we could get it into wouldn’t be until May, so we’ll do something online. And he said no, he didn’t want that. It needed to be in print. And to me, I was like really? (Laughs) Why? And he said that anyone can stand up a website, not anyone can own a printing press. There’s value in that. 

So we have this audience that still sees value in print; still sees value in being on the cover. We have advertisers who aren’t as enthusiastic about that, but we have other homes for them. We see the magazine still as a bit of a loss-leading luxury object, not that it’s a loss-leader per se, but it’s not a gross business. And yet it still has tremendous value. 

And we think that way about each platform. What is the opportunity; who do we reach; what is the ultimate ROI when we get passed an initial growth stage? And that’s true of the website; true for the communities we’re building out, that are paid to enter communities for entrepreneurs where they can interact with each other; true for podcasts and video. We’re building a marketplace right now and we’ll see if it’s successful or not.

I know one of the things that would help support American entrepreneurs is having some sort of rating system and access to the right kind of sass products, the right kind of tools that they need to be successful. So if we were to wade into that world and help them in that way, that’s an opportunity for us. 

So I think it’s journalistic and still caring about who you’re talking to and still trying to deliver them value. It’s just not always in a story. There are other ways to do it. Or that story may take many different forms.

Samir Husni: As we are hopefully coming out from this pandemic, what do you think will be the biggest challenge you’ll face and what are your plans to overcome that challenge?

Scott Omelianuk: I actually think a lot of our challenges are internal, not external. We’re hopeful that there’s a lot of pent-up demand that’s going to come and help us financially. We think that people are going to want to get back together face-to-face. We know this because we have conversations over Zoom with our audience all of the time. So we know they’re anxious to get back together.

I think internally the challenge might be a little more difficult. People have been running; we’ve turned it up to 11 to survive this last year. Not even to survive, but to thrive. And also take care of our consumer; to serve them. I have a staff in which I find it absolutely critical for some people to be in the office, who might not want to return to the office and what do we do about that. 

I spoke to a class of EMBA’s recently, largely from Pfizer, so I think they might be doing well enough with their vaccine sales to have sent everybody back to school. But I said, I’m not sure why you’re getting your MBA, you should be getting your social worker’s degree right now because that is part of the challenge of leaders in media and also leaders in any business where the human resources’ component has changed from less resource to more human. 

And we have to pay much more attention to what folks are going through outside of the office and outside of our traditional interactions. It has changed the dynamic because people have questioned a lot of the old ways of doing things. And the value of spending time at work even.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give small businesses that have been operating virtually when it comes to a balance between the pandemic, screen fatigue, and coming back in person?

Scott Omelianuk: I think the first thing we have to realize is that all businesses are different. And that there are some businesses that remote work can make perfect sense for, and others it doesn’t. And I think that’s true of individuals as well. Some people perform better on their own and some need the office environment. I know I’ve been back to our office a handful of times to take some things or just to get out of the house and away from my family for a bit, who I love dearly, but enough is enough. (Laughs) And I find myself much more productive sitting at my desk in the office than I do sitting at my desk at home. 

Anyone who makes a blanket prediction about how work will change; about how the workforce will change; about what people expect and what managers have to deliver, they’re snake oil salesmen basically. This is a thing that we are going to have to figure out overtime. 

I do know that one thing that seems clear is that having the understanding as a small business owner that there are going to be people, at least in the short term, who feel safer at home than they do in the office. For whatever reason, it doesn’t matter. The fact that they do is important. Or who may have childcare issues that they haven’t resolved yet because school might be interrupted or their daycare person might not be available anymore. 

All of these things require an enormous amount of flexibility on the part of business owners. And also being flexible will help them enormously with their workforce. Being non-transactional with their consumer and treating their consumer just as I’m suggesting they treat their workforce as humans not just cash registers will go a long way as well. We’ve seen that time and again. 

There’s someone who made the Inc. 5,000 this year, which is the list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies, and he made the list by giving away entirely his services for the first handful of months during the pandemic, because no one could afford what he did. As people started to recalibrate their business models and could afford it, they gave the gratitude and the payback was manifold what it cost him to begin with. So I think that’s a really important thing, understanding us as non-transactional in all sorts of respects. In every engagement we have with each other, I think it’s important. 

Samir Husni: As we move into 2021 and reflect upon 2020, we had more issues than just the pandemic. We had social unrest, social injustices, equality and diversity; how are you dealing with that at Inc.?

Scott Omelianuk: For us, we had always done quite a good job of covering a very diverse group of entrepreneurs. The traditional trope of an entrepreneur is a white guy who went to Stanford and launched a business with their college roommate. We try to be much broader than that and  far more inclusive. 

One thing we realized during the social protests this past summer was that as a staff we were not integrated at all. It was almost an entirely white staff. A gender split, fine, but largely white. And so we’ve made a significant effort since then to change that. I’ve learned this from prior roles and prior bosses, a diverse workforce is able to more authentically create a diverse product and form of communication. And that ultimately leads to a better business result. So not only is there a social obligation I feel to do that, there’s the bonus of a good business obligation. And that’s an important thing. 

We and the management team at our sister company Fast Company made a vow that we would not lay anyone off during the pandemic, that it would be a cruel thing to do, particularly here in the United States where your healthcare relies on your employment. 

Samir Husni: In your opinion, what’s the role of print in this digital age?

Scott Omelianuk: The print business is a lot like the vinyl record business to some extent in that it had a moment and it was an incredibly powerful one, but the consumers’ tastes and advertisers’ interests have shifted somewhat. And like vinyl records, that doesn’t mean it has to go away, but it has a more particular audience now. 

It can also have a lot more power in that particular audience. We can think about how a print product is structured and used differently than it traditionally has been. We can think about new business models for a print product. And we can think about the reduced number of print products, not only with our own world and fewer copies of Inc., but fewer magazines altogether and harder to get to because the newsstands don’t really exist in the way they did.

We can see value in that scarcity. Not that magazines are Bitcoin, but Bitcoin has its speculative value because of scarcity. The print product has value because of scarcity too. In the case of Inc. anyway, there is still a recognition factor for the people who are part of our consumer base. It’s important to them to be seen in print.

We also have a set of recognition programs like Inc. 5,000, Best in Business, which recognizes not growth in finances, but what social impact you’ve had. Those programs are much more successful with a print component to them because people value them more.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the Internet is, in some respects it has cheapened and demeaned some things. And made us take them less seriously. That is still not the case for print.

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

Scott Omelianuk: This morning I got up and I was excited about the emails I didn’t get to send yesterday because they represented opportunity. And for me the opportunity was I’m connecting with a man who owned a company called Big Ass Fans, which was an industrial fan company that he has sold, hundreds of millions of dollars, and now he’s an accelerator. And he’s a wonderful storyteller. I was excited about engaging him on the potential of hosting a podcast called Office Hours, where he would help entrepreneurs. 

I interviewed Amy Klobuchar recently as I mentioned, and I’m excited to pick up the dialogue with her policy people again. There’s something interesting about the idea of when we’re in a moment like this where everything seems so fragile and things are actually destroyed, there’s also a moment where there’s infinite possibilities. Anything is possible right now because so many things that we’ve done before haven’t worked. And so it’s thinking about what those are and my excitement in talking to my staff about what else can we do. 

On the list of things that I posted on LinkedIn that we’ve done in the last year, what are the next 12 things that we’re going to do that are going to be just as interesting and just as useful?

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Scott Omelianuk: I used to go to the gym every day, but I stopped doing that with the pandemic. So I actually installed one in my basement and I use that. And when I’m done with that, I do have a glass of wine or a cocktail and I’m right now embedded in the NCAA tournament. When that goes away, baseball season is around the corner. My son and I like to watch a lot of sports together. I also have to sit around and watch him play Fortnite because that’s a thing too in this house. (Laughs) 

That’s basically my life. I look forward to going back to the office and going out and meeting people after work and continuing these fascinating conversations that sometimes we’re able to have via Zoom, but are far too rare in the appointment era that we live in right now. So I’m looking forward to just randomly meeting for a cocktail somewhere with someone.

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

Scott Omelianuk: I worry about things that as an individual I have little control over, but as a society we could change. I do worry about the social inequality that we have; I worry about climate change. I actually worry about all of those geo-political things that I can’t do. I worry less about business, because I know we have an absolutely terrific mission and a very strong brand purpose and people who care about that. And as long as we deliver on that mission, we’ll be successful.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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Print: How do I love thee. Let me count the ways…*

March 28, 2021

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

While Sonnet 43 by the inimitable Elizabeth Barrett Browning was written for her then husband-to-be, Robert Browning, I feel justified in borrowing it for this love poem to print. You see, I have had a life-long devotion to print. Well, life-long from the time I bought the first copy of Superman magazine at the age of 10 to the age I find myself now – with hopefully many more years to cherish her. Her being print.

If you ask me, Mr. Magazine™, how do I love thee – thee being print – I would say I love thee faithfully and loyally even though digital is a part of my life. But in this day and age, digital is a part of most everyone’s life, whether we necessarily like it or not.

Superman was the first magazine I bought in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1964 and I was hooked. Painting by Eric Summers

But print is a choice, an escape from the screens we live with so constantly today.But why do I love print? I have been asked this question many times over the years and the answer is simple, yet extremely consequential.

I would truly and publicly like to thank Peter Houston from Media Voices for referring to me as the “evangelist” of print. I think it is a fitting description for my relationship with ink on paper over these many years.

Print is unique in so many different ways than other platforms that have existed, will exist, or currently do exist. All the content in print is unique; what you see on page two isn’t the same as what’s on page three, as opposed to if you’re watching something on social media or on broadcast or hear on radio. You hear the same clip over and over. You can’t be repetitive in print; every story, every picture must be and is unique.

As a host of editors have told me over the years, the difference between putting something in  print versus something online, print takes more thought, more editing, even if it’s something inane and stupid that one might read on a social media post, it takes more time and consideration to put it into print. There is always that moment of hesitation where you stop and realise once printed, the words are permanent. No delete button on the printed page. Carefully considered, checked and curated…only print can be the medium that has that claim to fame.

And speaking of permanent, print is forever. There is a collectability and legacy to the printed page. Something that can last from the days of the Bible all the way to the 21st century and beyond. Permanence and collectability. Only print. Greek philosopher Parmenides believed that if you couldn’t hold it, touch it, feel it, it wasn’t real. The permanence of print then is very real.

Print legitimises. I have had innumerable artists and writers tell me that their work wasn’t legitimate until they saw it in print. And one editor after another who has told me that the celebrity on the cover of their magazine would only agree to that picture if it was on the cover of the print product. They never asked would they be featured on their webpage, only the magazine’s printed page. Doesn’t that speak volumes about the validity of print?

Print is finite and has purpose. Just like human beings, it has a lifecycle. There is a time to be born and a time to die. It’s not the never-ending story or the 24/7 story. It has a first page and a last page. Knowing that it won’t go on forever on this plane of existence gives it an earthly purpose, whether that is to inform, educate or entertain, print has a reason for being around.

And print is like a good friend, it doesn’t interrupt you while you’re reading it. There are no notifications, no bells and whistles going off, no dings or pings telling you something is trying to tear your attention from what you’re trying to do. It helps you focus on that horizontal projection of your eyes and you retain what you read. Your attention is zeroed in on that article, that piece of content that you are reading and you actually comprehend the words on the page. Print is focus.

And you have typography and photography displayed before you at the same time. It’s a winning combination that allows your mind to absorb that content. And along with the absorption, there is immense satisfaction and pleasure. Screen fatigue cannot offer you that. Only print.

Another important element of print is that sense of ownership. You own the print product, it’s in your hands. No one can take it away from you. You can throw it away, you can keep it, you can cherish it; no matter what type of relationship you want, you can have it, it’s yours. Try to get mad at something on the digital platform and see what happens. If you throw your phone across the room, you’ll have to buy another phone.

Print is a timesaver. You might scoff at that, but it’s true. If it’s well-done, well-curated, well-vetted, you’re getting the content that you want and need and you can trust it. It’s tried-and-true. You don’t have to trigger Google to go in search of it yourself. Experts have done it for you and put it between the pages of the magazine or the book that’s in your hands.

And print provides a real relationship and connection that you can enjoy time and time again. Print has become a necessary partner in these days and times. You can only have so many digital one-night-stands before you yearn for the real thing. That trusted and safe partner that gives you what you need when you need it.

With print there is an audio/visual power that can’t be denied. When the story is good, you can see the love in her eyes. When the apple pie is fresh out of the oven and baked just right, you can smell it and long to taste it. And with a good piece of print apple pie, you are satiated and feel complete. There is no digital piece that gives you that same sense of realism of being there. When the words come alive you can actually feel the movement of the people on the page and it no longer is just content, it becomes an experience. And it becomes your uninterrupted me-time.

If I’ve made you want to read a printed product, then I’ve achieved my mission with this love story to print. There is nothing like it, nor will there ever be. You can create a million websites with a billion pixels on the screen, but it will never replace the thrill, satisfaction and love you can feel for your favorite print magazine or book.

Print: How Do I Love Thee?
I love thee deeply and eternally.

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

*I wrote this column for FIPP Connecting Global Media and it was published on March 16 as part of their series on Print is the New Black.

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The Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 10 EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER 26-28, 2021. SAVE THE DATE!!

March 23, 2021

As we move into what we all hope are the post-pandemic days, Mr. Magazine™ and his team are thrilled to announce that the ACT 10 Experience has been rescheduled for October 26-28, 2021. With the theme staying “Change Is The Only Constant,” I think we can all agree, it is a most fitting tribute to the year 2020 for everyone in general, and the magazine media world more specifically. 

We learned about our own resilience in 2020 and about the buoyancy of magazines and their creators and publishers and printers. We are lining our speakers back up and confirming them each and everyday. We should have a new agenda posted very soon, and we are looking forward to seeing everyone in October!! 

The movers & shakers of the magazine and magazine media world, which includes 46 experts that are either CEOs, publishers, editors, printing authorities, digital professionals, distribution and marketing virtuoso’s and many others are descending upon Oxford, Miss. at the Magazine Innovation Center’s ACT 10 Experience between October 26-28, 2021 and it’s going to be explosive!

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, the Magazine Innovation Center’s founder and director, is calling in all the national and international magazine giants available to a summit in Oxford. Miss. This call to arms will address the topical theme: Change Is The Only Constant, in typical magazine fashion: head-on and straight up, the only way to face any elephant in the room.

See you October 26-28, 2021. For more information click here.

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FabUplus: After An 18-Month Hiatus, The Lifestyle Magazine Advocating Body Positive Health & Fitness For Women With Curves Relaunches – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Patricia DeLuca, Editorial Director… 

March 22, 2021

“As great as social media is and as great as having a digital magazine is, it still doesn’t feel like a total representation until you have something in print. Something you can have on your kitchen table or your coffee table and say this is what I read. And that’s missing when you have it only in digital.” Patricia DeLuca…

Body positivity for all sizes, that is the mission for FabUplus magazine. FabUplus is a health, fitness and lifestyle magazine dedicated to women with curves. The brand went on an 18-month hiatus and is now back in print with a fresh new relaunch. According to editorial director, Patricia DeLuca, the brand’s goal is to empower, encourage and inspire women to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what their size. 

I spoke with Patricia recently and we talked about the brand’s strong belief that size does not define one’s health and fitness level. Patricia stressed that FabUplus celebrates a woman’s inner curves and the unique editorial content relates to the plus-sized community, engaging and informing women to be fit, healthy and curvy at the same time. Patricia said watch for the Spring 2021 issue, which is scheduled to hit newsstands this week.

Mr. Magazine™ will definitely be watching for it.

And now please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Patricia DeLuca, editorial director, FabUplus.

But first the sound-bites:

On publishing during a pandemic: I’m still asking myself that question. How did we get through this? The decision to relaunch FabUplus happened sometime in early 2020. And it was the publisher, Christopher Salute, who really persevered. He felt there was a need for FabUplus to return to print, and I agreed with him. It was doing okay digitally, but there was a need there. There are plenty of publications that are doing well digitally, but there’s still something about grabbing a magazine and feeling it in your hands.

On the magazine’s competitive set today: There are other magazines out there; Maddie Jones with Plus magazine, she’s been doing this for a really long time and she brings fashion and glamour, all that to the shoot, and we want that as well, but we also want to represent different types of beauty. There’s beauty in strength and we want to focus on wellness and fitness. There are women who go to the gym for their mental health, not just to fit into a size smaller. 

On challenges she might face with FabUplus: I see two challenges. One is with advertisers. I don’t know how comfortable some advertisers will feel about working with a company that’s very body positive. We do represent women of all shapes. There are some companies that like the idea of body positivity, but then if someone is above a size 24, they may say whoa, we don’t know about that. So, I’m hoping we can work with companies and advertisers that walk the walk and will support  a brand that supports body positivity in every size.

On relaunching with a print component: As great as social media is and as great as having a digital magazine is, it still doesn’t feel like a total representation until you have something in print. Something you can have on your kitchen table or your coffee table and say this is what I read. And that’s missing when you have it only in digital.

On any chance they’ll increase the frequency from just quarterly: For right now, it’s quarterly. We’ll see how it goes. We still need to build our following. We had a strong following back when FabUplus was still in print, and when they took the hiatus, the brand definitely felt it. But when we returned, we got a welcoming return, people were glad to see us back on the newsstands. But I also think we need to re-earn our followers’ trust again, to show them we’re not going away again, that we’re here to stay.

On anything she’d like to add: I would like to thank our supporters for making FabUplus a part of their everyday lives. We hear them online and we definitely heard them when we were in print. We’ll keep championing body positivity as long as people want to see it. And we feel like this is something that is here to stay.

On what makes her tick and click: I feel like I always have to search for the new thing; what’s going on. Part of my every day checklist is going onto social media and seeing what’s new and in the news, which may not be the healthiest thing, but it’s something I’ve always done, whether it’s been a newspaper, magazine, or online. It’s what is happening and how can my experience help my community.

On whether she enjoys the business side or the editorial side better: I knew editorial was a part of the pie chart, but placement was very valuable too. And I learned so much about publishing as a whole by doing the field rep job. I knew when we had great issues and people were really proud of it, but sometimes they didn’t sell. And maybe it just wasn’t a strong cover or something. You could have all of this great content inside, but if the cover wasn’t compelling, it wouldn’t sell.

On how she unwinds at the end of the day: I have a dog, so I make sure he’s taken care of. Since I’ve been working from home, he’s been by my side and I think there will be real separation anxiety if we ever do return to the office. (Laughs) I spend time with my dog and our gym just reopened in our local neighborhood, so I go there, but there’s only five people or so there and we’re all spread out.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s always going to be deadlines. Even with my day job at License Global. We recently had a relatively smooth deadline and then I thought instantly about the next one. Once the deadline is done, then there is that in-between time, leaving the printer and going to the printer, and once it’s on stands, there’s that space or that timing where I’m thinking, did we get it right; did it look good; are we going to hear back from this person; is it going to sell.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Patricia DeLuca, editorial director, FabUplus.

Samir Husni: You’ve been in publishing for quite some time now, from your days at Time Out New York to today and FabUplus. How have you handled publishing during a pandemic? 

Patricia DeLuca: I’m still asking myself that question. How did we get through this? The decision to relaunch FabUplus happened sometime in early 2020. And it was the publisher, Christopher Salute, who really persevered. He felt there was a need for FabUplus to return to print, and I agreed with him. It was doing okay digitally, but there was a need there. There are plenty of publications that are doing well digitally, but there’s still something about grabbing a magazine and feeling it in your hands. 

With the relaunch, Christopher also wanted to make sure that it came back very strong and to do that we needed some help. So we relied on other people who were in print publishing as well. We had a guest editor for the relaunch, Renee Cafaro, who is the U.S. editor of a plus size magazine called Slink. She was very generous with her time and her connections as well to help us relaunch with the Winter issue. 

And we did shoots during a pandemic. One shoot was a classic shoot; it wasn’t through an iPad or an iPhone; we had people onset. Everyone that was there complied with the CDC guidelines, so it was a very closed set.

Despite all that, I don’t think anyone would have known we were at limited resources because of COVID, but I thought it was a very successful issue. The cover looked great. And this was something that everyone truly believed needed to be done in the market. 

Samir Husni: You’ve been involved with other launches, such as King and Rides Magazines for Harris Publications, who at one time also published a plus size magazine called Mode. Who would you consider your competitive set today?

Patricia DeLuca: I think Mode was very ahead of its time. The photo shoots were gorgeous; the clothing was all high-end at a time when most women were still trying to find where to buy clothing for themselves. One of the articles I wrote for Time Out New York was about where to find plus size fashion in New York City because people who visit are from everywhere but New York and chances are they’re not a size six, so where do you go if you need something? 

And King magazine was really championing a beauty that wasn’t recognized as well with Black women. And the body types that weren’t being represented in other men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM. And it was great to work on the magazine.

There’s a real need. There’s a lot of talk about body positivity and how everybody should be addressing it, but there isn’t really one particular brand that’s going to represent it and represent it well. And not do it for lip service or maybe they’re feeling pressure from advertisers or somewhere else higher up. This is something we’ve all lived with. There are different levels of privilege; there’s body privilege. There are people who have had doors opened for them because of how their body looks. And I can speak from experience about that. I’ve been fatter; I’ve been thinner and I’ve seen those differences.  

I think with FabUplus coming back to the market, it’s a return to that representation. That yes, there’s all this glad talk about body positivity and about having representation; other magazines get big pops when they feature somebody not classically suited for their magazine. But there isn’t one magazine that shows different body types on the regular and I think FabUplus fits in. 

There are other magazines out there; Maddie Jones with Plus magazine, she’s been doing this for a really long time and she brings fashion and glamour, all that to the shoot, and we want that as well, but we also want to represent different types of beauty. There’s beauty in strength and we want to focus on wellness and fitness. There are women who go to the gym for their mental health, not just to fit into a size smaller. So, we want to focus on that. And we really want to be inclusive and we’re hoping down the line that FabUplus becomes more and more inclusive. 

Samir Husni: What do you think will be your biggest challenge with FabUplus?

Patricia DeLuca: I see two challenges. One is with advertisers. I don’t know how comfortable some advertisers will feel about working with a company that’s very body positive. We do represent women of all shapes. There are some companies that like the idea of body positivity, but then if someone is above a size 24, they may say whoa, we don’t know about that. So, I’m hoping we can work with companies and advertisers that walk the walk and will support  a brand that supports body positivity in every size. 

And then also the plus sized community. It’s been very supportive, but like every community there is always gatekeepers, and whenever we do something wrong we will hear about it through social media. We’re under the umbrella of Bold Holdings, so there’s FabUplus, Bold Magazine, which is more of a literary publication, and then Strutter, which is a little more pop culture. So we’re three brands that really don’t fit into what the plus sized community is right now, which is very strong on influencers and very strong on fashion. We want to bring in all the other things that encompass plus size life and culture. 

And I’m editorial director for all three, but I’ve been working with FabUplus more as editor in chief because there was more of a need, since we’re in print and I have print experience. We were trying to not only relaunch, but also slowly rebrand the issue because we need to freshen up the layouts and that’s not an overnight thing. It’s going to take some time. We’re currently working on our summer issue and there will be some tweaks to that as well. Hopefully by year’s end we’ll have a solid look that’s true to our brand.

Samir Husni: Why did the brand feel it was important to come back in print?

Patricia DeLuca: As great as social media is and as great as having a digital magazine is, it still doesn’t feel like a total representation until you have something in print. Something you can have on your kitchen table or your coffee table and say this is what I read. And that’s missing when you have it only in digital.

And there’s something very private about digital as well, everything is on your phone or on your laptop, so you have this community that’s very small. But with print, it feels more stable. There’s this feeling of realness when you get a print edition of something. It feels very official. And to invest in printing and design, all these elements that come together to make a print magazine, it feels like that movement is very real. And it’s not just a hashtag. Hashtags do have power, we’ve seen it, but this leap from the screen onto the page is not a backward move at all. There will be a digital and social presence, but we felt it was really important to have that print aspect too. We want to be more than something that just lives on your screen, we want to be part of your everyday life in real life. We’re a quarterly magazine and we want to be on your tables for a long while. 

Samir Husni: Any chance you’ll increase the frequency?

Patricia DeLuca: For right now, it’s quarterly. We’ll see how it goes. We still need to build our following. We had a strong following back when FabUplus was still in print, and when they took the hiatus, the brand definitely felt it. But when we returned, we got a welcoming return, people were glad to see us back on the newsstands. But I also think we need to re-earn our followers’ trust again, to show them we’re not going away again, that we’re here to stay. 

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

Patricia DeLuca: I would like to thank our supporters for making FabUplus a part of their everyday lives. We hear them online and we definitely heard them when we were in print. We’ll keep championing body positivity as long as people want to see it. And we feel like this is something that is here to stay. 

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

Patricia DeLuca: I feel like I always have to search for the new thing; what’s going on. Part of my every day checklist is going onto social media and seeing what’s new and in the news, which may not be the healthiest thing, but it’s something I’ve always done, whether it’s been a newspaper, magazine, or online. It’s what is happening and how can my experience help my community. Whether my community is within my household or a circle of friends or my work team. So I guess it’s service, in one way or another. What’s happening and how can I help.

Samir Husni: You’ve been on both sides, business and editorial. Which side do you enjoy more?

Patricia DeLuca: If you would have asked me that when I first started out, I would have said editorial. When I was a field rep at Time Out New York, I had a lot of outdoor time; I was outdoors for half the day, making sure the magazine had great positioning, the posters we used to print had prime placement. 

And talk about a gradual change, I would go to newsstand reps and at first no one wanted anything to do with Time Out, I was a pest asking how many copies they sold. And then weeks later, they would ask me if I had another poster, and in a weird way, working in circulation, I knew when a magazine was going to do well because I knew when the newsstand owners would ask me for more posters to get more copies, I would be the liaison between our circulation team and them But when random people would ask me about the magazine, I knew it was popular.

I knew editorial was a part of the pie chart, but placement was very valuable too. And I learned so much about publishing as a whole by doing the field rep job. I knew when we had great issues and people were really proud of it, but sometimes they didn’t sell. And maybe it just wasn’t a strong cover or something. You could have all of this great content inside, but if the cover wasn’t compelling, it wouldn’t sell. I will always champion the editorial, but I learned a lot working in circulation. 

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

Patricia DeLuca: I have a dog, so I make sure he’s taken care of. Since I’ve been working from home, he’s been by my side and I think there will be real separation anxiety if we ever do return to the office. (Laughs) I spend time with my dog and our gym just reopened in our local neighborhood, so I go there, but there’s only five people or so there and we’re all spread out. 

Going back to what I said about the community of FabUplus readers who go to the gym for mental health and clarity, that’s why I go too, because at the end of the day I just need an hour to not think about deadlines and layouts, all the things that tend to take up space in my mind. 

And then just catching up with friends and family. I’m on my phone constantly, because if it’s not through social media, I’m on the phone. Once I get away from my screen, I try to have some Facetime with real people. 

And I’m here with my parents as well, so I’m checking in with them constantly to make sure they’re okay. Some of my spare time recently, between my day job, which is with License Global, when I had down time, it was looking for a place for my parents to be vaccinated. It’s tough to get appointments. 

And I do enjoy picking out magazines; I pick up a magazine to read it because I enjoy it. I truly love magazines. There is something about magazines that has always intrigued me. And I try to hold off on the glass of wine until the weekend.(Laughs)

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

Patricia DeLuca: It’s always going to be deadlines. Even with my day job at License Global. We recently had a relatively smooth deadline and then I thought instantly about the next one. Once the deadline is done, then there is that in-between time, leaving the printer and going to the printer, and once it’s on stands, there’s that space or that timing where I’m thinking, did we get it right; did it look good; are we going to hear back from this person; is it going to sell.

I’m thinking about that right now with FabUplus because it’s being shipped to Barnes & Noble and my thing is will it have good placement. I know the last issue did. But will we continue to have that? And how do we keep this going? And while it may keep me up at night, it is something that I’m enjoying. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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John Mack Carter: A Magazine Legend Remembered By His Daughter Jonna On The Women’s Sit-In 51st Anniversary At Ladies’ Home Journal…

March 18, 2021

John Mack Carter was not only a legendary editor with the distinction of editing all of the “Big Three” women’s magazines of his time: McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, but he was also a mentor and a friend. 

I first met him in the early 1980s when he came to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism School to speak to our class. It was a dream come true and the beginning of a lengthy mutual friendship and professional relationship.

March is Women’s History Month, designated by a presidential proclamation to recognize the importance of the role of women in American history. In March 1970, an 11-hour sit-in happened in the Ladies’ Home Journal office of John Mack Carter. It became a defining moment for him. He was always a man who believed in listening to the ideas of people, but on that day when a large group of women stormed his office and demanded he listen to them personally, he did just that. What started as a volatile protest turned into something different; it became a turning point for his thinking when it came to the role of women in society and especially in the world of magazines.

What follows is an essay written for Mr. Magazine™ blog and newsletter by his daughter Jonna Carter, who today is a writer and columnist at her local newspaper in New Hampshire. Jonna reflects on growing up in the 1960s and ’70s as the daughter of a magazine editor for the top three women’s magazines of the time. As her father helped to transform the world of women’s magazines during the feminist era, Jonna longed to be a part of the movement and watched as her father basically changed history in women’s service journalism. 

On this anniversary, March 18, of the infamous Ladies’ Home Journal sit-in, please enjoy the essay from John Mack Carter’s daughter, Jonna Carter and relive a moment of pivotal history in women’s magazines.

Ladies’ Man

By Jonna Carter

Jonna Carter with her father the magazine legendary editor John Mack Carter (Photo courtesy of Jonna Carter)

March is Women’s History Month, so designated since 1987 by Presidential proclamation to honor the role of women in American history. I’ve never paid much attention in the past, but this year I’m feeling especially reflective.

I have my own unique historical perspective growing up as I did during the second wave of feminism of the 1960s and 70s. Out of the social upheaval of the 1960s, i.e. the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War protests and the sexual revolution, evolved the women’s liberation movement. Not only did I grow up during this pivotal era, I grew up in the thick of it with a father who was both a target and a champion of the women’s movement.

My father was a women’s magazine editor, and he moved his young family to New York where over the course of his editing career he would achieve an unprecedented trifecta as he took the helm first at McCall’s, then Ladies’ Home Journal, and lastly Good Housekeeping, the powerhouse women’s magazines known in the publishing world as the “Big Three.” In my father’s 2014 New York Times obituary Leslie Kaufman wrote, “John Mack Carter, a Kentucky-born journalist…had the singular distinction of editing all of the so-called Big Three women’s magazines and, in doing so, helped transform the genre during the feminist era.”

At age 33 my father became the editor in chief of McCall’s and began revamping its content from predominantly fluff pieces to more substantive articles about issues affecting women. This was 1961, two years before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique sparked the women’s liberation movement. In a 1963 New York Times interview he said, “Women’s magazines were badly behind the times…They were failing to keep up with the rising educational levels in this country.” I credit him with being cognizant, if not indoctrinated.

John Mack Carter and daughter Jonna (Photo courtesy Jonna Carter)

In the late 1960s the women’s movement became organized and noisy, especially in New York City where radical feminist activists were attracting a great deal of attention as they strove to be heard and to effect societal changes through various avenues. The likes of Germaine Greer, Angela Davis, Bella Abzug, and the dynamic and glamorous Gloria Steinem, were all over television news and the front pages of the newspapers piled on our suburban kitchen counter. My father was acquainted at least peripherally with many of the heavy hitters, and he was paying close attention as women were integral to his livelihood. He had by this time transitioned to the Ladies’ Home Journal.

I was living a cloistered suburban childhood, minutes from the very demonstrations demanding and creating change, and yet impossibly removed. I secretly longed to be if not Gloria Steinem, then recreated in her image. I was desperately shy and lacking in any degree of self-esteem, and to be possessed of the ferocity and determination, the overall confidence and composure of Gloria, was my dream. These women were absolutely consequential fighting for equality and eliminating hurdles in my future. I desperately wanted to be in the game and not merely a kid on the sidelines. Until it got personal. And scary.

In March 1970, in a demonstration designed to expose sexism and oppression in women’s magazines, somewhere between one and two hundred feminist activists led by Susan Brownmiller, Ti-Grace Atkinson and Shulamith Firestone, stormed the editorial department of Ladies’ Home Journal and held my father hostage during an 11-hour sit-in in his office. They were protesting the magazine’s articles and columns, the role of women on the editorial staff, and advertising deemed offensive from companies profiting from the subservience and objectification of women. The protesters came armed with a list of demands, among them that editorial content be radically altered, that advertising be overhauled, that the magazine provide free daycare facilities on the premises, and that my father resign and be replaced by a woman. The demonstration was volatile, and negotiations in fits and starts continued into the night.

At home we were glued to the TV as the New York stations were broadcasting live footage and updates from his office. Overall things remained peaceful, but there were moments of physical aggression with protesters pushing their way onto his desk and helping themselves to his cigars. Shulamith Firestone actually lunged at him across the desk, but was blocked by her peers and talked down. At one point there was discussion by a few of the most extreme of throwing him out his fifth floor office window. Tensions were high in that office, and tensions were high in our home. Late that night when this exhausted man walked through our front door I wept with relief.

My father was a brilliant man, but there are many. The quality contributing to my father’s unique success was that he was genuinely interested in people’s ideas and he listened. On March 18, 1970, he listened. The sit-in had a profound impact on him, and he later credited it as a turning point in his thinking. He began to balance and expand content so as to span the gamut of women’s concerns and choices, and he became a vocal advocate for women’s issues such as sexual harassment, job discrimination and women’s health. Ironically, the Ladies’ Home Journal slogan was “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman,” and he did not. 

The sit-in had been a defining moment for my father, and such was reflected in the coming years as it drastically altered his magazines, and others followed suit. Eventually he was wooed by Hearst to Good Housekeeping, and management knew and always appreciated their prize. What they got was not the young spitfire, but the seasoned and compassionate feminist who had embraced a movement and an era.

As the sit-in had been a defining moment for my father, so it had been for me as well. It altered and expanded his thinking, his relationships with women, and his relationship with me. John Mack Carter was a southern gentleman and would never be a radical activist, but he was a feminist to the core, and this is the torch he so proudly passed on to me. 

I overheard my mother once tell my college age children that their mother was a “radical feminist.” I smiled to think how proud that would have made my dad!

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Andrea Barbalich, Editor In Chief, The Week Junior US, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “There Is Something Special And Magical About Turning The Pages Of A Magazine.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 15, 2021

“The children save them, they’re proud of their collection. They save them in special folders. They send us pictures of themselves reading the magazine in all kinds of places. They’re on a walk or they’re reading with their dog or they’re hanging upside down on the monkey bars. They show us through these pictures and their words how much they love the physical aspect of reading the magazine.” Andrea Barbalich on the printed edition of The Week Junior… 

With eye-catching photos and engaging articles, The Week Junior US brings everything from current events to interviews with inspiring people to puzzles and activities for the child between the ages of 8 and 14 to the pages between its covers. Celebrating one year in print, the brand launched precisely at the moment the world was shutting down due to the pandemic.

Andrea Barbalich is the editor in chief of The Week Junior. I spoke with Andrea recently and we talked about the particular challenges that launching a brand new newsmagazine at the onset of a pandemic presented, especially one for children. About how the brand has to present its stories clearly and concisely for kids, bringing in that divine element that the adult version of The Week has always been known for: truth and an unbiased reporting that is both refreshing and desperately needed in today’s time of opinion journalism.

The Week Junior is subscription-based and promises to speak directly to kids ages 8-14 in a way that is truthful, clear, and age-appropriate. And if its first year of success is any indication, Andrea said the brand has approximately 80,000 subscribers, the brand is keeping that promise.

So now please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andrea Barbalich, editor in chief, The Week Junior US.

On publishing a weekly print and digital brand during a pandemic: It’s a challenge to launch a magazine anytime and to be launching a weekly newsmagazine is another level of difficulty, and doing it during a pandemic added another layer of complexity. We launched the magazine at the precise moment that the world was shutting down due to the Coronavirus. In fact, it was declared a pandemic the week prior to our first deadline. It was definitely challenging, but the way it turned out the timing actually couldn’t have been better, because at that moment when children’s lives were changing dramatically, they needed a guide to understand what was going on around them. 

On the challenges she faced and how she overcame them: We’ve never had a slow news week at The Week Junior. We launched during the pandemic and this was a difficult story for adults to understand, so explaining it to children was a challenge. Shortly after that George Floyd was killed and the protests for racial justice began around the country. That was very difficult to explain as well. Right after that we moved into a very divisive political campaign, followed by a chaotic aftermath of the election. Then there was the riot at the capitol and there was an impeachment. So there has been no shortage of difficult stories to explain to children. I think that the way that we’ve been able to handle them is a big part of the success and a big part of the reason that we were able to gain the trust of children and their parents so quickly. 

On the role she thinks print has played in the success story of The Week Junior: Children are looking for something interesting and wonderful to read. They are not as focused on the platform as adults are. It’s our mission to engage children and we’re fulfilling that mission. But I do think there’s something very special about receiving the magazine in the mailbox every week. It is a treat for the child; it’s something special that comes to their home with their name on it. And it’s just for them.

On whether the magazine has exceeded expectations: We have exceeded expectations for the brand. We are at about 80,000 subscribers now, so we’re ahead of projection. The price as you mentioned may be considered high for a magazine, but we believe that we have quality content and command that kind of price. So far parents are willing and eager to pay for it, the pay up rate and the renewal rate. They think that it is a significant benefit to their children and that it is a value.

On what she would hope to tell someone that the brand had accomplished one year from now: 2020 was our year to launch and establish the brand. We’re looking at 2021 as a year to grow and amplify the brand. With the vaccines happening now and more people getting vaccinated and children being able to return to school, their lives are going to change again. We hope that as we look toward the end of this year that things will be going somewhat back to normal for children, even if they’re not able to be vaccinated until early next year. Teachers are being vaccinated and schools will hopefully return to something closer to what they were.

On some people wondering how a children’s magazine can make sense of the world when many adult magazines fail to do so: We actually hear from many parents. In our reader survey we found that 67 percent of parents are reading The Week Junior along with their children. They send us letters about how much they love the magazine. The Week Junior is unbiased, that’s one of our core values and pillars. We don’t take sides. We report the news, but we don’t take sides. And a lot of parents appreciate that because it’s difficult. Many other media outlets are perceived as having some kind of bias and so parents really enjoy reading The Week Junior and having their children read it for this reason.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just like to say thank you for your interest in our brand. And thank you to every child, parent and teacher in the United States who has told us how much they love this magazine. We’re very excited about what the future holds and looking forward to continuing to be the experts on this incredible generation of children.

On what makes her tick and click: I would say my passion for this brand and my responsibility to my team and to Dennis Publishing and everyone who has supported us so incredibly during the first year. And our readers. The children and their parents who make this job so rewarding. I love hearing from them. I love reading what they love about the magazine. There could be no better motivation than knowing that you’re making a difference in the life of a child.

On how she unwinds in the evenings: I love to cook a great meal while listening to music and sipping a glass of wine. I’ve also found that during the pandemic when in-person contact has been so limited, conversations have become incredibly meaningful. So a chat with my son or a friend makes my night. And now that the days are getting longer I’m looking forward to getting outside for a walk or a bike ride in the evenings too.

On what keeps her up at night: Thoughts about what more I could bring to assure that kids feel informed and appreciated and empowered. And that this magazine is something special for them during a difficult time in their lives and in history. We’ve played an important role in children’s lives. We launched at the precise moment that their lives changed.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andrea Barbalich, editor in chief, The Week Junior US.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on the approaching first anniversary of The Week Junior US. Tell me about publishing a weekly print and digital brand during a pandemic. 

Andrea Barbalich: It’s a challenge to launch a magazine anytime and to be launching a weekly newsmagazine is another level of difficulty, and doing it during a pandemic added another layer of complexity. We launched the magazine at the precise moment that the world was shutting down due to the Coronavirus. In fact, it was declared a pandemic the week prior to our first deadline. And one day before that first deadline our office went 100 percent remote. So we have never shipped an issue of this magazine from the office. Many of our staff have never met each other in person. 

Many of our plans for the magazine had to be ripped up a few days beforehand. We had been planning a very celebratory cover and we realized that we would need to change the cover to address the Coronavirus head on in order to keep our promise to children, that we would bring them the news of the world and help them make sense of it. So we created a new cover three days before deadline. And that turned out to be an iconic cover with a red heart and the cover line “Acts of Kindness.” 

Some other things that we were planning for the magazine we also had to change. For example, we were planning on a sports section and sports were shut down. We couldn’t cover movie openings and museum exhibit openings because they were all cancelled. Some of the activities that we had planned to write about for children, even something like hosting a sleepover, they couldn’t do that anymore. 

We had to change our plans for the magazine at the same time that our readers’ lives were changing. They suddenly couldn’t go to school in person; their activities were cancelled and they couldn’t see their extended families and their friends. 

It was definitely challenging, but the way it turned out the timing actually couldn’t have been better, because at that moment when children’s lives were changing dramatically, they needed a guide to understand what was going on around them. And we were able to deliver on that promise at a time when they needed something like that more than they ever had before. 

Samir Husni: Part of what you wrote in welcoming readers to the magazine was that you wanted to keep kids turning the pages. With everything that was going on in the country in 2020, from the pandemic to the social unrest to the elections, as an editor and a curator for children, what were some of the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?

Andrea Barbalich: It’s our mission to deliver the news to children no matter what that news is. And we have a very specific way that we do that. We are always truthful; we are direct; we don’t talk down to children, we respect their intelligence; and we’re very sensitive and kind in how we approach our content. And you’re exactly right, we do want to keep them turning the pages. So we want to inform, entertain and delight them. And when there are difficult things to be discussed, we want to do that in a way that benefits them. 

We’ve never had a slow news week at The Week Junior. We launched during the pandemic and this was a difficult story for adults to understand, so explaining it to children was a challenge. Shortly after that George Floyd was killed and the protests for racial justice began around the country. That was very difficult to explain as well. Right after that we moved into a very divisive political campaign, followed by a chaotic aftermath of the election. Then there was the riot at the capitol and there was an impeachment. So there has been no shortage of difficult stories to explain to children. 

I think that the way that we’ve been able to handle them is a big part of the success and a big part of the reason that we were able to gain the trust of children and their parents so quickly. We’re asking a lot of parents. We’re asking them to allow us as a newsmagazine to come into their home every week. And right away they could see for themselves how honestly and sensitively we discussed difficult topics. And also that we were about  more than breaking news and politics. We were also bringing the delight and the wonder and the joy of the world to children. And we were giving them something wonderful to read. Every parent wants their child to love reading, and to be engaged and involved and knowledgeable about the world. And to learn critical thinking skills and to be able to have their own opinions. 

So we quickly became a partner to the parents in explaining difficult topics because we were able to help parents foster discussions in the home. We became a guide to the parents in talking to their children about things that have never really happened before in the world. We quickly became a companion to the children and the parents and something that they loved having in their home.

Samir Husni: What role do you think print has played in the success story of The Week Junior?

Andrea Barbalich: Children are looking for something interesting and wonderful to read. They are not as focused on the platform as adults are. It’s our mission to engage children and we’re fulfilling that mission. But I do think there’s something very special about receiving the magazine in the mailbox every week. It is a treat for the child; it’s something special that comes to their home with their name on it. And it’s just for them. 

We have heard from them and their parents that they race to the mailbox every week to get it. They can’t wait to get their hands on it. The fact that it’s print adds to the feeling that it’s something special. And there is something special and magical about turning the pages of a magazine. And the children save them, they’re proud of their collection. They save them in special folders. They send us pictures of themselves reading the magazine in all kinds of places. They’re on a walk or they’re reading with their dog or they’re hanging upside down on the monkey bars. They show us through these pictures and their words how much they love the physical aspect of reading the magazine.  

Samir Husni: The subscription price is not cheap, and I know you were forced to go subscription only because of most of the stores closing during the pandemic. Are there any plans to go to newsstands or are you happy with the subscription only level? Do you feel you have exceeded the expectations for the brand?

Andrea Barbalich: We have exceeded expectations for the brand. We are at about 80,000 subscribers now, so we’re ahead of projection. The price as you mentioned may be considered high for a magazine, but we believe that we have quality content and command that kind of price. So far parents are willing and eager to pay for it, the pay up rate and the renewal rate. They think that it is a significant benefit to their children and that it is a value. 

We do not have any plans right now to be on the newsstand. We’re happy with our subscription model. When we launched we were not counting on newsstand revenue, so we didn’t lose anything. We were always going to be primarily a subscription model. 

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, celebrating the brand’s second anniversary, what would you hope to tell me?

Andrea Barbalich: 2020 was our year to launch and establish the brand. We’re looking at 2021 as a year to grow and amplify the brand. With the vaccines happening now and more people getting vaccinated and children being able to return to school, their lives are going to change again. We hope that as we look toward the end of this year that things will be going somewhat back to normal for children, even if they’re not able to be vaccinated until early next year. Teachers are being vaccinated and schools will hopefully return to something closer to what they were. 

What we plan to do is continue bringing the news of the world to children every week as we have been, no matter what happens. We don’t know what will happen, but that’s one of our great strengths, our agility. And our ability to move quickly, make decisions quickly, and meet the needs of children  and parents and teachers no matter what those needs are. So, we’ll continue to grow and evolve in everything we do, in both editorial and marketing, to be a companion and a resource and a valued part of children’s lives. 

Samir Husni: People may wonder how a children’s magazine can make sense of the world when many adult magazines fail to do so.

Andrea Barbalich: We actually hear from many parents. In our reader survey we found that 67 percent of parents are reading The Week Junior along with their children. They send us letters about how much they love the magazine. The Week Junior is unbiased, that’s one of our core values and pillars. We don’t take sides. We report the news, but we don’t take sides. And a lot of parents appreciate that because it’s difficult. Many other media outlets are perceived as having some kind of bias and so parents really enjoy reading The Week Junior and having their children read it for this reason. 

A lot of people tell us we’d have a more informed population if everyone read The Week Junior. (Laughs) We do have a way of distilling events down to their essence and explaining things, and because it’s for an audience of children between the ages of 8 and 14, we have to explain things very clearly and very concisely. And there’s a real art to it. When a child finishes reading one of our articles, we want them to feel informed; we don’t want them to feel nuanced. We want them to feel that something they may have been confused about is now clear to them. We are able to articulate things and bring them down to their essence in a way that is extremely helpful to the child.

We have certainly been challenged on that over the past year. If you look back at the news cycle and how relentless it was and how difficult many of the things that happened were, difficult enough for even adults to understand. 

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

Andrea Barbalich: I would just like to say thank you for your interest in our brand. And thank you to every child, parent and teacher in the United States who has told us how much they love this magazine. We’re very excited about what the future holds and looking forward to continuing to be the experts on this incredible generation of children. 

I’d also like to thank my very talented creative editorial team and my colleagues throughout Dennis Publishing who have been so incredibly supportive in the past year.

And I have to mention the tradition of trusted news with The Week magazine. It has been a trusted source for news in the United States for 20 years and we want to bring that same trusted news to children in a way that’s appropriate for them. 

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

Andrea Barbalich: I would say my passion for this brand and my responsibility to my team and to Dennis Publishing and everyone who has supported us so incredibly during the first year. And our readers. The children and their parents who make this job so rewarding. I love hearing from them. I love reading what they love about the magazine. There could be no better motivation than knowing that you’re making a difference in the life of a child.

Samir Husni: How do unwind in the evenings?

Andrea Barbalich: I love to cook a great meal while listening to music and sipping a glass of wine. I’ve also found that during the pandemic when in-person contact has been so limited, conversations have become incredibly meaningful. So a chat with my son or a friend makes my night. And now that the days are getting longer I’m looking forward to getting outside for a walk or a bike ride in the evenings too.

And then, because I can’t help it, I’m always keeping an eye on the news and what’s happening in the world and thinking about what we’ll cover in that issue of The Week Junior. Working on a weekly, there’s really no time that I’m not doing that. I’m very fortunate to love what I do, so there’s a lot of joy and satisfaction in even the longest days. 

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

Andrea Barbalich: Thoughts about what more I could bring to assure that kids feel informed and appreciated and empowered. And that this magazine is something special for them during a difficult time in their lives and in history. We’ve played an important role in children’s lives. We launched at the precise moment that their lives changed. 

The magazine and our staff and our readers have been following this unforeseen path together for a year now. So I’m always thinking about what more could I do to make this magazine as great as it can be. To make it a treasured part of a child’s life.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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People’s SVP & Publisher Cece Ryan To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Demand For People In Printed Form Will Always Be Strong…” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 11, 2021

“Then boom, the reader gets People magazine in her mailbox and she’s so happy it arrived. And it’s having a conversation every week with a best friend. There’s highs and lows, excitement and joy, there’s humor and amazing, rich photography. And having that relationship with the printed form will always be an important part of her life.” Cece Ryan…

“The People ROYALS quarterly that was launched (last week) will be a huge success…” Cece Ryan

It has been said that People is a cultural force. For 47 years, since its first issue date March 4, 1974, People magazine has provided celebrity and human interest conversations that are unmatched. The cover stories are often bold and electric in their depth, always intriguing and enrich lives with information and entertainment. And it’s the largest moneymaking magazine in the country, in both circulation and advertising.

Senior Vice President and publisher of this powerhouse brand is Cece Ryan. Cece was named SVP/Publisher of People in 2018 where she now directs integrated national sales across 360˚ platforms including print, digital, video and social. Cece is a seasoned media executive with experience at other Meredith properties including Real Simple, Media Networks Inc., and Cooking Light. Prior to joining People, she worked at USA Today.  

I spoke with Cece recently and we talked about this cultural force called People. The passion and the dedication she feels for the brand is evident in her voice. Cece feels the success of the brand is due to the connection it has with its readers which drives the consumer marketing revenue. The content is trusted and the storytelling is rich and goes deep. And People’s access is incomparable.

In the upcoming issue which hits newsstands this week, former First Lady Michelle Obama graces its cover and shares the bright sides to her year-plus of pandemic isolation with her husband, former President Barack Obama. And for the Royals enthusiast, there’s an eight-page story on Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah. Something for everyone. 

So please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cece Ryan, SVP/Publisher, People. 

But first the sound-bites:

On why People continues to be the largest moneymaking magazine in the country: People continues to be the number one magazine and one of the top ten entertainment sites, and a huge revenue leader. And you’re right, it’s a huge responsibility in the industry and definitely within Meredith. But it’s a massive leader in its space because of the way in which it connects to people; it’s very basic.

On why other publications have never been able to follow People’s balancing of circulation and advertising revenue in its business model: I just don’t think other brands carry the weight and the power to connect with consumers and drive the consumer marketing revenue that People can. People represents 48 percent of all total subscriptions in the competitive set and more than 70 percent of all print subscriptions. They’re paying about $100 per year to get this magazine delivered to their mailbox every Friday. And I just don’t think other brands or other magazines have that connection with the consumer like People has from day one.

On the expansion of the brand’s different extensions: Throughout the years People has always focused on innovating behind the brand, and again, has always been driven by consumer’s insights. We want to be where she is, on whatever screen, platform, printed medium where she’s leaning in and leaning back to engage with the content. And again, through the insights and the data that we’re proud to have at Meredith, we know where she’s going to be and what really resonates with her. 

On whether she thinks the new magazine extension launched about the Royals will be a success: People ROYALS quarterly that was launched will be a huge success. Our digital vertical that we update all the time on People.com under Royals, plus the weekly edition of People, plus this ROYALS quarterly will be a great place for our royal enthusiasts to come and get the latest news.

On whether People can’t be defined as a weekly anymore because of its 24/7 status: It really is a daily to be honest, between the breaking news and the way we love to bring that news to marketers to leverage under the People brand. It is a 24/7 role, even though it is a weekly publication. We’re closing a magazine every week.

On what she tells her team when they’re selling the brand: I say to them sell the brand. And that’s everything from print to impressions to audio to events to partnerships in marketing ideas. They’re brand sellers and the brand is at the center of everything we do. When we go talk to marketers, they don’t want to have one conversation, they want to have a full spectrum of the brand and how we can help move their business forward. And those are the solutions we bring them. That’s the really fun and exciting part. 

On whether she differentiates between the roles of each extension or sees the brand as a whole: Clearly, each medium has a benefit and a power, but we really talk to the power and the success that you, a marketer or a customer has by leaning into the entire brand.

On how People dissects and uses the data they get from Meredith’s massive database: We really dissect and use the data according to whatever demographic somebody wants to tap into. But it’s really about celebrating all 96 million all the time. This is something that we have rich data behind, tons of insights, and obviously syndicated research to help us tell that story. But it is 96 million strong. And we seem to find her wherever she is.

On whether she thinks print is as strong today as it once was even during the pandemic: I think the demand for People  in a printed form will always be strong. And while numbers will always vary, especially during a pandemic, obviously most magazines were impacted on the newsstand, but those numbers are also coming back as retail and the world opens up. I do think that from a weekly cadence standpoint, no other brand, again based on our trust and our access and the relevancy, can tell that story in any less cadence.

On anything she’d like to add: Thank you for leaning into People. You’ve always been so supportive. I would just add that the power and the excitement and the position of People right now is just in an incredible place. And we’re really excited about what the future holds. We’re so glad that our insights and a lot of the research that we did on the consumer during the pandemic, every week we did a poll with her; we’re glad that we were there to understand how she was doing, what was important to her, what did she value, what would change her life.

On what makes her tick and click: I actually jump out of bed because I have a massive to-do list both professionally and personally. I’m also excited about what the day brings. There are a lot of conversations happening with amazing clients and customers, internal brainstorms in meetings that are fueling ideas and fueling solutions that are exciting. Every day is not a cakewalk, but that’s why they call it work.

On how she unwinds in the evenings: To be honest, now that the temperatures are getting a little bit nicer, I always try to go outside for some fresh air. Everyone is behind screens a lot and I think during this time of working remotely I’ve saved four hours of commuting time. I can also squeeze in some exercise in the mornings, which has been a wonderful habit.

On what keeps her up at night: I worry. I’m half Italian, half Irish, so I have that worry gene. I worry about being a great leader in a positive way. I want to always do a great job; I want to be there for my team. I want to make sure we’re thinking about the business as strategically as we can, tapping into every aspect and asset that Meredith has to help us fuel the success. So you’re constantly thinking.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Cece Ryan, SVP/Publisher, People. 

Samir Husni: People just celebrated 47 years, the first issue coming out on March 4, 1974. Many said that Henry Luce was probably turning over in his grave at the idea of publishing such a magazine, but of course  history tells us that People saved the entire empire and is now the largest moneymaking magazine in the country from both advertising and circulation. Tell me about being responsible for such an important brand. Why do you think People is such a powerhouse?

Cece Ryan: You’re right. Who would have believed that since 1974 the brand would just continue to thrive from Henry Luce’s vision to now. People continues to be the number one magazine and one of the top ten entertainment sites, and a huge revenue leader. And you’re right, it’s a huge responsibility in the industry and definitely within Meredith. But it’s a massive leader in its space because of the way in which it connects to people; it’s very basic. 

Our editor in chief, Dan Wakeford, does an incredible job connecting consumers to this brand and staying very close to them. And I think the way in which our storytelling is deep and it’s trusted and the access our team has to tell those stories and really get at the heart and soul of Americans, that’s what keeps the brand so strong and moving forward. 

From a marketer’s standpoint, they see the value in our Omni-channel, storytelling approach and the scale we bring. And hitting every demographic in such a strong way that they’re able to leverage all the brand assets to really drive their message to consumers. It’s an incredible brand. It’s a massive responsibility. But it’s also the best brand to represent in the industry.

Samir Husni: People has always had that balance between revenue from circulation and revenue from advertisers. Why do you think the imitators have never been able to follow People’s business model? Why isn’t it the norm rather than the exception?

Cece Ryan: I just don’t think other brands carry the weight and the power to connect with consumers and drive the consumer marketing revenue that People can. People represents 48 percent of all total subscriptions in the competitive set and more than 70 percent of all print subscriptions. They’re paying about $100 per year to get this magazine delivered to their mailbox every Friday. And I just don’t think other brands or other magazines have that connection with the consumer like People has from day one. 

And we will continue to have that connection through our deep insights and data. And it’s a perfect storm between the content, the storytelling, and the consumer marketing efforts our team puts out. And then obviously, on the ad side, the way in which marketers lean into the ideas, the partnerships and franchises. It is a perfect recipe for success.

Samir Husni: You took People from just a print entity to a multimedia, multiplatform brand, but you didn’t ignore print. In fact, you continue to launch new magazines like People ROYALS which came out recently. And I have seen a copy of People Health – so you’ve created a lot of B to B verticals also. Tell me more about that mix of print, digital, web, podcasts, all of the events; just the expansion of all the different brand extensions.

Cece Ryan: Throughout the years People has always focused on innovating behind the brand, and again, has always been driven by consumer’s insights. We want to be where she is, on whatever screen, platform, printed medium where she’s leaning in and leaning back to engage with the content. And again, through the insights and the data that we’re proud to have at Meredith, we know where she’s going to be and what really resonates with her. 

It’s the storytelling and the content. Where else can you get breaking news all the time, 24/7, whether it’s Royals or human interest or celebrity marriage, engagement, baby, break-up; People is at the epicenter of every conversation. And I think we’ve done an incredible job of being where she is and connecting her. 

And yes, the print is important and will always be here. Print is here to stay for People. And it is a core part of the brand assets. This year during a very uncertain time, no other brand is able to innovate and launch a TV show, a daily podcast, a new video offering, the way People can. The brand is incredibly powerful across all those Omni-channel aspects and together it’s the perfect environment for consumers to get their news and obviously for marketers to lean into as well. 

People Royals Spring 2021 issue 1 cover

Samir Husni: With the new magazine ROYALS just coming out among the extensions of the People brand, I’m sure you saw Keith Kelly’s piece about launching in the worst of times based on what is happening with the Royals. Do you think the masses who adore the Royals will impact the magazine or it’s too soon to tell?

Cece Ryan: The ROYALS quarterly that was launched will be a huge success. Our digital vertical that we update all the time on People.com under Royals, plus the weekly edition of People, plus this ROYALS quarterly will be a great place for our royal enthusiasts to come and get the latest news. Recently, we posted 38 stories about Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan, and this week with the issue coming out, it hits newsstands in New York and L.A. soon, and it will be in mailboxes and regular newsstands right after, we feature an eight-page story on Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah. 

The fact of the matter is yes, Kate’s on the cover, but Kate’s always going to be relevant, and this is really a premier, beautiful, premium product for the Royal enthusiast. It’s going to be a collector’s item like so many of our regular weekly magazines that feature the Royals are to so many enthusiasts. And we’re really proud of it. And I actually think it comes at the perfect time, not an awkward time at all. 

Samir Husni: You were at USA Today before People; you moved from a newspaper to a magazine. And you’ve been at other magazines as well. Is handling a weekly title, which is now 24/7, any different than say your job at Real Simple or any of the other monthly titles? Or because it is now 24/7, it can’t be defined as a weekly anymore?

Cece Ryan: It really is a daily to be honest, between the breaking news and the way we love to bring that news to marketers to leverage under the People brand. It is a 24/7 role, even though it is a weekly publication. We’re closing a magazine every week. We print on Friday and Monday nights, so that in itself has its own deadlines, and selling the digital and podcasts on a daily basis. It is one of those roles and for the entire team, who does an incredible job, it’s something that is in our DNA at this point. 

You have to just get up and hit the bell and know that there’s news and there’s excitement and momentum. And who wouldn’t love that opportunity? It has become a daily, huge responsibility, and something that’s not for the faint of heart. You have to have the get-up-and-go and the energy and the focus and dedication. And I put that all on my team; they’re just incredible and the best in the business to help continue the brand’s success on every platform at any hour of the day.

Samir Husni: When you meet with your team, virtually I assume these days, do you assign different platforms to sell to different people? Some sell print, some sell digital, some sell the podcasts? Or is it a big melting pot of everyone selling the People brand?

Cece Ryan: I say to them sell the brand. And that’s everything from print to impressions to audio to events to partnerships in marketing ideas. They’re brand sellers and the brand is at the center of everything we do. When we go talk to marketers, they don’t want to have one conversation, they want to have a full spectrum of the brand and how we can help move their business forward. And those are the solutions we bring them. That’s the really fun and exciting part. 

The marching orders will always be we’re going to do this together, an idea for every client, and let’s go continue to win. People has had huge success in every ad category by bringing unique ideas to clients. As brand leaders in the industry, clients, customers and marketers expect us to have the best ideas. And we’re really proud of the fact that with the power of the People brand behind us we can have those conversations. So it’s definitely an Omni-channel conversation, Omni-channel responsibility for everyone on the team. 

And across Meredith as well. We work with our corporate partners and our digital partners, so those are other really key areas and departments for us to collaborate with. And we’re communicating with them all the time to ensure success across the company. 

Samir Husni: Do you ever differentiate between platforms? This is the role of print; this is the role of podcasts? Or you’re more intrigued with the power of the brand as a whole?

Cece Ryan: Clearly, each medium has a benefit and a power, but we really talk to the power and the success that you, a marketer or a customer has by leaning into the entire brand. Something like our franchises, such as Beautiful which is coming out in April; it used to be called World’s Most Beautiful, now it’s the Beautiful franchise. That for someone to reach an audience of 96 million consumers, you want to then reach her and him across that footprint, both print and digital, but also audio, social, not just in one medium. So we really speak to the benefit of reaching the 96 million consumer footprint across every aspect of the brand. 

Samir Husni: Using that data, and Meredith has a powerful database, how do you dissect and digest that data to touch those 96 million consumers across all your platforms?

Cece Ryan: We really dissect and use the data according to whatever demographic somebody wants to tap into. But it’s really about celebrating all 96 million all the time. This is something that we have rich data behind, tons of insights, and obviously syndicated research to help us tell that story. But it is 96 million strong. And we seem to find her wherever she is. 

So whatever the next innovation is behind the brand, and there’s a lot more to come, we know we’ll find her there too. And it’s just about telling that story and giving her the information and content she wants wherever she is. But 96 million and growing is what we’re really focused on and excited about. 

Samir Husni: Do you think the demand for the print component of People is still as strong as it was three years ago and how has the pandemic impacted that demand?

Cece Ryan: I think the demand for People in a printed form will always be strong. And while numbers will always vary, especially during a pandemic, obviously most magazines were impacted on the newsstand, but those numbers are also coming back as retail and the world opens up. I do think that from a weekly cadence standpoint, no other brand, again based on our trust and our access and the relevancy, can tell that story in any less cadence. 

And I do think that it’s here to stay and we’re really so honored, because it’s an honor to have that magazine hit consumer’s mailboxes on a Friday. Because if you think about it, especially during the pandemic, it was like the friend who showed up to have a conversation with them. She’s on so many screens and she’s managing her kids in her home and trying to maintain her health and her well-being. 

Then boom, the reader gets People magazine in her mailbox and she’s so happy it arrived. And it’s having a conversation every week with a best friend. There’s highs and lows, excitement and joy, there’s humor and amazing, rich photography. And having that relationship with the printed form will always be an important part of her life. 

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

Cece Ryan: Thank you for leaning into People. You’ve always been so supportive. I would just add that the power and the excitement and the position of People right now is just in an incredible place. And we’re really excited about what the future holds. We’re so glad that our insights and a lot of the research that we did on the consumer during the pandemic, every week we did a poll with her; we’re glad that we were there to understand how she was doing, what was important to her, what did she value, what would change her life. 

PEOPLE is at the center of the conversation and we’re so excited to continue that dialogue wherever she is, on any platform. Whether it’s a new technology or a new partnership we’re really happy to be there. I love the power of the brand and what it can do for our marketers and customers.

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

Cece Ryan: I actually jump out of bed because I have a massive to-do list both professionally and personally. I’m also excited about what the day brings. There are a lot of conversations happening with amazing clients and customers, internal brainstorms in meetings that are fueling ideas and fueling solutions that are exciting. Every day is not a cakewalk, but that’s why they call it work. 

We love this brand and we’re so excited about where it can go. It takes a lot of manpower; I’m one person in a pool of many that help the brand succeed. But it really comes back to the leadership at Meredith, which has been so amazing. And also my management team and my core sales, marketing, PR, production, business office. There are hundreds who lean into making this brand successful. So that’s what gets me up in the morning. Excited to take on the day and excited to just roll up my sleeves and everyone checks their ego at the door. It’s about hard work, but having fun. There are so many other people who are solving much bigger problems out there in the world, especially now, and this is an unbelievable position to be in. 

We just want to bring customers solutions that help move their business and help get this economy back on its feet and also give our readers and our users and our visitors something to get some joy out of. 

I’m also a mom of two college-aged daughters who are away at school, so of course that gets me up, because I worry. Are they okay? Are they safe today? Are they making good decisions? I feel very blessed to be in the position I’m in.

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Cece Ryan: To be honest, now that the temperatures are getting a little bit nicer, I always try to go outside for some fresh air. Everyone is behind screens a lot and I think during this time of working remotely I’ve saved four hours of commuting time. I can also squeeze in some exercise in the mornings, which has been a wonderful habit. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you honestly that I watch People TV, our daily television show on our local Hartford station because it’s just the perfect ending to a day. To sit back with a glass of wine with my husband and watch People TV and see the brand from a different perspective. And then it’s back to doing chores around the house, making dinner and all that fun stuff. 

I love what I do and I love seeing the silver lining in this time, home. And again, I just feel very honored to be at this brand for many years  and it’s the people that has been such a fundamental piece of my tenure here and now being a part of Meredith Corporation has been incredible, with incredible leadership. And I can’t say that enough. It has been a wonderful experience. 

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

Cece Ryan: I worry. I’m half Italian, half Irish, so I have that worry gene. I worry about being a great leader in a positive way. I want to always do a great job; I want to be there for my team. I want to make sure we’re thinking about the business as strategically as we can, tapping into every aspect and asset that Meredith has to help us fuel the success. So you’re constantly thinking. 

Business will continue to improve, but in order to maintain that mindset of how do we continue to do great things, we stay fueled by passion to find solutions.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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Esquire’s Editor In Chief, Michael Sebastian To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “When It Comes To Creating That Print Magazine, I Want Something That Is Going To Really Lean Into The Printy-ness Of It.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 7, 2021

“I think the print experience should be its own experience. The website, the YouTube channel, the Instagram page; these things and the print magazine should all talk to each other. They should all be part of the same Esquire universe.” Michael Sebastian…

Listening to the reader, an amazing part of the media publishing process. For without your reader, your user, your viewer, your audience, you have nothing to publish. Esquire magazine has been around for over 85 years, definitely a legacy brand that knows a thing or two about thee fine art of publishing. Its editor in chief in its current form today is Michael Sebastian, who knows a thing or two about listening to his audience. 

Michael was named editor in chief of Esquire in June 2019 and he oversees print and digital content, strategy and operations. He comes to the job as the former digital director of Esquire since 2017 where, during his tenure, he expanded Esquire’s digital content to include more in-depth feature reporting and writing, exclusive interviews, ambitious political coverage and a new fashion vertical. He spearheaded the launch of the “Politics With Charles P. Pierce” membership program, and says it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines.

I spoke with Michael recently and we talked about the rejuvenation that has been going on at Esquire under his careful eye. The new front of the book look and new franchises within. Keeping it fresh and current is important to Michael and when it comes to listening to the audience, Michael believes it’s crucial to do just that. In fact, not long ago he received an email from Seasons Hospice Foundation, reaching out on behalf of a longtime Esquire reader, Scott LaPointe. Scott loves Esquire and had a few thoughts on personal style, ideas he wanted to leave his son as a legacy.

Not only  did Michael read Scott’s email, he personally called and spoke with him about his thoughts and his own personal style and how important Scott felt it was. And Michael decided that there should be a section in the upcoming issue of Esquire dedicated to personal style. And so there was.

Now I’m not saying that Michael has time to personally call every reader who writes into him, but he does read the emails and he does listen. And I feel sure that for Scott LaPointe, that’s what Esquire is all about and why he reads it. And that’s what it’s about for its editor in chief too: listening to your audience and giving them what they want.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire.

But first the sound-bites:

On how listening to his audience impacts his decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire: Obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers.

On whether he feels his audience is platform specific or there is a cross-platform taking place: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube.

On how he is handling as editor in chief the social awakening of diversity, inclusion and equity in the nation: If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table.

On how he would define Esquire with a new tagline for the men of today: It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today. 

On why the magazine is only sold every other month: There are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.

On where he sees Esquire in 2022: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable.

On the major challenge he’s faced: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at  Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out.

On Esquire’s cover of the band BTS: The other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the  norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send.

On anything he’d like to add: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging.

On what makes him tick and click: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.

On how he unwinds in the evenings: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home.

On what keeps him up at night: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Sebastian, editor in chief, Esquire. 

Samir Husni: I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of letters from the editor over the years in magazines, but I have never seen anything as personal as what you wrote in the March issue introducing a new section in the magazine, based on a letter you received from one reader. Tell me more about how listening to your audience is impacting your decisions as editor in chief of a major brand like Esquire.

Michael Sebastian: I’m so glad you brought up that letter from the editor because getting that note about Scott (Scott LaPointe, a reader diagnosed with ALS, who is now in home hospice care) and then talking to him on the phone was one of the most affecting experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the weight of this pandemic; we’re doing so much figuring out right now. How do we make a magazine when we’re all remote? What do our readers want? And then to be reminded of the impact that we make in our readers’ lives. It’s not just entertainment or service, it’s formative and it’s something that this guy was wanting to hand off to his son. And that was so important.

Interesting, I’ve gotten a lot of notes about that editor’s letter including from my own staff, which essentially said “I needed that.” I needed that to remind me of the importance of what we do. 

But to your question, obviously we’re listening to readers on the website just by the data that we have from them all of the time, there’s no question about that. And I think to some extent that informs the print magazine. But from the perspective of what we’re putting in the print magazine, that is still guided pretty strictly by editors and by what we think is important for our readers. 

And to me, that cracks open a bigger question, which I’ve thought a lot about. I was the digital director at Esquire prior to becoming the editor in chief. And during my time there the audience basically exploded, we grew the audience by three or four times across multiple platforms. And we even brought the age down, which was also interesting to see the age of the reader, at least online. 

So when I got into the editor in chief’s seat, I thought that what we could do was create a print magazine that was going to really appeal to that readership that we had attracted online. And so there were some decisions that we made and I’ll point you to a very specific one which was we redesigned the front of the book. 

I wanted the front of the book experience to kind of mimic or mirror the experience that people had when they were scrolling on their phones, scrolling on Instagram. And by that I mean we created a fairly broad rubric called the short stories and within that rubric you would have fashion, culture, food & drink, politics; the whole thing. Because to me it wasn’t very jarring for a reader who’s used to scrolling through Instagram and seeing a post from The New York Times or a post from wherever. And so we basically did that for a year.

And we would have a lot of internal conversations about it, because there was one faction of people who were like no, that’s all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing that. And there was another faction of people who said right on, you’re making the right decision. And I have to say that after a year of doing that, I’m now eating crow on that decision, because I think it was the wrong one. 

And so we’re pivoting from that, because I think the print experience should be its own experience. The website, the YouTube channel, the Instagram page; these things and the print magazine should all talk to each other. They should all be part of the same Esquire universe. There’s no question about that. But when it comes to creating that print magazine, I want something that is going to really lean into the printy-ness of it. By that I mean a certain curation that makes sense to the print reader.

Scott certainly inspired it, but the broader impetus behind doing that was essentially saying let’s create a front of book experience and a middle of book experience that is really leaning into that print magazine experience. 

We have a YouTube channel and the growth of that is really off the charts right now and that’s because for a time we thought we could adapt digital stories, print stories into kind of YouTube videos. And they failed miserably. Then we realized that if we lean into what YouTube viewers want we’ll have better success and that’s what we did. And that’s what has led to the growth there. 

And I think the same thing can be said about print. We’re not going to take lessons from YouTube and put them into print; we’re going to do what print does best essentially and hope and know that is going to appeal to our readers. 

Samir Husni: Being platform agnostic now, do you feel your readers, users, viewers and listeners are platform specific or there’s a cross-platform taking place?

Michael Sebastian: Well, both. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think that we have readers who only bump into us on certain platforms. There are people who only read us in print; there are people who only read us online; there are casual readers who follow us on Twitter and read a story every once and a while from us. But then we have the super-users and those are the people who subscribe to the magazine, they read us online, they follow us on social media and they watch our videos on YouTube. 

We’ve actually created a membership program that is tailored to all of the things that I talked about. It’s called “Esquire Select.” We’ve had an interesting journey with asking people to pay for our content, particularly online. In 2018, we introduced a membership program specific to our politics columnist Charles. P. Pierce. It basically said we were going to put a metered paywall in front of him and we’re going to ask you to pay if you’re going to read more than three articles. 

And I was really nervous about that when we introduced it in 2018, because for years people could read him for free. And as soon as we introduced that, we got this outpouring of people who said take my money, I’ll happily pay for Charlie. And I have to tell you that was such a relief. I was up nights thinking about that because I was afraid we would fall on our face. But it was very successful. 

Then last year we introduced what we call “Esquire Select” and it’s similar to what you see with a lot of other media companies. Essentially, we give people options. For $40 you can get the whole thing. And the whole thing is the print magazine, access to almost 90 years of archives, Esquire every day without having to worry about a pay meter, exclusive deals from friends of the brand; you get newsletters, access to Charlie, just the whole thing. 

Or maybe you just want the print magazine, you can subscribe for that. Or maybe you just want Charlie, you can do that. Or just the website. It’s basically giving readers a menu to choose from. We’re about three or four months into this experiment and so far, knock on wood, it’s one of the most successful membership programs at Hearst Magazines. 

Samir Husni: You’re background is in journalism, you started as a newspaper reporter. After the killing of George Floyd, there was a big awakening about social injustice throughout the country, in newspapers and magazines as well. And the politics, the diversity and the inclusion topics also appeared in Esquire more than ever. As an editor, how are you dealing with this new social awakening? Are you moving too far to the left, to the right? What are you doing with your audience who may or may not agree with you?

Michael Sebastian: That’s a great question. If you go back to things that I said, interviews that I had done, as soon as I was named editor in chief, one of my main priorities was to diversify who is an Esquire man, who is an Esquire writer, and who is an Esquire photographer. And I don’t just mean diversify racially, although I did. I meant in terms of age, geographic diversity, the life experience people bring to the table. 

We published a story in our last summer issue from a transgender person about their difficulty in the transitioning process. And I don’t think anything like that has ever run in Esquire before. So we’ve had a commitment since day one to this. 

To your question when it comes to politics, I have a very strong point of view when it comes to my politics and the way that I feel about the topics that you brought up. And I’m not going to shy away from that in service of this soft, both-side dualism that we’ve seen. I think that there are readers who probably agree with me and want to go along for that ride. And I think there are readers who are open to a broad swath of ideas and who also want to see what we’re doing when it comes to that. And then there are probably readers who don’t like what we’re doing there and there are other magazines for them, is what I would say. 

We’re at a time right now where I don’t want to be muddy about this. Again, I don’t want to be in that squishy middle ground. The point of view that we have is very progressive, but that also doesn’t mean that we’re not going to put voices in the magazine or the website, which we do frequently, that might not necessarily agree with my own personal politics. And I think that’s really important, because I do want to hear from people who have different perspectives as well.

Samir Husni: From Esquire’s beginning in the 1930s, it has been the man’s magazine. And after Playboy came it was still the man’s magazine, but a little bit more on the modest side. What would you tell men today that Esquire is? There is no tagline under it anymore; if you were to tagline the magazine for men today, what would you tell them?

Michael Sebastian: You bring up a big question here, asking for a tagline, which by the way we talk about a lot. A new tagline for Esquire. It’s not ready for primetime yet, but a good question though. (Laughs) 

It’s a very good question because it’s an existential question about the brand. And it’s one that we talk about internally every day. I think that there is still room for, in the media landscape, a magazine that is essentially about what it means to be a modern man nowadays. That’s not the tagline by the way. But that’s what Esquire is: what it means to be a modern man today. 

Over the course of the last year, I’ve thought about this a lot. And one of the reasons is, I guess by nature of the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time talking to male friends of mine who are not in media and don’t live in New York City, some do, but the majority do not. And finding out what they want when they have time to consume media. And I have gotten some very clear takeaways from them.

First of all, they have limited time. Obviously, that goes for everyone, but what I would say is that they have jobs and familial responsibilities. And Netflix that they want to watch, sports that they want to watch. So, when we have their attention, we can’t bore them. So we need to create a magazine that is never boring; it’s always going to be entertaining. Because once they look at us, we need to prove to them why they’re giving us their time. 

The other thing too is we need to talk to men on this eye-to-eye level, like if you pulled up a barstool next to them or something. There are a lot of places that are talking to men right now. And I think a lot of those conversations are toxic, or at least don’t point them in the right direction. 

So that’s very much what we want to do, but we also don’t want to go to the other side and preach to them, because I don’t think anyone wants to be preached to either. It’s basically having a conversation between you and I about what does it mean to be a modern man right now. 

I can give you an example of a middle of the book franchise that we’re introducing starting in our next issue, April/May, which is called “How Did I Get Here?” And it dispatches from the new middle age. I’m basing this partly on my own experience, but then also experience of men that I’ve spoken with, which is that yesterday it felt like I was 27 and today I woke up and I’m 40-years-old with two kids. It’s like how did I get here? And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I don’t mean that I’m going to go buy a Corvette and grow a ponytail and leave my family behind. (Laughs) I just mean that these are things that we need to reckon with. 

So, we’re introducing this two-page franchise and the aim is to have writers from different perspectives weigh in each time. That way we get a really broad swath of writers so that it can be people from all kinds of backgrounds. My dream is to have a dozen of these under our belt and then have a book out. So when you’re browsing through the bookstore or on Amazon, then you see a book from Esquire that’s tackling the new middle age. 

And I’m very intent on talking direct to this reader and saying look, there’s a lot going on in your life and you can come to us and be entertained and informed, and there’s a lot of great stuff like fashion, how you can dress, but there’s also a lot of things that relates to where you are in your life. 

Samir Husni: These conversations are evident in the magazine, you’ve even changed the table of contents. Instead of reading Table of Contents, it reads Welcome to Esquire, Mr. Holland Will See You In. There is an invite for that conversation to start. So why am I having to wait two months now to get this invite? Why did you go bimonthly? 

Michael Sebastian: I like the bimonthly cadence. The joke before used to be that issues of The New Yorker would pile up on your bedside table. And now I read The New Yorker on The New Yorker app, I don’t get the magazine anymore. It’s a great magazine and they publish great stuff every week, but that’s how I like to experience it.

And there are now monthly magazines that are piling up on my bedside table. It goes back to the idea that there is so much media out there, and we have a contact point with our reader on a daily, practically minute-by-minute, basis already, so I’m not worried about them losing sight of us because we publish a dozen good stories a day. So, I think the every other month is a really good cadence for our reader.

The idea is that we have the lasting power of a coffee table book with the urgency of a magazine that really seeks to meet you right now. So there’s a little bit of both in there. The term coffee table book is actually kind of thrown around a lot in the magazine world. I have a lot of coffee table books and I never look at them. And that’s the thing about coffee table books, they’re set pieces that are meant to decorate your house. 

That’s not what I want Esquire to be. I don’t want it to be something that you put on your coffee table and never look at. I do want it to be on your coffee table and I want you every time you put your feet up, look down and grab it to read.

Samir Husni: Hopefully, beyond the pandemic, where do you see Esquire in 2022?

Michael Sebastian: I think that we want to make sure that if I’m talking to you in one year this voice of the new Esquire is synthesized in a way where it’s unmistakable. I do think that’s something that we’re still in the process of honing. It’s really about zeroing in on what that voice is. I want to make sure that it’s unmistakable. 

As we come out of the pandemic and we’re allowed to do things that we haven’t been able to do in a year, I think that you’re going to hopefully see an explosion in different touchpoints of Esquire. With the various touchpoints, what I mean is we are a media brand first and foremost. We publish stories that are meant to have impact, but at the same time we’re talking about different ways that we can license the brand in really smart ways, in partnerships with brands that we love.

I’ll give you an example, one that we just did. Our creative director, Nick Sullivan, who is a legend in the fashion world, worked with the brand Anderson & Sheppard to design a field jacket that we are selling on the side and they’re selling in the store. It’s these sort of smart brand extensions that I think you’ll see in 2022. 

And again, it all revolves around that print magazine and the content that we publish, in these stories that we publish, in the celebrities that we put on the cover and so on, but ultimately it branches out in all of these different smart ways.

Samir Husni: What has been the major challenge you’ve faced with the changes to Esquire and how did you overcome it?

Michael Sebastian: When I came into the job, the thing that I said, and I would say this to advertising clients, to people at Hearst, is that it was an evolution, not a revolution. I didn’t want to come in and do that and suddenly you have a brand that nobody recognizes. I wanted to evolve the brand so that it felt very current and very fresh, but not leave traditional readers behind, I wanted to bring them along with us. And I think a challenge has been when to slow down the pace of that evolution and then when to hit the gas on it. I’m still figuring that out. 

There have been times when you’ve probably seen a great leap forward with a redesign of the print magazine and so on, and then other times when we’ve been a little slower to progress. So controlling the pace of that is a challenge. There are people who have read us for decades that are coming along for the ride and new readers who are coming onboard as we continue to evolve. 

There is something that I think about a lot, which is Esquire has this almost 90-year legacy. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote for us,  Ernest Hemingway wrote for us; how would I get out of bed in the morning if I woke up thinking well. Hemingway was writing for us, so what can we do to match that? I don’t want to think about that too much because it would just be too overwhelming. 

But at the same time, the thing about Esquire is that people loved to point to Esquire in the sixties. Of course, the stuff that they were doing was legendary, no question about that. But that wasn’t the magazine’s only Golden Era. There have been multiple golden eras throughout the years.

And the inspiration that I take from those golden eras of the brand is that those editors were never looking backward. The editors of the sixties weren’t looking at the editors of the thirties for inspiration, they were looking at right now. They were trying to meet the moment right now with this urgency that all great media brands have. The same could be said of the eighties or any other great period in Esquire’s history. 

And that’s the inspiration that I want to take from it, the idea that we are meeting the moment with an urgency that’s undeniable. And I think my experience as a digital director actually helps with that because my mantra to myself and my staff and to my bosses, from the moment I became a digital director, was that every day on the Internet is a referendum on your relevance. 

So when you wake up in the morning, you have to fight for that relevance. You have to be publishing stories that people are going to be talking about. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail; the terrible part about this is that it never ends. And it’s exhausting because every day you’re fighting for people’s attention. 

The good news about it though is if we fail today, we wake up tomorrow and we get to go at it again. And I think that’s true of the website, true of the magazine; it’s true of all extensions of the brand right now.

Samir Husni: How many letters have you received form people after you put BTS on the cover asking who are they? (Laughs)

Michael Sebastian: (Laughs too) I’m glad you brought up the BTS cover, I think of the well, the Esquire well and the well doesn’t just exist in print, it’s also the feature stories we publish online. So you have stories that make a social impact and the public service stories. We just published a story last week from Scott Raab as a matter of fact about the sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State. It’s a really powerful story and if you haven’t read it, you should. It’s incredible. We published a story last year about teen suicide and there has been an unfortunate uptick in that. Those are very important to the mix. 

We also publish what I call adventure stories and I’m very keen on publishing them. I don’t just mean guy-climbs-a-mountain-almost-dies-but-doesn’t, I mean like these pulse-quickening reads that are tailor-made for Hollywood. And from the first issue I edited until the most recent one we had; we’ve had stories of heist and stories of prison breaks and stories about feuds in weird small communities. 

And the other thing we publish is era-defining covers and stories and I would put BTS in that category. To be honest, when this was first pitched to me, I was like I don’t know about that. But the more that I thought about it and the more I talked to people, I realized that this is the biggest band in the world. They’re huge. And the fact that we would get to put them on our cover and tell their story and relate them to our reader was great. I also love their message around masculinity too, the way that they were challenging the  norms of masculinity and things like that. I thought it was a really good message to send. 

I did get a couple of letters asking who they were, but the amount of fan mail on all platforms that we received was overwhelming. And I would do it all over again.

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

Michael Sebastian: We’re on this path right now to really redefine who the Esquire man is. And it’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that we’re making really good progress when it comes to that. From a business perspective, I’d love to get across that the membership program that we’ve introduced has been more successful than we had anticipated. And that is so heartening to know. That after years of putting our content out online for free, people want to pay us for it. And that feels really encouraging. 

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

Michael Sebastian: My answer to that is the promise of what we’re going to be able to do that day. And what I mean by that is that when I wake up in the morning, it kind of goes back to my referendum on relevance. When I wake up in the morning it’s a clean slate. And I’m thinking about all of the cool things that I can do with my job. So, all of the fun stories that I’m going to get to edit, the great people I’m going to be able to talk to, the awesome photographs I’m going to get to look at and help edit. It’s the potential of being able to do that every day that gets me out of bed. I’m still excited about my job.

Of course, by the end of the day I’m exhausted because there are a number of things that have gotten in the way. Administrative stuff, bureaucratic stuff, emails, all of that. By the end of the day I may have lost a little momentum. But when I wake up in the morning I’m full of it. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind then in the evenings?

Michael Sebastian: A little bourbon or wine, maybe reading a book, but really the things is I have two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and when I go into the office, which is about once a week, they’re literally waiting at the front door for me when I come home. 

And when I’m here working from home, I’m upstairs and they’re downstairs and I walk down the stairs and they’re at the bottom of the stairs yelling daddy. And that is the thing that I close my computer, leave my phone in the other room and I spend as much time as I can talking and playing with them. It’s amazing how all the stress from the day can just melt away at that point. 

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

Michael Sebastian: Probably going back to what we’ve talked about, I’m at the helm of an 88-year-old brand. An iconic, American brand. One of the most iconic media brands that still exists. And the people who have sat in the seat before me paid into the equity of that brand during their time. So that when I got here we’ve had a lot of brand equity. And I want to make sure that I’m paying back into that so that whoever comes after me can reap the fruits of our labor. And this amazing brand can live on for another 88 years. And that keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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Parents Latina Magazine: Celebrating Latino Culture, Heritage & Traditions For The Next Generation Latina – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Grace Bastidas, Editor, Parents Latina…

March 5, 2021

“We know that a lot of our readers are on their phones personally, but during this time when we’ve been exposed to so much screen time, they’re looking for ways to disconnect. And that’s what Parents Latina does for her. Let her have a moment to herself to refocus and get inspired, especially if she’s having a low moment. It helps her keep on going. I think the magazine is sort of like a pause, a breath for our reader during their day.” Grace Bastidas…

Published by Meredith, Parents Latina is an English-language magazine targeting U.S. Hispanic millennial moms, one of the fastest growing consumer segments in the marketplace. Grace Bastidas is editor of Parents Latina and makes it her goal to help these moms balance their American and Latin cultures as they’re  raising multicultural children.  

I spoke with Grace recently and we talked about the magazine, its very diverse audience and how she wants to showcase that vastness and that diversity throughout the pages of the magazine. Being Colombian-American, Grace is very familiar with the needs of her audience. In fact, Grace told me that she is Parents Latina’s audience. She has two children and often needs that support the magazine offers its readers. Support and inspiration – two things that are very important to the brand when it comes to what they strive to provide to their readers.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with the delightful Grace Bastidas, editor, Parents Latina magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why Parent Latina is mostly in English and People en Español is 100 percent Spanish: In terms of Parents Latina and People en Español; we do serve very different segments of the demographic. People en Español is in Spanish and more entertainment-focused and Parents Latina is in English and geared toward second generation moms and dads. The majority of the magazine is in English because that is the way our reader prefers to consume media. That doesn’t mean she’s not close to her culture, her culture is front and center for her. She is trying to raise multicultural children who are very proud of their roots. And that’s what we offer her.

On if Parents Latina has any DNA from the Parents brand: Parents Latina is part of the Parents family. We’re very proud to have that name in our title. And while Parents has this very long legacy, Parents Latina is still quite in its infancy. We launched in 2015, so I like to say that we’re the funky little sister. (Laughs) And we do cover all the topics moms and dads care about and we do it from a Latino perspective. And we look to culturally competent experts for advice. We make sure that we have all of these Latino voices in there.

On how Parents Latina has handled the pandemic and the social unrest in the country: We also look for the silver lining of the pandemic. And we try and uplift wherever we can. Latinos are inherently optimistic people, so we try and look for the good. In terms of diversity and inclusion and equity, that has always been part of our DNA. We’ve always made sure that our readers felt seen and represented. This is a very big audience, and one that is very diverse, ethnically and racially, so we celebrate that by featuring parents from all walks of life. 

On her role as editor of a magazine as ethnically diverse as Parents Latina: I am the Parents Latina reader. I always like to say that because I have two kids myself, two girls, ages six and eight. So I feel like a lot of what I experience is what my reader is experiencing and I spend a lot of time really talking to people and listening to people. A lot of what we cover is based and inspired by conversations with real people and moms and dads across the country.

On who the magazine would be if it were suddenly transformed into a human being: The magazine is not necessarily an expert, but it’s there to support, to listen, to connect; it’s someone who is deeply invested in your well-being. It’s someone who values culture and has seen how culture transforms throughout different generations. And knows how important it is to raise the next generation of Latinos.  And is led by their heritage, by their roots and sees how culture can change and evolve and transform and how you interpret it within these different generations.  

On the role she thinks print plays in this digital age: We know that a lot of our readers are on their phones personally, but during this time when we’ve been exposed to so much screen time, they’re looking for ways to disconnect. And that’s what Parents Latina does for her. Let her have a moment to herself to refocus and get inspired, especially if she’s having a low moment. It helps her keep on going. I think the magazine is sort of like a pause, a breath for our reader during their day.

On anything she’d like to add: I just want everybody to know that Parents Latina is available everywhere and that everybody really should pick up a copy or read it online. We’re available at the Magazine Store, Apple News+, at doctor’s offices, our content is on Parents.com. As I told you, we’re going through a digital expansion, so more to come on that. And we don’t really have competition out there. We are THE brand reaching Latino parents.

On what makes her tick and click: We’ve really been covering a lot of topics that were once considered taboo in Latino communities; we talk a lot about mental health. In the February/March issue we have a story about colorism and discrimination. We’ve talked about machismo. So, we really are opening up the conversation on really important subjects and hopefully changing the narrative. I find it super-gratifying when I hear from readers telling me that Parents Latina has empowered then to positive change in their lives.

On how she unwinds in the evenings: I prioritize rest. I do watch a little TV with my husband at night, but I try to get to bed on time, especially if my daughters are already sleeping. I even bought a weighted blanket featured in the Real Simple Sleep Awards and I have never slept better.

On what keeps her up at night: I’m not really up in the middle of the night, especially now that I have this weighted blanket. (Laughs) But it’s been a rough year for Latinos, especially moms, they’ve been disproportionately impacted, many have lost or left their jobs to for their kids and inequities don’t stop there, so my biggest concern is what else can we be doing to help moms?

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Grace Bastidas, editor, Parents Latina magazine.

Samir Husni: A few months ago I interviewed Armando Correa and Monique Manso from People en Español and we talked about this big segment of the population and how it’s being served. Yet I noticed there’s a big difference between People en Español and Parents Latina, not only content-wise, but People en Español is 100 percent in Spanish, while Parents Latina has the majority of its content in English and some in Spanish. Can you explain this dichotomy?

Grace Bastidas: First of all, I want to say that it’s so great to have People en Español in the building and have another Latino-focused brand, especially one with such history. It’s so great that Meredith understands the importance of this multicultural audience. They just launched the “Good Impressions” initiative, which offers internal resources from Meredith to really help all these diverse small businesses. It’s wonderful.

In terms of Parents Latina and People en Español; we do serve very different segments of the demographic. People en Español is in Spanish and more entertainment-focused and Parents Latina is in English and geared toward second generation moms and dads. 

We do have a section that’s in Spanish, Ser Padrès, and the thinking behind that is we know that family is very important to Latinos. A few years ago we did a survey on the role of grandparents and we found that one in three Latinas have grandparents as their babysitters. So this person is very involved in raising the children. And we have a section in the back that really speaks to them and also to our bilingual readers. 

But the majority of the magazine is in English because that is the way our reader prefers to consume media. That doesn’t mean she’s not close to her culture, her culture is front and center for her. She is trying to raise multicultural children who are very proud of their roots. And that’s what we offer her. 

Samir Husni: When I look at Parents Latina and then look at Parents and I compare it to the mother ship, are there any points of intersection? How do you compare Parents Latina with Parents? Do you have any DNA from the mother ship?

Grace Bastidas: Parents Latina is part of the Parents family. We’re very proud to have that name in our title. And while Parents has this very long legacy, Parents Latina is still quite in its infancy. We launched in 2015, so I like to say that we’re the funky little sister. (Laughs) And we do cover all the topics moms and dads care about and we do it from a Latino perspective. And we look to culturally competent experts for advice. We make sure that we have all of these Latino voices in there. 

And at the heart of what we do are stories about passing down family values, traditions, language, family recipes and we help parents navigate two or three or more cultures and take the best out of those. 

Samir Husni: As we all know, 2020 was a trying year, from the pandemic to the social unrest across our country. How has Parents Latina handled these tragic situations? 

Grace Bastidas: Most of our readers are young moms who have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. They’re the breadwinners in their households; they’re essential workers; they have to balance caring for their kids, trying to educate them through what has been a really hard schoolyear, while continuing to work and stay safe for their families. Many are also living in multigenerational households. So they’re caring for older relatives.

We make sure and talk to this dynamic in the family and really anticipate what’s coming next; what can this parent do to help their children catch up in school? Of course, we don’t like to put too much pressure on the parents because they’re already experiencing burnout from what has been a very difficult year.

So, we also look for the silver lining of the pandemic. And we try and uplift wherever we can. Latinos are inherently optimistic people, so we try and look for the good. 

In terms of diversity and inclusion and equity, that has always been part of our DNA. We’ve always made sure that our readers felt seen and represented. This is a very big audience, and one that is very diverse, ethnically and racially, so we celebrate that by featuring parents from all walks of life. Real people, as well as notable people in our community. And while we do cover celebrity parents, we also like to look at other people doing really great stuff. 

For example, our February/March cover mom is an artist named Cristina Martinez. She is Afro-Latina and creates these large-scale paintings that honor women of color. And we felt like we wanted to put her on our cover and really celebrate her work. And see how her heritage as an Afro-Latina impacts what she does. 

We’re also very intentional and have always been about asking the people we interview how they self-identify. We give them a chance to say who they are. Latinos wear their heritage on their sleeve. If you ask me where I’m from I’ll tell you that I’m Colombian-American, because my family was from Colombia, but I was born here. So I really want to showcase that vastness, that diversity of this audience. And we always have that front and center and show as many different types of Latinos as possible.

Samir Husni: What do you think your role as an editor of an ethnically diverse magazine is, especially in curating all the information that’s out there and helping your audience to understand it?

Grace Bastidas: I am the Parents Latina reader. I always like to say that because I have two kids myself, two girls, ages six and eight. So I feel like a lot of what I experience is what my reader is experiencing and I spend a lot of time really talking to people and listening to people. A lot of what we cover is based and inspired by conversations with real people and moms and dads across the country. 

We really try and use that information and try and find out what’s the most important thing to cover while balancing it out, because obviously we want to give her all of the information that she needs, but we also want to inspire her. 

For example, two years ago I was at a conference and I met a single mom that started her own business and she told me about the challenges she had faced. And about how her daughter kept her motivated to keep going, to keep fighting. And when the pandemic hit, I thought, if I’m having this much of a hard time as a parent, I can’t even imagine how this woman is doing it. And those readers who are single parents, so that really drove me to create content around that topic. I commissioned a survey of almost 500 single moms to see how they were faring and help them get the support they needed. The findings of that will be out in this month. 

So a lot of what we do is listen to our audience and then really serve up what they need at that moment. And if we need to pivot our content based on those needs, we do. Because obviously it’s an evolving situation, especially through the pandemic. 

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand and you were to strike Parents Latina with it and a human suddenly appeared, who would that human be? 

Grace Bastidas: The magazine is not necessarily an expert, but it’s there to support, to listen, to connect; it’s someone who is deeply invested in your well-being. It’s someone who values culture and has seen how culture transforms throughout different generations. And knows how important it is to raise the next generation of Latinos.  And is led by their heritage, by their roots and sees how culture can change and evolve and transform and how you interpret it within these different generations. 

I would say the magazine is a guide, a support, someone with deep understanding of what it means to be a Latino parent in 2021. And a deep understanding for what it meant to previous generations and how we hold onto what matters, to the values, the traditions, to the language, while continuing to evolve and while harnessing our power as a demographic. 

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

Grace Bastidas: We know that a lot of our readers are on their phones personally, but during this time when we’ve been exposed to so much screen time, they’re looking for ways to disconnect. And that’s what Parents Latina does for her. Let her have a moment to herself to refocus and get inspired, especially if she’s having a low moment. It helps her keep on going. I think the magazine is sort of like a pause, a breath for our reader during their day. 

Parents Latina is actually going through a digital expansion, which is really exciting. It’s something new and I can’t really talk about it, but it’s going to be very exciting for our audience. And I’m also co-hosting a new podcast from Parents called “That New Mom Life,” and it’s really about talking to new moms during this time of extreme isolation and guiding them on how to navigate parenthood on this very intimate platform. So we’re getting her on all angles. But I do think the print magazine is what helps her disconnect and just take a moment for herself. 

Samir Husni: Since you were the launch editor of Parents Latina, did you ever expect that after seven years, the magazine would be where it is now? Has anything surprised you in this seven year journey?

Grace Bastidas: We started out as a quarterly magazine and at the time I was a freelancer and I didn’t come on full-time until a year later. And now we’re six issues and we’re talking about this digital expansion. I’m co-hosting this podcast, and I’m never at a loss for story ideas, content that relates to this audience, and content that is very nuanced and specific to this English-dominant, Latino audience. And I’m thinking I just wish I had more pages because there’s so much to tell, so many stories to tell and so many topics to explore. 

It’s a little surprising, but this is such an important time for our audience and we just keep evolving and we have to keep evolving with this audience.

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

Grace Bastidas: I just want everybody to know that Parents Latina is available everywhere and that everybody really should pick up a copy or read it online. We’re available at the Magazine Store, Apple News+, at doctor’s offices, our content is on Parents.com. As I told you, we’re going through a digital expansion, so more to come on that. And we don’t really have competition out there. We are THE brand reaching Latino parents.

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

Grace Bastidas: We’ve really been covering a lot of topics that were once considered taboo in Latino communities; we talk a lot about mental health. In the February/March issue we have a story about colorism and discrimination. We’ve talked about machismo. So, we really are opening up the conversation on really important subjects and hopefully changing the narrative. I find it super-gratifying when I hear from readers telling me that Parents Latina has empowered then to positive change in their lives. 

I’m also really proud of my small team. I always say that we’re tiny but mighty. And everybody deeply believes in the mission of Parents Latina and takes a lot of pride in what we do, including Meredith, which has been such a supportive company. They came up with the concept of this magazine and brought me onboard to launch it. And everybody truly believes in the power of this demographic. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Grace Bastidas: I prioritize rest. I do watch a little TV with my husband at night, but I try to get to bed on time, especially if my daughters are already sleeping. I even bought a weighted blanket featured in the Real Simple Sleep Awards and I have never slept better. 

Having a full-time job, having children who are quite young and really do need me a lot, proper rest is so important. And I’m always on. I may be watching TV or getting ready for bed, but I’m always thinking about our audience and what else we can be doing to serve them, especially because my friends are Latinas and as a Latina mom, I’m living with the brand all the time. 

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

Grace Bastidas: I’m not really up in the middle of the night, especially now that I have this weighted blanket. (Laughs) But it’s been a rough year for Latinos, especially moms, they’ve been disproportionately impacted, many have lost or left their jobs to care for for their kids and inequities don’t stop there, so my biggest concern is what else can we be doing to help moms? 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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