Archive for the ‘Innovation in print’ Category

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During A Pandemic, The Land Report Magazine Publishes Its Largest Issue Ever. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Eric O’Keefe, Founder & Editor, And Eddie Lee Rider, Founder & Publisher…

June 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (36)

“Our goal is to educate individuals on the attractiveness of land as a long-term investment. That’s really what we’re about. What we focus on is finding those stories that show how people have pursued and developed a strategy with their land and what kind of returns they’ve enjoyed with their land.” … Eric O’Keefe

“We have targeted those private jet terminals in highly-trafficked areas that meet our demographic: Rocky Mountain states, Southeast, Northeast Corridor, and Texas, that’s where you can find our publication, especially now when the commercial air traffic has been so reduced, private air traffic is still moderately healthy. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.” … Eddie Lee Rider

Even during a pandemic, people are investing in, buying and maintaining land. And The Land Report is the magazine that profiles passionate landowners, identifies investment opportunities, explains ways to improve and conserve land, provides legislation updates, and highlights outdoor gear and equipment. I spoke recently with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder and Eddie Lee Rider, publisher and founder of the brand and we discussed the operating of a brand during the pandemic.

For the most part, both the powers-that-be at The Land Report told me that business as usual has been the norm for them, except for the event space, which of course isn’t happening right now. But the hopes are that the events will be back up and going very soon and The Land Report can get back to 100 percent, because after all it is the magazine of the American Landowner.  In fact, The Land Report just uploaded their latest issue with 160 pages plus covers, “the largest ever for us,” says Eddie.

And now the 36th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder, & Eddie Lee Rider, publisher and founder, The Land Report.

Eddie Lee Rider, Jr. and Eric O’Keefe

But first the sound-bites:

On how The Land Report has been operating during the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I don’t mean to sound unrealistic, but it’s been better than ever. From the editorial side, everything can be done from layout assignments, proofing, production, all of those elements can be done from home. Eddie, I’ll invite you to talk about our sales numbers.

On how The Land Report has been operating during the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): From last spring to this spring, we saw an increase in our ad revenue of a little over 75 percent, closer to 80 percent actually. It’s been remarkable. We have two full-time employees, everybody else connected with the business is a contract employee, freelancer or independent rep. Our business has not changed at all during this situation.

On why The Land Report in a printed format is relevant during these uncertain times (Eddie Lee Rider): Our demographics skew toward an older reader, our average reader the last time we did some surveys was 62-years-old. They like a print product. And our distribution lends itself to print in that we have teamed up with Sandow Media to distribute our publication through Signature FBOs (Fixed Based Operation) across the country. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.

Eddie Lee Rider

On any challenges they’ve had to face during the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): The first for me as publisher and head marketer of the publication was how do you get your editorial product, your advertisers’ marketing, into the hands of the most qualified potential investors and buyers? We tried the newsstand and that wasn’t a fit; you’re not going to generally find someone in a typical Barnes & Noble who is looking for a $3 million ranch.

On any challenges they’ve had to face during the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I’d just like to follow-up on your point, Eddie. We have a major client, a very well-known player in the industry, whose point is his company spends millions every year on marketing. And they know that two-thirds of their closed transactions will come from their own Rolodex. And his point to me and Eddie is how do I find that last 10 percent, and that’s where we come in. We are the ones who have created a distribution model that has effectively provided a portion of that 10 percent to get the client the right eyeballs on that property. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, getting our magazine into the right people’s hands.

On whether there are any changes in store for them beyond the pandemic (Eric O’Keefe): I think it’s business as usual for us. When I look at all of the elements, whether it’s the marketing side – we never took up your brilliant suggestion. You had said that this magazine was made for a trade show. And something that included a lot of land-related vendors. And we never went that route. I think what you will see more of from our standpoint is, we’ve had some exceptional success with Land Report broker events by invitation only.

On whether there are any changes in store for them beyond the pandemic (Eddie Lee Rider): We have an event scheduled for the middle of July. These events are paid for by a single broker or brokerage and they hire us to do an event where we develop an invitation list of other brokers that have their own deep Rolodexes. We fly everybody into a location that’s normally a 24 to 48 hour event. We cover all of the accommodations and transportation. We have photographers on the ground, videographers. We get content for the magazine. By touring the property it creates a networking event, nobody else in our space is doing it. We’re averaging maybe one event per quarter.

Eric O’Keefe

On what keeps them up at night (Eric O’Keefe): On my part it’s always accuracy. The magazine has to be 100 percent spot-on and because it’s land, a lot of the minutiae is buried in public records. Fortunately, more of them are coming online and you can access them, but we’re the authority and we need to be 100 percent accurate. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.

On what keeps them up at night (Eddie Lee Rider): For me, I’m always worried about how do I get my advertisers’ marketing into the right hands. I mentioned that we have these relationships with these event companies, and obviously they’re not having events right now. They can’t meet in person. So, they’re meeting virtually. I’m reaching out and asking if we can get a mailing list of the people who will be attending the virtual conference and can we get a magazine into their hands?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric O’Keefe, editor and founder, The Land Report & Eddie Lee Rider, founder and publisher.

Samir Husni: How has it been publishing The Land Report during the pandemic?

Eric O’Keefe: I don’t mean to sound unrealistic, but it’s been better than ever. From the editorial side, everything can be done from layout assignments, proofing, production, all of those elements can be done from home. Eddie, I’ll invite you to talk about our sales numbers.

Eddie Lee Rider: From last spring to this spring, we saw an increase in our ad revenue of a little over 75 percent, closer to 80 percent actually. It’s been remarkable. We have two full-time employees, everybody else connected with the business is a contract employee, freelancer or independent rep. Our business has not changed at all during this situation.

The land business has been extremely resilient. It is the ultimate social distancing, to have a piece of land, to have a cabin, to have a ranch, somewhere you can grab the kids and the family dog, grab some groceries and get out of Dodge for a few days or weeks if you can. Our clients are having a lot of success in this environment and it’s proving itself in our advertising numbers.

Eric O’Keefe: One thing to keep in mind is that we’ve been through the Great Recession of 2008-2009, we saw the dotcom bubble burst in the late 1990s, we’ve seen a whole wave of magazines come and go, we’ve seen a lot, and so much of it in my opinion is the fickle finger of fate. Are we in the right niche at the right time? And that will determine quite often whether one succeeds or fails. Right now when people are looking to shelter in place and they want to do it in a manner that gives their families an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and be healthy, that falls right into our laps.

We have an article on social distancing in Montana. Some of our biggest advertisers, our best sources of anecdotal data are in Montana and they have certain markets where there’s no inventory available anymore. They have completely sold out. So I say that to compare to the Great Recession 10-12 years ago when you were actually seeing brokerages take it on the chin and brokerages and land-related advertisers are base, and they took it on the chin in 2008 and now they are seeing an acceleration of business. There are all sorts of numbers to support it, leads, web traffic, as well as sales. So, I really feel that we’re fortunate in that regard.

Samir Husni: You deal with something tangible; you deal with land. Why do you think The Land Report as an ink on paper platform is relevant, since everyone can do everything virtually these days? Going out and actually experiencing the land in person isn’t the same as a virtual tour of that same land, is it the same for the printed magazine experience?

Eddie Lee Rider: Our demographics skew toward an older reader, our average reader the last time we did some surveys was 62-years-old. They like a print product. And our distribution lends itself to print in that we have teamed up with Sandow Media to distribute our publication through Signature FBOs (Fixed Based Operation) across the country. We have targeted those private jet terminals in highly-trafficked areas that meet our demographic: Rocky Mountain states, Southeast, Northeast Corridor, and Texas, that’s where you can find our publication, especially now when the commercial air traffic has been so reduced, private air traffic is still moderately healthy. I believe the print product is extremely relevant for us and our audience.

Eric O’Keefe: With the addition of drones, you can take a virtual tour, it offers a real opportunity from a seasonal standpoint, if you’re looking at beautiful meadows in the middle of winter when it’s a snow filled Colorado ranch…so now you have to actually see what the ranch is about. So, I think it’s been a tool for that. Also one of the things that we do is we profile individuals who have a passion for a certain piece of property. That could be something historic in Mississippi, someone could be multigenerational on a plantation, someone could be multigenerational in a New England small town.

One of the things that we do, which is unlike anyone else in our space, is we have strong editorial content. There are a lot of magalogs out there that produce ad after ad after ad, and quite honestly, we know them all. And some have told us that they don’t want editorial. They want a picture book for then people to go to the website and do exactly what you’re talking about.

I’ll share another profile; it’s a $70 million piece of property that has just come to market in Virginia. It’s 7,000 acres between Charlottesville and D.C. And it’s gorgeous. It was assembled by a very passionate land steward. It is immediately adjacent to the first city of Washington and the nation, that George Washington himself actually surveyed in the 1740s. That can’t be so effectively communicated in a normal page view.

Forgive me for going off base here, but in the 1950s TV really accelerated. And the movie industry saw it as a threat. Suddenly, movies were trying to distinguish themselves. You had two and three hour movies, things like that. And you had all those multi-surround sounds and other items. I don’t see the online as a threat in that fashion. I see it as an enhancement. If you’re building a case for yourself to buy a piece of property, you’re going to look at the broker’s webpage, you’re going to read more about it in The Land Report, and then you might go to USDA figures online or take a look at what sort of values have been developed over the years by Mississippi State.

That’s one of the things that we really have in our favor is that land as an asset has been tracked, it’s values have been tracked by all of these state colleges, so we don’t have to replicate that information. We don’t have to say “according to a Land Report study,” it’s all out there. And these are top-tiered schools, so we can then use that to make our case about land’s resilience. When you’re looking at land for the most part, you want as many inputs as possible. And we’ve established ourselves as a key input.

Eddie Lee Rider

Samir Husni: What are some challenges you’ve had to face during this pandemic and how did you overcome them?

Eddie Lee Rider: The first for me as publisher and head marketer of the publication was how do you get your editorial product, your advertisers’ marketing, into the hands of the most qualified potential investors and buyers? We tried the newsstand and that wasn’t a fit; you’re not going to generally find someone in a typical Barnes & Noble who is looking for a $3 million ranch.

We’ve gone through different phases. After 11 or 12 years, we’ve found a really great formula of these private jet terminals, a data base that has evolved over those years, rural land professionals that can refer each other back and forth. The Wall Street Journal and other papers that can do home delivery of our magazine in key markets  from time to time, depending on what issues we’re doing. For  instance, the Texas issue that just came out, that was home delivered via The New York Times weekend newspapers in Houston and Dallas to select high net worth zip codes.

We’ve also developed a relationship with companies that put on conferences for family offices. Wealth management companies; we distribute our publication at those events. So, it’s really evolved into this mix of where can we get our publication into the most prequalified hands? And I think that our advertisers see that effort from us and they see the results from their phones ringing.

Eric O’Keefe: And I’d just like to follow-up on your point, Eddie. We have a major client, a very well-known player in the industry, whose point is his company spends millions every year on marketing. And they know that two-thirds of their closed transactions will come from their own Rolodex. And his point to me and Eddie is how do I find that last 10 percent, and that’s where we come in. We are the ones who have created a distribution model that has effectively provided a portion of that 10 percent to get the client the right eyeballs on that property. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, getting our magazine into the right people’s hands.

Our goal is to educate individuals on the attractiveness of land as a long-term investment. That’s really what we’re about. What we focus on is finding those stories that show how people have pursued and developed a strategy with their land and what kind of returns they’ve enjoyed with their land. And there are all sorts of effective strategies for preserving wealth via land that may not be available to you via your house there. It may not be available to you via your financial assets, but land on the other hand can be managed very effectively, in terms of minimizing  estate taxes and lowering value.

Eddie Lee Rider, Jr. and Eric O’Keefe

I’ll give you an example, conservation easements, which could benefit a family that has income through another source; a 1031 exchange, which is basically when you sell a piece of income-producing property like land, you’re not taxed if you buy another larger parcel. These are not available to people who normally invest in markets.

And yes, you have a downside to land. Probably the most obvious one is ill equity, you can’t buy and sell tens of thousands or even 10 acres quickly. Land is typically established as an anchor for a portfolio. It’s not meant to day trade. This market and what’s been going on with the pandemic, one of the reasons why it’s fascinating to me from a transaction standpoint is some people are actually trying to liquidate some of their more valuable property so that they can go into the equities markets because the opportunities were so great there. And they can get back into the land, but the stock market was down at 17,000 after being close to 30, and you just knew it was going to come back.

From my standpoint, Eddie elaborated on getting it into the right hands and yes, we made all sorts of direct mail pitches that were complete belly flops, just negative responses. But from the editorial side, it is such a rich, uniquely American asset. I was talking with someone recently and before women got the right to vote they could own land. What’s the first asset that a freed slave could own? They could go west and they could own land by the Homestead Act.

There are just so many elements, older elements and newer ones. Eddie and I are constantly getting stories of who’s buying what great pieces of property. When we launched you may have seen our stories on Ted Turner and then John Malone became the nation’s largest landowner.

Now you have people like Jeff Bezos who is launching his rockets from his 400,000 acre ranch. Another land story. So, what are you going to do on your piece of land, that’s my approach. Are you going to launch rockets or raise elk or are you going to fly fish or track migrating birds? And the fact that Eddie and I have, what we call “permission givers” in terms of a Jeff Bezos or a Ted Turner, some of these very large operators that get us eyeballs, makes it very easy from the editorial side.

Samir Husni: As we look beyond the pandemic, any changes in store or will everything move forward in the same way?

Eric O’Keefe: I think it’s business as usual for us. When I look at all of the elements, whether it’s the marketing side – we never took up your brilliant suggestion. You had said that this magazine was made for a trade show. And something that included a lot of land-related vendors. And we never went that route. I think what you will see more of from our standpoint is, we’ve had some exceptional success with Land Report broker events by invitation only. So, we’re going to do more of our events, where we actually go and preview a property with brokers. And we show them what’s coming to market or what’s on market.

Those will obviously take place more frequently, but other than that, I think it will be business as usual.

Eddie Lee Rider: I totally agree. We have an event scheduled for the middle of July. These events are paid for by a single broker or brokerage and they hire us to do an event where we develop an invitation list of other brokers that have their own deep Rolodexes. We fly everybody into a location that’s normally a 24 to 48 hour event. We cover all of the accommodations and transportation. We have photographers on the ground, videographers. We get content for the magazine. By touring the property it creates a networking event, nobody else in our space is doing it. We’re averaging maybe one event per quarter.

These events us with content and help us to create working events for our brokers who many times know about each other, but they’ve never really met. We bring them in from all over the country. It’s a very successful model for us.

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

Eric O’Keefe: On my part it’s always accuracy. The magazine has to be 100 percent spot-on and because it’s land, a lot of the minutiae is buried in public records. Fortunately, more of them are coming online and you can access them, but we’re the authority and we need to be 100 percent accurate. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.

Eddie Lee Rider: For me, I’m always worried about how do I get my advertisers’ marketing into the right hands. I mentioned that we have these relationships with these event companies, and obviously they’re not having events right now. They can’t meet in person. So, they’re meeting virtually. I’m reaching out and asking if we can get a mailing list of the people who will be attending the virtual conference and can we get a magazine into their hands? Can we partner more with papers to do the home delivery?

I’m constantly obsessed with how I get my marketing partners’ messages into the right hands. And that’s what keeps me up at night, but I think we’re doing a job of overcoming that.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

 

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Stephen Bohlinger, Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Staying The Course As A Monthly, Staying At 7.6 Million Rate Base.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

June 5, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (35)

“I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today. We reach 8.2 million millennials, and the leading millennial is turning 40. People always say that millennials aren’t going to buy homes  but guess what? They’re not only buying homes. They’re buying their second homes. There are 40-year-olds who are buying their second home right now.” … Stephen Bohlinger

“What we are seeing is some great things with our consumers. The renewals are pacing in the double digits; the direct mail efforts are up 11 percent, proving the power of print. They’re voting with their wallets, the magazine store has recorded nine straight weeks of growth, up 47 percent and the Amazon sub orders have seen eight straight weeks of growth, up 76 percent. So, that’s a good sign. We’re going to have to weather the storm on the ad revenue, but we are getting more from the consumer. That’s why we’re staying the course as a monthly, staying at 7.6 million rate base.”… Stephen Bohlinger

Content drives Meredith Corporation, quality, relevant content. And never has that been more evident than with Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home, three Meredith brands that are weathering the pandemic storm quite admirably. Stephen Bohlinger is Senior Vice President Group Publisher for the trio of titles and is happy to report that things are moving along very well during these uncertain times.

“This is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same.”

I spoke with Stephen recently and he shared that comment and many more with me during our conversation. As always, it was a pleasure to hear from the powers-that-be at Meredith, especially to find out the pandemic may have presented its challenges, but it hadn’t stopped the company from doing what they do best: putting out quality content without disruption.

And now the 35th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Stephen Bohlinger,  Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home.

But first the sound-bites:

On how the business has been operating during the pandemic: First and foremost, I’ve been commuting, working and living out of the mecca New York City since 1985, so I lived through recessions, 9/11 and the banking crisis, but this is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this. We went from 100 percent seated across the country – all of our offices – to 100 percent home in the snap of a finger within 24 hours. The first thing that we needed to do was adjust quickly. There was no script, no game plan that we could refer to because this had never been seen before; we’d never done this before. Certainly, I hadn’t seen it.

On whether they have had to change any magazine frequencies because of the pandemic: We talked to our CEO, Tom Harty, and my boss, Doug Olson, and we looked at every single element: frequency, rate base, print, bind and mail. We realized that this is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same. They’re sitting at home and as they look at their four walls, they’re realizing that they might need a paint job. Or they need to redo their kitchen. And they can achieve these goals by spending time with our powerful and relevant brands which are now UP with readers spending 33 minutes per issue with Better Homes & Gardens.

On whether he thinks people will rediscover print once the pandemic is behind us: Yes, I really do believe so. I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today.

On if he feels running the company during a pandemic has been a walk in a rose garden or very challenging: It hasn’t been a walk in a rose garden, no. It’s been a challenge since day one, but I’m the son of a coach. My dad was an educator like you, a gym teacher and coach, and he always taught me to stick to your heart and stomach and call it guts. And, that’s what we did. The best thing for us – and what allowed us to avoid that “this is too much” moment – has been the communication and the relationships we have at the Meredith Corporation.

On whether he thinks working from home will become the new “normal” indefinitely: I’m all about the high-five, the hug and the pat on the back, and there’s nothing ever that will replace a face-to-face meeting with a client, breaking bread with them over lunch, or going to a ballgame with them or playing golf with them. This is a relationship business and it has been since day one. I always tell my team that you’re only as good as your reputation and you’re only as good as the relationships you can build and keep.

On the budget for this fiscal year: When the pandemic hit there were certainly advertisers out of the game, and that put a pause on spending. So, we’re not going to reach budget where we were year over year. We’re always compared by what we did the year before, and the June issue was the first issue where we saw advertisers taking a pause.

On anything he’d like to add: We’re an omni-channel experience, so this is a brand that has many touchpoints. We have a huge content licensing business with Walmart. We have BH&G Real Estate, which is doing extremely well. What’s also performing at its highest level and is showing amazing growth is digital, with BH&G’s highest traffic since 2015, at more than 17.7 million visits.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s the health and wellness of my team across the board. Most of my team members, as I said earlier, are hardworking mothers, and the majority of those in New York commute, so that in and of itself is a challenge. I just worry about them and their families. Some are also caring for their parents. Some staff members lost their grandparents here in the New York metropolitan area, which was very sad. I worry about them and the disruption they may face in their lives.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Bohlinger, Senior Vice President Group Publisher, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home.

Samir Husni: How are you adjusting as group publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home during this pandemic?

Stephen Bohlinger: First and foremost, I’ve been commuting, working and living out of the mecca New York City since 1985, so I lived through recessions, 9/11 and the banking crisis, but this is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like this. We went from 100 percent seated across the country – all of our offices – to 100 percent home in the snap of a finger within 24 hours. The first thing that we needed to do was adjust quickly. There was no script, no game plan that we could refer to because this had never been seen before; we’d never done this before. Certainly, I hadn’t seen it.

We needed to be really nimble and to adjust rapidly because we knew we had to continue doing business. And I am amazed at how our team has responded. Most of the people on my team are working mothers, so they were not only disrupted in their own work environment, but they were disrupted at home. They were disrupted with their kids, who were no longer going to school and were now at home, so they were taking care of their children and, in some cases, their parents as well. So, I’ve just been amazed at how nimble and quick they’ve been able to adjust to the new world of working from home while still serving our clients’ needs.

The good news is that we have phenomenal relationships with our clients and our agency partners and that translated very well. We were able to do calls on Zoom/Webex and see one another, so we were practicing social distancing and didn’t have to wear masks. We were able to get business done productively and efficiently. It happened overnight, and the team responded seamlessly.

Samir Husni: Have you had to change any frequencies with your magazines due to the pandemic or make any tough decisions?

Stephen Bohlinger: Great questions and ones we took to the highest level. We talked to our CEO, Tom Harty, and my boss, Doug Olson, and we looked at every single element: frequency, rate base, print, bind and mail. We realized that this is a wonderful time for our brands – Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Traditional Home. Why is it a wonderful time? Because not only are we going home, but most of our readers and advertisers are doing the same. They’re sitting at home and as they look at their four walls, they’re realizing that they might need a paint job. Or they need to redo their kitchen. And they can achieve these goals by spending time with our powerful and relevant brands which are now UP with readers spending 33 minutes per issue with Better Homes & Gardens.

Better Homes & Gardens is a 100-year-old brand and has historic archives to reflect on. Our editor in chief, Stephen Orr, is an amazing leader. We’ve been together for five years, and I just love him as a person, a friend and certainly as the leader of the largest monthly magazine in the world. We’re 12 times per year; the readers want and need our brand and so it makes perfect sense to continue with this monthly frequency. The brand is more relevant today than ever before so let’s stay the course and deliver a great product they demand. When we looked at the rate base, which we do every year – it’s 7.6 million – it made sense financially. This is a juggernaut for the Meredith Corporation; it’s such a big brand reaching 43 million fans and followers. So it made perfect sense to continue delivering the rate base of 7.6 million and sending that to the homes of our consumers 12 times per year.

Yes, it made sense financially, but even more important is that the content is more relevant today than it has ever been. Given this time and this pandemic, people looking inward, people are returning to their homes and doing things they may never have done, I feel this is a resurgence for print. I see this as a great time for our industry because people are sick of looking at a screen every day, sick of leaning in, seated looking at a screen. And at night, they’ve seen every Netflix show. I’ve seen it with my own children. They’re millennials and would rather curl up and read a book after a long day than looking at a screen, They want to close the computer, put the phone away. That’s wonderful to see and it’s great for our brands.

Samir Husni: As you move forward and this pandemic is behind us, do you think this resurgence will continue and people will rediscover print after spending so much time with screens? After the virtual for so long, will they be looking for reality?

Stephen Bohlinger: Yes, I really do believe so. I believe there will be a resurgence for print and that this will be a great time for the industry, a great time for iconic, 100-year-old, heritage brands like Better Homes & Gardens, which is 100 percent relevant today. We reach 8.2 million millennials, and the leading millennial is turning 40. People always say that millennials aren’t going to buy homes  but guess what? They’re not only buying homes. They’re buying their second homes. There are 40-year-olds who are buying their second home right now.

I see the millennial audience disengaging with what they were brought up on, which was screen time. They’re throwing their phones down for a while and reading books or magazines, whether it’s BH&G, Southern Living or Traditional Home. I think it’s a wonderful time for the Meredith Corporation and the industry.

As for our clients and advertisers, it’s been rough, right? Initially, when the pandemic hit, there was lots of  uncertainty. We didn’t know what the future looked like, so there were a lot of advertisers, clients that said they were going to take a pause in categories like automotive or beauty. However, we saw an uptick for some advertisers like packaged goods – certainly in cleaning products and convenient food brands. In some of our categories there was opportunity for them to reach out and show the American public that they were there for them, that we’re in it together. And there are no better brands to do that than the ones that they’re getting at home. And, the ones they trust.

Samir Husni: Was there a moment in the last few months where you said that’s it, I can’t take it anymore? Or has it been a walk in a rose garden throughout this pandemic?

Stephen Bohlinger: It hasn’t been a walk in a rose garden, no. It’s been a challenge since day one, but I’m the son of a coach. My dad was an educator like you, a gym teacher and coach, and he always taught me to stick to your heart and stomach and call it guts. And, that’s what we did. The best thing for us – and what allowed us to avoid that “this is too much” moment – has been the communication and the relationships we have at the Meredith Corporation. I talk to my boss, Doug Olson, every day. We have a business continuity meeting with all of his direct reports every day. And even if it’s just to get everybody on the phone and communicating, it helps everyone to relax and take a breath, to feel that we really are in this together. So that communication from the highest level has been extremely helpful.

My team is the same. We meet daily and talk regularly about what their fears and concerns are. I really feel that communication and those relationships and trust within our team have helped everyone. Whether it’s relationships within our own team or our relationship with the highest level at Meredith, the communication is there and its constant.

 Samir Husni: Once the pandemic is behind us, do you think working from home will be the new normal or you’ll go back to the face-to-face environment of the office?

Stephen Bohlinger: I’m all about the high-five, the hug and the pat on the back, and there’s nothing ever that will replace a face-to-face meeting with a client, breaking bread with them over lunch, or going to a ballgame with them or playing golf with them. This is a relationship business and it has been since day one. I always tell my team that you’re only as good as your reputation and you’re only as good as the relationships you can build and keep.

I’d love to see us return to that at some point, but I’ve been amazed at how efficient we’ve been in running our business with our clients thanks to those relationships. I’ll give you a perfect example. As we pivot the content – working with Stephen and his amazing, talented edit team  – we were able to do what we’re calling “Project Joy,” editorial meetings with our clients.

We bring in Stephen, who is not only the editor of BH&G but is the content leader for more than half of the Meredith brands. We reached out to all of our key agency partners and clients, and we’ve done over a dozen of these meetings, which are usually an hour long, and I’m amazed at how many people attend these meetings. The screen is full, with 20 to 25 people seated at the highest level, interested and leaning in. I always used to say that if you feed them they will come, so we’d do lunch and learns, but we’re not feeding them. We’re just giving them solutions for their clients and they’re showing up in droves.

This has opened our eyes to a new way of doing business. It has totally changed overnight, but we haven’t lost any momentum. Communication has probably been better than before because we’re leaning in and being more nimble. We always ask our clients if we’re serving them the way they need to be served in these “Project Joy” meetings. And they all answer “Absolutely and thank you.”

Samir Husni: What’s your forecast for meeting the budget this fiscal year?

Stephen Bohlinger: When the pandemic hit there were certainly advertisers out of the game, and that put a pause on spending. So, we’re not going to reach budget where we were year over year. We’re always compared by what we did the year before, and the June issue was the first issue where we saw advertisers taking a pause.

The leaders at Meredith are realists, and it starts at the top with our CEO Tom Harty. He knows what’s going on with the economy; he’s extremely close to it; and he said let’s do the best we possibly can and let’s be very understanding of what our clients are going through. We’re in this together, and let’s be there for them. Let’s listen to what their challenges are and try to figure out the solutions for them. Try and convince them why we feel they need to be here at this given time.

Issue to issue, being realists, we knew we would not match where we were year over year, but as we look at August, the issue that we’re closing right now, the panic seems to have subsided. I haven’t seen anyone pulling out at the 11th hour. Are we where we were a year ago? Not yet. This isn’t going to be a V snapback. This is going to be a U. It’s going to take a little longer, and we’re going to be patient.

But what we are seeing is some great things with our consumers. The renewals are pacing in the double digits; the direct mail efforts are up 11 percent, proving the power of print. They’re voting with their wallets, the magazine store has recorded nine straight weeks of growth, up 47 percent and the Amazon sub orders have seen eight straight weeks of growth, up 76 percent. So, that’s a good sign. We’re going to have to weather the storm on the ad revenue, but we are getting more from the consumer. That’s why we’re staying the course as a monthly, staying at 7.6 million rate base.

Newsstands, particularly for the brands that I oversee, aren’t that big. There has been some disruption on newsstand, but that doesn’t really affect ours because the majority of our brands are delivered to the home. By the way, the average time spent with BH&G is now 33 minutes, up from 30 minutes. Readers are spending more time with us, which is phenomenal.

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

Stephen Bohlinger: We’re an omni-channel experience, so this is a brand that has many touchpoints. We have a huge content licensing business with Walmart. We have BH&G Real Estate, which is doing extremely well. What’s also performing at its highest level and is showing amazing growth is digital, with BH&G’s highest traffic since 2015, at more than 17.7 million visits. I recently went to a big box retailer to buy some things. I waited 45 minutes, mask on, six feet apart from other shoppers. The store was packed with long lines of people buying home products. They’re going to BHG.com prior for gardening, home or whatever project it might be as we are there for all of their home needs. In addition, Pinterest traffic is the highest it’s been since 2014, email is also up, and we had 45 million in video views, the highest since 2019. All very positive signs.

We’re a multi-platform experience. Print is a big part of what we do, but our digital business has been tremendous throughout these times. We have over 43 million fans and followers right now. It’s enormous. That’s an enormous monthly reach for BH&G. We’re definitely proud of that.

On the readership side, print-only has a total readership of 33 million. Our total brand audience, per Magazine Media 360, is 43 million. Those are galactic numbers. Other brands within the industry are reducing rate bases and frequencies, but we’re staying the course for all the right reasons. We’re creating a gap as the leader – more so than ever before.

From an editorial standpoint, it’s wonderful to go through this time with a partner like Stephen, who is just tremendous. We had our Style Maker issue in September, a big tentpole event, and it drives from print. We have an event in New York City in September, and we invite over 100 style makers from throughout the country – be it food, home, gardening, décor, beauty, whatever it may be – and they show up for a full day. Early on we had to make a decision. Stephen said we’re not going to be able to pull this off in September. We don’t know where the world will be.

This was just a week in at being at home and he knew what was needed to be done: It’s going to be a better idea to move it. By the way, it’s our 10th anniversary for the Style Maker event, so we had a lot of fanfare behind it, and advertisers had already signed up. So, we pivoted. We moved it to spring 2021, and we changed the editorial theme in September to the power of home. Brilliant.

And in these “Project Joy,” editorial roadshows, Stephen ensures them that we’re getting the brand out into the consumers’ hands without disruption. The “Power of Home” will be the theme of our September issue. It’s about getting joy out of life, whether it’s cooking a recipe at home or organizing your drawers – all of the great content that BH&G brings to our audience through all of our channels.

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

Stephen Bohlinger: It’s the health and wellness of my team across the board. Most of my team members, as I said earlier, are hardworking mothers, and the majority of those in New York commute, so that in and of itself is a challenge. I just worry about them and their families. Some are also caring for their parents. Some staff members lost their grandparents here in the New York metropolitan area, which was very sad. I worry about them and the disruption they may face in their lives.

Again, it’s a relationship business. We’re a team and we’ve been together for a long time. I care about them, and they care about their fellow team members. Thankfully we’ve been pretty healthy, but I do worry about that.

We have been talking about phasing back in. We’re on track to open the Des Moines office in phases first. In New York, which is home to most of our team, we’ll also look at when it is safe to phase in, and I feel extremely confident about how Meredith leadership is putting together a careful and thoughtful plan as to how we bring our employees back to work in an environment that is safe. The health and wellness of the team is what keeps me up. I always worry, but it makes me feel good when we talk each morning as a team and I get to see everyone’s face.

 Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Sid Evans, Editor In Chief, Southern Living, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “This Pandemic Has Made People Value The Simple Things In Life More Than Ever.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 19, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (34)

“This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers. They also value Southern Living more than they have ever valued it. We’re hearing that through letters and emails, that when their magazine shows up in their mailbox it’s an exciting and happy moment. It connects them to the world in a way that has become very important.” … Sid Evans

“We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.” … Sid Evans

The little things in life have become the most important things in life for many of us during this pandemic. Staying at home has become the norm and making home the best place to stay has become vital. Enter the comfort of Southern Living magazine and brand. Southern Living has been making us feel happy and secure for decades. The magazine offers up delicious recipes, amazing home ideas and inspiration to make each day better than the last.

Sid Evans is editor in chief at Southern Living and knows a thing or two about what the brand gives to its readers. Joy, happiness and a sense of home are just three of the attributes the magazine provides to its loyal audience. I spoke with Sid recently and we talked about publishing this tried and true brand that people trust and depend on. And while Sid admitted things were definitely different now than before the pandemic hit, Southern Living is still publishing the same quality content and joyful ideas and inspiration that it always has.

And now the 34th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Sid Evans, editor in chief, Southern Living..

But first the sound-bites:

On looking for the little things in life during a pandemic: This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers.

On how easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home: It has been a challenge, that’s for sure. There are aspects of it that we adapted to very quickly. We have a very digitally-savvy staff and most of our communications and systems are built on digital platforms. In some ways we were able to adapt quickly and well and keep the production cycle moving.

On whether there will be a different type of content in the summer issues: Fortunately, much of the content that we have produced already is very timely and very relevant to what’s going on right now. For example, in June we have stories about what to do with all of those tomatoes you may have. And great summer cocktail recipes. Things that I think people will appreciate. How to brighten your porch and make it a prettier place to spend time. All of those things are very relevant.

On whether he thinks Southern Living’s content is more relevant today than ever: It’s more relevant than ever because if you think about what people are doing right now, they’re cooking every day, three meals a day. They can’t go to restaurants right now, they are cooking at home. They need ideas and inspiration. They need something to break them out of their rut and that’s something that we do every month in the magazine and every day on the website.

On whether he ever imagined that he would be working during a pandemic: No, I never imagined that I’d be living through a situation like this. I never imagined it for my family, my friends or my colleagues at the office. If you’d said to me two months ago that we would be putting out Southern Living from home without going into an office, I couldn’t even have conceived of that. But I will say that this team has surprised and amazed me with what they’ve been able to do.

On what message he is communicating with his staff and readers during these uncertain times: I tell my staff to stay focused on the reader, think about what they’re going through, think about what they need from us and what we can provide. And think about how Southern Living can improve their lives and give them something hopeful every month. I think that really motivates this team.

On how the pandemic is impacting the relationship with the advertisers: We stay in close touch with our advertisers. We’re listening to them, particularly in the travel space where we’re talking to them, rooting for them, hoping that they’re going to get back online in a safe and responsible way. And that they can start to see some of their businesses come back.

On what he thinks justifies the continued printing of the ink on paper Southern Living: We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.

On anything he’d like to add: On the innovation front, we have a lot going on. We’re launching a new podcast series called “Biscuits & Jam,” where I’ve been interviewing musicians who are holed up at home and who are going through a lot of the same things that our readers are. I’ve been talking to them about food and family, and that’s been really interesting and a great use of this new platform. It will launch on June 2.

On what keeps him up at night: First and foremost, the health and safety of my team. That’s the thing that is top of mind and that I’m most concerned about. Also, what is creating content going to look like going forward? Creating content is a social endeavor. We get together in teams and create and shoot recipes and we decorate porches and we also brainstorm ideas together. So much of what we do is social in nature.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sid Evans, editor in chief, Southern Living.

Samir Husni: You wrote in the June issue about the little things in life. Do you think publishing during a pandemic is forcing magazine publishers and editors to look more into those simple things? Did it take a pandemic for us to search for a simpler philosophy?

Sid Evans: This pandemic has made people value the simple things in life more than ever. People have an appreciation for cooking, family time and gardening. These things have become much more meaningful, more than ever before. And we’ve certainly heard that from our readers. They also value Southern Living more than they have ever valued it. We’re hearing that through letters and emails, that when their magazine shows up in their mailbox it’s an exciting and happy moment. It connects them to the world in a way that has become very important.

Samir Husni: How easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home?

Sid Evans: It has been a challenge, that’s for sure. There are aspects of it that we adapted to very quickly. We have a very digitally-savvy staff and most of our communications and systems are built on digital platforms. In some ways we were able to adapt quickly and well and keep the production cycle moving.

In other ways it has been much harder because we can’t produce content the way we used to. We can’t photograph food in the food studios; we can’t go into people’s homes and do home shoots; we don’t have any restaurants to take pictures of. So, all of that has really changed the kinds of stories that we can do and the way that we produce them.

Samir Husni: If we look forward to the summer issues, are we going to see a different type of content than usual? Or are you readjusting your publishing schedule because of the pandemic?

Sid Evans: Yes. Fortunately, much of the content that we have produced already is very timely and very relevant to what’s going on right now. For example, in June we have stories about what to do with all of those tomatoes you may have. And great summer cocktail recipes. Things that I think people will appreciate. How to brighten your porch and make it a prettier place to spend time. All of those things are very relevant.

We shoot a lot of stuff a year in advance, because seasonality is so important to Southern Living. I would say that more than 50 percent of our content we plan and shoot one year in advance so that we can capture the absolute peak of the season. All of that is going to make for very strong June and July issues that will be really relevant right now. Looking ahead to next summer, that’s a little harder.

Samir Husni: Why do you think Southern Living’s content today is more relevant than ever? Or do you think it is?

Sid Evans: It’s more relevant than ever because if you think about what people are doing right now, they’re cooking every day, three meals a day. They can’t go to restaurants right now, they are cooking at home. They need ideas and inspiration. They need something to break them out of their rut and that’s something that we do every month in the magazine and every day on the website. They need ideas for how to make their home more livable, more enjoyable, and more of a sanctuary. That’s something that we do. People really appreciate that content right now; it’s just so important. It’s part of what’s helping them get through this whole ordeal.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and what was your first reaction when it hit?

Sid Evans: No, I never imagined that I’d be living through a situation like this. I never imagined it for my family, my friends or my colleagues at the office. If you’d said to me two months ago that we would be putting out Southern Living from home without going into an office, I couldn’t even have conceived of that. But I will say that this team has surprised and amazed me with what they’ve been able to do. And the creativity that they have brought to this whole enterprise and their devotion to the brand and to the readers. We’ve been figuring it out one day at a time, and somehow we’re making it work. We’re all motivated by the response we’re getting from our audience.

Samir Husni: What message are you communicating with your staff and readers during these uncertain times?

Sid Evans: I tell my staff to stay focused on the reader, think about what they’re going through, think about what they need from us and what we can provide. And think about how Southern Living can improve their lives and give them something hopeful every month. I think that really motivates this team.

I will tell you that one area that is a challenge, especially right now, is travel. That’s a really important part of Southern Living. We are a guide to the South. We’ve covered the cities, small towns, the beaches and the mountains. We recommend the best places to go and we have a lot of stories lined up that spoke to that. All of that is on hold right now. Until places start to open up, we’ve really had to put a lot of great travel coverage on hold. I’m looking forward to bringing that back and I know that our readers are looking forward to getting back out there, back on the road to start visiting places again.

Samir Husni: How is this impacting the relationship with the advertisers?

Sid Evans: We stay in close touch with our advertisers. We’re listening to them, particularly in the travel space where we’re talking to them, rooting for them, hoping that they’re going to get back online in a safe and responsible way. And that they can start to see some of their businesses come back.

One of the things that we’ve been doing is to share a lot of research with our advertisers about what our audience is going through. We have access to phenomenal research. We have panels that we can tap into; we have audiences that we can reach out to in real time and very quickly take their temperature and get a sense of what they’re worried about, what they’re looking forward to, and how they’re dealing with this pandemic.

We’ve been sharing that research on calls with some of our advertising partners and they’ve been really grateful and appreciative to hear this information, because these are their consumers. That’s something that has been a real advantage for Southern Living right now.

Samir Husni: What do you think justifies the continued printing of the ink on paper Southern Living?

Sid Evans: We still have a very popular, very profitable print magazine that is valued by both readers and advertisers. I just don’t see that just-digital day yet. For Southern Living, for our audience, having that print magazine show up right now is absolutely golden. They are so grateful to get that magazine and there’s so much value to them in that print magazine. It has a lot of meaning to them and a lot of value.

That being said, we’re also seeing incredible traffic to our digital platforms. The online traffic has been remarkable. There is a ton of engagement on our social platforms and we’re doing a lot of innovating on that front as well. So, I think you have to do both at the same time. You have to keep reaching those new audiences and you also have to take care of your print audience.

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

Sid Evans: On the innovation front, we have a lot going on. We’re launching a new podcast series called “Biscuits & Jam,” where I’ve been interviewing musicians who are holed up at home and who are going through a lot of the same things that our readers are. I’ve been talking to them about food and family, and that’s been really interesting and a great use of this new platform. It will launch on June 2.

We have a television show that just launched in April called “The Southern Living Show” that’s on a lot of the Meredith Television networks. It’s in 12 markets. That’s seeing a lot of audience growth week over week.

We have a Facebook group devoted to cooking where it’s become a really important community and a way for people to share Southern Living recipes and talk about them. And show each other what they’re making and what they’re baking. These are all important things to the brand, in terms of reaching out to new audiences and continuing to innovate. This is a time for innovation. Now more than ever.

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

Sid Evans: First and foremost, the health and safety of my team. That’s the thing that is top of mind and that I’m most concerned about. Also, what is creating content going to look like going forward? Creating content is a social endeavor. We get together in teams and create and shoot recipes and we decorate porches and we also brainstorm ideas together. So much of what we do is social in nature.

We photograph restaurants and towns and so I worry about what that is going to look like and how we’re going to do it. At the moment, I don’t see that breaking for a while. I do worry about that.

I do think that even though we’re living under this dark cloud of the virus, there are things to really value and appreciate right now. And there’s an opportunity to reconnect with family and to reset priorities. That only comes along once in a lifetime. So we have to take advantage of that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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GLC: A Content & Marketing Agency Creating Vital Content Strategies During A Pandemic – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Cimba, President & CEO, Joe Stella, Vice President, Associations & Shannon Cummins, Vice President, Healthcare…

May 15, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (33)

“We can even go so far as to use a term we’ve used for years, which is that print is the Trojan Horse. It enters the home; it stays on the table; it’s there and around; it’s not a digital view – click, on to the next thing. So, there is an opportunity to stay in front of them.” … John Cimba

“For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now. As more things shift online, there’s more space to reach people and grab mindshare through a printed product, something that’s tangible.” … Joe Stella

“The fact that our approach to working with our clients is so customized. In the healthcare space, we work with small, independent individual hospitals to the largest healthcare system in New Jersey, and everything in between. Their demands and needs in the consumer market and how they want to communicate, whether it’s digital or print, what their budget will allow; I think the fact that we are so customized in the way we work with our clients, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, is going to benefit us even more going forward.” … Shannon Cummins

GLC based in Chicago, delivers award-winning marketing strategies and programs for more than 50 companies, healthcare organizations, and professional associations across the country. Whether the content is delivered via print, digital, video, or social channels, GLC believes a good program starts with a sound strategy and improves through measurable results.

Recently, I spoke with the president and CEO of the company, John Cimba, the vice president over Associations, Joe Stella, and the vice president over Healthcare, Shannon Cummins. The three of them sat down with me via Zoom to talk about how their company was moving forward during a pandemic. It was a very interesting and informative conversation with three people who are involved in creating strategies for companies who need content to assist them in getting their message out to the public.

And now the 33rd Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with the leadership team at GLC in Chicago.

But first the sound-bites:

On how they are operating during a pandemic (John Cimba): Right now, one of the things that we were very fortunate to have happen for us was that before all of this happened we as a company had gone into two days a week of working remotely. So the transition from going two days a week to five days a week wasn’t actually that tough. We were already set up for it. So, that was one thing that was an easy transition.

On the decision to work two days per week from home even before the pandemic (John Cimba): Where our office is located is a suburb of Chicago, in Skokie, but there are a lot of great talents that are in the city itself. We’re locked into a lease, so we can’t just pack up and move into the city, so we knew that a draw for some of that talent in the city was to allow them to work remotely a couple of days a week.

On the company’s clients and how they’re overcoming any client-relationship difficulties (Shannon Cummins): The direct impact on them has been significant. Many of our client contacts are still in the hospital and not necessarily at home because of the fact that they are frontline workers in a different way. I’ve been in the healthcare communications space since 1986. In this time more than ever, it has been really interesting in terms of the immediate response in communications about COVID.

On why they believe print is more essential than ever (Joe Stella): For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now.

On whether anyone ever thought healthcare would be the world’s topic of conversation (Shannon Cummins): It was interesting because there was a video recording that I sent around about a gentleman in the healthcare space who is pretty well-known from an agency communications perspective. One of the things that he said is it’s his least favorite thing when he opens up a magazine and somebody is talking about their doctor, it’s all about the doctors. He said now more than ever frontline workers are heroes everywhere.

On any changes he envisions for GLC after the pandemic (John Cimba): I think we actually laid the foundation to put us in a very good place going forward. As a content agency, we’re delivery agnostic. So, whether it’s video, print, digital; it’s about the content for us first. We’ve positioned ourselves where we’re not dependent on one form of delivery over another.

On any lessons learned during this pandemic (John Cimba): From a business standpoint, the lesson learned is something I already knew, which is our company has an unbelievable staff. To be able to see the staff that we have, the team that we have, jump onto the transition of being full-time remote, juggling family and everything, it’s a reminder that the people around us are what makes this great and us successful.

On what keeps them up at night (John Cimba): My number one job; my number one goal going through this, I don’t want to lose one person through this. So, doing whatever we can do as a company for our clients and at the same time keeping every single person we have engaged, in the best place they can be, and I know it’s hard for some, and most importantly not losing any employees. That’s the biggest thing for me.

On what keeps them up at night (Joe Stella): The economy keeps me up at night. We need to bring buyers and sellers together again and when I look at the outlook on travel and large group gatherings and the fact that Chicago isn’t going to open its conventions until there’s a vaccine, which will have a huge impact on the city, it’s tough.

On what keeps them up at night (Shannon Cummins): Personally, what keeps me up at night is my family and them remaining safe with elderly parents and my 26-year-old son who is an EMT transporting COVID patients every weekend, so I don’t get to see him in person. And that’s hard.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Cimba, president and CEO, Joe Stella, VP/Associations, and Shannon Cummins, VP/Healthcare, GLC.

John Cimba

Samir Husni: How are you operating during this pandemic?

John Cimba: Right now, one of the things that we were very fortunate to have happen for us was that before all of this happened we as a company had gone into two days a week of working remotely. So the transition from going two days a week to five days a week wasn’t actually that tough. We were already set up for it. So, that was one thing that was an easy transition.

The tough part has been working with our clients who are not used to working remotely and trying to help them through it all. There are a lot of hiccups along the way: technical, financial, all sorts of things that are impacted with that. But as a company, on our end, we’re functioning business as usual.

Samir Husni; Why was the decision made even before the pandemic to work remotely two days a week?

John Cimba: Where our office is located is a suburb of Chicago, in Skokie, but there are a lot of great talents that are in the city itself. We’re locked into a lease, so we can’t just pack up and move into the city, so we knew that a draw for some of that talent in the city was to allow them to work remotely a couple of days a week. Then when we saw that was going well, we unveiled it for the whole company and it’s actually been very successful for us.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that your clients were having more difficulty with working remotely, how are you overcoming that challenge?

John Cimba: A big change has been suddenly people who were 30 days current are now 60-70 days because they’re still trying to figure out a CFO is no longer in the office, they’re at home. They have to figure out how do I get checks cut, etc. From that standpoint, it has gotten a lot better, it’s moving back to normal. But in working with clients directly, I’ll let Joe and Shannon tackle that one.

Shannon Cummins: My clients are all in the healthcare space, so they’re definitely feeling the impact directly. Many of our clients over the last several weeks have been involved in managing the communication and literally in the command center on a daily basis reporting on information. In some instances, for larger clients, it’s part of what they’re doing for some of our smaller clients where maybe there’s one person managing all communications in marketing. They’ve been taken out of their regular job to manage communication around the COVID.

So, we’ve had a lot of shifting of schedules and calls that had to get rescheduled, work that may have had to be pushed a little bit, but at the same time the challenge of needing to communicate with their community, almost now more than ever, in terms of what they’re doing and what’s going on, is vital. I have received so many emails and communications in the healthcare space. There has been webinar after webinar about communication. Communication about coming back, that it’s safe to go into an ER. Hospitals are laying off emergency room workers because people are not going to ERs because they don’t feel it’s safe.

The direct impact on them has been significant. Many of our client contacts are still in the hospital and not necessarily at home because of the fact that they are frontline workers in a different way. I’ve been in the healthcare communications space since 1986. In this time more than ever, it has been really interesting in terms of the immediate response in communications about COVID.

The loss of revenue they have experienced over the last few months and how to get people back in the hospital and using their services and to know it’s safe, is going to be a real opportunity and challenge for them.

Joe Stella

Joe Stella: My clients are trade and professional associations. The project management processes that we implement when we engage with a client has actually helped our clients through this. We use online project management tools to manage our projects anyway, so there’s clear visibility through every phase of the project online. And we have standing status calls with our customers.

Where we in our industry have been impacted is the revenue side, which is largely generated by in-person meetings with the association industry. A lot of those resources have been taken away, from managing our program and to unraveling the in-person meetings and conferences that had been planned for this year, shifting those to digital or postponing them to later in the year. The resulting fallout from that has been plans getting postponed, initiatives that we had intended to launch this year are being postponed.

We haven’t seen a real impact on our programs just yet. I think it’s a little soon to tell how it’s going to be impacted for the remainder of the year. The most common thing that we’ve seen is our clients are cutting back on printing and postage. They’re just doing digital issues because folks just aren’t in the office, the offices are closed so they don’t want to mail magazine copies to an empty office. A couple of savvy clients have sent emails out asking their constituents if they would like to receive their publications at home and offering guidance on how to login to their profile and change their mailing address temporarily.

But some of our clients don’t have that capability within their AMS for their constituents to login and change that information, so there isn’t an efficient way to do that. That’s how we’ve been impacted so far. Our clients have been taken aback a little in trying to future plan during this uncertain time. It’s difficult for everybody.

Samir Husni: On your website you say print is more essential than ever, why do you believe that?

Joe Stella: For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now. As more things shift online, there’s more space to reach people and grab mindshare through a printed product, something that’s tangible.

For me in the association space, it’s a member benefit. That physical, tangible product that arrives in the mailbox is a reminder that as a member I belong to this exclusive community of industry leaders. That’s important because in the absence of these meetings, where you’re networking with your peers and gaining best practice knowledge, the publication is a way to break through all the digital clutter and still maintain that connection and engagement.

John Cimba: We can even go so far as to use a term we’ve used for years, which is that print is the Trojan Horse. It enters the home; it stays on the table; it’s there and around; it’s not a digital view – click, on to the next thing. So, there is an opportunity to stay in front of them. There’s an online clothing company called UNTUCKit and I get a kick out of it because every month I get their printed piece, and this is an online company where you buy online. And what does it do? It sits on our counter at home and I find myself looking through it, and ultimately, like today, I’m wearing one. Now more than ever, with so much digital noise everywhere, print is very valuable.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that everything we talk about in the world would be health-related? And does that help or hurt your healthcare clients?

Shannon Cummins

Shannon Cummins: It was interesting because there was a video recording that I sent around about a gentleman in the healthcare space who is pretty well-known from an agency communications perspective. One of the things that he said is it’s his least favorite thing when he opens up a magazine and somebody is talking about their doctor, it’s all about the doctors. He said now more than ever frontline workers are heroes everywhere.

Our clients who have been publishing and who continue to publish print are moving away from their traditional type of communication around service line and all of that, and are really highlighting what they’ve done and the progress they’re making, really featuring COVID stories from a provider and patient perspective. Healthcare, now more than ever, has a great story to tell. And they are telling that story.

Our client in New Jersey said they had over one million hits to their website, specifically their content hub where they’re offering up communications over the past two months as COVID occurred. Over one million hits to their website, which is the number they saw for the entirety of 2019. Our clients are proactively using print and emails, social media, to communicate their message, and quickly pivoting to getting people back in the door with elective procedures, things that have been put off.

The challenge of communicating around COVID was very real and important. And now they’ve gotten people back. They have now almost a more important story to tell. People are concerned about going back to healthcare and they need to let them it’s safe.

The evolution of Telehealth is also very interesting. In the same way that we’re going to see changes in the way schools and businesses are handled, healthcare too will be handled a bit differently. My husband struggles with sleep apnea and he was able to get a Tele-visit with a neurologist who ordered a sleep study that he can do at home. And the fact that he can do that without ever going in for healthcare organization, they bill our insurance as if we met personally with the doctor, it’s pretty interesting and amazing and very comforting to us.

Samir Husni: Do you envision any changes at GLC after the pandemic is behind us?

John Cimba: I think we actually laid the foundation to put us in a very good place going forward. As a content agency, we’re delivery agnostic. So, whether it’s video, print, digital; it’s about the content for us first. We’ve positioned ourselves where we’re not dependent on one form of delivery over another. Change is how we live and I think we’re in a very good place as a company, whichever way this goes. Whether it’s print, video or digital, we’re positioned for it. And I’m thankful for that because it would be tough to just jump in and try and transition our company while going through all of this.

Samir Husni: Any lessons you have learned from this pandemic? Any words of wisdom or advice?

John Cimba: From a business standpoint, the lesson learned is something I already knew, which is our company has an unbelievable staff. To be able to see the staff that we have, the team that we have, jump onto the transition of being full-time remote, juggling family and everything, it’s a reminder that the people around us are what makes this great and us successful.

Shannon Cummins: The fact that our approach to working with our clients is so customized. In the healthcare space, we work with small, independent individual hospitals to the largest healthcare system in New Jersey, and everything in between. Their demands and needs in the consumer market and how they want to communicate, whether it’s digital or print, what their budget will allow; I think the fact that we are so customized in the way we work with our clients, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, is going to benefit us even more going forward.

The demand in healthcare communication isn’t going away and how they need to deliver content is going to continue to vary. We’re very well-positioned to continue to do well, and hopefully even better, as a company because our work is important. The biggest challenge is how we, in that custom approach, make sure the message is differentiated. The message has to stand out and not just be what everyone else is sharing. The need to communicate creatively and differently is vital today.

Joe Stella: Stay focused on your mission. In this time, you have all of this downward pressure in organization because you’re dealing with something that’s unprecedented and is impacting some of your main revenue channels. So, don’t take your eye off of your mission. And for our clients that means quality of content. It’s easy to say we’re not going to have our event, but if we produce 25 webinars, we can replace half of that revenue, but can you produce 25 webinars and do it well? Is it going to provide information to your constituents, your members, in the way that they need that information? Or is just filling a revenue gap?

The pressure that a lot of people are feeling might lead them down a wrong path and to make some decisions that may impact the overall perception of the organization if it’s not executed well. So focus on what you do well, double-down on those channels, don’t try to do too much, everyone is scattering and trying to master everything digitally, don’t be all over the place. Stay focused on what your mission is, own a channel, produce quality content, and your audience will stick with you through this because they need you and they’ll need you afterward because of the new lessons there will be to learn. Everybody is going to need to learn from each other during the “new normal.”

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

John Cimba: My number one job; my number one goal going through this, I don’t want to lose one person through this. So, doing whatever we can do as a company for our clients and at the same time keeping every single person we have engaged, in the best place they can be, and I know it’s hard for some, and most importantly not losing any employees. That’s the biggest thing for me.

Joe Stella: The economy keeps me up at night. We need to bring buyers and sellers together again and when I look at the outlook on travel and large group gatherings and the fact that Chicago isn’t going to open its conventions until there’s a vaccine, which will have a huge impact on the city, it’s tough. You realize how much impact all of that has and how it reverberates through this area’s economy to the people who need it the most, those essential workers and the folks who run the restaurants, the drivers who are getting us to and from places.

That worries me and the faster we can get back to that normal, where everyone feels comfortable, the better. We need to really focus on getting back to normal. We need the meetings to start up again. We need these buyers and sellers to come together again.

Shannon Cummins: I like both John and Joe’s answers, they were both good ones. GLC has an amazing group of people that we’re lucky to work with. John and Ed’s commitment to making sure everyone stays employed and has a job is a testament. I’m lucky in that my children are grown and so many of the people that I work with who are taking care of our clients are at home managing, being now teachers and parents and working at the same time. And I know that has been a struggle for them, but they don’t bring that to the table every day. They’re doing such great and amazing work and I’m so appreciative of that.

Personally, what keeps me up at night is my family and them remaining safe with elderly parents and my 26-year-old son who is an EMT transporting COVID patients every weekend, so I don’t get to see him in person. And that’s hard. The issue around education, what’s happening with schools and the plan for schools going forward, my sister is a principal and my other sister is an education consultant, and figuring how that moves forward. In the same way that the economy is impacting so many people, education is as well.

From a work perspective, I feel very lucky to be part of this organization and the work that we’re doing and the people who we get to work with.

Samir Husni: Thank you all.

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Entertainment Weekly’s Editor In Chief, JD Heyman, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Wonderful Thing About Moments Of Crises Is That It Brings Out The Best In Most People.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 13, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (32)

“The biggest challenge is the economic challenge that we’re all in as a country, as a world. But the content challenge has not been that difficult for us at all. There are plenty of stories to tell. What we discovered very early in the pandemic, really by late February, early March, was that we were going to need to address how to cater to people who were going to be spending a lot more time at home.” … JD Heyman

 “The words matter; the design matters. If you look at our May issue—we just closed our June issue, and I think we’re one of the few brands in today’s economy that broke new business in June from an advertising perspective, because we really believe in collaborating on the advertising side—but we really believe in giving readers a high-touched, deluxe experience in print as well as serving them digital news.” … JD Heyman

In June 2019, JD Heyman was named Editor in Chief of Entertainment Weekly, the world’s leading media brand covering entertainment and the business of popular culture. As EIC, he has repositioned EW as the voice of the new golden age of show business across all platforms, with a deluxe monthly magazine, a news driven website and growing extensions in social media, audio, television and events. But as we all know, the world has changed inexplicably with the onset and  continuation of the pandemic.

I spoke with JD recently and we talked about how EW has been operating during this pandemic and how a magazine that relies on up close and personal interviews and photographs of celebrities and others who entertain and inform us is handling the situation. JD was upbeat and optimistic about the present and the future, while remaining realistic when it came to how that future may look beyond the pandemic.

As he said, “The words matter; the design matters.” And he believes that tripling-down on the quality and relevance of the product they offer readers is vital. And with EW, quality is a given.

And now the 32nd Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with JD Heyman, editor in chief, Entertainment Weekly.

But first the sound-bites:

On how Entertainment Weekly is operating during the pandemic: It has actually been an amazing experience as a magazine-maker, as an editor, as a journalist, a marketer and as a business-development person. It has been a challenging, but really exciting time. There were a lot of things that we were already in the process of really thinking deeply about and reinventing at Entertainment Weekly when this all happened.

On how he sees the magazine moving forward beyond the pandemic: That’s an interesting question and I think I have to use my very narrow experience of history as a guide. Earlier in my career, I went through the 2008 recession. And what we learned out of that experience as editors was that consumer habits do change and there are some permanent changes that happen in a big adjustment such as this.

On any challenges he has faced during the pandemic that he’s still dealing with: Oh sure, there were things that we really had to rethink, such as photography. A lot of what we do is experiential. In addition to doing our magazine, EW is really good at leading panels and talks, creating experiences at film festivals and television festivals where we go and interview celebrities and engage with fans. We have a big thing every year at  Comic-Con in San Diego, obviously that’s not happening, so we have to come up with alternatives for people. Looking at the medium-term, we have to create a robust array of experiences for people that replaces going out to be part of a conversation.

On anything he’d like to add: The main job of an editor anywhere, but certainly at EW, is to create great storytelling. Magazines are an interesting array of ideas, packaged in a dynamic and exciting way for an audience. And that idea is as relevant and as exciting as it ever was.

On what keeps him up at night: My son is deciding where he’s going to college, so that keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night? Everything. No, I think as a culture and as a world we are in a very fragmented state. And sometimes our media increases that sense of fragmentation —actually quite often. And what keeps me up at night is whether the next several generations will rediscover shared experience. The best part of our media is in its opportunity to bring people together.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with JD Heyman, editor in chief, Entertainment Weekly.

Samir Husni: You’re now based in L.A., the magazine moved several years ago, then the pandemic happened. How are you operating during this pandemic since you have a publication that depends a lot on photography, celebrities and entertainment?

JD Heyman: It has actually been an amazing experience as a magazine-maker, as an editor, as a journalist, a marketer and as a business-development person. It has been a challenging, but really exciting time. There were a lot of things that we were already in the process of really thinking deeply about and reinventing at Entertainment Weekly when this all happened. I’ve been at EW for seven months and before the pandemic I was at PEOPLE running the entertainment coverage there before that, so I’ve been a long-time fan and collaborator with EW, because we’re sister brands.

The biggest challenge is the economic challenge that we’re all in as a country, as a world. But the content challenge has not been that difficult for us at all. There are plenty of stories to tell. What we discovered very early in the pandemic, really by late February, early March, was that we were going to need to address how to cater to people who were going to be spending a lot more time at home.

In the first week or so of March, we came up with something called “Quaranstream,” which was our content recommendations for people who were sheltering-in-place. We started that very early and then by March 15, we decided that it would be better for us to work from home, so just right before there was mandated sheltering-in-place in California and New York. Our systems were in place, in terms of production and communication; none of that was difficult to adopt. We were very quick to move into a work-from-home environment.

As far as the entertainment community and Hollywood are concerned, the wonderful thing about moments of crises is that it brings out the best in most people. And certainly in the world of entertainment, not to be totally glib, because there are very important things going on in the world and people doing the real work of making this situation better, but entertainers have a role to play. I was sitting at home working, watching a lot of old screwball comedies of the 1930s, and I asked myself what was it about these old movies that so appeals to me? Why do I like comedies from that period?

If you know pop culture at all, you realize very quickly those films were made during very dark times in world history. There was a Great Depression; there was a fascist empire on the rise; there was genocide, and yet, you would never know that from most of the popular culture of the time. And that’s true in the late 1960s, and it’s true during other tumultuous times in our culture. People turned to entertainment as a kind of balm. I call it the healing balm of fun. That’s what we’re here to provide for our audience. We decided very quickly that we’re going to reorient a lot of our content toward that proposition, bringing Hollywood home with humor and with heart. That’s what we believe.

All of our writers and reporters, and actually all of the entertainers that we deal with, were very excited to do that. We have sort of a dual mission at Entertainment Weekly; we reach a broad audience of more than 24 million people. We also reach a lot of people who work in entertainment, who are influencers within the industry. We thought it was important to both support the industry and to give people distraction.

And the results have been huge. We’ve had a significant increase in our digital traffic, more than 20 percent, and our May issue was our bestselling monthly issue ever. So, that goes to show you that there’s some truth in this idea of being the place where people go to be lifted up, enlightened, entertained; putting on a show for people in times of trial is extremely important. The craft of magazine-making is something that I believe to be as contemporary as ever, and I think when we look at the products that we make in any platform, we have to really create a quality experience for the audience, a deeper quality experience than perhaps we have in the recent past.

The words matter; the design matters. If you look at our May issue—we just closed our June issue, and I think we’re one of the few brands in today’s economy that broke new business in June from an advertising perspective, because we really believe in collaborating on the advertising side—but we really believe in giving readers a high-touched, deluxe experience in print as well as serving them digital news. If you look at our May issue, we have a high degree of humor; we have a high degree of content that promotes engagement, interactive puzzles and games, recommendations, a whole feature full of recommended content for them; a lot of comedy and deep dives into stuff people love.

So, I wouldn’t say we’re the place to come if you’re looking for hard news about a vaccine, that’s not our job. Our place is to create some lightness, some counterprogramming for people who are in their homes and really kind of desperate for recommendations about how to make the load a little lighter, from board games to trivia to great look-backs at Hollywood moments to really fun interviews and access.

As far as your question about access goes, it’s challenging and different, but we had an unprecedented number of celebrity contributors in the last two issues. And we’ve also figured out how we may photograph people. In our June issue, we had something which was very rare for us, an illustrated cover because we thought it was important to support artists at this time. So, sort of our own WPA kind of effect. But I believe we’ll be photographing people sooner rather than later. We were also lucky in that we had shot a lot of stuff for our magazine previously. It hasn’t thus far been a problem.

Samir Husni: How do you see the direction of the magazine moving forward beyond the pandemic? Do you think it will be a new day or life will go back to the way it was for EW?

JD Heyman: That’s an interesting question and I think I have to use my very narrow experience of history as a guide. Earlier in my career, I went through the 2008 recession. And what we learned out of that experience as editors was that consumer habits do change and there are some permanent changes that happen in a big adjustment such as this.

The big lesson for us from 2008 was that you have to be as close to the audience as possible. You have to listen to them and be engaged in a dialogue with them, because their habits do shift. They shift because they have less disposable income or they get their information in different ways, so what that taught me was that while the experience of a magazine is as relevant as ever the quality of that experience has to go ever-deeper. Our job is to build an affinity with our audience in every way we can —constantly. Our job is to be really as close to them as possible. When I took over this job, I’ve been in constant conversation with readers about what they like and don’t like and I have tried to be responsive to that.

On the other hand, the lesson is not to be led by larger trends. If you’re using your brain correctly in this business, you take the data, the information you have, and you lead. You create a place that feels distinctive. I believe that in our business it’s not a search for every single eyeball, but the right eyeballs for your brand. And to build that as a distinctive and unique home forpeople. The best magazines in history are the ones that feel like a trusted friend with a particular point of view and are in dialogue with their audience.

I kind of boil it down to making unique, memorable, shareable content. Is what I’m telling you something you’ll share? Does it feel like value added to your life? If I’m asking you to buy something that costs money to make, is it a good value proposition for you? Looking at this particular crisis I would say our job is to triple-down on making a quality product that feels enhancing to the lives of its audience; to do that in print, which is a vivid, beautiful medium and really a billboard in every town in America for what you do; to do that digitally in terms of having a sense of relevance and urgency in storytelling, and to do that in new platforms as they evolve.

I think of this content as a cloud that I take and seed different plots of earth with. I rarely think about the platform first —except for what best serves that technology. A magazine after all is just a form of technology. And it should be delightful and a deluxe experience. And for the people who get it, it should feel like a magazine for a special club. Anyone who reads EW should feel part of a club. We share a certain language; we have certain things we like; we enjoy reading and culture and art and we’re funny. The EW reader has a wiseacre kind of view, a sort of wry view of life. And while they are diverse, they share a sensibility. My old publisher used to say they are a psychographic not a demographic. They’re the cool kids in the cafeteria who always know what’s going on. We want to deepen that culture for them.

Samir Husni: Have you faced any challenges during this pandemic that you failed to overcome or are still dealing with?

JD Heyman: Oh sure, there were things that we really had to rethink, such as photography. A lot of what we do is experiential. In addition to doing our magazine, EW is really good at leading panels and talks, creating experiences at film festivals and television festivals where we go and interview celebrities and engage with fans. We have a big thing every year at  Comic-Con in San Diego, obviously that’s not happening, so we have to come up with alternatives for people. Looking at the medium-term, we have to create a robust array of experiences for people that replaces going out to be part of a conversation.

If you would have asked me a year ago where I believed a lot of growth in our industry would be, it would be in these experiences of bringing people together. Obviously, I still believe that, but the ways that we bring people together will naturally have to change. And we’re in dynamic conversation with  people all the time about how to do that.

The good thing is that the best metric of all is conversational. If you’re having a good conversation with someone, as I am with you, then that is interesting to other people. And conversation, if you look at the growth of podcasting and everything that you see in today’s culture, it’s really less about here’s a big movie star, we have five minutes of her time, we’ll do a great piece on her and spend a lot of money on photography. The audience is far more sophisticated now. They know what TV writers do; they want to know how to make movies. They know far more about the process than the public of a generation ago.

They’re much more interested in how everything works. And in feeling like they’re peers and equals in that conversation rather than the magazine editor coming up with an idea and dispensing that idea to the public. That’s an old idea of doing things.

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

JD Heyman: The main job of an editor anywhere, but certainly at EW, is to create great storytelling. Magazines are an interesting array of ideas, packaged in a dynamic and exciting way for an audience. And that idea is as relevant and as exciting as it ever was. I never think on any day that I go to work, whether it’s in my house or at my office, that I don’t have an incredibly interesting, creative job, but it really does start from the audience. All innovation really comes from the audience. And the best magazine-makers get as close to that audience as possible.

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

JD Heyman: My son is deciding where he’s going to college, so that keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night? Everything. No, I think as a culture and as a world we are in a very fragmented state. And sometimes our media increases that sense of fragmentation —actually quite often. And what keeps me up at night is whether the next several generations will rediscover shared experience. The best part of our media is in its opportunity to bring people together. To inform, engage and enlighten people, not just to agitate and alienate people. There should be another kind of algorithm in our media that isn’t based on outrage.

What I hope for is that people who are in the media business, and the consumers who buy their products, are engaged in this higher conversation—beyond what we’re able to monetize. I think we should always remember that this is an extremely important role and we should all be thinking about how to bring community together, particularly as the world comes out of this crisis. I worry a lot about what community will look like. People being together is important. All media has a role to play in that.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Bernie Mann, Publisher, Our State Magazine, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “People Want To Get Some News That They Know Every Month Is Going To Come In Their Mailboxes, Good News, Happy News, Pleasant News…” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (31)

“For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit.” Bernie Mann

“You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.” Bernie Mann

Our State magazine celebrates North Carolina. By far, it is one of the most successful state and regional magazines published. For over two decades, owner and publisher Bernie Mann has been doing just that, celebrating the state he loves, and publishing the magazine “the Mann way.”  Today the company is an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership) as he sold it to his employees.  So how is publishing a magazine “the Mann way” is going in the midst of a pandemic. The latter something he never imagined, much less considered living through.

I spoke with Bernie recently and we talked about running a magazine publishing company during these uncertain times and all of the things many of us will never get to do again, like sit in an office together and work. It may sound unreal, but as Bernie said we just do not know what the future holds. In the magazine, he chooses not to mention or report on COVID-19, as he stated everyone else is handling that repeatedly. Instead, he brings the magazine alive with beauty and optimism, everything North Carolina means to him and his audience.

Bernie assured me that Our State is maintaining and putting out magazines. And right now that’s a good thing. With working from home and technology’s assistance, the beautiful magazine that focuses on optimism, nature’s beauty and North Carolina’s culture is still going strong. And Mr. Magazine™ thinks that’s a very good thing.

And now the 31st Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Bernie Mann, publisher, Our State magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he has been operating during the pandemic: For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit. We talk about the history, the foods and the beauty, and that’s what people expect from us.

On how his work environment has changed with the pandemic and it has effected he and his team: We have had what I enjoy and what we have enjoyed having as a collaborative group of people who love being together and sharing ideas, and we still answer the phone. The door is locked, we’re not having visitors, but the phone is answered by a human from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I think that’s terribly important.

On spending almost half a million dollars recently on advertising for the magazine: We started our campaign in September and continued it through the end of April, very early May. It felt like the right thing to do to promote our magazine. When you ask people to advertise because you tell them it will help their business, if it’s so good, then why don’t you advertise? I think it’s good and advertising is important. It’s terribly important to have the right message in the right place.

On his different approach to the business model: You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.

On whether the pandemic has affected his publishing or advertising schedule: It’s been very painful. We’ve had so many of our clients who have had to close. It’s hard for them to advertise if the store is closed. It’s hard for them to advertise if you can’t go into the restaurant or the hotel or go visit their attraction. So yes, from an advertising standpoint, this has been very painful. But we’ve had gigantic numbers of people who have bought subscriptions. Not enough to make up for the print.

On whether he had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if he thinks someone could prepare for something like it: Never could have imagined this. In fact, now we’re an ESOP, I sold the company to the employees. We have a board of directors and there’s a woman on the board, she and her husband own hotels and restaurants, and she said you know what might happen, we might have to close both the restaurants and the hotels. I asked her how in the world she could even conceive of such a thing. And three weeks later that’s what happened. So, this is a very difficult time for everybody. Who could have conceived this ever?

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest concern I have is number one, that everybody in my company stays healthy, that’s the biggest concern I have. The second is tell me when it’s over. When it’s over, we can plan for what’s going to happen. It won’t be a light switch; it won’t happen all at once. Will my employees ever be back together in the same room for Monday morning meetings at 8:30? I don’t know if that will happen again.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bernie Mann, publisher, Our State magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re operating Our State magazine during this pandemic?

Bernie Mann: For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit. We talk about the history, the foods and the beauty, and that’s what people expect from us.

The number of people sending us checks for circulation has never been greater. It’s just been amazing. But people want to get some news that they know every month is going to come in their mailboxes, good news, happy news, pleasant news, stuff that they can enjoy and quite frankly, they can get in their car and go to and see. The issue we had about waterfalls, as soon as the restriction is lifted, you can go there in two hours from almost any place in North Carolina and see these magnificent waterfalls. And in June our issue is going to be about the Coast. On the cover is a long pier that is just beautiful and people will see it and look forward to going and walking on that pier.

Our take on the Coronavirus is that it exists; we don’t discuss it; we don’t deal with it. Our editor, Elizabeth Hudson, she writes a column each month and it’s not like any column because it is strictly her own feelings and impressions, things that have happened in her life. And when she sat down to write the column this month, she said that she wasn’t going to write about what was happening to people, she said I’m going to write about how much I enjoy the feeling of the sand between my toes when I go to the beach.  And that was her column about the things that she remembered when going to the beach.

Samir Husni: How has your work environment changed with the pandemic and how has it impacted you and your team?

Bernie Mann: We have had what I enjoy and what we have enjoyed having as a collaborative group of people who love being together and sharing ideas, and we still answer the phone. The door is locked, we’re not having visitors, but the phone is answered by a human from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I think that’s terribly important. I’m in the service business and if the first impression you get is from a machine, then that doesn’t say very much about the service I’m providing. So, I provide a human who actually talks to you.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you have spent almost half a million dollars in advertising; why are you spending money now for the magazine?

Bernie Mann: We started our campaign in September and continued it through the end of April, very early May. It felt like the right thing to do to promote our magazine. When you ask people to advertise because you tell them it will help their business, if it’s so good, then why don’t you advertise? I think it’s good and advertising is important. It’s terribly important to have the right message in the right place. When you advertise a magazine like ours, it’s not easy to just say: let’s buy some radio or billboards or some television advertising. We have been very specific in what we have done. And very narrow-focused.

And then we do it with a lot of repetition. We always tell people you need repetition in your advertising. Okay, if we think it’s so smart, then we should do it too. It’s just using basic techniques. We’re not that smart. They used to say about Vince Lombardi, people should play a Vince Lombardi football team, everybody knew exactly what he was going to do, he just implemented it with consistency. And that’s what we do. We’re very consistent; we’ve set up some guidelines for what is important to us and it seems to be important to our readers. And it is constantly promoting North Carolina. We say it in our name: Our State Celebrating North Carolina. We celebrate. And our TV commercials celebrate the beauty of where we live.

Samir Husni: Tell me about your different approach to the business model. I know you don’t use ad agencies, your team calls on advertisers. Tell me how this works.

Bernie Mann: When I look around me in the industry and I see such wonderful magazines, and they keep getting thinner and thinner. And then good magazines like Esquire are six timers per year. And so many of the others have either dropped out or gone smaller. And I know it’s not because there isn’t enough content, there’s plenty of content. Why are they getting smaller? Because they don’t have the advertising. Why don’t they have the advertising? Because for years and years there has been a plan, you go to ad agencies and pick up your ads.

Now the ad agencies, God love them, are in business to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that. And they’ve found that they can make money by doing other things than print advertising. So, my girlfriend is no longer my girlfriend. What do I do next?

They don’t do anything next. And the ads get smaller and smaller because the ads have gone away. If you rely on the ad agency as your girlfriend. And I don’t fault the agencies because there’s nothing better than digital for the ad agencies. I always think of it as the Three C’s: costly, digital is costly, digital is cool, and digital is confusing. It’s the best thing that ever happened to an ad agency. (Laughs)

My girlfriend has gone away. So what do I do?  I find another girlfriend. And who is my best girlfriend? It’s the client, because the client still loves print. The client loves seeing their ads in beautiful color, on wonderful paper, and they know that’s how you build brand. You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.

But I don’t think too many of the salespeople for the magazine industry have done that. And they’ve relied on going to the same places on the same streets. They go to pick up their ads and they tell them we have no ads for you. And then they go back and are told the ad business is terrible. No, no, the ad business isn’t terrible, it’s the people who used to spend money with you who aren’t anymore. So, you find someone else.

Samir Husni: Has your publishing or advertising schedule been affected by the pandemic:

Bernie Mann: It’s been very painful. We’ve had so many of our clients who have had to close. It’s hard for them to advertise if the store is closed. It’s hard for them to advertise if you can’t go into the restaurant or the hotel or go visit their attraction. So yes, from an advertising standpoint, this has been very painful. But we’ve had gigantic numbers of people who have bought subscriptions. Not enough to make up for the print. We make most of our money from print, but it’s nice to know that at least there’s a secondary source.

This is very funny; we have a little store, has about 750 sku’s and one of the items that we sell in our store is a jigsaw puzzle. Normally, we sell about 40 or 50 of them a month and they’re puzzles depicting North Carolina. Last month, in April, we sold 1,200 puzzles. If you go on Amazon right now, you can’t even buy them, they’re sold out because people need something to do just sitting at home. And they enjoy doing puzzles. But it’s just funny that there are certain things that sell. There’s always someone who is going to make money during a difficult time.

We’re not making money during this time and it’s painful, but at least we’re not out of business like some people I know.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and can you prepare for something like that?

Bernie Mann: Never could have imagined this. In fact, now we’re an ESOP, I sold the company to the employees. We have a board of directors and there’s a woman on the board, she and her husband own hotels and restaurants, and she said you know what might happen, we might have to close both the restaurants and the hotels. I asked her how in the world she could even conceive of such a thing. And three weeks later that’s what happened. So, this is a very difficult time for everybody. Who could have conceived this ever?

But everyone we have who can work from home is working from home. We’ve set up computers and thank God for Zoom. So we have conferences all the time. And we’re putting out magazines.

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

Bernie Mann: The biggest concern I have is number one, that everybody in my company stays healthy, that’s the biggest concern I have. The second is tell me when it’s over. When it’s over, we can plan for what’s going to happen. It won’t be a light switch; it won’t happen all at once. Will my employees ever be back together in the same room for Monday morning meetings at 8:30? I don’t know if that will happen again. We always enjoyed that; we enjoyed the camaraderie of being together. I don’t know if that will happen.
I don’t know if we’ll be able to sit in an office with people near each other. I don’t know if I can take my clients to lunch with a mask on. What do I do, lift the mask and put the spoon in? I don’t how that’s going to work. But maybe I’ll learn. We’re in difficult times. I don’t think many people have ever even imagined.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Sherin Pierce, Publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Almanac Deals With The Essentials Of Everyday Life, Whether There’s A Pandemic Or Not… And That Provides Comfort And Security. ” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 8, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (30)

“And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.” … Sherin Pierce

“You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.” … Sherin Pierce

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has seen more crises in its 228 years than many of us have even thought of. Yet, it has survived and not only that, but thrived over the years. Sherin Pierce is the publisher and has held that position for over 25 years. And over the years, The Almanac has not remained stagnant, it has expanded to include The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, The Garden Guide, and a series of cookbooks with themes that resonate with Almanac readers, such as Comfort Food, Everyday Baking, and Cooking Fresh. The magazine knows how to survive and realizes we are all in this together, for sure.

I spoke with Sherin recently and we talked about the deep trust The Almanac’s audience has for its content and how even a pandemic can’t break that confidence or take away the safe place many people feel about the publication. Because it’s a given, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a special publication and one that has proven itself over the years, even during life changing events such as this pandemic we’re all experiencing. Just know The Almanac is with us through it all.

And now the 30th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

But first the sound-bites:

On the amount of crises The Old Farmer’s Almanac has already seen: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

On how the publication is operating during this pandemic: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time.

On how The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, is as relevant or even more relevant than ever before: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of, provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

On how their work environment has changed with the pandemic: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work.

On whether she thinks things will go back to the way they were once the pandemic is behind us: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

On whether she had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if she thinks someone could prepare for something like it: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

On what keeps her up at night: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Samir Husni: You’re the publisher of the oldest continually published publication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is almost 228-years-old. So, this title has seen its fair share of crises, correct?

Sherin Pierce: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re operating during this pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time. What we do is be on a daily basis and daily contact, 24/7, with our readers. We have our online, almanac.com; we have our social media, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest; we have our newsletters, which have gone up from 339,000 to 550,000 subscribers, so with all these daily points of contact, we’re able to continue publishing on a daily basis to stay in touch with our customers until the next print event comes up on September 1, 2020.

However, even though one would think after January, once a year changes, people would lose interest, but because of the gardening information and the weather information, you see another resurgence of sales as people are planning their planting and want to do their research on frosts and things like that.  This year, because people are home, there’s such an extraordinary interest in gardening, and the sales of The Almanac, both online and the print version, most importantly the print version, have just continued going.

When I say the print version, because we’re in places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace and True Value, that are essential businesses and still open and keep the product until the next issue comes out, that’s where we’re seeing all the sales. For us, it’s always a balancing act, we want to make sure that we’re providing online information, but we drive people to buy the print edition as well. And that’s really important for us.

Samir Husni: How is The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, as relevant or even more relevant than ever before?

Sherin Pierce: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of,  provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

Also, with the areas of interest with The Almanac, like astronomy, of course gardening, food, the weather, and now with Kids, we’re providing that comfort and credibility. What The Almanac has is incredible trust from our readers and that is something that we have earned. You can’t buy that. You have to earn it day-by-day, year-by-year; you have to earn that trust. And in times when there are a lot of insecurities and stress, people want to come back to something that provides them that comfort and gives them information to help them through these periods.

For instance, in terms of food, we’ve gone back and curated recipes with fewer ingredients. Not recipes that require tons of esoteric ingredients, more like things that you have in your pantry, the basics. This is the reality; here are some of the recipes: five ingredients, eight ingredients, things you already have in your kitchen.  Even give people a list of substitutions or a list of what they should have in their pantries during this time. This is some of the levels of information and advice that we offer our readers.

In gardening, I think the main thing people are interested in is vegetable gardening, but maybe they don’t know how to do it. So taking them A through Z, whether it’s a small space, container gardening, because a lot of people live in apartments, they don’t have a lot of space to garden, so we’ve taken that back to wherever you live, here is a way you can grow something of your own. People want that self-reliance and sustainability.

We’ve started a gardening webinar and it’s on Hydroponics, how to grow indoors with lights and everything. We’re hoping people will enjoy attending it.

Samir Husni: How has your work environment changed with the pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work. And they’ve been very innovative, the editors, because sometimes moving large files are difficult and they have evolved a way of fact-checking and passing things around electronically. And also using Dropbox more than depending on servers. Our OFA digital editor has worked remotely from both the U.K. and now Indiana for the past seven years as has the assistant digital editor who works remotely from  Boston.

Add to that our almanac.com programmer who has worked remotely for 24 years and our PR folks on Bainbridge Island Wash. who have worked with us since 1993. We have made these relationships work and now we are all doing it.

We have a lot of Zoom meetings as well. We have our editorial meeting, but we’ve also used Zoom and Teams to connect with one another. So, creatively, how we’ve responded besides just the mechanics of creating and moving files around and doing the work that needs to be done, we’ve also used that as a way to brainstorm about new products, about how we should update things online to reflect what’s happening. You have to evaluate what’s happening in the moment and speak to that right away. And we can do that every day with our online presence, so we’re not stuck in this old publishing model. Through social media and online we can talk to people each and every day.

And for people who want to buy our products, we’re able to sell to them through our ecommerce operation, especially the print product. You can buy all of our stuff online, digital and print versions. I think that ecommerce component has been really important for us.

Samir Husni; Do you think that once this pandemic is behind us, you’ll go back to the way you conducted business before? Or do you envision remote working replacing the office?

Sherin Pierce: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and can you prepare for something like that?

Sherin Pierce: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

The advertising actually comes from online now, we do far better than. But again it’s not a reliance on one single thing. You have to minimize your risk, that’s one thing we’ve learned. You can’t depend on newsstand or bookstore sales or your online, you have to develop a lot of different things and sometimes it’s hard to do that.

The Almanac for Kids, for instance, we had a lot of pushback about it and now here we are, 16 years later, and we’ve built a nice little publishing program. We print about 225,000 of those every two years and for a book that’s a pretty sizeable print order.

Things are not always going to go up, up, up. You’re going to have challenges and pushbacks. After 228 years, one thing you can be sure if is you’re going to have pushbacks. (Laughs) And maybe that’s just the cautiousness in me, I try to anticipate what will happen, but no way did I imagine a pandemic. But we always try to do what our founder told us in the first edition: We strive to always be useful with a pleasant degree of humor.

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

Sherin Pierce: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this. Our staff is so flexible and so innovative. For instance, with our newsletter we started a Sunday edition recently to calm things down. Instead of during the week, when it’s a certain format, a boom-boom-boom. But on Sunday, you can sit with your cup of coffee and read it. We don’t mention Coronavirus or anything. If you looked at The Almanac from 1860-1865, you wouldn’t have known there was a Civil War going on.

You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.

Samir Husni: Thank you, and now for a little extra from the folks at The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

FROM THE MR. MAGAZINE™ VAULT

 

Thanks to Sherin Pierce for sending me replicas of the 1820 and 1920 editions of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.  What you will find below is the letter from the editor from 1920 and the two May sections from The Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar. Talk about timely yet timeless content.  Enjoy.

The Old Farmer’s Alamac 1920 Letter From The Editor

TO PATRONS AND CORRESPONDENTS.

We submit to you this our 128th successive annual number.

Since we last went to press the Armistice has been signed, the problems of war have passed and those of peace succeed. During the year business on the whole has been good, and the crops as well; but there is one crop that has been springing up amongst us in increasing volume of late, which can afford us but little good. It is that crop of work-shirkers and trouble-makers whose principal business seems to be the minding of other people’s business; who seek to stir up discontent, and who preach the strange doctrine that the road to prosperity lies in less work and less production. Yet we are firm in the belief that such teachings will not long prevail against our native common sense; — for still there stands an ancient law laid down for mankind that cannot be repealed by visionary legislators, nor nullified by radical agitators, one of the oldest laws in the Scriptures, — “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” So once again we say, “It is by our works and not by our words we would be judged: these we hope will sustain us in the humble though proud station we have so long held. . . .

The Old Farmer’s Almanac May section intro 1920

Farmer’s Calendar

Now this month your garden will be planted, or all laid out for planting, and when you come to that, try to leave a little for the women-folks. Some of them will say that they have enough housework to do without pottering around a garden, and so they have, but a little outdoor work will help them to do the indoor work all the better. The improvement in the health and strength of women resulting from outdoor work during the war has gained wide recognition. A good way to keep us their interest in such work, now that the war is over, is to give them full charge of some particular portion of the garden, however small.

We have observed that some of the early vegetables, like lettuce and radishes, seem to thrive under a woman’s care and tomatoes as well.

It may be that some few of the so called “farmerettes” were more picturesque than useful, but on the whole, the women achieved results which surprised themselves as well as the men.

While you are about it, leave the women-folks a place along the edge of one or two sides of the garden for flowers, such as Dalhias, Cosmos and the like. These, in addition to being a pleasure in themselves, will help to dress up your garden along towards the end of the season when the rest of it begins to look a little seedy.

 

The Old ‘Farmer’s Almanac May Section Intro 1820

FARMER’S CALENDAR

Let no one neglect his garden. “For gardening is the most productive and advantageous mode of occupying the soil. Gardens also employ the greatest number of laborers, and furnish the greatest quantity of useful produce from the smallest space of ground. The greater the extent of land therefore, thus cultivated, the more beneficial to community.” You may think that a garden is of little consequence to you, as your father before you never paid much attention to one. But, my friend, I tell you for a truth, that a good garden, well managed, is as valuable as a beef and pork barrel well filled. By making use of the product of your garden, less bread and animal food is rendered necessary; “and if taken in sufficient quantities,” says a well-experienced writer on agriculture, “the human frame can be supported by them alone, more especially in youth, or when severe labor is avoided.” You may say that you can live on meat alone, because you care nothing about sauce. But the fact is, that you would eat of the oyster were it not for the trouble of breaking the shell.

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SimpleCirc’s Managing Director Dave Jones To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “People Just Have To Stay The Course.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 7, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (29)

“People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.” … Dave Jones

SimpleCirc subscription software is designed to help publishers manage their circulation and increase subscriber retention while saving them time and money. Dave Jones is the managing director of the company and one of its founders. Being in the small publishing business themselves, Dave and SimpleCirc know all about what it takes to move forward in small or large publishing, but what about during a pandemic?

I spoke with Dave recently and we talked about that. About how staying the course is really the only thing you can do and maybe pausing in an attempt to weather the crisis and move through it and come out on the other side as strong as possible. Dave said that keeping in close contact with your customers and reminding them that you’re there for them is an important part of staying that course.

Indeed. We all need to know we’re in this together.

And now the 29th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Dave Jones, managing director, SimpleCirc.

But first the sound-bites:

On how SimpleCirc is operating during the pandemic: What we did is reach out to all of our publishers, of course, to let them know different ways that they can take advantage of this opportunity, because as a small publisher myself, we do eight small publications for the National Football League; we have found that people seem to be reading more and they’re more engaged because they’re home.

On the genesis of SimpleCirc: We own a publishing company, as I mentioned. We’re small publishers and we’ve had it for a long time, it covers the National Football League. I went through a whole bunch of different software, installed software that would crash on the server; we tried software that was too advanced and had too many things on it that we wouldn’t use, all these different features. So, we created SimpleCirc for us to use in our publications only. And then other publishers and associations that we belonged to started asking us about it, so we gave it to them. Then we added more features, but we kept everything that small publishers need.

On SimpleCirc publishing sports magazines and how they are adjusting to the ever-changing sports landscape during the pandemic: That’s a good question, because we’re football publications. I’ll just give you a quick example, we had to do a draft guide, the NFL Draft is at the end of April, so we had to have it all ready to go and printed by February to mail off to everybody. And if you didn’t get it out by then no one would receive it. We’d have to give tens of thousands of dollars in refunds and as a small company we couldn’t do that.

On what advice he gives to small publishers during this pandemic: I talk to them about marketing, because a lot of these small publishers do not know how to market effectively. So, I tell them to utilize their emails, utilize their global mailings; let’s see what your mail house is doing. We put all of those things together and we help them. Also, we make them take advantage of their digital product. That’s an uphill battle, because a lot of publishers don’t use digital products. So, we tell them to offer their customers a digital product; email them out.

On when he and his partners decided to share SimpleCirc with other small publishers: We were at a convention, we have all the publishers meet every year in Las Vegas, and we were telling some of the other publishers about it and they really liked it, so we let them use it. They fell in love with it. And they would pass it on to some other people that weren’t in the sports field who would then try it out. And people really enjoyed it.

On the one, two, three of how SimpleCirc helps publishers: We will import their data, give them a free trial, three months of using SimpleCirc. I would give them a quick presentation, an overview of how it works. There are no instructions with SimpleCirc, none. If you go to our website, it kind of walks you through it. It’ll read: type in your publication and how many issues you do per year. Then type in your price. So, we walk you through it and you can be set up in 20 minutes.

On who owns the data: They own it. We use Amazon servers, so we’re not using servers in the basement. It’s all on Amazon, so obviously they own it. The good thing is they have really easy access to the data. They can download their data 100 times a day if they want to. The easy access was important, because the company we used before this, we had no access to our data. It was like asking permission, like we were beholden to them. So, it was crazy.

On how he feels about the near future: What scares me is the football aspect, whether or not they’re going to play football. But here’s the good thing, we know that football is not going away. As a publisher, I know that. It may get postponed or come on a limited basis. So, that’s good. We won’t have customers saying give us our money back because football is being put out of business. We tell our customers we’re putting everything on pause.

On any additional words of wisdom: People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.

On what keeps him up at night: The big thing is what does the future hold, because everybody knows that what you lose in print, you don’t pick up in digital. The numbers are much smaller. That scares me. I want to be able to get through this and have a kind of plan to move forward. None of us know, however. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we can only guess. And then, I have to get out of the house. (Laughs) I need to get out.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dave Jones, managing director, SimpleCirc.

Samir Husni: How is SimpleCirc operating during this pandemic?

Dave Jones: What we did is reach out to all of our publishers, of course, to let them know different ways that they can take advantage of this opportunity, because as a small publisher myself, we do eight small publications for the National Football League; we have found that people seem to be reading more and they’re more engaged because they’re home.

So, when we sent out our renewal notices, we had a renewal notice that went out early February and we had a very high return, which some of it had to do with the pandemic, but what we did is reach out to our customers to make sure they are keeping in contact their subscribers. We built this link, because a lot of them didn’t do email for some reason, they would just do snail mail and that would take forever, so we built this renewal link where every subscriber that they had would have their own special link and then when they would send it out, the customer would click on it and an order form would already be filled out. All they would have to do is drop in their credit card number. And that seemed to help a lot of different publishers bring in money during this time.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story behind SimpleCirc.

Dave Jones: We own a publishing company, as I mentioned. We’re small publishers and we’ve had it for a long time, it covers the National Football League. I went through a whole bunch of different software, installed software that would crash on the server; we tried software that was too advanced and had too many things on it that we wouldn’t use, all these different features. So, we created SimpleCirc for us to use in our publications only.

And then other publishers and associations that we belonged to started asking us about it, so we gave it to them. Then we added more features, but we kept everything that small publishers need. We had all the sales reports, email… because at the end of the day it’s just a database, that’s all we are, we’re not doing anything special. So, we put everything together and collaborated with small publishers. Then it just took off.

I think people really like it because we’re publishers ourselves, we aren’t tech people, and we built it so publishers could understand. And we’re adding a lot of different features to it. We only sell it bimonthly, and in the 2½ years we’ve been selling it, no one has left us because they think it’s just great for them. And we make it real easy for them as well. That’s one of the things about SimpleCirc.

Samir Husni: It seems this pandemic has hit you with a double whammy, your magazines are all sports-related, National Football League. So, between publishing the magazines and what’s happening in the sports world, how are you adjusting to this ever-changing landscape?

Dave Jones: That’s a good question, because we’re football publications. I’ll just give you a quick example, we had to do a draft guide, the NFL Draft is at the end of April, so we had to have it all ready to go and printed by February to mail off to everybody.

And if you didn’t get it out by then no one would receive it. We’d have to give tens of thousands of dollars in refunds and as a small company we couldn’t do that. So, we got it all ready and then our printer closed down. We had to find a new printer, resize everything, and then we found someone who could do it. Our mail house closed down as well, so we had to find someone to mail it out.

To make a long story short, we got the issue out and I think our subscribers for our team publications that received the Draft Digest knew that we were still publishing and people were calling us and thanking us for publishing it. Now, we’re just waiting for football season. If football season doesn’t start, we’re in big trouble.

A lot of the publishers, they aren’t into sports, but they have the same issue. They’re not selling advertising; subscribers are wondering if they’re going to keep publishing; the printers have closed, so we kind of coached them on switching people to digital, which was really hard to do, because I’m sure you know, when people like print they like print. Most of the print people are older clientele, so you’re right, we got hit both ways. Our publishers haven’t seen any effects yet, but that’s coming down the road, I think, within the next two months.

Samir Husni: When you reach out to those small publishers, what advice are you giving them?

Dave Jones: I talk to them about marketing, because a lot of these small publishers do not know how to market effectively. So, I tell them to utilize their emails, utilize their global mailings; let’s see what your mail house is doing. We put all of those things together and we help them. Also, we make them take advantage of their digital product. That’s an uphill battle, because a lot of publishers don’t use digital products. So, we tell them to offer their customers a digital product; email them out.

I saw you did an interview with the guys from The Week. I get that publication. They did a letter for a couple of issues, right on the front, that said here’s what’s going to happen. They’ve done that and I think the publishers have seen pretty good results from that.

Another problem that we’re coming across is snail mail is going so slow with the post office. It took some people 30 days to receive our Draft Digest in the mail. That was in New York City and New Jersey. And we mail from Buffalo, N.Y. We had people in Arizona receiving it before people in New York, because delivery was so messed up due to the virus.

Samir Husni: When you and your partners came up with the idea for SimpleCirc, it was mainly to serve yourselves; when was that “light bulb” moment that you said, we’ve done something good, we should share it?

Dave Jones: We were at a convention, we have all the publishers meet every year in Las Vegas, and we were telling some of the other publishers about it and they really liked it, so we let them use it. They fell in love with it. And they would pass it on to some other people that weren’t in the sports field who would then try it out. And people really enjoyed it. We started out with small publishers, but now we actually have large publishers too. We have some publishers who have under 1,000 and now we have some that have 300,000. So, it has really grown quite a bit. We keep adding it and growing it as we go.

Once we knew our customers liked it, we knew we really had something here. It’s really the service that they like the most, I think. We have really good service and understand their business.

Samir Husni: If a publisher calls you and says, Dave, I have a magazine with 10,000 subscribers, what can you do for me? Tell me the one, two, three of how you would help them.

Dave Jones: We will import their data, give them a free trial, three months of using SimpleCirc. I would give them a quick presentation, an overview of how it works. There are no instructions with SimpleCirc, none. If you go to our website, it kind of walks you through it. It’ll read: type in your publication and how many issues you do per year. Then type in your price. So, we walk you through it and you can be set up in 20 minutes.

I tell people let’s get them set up so they can play around with it. Test it out, do some real orders. You can do everything real on it, take real orders on it. That gives them a feel and they can take ownership of it. We have 150 publishers and they can talk to anyone they want.

Samir Husni: Who owns the data? Who owns the names on the circulation lists?

Dave Jones: They own it. We use Amazon servers, so we’re not using servers in the basement. It’s all on Amazon, so obviously they own it. The good thing is they have really easy access to the data. They can download their data 100 times a day if they want to. The easy access was important, because the company we used before this, we had no access to our data. It was like asking permission, like we were beholden to them. So, it was crazy.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and how do you feel about the near future?

Dave Jones: What scares me is the football aspect, whether or not they’re going to play football. But here’s the good thing, we know that football is not going away. As a publisher, I know that. It may get postponed or come on a limited basis. So, that’s good. We won’t have customers saying give us our money back because football is being put out of business. We tell our customers we’re putting everything on pause.

The other part is you don’t want your writers getting sick, you want to keep paying them, which we are because they’re working. We have them in every city. The big thing is I want people to get their product through the mail. I don’t think it’s going away, but mail is under attack, and we have to make sure they can still deliver our product. So, there are always outside factors that have nothing to do with us.

You want the teams to do well. If most of them stink in the NFL we cover, that can hurt you. Then the pandemic hurts you, so it’s a bit strange how we have to do everything. But I know magazines aren’t going away right now. With SimpleCirc, we just have to put things on pause and give customers a break and help them out if they have issues. We’re very proactive in that.

Samir Husni: Any additional words of wisdom?

Dave Jones: People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.

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

Dave Jones: The big thing is what does the future hold, because everybody knows that what you lose in print, you don’t pick up in digital. The numbers are much smaller. That scares me. I want to be able to get through this and have a kind of plan to move forward. None of us know, however. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we can only guess. And then, I have to get out of the house. (Laughs) I need to get out.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Executive Media Global’s Publisher & Editor In Chief, Gemma Peckham, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™ Husni: “All We Can Do In A Situation Like This Is Stay The Course, That’s Important.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 6, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (28)

“I’m always trying to think of new magazine ideas. We’re trying to build Executive Media Global to a point where we have a number of publications that work for us. I always think of things that appeal to me, obviously, because the more interested I am the more likely it is that it will be successful because you need to have that passion for something.” … Gemma Peckham

“All we can do in a situation like this is stay the course, that’s important. I’ve been doing a bit of research about crises in the past, things like the recessions and the Depression, and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing and in moving forward, knowing that this will end at some point, and making sure that you still have something that you’re focused on. You can’t prepare, I don’t believe, but you need to stay true to the ethos of the publication. We’re making alterations, but we can still keep true to the core of what it is we’re trying to do.” … Gemma Peckham

Stay the course. During a pandemic, that is very sound advice, indeed. And Gemma Peckham, publisher and editor in chief at Executive Media Global, is planning on taking it and holding steady and strong. From Rova magazine, a travel title for the perpetual RV person, to a brand new launch getting ready to hit the market called Oh Reader, for reading enthusiasts everywhere, she and her Australian-based company, Executive Media Global, are determined to not only hold strong, but build up their portfolio of titles as they move forward.

I spoke with Gemma recently and we talked about the launch of the new “Oh Reader” and how “Rova” was rolling along during these uncertain times. While she was of course realistic, she was also hopeful about the future of magazines and magazine publishing.

And now the 28th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Gemma Peckham, Executive Media Global’s Publisher & Editor In Chief.

But first the sound-bites:

On how she is managing a travel magazine, Rova, and launching a new title, Oh Reader, during a pandemic: The last few weeks in particular have been – it’s a matter of making decisions about what’s going to work best for the business. So, it’s been tough trying to figure out the best way. And because the two magazines are at such different stages, we have to give them considerations from different points of view.

On how easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home: We actually have an office in Manhattan, where myself, an editorial assistant, and our sales staff work together. So, as soon as all of this stuff happened, I instructed everybody to work from home. It’s changed in terms of our physical location, but it’s lucky that we can do most of what we do from any location that has Internet. I’m very used to collaborating with people who aren’t necessarily in front of me, so it’s been an easier transition for me, I suppose, than maybe for other publishers.

On whether she thinks the RV travel magazine, Rova, is more relevant today than ever before because of this pandemic or there will be a better time for it after this is over: I think after is what we’re looking at because initially I thought it would be great for people who are out on the road, not great, but they’re in a situation where they can move their vehicle somewhere and stay there to ride out the pandemic. But a lot of state parks and RV parks are closing down, so they’re actually saying the opposite, now they’re scrambling to find somewhere to stay, all these full-time RVers, because they don’t have a permanent place of residence.

On the new magazine Oh Reader: I would say that it’s a magazine for people who like to read. The tagline is “For The Love of Reading.” And it’s about the way that people interact with books and literature. Rather than having book reviews and interviews and things like that, we have stories about how a particular book has shaped somebody’s life or how reading has helped someone come through a difficult situation.

On why she thinks the magazine as a platform is still relevant today: That’s a really good question. For Oh Reader, it’s really based on my own experience with reading. Obviously, I’m coming from a unique standpoint in that I am a magazine publisher and I love to read books, so I automatically put those things together. But I think when you listen to readers talking, part of what they say they love about reading is holding the book and turning the pages. Many are reluctant to start reading with technology because they just love that experience with the paper.

On whether she had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if she thinks someone could prepare for something like it: No, you can’t prepare for it. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that this would be the situation that we’re in. The news is changing every day, they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They’re realizing things about yesterday that are not correct.

On what keeps her up at night: That’s a pretty loaded question at the moment. (Laughs) There’s a lot actually, from a personal perspective. I’m thinking about my family back in Australia and when I can see them again. Just when things might get back to a point where we can see our loved ones and give them a hug.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Gemma Peckham, Publisher & Editor In Chief at Executive Media Global.

Samir Husni: You have a bimonthly travel magazine called Rova and you’re getting ready to launch a new magazine, Oh Reader. How are you functioning as a magazine editor/publisher in the midst of this pandemic?

Gemma Peckham: The last few weeks in particular have been – it’s a matter of making decisions about what’s going to work best for the business. So, it’s been tough trying to figure out the best way. And because the two magazines are at such different stages, we have to give them considerations from different points of view. With Rova, for example, we did discuss skipping an edition; we talked about combining an edition so that we would have a double edition later on down the track. But after conversations that I’ve had with professionals in the industry, for our subscribers of Rova, our loyal readers, I didn’t want them to have to wait for the next edition. I didn’t want to disrupt the continuity we have going with it.

Obviously, print bills and other things are an issue because of lower advertising, just people not spending, they’re not actually paying their bills at the moment because they’re saying that they don’t have the money.

But we’re continuing with whatever newsstand circulation we can get, which is a lot lower than it was before because of, obviously, Barnes & Noble and the other bookstore closures. That has significantly reduced the newsstand circulation. We are going to be selling preorder copies online, which we haven’t really done before. We’ll ask people to purchase them ahead of time, so that we can factor that into the print order and we can get them straight out from the printer. And we’re actually reducing the page extent from 96 to 80 as well.

All of those decisions were made between myself and the president of the company, who’s in Australia. It’s hard because we don’t know what we’re going to be able to sell, in terms of preorders; we don’t know how many people will be actually going to stores to pick up magazines and that’s really affected our advertising sales as well, because a lot of our advertisers are concerned that their ads won’t be reaching anywhere near as many people as they were before. So, that has really been a struggle.

Having said that, we’ve actually had a few inquiries from advertisers recently about getting into the June edition for summer. It’s difficult, because the news is showing people that the country is going to be open again in a month or so, which I don’t necessarily believe is the case, particularly being here in New York. It doesn’t feel like a possibility for us, at least. But I do think there are people who are planning still for editions down the road, maybe summer, into fall.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying it’s a difficult time and it’s a time where you have to make decisions without really knowing what the outcome of those are going to be, because it’s such an unprecedented circumstance.

And with Oh Reader, it’s a magazine we were set to launch in June. We were going to do a launch party in New York City, invite all of these bloggers over, obviously we can’t do that now. And also just launching into our whole marketing strategy, which was to go into bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, because it’s a magazine about reading. Without any of those stores currently accepting magazines, we didn’t think it was the right time to do that.

So, we’re still going to proceed with our June launch; we’ll do a digital edition and a print-on-demand run for anyone who has preordered it, anyone who has already subscribed and then we’ll actually do a harder launch for the September edition. Hopefully.

I had already gathered all the content for Oh Reader, and it’s all such great content that I don’t want to do a disservice to the authors by only publishing online. I also don’t want to put off the publication date, because we’ve had all these plans in place. And I think some good could come out of keeping the launch in June. If we make it available online, hopefully it will generate some interest through the online channels and social media. We will print as many copies as we need to and we’ll print promotional copies as well to send out to advertisers.

There could be some good to come out this, for sure. And we’re just excited to get it launched as well, because it’s a fun magazine.

Samir Husni: How easy, hard, or disruptive was the move to working from home?

Gemma Peckham: We actually have an office in Manhattan, where myself, an editorial assistant, and our sales staff work together. So, as soon as all of this stuff happened, I instructed everybody to work from home. It’s changed in terms of our physical location, but it’s lucky that we can do most of what we do from any location that has Internet. I’m very used to collaborating with people who aren’t necessarily in front of me, so it’s been an easier transition for me, I suppose, than maybe for other publishers. And also, larger publishers, because we’re so small we can kind of mover around and it’s not too difficult for us.

The location has changed, but I’m still able to do everything I was doing before and sales is a fun-based job so I can keep making those calls.

Samir Husni: Do you think Rova is more relevant today than ever before because of this pandemic or will it be better after?

Gemma Peckham: I think after is what we’re looking at because initially I thought it would be great for people who are out on the road, not great, but they’re in a situation where they can move their vehicle somewhere and stay there to ride out the pandemic. But a lot of state parks and RV parks are closing down, so they’re actually saying the opposite, now they’re scrambling to find somewhere to stay, all these full-time RVers, because they don’t have a permanent place of residence.

So, I think in terms of those readers they’re a little bit displaced at the moment, they’re not necessarily planning more travel, they’re planning to stay still. But on the other side of that, and this is something we’ve seen previously, once all of the restrictions lift, I think people will be much more likely to be traveling domestically than internationally. Road trips as opposed to air travel will become a lot more popular.

We have a magazine in Australia that’s similar called “Caravanning Australia” and directly after 9/11 the popularity and the sales of that magazine just shot up. It was a really big time for us at that publication. And part of its success was that road trips and travel became more prominent and the way people preferred to travel because of the fear around air travel.

So, we’re hoping that out of this will come a bit of a surge in domestic travel, and more interest in what we do.

Samir Husni: Tell me briefly about the new magazine, Oh Reader.

Gemma Peckham: I’m always trying to think of new magazine ideas. We’re trying to build Executive Media Global to a point where we have a number of publications that work for us. I always think of things that appeal to me, obviously, because the more interested I am the more likely it is that it will be successful because you need to have that passion for something.

I was looking around and reading a lot of books, looking for magazines that were related to the book industry, reading as a lifestyle. Most of the magazines that I could find, things like Bookforum and a bunch of other publications that were… I mean, they’re great for what they are, but they’re book reviews, author interviews, and all of that is fantastic, but there was nothing that spoke to me as a reader, with the kinds of things I like to do and think about when it comes to reading.

I would say that it’s a magazine for people who like to read. The tagline is “For The Love of Reading.” And it’s about the way that people interact with books and literature. Rather than having book reviews and interviews and things like that, we have stories about how a particular book has shaped somebody’s life or how reading has helped someone come through a difficult situation.

We have some humorous pieces as well. There’s a mother who’s writing an article about the five stages of grief, when she realizes her child doesn’t like Harry Potter. It’s just the way people interact with books and are inspired by literature.

There are so many people who love to read; if you get on Instagram, Books Hashtag Instagram has 30 or 40 million hashtags and they’re people who love to show off their bookshelves and what they’re reading, they love to discuss what they’re reading and there wasn’t a magazine that really catered to those people. So, we wanted to fill that gap, keep people inspired and connect them as well, because it’s such a huge community of readers. I think that we can tell them each other’s stories to keep them connected and interested.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the magazine as a platform is still relevant today?

Gemma Peckham: That’s a really good question. For Oh Reader, it’s really based on my own experience with reading. Obviously, I’m coming from a unique standpoint in that I am a magazine publisher and I love to read books, so I automatically put those things together. But I think when you listen to readers talking, part of what they say they love about reading is holding the book and turning the pages. Many are reluctant to start reading with technology because they just love that experience with the paper.

This magazine will only work in a printed format because that’s what this particular passionate segment of the market is into, that’s what they’re going to want to read. We’ll obviously have a digital edition as well, but I think the printed product is, for this particular audience, unique. It’s one of the only sectors where you can say people will definitely want to read this on paper as opposed to digitally.

More broadly, obviously there has been a lot of talk about the death of the magazine and the death of print publishing. I can see the point a lot of people are trying to make with that, but I also see that people are reverting to authenticity and they’re going back to more analog methods of interacting, such as magazines, just because we have screen fatigue. I have three screens in front of me right now and I can’t wait to get away from them to read my books. The information overload that we have, because of all of these screens coming at us is really causing people to want to detach from that a little bit.

And I think that’s helping, particularly niche publications, where people are escaping to something that they love, a hobby or pastime, and they can get away from all these screens and they can relax.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and do you think anyone could ever prepare for something like this?

Gemma Peckham: No, you can’t prepare for it. Who would have thought a couple of months ago that this would be the situation that we’re in. The news is changing every day, they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They’re realizing things about yesterday that are not correct.

All we can do in a situation like this is stay the course, that’s important. I’ve been doing a bit of research about crises in the past, things like the recessions and the Depression, and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing and in moving forward, knowing that this will end at some point, and making sure that you still have something that you’re focused on. You can’t prepare, I don’t believe, but you need to stay true to the ethos of the publication. We’re making alterations, but we can still keep true to the core of what it is we’re trying to do.

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

Gemma Peckham: That’s a pretty loaded question at the moment. (Laughs) There’s a lot actually, from a personal perspective. I’m thinking about my family back in Australia and when I can see them again. Just when things might get back to a point where we can see our loved ones and give them a hug.

Professionally, I’m thinking a lot about just the future of all of these publications we’re doing. Also, the new endeavor that we’ve taken on, which is Mag Box, a box of five magazines that includes other Indie publishers who have collaborated with us, we’re just trying to get that moving. You get online, buy the bundle and it’s delivered to your house. It’s very early, we only launched it last week. We’re excited about it.

But honestly, I have had quite a few nights recently where I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow and how will I take the next steps forward.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Blaise Zerega, Managing Editor, Alta Magazine To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We’re Leaning Into And Embracing What That Idea Of Adding Value To The Content Means.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 4, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (27)

“The great thing about magazines is it’s a collaborative effort. It’s a team effort. You get an exchange of ideas; you pound a table; you raise your voice; the best stories get into the lineup; the best layout, that kind of stuff, in a very collegial way though. My advice or instinct is you have to find a way to replicate that and Zoom is one way, just whatever you have to do. That’s what sets magazines apart. Teamwork makes the dream work. (Laughs) There’s no “I” in team. And I believe that. That comes from taking care of your team too. Making sure people aren’t nervous and to help them bring out their best, you have to make sure they’re safe and healthy.” … Blaise Zerega

“From a business perspective, all of our revenue is really about subscriptions. So, that has been strong and growing. We actually just raised our prices at the first of the year, so that feels like we’re in a good place financially. We’ve added some things to the mix like other publishing enterprises where we’re doing virtual events. We just had one recently with Susan Straight; it’s called “Alta Asks Live.” We did another on true crime. And that’s been a lot of fun. And I think that’s going to be a real evolutionary cycle of change for publishers, doing more virtual events. The question is, is it a short-term change or is it here to stay? I think it’s going to be here to stay.” … Blaise Zerega

Alta magazine is a quarterly journal dedicated to California and to celebrating California’s culture, issues and all-important history. Unfortunately, like everyone else in our country and most of the world, the Alta team has been dealing with and operating around COVID-19. William R. Hearst III is the founder and publisher of the magazine and certainly knows his way around the world of print, but when facing a pandemic, many things had to change and we all had to learn to adapt.

Blaise Zerega is managing editor of Alta and isn’t a stranger to magazines either, having helped lead such titles as Wired, Conde Nast Portfolio, and Forbes. I spoke with Blaise recently and we talked about how things were being handled during this life-altering pandemic. The things that have remained the same for the Alta team, such as working remotely, and the things that have changed, the closures of bookstores and newsstands.

Blaise is into the smart, timely essays that Alta does so well, both in print and online. He said enabling his readers to think more broadly about a topic is definitely a goal. And with the Alta content, that would seem to be no problem. The brand is timely and most certainly innovative, as he explains that the magazine is coming out with a science fiction cover package, which gives an opportunity to bring in new fiction from some really great writers.

And right now the truth seems stranger than most science fiction, so good storytelling is a definite escape we all need.

And now the 27th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Blaise Zerega, managing editor, Alta magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he has been operating during the pandemic: In some ways, as a quarterly, we have a different experience than a weekly or a monthly, but in many ways it’s the same. When the pandemic hit and shelter-in-place was announced, we were embarking on the production of our summer issue. We quickly had to put on hold any story that required onsite reporting, travel, photography, which of course, are all the tools of magazine-making.

On being a remote staff anyway, but handling other issues during the pandemic: Some of the other issues we’re dealing with are, even though we’re a remote staff, we do depend on getting together quite often to meet face-to-face. We were already on Slack and we’ve now added Zoom to the mix. But the copy editors, they want the paper still and so we’re trying to figure out how we get printouts for proofreading. You can proofread on a screen, but at the end of the day, it’s a paper product that we’re producing, so we want to see that paper to proofread.

On whether he had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if he thinks someone could prepare for something like it: No, I did not prepare for a pandemic. I had no idea it was coming. When 9/11 happened, I was in San Francisco at Red Herring, and then when I went to Portfolio, a lot of people from The Wall Street Journal were there. And they had continued to put out issues during 9/11. So, I heard their stories and how they did it.

On why it is important to continue to have the ink on paper product in the hands of readers during these uncertain times: One of the things that we went through as we put together the lineup, we went through various versions of what we were going to be putting out in July, and it forced us to answer those questions: what is the value that we’re giving our readers, our members? What’s the experience that we’re going to provide them.

On any challenges he hasn’t been able to easily overcome during the pandemic: The biggest things aren’t on the editorial and the production side of things. Yes, our printer announced bankruptcy, but that’s not going to change anything because of Chapter 11 and so on. The biggest challenge is the newsstand and the bookstores.

On any additional words of wisdom: The great thing about magazines is it’s a collaborative effort. It’s a team effort. You get an exchange of ideas; you pound a table; you raise your voice; the best stories get into the lineup; the best layout, that kind of stuff, in a very collegial way though. My advice or instinct is you have to find a way to replicate that and Zoom is one way, just whatever you have to do. That’s what sets magazines apart.

On what keeps him up at night: As someone who has been in the industry for a long time, with magazines you buy paper, you add a value to the paper and you resell the paper. And that value is the stories, that’s the magic. So, what does that look like coming out of the pandemic? Do we need to change? What are people going to want? And I believe, this is heresy to say it to you even, but I’m wondering if the monthly magazine is now really imperiled.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Blaise Zerega, managing editor, Alta magazine.

Samir Husni: How have you been operating a quarterly print magazine during this pandemic?

Blaise Zerega: In some ways, as a quarterly, we have a different experience than a weekly or a monthly, but in many ways it’s the same. When the pandemic hit and shelter-in-place was announced, we were embarking on the production of our summer issue. We quickly had to put on hold any story that required onsite reporting, travel, photography, which of course, are all the tools of magazine-making. We basically sat back and asked, “What are we going to do? What is our issue going to look like? What can we put out that is in keeping with our focus on the big pictures?” Sometimes my boss, Will Hearst, jokes that we cover the past and the future, but not the present, (Laughs) but we do strive to be timely and relevant.

What we ended up doing was basically tearing up our issue and produce a summer reading issue. Initially we thought it would be a departure, sort of a one-off, but now as we’re producing it, we’re thinking that this might be where Alta should have been all along, which is a journal of Alta, California, our magazine’s title.

As an example, we’re scrapping the sections, the typical magazine sections. Instead, we’re going to be more of a journal, so it will be a great read from beginning to end. We’re going to do more poetry and I’ll tip my hand here, we’re coming out with science fiction as a cover package, which gives us an opportunity to bring in new fiction from some really great writers, as well as the classics and some really smart essays on the genre, how it’s sort of a first draft history of science fiction in many ways.

It seems on one hand, because we’d been thinking about doing science fiction for a while, suddenly it seems smart and relevant. Lawrence Wright, when he sat down to write his book that’s out now about a virus and a pandemic, that was like two years ago, who would have thought? And now his book is well-timed. I think that we’re experiencing a little bit of that same coincidence or serendipity.

But like any other publication, our chief concern is the safety and health of our team and our audience. So that has driven a lot of our schedules in how we’re producing the magazine. We are a remote staff already, so that wasn’t terribly new. Except that we do get together frequently with our boss, Will Hearst, to put the covers out on the conference room table and I definitely miss that. So, that has been a big change, and not just the physical touching of paper, but of being in the room, there’s only so much you can do with Zoom holding stuff up.

Samir Husni: Since your publication works remotely anyway, has it been fairly seamless to continue working from home even though many things have changed, such as traveling and photography? How have you been handling those other issues?

Blaise Zerega: Some of the other issues we’re dealing with are, even though we’re a remote staff, we do depend on getting together quite often to meet face-to-face. We were already on Slack and we’ve now added Zoom to the mix. But the copy editors, they want the paper still and so we’re trying to figure out how we get printouts for proofreading. You can proofread on a screen, but at the end of the day, it’s a paper product that we’re producing, so we want to see that paper to proofread. So, we’re basically working with drops, someone drops it off at someone’s house. We just coordinate runs that way.

From a business perspective, all of our revenue is really about subscriptions. So, that has been strong and growing. We actually just raised our prices at the first of the year, so that feels like we’re in a good place financially. We’ve added some things to the mix like other publishing enterprises where we’re doing virtual events. We just had one recently with Susan Straight; it’s called “Alta Asks Live.” We did another on true crime. And that’s been a lot of fun. And I think that’s going to be a real evolutionary cycle of change for publishers, doing more virtual events. The question is, is it a short-term change or is it here to stay? I think it’s going to be here to stay.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and do you think anyone could ever prepare for something like this?

Blaise Zerega: No, I did not prepare for a pandemic. I had no idea it was coming. When 9/11 happened, I was in San Francisco at Red Herring, and then when I went to Portfolio, a lot of people from The Wall Street Journal were there. And they had continued to put out issues during 9/11. So, I heard their stories and how they did it. In San Francisco, we’ve had earthquakes and people have put magazines out running power cords through ceiling, things like that. So, you have to react, but at the end of the day, a lot of editors have learned to have a book excerpt in your back pocket and some spare stories.

But with this, we really had to scramble and make lemonade. And definitely for a quarterly, we’re on a different frequency and different deadlines than a daily or a weekly, so I don’t pretend that it’s the same. But there are a lot of similarities there.

Samir Husni: Why is it important to continue to have the ink on paper product in the hands of your readers during these uncertain times?

Blaise Zerega: One of the things that we went through as we put together the lineup, we went through various versions of what we were going to be putting out in July, and it forced us to answer those questions: what is the value that we’re giving our readers, our members? What’s the experience that we’re going to provide them.

And more than ever, we realized that we want to weigh in on this in a smart way, in a very evergreen way, but not with endless shelf life, and smart analysis of the people’s issues and ideas of California and the West. And the pandemic is one of those factors, no doubt. But we’re not going to be able to cover the Coronavirus news cycle as a quarterly, but it will inform our coverage.

What it has done is we are publishing more online, more original content, and so we’ve done essays. We have a great essay by Dean Kuipers, who wrote The Deer Camp memoir. It turns out he and his wife own a farm in Los Angeles, yes there’s a farm in Los Angeles (Laughs) digging in the dirt, getting your hands in there, and growing your own food kind of farm. And that is an essay that’s just perfect for the time we’re living in now.

And it enables our readers to think more broadly, such as hey, it’s hard for me to plant those tomato seeds on the windowsill, or Historian Bill Deverell from USC, who wrote a really smart essay about how in California we have a cycle of racism and violence every time there’s a disease outbreak. There’s always scapegoating and so on and we need to break that cycle. Something that people are keenly aware of, but now have an opportunity to do so.

So, we’re doing it in a way that’s not breaking news, to be clear, but exposing these ideas and new ways of thinking around the virus and what comes next, in the magazine, I think the science fiction is a good bridge for that.

Samir Husni: Have you had any challenges that you haven’t been able to easily overcome during this pandemic?

Blaise Zerega: The biggest things aren’t on the editorial and the production side of things. Yes, our printer announced bankruptcy, but that’s not going to change anything because of Chapter 11 and so on. The biggest challenge is the newsstand and the bookstores. And again, Will Hearst gets a lot of credit for this, when Alta was starting he recognized that bookstores would be a great place, a great vehicle, to sell the magazine. It’s a really smart, literary/culture magazine, so let’s roll it out to the bookstores.

We all know that the newsstands have shut down and the bookstores have shut down too, Barnes & Noble has shut down. So, that’s the challenge for us. And that’s going to change. So, one of the things that we’ve done in a quick way is put up a store on our site and we’re selling single-issue copies. Something we would have never predicted we’d be doing. We’re selling them at the newsstand price, which is $10. To subscribe to the magazine it’s $24. So, it’s a good subscription tool.

Samir Husni: Any additional words of wisdom?

Blaise Zerega: The great thing about magazines is it’s a collaborative effort. It’s a team effort. You get an exchange of ideas; you pound a table; you raise your voice; the best stories get into the lineup; the best layout, that kind of stuff, in a very collegial way though. My advice or instinct is you have to find a way to replicate that and Zoom is one way, just whatever you have to do. That’s what sets magazines apart. Teamwork makes the dream work. (Laughs) There’s no “I” in team. And I believe that. That comes from taking care of your team too. Making sure people aren’t nervous and to help them bring out their best, you have to make sure they’re safe and healthy.

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

Blaise Zerega: As someone who has been in the industry for a long time, with magazines you buy paper, you add a value to the paper and you resell the paper. And that value is the stories, that’s the magic. So, what does that look like coming out of the pandemic? Do we need to change? What are people going to want? And I believe, this is heresy to say it to you even, but I’m wondering if the monthly magazine is now really imperiled. Is it going to survive in its current form? Vogue is a bellwether, it’s doing a combined issue for the first time. The newsstand is in trouble, advertising is not coming back. So, where does paper go?

I believe strongly that at Alta we’re at a pretty interesting place. We’re the Journal of Alta California; we’re quarterly. And I think that our frequency suits us well. It suits the time well; what we’re trying to do. We’re going to make our next issue perfect bound as well. Have cover stock and more art. We’re leaning into and embracing what that idea of adding value to the content means. Let’s make it really worth the paper it’s printed on so people want it on their bookcase.

And this is only our 12th issue, if we were a monthly, we’d be one-year-old. And we’re all having fun. There are these moments of joy and creativity that are unparalleled.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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