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TMB President & CEO Bonnie Kintzer To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Focusing On Where The Audiences Are.” The Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive Interview…

November 2, 2022

“We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are.”

“Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent.”

Meeting your audience where they are is the prime focus of president and CEO Bonnie Kintzer of TMB. It doesn’t matter whether that consumer wants you in print, digital, video or social, Bonnie is determined to bring TMB’s brands to the people they’re created for. 

I spoke with Bonnie recently and we talked about this new and improved TMB, with its digital and video-forward thinking all across its brands. It was an enlightening chat that brought her vision into perfect view, showing a CEO who is still a strong believer in print done right, but in all facets of the magazine industry, including every outlet a consumer might be utilizing.

Now, please enjoy the “Mr. Magazine™” interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO, TMB. 

But first the sound-bites:

On what is happening at TMB today: We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are.

On whether she ever questioned the light at the end of the tunnel as being an actual train: I’ve been here eight and a half years now, and it has obviously felt like much more than just one job during that period, and at the beginning there were definitely dark days. But I never stopped believing, because I believe in the power of brands and I knew that we would get through it.

On whether legacy brands such as Reader’s Digest are still important in this digital-video first environment:Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent.

On TMB’s most profitable brand: Our biggest brand is actually Taste of Home; it’s a powerhouse as you know. I still remember coming to the University of Mississippi and lo and behold, in no time Taste of Home magazines were gone. So, it didn’t matter whether you were a student or not, Taste of Home has a great fondness in people of all ages. So of course, the site is doing extremely well too. Taste of Home is our number one brand and our most profitable from a margin percentage as FailArmy.

On anything that hasn’t met her expectations: Obviously, the economy weighs heavy on all of us. And seeing some of the challenges that affect us now; we’re more ad-driven than we used to be. And that changes the kind of challenges that you have. I think the cost structure on the print side is terrifying; it’s obviously affecting the industry. I don’t think that there are any challenges that we have that the entire industry isn’t facing. I look at the minutes watched; I look at the audience online, things that show our content is still working and it’s still working. We’re definitely meeting the needs of the audience.

On the price of paper and the increased cost of printing and postage and how she’s handling these headwinds:Paper is less of an issue for us. Postage is a problem and also the supply chain, in terms of envelopes and things like that. We’re being very careful about what we spend our money on. We’re ordering things earlier than we used to just to cover ourselves for delays.

On whether she feels bookazines are changing the definition of what a magazine is: I feel like a bookazine is more akin to a book; it has its own cover and it’s in the magazine channel, but it’s something that people save forever. And I think that’s why the consumer is willing to spend the money for it, because it’s a soft-cover recipe book or whatever, so that works for us. Taste of Home is the only brand that we have in the bookazine market, because we believe that people really want these fine keepsakes.

On the ceiling for cover prices in these inflationary times: They will definitely let us know when we hit the ceiling, as they always do. (Laughs) But I think so far, consumers see a lot of value in the bookazines and that’s a real tribute to the editors and the art directors and what we’re creating and delivering to the consumer. It’s a very beautiful product.

On the future of some of their other brands: I think Birds & Blooms and Reader’s Digest in particular, would do well on the newsstand. We don’t have the kind of newsstand power that some other companies have, but I do believe they would do well because they both have very strong book businesses and I think the book and the bookazine businesses have commonality.

On the rumors that Country and Reminisce are folding: It’s not a rumor; we already announced it months ago. The last issues will come out in December and January. Having small titles with the economics is virtually impossible. So, we’re focusing on where the audiences are. We have huge audiences with Reader’s Digest, Family Handyman, Taste of Home and Birds & Blooms, so we will continue in print with those four brands and they all four have book businesses, and that’s very important to us.

On the advice she would give someone who wanted to launch a brand or a magazine: I don’t think you can launch a brand with only a magazine, that’s not possible. Perhaps if you could charge $60 per year, but that’s not our business model. If a magazine is going to work, I think that it has to be a part of a much broader digital and video strategy, certainly that’s what we’re seeing and what we’re committed to.

On any challenges she sees on the horizon and how she plans to overcome them: We just finished our three-year plan and we’re highly focused on critical areas of growth, which is more direct ad sales, which we’re doing very well with this year. We want to have more consumer revenue, particularly driven by affiliate. We saw a 40 percent increase in our October Prime Day, Amazon Prime Day, versus July. We absolutely beat the market and actually beat how Amazon did as a whole. So we believe our brands, because of the trust they hold, will yield a lot, in terms of affiliate revenue.

On whether her people are working back in the office or remotely: I’m in the office today in Manhattan and there’s one other person here, so that probably answers your question. (Laughs) We do have more people in Milwaukee and in L.A., and of course in Milwaukee we have the test kitchen and the photographers and video. And in L.A. we have our production studios for our streaming and our social, so those offices tend to have more people, but New York is definitely on an as needed basis.

On where she thinks the magazine industry as a whole is heading: I think there will be no such thing as a magazine company. I think magazines will be a wonderful part of our mix, but we will be media companies and we’ll be brand companies. All of those companies you mentioned care about their brands and consumers care about brands, so I think that we can all do extremely well as long as we focus on the audience. And we’ve said that from the beginning of time and the rest will follow.

On whether she feels TMB today is operating on a solid foundation: We’re absolutely on a solid foundation. We run a very disciplined business. My goal is to grow us, both organically and through acquisition. I think we have always been very honest about the challenges and have dealt with them head-on. I think anyone who looks at our record over the last eight years would agree with that. And we’ll continue to do that; to let data and discipline guide us and our consumer. So, I know we’re healthy and I think there’s a lot more upside for us.

On anything she’d like to add: Looking at us as a really well-rounded company, I think when you consider the hundreds of millions of consumers that we reach now through all these different mediums it’s  actually very inspiring and exciting to realize that brands can go into all of these places and that we should support that kind of growth. And we should always be looking at the new opportunities because there is just so much out there for our brands to jump into.

On any surprises up and coming for 2023: I hope that we’ll have another acquisition in 2023, I really do. I just met with a company this morning. It’s hard work finding the right acquisitions, but I hope that we’ll have something else to announce in 2023. That would make me very happy.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s always speed; are we moving fast enough? I think it’s a constant challenge of how much faster can we move and be sure that we’re doing all the right things. We want people to be engaged and to have great experiences, and I think those things will all move together, but I do always wonder if we could move faster while being sure we’re doing the best and most that we can.

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

Samir Husni: Many things have been happening with Trusted Media Brands, or as they’re called now, TMB, can you give me an update about what’s going on today?

Bonnie Kintzer: We are definitely a different company from the one you knew in the past. We’re a digital and video forward company in all that we do. We have more brands and we’re about expanding those brands into the different platforms where our consumers are. 

If you think about the acquisition of Jukin one year ago, it was a major transformational acquisition. We’ve had an excellent integration of the two companies, definitely far exceeding my goals. And we are looking at growing the Pet Collective and FailArmy; we just launched Family Handyman in streaming with “At Home with Family Handyman.” So we’re really taking the assets of each company and bringing it to bear on the other brands. And it’s working quite well.

Samir Husni: When you look at the accomplishments since you took over the company, was there ever a moment where you questioned whether the light at the end of the tunnel was a train or not?

Bonnie Kintzer: (Laughs) I’ve been here eight and a half years now, and it has obviously felt like much more than just one job during that period, and at the beginning there were definitely dark days. But I never stopped believing, because I believe in the power of brands and I knew that we would get through it. 

I obviously took over a company that was very broken, but those days are in the past. I don’t forget them, but we paid up all of our debt in 2015 and I feel like ever since then it’s just been very exciting to have the top line growth and the bottom line growth and to be entering new businesses and have a much more diversified business than when I first got here. 

Samir Husni: You have brands that have celebrated 100 years, such as Reader’s Digest; what is the future of such legacy brands? Or are brands still that important in this digital and video first venture?

Bonnie Kintzer: Reader’s Digest is still a very valued brand in all mediums. It’s still extremely strong in print; we’re really pleased with the performance of the magazine, but we’re equally thrilled with the digital performance which has been excellent. 

So we look at the brands across all platforms and yes, print is a smaller percentage of our business, but we have a lot of print readers, just like we have a lot of people coming to our sites; we have over 100 million visits to our sites every month, so we have a lot to be proud of and it goes across all brands. On the social side; we have over 215 million social followers across all of our brands. We have over 10 million newsletter subscribers; we have 10 billion minutes watched per year on our streaming, so we are reaching audiences where they are and so it’s not about looking backward, it’s very much about looking forward. 

Samir Husni: In the hierarchy of things, is it Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home…

Bonnie Kintzer: I love all my children equally. (Laughs) But our biggest brand is actually Taste of Home; it’s a powerhouse as you know. I still remember coming to the University of Mississippi and lo and behold, in no time Taste of Home magazines were gone. So, it didn’t matter whether you were a student or not, Taste of Home has a great fondness in people of all ages. So of course, the site is doing extremely well too. Taste of Home is our number one brand; our most profitable from a margin percentage as FailArmy.

FailArmy is such a beloved brand; it’s very funny and well-watched on streaming and social. And close behind that is the Pet Collective, which the world needs to look at more fun and silly animals; it makes you feel good. So, they’re all important.

Samir Husni: Has there been anything that hasn’t met your expectations? Any pitfalls on the horizon? 

Bonnie Kintzer: Obviously, the economy weighs heavy on all of us. And seeing some of the challenges that affect us now; we’re more ad-driven than we used to be. And that changes the kind of challenges that you have. I think the cost structure on the print side is terrifying; it’s obviously affecting the industry. I don’t think that there are any challenges that we have that the entire industry isn’t facing. I look at the minutes watched; I look at the audience online, things that show our content is still working and it’s still working. We’re definitely meeting the needs of the audience. 

On the revenue side, of course we’re seeing some hits because of the CPM’s, but certain things are out of our control. We have to move forward with the things that are within our control and make sure that we continue to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Samir Husni: You still have large circulation magazines in print and of course the headwinds of 2022 were the price of paper and the increased cost of printing and the postage; how are you handling those headwinds?

Bonnie Kintzer: Paper is less of an issue for us. Postage is a problem and also the supply chain, in terms of envelopes and things like that. We’re being very careful about what we spend our money on. We’re ordering things earlier than we used to just to cover ourselves for delays. 

And we’re really transparent with our staff of what those challenges are and we’re addressing whatever is within our power, but it is a real challenge. The market conditions for print are a real challenge, but you have to keep your eyes opened and make tough decisions and that’s what we’re doing, much like our competitors are. 

Samir Husni: If you go to a newsstand today, it looks as though the bookazines or SIP’s are driving the newsstands. And with Taste of Home, you have the fall collection, the holiday issue, I mean, you name it, they’re out there. Are bookazines changing the definition of what a magazine is? Do you consider them magazines or something else?

Bonnie Kintzer: I feel like a bookazine is more akin to a book; it has its own cover and it’s in the magazine channel, but it’s something that people save forever. And I think that’s why the consumer is willing to spend the money for it, because it’s a soft-cover recipe book or whatever, so that works for us. Taste of Home is the only brand that we have in the bookazine market, because we believe that people really want these fine keepsakes.

Samir Husni: Do you feel the cover prices of some of these bookazines are too much in these inflationary times? Where is the ceiling?

Bonnie Kintzer: They will definitely let us know when we hit the ceiling, as they always do. (Laughs) But I think so far, consumers see a lot of value in the bookazines and that’s a real tribute to the editors and the art directors and what we’re creating and delivering to the consumer. It’s a very beautiful product. 

Samir Husni: What about the rest of the brands you have?

Bonnie Kintzer: I think Birds & Blooms and Reader’s Digest in particular, would do well on the newsstand. We don’t have the kind of newsstand power that some other companies have, but I do believe they would do well because they both have very strong book businesses and I think the book and the bookazine businesses have commonality. 

With Birds & Blooms, we do an annual hummingbird book that does very well; we do annual collections that also do very well, so I think that if we could find a way to make the economics of the newsstand work, we could in fact do well with consumers for Reader’s Digest and Birds & Blooms. 

Samir Husni: What about the rest of the titles? Are the rumor mills correct when they hint that you are folding titles like Country and Reminisce?

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s not a rumor; we already announced it months ago. The last issues will come out in December and January. Having small titles with the economics is virtually impossible. So, we’re focusing on where the audiences are. We have huge audiences with Reader’s Digest, Family Handyman, Taste of Home and Birds & Blooms, so we will continue in print with those four brands and they all four have book businesses, and that’s very important to us. 

We look for brands that are in multiple streams of business and that’s what we’re focusing on. Family Handyman is of course our poster child now, with magazines, books, digital site and streaming, so that’s our first brand to be in all four of those businesses. Taste of Home doesn’t have a streaming channel yet, but obviously it’s very big digitally and socially, and in magazines and books. And it’s the same for Reader’s Digest. So we look for where the opportunity is and the consumer tells us where that opportunity is. 

Samir Husni: What advice would you give someone today who came to you with an idea for a brand or a magazine?

Bonnie Kintzer: I don’t think you can launch a brand with only a magazine, that’s not possible. Perhaps if you could charge $60 per year, but that’s not our business model. If a magazine is going to work, I think that it has to be a part of a much broader digital and video strategy, certainly that’s what we’re seeing and what we’re committed to. 

Samir Husni: You’ve always been a believer in print done right. As we move toward 2023, what are some of the challenges you see on the horizon and how will you overcome them?

Bonnie Kintzer: We just finished our three-year plan and we’re highly focused on critical areas of growth, which is more direct ad sales, which we’re doing very well with this year. We want to have more consumer revenue, particularly driven by affiliate. We saw a 40 percent increase in our October Prime Day, Amazon Prime Day, versus July. We absolutely beat the market and actually beat how Amazon did as a whole. So we believe our brands, because of the trust they hold, will yield a lot, in terms of affiliate revenue.

And lastly, but we always start with it, is more content and more distribution outlets to more people. We’re a content company, so we want to get our stuff out there. The three things that we say we need to do right in order to be successful with those three goals are: 

Number one, data. Making sure that we have the right data and we know how to use it, which is hard work. Number two, we call it our wheel, but how content goes across the wheel of all of our businesses and how audience goes across that wheel. If you think about our business, we own our websites and we own our magazine relationships, but we don’t own social or streaming. And yet, we want to have a relationship with consumers all across that wheel, so that’s very important, in terms of just our success. And then lastly, it’s the people; it’s all about the people and making sure that we attract and retain the right people and we do spend a lot of time on that.

Samir Husni: Speaking of people, are your people back in the office or still working remotely?

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m in the office today in Manhattan and there’s one other person here, so that probably answers your question. (Laughs) We do have more people in Milwaukee and in L.A., and of course in Milwaukee we have the test kitchen and the photographers and video. And in L.A. we have our production studios for our streaming and our social, so those offices tend to have more people, but New York is definitely on an as needed basis. 

Business is going well, so we’re not mandating it, but I certainly hope people will start to come up soon. We’re having a couple of reunion days soon in all of our offices, trying to woo people back with free massages and cocktails. So I think we’ll have a couple of days with a lot of people. 

Samir Husni: If you look at the magazine media scene as a whole, you can count the major companies now on one hand. Where do you think the industry is heading?

Bonnie Kintzer: I think there will be no such thing as a magazine company. I think magazines will be a wonderful part of our mix, but we will be media companies and we’ll be brand companies. All of those companies you mentioned care about their brands and consumers care about brands, so I think that we can all do extremely well as long as we focus on the audience. And we’ve said that from the beginning of time and the rest will follow. 

Audiences dictate decisions of what platforms we’re on and how much money we spend, so I have confidence in all of those companies to do that. 

Samir Husni: Do you think TMB today is on a solid foundation adding to the future or there are some cracks here and there?

Bonnie Kintzer: We’re absolutely on a solid foundation. We run a very disciplined business. My goal is to grow us, both organically and through acquisition. I think we have always been very honest about the challenges and have dealt with them head-on. I think anyone who looks at our record over the last eight years would agree with that. And we’ll continue to do that; to let data and discipline guide us and our consumer. So, I know we’re healthy and I think there’s a lot more upside for us. 

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

Bonnie Kintzer: Looking at us as a really well-rounded company, I think when you consider the hundreds of millions of consumers that we reach now through all these different mediums it’s  actually very inspiring and exciting to realize that brands can go into all of these places and that we should support that kind of growth. And we should always be looking at the new opportunities because there is just so much out there for our brands to jump into. 

Samir Husni: Anything in the hopper; any surprises for 2023?

Bonnie Kintzer: I hope that we’ll have another acquisition in 2023, I really do. I just met with a company this morning. It’s hard work finding the right acquisitions, but I hope that we’ll have something else to announce in 2023. That would make me very happy. 

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

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s always speed; are we moving fast enough? I think it’s a constant challenge of how much faster can we move and be sure that we’re doing all the right things. We want people to be engaged and to have great experiences, and I think those things will all move together, but I do always wonder if we could move faster while being sure we’re doing the best and most that we can. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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