Archive for the ‘Inside the Great Minds of Magazine Makers’ Category

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Troy Young, President, Hearst Magazines, On Creating Content With Purpose And Making Life Better For Customers. An Exclusive In-Depth Interview with Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni.

November 18, 2018

Troy Young On The Role Of Print In A Digital Age; The Role Of Digital In Today’s Magazine Media; Legacy Brands and Digital; Hearst Global; Data & Research; Magazine Launches & Closures; And On Troy Young Himself. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

“I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better. Print is heavily edited and curated and it’s like a celebration or an event that happens once a month. And there’s something really wonderful about that. And it’s a lean-back experience that I think gives a consumer a break from the intensity of the digital world. And I think increasingly that people are going to look for that. So, print plays a really important role in saying this is important and this has a place in culture, and take a moment to think and read about this and consume it. And I think our magazines are going to play an important role in how we do that for a long, long time.” (On the role of print today) Troy Young…

“I think digital performs a different role in that it’s about being relevant in the moment and responding to the news cycle, as well as reinforcing a very clear point of view that the brand has. There is a very complementary role that they play to each other. And I would actually add that video is largely an entertainment medium. Obviously, also useful or valuable as a service delivery mechanism, helping people do things.” (On the role of digital) Troy Young…

Troy Young was president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media since 2013 and this past summer was named president of Hearst Magazines, succeeding David Carey, who stepped down as president and is now chairman of the division. In his new role, Troy will oversee Hearst Magazines’ global business, encompassing more than 300 print editions and 240 digital brands. In the U.S., Hearst publishes 25 magazine brands in print and 6 additional digital-led brands, and of course in January, the company also acquired Rodale, the health and wellness publisher, with brands including Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Runner’s World.

It’s certainly a diverse and wide array of both print and digital brands that might be a daunting task for just anyone to oversee, but not for Troy, who is a man that knows what’s important in today’s magazine media world: research, data, and an all-encompassing conjoining of print + digital across all platforms. There is nothing more important, in Troy’s opinion, than having the data needed to serve the reader and deliver content with purpose and excellence in the ways in which the audience wants to consume that content.

I spoke with Troy recently and we talked about his new role at Hearst magazines and the concept of content with purpose. And how an even more prominent print + digital role can complement an already solid foundation of success, such as Hearst has. It was an informative and most pleasant conversation with a man who says he is not defined by digital, even though he has spent a portion of his career studying the ins and outs of it, but instead, he’s a lover of all media. And one who realizes that a successful magazine media company in the 21st century must have a vastness of both. And now the Mr. magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president at Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On some of the pleasant moments he’s had so far since becoming president of Hearst magazines: It’s a great privilege to have this job and it’s a great privilege to follow David Carey, who did so much for Hearst and built such a solid foundation for me to build on. I love the job because there are so many amazing people here and I think when you go to work every day, a big part of it is laughing and enjoying your time with smart people. So, that part of it is incredibly rewarding.

On what have been some of the challenges or stumbling blocks that he’s had to deal with: To be quite honest, it’s a really complicated time. It’s a very complicated business because we operate in many markets around the world, because we have in general businesses like CDS. and it’s complex simply because we produce basically every media type for multiple distribution endpoints. And that means you have to be an incredibly agile, nimble company.

On whether it’s easier or harder for a legacy brand to move into digital: I think it’s an advantage. You know, creating a new brand has its advantages, but the great advantage of a legacy brand is the trust that it has with the consumer. I think that you can evolve your voice and point of view while still being true to what made the brand great. Media trust matters and that trust is built over a long period of creative time, so having a 100-year-old brand as a starting point is a really good opportunity.

On how he would define the role of print in this digital age: I would certainly be broad in answering that question and I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better.

On his reaction to naysayers who say or think that because decisions were made to, for example, close Redbook or change Seventeen, the entire industry is going to hell in a handbasket: Well, it’s definitely not going to hell. Seventeen will continue being published, but we will always evolve as a company. And we’ll always evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our brands across channels and figure out what the best mechanism is to deliver that brand and that content to the target market. We’ll invent new products and we’ll look at how to best deliver existing brands.

On the new research team of 12 and which area of the business this team will focus on: I won’t comment on the specific numbers, but I think that our ability to turn data into insight and to augment that with research is incredibly important across all aspects of the business, not the least of which is our editorial team. As I described a minute ago, this notion of content with purpose is supported by the idea of pulling a lot of the insight and knowledge out of our readers. I think that for a long time there has been the research practice in magazines that really involved face-to-face dialogue with readers, now we have so much data because we’re connected with consumers every day that we need a group that can help take that information and make it really actionable by editors.

On any new magazines or products that are up and coming that he can talk about: Nothing that I can really talk about. I think we have deep, deep expertise in how to create an incredible print product and get that out to people. And so to the extent that that’s relevant to building a new brand in partnership with someone else, we’ll look at that. I think in all cases now we want it to have some kind of digital companion and really understand how digital and print will work together in a really complementary way. But absolutely, new products are really important. And our work on Pioneer Woman and Airbnb are the two most recent indications that we’re really open to partnering and creating new print products.

On whether Hearst Global in the magazine media world is going to be reflective of all of the changes that are taking place at Hearst Tower: I think that the mechanics of the business in every market are very similar. The timing of what’s important or urgent in any of those markets is a bit different. The big difference between where we are today and where we were when we started those companies is that there’s no difference really in the relevancy and importance of these brands or types of content in those markets, but increasingly media is becoming a platform-driven business and there’s a lot of complexity on the tech and data side that is harder for smaller markets to master. And I would say that if you were to do it all again, you would roll out your international markets, it would be no less important, but you would do it on the back of a single, global platform.

On what he thinks is the biggest misconception that people have about him: You’d have to ask them that, but I’d say that maybe I’m cast narrowly as a digital guy, and I think of myself as a media executive, so I’m not defined by digital. I have spent a lot of my career thinking about how the pieces fit together in the digital world, but I’m more of a media person and a media lover and someone who really appreciates media brands and how they meet consumer’s needs.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Let me answer this in a different way; I did tattoo something on my body and it wasn’t a message to other people, it was a message to me. It was a sticky note on my body. And it says that faith is greater than fear. And I think that fear often gets the best of us and I think having faith in ourselves, that we can solve complex problems, that we can do things that we might not imagine. Having faith in other people, that they can do things that are remarkable. And having faith that people are fundamentally good was something that I wanted to remind myself of every day, because again, when people start from a place of fear it’s never good.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: That’s a good question. I would say I’m a voracious media consumer so you’d likely find me, if I wasn’t having dinner with my family, you’d likely find me – I have a room that has incredible stereo equipment and vinyl records and I would probably be sitting down there reading my iPad or a magazine and I might have a Scotch.

On what keeps him up at night: I would go back to how I answered one of the previous questions. What keeps me up at night is how do I make Hearst Magazine media a better culture for creators, and everybody who supports the process of creating media? So, how do I create a culture of excellence is something that I think about a lot because it’s a big company. And how do I get to a new time of stability in this category of media? What’s it really going to take to find that stability? And I think closely related to that is what can we do to simplify the business and empower all of the people who work here to make better decisions to grow our business?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Troy Young, president, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: Congratulations are in order, I haven’t had a chance to congratulate you since you became president of Hearst Magazines. You’ve been on the job for a few months now; what have been some of the most pleasant moments where you were extremely glad you took this job, and what have been some moments where you maybe wondered “why” you took this job, if any?

Troy Young: It’s a great privilege to have this job and it’s a great privilege to follow David Carey, who did so much for Hearst and built such a solid foundation for me to build on. I love the job because there are so many amazing people here and I think when you go to work every day, a big part of it is laughing and enjoying your time with smart people. So, that part of it is incredibly rewarding.

Obviously, the brands that we have are incredible, and are foundations on which to build a lasting media company upon and to navigate these channel-ships. And the leadership of the Hearst Corporation is incredible as well, and it’s a company built on evolutions, so all of that makes it an exciting, supportive place to continue to reinvent the magazine business.

Samir Husni: What have been some of the challenges or stumbling blocks that you’ve had to deal with?

Troy Young: To be quite honest, it’s a really complicated time. It’s a very complicated business because we operate in many markets around the world, because we have in general businesses like CDS. and it’s complex simply because we produce basically every media type for multiple distribution endpoints. And that means you have to be an incredibly agile, nimble company.

On the positive side, I have the great privilege of starting to integrate our business more. And what that means to me is, take the great things that existed historically in the print world, that really made our brands so important and famous, and that is the authority of editors and the insight they bring to creating content, and balancing that with what is the virtue of a digital organization, which is, they live in the moment, they’re incredibly nimble; it balances editorial expertise with technical and data expertise. And it’s a highly iterative, more data-led business. So, you bring those two things together and I think you have an incredible competency in which to navigate through the new world of magazine media.

Samir Husni: You’re the president of a company that has at least five titles that are over 100 years old; is it easier or harder for a legacy brand to move into digital?

Troy Young: I think it’s an advantage. You know, creating a new brand has its advantages, but the great advantage of a legacy brand is the trust that it has with the consumer. I think that you can evolve your voice and point of view while still being true to what made the brand great. Media trust matters and that trust is built over a long period of creative time, so having a 100-year-old brand as a starting point is a really good opportunity.

I think that you have to continually make a media brand relevant and make it relevant for the time and for the medium in which people discover and consume it. And there are lots of examples in our world of how we evolved brands that have a legacy, whether that’s Cosmo, which has an incredible legacy, but it evolves all of the time. And clearly environments like Snapchat and Instagram and our dot com has examples of how we stay relevant to a young woman and I think we’ve done that incredibly well.

Cosmo, again, is an example, it has a bigger audience than it ever has. And that audience extends across every digital touchpoint and in print, so I think it was a good starting point. You know, we’ve taken our fashion and luxury brands, like Elle and Bazaar, and made them part of the daily dialogue. And being daily and being in the moment with brands like that changes what you cover; you’re thoughtful about what underpins the brands and how that shapes what you do moment to moment.

I like where we are and I like what positions our brands have. If you look at a brand in a different category like Good Housekeeping, its reputation through the seal as a symbol of trust and the rigor it brings to testing products, is incredibly valuable when consumers are trying to make decisions. And I would say that’s also true for many of our other brands, whether that’s Car and Driver, Road & Track, or Elle Décor.

I think you use your position and you try to invest in how you keep it relevant for a new distribution environment and that’s what we’ve done.

Samir Husni: How do you define the role of print in this digital age? And tell me a little more about that integration; what’s the role of print and what’s the role of digital, especially with your legacy brands as you move forward?

Troy Young: I would certainly be broad in answering that question and I would say that in all mediums we have to serve the customers and understand how we are serving those customers. And I call that content with purpose. And I think we just have to be incredibly mindful, whenever we’re delivering a magazine into someone’s home or we are engaging that consumer on YouTube, why we’re there and how we make someone’s life better.

Print is heavily edited and curated and it’s like a celebration or an event that happens once a month. And there’s something really wonderful about that. And it’s a lean-back experience that I think gives a consumer a break from the intensity of the digital world. And I think increasingly that people are going to look for that. So, print plays a really important role in saying this is important and this has a place in culture, and take a moment to think and read about this and consume it. And I think our magazines are going to play an important role in how we do that for a long, long time.

I think digital performs a different role in that it’s about being relevant in the moment and responding to the news cycle, as well as reinforcing a very clear point of view that the brand has. There is a very complementary role that they play to each other. And I would actually add that video is largely an entertainment medium. Obviously, also useful or valuable as a service delivery mechanism, helping people do things.

But we look at all of those mediums in very different ways. What do those mediums need to do to be purposeful? And underneath that is, how are you establishing whether or not something is doing its job, whether it’s pleasing a consumer, whether it’s bringing delight. And that’s where data insight and research become really important in the modern media world.

And I look at it really simply; there’s a huge amount of media in our world, we are awash in media. We produce literally hundreds and hundreds of pieces of content every day in the Hearst Tower and we distribute those to fifteen different imports, whether that’s in newsstand or Instagram. And so the company that is able to do that in a very nimble way and in a way that is informed by insight from the consumer is going to do really well.

We sit in a different place in the media ecosystem than pure news, so we focus on passions and we focus on point of view and we focus on things that people do in their lives that are not just defined by the news of the day. And I think as such we play a really vital role in the media ecosystem and if we can get the different channels working together in a way that is complementary it’s a powerful mix.

Samir Husni: When you hear people in the media talking or writing about the fact that, for example, Redbook was just killed or Seventeen is changing, what’s your response to people who are very reactionary to one or two decisions that may have had to be made and now the entire industry is going to hell in a handbasket?

Troy Young: Well, it’s definitely not going to hell. Seventeen will continue being published, but we will always evolve as a company. And we’ll always evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our brands across channels and figure out what the best mechanism is to deliver that brand and that content to the target market. We’ll invent new products and we’ll look at how to best deliver existing brands.

That kind of criticism doesn’t really bother me. I think that we are very visible as a media business and people are going to look at us and comment on what we do. I look at it like that’s just going to work, we have to keep inventing. And if I were to summarize what I think is really important to us as a business, in terms of how we operate, is that our goal is to bring a new stability to this type of media, one that existed for many, many years when it was a print-only business. And to continue to create and grow a culture of excellence in the business or in the content that we create. Now we have different tools and we have to look at that differently than we used to.

And I think in all cases what I really try to do is find the fastest way to feedback. To me that means that we live in a world where it’s pretty easy to get data signals back from the market. And so our goal in anything that we create is to ask, how do we get the water flowing? How do we understand that what we’re doing is working quickly? Or if it’s not working we move on.

So, I think that’s the kind of culture we’re trying to create, one that’s rooted in excellence, but one that is good at listening. And we’re highly critical of why we do things. I think that if we can do all of that and we can learn how to work together more closely across the print and digital world, we’ll keep evolving and we’ll have a really healthy business.

Samir Husni: There is talk of this new “team of 12,” a research team. Is this going to be for editorial, for the business side, or for launching new products? Can you expand a little on this research team of 12?

Troy Young: I won’t comment on the specific numbers, but I think that our ability to turn data into insight and to augment that with research is incredibly important across all aspects of the business, not the least of which is our editorial team. As I described a minute ago, this notion of content with purpose is supported by the idea of pulling a lot of the insight and knowledge out of our readers.

I think that for a long time there has been the research practice in magazines that really involved face-to-face dialogue with readers, now we have so much data because we’re connected with consumers every day that we need a group that can help take that information and make it really actionable by editors. I would say that at the same time our advertisers have never been more hungry for data and they’re looking at how we help them understand their audiences better. From cosmetics to luxury fashion, they’re all becoming more CRM-driven. And they want to understand more about their audiences. And our goal is to help them do that. The role of data science and analysts and researchers is just becoming more important in our business and I think that comment was a reflection of that.

Samir Husni: Hearst has gotten us accustomed to seeing one or two new magazines coming out for the last decade or so, is there anything up and coming or on the backburner that you can talk about?

Troy Young: Nothing that I can really talk about. I think we have deep, deep expertise in how to create an incredible print product and get that out to people. And so to the extent that that’s relevant to building a new brand in partnership with someone else, we’ll look at that. I think in all cases now we want it to have some kind of digital companion and really understand how digital and print will work together in a really complementary way. But absolutely, new products are really important. And our work on Pioneer Woman and Airbnb are the two most recent indications that we’re really open to partnering and creating new print products.

Samir Husni: You just came back from Europe, and I heard that the CEO of Hearst Magazines in Spain just resigned or retired. There are so many changes taking place; do you think that Hearst Global in the magazine media world is going to be reflective of all of the changes that are taking place at Hearst Tower?

Troy Young: I think that the mechanics of the business in every market are very similar. The timing of what’s important or urgent in any of those markets is a bit different. The big difference between where we are today and where we were when we started those companies is that there’s no difference really in the relevancy and importance of these brands or types of content in those markets, but increasingly media is becoming a platform-driven business and there’s a lot of complexity on the tech and data side that is harder for smaller markets to master. And I would say that if you were to do it all again, you would roll out your international markets, it would be no less important, but you would do it on the back of a single, global platform.

And that’s really what we’re working on. How do we connect all of these countries so that they can innovate at the same pace as the U.S. market that’s had more investment. If you look at the customer, the advertiser, what you’ll see is – I was just in Milan last week and the luxury advertisers want our help to connect real storytelling and brand-building expertise with performance advertising. And they all appreciate our literacy and data and they want those solutions rendered in multiple markets. And they can come to us through our team in London or our team in Milan and get a single solution from any international market. So, I think to the extent that those clients drive a big part of our business, they’re global and they’re thinking globally and they want global solutions.

Samir Husni: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?

Troy Young: You’d have to ask them that, but I’d say that maybe I’m cast narrowly as a digital guy, and I think of myself as a media executive, so I’m not defined by digital. I have spent a lot of my career thinking about how the pieces fit together in the digital world, but I’m more of a media person and a media lover and someone who really appreciates media brands and how they meet consumer’s needs.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Troy Young: Let me answer this in a different way; I did tattoo something on my body and it wasn’t a message to other people, it was a message to me. It was a sticky note on my body. And it says that faith is greater than fear. And I think that fear often gets the best of us and I think having faith in ourselves, that we can solve complex problems, that we can do things that we might not imagine. Having faith in other people, that they can do things that are remarkable. And having faith that people are fundamentally good was something that I wanted to remind myself of every day, because again, when people start from a place of fear it’s never good.

So, that’s how I remind myself. In terms of what other people might think – I have to tell you the first thing that comes to mind is remember to laugh. That would be it.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Troy Young: That’s a good question. I would say I’m a voracious media consumer so you’d likely find me, if I wasn’t having dinner with my family, you’d likely find me – I have a room that has incredible stereo equipment and vinyl records and I would probably be sitting down there reading my iPad or a magazine and I might have a Scotch.

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

Troy Young: I would go back to how I answered one of the previous questions. What keeps me up at night is how do I make Hearst Magazine media a better culture for creators, and everybody who supports the process of creating media? So, how do I create a culture of excellence is something that I think about a lot because it’s a big company. And how do I get to a new time of stability in this category of media? What’s it really going to take to find that stability? And I think closely related to that is what can we do to simplify the business and empower all of the people who work here to make better decisions to grow our business?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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BizBash’s Founder & CEO David Adler To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Love What We Do As Publishers. I Think It’s The Most Exciting Thing That You Can Do In The World Because You Are The Mayor Of The Niche In A Sense.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

November 4, 2018

David Adler, photo by Rodney-Bailey

“I took the NYU publishing course back in the ‘70s and the first exercise that we did was to ask what is the personality of a particular magazine. Who would that magazine be if it was a person? And I believe that we’ve gotten away from that. And I think that digital is making it harder to do that. So, what a print product does is; when you’re creating a print product, you have to pace it like a human being and it has to be like a human being. It has to have good days and bad days; it has to have good taste and bad taste; you have to take risks. And that’s my advice.” David Adler…

Ideas, inspiration and things that make people do their jobs better. This is how David Adler, founder and CEO of BizBash describes what his company and its annual New York event, held at the Jacob Javits Center, is all about. BizBash covers the event industry completely, from planning, production, new openings, events and trends in marketing, design and style, to food rules planners need to follow for meeting menus. There is no stone left unturned for David and his company when it comes to connecting with people and their products. It’s “contact” not “content” that is king for him and as publisher of the BizBash recently relaunched print magazine, David is “mayor of the niche,” as he thinks all publishers of magazines are.

But he’s not only a publisher but a media entrepreneur as well, one who is always working on collaboration as a tool to change the world. From the Washington Dossier Magazine, which he founded, to working for PriMedia where he was VP of corporate communications, David is a man who has both intriguing ideas and the experience and knowledge to back them up. His belief that augmented reality and the printed page is where the future is headed is hard to argue with when he puts his proof on the table.

I spoke with David recently and we talked about BizBash magazine’s return to print with its debut of augmented reality-enhanced content. The relaunched print and digital magazine brings editorial features and advertising to life through an app-based augmented reality program. And as far as the future of print, David believes this is the new “reality.” Merging the printed page with the digital screen to have true integration is the goal, and bringing the print magazine experience to digital could possibly humanize online so that it doesn’t feel like a reader is freefalling through cyberspace. It’s innovation at its best.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Adler, founder and CEO, BizBash.

But first the sound-bites:

On the successful BizBash event that recently took place: This was our 18th year of doing our BizBash Trade Show. The first year that we did it was 9/11. We had scheduled it for around the end of September, so we had to move it a month and a half because the Jacob Javits Center was being used for the emergency situation there. And even the first one started out really well too, because it became a reunion of the whole industry and it helped to bring the entire industry together. That’s kind of where I learned that leadership is an important aspect of it. The way I think about media is that when you publish a magazine, you’re the mayor of your niche. And that’s like you’re running a political office almost.

On what exactly the event is about: The New York event is held at the Javits Center in one of the big halls. And you walk in and you feel like you’re walking into the brand. It’s packed with ideas and inspiration, things that make people do their job better and love their job. For example, one of our exhibitors was a grandma hugging. Grandmas came and they hugged you as you entered. (Laughs) It was incredible. Every year there are new things that are in the business, such as we had a used meditation van that somebody brought in, because meditation is now part of events. People want not only to get together, they also want to have some private time alone.

On being in the “contact” business not the “content” business: I believe that because content is everywhere, you can find it everywhere, contact is king, not content as much anymore. You have to have good content, but you can get that anywhere, but you can’t get you and me in the same room together, having a conversation that we can build this relationship on that extends online and in all different ways. And so the Holy Grail now is the contact, especially in the B to B world. The contact is the king element. In order to make it contact is king, it also has to be experiential. And experiential is very hard because every time you have an experience once, you have to up it the next time.

On bringing his print product back after stopping it: We did magazines in five or six different markets in New York, L.A., Chicago, Miami, and Toronto for years. Then what happened after the recession is that everybody said that print was dead and all of my brilliant advisors, who were in the investment banking field, said that I wasn’t going to get any valuation if I ever wanted to sell, so I made the decision to kill print while we were still doing good. You know, for a few years you couldn’t just rely on the cash flow from online and events and print became a really important aspect, but we found that out later after we’d killed it. So, we brought it back.

On how even the advertising industry has responded well to it as the current issue is over 200 pages: Oh yes. It’s a big thick issue that we say has that “plop” factor. Over 250 to 300 pages, it has been an incredible success and I was able to pack it with videos of me on the front page, explaining what the hell it was. We had an overlay of every single ad that had all of the details behind the ads, because the key to it is not to go crazy with it, but make it a data-driven thing so someone can sit and look up the page and click on it and make a phone call, to click on it and find the website you’re going to have, and click on it and see other information.

On the launch of a photo essay type segment within the magazine: We’re doing more large photo essays, but we’re combining them – and we’re also using podcasts – I’m doing very multimedia podcasts, photo spread stories and everything so that you can take one piece of content and use it in every possible place. We’re doing it with customers as custom-content as well. I think that the sponsored content is so boring sometimes that you need the editorial voice in the content to make it better. We’re using large photography for that of the people in our industry and we’re kind of doing it in ways that are more provocative as opposed to safe.

On now that he has brought the printed product back if he thinks the future will be an easy path: It’s not that I’m bringing print back, what I’m doing is turning the printed page into digital. And that answers the question that all of these brilliant investment bankers have of how do you create a digital product out of a print product? And I think that’s going to solve the investment issue, because the print product becomes a screen on top of the printed page.

On some of the challenges facing the B to B community: That’s easy. They’re not taking risks. They’re so busy being me too and follow the leader. The fact that I was able to do this and all of the big companies are just so far behind is kind of amazing. And I made the decision to do it within a very short period of time. And was able by using technology, and not the most expensive versions of it, to test it out and practice. A colleague at PriMedia used to say, we have to practice before we do, so we’re kind of in the practice stage of all this stuff, because the minute you stop practicing, you stop innovating.

On whether there was any different feeling working for a company, such as PriMedia and being an entrepreneur as he is with BizBash: I loved PriMedia; I loved the idea. And what I found to be the common denominator among the magazine people was the innovation of the content and the business side together. I love communications and I knew all of the magazines; I had a newsstand in my office with 350 magazines from Hog Farmer to New York Magazine. And we were doing incredibly interesting things that helped promote the whole company. So, you had to look at it a little differently.

On anything he’d like to add: I think the magazine business is really hard now and it’s all corporate-driven, so everybody is afraid to do things and they’re afraid to make changes. That’s a hard thing and I don’t know how to solve that problem entirely. But I think scaling in certain areas is a good thing and trying things that don’t work makes you stronger.

On what he believes is the biggest misconception about himself: I think some people think that what I do is lightweight. And what I have found is that I have studied the social physics of how humans gather and how important it is. People used to not take us as seriously as they should. I used to feel that people in the event industry were sitting at the children’s table for Thanksgiving, but now when you see the books about social physics and the studies of how important conversations are at an event and how important learning and development is and how important having fun at events actually adds to the learning experience. I think people begin to take me more seriously the minute I start talking to them about the most powerful word in the English language is the word “let’s,” because whenever people get together they say “Let’s go to lunch,” “Let’s go to dinner,” “Let’s hook up and start a revolution.” It actually is true.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m doing a lot of audio books now. And I’m totally into things like sapiens and I’m listening to “Civilization,” which is a 40-hour, 10-book series on all of the different civilizations. And I get such joy out of listening. I’m an auditory learner, so listening to books is really good. I love watching television too; I’m a total news junkie. I grew up in Washington D.C. and the idea that I’m the mayor of the news comes from the idea that I grew up in Washington and I always wanted to run for office. Then I found out that being the publisher of a media company or a magazine is even better. You get all the good, but not the bad.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: Here’s my theme thing: I believe there’s something in the world called managed serendipity, that everything is just right in front of your nose, but you have to put yourself in the right atmosphere where you have a chance to see who’s right in front of your nose. And to me, it’s everywhere. Whenever I come up with a story idea, first I’ll ask what’s going on right outside of the window? So, managed serendipity is something that I would put on my tombstone. (Laughs)

On what keeps him up at night: One of the things that I get ragged on is that I have a million ideas and I am obsessed with actually executing the ideas that I come up with. And making sure that the ones I want to do, I really do well. And to me it’s I want to finish that job; I want to finish this job. But at the same time, I want to go to the next thing too. So, it’s like there’s not enough time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Adler, founder and CEO of BizBash.

Samir Husni: You recently returned from New York where you had a very successful event.

David Adler: Yes, this was our 18th year of doing our BizBash Trade Show. The first year that we did it was 9/11. We had scheduled it for around the end of September, so we had to move it a month and a half because the Jacob Javits Center was being used for the emergency situation there. And even the first one started out really well too, because it became a reunion of the whole industry and it helped to bring the entire industry together. That’s kind of where I learned that leadership is an important aspect of it. The way I think about media is that when you publish a magazine, you’re the mayor of your niche. And that’s like you’re running a political office almost.

Samir Husni: As the mayor of BizBash who has been elected for 18 consecutive years, tell me a little bit about the New York event that took place recently.

David Adler: The New York event is held at the Javits Center in one of the big halls. And you walk in and you feel like you’re walking into the brand. It’s packed with ideas and inspiration, things that make people do their job better and love their job. For example, one of our exhibitors was a grandma hugging. Grandmas came and they hugged you as you entered. (Laughs) It was incredible. Every year there are new things that are in the business, such as we had a used meditation van that somebody brought in, because meditation is now part of events. People want not only to get together, they also want to have some private time alone.

There are all sorts of different types of photo booths, you can take a photo in a DeLorean, for example. So it’s all of these ways that people are getting engaged at live events. And what we do in the magazine and in our media play is allow people to peek over the fence and see what other people are doing to give them the inspiration to create these things on their own, give us that emotional touchpoint.

So I think that we achieved it. We basically do a conference called “The Event Innovation Forum,” which I call a live journalism piece, where we bring in six speakers who are not necessarily professional speakers, for example, one was the head of Condé Nast events, Erica Boeke, who talked about how Condé Nast uses events to engage. We had agencies with clients like BMW that were talking about how events were the way to touch clients in ways that they had never done before.

You can see why magazines and media products are moving to events, because it’s the only place that you can actually look your audience in the eye and can see them and touch and feel them. And an editor can actually get correct feedback, which is something that hasn’t happened for years in magazines because everyone is always in their ivory tower, and they relied on surveys which don’t really work.

Samir Husni: In this age of screens or this age of isolated connectivity, where everybody is attached to their laptops or to their mobile phones, you mentioned recently when I saw you in New York and we were chatting that you are not in the content media business, you’re in the “contact” business. Can you expand on that a little?

David Adler: Yes, I believe that because content is everywhere, you can find it everywhere, contact is king, not content as much anymore. You have to have good content, but you can get that anywhere, but you can’t get you and me in the same room together, having a conversation that we can build this relationship on that extends online and in all different ways. And so the Holy Grail now is the contact, especially in the B to B world. The contact is the king element. In order to make it contact is king, it also has to be experiential. And experiential is very hard because every time you have an experience once, you have to up it the next time.

Samir Husni: Part of that contact and part of that deal is that you had a print magazine and you stopped it, and then you came back to it. Can you tell me that story?

David Adler: Yes, I came back. Let me give you the context of the entire company. I started the company in 2000 as an online venture only. I was head of corporate communications for PriMedia and I was spending millions of dollars on events. We did everything from Seventeen magazine’s 50th anniversary to New York Magazine’s 25th and the Daily Racing’s 100th anniversary. We were using events for all of these different products and I saw that there was no marketplace. You just talked to friends and said who can do this and who can do that, so we realized that there was a need for it in the marketplace. So we started, basically, this directory business with the event industry.

Then I started going to events and seeing who did what at the events to conclude a contextualized database. My family started something referred to as real estate by the month, and what I’ve figured out with BizBash is that we’re the real estate by the hour business. The first thing that anybody needed to do was create a place to have an event. And once they had the place, they needed then to do other things to engage people.

And so we started out as an online product, then got very involved after 9/11 helping to promote New York City, so we started a print product. Then we went to the Javits Center and the people there said they wanted to get all of their customers together and asked could we do a trade show for them. So, for the first three years the Javits Center gave us a free trade show, which launched our whole company.

We did magazines in five or six different markets in New York, L.A., Chicago, Miami, and Toronto for years. Then what happened after the recession is that everybody said that print was dead and all of my brilliant advisors, who were in the investment banking field, said that I wasn’t going to get any valuation if I ever wanted to sell, so I made the decision to kill print while we were still doing good. You know, for a few years you couldn’t just rely on the cash flow from online and events and print became a really important aspect, but we found that out later after we’d killed it. So, we brought it back.

And the reason we brought it back was because last year I was at a Will.i.am event for one of my customers, one of the people that we cover, and I heard Will.i.am talk about his graphic novel that he’d created. And he made this really compelling case about using print and then he talked about his augmented reality that he overlaid on top of print. And then it was a blinding light in my brain that said augmented reality is the ultimate “use” case for magazines because there’s a boundary to a magazine that makes it usable. It’s not like Pokémon Go where you’re holding your phone in the air and you’re seeing all of these crazy things going on. If you use augmented reality correctly and create a CMS for your AR, it’s all about data and it will be a way to enhance the experience tremendously with print. And I think that we’re still in the beginning stages of it.

We started the magazine last year and we did really, really well. And we’re now going to go from three times a year to probably four or five times a year within the next couple of years. And when I announced it at our L.A. show back in the Spring, the audience stood up and cheered because there was a need, especially in our industry, to touch it and to see it. And to have a place where they could go back and explore things, because we’re basically the brainstorming tools of the event industry in an era that experiences have to get better every year, so everyone is under pressure to keep scoring for good, new ideas.

Samir Husni: It seems that even the advertising industry has responded well. Your current issue is almost 200 pages.

David Adler: Oh yes. It’s a big thick issue that we say has that “plop” factor. Over 250 to 300 pages, it has been an incredible success and I was able to pack it with videos of me on the front page, explaining what the hell it was. We had an overlay of every single ad that had all of the details behind the ads, because the key to it is not to go crazy with it, but make it a data-driven thing so someone can sit and look up the page and click on it and make a phone call, to click on it and find the website you’re going to have, and click on it and see other information.

It can’t be too complex in the beginning right now and it has to be built on a CMS the same way that content is built on a CMS, so it’s easy to do. And we’re evolving and learning how to do it and it’s not as expensive as people think. I hired some outside developers who are not in the magazine business, who are in the gaming business, and I sort of had to drive the ship in terms of what I wanted. We wanted to keep it sort of like that movie “Minority Report” that had that overlay of all the data; we tried to make it more of a “Minority Report” model as opposed to a very graphical thing, because that made it much cheaper and also you can’t have a lot of bandwidth, right now at least, in an AR. So there’s a certain way to do it correctly.

I think it’s going to be everywhere in our industry at some point. It certainly is going to revolutionize the event industry because you’ll be able to go into an event, hold your phone up, and you’ll have all of the information about the speaker around them while they’re speaking. So then you don’t have to necessarily print more documents and you’ll have queues and all sorts of deeper data that you’ll be able to put into the presentations. You’ll be able to go to a booth at a trade show and hold up your phone and you’ll be able to know all of the data around that. Eventually, you’ll be able to hold your phone up and see who the person is because of the AR aspect of it. I think it’s going to be incredible.

You’re also going to be looking at an hors d’oeuvre and you’ll know how many calories are in it. It’s just the beginning. It’s even better than virtual reality, because an augmented reality situation makes you part of the room as opposed to a VR situation that makes you sort of isolated in your own world.

Samir Husni: In addition to that, you’ve also launched in the recent issue “First Impressions,” which is more of a photo essay.

David Adler, photo by-Rodney-Bailey

David Adler: Yes, we’re doing more large photo essays, but we’re combining them – and we’re also using podcasts – I’m doing very multimedia podcasts, photo spread stories and everything so that you can take one piece of content and use it in every possible place. We’re doing it with customers as custom-content as well. I think that the sponsored content is so boring sometimes that you need the editorial voice in the content to make it better. We’re using large photography for that of the people in our industry and we’re kind of doing it in ways that are more provocative as opposed to safe.

We’re in an era in the event industry…and I think in the magazine industry we’re trying to break the fourth wall; we’re in an era where intimacy is more important. And you want to see the producer actually come up onto the stage in a sense and say, “Okay, now you have to do this” or “Now you have to do that,” because we all want to be behind the scenes.

And whether you’re political or not, you see what Trump is doing and you see what YouTube is doing and what all of the different Instagram’s are doing, it’s all about the breaking of the fourth wall. And magazine people have to get less uptight about that. And it’s hard to do, but you can have video content that is about how you did your interview, within the interview using AR too. So, you’re able to get that emotional piece.

Samir Husni: Since you brought print back and since you’re seeing growth in the contact industry, do you think the path ahead will be a walk in a rose garden now?

David Adler: It’s not that I’m bringing print back, what I’m doing is turning the printed page into digital. And that answers the question that all of these brilliant investment bankers have of how do you create a digital product out of a print product? And I think that’s going to solve the investment issue, because the print product becomes a screen on top of the printed page. And also the joke is with millennials, they get a magazine and say, “Oh my, they printed it out for you!” And it’s kind of funny that we go back to the concept of the dominant theory of media, but the stuff that you thought was all gone becomes even more important and becomes more specialized if done well.

Samir Husni: What are some of the challenges facing, not specifically BizBash, but the entire B to B community and media brands?

David Adler: That’s easy. They’re not taking risks. They’re so busy being me too and follow the leader. The fact that I was able to do this and all of the big companies are just so far behind is kind of amazing. And I made the decision to do it within a very short period of time. And was able by using technology, and not the most expensive versions of it, to test it out and practice. A colleague at PriMedia used to say, we have to practice before we do, so we’re kind of in the practice stage of all this stuff, because the minute you stop practicing, you stop innovating.

The sales people learning how to use it is a really hard thing. Having a CMS for this was part of the key learning. We put it out right at the same time the new iPhone came out and some of the technology wasn’t ready for it, so we also learned that we have to future-proof it in different ways. We’re also now getting feedback directly from customers, because the other thing that I don’t believe in is survey feedback. I believe in observational feedback. That’s one of the things that we did at our trade shows and that we do on our magazines. Talking to a customer, especially for a CEO or something like that, to actually talk to customers and have lunch with people, is great.

Tom Peters was on a podcast recently with Kara Swisher and he was talking about the whole AI (artificial intelligence) movement that’s happening and that it’s going to kill us if we don’t move to the idea of radical humanism. And his version of radical humanism was going out to lunch with people. Take a 27-year-old out to lunch and you’ll learn more than all the surveys that you’ll never really analyze anyway. And for me, that’s what I do.

And the one thing great about the event industry and when you go to an event, is you’re talking to people at the event. And it becomes your built-in focus group. It makes us sharper than ever before because we actually have to talk to our customers. I think that CEO’s are terrible hosts, and so now what I do at all of my events is I am at the receiving line at the door of the events and I talk to everyone as they walk in. I do a dinner and I go to every single table and I encourage every person there that is in the magazine industry to do that.

I took the NYU publishing course back in the ‘70s and the first exercise that we did was to ask what is the personality of a particular magazine. Who would that magazine be if it was a person? And I believe that we’ve gotten away from that. And I think that digital is making it harder to do that. So, what a print product does is; when you’re creating a print product, you have to pace it like a human being and it has to be like a human being. It has to have good days and bad days; it has to have good taste and bad taste; you have to take risks. And that’s my advice. I love what we do as publishers. I think it’s the most exciting thing that you can do in the world because you are the mayor of the niche in a sense.

Samir Husni: One of the phrases I use in my consulting and in all my work since I graduated in the early ‘80s is “humanizing print.” I give the editors a magic wand and ask them to strike their magazine and describe the human being that would appear.

David Adler: That’s it. That’s why we love what we do because we see it that way. It’s the context in which we look at what we do. If we’re just selling ad pages, we’re dead. I do this poll before every event I do and it’s to see how many people love their job. And every hand in the room goes up. And then I say, okay forget the technology, just look around and take it all in. It all comes down to Maya Angelou and her “it’s not what people say, it’s how you make them feel.” A magazine and a human being can make you feel really great. When I get my magazine that I love, I feel like I’m in that club. And I think that’s what people need to have again. And sometimes I don’t get that when I go online.

Samir Husni: If you reflect back on your life, between the entrepreneurial part with the Washington Dossier and BizBash, and working for a company like PriMedia, is there a different feeling? When you were with PriMedia, did you really want to wake up and go to work?

David Adler: Yes, I did, I really did. I loved PriMedia; I loved the idea. And what I found to be the common denominator among the magazine people was the innovation of the content and the business side together. I love communications and I knew all of the magazines; I had a newsstand in my office with 350 magazines from Hog Farmer to New York Magazine. And we were doing incredibly interesting things that helped promote the whole company. So, you had to look at it a little differently.

And going to each one of the brands and seeing the passion that each one had was really interesting. Now the corporate people needed more of the feeling of what it was like to be in the brand. At the corporate level the interesting thing that we did was we kept the event budget for all of the magazines, the brands at the corporate level, so we were able to get the management team involved in the local events for Seventeen and Soap Opera Digest and brands like that. So, the main reason was we wanted to use it to engage the street and Wall Street so that the analysts could see what was inside these brands. And it was a really interesting strategy because you want to get the investors to feel as well. It still comes back to Maya Angelou, you know? It comes back to what do they feel about this thing.

So, when we’re able to bring them to the New York magazine events, they got this feeling of this company has something below the surface that is important. And the fact is, we knew all of these niche markets because we controlled the budgets on them, and it was collaboratively, it wasn’t like it was a Wizard of Oz type of thing. But they were able to get more money from us from the corporates, so they were very nice to us too. And it solved some of the political problems.

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

David Adler: I think the magazine business is really hard now and it’s all corporate-driven, so everybody is afraid to do things and they’re afraid to make changes. That’s a hard thing and I don’t know how to solve that problem entirely. But I think scaling in certain areas is a good thing and trying things that don’t work makes you stronger.

Samir Husni: Here’s a question that I borrowed from one of our graduate students who now works for 60 Minutes, she asked Paul McCartney: what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

David Adler: I think some people think that what I do is lightweight. And what I have found is that I have studied the social physics of how humans gather and how important it is. People used to not take us as seriously as they should. I used to feel that people in the event industry were sitting at the children’s table for Thanksgiving, but now when you see the books about social physics and the studies of how important conversations are at an event and how important learning and development is and how important having fun at events actually adds to the learning experience. I think people begin to take me more seriously the minute I start talking to them about the most powerful word in the English language is the word “let’s,” because whenever people get together they say “Let’s go to lunch,” “Let’s go to dinner,” “Let’s hook up and start a revolution.” It actually is true.

So, they really think what we do is very lightweight. When I’m advising people like Hillary Clinton, or I recently had this big talk with Cory Booker, telling him that he wasn’t connecting with people and the State Department; they understand that it’s all about people. And it’s all about the humanism of things, and that’s the biggest misconception I think I have. People just think I’m the party guy. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

David Adler: I’m doing a lot of audio books now. And I’m totally into things like sapiens and I’m listening to “Civilization,” which is a 40-hour, 10-book series on all of the different civilizations. And I get such joy out of listening. I’m an auditory learner, so listening to books is really good. I love watching television too; I’m a total news junkie. I grew up in Washington D.C. and the idea that I’m the mayor of the news comes from the idea that I grew up in Washington and I always wanted to run for office. Then I found out that being the publisher of a media company or a magazine is even better. You get all the good, but not the bad.

So, I’m totally a sponge all day long. And I think this lifetime learning thing is great. And I love when I go home that I can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

David Adler: Here’s my theme thing: I believe there’s something in the world called managed serendipity, that everything is just right in front of your nose, but you have to put yourself in the right atmosphere where you have a chance to see who’s right in front of your nose. And to me, it’s everywhere. Whenever I come up with a story idea, first I’ll ask what’s going on right outside of the window? So, managed serendipity is something that I would put on my tombstone. (Laughs)

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

David Adler: One of the things that I get ragged on is that I have a million ideas and I am obsessed with actually executing the ideas that I come up with. And making sure that the ones I want to do, I really do well. And to me it’s I want to finish that job; I want to finish this job. But at the same time, I want to go to the next thing too. So, it’s like there’s not enough time.

And I love the idea of learning how to do stuff. I think what technology has given me is the ability to try stuff on my own so that I know enough about it that I can go to another person and say what about this? Or what about that? Like I learned how to do my podcasts, so I completely learned how to do everything about audio editing. And I learned how to remove sound; I learned how to remove noise and change pitch, just all of that. But I don’t do it myself anymore, but I ask can we remove this sound or that? And sometimes I have to do it myself, but most of the time it’s me managing other people. Learning and development is the key to life I think.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Martha Stewart Living’s Christine Guilfoyle Talks To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni About Embracing Disruption & Finding Excitement In The Constant Change Of Today’s Magazine Media World – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Senior Vice President, Group Publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group…

October 15, 2018

“I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.” Christine Guilfoyle…

From Rachael Ray Every Day to Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living to the former ink on paper MORE magazine, Christine Guilfoyle has been a staple at Meredith Corporation for over eight years. Today she has Martha Stewart Living back in her stable and is enjoying yet another round of promoting and selling the one and only Martha Stewart and her brand. The original, as Chris touts the entrepreneurial businessperson who has become a household name with her media empire.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about her admiration for Martha Stewart and her appreciation for the opportunities that Meredith has given her over the years, such as launching the phenomenal The Magnolia Journal. And while disruption in magazines and magazine media has become the norm, Chris says that she embraces disruption and finds excitement in the many opportunities that the constant changes of today’s publishing industry brings. Of course, Chris isn’t naïve either, she knows that never taking anything for granted is the rule of thumb in the present-day world of magazines, but she also knows the power of the brand, especially the tried and true ones, such as Martha Stewart Living, always giving hope to a brighter and more stalwart future.

So, I hope that you enjoy this lively and interesting Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman just as lively and interesting as her magazine adventures – Christine Guilfoyle, senior vice president, group publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group.

But first the sound-bites:

On what has been going on at Meredith: I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Everyday with Rachael Ray, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on MORE at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

On what she has been up to at Meredith over the last seven years: Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

On some of the challenges she faces today that are different from those she faced when Rachael Ray Every Day launched: Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent. The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting.

On how she feels being back at Martha Stewart Living once again: From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honored to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity.

On the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced 28 years ago: I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

On whether she is selling Martha Stewart or Martha Stewart Living: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

On whether she does things differently when selling Martha Stewart Living versus selling Rachael Ray Every Day: I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

On how the role of publisher has changed over the last five years: I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control. To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

On how she differentiates Martha Stewart Living brand from the other competitors in the marketplace: That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

On anything she’d like to add: First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you. The rumor of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

On what she believes is the biggest misconception about herself: About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be. So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favorites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

On what keeps her up at night: Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it.

On whether the integration of editorial and ads makes her job tougher: Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith Women’s Group at Meredith Corporation.

Samir Husni: Chris, give me an update; since the last time we spoke a lot of things have changed, what’s going on these days at Meredith?

Christine Guilfoyle: I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Rachael Ray Every Day, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on MORE at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing, because believe me that has never been my goal, but Tom has done an incredibly amazing job and it has been so interesting and exhilarating to be sitting and watching what has gone on in the last seven years.

Samir Husni: So, tell me, what are you up to these days – what have those seven years brought for you?

Christine Guilfoyle: Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

Samir Husni: As you block and tackle your third celebrity venture, what are some of the challenges you face today that are different from those you faced when you first started with Rachael Ray Every Day?

Christine Guilfoyle: Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent.

The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting. I have two teenaged daughters and every single day is filled with disruption and the bombardment of new media. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I have had 14 assignments in the last eight years where I’ve been able to start each assignment really as though they were brand new jobs. It’s an entrepreneurial environment, so I can try new things, not only because the industry demands it, but because each of these assignments are new and differentiated.

Samir Husni: And when you got your latest assignment and knew that Martha Stewart Living was once again in your domain, what was your first reaction? Not again or you were so happy to be back at the brand?

Christine Guilfoyle: From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. In 1988 when I was at TV Guide, I had the classic meatloaf and the classic macaroni and cheese recipes in my bag that I had brought in for clients, and they’re recipes that I still cook. Martha and her daughter Alexis were at a table in Nobu and Harrison Ford, Edd Byrnes, Calista Flockhart, Christy Turlington, and Tony Bennett were all in Nobu that night that I was there with clients. I mustered my way past the bouncers to go over and introduce myself to Martha. To me she is extraordinary.

She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honored to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity. And when Martha Stewart calls you a badass, which is what she said to me when she found out I was back on the brand, that’s not something I would ever take lightly.

Samir Husni: So, how do you use that as you go out and meet with clients and prospective clients? What is the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced around 28 years ago?

Christine Guilfoyle: I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

We are finding that millennials, not only millennial readers of Martha Stewart Living, but also U.S. millennials, look at Martha the person and Martha Stewart Living the brand, as being the ultimate influencer. And they look to her and the content that surrounds her brand proposition as being modern and trustworthy. So, that’s exciting from a consumer proposition standpoint.

When I’m speaking to millennials, which is most of our audience, I try to be as dynamic and energizing and on millennial point as I can be. And frankly, this story resonates. Her doing the Justin Bieber Roast, in my opinion, was a pivotal, social, zeitgeist moment for her. She’s gone on now to do the Bruce Willis Roast and she’s next door neighbors with Blake Lively and she’s at New York Fashion Week and continues to modernize her footprints, so clients and agency people are more aware of her than ever before. The Snoop Dogg relationship obviously is very much talked about within the agency cycle. And I’m finding it to be incredibly fun and that there is a high level of brand receptivity that should translate itself into ad pages and integrated deals.

Samir Husni: Are you selling Martha or are you selling Martha Stewart Living?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

Samir Husni: What is the difference between selling Martha and Rachael Ray? Do you do anything differently?

Christine Guilfoyle: Do I do anything differently because of the two women? I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

When I went from Better Homes & Gardens and Martha to Shape, which was almost three years ago, every single thing that I did at Shape, not just because it was a new category to me, but because the market was moving so quickly, was incredibly different in how I rallied the sales team, the marketing team and the editorial infrastructure from a go-to-market standpoint than I had done two and half years ago when I first got to Better Homes & Gardens from Rachael Ray.

Samir Husni: It seems to me that your career has been like a walk in a rose garden.

Christine Guilfoyle: A walk in a rose garden? I would say that I love to smell the roses and I try to avoid the prickers. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: How has the role of publisher, chief revenue officer, changed over the last five years?

Christine Guilfoyle: I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control.

To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

Every team is leaner; there are far more people internally because of our new Brady Bunch family that I need to continually look to educate, to differentiate, to be solution-based so that both the people internally in the broader Meredith Corporation, the corporate digital foundry, are educated on the nuance of my brand, Martha Stewart Living. And I am going out into the market to make sure that I am blocking and tackling and driving revenue to each and every issue and/or platform every single day.

Samir Husni: Give me your elevator pitch on how you differentiate Martha Stewart Living brand from the rest of the competitors in the marketplace.

Christine Guilfoyle: That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

Being able to meet Rachael Ray at the start – really the start, because when she was on the Food Network it was not what it is today. And to sit around the kitchen table with her and John (Cusimano), who was not her husband at the time, to launch her magazine, that’s extraordinary. It’s an experience that can’t be taken away. And then to get to work on it twice, that was just icing on the cake.

To launch The Magnolia Journal for the Meredith Corporation, which will go down as its most successful launch probably ever, that’s pretty cool. To onboard the Martha Stewart Living brand for the company and have it as my sole assignment during these highly disruptive days, that’s amazing.

Samir Husni: Last time we talked, I asked you if you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be and you said don’t take anything for granted. Have you changed your tattoo or is that still true?

Christine Guilfoyle: No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you.

The rumor of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

Samir Husni: Here’s a question that I borrowed from one of our graduate students who now works for 60 Minutes, she asked Paul McCartney: what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Christine Guilfoyle: About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be.

So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favorites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

Samir Husni: Anything changed about what keeps you up at night these days?

Christine Guilfoyle: Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it. Not because of the women, and by all means I am not leaving out Chip (Gaines), I am not anti-Chip Gaines. (Laughs) But as you and I have discussed, it is truly Joanna who is the editorial driver.

I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.

Samir Husni: Does this make your job even tougher?

Christine Guilfoyle: Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Bauer Media Group USA’s CEO, Steven Kotok, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “…We’re Just Reader-First”…The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

October 3, 2018

The women’s service readers definitely like the experience of buying something in print. As much as they love the product and as proud of the product as we are, the buying experience is a big part of it as well. We’re growing our subscriptions, but the physical act of making the purchase from the supermarket and giving yourself a treat after a long day, that is part of the pleasure of these products. Even if some of the information is available online, it’s that retail experience that ultimately excites our consumers.” Steven Kotok…

Bauer Media Group USA publishes the top 2 selling magazines at retail, Woman’s World #1 and First for Women #2. And with newsstands declining and single copy sales fading, that is no small feat. Steven Kotok is CEO of Bauer Media Group and believes that the secret to those titles’ success is really no secret: they connect with their readers on every level.

I spoke with Steven recently and we talked about his two years and counting at Bauer. In 2016 when Steven first took over the reins I spoke with him about his then new position and goals for the company. So this time around we discussed whether he felt the company was stronger today than it was a year ago. His answer was an emphatic yes. After whittling things down a bit at Bauer by American Media acquiring Bauer’s celebrity and teen brands, Steven said the company could now put all of their energies behind their successful and reliable women’s service group and continue with their highly popular SIPs, especially in the food category. They also retained their two soap opera titles, which he attributed to the loyalty of the audience that keeps them healthy and strong.

It was a very interesting conversation as Steven gave us a status report on how things have moved forward since his coming onboard and a few changes he has implemented, such as a digest-sized First for Women SIP that was added. But the one thing that hasn’t changed in those two years is his dedication to the reader and his continued belief that above all else Bauer and its very loyal audience maintain a great connection. And that they continue to do what Bauer does best, provide the reader with the content they want. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On what’s going on at Bauer today: I started at Bauer two years ago, October 3, 2016. In that time we’ve been, I don’t want to say transforming the company, because it was a very healthy company, but definitely shifting the way we do things. The primary metric of the company previously had really been newsstand copy sales. We’re looking a lot more now at margins. So one thing we did is raise prices across the portfolio in January 2017, three or four months after I started. We have a very loyal audience, especially these days. You know I think we benefit from the fact that we’re one of the last publishers really focusing on the newsstand and that kind of engagement with the reader. And so in a sense we have some of those markets to ourselves.

On whether he has any worries about newsstands since Bauer has the number one and number two magazines when it comes to single copy sales: We have fears as much as independent publications, all have fears for their own reasons. It’s a tough time of rapid transitions, so anyone who is sleeping well at night probably isn’t doing their job. But this is where we’re dominant and this is where we make our money, so we do want to diversify, but we can’t really change our stock either. We can’t suddenly become a luxury, ad-driven company. We do things our way with a reader-engaged product. It’s definitely scary and we’re definitely pushing further into subscriptions as a way for us to leverage the reader connection that we have, but still be able to not live and die on any one channel.

On Bauer’s secret recipe that gives Woman’s World and First for Women the number one and number two spots when it comes to sales on newsstands: I don’t know if it’s a secret recipe so much as it’s that we’re really playing a different game than a lot of other publications. If you look at some recent redesigns of other titles in the space you really see a redesign focused on persuading advertisers that this is a product read by millennials or being a nice ad environment. And that stuck. There’s nothing wrong with that, those magazines run great businesses and they work at what they do and they’re smart, but we are doing something else. We’re wholly focused on the reader and we won’t make the compromises for other channels of revenue.

On what’s cooking on the backburner for Bauer: A lot more food titles. We find that in addition to selling well, they’re very reliable. If we do what we know how to do, with all of our years – I tried to calculate once how many recipes we’ve run in Woman’s World, 52 issues a year for 40 years. And we’ve produced a lot of recipes on any given thing, which isn’t just a great source of content, but we just know what people care about. So, the food SIPs have really been successful for us and again, not just because they sell nicely, but because the SIP market is kind of a hit and miss business. Some things sell great, some not so great, but food, and maybe it’s just for us because we know about markets so well, but food is very reliable.

On why he decided to keep the soap opera titles at Bauer: It’s a very healthy and dedicated audience. There’s one competitor that it beats every single week. It’s a nice business. The celebrity titles we felt weren’t that differentiated and didn’t have the same loyalty. These products really have loyalty and they’re really reliable. And we’re really good at it; we know how to do it. It’s a very stable and dedicated business. The scary thing is, again you’re dependent on the networks to broadcast soap operas. It’s not the type of audience who is going to transition to reality shows or nighttime soap operas, it’s really this is where they are. But that kind of risk aside, we hate things being out of our control, but that risk aside, it’s exactly what Bauer should be doing and what Bauer is good at, producing products that exactly connect with the right audience and do so consistently.

On what role he feels print will play in today’s multimedia market and beyond: For the reader and for advertisers it’s a different question. For advertisers I think the pendulum can swing back and forth, from what’s going to hit on the digital side and what is most effective on the print side. But on the reader’s side, it’s part of the reason that we focus on this women’s service space; we feel we have to be providing a significant service value. In a way, celebrity news does compete with digital and it doesn’t always win. The teen titles that were beloved internally, that’s a market that’s shifted to digital. I think print is going to have a very important place for certain groups of readers that we can provide value for.

On what he would consider his most pleasant moment in the two years he has been CEO of Bauer:
All my pleasant moments at all of my jobs come from things that go on with the team. It’s not as interesting to an outside audience, but at Bauer, having the first all-company holiday party in seven or eight years; having the company’s first all-hands meeting. A lot of the time two different people who have been at the company for 10 years will meet each other for the first time and watching them have these animated conversations is so great to see. Doing new things, where people at the company are stretching themselves and doing things for the first time—it’s really rewarding.

On if there has been a moment when he asked himself why he took the job at Bauer: (Laughs) There’s definitely a challenge in the supply chain. In one sense, you have really strong relationships with supply chain partners and very good personal relationships, but then there are times when you’re really adversarial. And some of those times you’re dealing with a partner that controls a significant amount of the market, and as a publisher we control a significant amount of the market, so you both have a lot of power and there’s Murphy’s Law. Some of those moments can be pretty fraught, but the individuals who run those organizations seem to be as dedicated as I am to building a good personal relationship to keep things from getting scarier than they need to be and to running good businesses. Most of those operations are privately-owned as well, they’re in it for the long term too. Those would be some of the scarier moments; anything out of your control.

On whether he feels Bauer USA is stronger today than it was a year ago: Oh yes, yes. The sustainability and strength of the company is stronger now than before we did the transaction with the other titles and before we made some of the changes to focus more on margin. So, yes, that’s kind of unquestioned. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, part of the appeal of the job is that it’s a tough job. It’s strangely rewarding to take on something tough. So, it’s still tough, but as a company compared to a year ago or a year and a half ago, that part is, as I said, unquestioned.

On what he feels is the biggest misconception about himself: I don’t know that people have a lot of conceptions about me. I feel like I make a better impression as time goes on, for whatever reason. I remember when I was executive producer of Dennis Interactive, when Dennis had this digital thing and we would have these meetings with Mercedes and all of these people. The first meeting would be about how cool the programmers were and others, so I was kind of forgotten. By the fifth meeting any question anyone asked, all of the heads would swivel toward me because they knew I had the answer, so I think there’s some sense of being more of a third impression guy than a first impression guy, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the business of being an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, but I have noted that, the sense of being initially underestimated and that kind of recalibrating as people get to know me better.

On any big announcements he’d like to share: No big announcements. We’re working on developing big and exciting announcements. We’re starting to look more earnestly at opportunities for acquisitions. I don’t think we’ll have any big announcements until next year, but that’s a big focus here. We feel confident in our ability to operate reader-driven businesses effectively, so we’re looking for opportunities to acquire things. That’s our next big focus.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: From a business perspective it would be that I focused on and understood the reader. My whole career has been based on that; it’s just something I know how to do and that I love and the thing that’s meaningful to me. As a person, that’s kind of a tougher one. I need more self-knowledge than I have, but certainly I think as a person I would hope that people would say he cared in general about whatever was important to care about. As a business person, understanding and being focused on the reader, so maybe it is tattooed on my brain and I didn’t know.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening:
Since joining Bauer, my wife and I moved to the country so I can be closer to the NJ office, so sitting on our deck and just enjoying being together is our main after work activity. For dinner many nights we have a smorgasbord of dips and vegetables and snacks and cheeses and stuff—that’s our favorite thing.

On what keeps him up at night: Things outside my control. Along with the supply chain, another aspect you see now is retailers reducing the space allocated to magazines, and all those things. We know that we connect with our readers and anything that comes between us and our readers and is not in our control is going to be what keeps us up at night. The supply chain and retailers, just all of these things. It’s an appeal of the digital ecosphere, that there’s less coming between you and your readers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, CEO, Bauer Media Group.

Samir Husni: You’re the CEO of a major magazine company that’s still very heavy on single copy sales. And although you’ve downsized, you now have a trimmer, slimmer, yet more vibrant Bauer Media Group. Give me a status report; what is going on these days at Bauer?

Steven Kotok: I started at Bauer two years ago, October 3, 2016. In that time we’ve been, I don’t want to say transforming the company, because it was a very healthy company, but definitely shifting the way we do things. The primary metric of the company previously had really been newsstand copy sales. We’re looking a lot more now at margins. So one thing we did is raise prices across the portfolio in January 2017, three or four months after I started. We have a very loyal audience, especially these days. You know I think we benefit from the fact that we’re one of the last publishers really focusing on the newsstand and that kind of engagement with the reader. And so in a sense we have some of those markets to ourselves.

We repriced across the portfolio on the newsstand and that really helped the margins. Also, in terms of keeping margin and making the company healthier, we have really been pushing subscriptions, which wasn’t something that was really done in the past. And even though at the time we sold the most magazine copies on the newsstand, we actually didn’t put insert cards in a lot of those magazines, at any price. So, we really started pushing subscriptions and we grew our subscription revenue significantly. A lot of publishers will sometimes grow their subscriptions, but they might do it by actually reducing subscription revenue and reducing prices. We actually promote subscriptions at very high prices. By being more aggressive, we’re able to bring a significant increase in subscription revenue.

So, we did a lot of things like that and other less exciting stuff. And as we’ve been looking at the company and at not what just made it a bigger company, but what made it a healthier company, the notion of focusing on our women’s group where we see, not just the highest margins, but the most stable margins where we publish a product that’s utterly unique in its approach to readers. There were other products, those celebrity magazines were great magazines and had a loyal audience, but they weren’t incredibly differentiated from the competition. That entire market has seen a lot of decline and in 2017 we actually grew our ad market share and in 2018 we also grew our ad market share in celebrities and we grew our newsstand revenue market share.

And even though we were outpacing the competition, we just weren’t seeing those products get financially healthier, even though they had many years of productive life left in them; as a private company, we are really focused on the long term. It seemed the celebrity titles really needed to have one owner to get the most out of them, and we thought for the long term it was better that the owner wasn’t us. So, we made that transaction and have been focusing on the women’s group.

At the same time, we consolidated the two women’s magazines. We used to run them very much as competitive titles, but now that we have that market a little more to ourselves, in terms of the newsstand, instead of having two groups, two health groups or two beauty groups, we can kind of center all of our expertise on one group and also focus on differentiating them a little more. They still obviously compete as number one and number two, but we can balance what’s on the cover and other things. So, we put those under one editorial director and that’s really been successful.

We also put in a significant price increase toward the end of last year on First for Women, a 20 percent price increase on that, and we’ve seen First for Women generate more income than the year before. And since Carol (Brooks) took over Woman’s World, it has seen its newsstand sales up 10-15 percent. So, we’re very happy with this category. Phase one was getting margin out of our existing products and phase two was consolidating what we did in the women’s group, where we see the most likely sustainability, and phase three is really looking for acquisitions around this women’s space, where we can kind of consolidate our leadership position and grow for the long term.

Samir Husni: With that diversification of revenue from the newsstand, you’re still the number one and number two on the newsstand. Do you have any feel for all the talk about what’s going on with single copy sales? When you have the two largest selling magazines on the nation’s newsstands; are you sleeping okay at night?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) We have fears as much as independent publications, all have fears for their own reasons. It’s a tough time of rapid transitions, so anyone who is sleeping well at night probably isn’t doing their job. But this is where we’re dominant and this is where we make our money, so we do want to diversify, but we can’t really change our stock either. We can’t suddenly become a luxury, ad-driven company. We do things our way with a reader-engaged product. It’s definitely scary and we’re definitely pushing further into subscriptions as a way for us to leverage the reader connection that we have, but still be able to not live and die on any one channel.

And that’s always been the case. The last company I ran we were wholly dependent on Google and Amazon. And at the previous company, The Week, we also wanted to get the company to a place where we could survive just on subscriptions, just on advertising, just on digital, where if any one leg of the stool went away we would still be viable because we want to live beyond any one channel or any one dependent partner. So, that’s where we’re trying to get the company and clearly right now we’re very dependent on the newsstand, But if we’re going to be dependent on something, I’d rather be number one in that space and really have a voice in the channel and know that we’re thriving as we work to make ourselves stronger over the long term.

Samir Husni: What is Bauer’s secret recipe, if you can reveal it? Or the magic that actually gives those two magazines the number one and the number two spots when it comes to sales on newsstands.

Steven Kotok: I don’t know if it’s a secret recipe so much as it’s that we’re really playing a different game than a lot of other publications. If you look at some recent redesigns of other titles in the space you really see a redesign focused on persuading advertisers that this is a product read by millennials or being a nice ad environment. And that stuck. There’s nothing wrong with that, those magazines run great businesses and they work at what they do and they’re smart, but we are doing something else. We’re wholly focused on the reader and we won’t make the compromises for other channels of revenue.

If you look at any one of our covers for Woman’s World, a lot of natural remedies, all very medically tested and our editor in chief has a health background and is rigorous about what goes in the magazine, but a lot of other titles just won’t cover that because it’s something that pharmaceutical advertisers don’t like. We still get pharmaceutical advertising because we have a very large audience and we have very, very little overlap with other publications. We have an audience that if you want to reach them you have to come through us, but that’s just an area of emphasis. What choices you make as a brand; we’re always going to put what helps the reader and what the reader wants first. So, there’s no secret sauce, it’s really just what game you’re playing.

Samir Husni: I noticed that you’ve continued with your line of SIPs, such as the food magazines. And you’ve introduced the digest size of First for Women, a special SIP. What else are you planning; what’s cooking on the backburner?

Steve Kotok: (Laughs) A lot more food titles; we find that those are very – they don’t just sell well, but they’re reliable. If we do what we know how to do, with all of our years – I tried to calculate once how many recipes we’ve ran in Woman’s World, 52 issues a year for going on 40 years. And we’ve done a lot of recipes on any given thing, which isn’t just a great source of content, but we just know what people care about. So, the food SIPs have really been successful for us and again, not just because they sell nicely, but because many times the SIP market is kind of a hit and miss business. Some things sell great, some not so great, but food, and maybe it’s just for us because we know about markets so well, but food is very reliable.

We know if we do something on Mediterranean food or gluten-free or something, we’re going to get it right and we’re going to find our audience. So, we see ourselves doing a lot more of that. Other areas have been more hit and miss, and maybe that’s the nature of the business. But it’s also a very saturated market, so we’re trying to find areas where we can really be the best and rely on our expertise and know that we’re going to put out our best product. In some areas, you’ll see five or ten products on the exact same thing and a lot of copycat products. But we’ll be doing more of that, but it can be a tough market because of the saturation.

Samir Husni: And you kept the soap opera magazines, the CBS and ABC soap opera titles. Why did you decide to keep those?

Steven Kotok: It’s just a very healthy and dedicated audience. There’s one competitor that it beats every single week. It’s just such a nice business. The celebrity titles we felt weren’t that differentiated and didn’t have the same loyalty. These products really have loyalty and they’re really reliable. And we’re really good at it; we know how to do it. It’s just a very stable and dedicated business. The scary thing is, again you’re dependent on the networks to broadcast soap operas. It’s not the type of audience who is going to transition to reality shows or nighttime soap operas, it’s really this is where they’re at. But that kind of risk aside, we hate things being out of our control, but that risk aside, it’s exactly what Bauer should be doing and what Bauer is good at, producing products that exactly connect with the right audience and do so reliably.

Samir Husni: With your background, you’ve been in print, in digital; what role do you feel print will play in 2018 and beyond with the multimedia mix that’s out there today?

Steve Kotok: For the reader and for advertisers it’s a different question. For advertisers I think the pendulum can swing back and forth, from what’s going to hit on the digital side and what is most effective on the print side, and now you have an issue with not everyone that’s buying print is even that familiar with it, so the effectiveness doesn’t even interest them as much as we feel it should.

But on the reader’s side, it’s part of the reason that we focus on this women’s service space; we feel we have to be providing a significant service value. In a way, celebrity news does compete with digital and it doesn’t always win. The teen titles that were beloved internally, that’s a market that’s shifted to digital. I think print is going to have a very important place for certain groups of readers that we can provide value for. As a company and as a person, I’m not pro-print, anti-print; you see what’s going on in other companies and they’re trying to be digital-first and we’re just reader-first. We’re going to be the last guy trying to push a print magazine if that’s not what readers want; it’s reader-first.

The women’s service readers definitely like the experience of buying something in print. As much as they love the product and as proud of the product as we are, the buying experience is a big part of it as well. We’re growing our subscriptions, but the physical act of making the purchase from the supermarket and giving yourself a treat after a long day, that is part of the pleasure of these products. Even if some of the information is available online, it’s that retail experience that ultimately excites our consumers.

People talk about retail becoming an event, an entertainment, and a retail-tainment, I’m sure that may be possible, but I think on a very micro level, just buying something that’s for you, that you feel like understands who you are and is a treat, that in itself is a kind of micro retail entertainment. Print will have a role, a very significant role.

Samir Husni: In the two years that you’ve been heading up Bauer, what would you consider the most pleasant moment you have experienced?

Steven Kotok: All my pleasant moments at all of my jobs come from things that go on with the team. It’s not as interesting to an outside audience, but at Bauer, having the first all-company holiday party in seven or eight years; having the company’s first all-hands meeting. A lot of the time two different people who have been at the company for 10 years will meet each other for the first time and watching them have these animated conversations is so great to see. Doing new things, where people at the company are stretching themselves and doing things for the first time—it’s really rewarding.

When I think back on previous jobs, that’s the stuff I remember much more than the “wins,” which when looking back in time, the world changes so much the “wins” aren’t necessarily as relevant, but the people who you see move into leadership positions is what lasts. So, all of my pleasant moments have been that.

Bauer was a very well-run company before I got here, but I think kind of opening it up and making it less about the individual brands and more about the company as a whole, doing things like the one holiday party instead of a bunch, and all-hands meeting, that’s personally rewarding.

Samir Husni: And has there been a moment where you asked yourself why you took this job?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) There’s definitely a challenge in the supply chain. In one sense, you have really strong relationships with supply chain partners and very good personal relationships, but then there are times when you’re really adversarial. And some of those times you’re dealing with a partner that controls a significant amount of the market, and as a publisher we control a significant amount of the market, so you both have a lot of power and there’s Murphy’s Law. Some of those moments can be pretty fraught, but the individuals who run those organizations seem to be as dedicated as I am to building a good personal relationship to keep things from getting scarier than they need to be and to running good businesses. Most of those operations are privately-owned as well, they’re in it for the long term too. Those would be some of the scarier moments; anything out of your control.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that Bauer USA is on stronger footing today than it was a year ago?

Steven Kotok: Oh yes, yes. The sustainability and strength of the company is stronger now than before we did the transaction with the other titles and before we made some of the changes to focus more on margin. So, yes, that’s kind of unquestioned. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, part of the appeal of the job is that it’s a tough job. It’s strangely rewarding to take on something tough. So, it’s still tough, but as a company compared to a year ago or a year and a half ago, that part is, as I said, unquestioned.

What we do going forward and how we make ourselves even stronger, that’s the part tougher to say, whether we’ll be 100 percent stronger a year, two years, three years from now, but we feel that we’re making the same types of decisions for the same right reasons as the previous ones that worked out.

Samir Husni: This is a question that one of our former students,Sharyn Elizabeth Alfonsi, who works for 60 minutes now, asked Paul McCartney and I really love the question, so I figure I am going to use it in every interview I do since she was a former student: what’s the biggest misconception about you, Steven?

Steven Kotok: I don’t know that people have a lot of conceptions about me. I feel like I make a better impression as time goes on, for whatever reason. I remember when I was executive producer of Dennis Interactive, when Dennis had this digital thing and we would have these meetings with Mercedes and all of these people. The first meeting would be about how cool the programmers were and others, so I was kind of forgotten. By the fifth meeting any question anyone asked, all of the heads would swivel toward me because they knew I had the answer, so I think there’s some sense of being more of a third impression guy than a first impression guy, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the business of being an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, but I have noted that, the sense of being initially underestimated and that kind of recalibrating as people get to know me better.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add? Any big announcements you’d like to share?

Steven Kotok: (Laughs) No big announcements. We’re working on developing big and exciting announcements. We’re starting to look more earnestly at opportunities for acquisitions. I don’t think we’ll have any announcements until next year, but that’s a big focus here. We feel confident in our ability to operate reader-driven businesses effectively, so we’re looking for opportunities to acquire things. That’s our next big focus.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Steven Kotok: From a business perspective it would be that I focused on and understood the reader. My whole career has been based on that; it’s just something I know how to do and that I love and the thing that’s meaningful to me. As a person, that’s kind of a tougher one. I need more self-knowledge than I have, but certainly I think as a person I would hope that people would say he cared in general about whatever was important to care about. As a business person, understanding and being focused on the reader, so maybe it is tattooed on my brain and I didn’t know.

Samir Husni: Last time we talked in 2016, I asked you if I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing, reading a magazine, watching television, cooking, or something else, and you said winding down for you was cooking and having a glass of wine. Are you still doing that or your life is now busier than ever?

Steven Kotok: Since joining Bauer, my wife and I moved to the country so I can be closer to the NJ office, so sitting on our deck and just enjoying being together is our main after work activity. For dinner many nights we have a smorgasbord of dips and vegetables and snacks and cheeses and stuff—that’s our favorite thing

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night these days?

Steven Kotok: Things outside my control. Along with the supply chain, another aspect you see now is retailers reducing the space allocated to magazines, and all those things. We know that we connect with our readers and anything that comes between us and our readers and is not in our control is going to be what keeps us up at night. The supply chain and retailers, just all of these things. It’s an appeal of the digital ecosphere, that there’s less coming between you and your readers.

So, anything that comes between us and our readers. I never worry about whether we’re connecting with our readers or serving our readers. We work like hell to make sure we are, so we worry about it in essence, but we don’t really worry. We don’t wonder because we have such instant feedback and look into it in such depth. Anything that comes between us and our readers and isn’t in our control is going to keep us up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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From The Vault: Getting To Know Will Welch, The New Editor-in-Chief Of GQ Magazine… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview from 2016

September 13, 2018

Bob Sauerberg, CEO and president of Condé Nast, announced today that he is “pleased to share the news that we have named Will Welch as the next editor-in-chief of GQ, overseeing all content development, production and consumer experiences for GQ’s digital, social, video and print platforms, as well as the brand’s iconic Men of the Year Awards.

Will has been part of the GQ family since 2007, rising to become the editor-in-chief of GQ Style in 2015 and earlier this year was named GQ’s creative director, and a big part of why a new generation of consumers are drawn to the brand…”

Two years ago (November 10, 2016) I published my interview with Will when he became the editor-in-chief of GQ Style. What follows is the Mr. Magazine™ Interview from the Vault with Will Welch, now editor-in-chief of GQ magazine.

GQ Style & Will Welch: Bringing The Human Soul & Style Together In The Most Wonderful of Ways – The Mr. Magazine Interview With Will Welch, Editor In Chief, GQ Style…

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“There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’” Will Welch…

Heart and soul for the brand, two of the most important passions a magazine maker can have. Add in an honesty that goes much deeper than just the pages of the magazine; a candor that comes from the actual depths of the human being creating it, and you have Condé Nast’s latest title and its editor in chief, Will Welch; a man who is redefining just exactly what a luxury men’s magazine is.

Will joined Condé Nast in 2007 on GQ’s editorial team, most recently serving as the magazine’s style editor. Today, Will is editor in chief of GQ Style and is bringing his own fresh approach to the art of being a man. There are no taboos when it comes to what goes with fashion, as far as Will sees it. His vision is clear and focused; men mix fashion with art, music and interior design every day, and that authentic direction, while unique, is also spot on with his readers.

I spoke with Will recently and we talked about his passionate and soulful belief and views about the magazine. His mission statement for the magazine is simple: how to succeed with style and soul. And for him that isn’t always about an expensive price tag hanging from the shirt. It’s about beauty, integrity and much more than the design of the jacket. In Will’s own words, “It is feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.” And you absolutely can’t argue with that.

In fact, Mr. Magazine™ was so impressed with GQ Style; I selected it as one of the 30 Hottest New Launches for 2016. It was a refreshing change of pace to have an editor in chief of a men’s magazine see that we males have quite a bit more on our minds than just clothes. GQ Style has put a new definition on the five-letter word. Being stylish involves a lifestyle more than just trendy attire.

So, I hope that you enjoy this refreshing glimpse into the world of a man who is not afraid to shake up the space of men’s magazines, especially when he does so with heart, soul, and a new type of “style” – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch, Editor in Chief of GQ Style.

But first the sound-bites:

Will Welch Photo by Jake Rosenburg

Will Welch
Photo by Jake Rosenburg

On why he thinks GQ Style wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago: There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.On how much of his own soul he puts into the magazine: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

On the Holiday issue that features a 20-page Jazz portfolio: Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it’s huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

On whether that portfolio could only be achieved in print: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

On what role he thinks GQ Style plays in today’s digital world: There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

On if there have been any stumbling blocks: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking.

On writing an introduction for the Rick Ruben interview with Kendrick Lamar: I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now.

On coming up with cover stories: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations.

On his expectations for GQ Style one year from now: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly to his home one evening: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Will Welch,
Editor in Chief, GQ Style.

Samir Husni: You redefined luxury in the magazine with the first issue and you created a magazine that technically you have admitted would not have existed just a few years ago. Why do think that GQ Style would not have existed 10 years ago?

Will Welch: There are a couple of reasons, but the place I’d like to start is with the awareness of men’s style and men’s lifestyle pursuits, including fashion, interior design, design, architecture, art and travel. Men have this awareness and ease with the vocabulary, and excitement about these topics has grown. The amount that these topics are a part of their lives and conversations, let’s just ballpark within the last 16 years, has really accelerated, but especially within the last 10 years. That allowed GQ Style to tackle those topics with real passion, they’re not floating off in the abstract and they’re not these exclusive pursuits of the rich and well-heeled, or people with money to burn.

There’s a real culture around fashion, art and interior design. The conversations I have with friends, and have had since I was in college, related to art had nothing to do with our means to actually buy a piece of art from a gallery. But, there was enthusiasm, excitement, awareness, and vocabulary built around that. What that means, for me, GQ Style was able to be really organic, authentic, and this word might be a stretch but I think I can explain it, and I put it on the cover of the first issue for a reason – soulful. That created the dialogue, discussion, and presentation of all of these elements that can be defined as luxury or lifestyle and culture in magazine form.

I feel like in a way, GQ style was made possible because of the culture among American men. Over the last 16 years it has been evolving at a clip that made a magazine where the discussion of this stuff was really natural and not in anyway forced. That cover line from our debut issue, which came out in May with Robert Downey Jr. on the cover, was sort of presented as the cover-line selling the Robert Downey Jr. story. But to me, it was secretly the mission statement of the magazine, which is how to succeed with style and a soul. That was my way of sending a coded signal that the content of this magazine isn’t going to be fancy, expensive or luxury just for expensive sake, and I think there’s a history of luxury magazines participating in that and I wanted a clean break. I felt that the culture had created a moment that was ready for GQ Style. So, that’s what we’ve been striving to make and we have three issues that have come out so far and it’s feeling good. It’s feeling like the stuff we are covering is coming from a really honest place and that’s the most important thing to me.
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Samir Husni: Will, you are now 35, so how much of your own soul do you put into this magazine to make it even more soulful.

Will Welch: (Laughs) There are a few things that I invest myself in. I think of things that my wife and I are interested in and conversations we have that aren’t in the magazine. But pretty much a huge portion of what I’m invested in, finds itself in the magazine in one form or another.

For example, in the debut issue, there was an 8-page spread on Sid Mashburn store. Which I think is one of the very best stores in the country. It was started in Atlanta and now posted in D.C., Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Sid Mashburn is an incredibly interesting guy who has started this store. He comes from a family that had small town stores in the American south, where it was really about community and value and he doesn’t use this word but I would, soul, as much as it was about clothes or profit margin. It’s just a store in Atlanta, but to me there’s something going on there and there’s a story to tell. He’s doing something really unique that brings new ideas to bear on fashion and retail and getting dressed and all these topics that are relevant to GQ Style that I felt like eight pages made perfect sense.

In the Holiday Issue there’s a four-page story on the shop in Los Angeles called RTH, which was founded about 7 years ago by this designer, but even designer feels like too small of a word. He’s really a creative and a maker of interesting worlds named Rene Holguin. It’s just a shop in L.A., they have no e-commerce presence and it’s two stores that are just three doors down from each other. You walk in and find that he has created this whole world that is truly immersive. It’s like falling down a rabbit hole to walk into this store. I thought to myself, yes this is just a store in L.A. but this deserves a feature. I knew that Erykah Badu is also a huge fan of RTH, and by chance she discovered it the year it opened so we interviewed her about her love for RTH and what she knows about Rene Holguin, who founded it.

I guess what I’m saying is that these are small passions of mine. These are two little stores that I love, but to me there is something happening in both of them that is much bigger than just the footprint of their shops, so we wanted to give them a big space in GQ Style.

Also, in the Holiday Issue there is a 20 page Jazz portfolio. Again, just really investing in things that we believe are a little bit outside of what everybody might be talking about in the culture of the moment or they seem a little bit offbeat. I feel like the key to GQ Style connecting with readers and an audience, and the key to being relevant for us is to continue to throw ourselves at the stuff we really believe in, whether it be huge and mainstream or tiny and niche.

Samir Husni: That was my next question to you because when I saw the piece on jazz, I noticed some of the people featured reached the age of 91. That’s where I felt the soul of the magazine was. When I saw that feature, I felt like nobody thinks about jazz artists and what they wear, but rather they just enjoy their music. But you were able to turn it around and it was a combination of everything.

Will Welch: I think it was interesting because basically what happened is GQ’s great, longtime design director, Fred Woodward, who’s also the design director at GQ Style, although I think he brings out a very different style of himself when he’s working of GQ Style versus GQ. We were in an ideas meeting and he says to me: ‘Think of all the great lions of jazz that are still alive today. Not only are they alive but they’re still playing, they’re still making music, still playing at Village Vanguard, still releasing new albums. We talk about soul and passion and he was fired-up when he brought up this idea. He felt like it was something that was not only a nice piece for the 3 months that this issue is on newsstands, but it could be something that would really be a permanent document, a marking of this moment.

Any good magazine strives to be a document of the cultural moments of its time. So, we started going through the list and it was unbelievable, some of the histories of these guys who are still doing it. There were a couple key things for us. One, I think that jazz is synonymous with men’s style. The way that the jazz musicians, even going back to the 1920s but especially the 40s, 50s, 60s and even early 70s. I was talking with a friend and we were joking about the dashiki period of jazz, where the style of dress changed along with the sound of the music that was constantly happening. The jazzmen were some of the most stylish men of their times and so let’s work with these guys and do a portfolio, let’s collaborate with them. Our fashion editor, Mobolaji Dawodu did just a beautiful job styling the piece. But our vision for the photography and the fashion went hand-in-hand. Let’s not try to freeze these guys in time. Let’s not do classic black and white portraiture of guys who in their 60s, 70s, and as you mentioned, even 90s. These guys were, and are, visionaries.

The piece is called ‘The Explorers Club’ and these guys really used their instruments to explore the human condition, both internally and externally. We think about space travel when we think about a lot of these musicians like Pharoah Sanders. I also think about the exploration of the human interior of the human consciousness, and so we wanted to make them look futuristic now, not freeze them in stone. That was the director for both Christian Weeber, who is an incredible photographer and did a beautiful job with this portfolio, but also the director for Mobolaji Dawodu’s work with the fashion. You know, these guys are incredibly opinionated, his (Dawodu’s) stories coming back from set were hilarious like: ‘Hell no, I’ll never wear that. Get that out of my face.’ He would slowly find a rhythm with each of them. But taking that idea and believing it. Finding a way to not do it the expected way, but to make it fresh. Then to really invest in it, as far as the pages we are giving over to it. I guess if you really include the appendix where we talk about some of their greatest albums of all time, it’s like 26 pages of content.

Samir Husni: You look at those pages and flip those 26 pages and see the life and soul of the music. Is there a way you can do that in digital or can you only achieve that same portfolio in print?

Will Welch: You can’t achieve the same portfolio in digital. You can do a piece about the same guys, in the same attitude and same spirit and make it every bit as impactful and as much of a document of the moment in time. But, it would have to be rethought. Video and audio would have to play an important part of it. You would really want to conceive of it outside the standard idea of still-photography, written words, and the design that brings the two together.

I absolutely think you could do something that ambitious, and of course we are trying to do both. When we are commissioning the piece we are thinking about the digital version of it and trying to prepare for that. We have some interesting things in the works right now so that it really is compelling in something more than just a print piece translated online in an unsatisfying way when we launch it on GQStyle.com. The two have to be conceived independently from one another. For digital to be impactful it has to be thought of as digital.

Samir Husni: Nobody can accuse you of not being a digital native at your age. (Laughs)

Will Welch: (Laughs)

Samir Husni: So, as a digital native, what do you feel the role of print, as exemplified in GQ Style, is going to be for your generation?

Will Welch: I think when we are designing new print products or if someone young takes over a preexisting magazine, you have to toss out some of the institutional memory of the way a magazine is constructed. I tried to do that with GQ Style. This is oversimplifying a little bit but the traditional way a magazine is structured is there is newsy and small bits orientated beginning of the magazine called the front of the book. There is some different modular mid-length storytelling that is usually deemed the middle of the book. Which are all single pages that have ads next to them. Then you fit the feature-well, at which point the vast majority of the spreads are all editorial. There are no longer ads breaking up the editorial and that’s when you save your big visual moments and your long-form pieces. So, that is the way a magazine, again oversimplifying a little bit, but traditionally been structured.

With the launch of GQ Style, and I think anybody else my age who has the opportunity, rare though that may be these days, to launch something or alter something in print, has to look at that with a very critical eye and wonder how much of it is still relevant. I mean, a front of book news section, for a quarterly magazine especially, but I think even in a monthly as well, you’re just never going to keep up with the Internet so why even try?

So, really what happened with the launch of GQ Style, I spent a lot of the early days trying to think about, in the age of the internet, this is not the age of both the internet and print, this is the age purely of the internet, what can print do? What service can print provide the reader that they can’t already get online? I tried to build; of course with collaboration from my colleagues here, particularly Fred Woodword, the Design Director and Chris Opresic, the Photo Director, we tried to build a new structure that is specific to the digital age, specific to the concerns and topics of the imagined audience of GQ Style. This also included the out publisher Howard Mittman.

Howard deserves a lot of credit for understanding why that was going to make a difference, why that would be modern, why his advertisers would be okay with that, why that would help the fact that we cost $14.99 on the newsstand. I mean that was very collaborative and a huge leap of faith on his part and I thought pretty visionary to see the value in that and to know that that made sense from a business perspective. One very unique, and favorite aspects, there are a lot of readers who probably wouldn’t even be able to tell you that it’s happening but they feel it is that once the editorial section of the magazine begins, and earnest is all editorial spread, all the ads are backed upfront, maybe a couple in the back and add the back cover. But what would traditionally be a front of book, middle of book, and feature well is all editorial spreads. We have really tried to take advantage of that. Again, whether the reader knows it or not, they feel the difference.

There is no news section. If you want to know about what’s happening with the fashion houses or who the most stylish young band is, or what people wore at the New York City Marathon yesterday, I would happily direct you to GQStyle.com and our social feeds. What we are going to do in print is something that could only successfully live in print. We are going to use those pages to really do something that only works on the quarterly schedule that GQ Style is released in. I think it’s all about the width of throwing some, not all, but some magazine structure and thinking out of the window and saying, ‘what should print be now?’

Samir Husni: In fact, that’s what caught my attention. When I told Howard after I saw the first issue, “I have to interview Will.” I felt like you put your thumb on the heart of the problem. I am so glad you explained it the way you did. I always tell my clients or if I’m ever doing consulting, if you’re still doing the magazine as if it’s 2007 we have a problem.

Will Welch: Yes.

Samir Husni: Yours is a great example. I show my students your magazine. In fact, my teaching assistant, this is his favorite magazine. He’ll sit down and stop working to read GQ Style.

Will Welch: (Laughs) That gives me great, great joy. I’m so happy to hear that, thank you for passing that along.

Samir Husni: I mean the combination is really a new way of putting a magazine together, whether it’s a fashion magazine or any magazine that’s going to be in print.

Will Welch: I think that has to be the way to do it right now.

Samir Husni: So tell me, has it all been great, no stumbling blocks? Everything was as though you should have done this 3 years ago?

Will Welch: Well, to be really honest, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, there have been challenges along the way. There are quirky aspects of the way that GQ Style is designed and the way it operates that require some problem solving and some patience and smart thinking. But those are little pebbles compared to the stuff about it that’s felt really great.

I think crucially it has broadened the power and the reach of GQ. I feel like the existence of GQ Style has not only been a success in its own terms but has also been a list for GQ and just the umbrella brand. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot last week in particular, and I’m going to digress a little bit with the holiday issue; we launched it two weeks ago and we had this interesting cover package built around Kendrick Lamar. I had asked Rick Rubin, the legendary music producer, to interview Kendrick for the print piece. He and Kendrick also agreed to have that conversation videotaped and we did it at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios outside in Malibu, which is how Rick Rubin likes to do things, and I said let’s do a cut. And we had 3 cameras on them, and we did a cut that was all 55 minutes of this interview and put it online. I can’t remember the exact timeline, but in a week and a half or so, it hit about a million views on YouTube alone. You know that doesn’t count all of the plays on GQ and GQ Style’s websites. It was a very proud moment for us that it got to a million views that quickly just on YouTube.

I realized that the only way to think about this title, GQ Style, in this moment, is what GQ Style is to each reader. In each moment whatever piece of content is in front of them. So, I’ve been really working, starting with myself and also with my team, as well as with Howard and his team, that how do we get rid of the idea entirely that GQ Style is a print magazine that is supported by social channels, video content, GQStyle.com, that its print with these other supportive elements or buffers.

How do we realize that if somebody is reading? If a tweet or Facebook post or something else comes across a reader’s trance at any given moment that is from us that is GQ Style, that’s what GQ Style is in the moment. In fact, with this Kendrick Lamar and Rick Rubin video the fact that it had found that big of an audience that fast meant that GQ Style is this YouTube video to more people than it is anything else so far in our very young life. So, we have to think about the brand holistically but we also have to think about each tweet, each Instagram, each Facebook post, each story in each issue, all of those things, each picture that we publish, the way that we represent ourselves as we move around the world, or do interviews, or go out on meetings. GQ Style is whatever that thing is to that person in that moment. I think it is of upmost importance that my team and myself digest that in order to have success, managing all of the many elements of this new entity.

Samir Husni: I noticed in that specific interview that Rick Rubin did with Kendrick Lamar, that you wrote an introduction to that interview, which is unusual. In the traditional way of doing magazines, you ask the person who does the interview to do the introduction or also the lead.

Will Welch: Yes, absolutely, and I just felt like it needed a moment because we had asked Rick to do this interview and he had so graciously agreed, and I had sort of said you should ask Kendrick whatever you want. I felt like there needed to be a moment where, especially because GQ Style is such a new magazine and such a new title across the platforms, there needed to be a moment where our readers understood why we had chosen Kendrick Lamar and why now. I was present for the interview and sort of done a lot of the arranging, so I felt like there should… you know it’s only a could of paragraphs long you know, it’s very short, but just a quick taste for like its only our third issue, it’s our first ever holiday issue here’s why we’ve chosen Kendrick Lamar for the cover and here’s why Rick Rubin is interviewing him and here’s just a little bit of insight into what happened that cool day in Malibu, and then I kind of get out of the way and let the two of them talk.

Samir Husni: So how do those cover ideas come to you? Do you lie in bed and think ‘Oh, we need to have Kendrick Lamar on the cover?’ Or, if I am to go inside your brain, how do you reach those moments in selecting your cover story?
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Will Welch: It can be a moment in the middle of the night. It can be that for me or any member of my team, or someone from the GQ staff, like ‘You know who I’ve been thinking would be really cool for you guys?’ Because we all work on the same floor here together and there’s a constant ebb and flow of communication and ideas and just hallway communication like any cool collegial office. So it’s sort of like a nonstop topic of conversations. I mean we’re talking about, of course, the spring 2017 cover which is our next issue that we’re currently putting together, but we’re really taking about the next year of covers, and I find myself thinking about it while I’m riding the train in the morning or driving, or on planes.

Names come up out of conversations that are completely unrelated to like editorial coverage, just some conversation with a friend or acquaintance that mentioned somebody. You kind of go ‘Wait a minute, that person could be really interesting’. From there, it’s really just about, well, another thing that I think is crucial to these early days of GQ Style is that I was kind of obsessing about this and the first couple of weeks that we had announced this launch, I was like how do you break through like we’re going to be doing this new thing and how do we break through?

Everybody knows how noisy of a time it is for media, but not just for media, there are kids with twitter accounts who have a louder voice than some of the most storied media entities in the world. I mean it’s a really intense and tricky time for any new launch; it could be a new fashion brand, I don’t know a new brand of kale chips, whatever the case may be, or in my case this new magazine title like how we break through? I think the key to it is you have to know who you are and you have to digest that and feel it in your bones. Then, you have to move forward always looking for new and interesting ways to do your thing whatever that might be, but it always has to be anchored in a real knowledge of who you are, and by who I am I mean what GQ Style is and what it’s all about.

So, I spend a lot of time in my own head and the notes folder in my iPhone and then once I kind of put a staff together with developing this together with my staff and it’s changed as different personalities have come on board and added their ideas to the mix, but we’ve really just been honing this idea of just what GQ Style is, what it’s all about, and then it gets really interesting when you’re thinking of new ideas and who should be on the cover to take this. You know for our covers so far they’ve all been celebrities, to take these celebrities and say what do they have to do with this idea of GQ Style that we’ve been talking so much about. Do they twist it in an interesting way or are they not related to it or are they perfect on message, do they seem like they’re related to what we’re doing but maybe it’s a year down the road? So, its like there’s this litmus test and you’re kind of bringing different people, different ideas, different stories, different kinds of storytelling into the mix and trying to figure out what that means for this central idea that you’re defining.

Samir Husni: If I speak with you a year from now, what would you hope to tell me about GQ Style; what are your expectations?

Will Welch: I feel very strongly that the first three issues have been successful in that they’ve defined and sort of laid out the case for GQ Style, and why what we’re doing is relevant, and what a reader can gain by coming to us in all of our forms, social, GQStyle.com, GQ Style in print. I’m very proud of the content that we’ve made.

I think we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, but evolve that in 2017 as well. We have the opportunity to really think outside the box and be creative in the way we use all of these tools that are currently at our disposal, which could be Facebook or an event that we throw, it could be any number of things. I think we’ve created a pretty cool product, I really believe that, but we need to raise awareness and there’s the opportunity to do that in new ways, print magazines certainly, but media entities in general haven’t breached yet. We’re a really small team but I think we have the creativity and the brainpower and the resources to be innovative. I hope that’s the story of 2017, I hope that’s the story we get to tell when the time comes.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; having a glass of wine; watching television; or something else?

Will Welch: Evenings at home are usually spent on the couch with my wife, and I’m not too proud of this, but we’ll be having dinner next to each other on the couch with two cats around, and there’s always a series of things going on, it could be a football game or a TV show on, or my wife might be reading a book and I might be on my phone at the same time or vice versa. So, it’s interesting to think how that relates to GQ Style; we’re relaxing but there’s also this mix of print, digital, fiber optic cable, all of this stuff swirling in the mix you know? Sometimes, like now, it’s starting to get cold so there might be a fire going and just books, but usually the TV’s off and on, books and magazines and newspapers are in the mix, but so are our iPhones, and dinner and our two pet cats.

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

Will Welch: What keeps me up at night is family-related, I’m 35 years old and it just seems to be an interesting time in my life, there are all of these opportunities for me to grow and mature, so I’m sort of trying to evolve as a man and a husband and a son and all of these things, and elements of that keep me up at night. But what pertains to GQ Style is usually there is a story I want to tell and there are some elements blocking it, it could be a budget thing or a talent booking issue, or a photography or a photographer-booking question. You know to tell a successful story there are always a lot of people and a lot of talents and expertise moving in the same direction. That usually takes some finesse, so sometimes I’m up at night figuring out the right way to finesse.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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TYPE Magazine Presents A Conference That Looks At The Visual Side Of Rolling Stone & The People Who Contributed To That Legacy – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Roger Black, Editor In Chief, TYPE Magazine…

May 21, 2018

“I believe that’s the real problem and that’s the second part of what we’re going to talk about at this conference, what do we do; how do we recreate the magazine experience in the digital era? And how do we do it digitally? I will be the first to admit that I have not succeeded in figuring out digital formats for magazines that have the same compelling feeling, the same attraction, the same experience where you sit down with a good print magazine and you enjoy it. And then you get to a finish; you feel like you’ve completed it and you put it down. And that’s not true with the websites or the apps. They’re never finished. And it’s a very tangential and short experience. You dive in and read part of an article and you’re gone. You don’t even know where the article came from some of the time.” Roger Black…

“What I want to ask everyone (at the conference) is what they learned. What was the point? What is the value that we can impart? If you had a young designer today, what would you say to them? Or a young photography editor, what are the main guidelines? What is the meaning of Rolling Stone? What is the end result of all of this? And try to push that into not just an oral history, but actual analysis. And that’ll be fun to do. Andy Cowles, who was one of the designers who shook things up, who burned the brush, he is going to try and talk about how the brand was built and what that means now. And for the new owner, that may be what he paid for, the brand. What can you do with that?” Roger Black…

May 25, 2018 at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in New York, TYPE magazine will present “The Art of Rolling Stone,” exploring the impact art directors, illustrators, photographers, and visual creatives have had on the 50-year-old magazine.

Roger Black is editor in chief of TYPE and a typographer and designer in his own right. The stories and ‘lessons learned’ from the visual leaders of the magazine is the ultimate goal of this conference.

“And I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes,” Roger told me when I spoke to him recently. Each time I speak with Roger Black, I feel energized and learn something new with every conversation. This interview was no different. As a former art director for Rolling Stone, the magazine holds a special place in Roger’s heart as he told me during the interview, and he gives the musical icon total credit for putting him on the national map when it comes to design.

The conference, which will be held on May 25, 2018 at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in NYC, will pay tribute to the people who created a design legacy, from Rolling Stone’s first art director to its current one—plus photo editors and photographers who’ve immortalized a whole culture. As the magazine is at a turning point in its 50-year history, what better time to explore the impact of the visual aspects and ask the questions that deserve to be answered: what have we learned from something as influential and connective with its readers as Rolling Stone? And what’s next for the five-decades-old publication?

So, I hope you enjoy this very informative conversation with a man as knowledgeable about design and the magazine industry as a whole, as I have ever spoken with, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Black.

And for more info on “The Art of Rolling Stone” conference, please visit TYPE magazine’s website here: http://www.typemag.org/home/the-art-of-rolling-stone

But first the sound-bites:

On the conference TYPE magazine is presenting on Rolling Stone magazine: We really hear a lot more about Hunter Thompson and the writers than we do about Mike Salisbury or Fred Woodward. We started talking about doing this a few years ago, but by the time we got it organized it was 2018. (Laughs) Essentially, it’s a non-profit event. We have a nice bit of support from Rolling Stone, they’ve been very friendly about it. But at the same time, we’re really taking stock of what has Rolling Stone done on the visual side and who are the people who did that. So, to some degree they’re very proud of that and happy with the legacy, but they’re preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do next. So, at that level, it’s probably a good idea that we do this, because I don’t know when it would get done again.

On whether he can think of anyone other than Jann Wenner or Hugh Hefner who had 50-plus years as editor in chief at the same magazine: William Shawn, although he was not editor in chief of The New Yorker the whole time. He was there for 50 years, a ridiculously long time and he was an old man when he retired, but in some respects, it wasn’t his magazine, it was Harold Ross’s magazine; he inherited the mantle, so it isn’t quite the same.

On whether the move from the west coast to the east coast for Rolling Stone had an impact on the design or the brand: It’s difficult for me to sort out how much of it was because of New York and how much of it was because of the change in the business, because if you remember, that move coincided with the magazine’s heyday. That was a time when it was filled with ads and had everyone’s attention. It was very important at that moment. It was also past the 10-year mark and it was beginning to institutionalize; it was beginning to settle into patterns. If you look at, say, Fortune magazine, it was very experimental and very interesting from a design point of view in the early days. But then by the 50s it became almost formulaic, and I think Rolling Stone was settling into a formula, into its formula. Three features and one of them would be rock and roll, one would be personality and one would be politics, the front of the book and the back of the book. And a certain number of pages.

On bringing all of these art directors together at the conference and if he thinks it will be a “Clash of the Titans” or they’ll check their egos at the door: One thing that I’m trying to do, and we’ll see how successful I am, is to get everybody to focus, not so much on their portfolios, because with people like Fred Woodward, we know his portfolio. And we don’t need to see the history of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs again. It’s like going to a Picasso show, okay that’s the Blue Period, I get it. (Laughs) I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes. But I really want to find out what they learned.

On the collective art of print magazines: Yes, and that’s the fun part too, I think. We do have one session on the team at Rolling Stone, and none of the top art directors are there, but all of the people who are on the panel have gone on to become art directors. We’ve had more people who have become art directors from the 70s than anything else. Some of them went into advertising, there is Rich Silverstein in San Francisco, but there are people like Mick Stevens, The New Yorker cartoonist, he was a paste-up artist.

On why he’s always had a soft spot for Rolling Stone, even though he’s worked on many magazines: Well, I owe a lot to Rolling Stone. It taught me, because I never went to design school. I had already done some newspapers, tabloids. I had been the art director of a weekly in L.A. and then I had done some freelance work. I recently found the first issues of Cycle News that I did in 1973 or 1974. (Laughs) And they looked pretty good. And that was before Rolling Stone. So, I had learned a few things along the way, but Rolling Stone was a much more challenging environment. I had a year before I had to be the art director, so that was great training. And Jann had to be the most, he is a completely compulsive lunatic, but he’s a genius. He would come up with something in a split second that would electrify you and you’d have to move as fast as you could to keep up with him. And that was a wonderful experience.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Roger Black, editor in chief, TYPE magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the conference that Type magazine is presenting about Rolling Stone.

Roger Black: Rolling Stone magazine is at a turning point and at a very interesting moment in its history. There was quite a lot of attention with the HBO special, and there was a very beautiful book put out, but very little about how the magazine was designed and how that visual style developed over the years and the people who contributed to that.

The book about the Rolling Stone covers is in its third edition, and this edition is called “Rolling Stone 50 Years of Covers,” and Jann (Wenner) has a nice introduction to that, where he gives due credit to the designers and the art directors and tells a few anecdotes about that.

But other than that, we really hear a lot more about Hunter Thompson and the writers than we do about Mike Salisbury or Fred Woodward. We started talking about doing this a few years ago, but by the time we got it organized it was 2018. (Laughs) Essentially, it’s a non-profit event. We have a nice bit of support from Rolling Stone, they’ve been very friendly about it.

But at the same time, we’re really taking stock of what has Rolling Stone done on the visual side and who are the people who did that. So, to some degree they’re very proud of that and happy with the legacy, but they’re preoccupied with trying to figure out what to do next. So, at that level, it’s probably a good idea that we do this, because I don’t know when it would get done again.

Samir Husni: When you really think about it, we had two magazines; we had Rolling Stone and Playboy, with the longest-serving editors; from the beginning of Playboy in 1953, Hugh Hefner was editor in chief, and the beginning of 1967, it was the same thing with Jann Wenner. When you look at the magazine industry as a whole, can you think of any other icons who lasted 50 years-plus?

Roger Black: William Shawn, although he was not editor in chief of The New Yorker the whole time. He was there for 50 years, a ridiculously long time and he was an old man when he retired, but in some respects, it wasn’t his magazine, it was Harold Ross’s magazine; he inherited the mantle, so it isn’t quite the same.

At Playboy there was someone else, Art Paul, who just passed. Art Paul did the magazine, when we were at Esquire or something, you’d look at Art Paul a little bit like you would look at Hugh Hefner; he did the magazine very sleek, with a love of chrome and velvet. And it was a little too rich and too polished for the kind of AIGA wisdom of what design is supposed to be. And it was much more eclectic; it wasn’t a powerhouse, modern design, despite the fact that he was in Chicago. It was much more fun. (Laughs)

A little later in the sixties, we saw people like William Holbert, the art director of Look, adapt that modern style in a much warmer way than say, the Germans had done it. But still, what Art Paul was doing was a little more like what Rolling Stone was doing, he was trying to create his own voice or the voice of the magazine, that had its own rich personality. It was what we call today “branding.” (Laughs) And incredibly successful. The paid circulation of Playboy was what, two million at one point? I don’t remember. But it was huge.

Samir Husni: Seven million at one point.

Roger Black: Seven million? There you go. And it wasn’t a discounted magazine either. Now, Rolling Stone never got to those kinds of numbers, but it held over a million for quite a few years; I’m not sure where it is now.

But it was the same kind of thing. Instead of being one art director, there was a series of art directors who all had a different take on the same voice. And I think Jann gets an enormous amount of the credit for pushing that and for also shaking it up from time to time. I don’t think he would be particularly surprised or disheartened by the changes that are very likely to be made today.

There are two things that we’re going to talk about at this conference with this group, and we do have the photography editors too, all of them, and that I’d say has more continuity than the art directors, but I’ll get to that in a minute. In the graphic design, in the format of the magazine, it started in a very restrained, very classical type of typographical style. I’ve said that it was trying to look like it was the entertainment section of The Times of London. (Laughs) Not even the Sunday Times. It was very sober.

And all of this was pushed back against the why of the illegible underground press, because right in San Francisco, you had all of the wonderful underground comic artists and illustrators. That whole underground look, which was rampant in the mid-sixties, by the time Jann got going, and actually in a way, it was inspired by what Warren Hinckle was doing at Ramparts, because Jann went to work at the Sunday Ramparts. All of this period is very nicely told in Joe Hagan’s book, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which came out last year. The book’s account of the first 10 years is fun and interesting. How do they do this?

Actually, Steve Heller asked me recently in an interview for Print Mag, did we think Rolling Stone was going to be a long, enduring publication when it was in its first 10 years? And actually, by the time I arrived, which was year eight, I was so young that it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t already a fixture. It seemed like it was a permanent institution. And your attitude is quite different about that from the hard travel underground, which I also knew from the 70s. There was a staff; there was machinery; everyone had fancy typewriters and we had a budget for editorial. So, we didn’t really think it was anything but something that was going to last a long time. We were building for success and we were building for a continuing style and idea that could be carried on.

And a lot of that has to do with the relationship a magazine has with its readers. I mentioned William Shawn; The New Yorker under keyed a fairly big visual change, but it still looks very much like The New Yorker. The cover idea, the style of illustration may have changed from time to time, but it’s still The New Yorker. You see a painting someplace or another picture and you say, that could be a New Yorker cover. And that’s an amazing thing.

Rolling Stone had that silly rock song, “Cover of the Rolling Stone” about it very early. It had already become a thing, a visual icon that people recognized. So, the first art director struggled with that and started this fairly straightforward, kind of an antidote, to the crazy underground that was unreliable and not very long-lived. Rolling Stone was setting itself up as the arbiter of the style and the culture and the politics. It was trying to give itself authority. And that was something that the underground was pushing against; they were pushing against authority.

So, that was a very interesting thought. For the first five years Jann worked with this fellow, John Williams, the first art director, and who is coming to our conference and who is never mentioned, someone Jann didn’t even know was still around. He’s been in San Francisco the whole time and he’s done very well and is in great shape. He’s done well as a designer, but he went away from publications. He’ll be at the conference and talk about those early days.

Robert Kingsbury, who is still alive, but unable to attend, was the second designer and actually Jann’s brother-in-law. The magazine started getting a little bit of money and hiring named illustrators and then Annie Leibovitz joined the staff. And all of that started the change. And he’s the one who first had Ralph Steadman in the magazine. He was an amazing guy. He was not part of the community of art directors; he was a sculptor and an artist that Jann pressed into service because he didn’t have much money. And he wanted to help. He was a very nice guy. Later, he did a lot of the book.

Then Jann turned to Mike Salisbury, who was a record company art director, fairly big-time and had done Surfer and Surfing magazines. He was a very lively and funny guy, kind of impetuous. It was difficult to have Jann and him in the same room at the same time. (Laughs)

He didn’t last that long, and then Tony Lane came in from a record company in the Bay area that had had some big hits. He was also a really polished art director with a big Rolodex, as we used to have in those days, filled with illustrators and photographers’ names. And he made a lot of amazing assignments. His typography was also superb. But he was also an extremely volatile customer, he and Jann were great friends for a while, then fell out.

I had been hired as the assistant and I came in and was there for about four years. I was the art director for almost three years and then my assistant, Mary Shanahan, took over. So, at that point, we had a certain kind of brand-building era. That was the first 10 years. Five art directors, Mary came in after the 10-year mark, she came in 1978. She went on to do GQ and French Vogue, and then Town & Country, not exactly the same kind of magazines, but she was very good, and the only female art director we’ve had at Rolling Stone for 50 years.

And at that point, when she left, Jann said, clear to the next, getting all so self-referential. And then he brought in Derek Ungless, a Brit, he had been Robert Priest’s cohort on “Weekend in Toronto.” And he took the Oxford rules off; he took the borders off the pages. (Laughs) So, that set up the cycle. Then Fred Woodward came in and he restored it all, put the Oxford rules back, and he was there for a long time. I think about 12 years.

Then another Brit came in and burned off the brush again. (Laughs) And then my friend, Amid Capeci, who is no longer alive and was a wonderful art director, came in and started doing the restoration, and Joe Hutchinson put the typefaces all back. And if you look at the last 10 years of the magazine, it’s very much Rolling Stone-looking. So, the obvious next step would be a big change, but we’ll see. It’s been reformed, has had a whole lot of brand-building, and has had a revival or shall we say, been reformed; radical change again and then revival. It’s very interesting to look at its 50-year history.

Samir Husni: It would make a nice case study, in terms of a conversation about brand-building and change.

Roger Black: Yes, and the amazing thing is people say that Rolling Stone isn’t what it used to be, but nothing is what it used to be. The culture is totally different and it has changed several times since. People say the magazine business is in convulsion and we haven’t figured out what we’re doing, and I think that’s fair. But if you talk to people in the music business, it’s morphing constantly They’re struggling to come up with new business models all of the time.

And the same thing with movies. Every two years, I’d say, there is a Variety or Hollywood Reporter headline that says, the studio system as we know it has collapsed. (Laughs) It’s all changing. And I don’t know what business doesn’t do that. But with the case of the long-form motion picture industry, with the kind of consolidation they’ve done and those huge franchises they’ve built, they’ve figured out how to make money, so there is a business model there.

Not so much with magazines. I believe that’s the real problem and that’s the second part of what we’re going to talk about at this conference, what do we do; how do we recreate the magazine experience in the digital era? And how do we do it digitally? I will be the first to admit that I have not succeeded in figuring out digital formats for magazines that have the same compelling feeling, the same attraction, the same experience where you sit down with a good print magazine and you enjoy it. And then you get to a finish; you feel like you’ve completed it and you put it down.

And that’s not true with the websites or the apps. They’re never finished. And it’s a very tangential and short experience. You dive in and read part of an article and you’re gone. You don’t even know where the article came from some of the time.

Samir Husni: Maybe that’s something that’s good. Maybe we should reconsider and say that if it’s not ink on paper, it’s not a magazine. You can call it anything you want, but it’s not a magazine.

Roger Black: Yes, I agree. It isn’t a magazine. I think that the apps, some of the news apps, particularly Financial Times and to some degree, The New York Times; the Financial Times actually still has an edition concept, you can look at live news or the edition, which is interesting. I guess the Brits are a little more conservative than we are. I can spend time in the morning with The New York Times’ app, I can spend 20 minutes without changing it, but the tendency nowadays is to immediately go to the Washington Post or the Financial Times or the L.A. Times or The Guardian; all have the same reading experience. Maybe some of us used to get five daily papers every morning, I remember at one time I got three at least. And I used to read The Wall Street Journal too.

So, there was some of that, but with a magazine, Esquire and The Atlantic, and at one moment in time, New York Magazine, there have been quite a few where you felt like when you needed something to do, you could just sit down and read the magazine. And that experience, the edition experience is unique.

Samir Husni: I’ve always had this question in the back of my mind, was there a difference in culture, design-wise, for Rolling Stone when it moved to the east coast from the west coast? Did that impact the design or the brand, or was it looked at as just a different location?

Roger Black: It’s difficult for me to sort out how much of it was because of New York and how much of it was because of the change in the business, because if you remember, that move coincided with the magazine’s heyday. That was a time when it was filled with ads and had everyone’s attention. It was very important at that moment. It was also past the 10-year mark and it was beginning to institutionalize; it was beginning to settle into patterns. If you look at, say, Fortune magazine, it was very experimental and very interesting from a design point of view in the early days. But then by the 50s it became almost formulaic, and I think Rolling Stone was settling into a formula, into its formula. Three features and one of them would be rock and roll, one would be personality and one would be politics, the front of the book and the back of the book. And a certain number of pages.

Now, from a design point of view, that was the year that the new design appeared, which was really a consolidation of what we had been working on for the last couple of years. There were particular typefaces and that morphed frequently, but it was still very recognizable and it’s still recognizable, if you look at the news section in the front of Rolling Stone, there’s a resemblance to what it did 40 years ago.

However, we did have access to a much bigger pool of talent visually. Annie (Leibovitz), at that time, was beginning to pull away from the magazine. She took a year’s leave and went off with the Rolling Stones band. And we had to find people who could do that kind of work. And Jann loved the kind of social side, so he got Richard Avedon to do that big issue, “The Family.” And he got Avedon’s old buddy, Hiro, the famous still-life photographer; he hired him and pretty much made his own assignment to cover the space shuttle series that Ed Zuckerman wrote. He took that picture that you later saw everywhere, it was a clothing rack with spacesuits hanging on it, so it was like ready-to-wear spacesuits, which was a symbol of the shuttle. Famous picture, and that was something that Annie never would have taken. She didn’t think that way.

We began to see a lot of other photography. We would send photojournalists like Nancy Moran to Panama with Jan Morris, things like that. So, it became much more big-time. Anybody would answer the phone. And that was a change from when I started in 1975; you’d call somebody in New York from San Francisco and they’d say, I don’t know, what are you going to pay? (Laughs) By 1977, you’d call New York and they’d seen all of the publicity and parties; we had an architectural review in The New York Times of our office, it was becoming very big-time, so you’d call somebody up then and they’d say yes before they heard any of the details. That was a big difference.

The other thing is, one of the big upsides of the early days of Rolling Stone was that it took a lot of risks and it wasn’t afraid of failure. It was actually part of the culture, sort of like a Silicon Valley culture, where you aim high and sometimes you fall flat on your face. But because we had a limited budget, we would just go ahead and print it. (Laughs) And by the time we got to New York, we started to understand that there was a kind of bottom, a threshold that we had to get over. We couldn’t print failures, we had to have a certain level of sophistication at the bottom. And that’s a difference.

So, if you look back at Mike Salisbury’s or my early magazines, there were things that seemed like a good idea at the time, and then two months later we’d ask, what were we thinking? (Laughs) And that also allowed the most extraordinarily wonderful layouts to appear.

And Jann was doing the same thing, his interest in space was very interesting. It was almost like he had become an Arthur C. Clarke fan. What was Rolling Stone covering space for? We did an astronomy piece called “The Odyssey and The Ecstasy” about Mars. And I did the “2001” look for that, very elegant and minimal. And that was a great layout. In a more formatted magazine, you would have to use all of the same typefaces for all of the stories, which is sort of the pattern today, but we were able to create things that were very individual.

Rolling Stone was big enough that you had a kind of “Rolling Stone World or Universe,” it was like a theme park. And you could have quite a lot of variety within that and you were still New York and Rolling Stone. Today, in publishing and in the media, particularly in digital media, the theme park is the whole Internet, it isn’t one brand. And so individual brands have to strive for consistency. I’ve heard designers criticize The New York Times for using different fonts in their magazine, so you’re going through the website and sort of randomly, you come up on a magazine article and because you’re not holding the magazine, people say that it doesn’t go with the brand. Give me a break, come on, why does everything have to be exactly the same? (Laughs)

And I think that was beginning to be lost in New York. It became more institutionalized, more establishment, more self-conscious. But nevertheless, look at what Fred Woodward did in his era. That was some of the most wonderful layouts in 20th century magazines. And that was quite a few years later.

Samir Husni: You are bringing all of these people together on May 25th. Is it going to be the Clash of the Titans? Are they going to check their egos outside the door before they come in? (Laughs)

Roger Black: (Laughs too). One thing that I’m trying to do, and we’ll see how successful I am, is to get everybody to focus, not so much on their portfolios, because with people like Fred Woodward, we know his portfolio. And we don’t need to see the history of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs again. It’s like going to a Picasso show, okay that’s the Blue Period, I get it. (Laughs) I want to get them to tell some of their funny stories, because they all have hilarious anecdotes. But I really want to find out what they learned.

We also have the three big photo editors. They were big in the industry, Karen Mullarkey, who I brought in. And then Laurie Kratochvil, who I had known from the 70s, and was photo editor for 15 years or so. And she hired Jodi Peckman, who has been there ever since. So, there is a 40-year span of photo editors that are going to be there too.

And what I want to ask everyone is what they learned. What was the point? What is the value that we can impart? If you had a young designer today, what would you say to them? Or a young photography editor, what are the main guidelines? What is the meaning of Rolling Stone? What is the end result of all of this? And try to push that into not just an oral history, but actual analysis. And that’ll be fun to do. Andy Cowles, who was one of the designers who shook things up, who burned the brush, he is going to try and talk about how the brand was built and what that means now. And for the new owner, that may be what he paid for, the brand. What can you do with that?

Samir Husni: As you talk about the integration of the design, the photography, the writers, you name it; don’t you think that’s what differentiates the creation of a magazine from any website? Anybody who thinks they can create a blog and they can have some magazine online, with the same person doing the writing and the editing, while you rarely find in the history of magazines, any of them done by one person. It’s always that collective art.

Roger Black: Yes, and that’s the fun part too, I think. We do have one session on the team at Rolling Stone, and none of the top art directors are there, but all of the people who are on the panel have gone on to become art directors. We’ve had more people who have become art directors from the 70s than anything else. Some of them went into advertising, there is Rich Silverstein in San Francisco, but there are people like Mick Stevens, The New Yorker cartoonist, he was a paste-up artist.

At the time they were there, they were part of a team. It was the hippie radical culture, a lot of people were doing the whole women’s movement that’s going on now; what was it like then, did women have equal pay and were they treated equally? Near as I can tell, we never even asked that question. If somebody was an art director, they all got the same pay. It wasn’t much, we weren’t paid a lot, but there was never any thought that you would pay a woman less. That didn’t make any sense.

In fact, we probably got better women at each grade because they were scrambling. They were willing to work for less. But I think if you look at the editorial department, it was all women. Harriet Fier, who just died this year, was a managing editor during that time. Sarah Lazin, who has gone on to become a fairly big-time book agent and Marianne Partridge were there. There was an enormous group of very great, very talented and wonderful editors who were all women. And that was interesting to me in the current context. It was the interaction between the team, now sometimes we had huge fights between editors and art directors, mostly over space. Jann actually agreed at one time that in the feature well, we do the following allocation, 50/50 solid text and everything else. So, art and white space, whatever you want to do with it. (Laughs)

But it was on the average of an issue, it wasn’t every article. So, we could have one very texty piece. But the idea of what the headlines were; how the actual picture worked within the sequence of the story, or the way the captions, how much spacing for captions; that was all done in a collaborative effort. And it was quite fun; it was a really great group.

We had moved on in that generation, the first 10 years of Rolling Stone, even though there were people like Mike or Tony, who were already fairly big-time art directors before they got there, unlike me, who nobody had ever heard of. There was never a feeling of the great master, there was none of that. We didn’t hand down sketches as art directors to a staff who implemented them. We sat down as a team and decided what would be best to do and who should do it.

By the time I got there, it wasn’t one art director designing everything, everybody in the art department, all of the designers anyway, contributed. They did layouts; they did covers. The job of the art director was to corral that group and get them to work together harder.

There is a fellow who will be at the conference on the team panel, Vincent Winter, who lived in Paris and is mostly a photographer now; we worked together subsequently on many projects. He had this brilliant idea of the way the typography should work at that moment in time, which was use modern construction, modern architecture, and use old-style typefaces. And it gave an enormous charge to the magazine. It became much more electric than previously. He went in and worked with Robert Priest at Esquire. In that early 80s period, Esquire got really exciting under Robert Priest. And I credit Vincent, maybe in the same way that we worked together, it was like he would challenge me and I would challenge him. And that created something that might have been better than you could create on your own.

And that was the wonderful thing about it. And I feel like they had that same camaraderie among the writers. It was an amazing group.

Samir Husni: You’ve worked on so many magazines, but from talking to you many times, I’ve always felt that you have a soft spot for Rolling Stone. Why?

Roger Black: Well, I owe a lot to Rolling Stone. It taught me, because I never went to design school. I had already done some newspapers, tabloids. I had been the art director of a weekly in L.A. and then I had done some freelance work. I recently found the first issues of Cycle News that I did in 1973 or 1974. (Laughs) And they looked pretty good. And that was before Rolling Stone. So, I had learned a few things along the way, but Rolling Stone was a much more challenging environment. I had a year before I had to be the art director, so that was great training. And Jann had to be the most, he is a completely compulsive lunatic, but he’s a genius. He would come up with something in a split second that would electrify you and you’d have to move as fast as you could to keep up with him. And that was a wonderful experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some great editors. Terry McDonell, who did Smart and then we did Esquire together, that was really fun. He is going to be a moderator at this thing, so that’ll be nice. And of course, Abe Rosenthal at The New York Times, there is no greater New York Times editor in its history. And I got to be his art director and that was pretty amazing.

Before Rolling Stone, as I said, no one had ever heard of me. I had never done anything nationally, and then I was. And it was huge success. And we won all of the awards. That was a great moment in my life. For many, many years, I tried to push back and people would say he’s the guy who did Rolling Stone and I would say that I had done other things. (Laughs) But still, it was very important to me and it was a great moment in time, so I’m happy to use that as the center of my resume. (Laughs again)

I think there’s a whole other conversation, which we touched on, which is that experience online. I did this thing called Tree Saver, which was a web app for turning pages. And we never had a matching business model, so we could never really make that idea work. We did quite a few of them, but they never made us a business success from it.

The same thing with the PDF magazines that Condé Nast got so excited about. And I remember at the time being skeptical. I’m working on my own book and I found a quote that said, “The iPad is not a magic pony.” That’s something that I said in a trade paper.

But there are people at Condé Nast and elsewhere who thought that they had solved the digital magazine problem. Just take the PDF’s and cast them into that format and that’s it. We ended up with Texture, which I think Apple bought. But Texture itself promotes individual articles for their magazines. And it’s not even a really good experience. It certainly doesn’t work on an iPhone. It’s okay. I subscribe to Texture. I can read The New Yorker on Texture if I don’t have my copy. And that’s good, I like that. I can go to The New Yorker app too, it’s very convenient. There are things that I don’t subscribe to, that I don’t get in there.

So, how can we work on this experience? If we can find a business model, I think we can recreate some of these. There are some things working. I’m doing TYPE magazine, for example, which is now in its second issue. It’s very much for love and not money. But we’re getting support and it’s kind of a tripod of members, advertisers and patrons holding it up.

Then there’s the billionaire magazine, Alta, which is quite good. And if we can find a benefactor, maybe we can hold on long enough until we can find an actual business model. I keep finding people who love the printed magazine.

That’s the conversation: how do we keep it going? Whether it’s things that you can create online, and as you pointed out, that’s not a magazine, but what could it be?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “In Its Simplest Form, My Elevator Pitch Is We’re Playing To Win Versus A Lot Of People Who Are Playing Not To Lose.” A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive First In-Depth Interview With Doug Olson.

March 10, 2018

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

“We’ve made a pretty big bet that magazines are not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print, so obviously it has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow.” Doug Olson…

“At the end of the day, I think the beauty of the new Meredith Corporation is that we understand there is some transitioning or shifting going on, but we believe we’re in a place to participate in that too. But at the end of the day, if you want to reach consumers in a very credible way, we also have these big brands that have lots of tentacles on them, including a very large print footprint. It’s really interesting to me that a lot of these social media people keep coming to us because they want to have a print presence, because it legitimizes their social standing. If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.” Doug Olson…

As a diversified, publicly-held company, Meredith Corporation encompasses a vast array of magazines and magazine media entities that vary from its female-oriented consumer brands, such as Allrecipes and Better Homes & Gardens, to its expanded reach through acquisitions and strategic partnerships, such as its recent purchase of Time Inc. Meredith is now the largest magazine media company in the country.

Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson, is excited about the incoming titles that Time Inc. brings to the table, and is ready to roll up his sleeves and get busy. The future looks very bright indeed for Meredith and the additional family members it has brought into the fold.

I spoke with Doug recently, for his first in-depth interview, and we talked about the Time Inc. acquisition and about the legacy Meredith and what this new endeavor could and would mean for the company. Doug is a firm believer in print, and he’s also an advocate for digital and all of its many extensions, from social media to online. And for the partnerships that pump new blood into the legacy company that keeps defying the odds and launching new print magazines, many of them from former digital-only entities. In Doug’s own words: “If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.” Print Proud Digital Smart, indeed.

So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation with a man who believes in his brands, all of his brands, both new and old, and believes in his company and says the differentiator between Meredith and many others is, Meredith doesn’t just play to not lose, Meredith plays to win – the Mr. Magazine™ exclusive interview with Meredith’s Magazine President Doug Olson.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether he thinks magazines are really going out of style or if there’s been a rebirth: Honestly, we’ve made a pretty big bet that they’re not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print. It obviously has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow. While the Magnolia Journal gets a lot of press these days, the Allrecipes brand has been very successful as well, especially given its origin within digital. It’s up to almost 1.3 million subscribers; it’s one of the brands that has been meeting its numbers every single year since we launched it.

On how he feels going into the marketplace knowing that Meredith is now the number one magazine media publisher in the United States: We think we’ve been the efficient operator in the marketplace for some time and that’s one of the reasons that we got the opportunity to own these great brands. But we understand our standing in the magazine world, if you will, has changed. It’s one that we embrace; we certainly respect it. But at the same time, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We think we do a lot of X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, just back to the basics to help advertisers sell more products or get their brand messages out to consumers. And that’s what we’ve done since the beginning on this thing, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

On how it feels to be in charge of the largest group of magazines in the country: It feels great. There are really five of us that have worked on this for over five years. I was in the initial meetings when we tried to jar these great brands loose from Time Warner back in 2012. And we’ve stuck with it and now we’re here. Again, we respect how big the task is, but at the same time we’ve got great people at legacy Meredith and there are some really good talented people at the incoming Time Inc.’s stable of brands and its employee base. We think that together the combination will be dynamite.

On whether the titles of publisher and editor may be coming back to the newly acquired Time Inc. titles: We’re strong believers in that someone has to get up every single day and focus on the individual brand. At Meredith, everyone is an integrated seller, it’s just to what degree do they focus on print versus digital and some of the other advertising mediums that are out there now. So, we want to take the best of both organizations…there are some things at the incoming Time Inc. organization that were working pretty well in the marketplace. There were a lot of things, especially around People magazine, that have been very vibrant for them. They’ve done a great job of focusing on what really throws off a lot of revenue and a lot of profit for the old Time Inc..

On how it feels to have weeklies now, such as People magazine: It’s definitely different for us, but the great news is there is a lot of expertise on the weeklies that exist in the acquired organization and we’re clearly leveraging their expertise. We admire the People brand. Obviously, as you mentioned, it’s the largest in the U.S., probably the largest in the world, if you really get down to it. But we’ve also run a very large brand ourselves called Better Homes & Gardens, which has a lot of multiplatform tentacles hanging off of it; a huge licensing program at Walmart, and a very large special interest media stable of brands that we sell on the newsstand. We’ve got a very large digital presence, so we’re used to overseeing and managing very large brands, but clearly People is at the next level.

On recent comments CEO Tom Harty made about increasing rates, cutting frequencies and reducing circulation, mainly due to the postal service: We stand by his comments that if such a large increase is passed on to an industry in one fell swoop, especially the way they’re talking about it, then there’s going to be some kind of fallout. You can’t continue to do what you’ve been doing, business as usual, with such a large increase in your expenses.

On the rumors that Meredith wants to be purely a women’s magazine publishing company: First of all, I don’t think people understand that we actually have some other men’s titles within the legacy Meredith stable. Successful Farming actually started the company and is very much aimed at mostly males, although there are more and more females that are operators in that space these days. Wood Magazine is another one. We do a fair amount of custom printing things along the way for some male audiences as well.

On whether he feels Meredith and Hearst are in a race when it comes to new magazines or new partnerships: I think Hearst is a very formidable competitor. They have some great brands over there as well and some really good people. I would say that they have chosen a path and we’ve chosen a slightly different path. We think brands matter tremendously and I think they do too, but we’ve put our money on brands that are some of the biggest in the world, and they went after some smaller ones, what we would call tuck-in acquisitions. I think both strategies are good strategies. It’s great to have a strong competitor, to be honest with you. It makes us better if we have a strong competitor.

On whether this year will see a calmer Meredith after the Time Inc. acquisition or 2018 will be full-steam ahead: We’ve shared with our shareholders, our board and our leadership team that this is really a two-year journey. This is a big undertaking; we want to get it right and take our time. We want to get the cost structure in line with the realities in the marketplace, and we don’t think we can do that in one fell swoop. We have to be very iterative. We’re doing some things now that are going to give some clarity to the marketplace as to who is covering their account and who they need to talk to. And we have to make sure that we get all of our brands covered, so that there are not brands lost in the shuffle.

On whether Meredith doubled or tripled his salary with the all of the added responsibilities: (Laughs) I would love it if you would send an email with that in it to Tom Harty. (Laughs again)

We think that we’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace over the last few years. And we believe that we’re very competitive and we’re going to be an employer of choice when all is said and done here. And I think there’s a lot of people at the incoming Time Inc. who are looking forward to some really good, solid leadership. They have great career opportunities in front of them. We haven’t even talked about how awesomely the content generation mechanism of this organization is. The editorial and the content production that we do is second to none.

On whether he is spending a lot of time now shuttling between New York and Des Moines: Yes, we’re spending a lot of time on the new business, but at the same time we have our existing legacy Meredith business to also run. The great thing is I have really good people who work for me and throughout this organization. We’ve asked everybody to step up and do more. We want to learn as much as we can of what was happening in a real positive way at the old Time Inc. and not lose that in all of the things we do. But clearly there will be some changes, and we’re going to put the best possible team on the field to go out and deal with the new realities of this marketplace, which is a lot tougher than it used to be.

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 06: Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines accepting The Launch of the Year Award from Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni at the American Magazine Media Conference 2018 on February 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for The Association of Magazine Media)

On the biggest stumbling block they faced during this transition and how they overcame it: That’s a good question. We’re not past it yet, we’re in the early stages. The easy part is actually done. The hard part now is making sure that we execute it the way we drew up the plans. But I think the biggest stumbling block was just getting everyone to believe and see what we see. That we see some great brands, that print is still a very big piece of an advertiser’s success moving forward. All of these great platforms, that large digital business that we have now between the two organizations puts us at number six for all unduplicated, unique visitors in the country.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: With all of the traveling that I do, it’s probably talking to my wife with a glass of wine in hand. We like to record some TV shows. For example, I hope no one lights me up over this, but we like to watch The Voice. That and we’re huge sports enthusiasts, so we like to go watch basketball and hockey games, volleyball and football, obviously. Anything except baseball regular season. I can’t do that. I try to go to the playoff games, but I can’t watch regular season baseball. Anything else sports-wise, we’re in. We’re also big water people, so we do a lot of wakeboarding, skiing, boating and tubing, and things like that. Only in the summertime, of course, in Iowa.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I take this lead from my father who passed away last October. My dad always treated everybody the same. It didn’t matter if they were the CEO of the company or the person who was delivering the mail, he always treated people the same. And that’s what I try to do. So, I hope that people would say he was fair and treated everyone the same.

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest thing that keeps me up at night is the advertising marketplace. I struggle sometimes as to why advertisers put their money where they put it. We have all of the platforms and we feel really good that if an advertiser has a need, that we can help them solve whatever issue they’re trying to tackle. To me, some of this is all about attitude. The people who tend to work for us are very resilient; they’re very good at what they do. They get out there no matter what they’re told, even if they get a 15-minute meeting that was supposed to have been an hour and it gets shortened because of other commitments that the advertiser or agency has. They do their best to get the message out there. We can help sell more products and improve their brand.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, Meredith’s Magazine President.

Samir Husni: It was recently announced that Allrecipes has the fifth largest magazine media audience on a monthly average, 54 million. That’s double the number of people who watched the Oscars. As president of Meredith Magazines, what do you think the status of magazines is today? Are they really going out of style or has there been a rebirth; what’s going on?

Doug Olson: Honestly, we’ve made a pretty big bet that they’re not going out of style with our acquisition of the Time Inc. portfolio of brands. We continue to be very excited about the future of these brands in all platforms, whether it’s in print or digital or social. Allrecipes is a perfect example of one of the brands that we took from digital and turned it into print. It obviously has a very large footprint in digital, but the print continues to grow. While the Magnolia Journal gets a lot of press these days, the Allrecipes brand has been very successful as well, especially given its origin within digital. It’s up to almost 1.3 million subscribers; it’s one of the brands that has been meeting its numbers every single year since we launched it.

Samir Husni: Meredith’s chairman, Steve Lacy, told the Wall Street Journal that when he asked a reporter to guess how many Better Homes & Gardens printed 10 years ago versus how many it prints today…(Laughs) and we know of course, the answer is the same exact number.

Doug Olson: Yes, eight million.

Samir Husni: Eight million. So, when you go to the marketplace, and with Meredith now being the number one magazine media publisher in the United States, do you feel like the weight of magazine media is full on your shoulders or do you feel like you’re the defender of magazine media, or you’re just riding the wave?

Doug Olson: We think we’ve been the efficient operator in the marketplace for some time and that’s one of the reasons that we got the opportunity to own these great brands. But no, we understand our standing in the magazine world, has changed. It’s one that we embrace; we certainly respect it. But at the same time, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We think we do a lot of X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, just back to the basics to help advertisers sell more products or get their brand messages out to consumers. That’s what we’ve done since the beginning, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

And from a consumer perspective, what you brought up; we still do an eight million print run of Better Homes & Gardens today just like we did 10 years ago. You can pretty much look across our portfolio and it’s the same thing. Newsstand clearly has been challenged in the industry, but we’re one of the publishers, until recently with the Time acquisition, that really hasn’t relied that heavily on newsstand. And so our consumer metrics have never been stronger when you look at it across the board.

Samir Husni: I know that Steve Lacy took about four or five years to buy Time Inc., but for you, as president of Meredith Magazines, did it feel like you went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning in charge of the largest group of magazines in the country? How does that feel?

Doug Olson: It feels great. There are really five of us that have worked on this for over five years. I was in the initial meetings when we tried to jar these great brands loose from Time Warner back in 2012. And we’ve stuck with it and now we’re here. Again, we respect how big the task is, but at the same time we’ve got great people at legacy Meredith and there are some really good talented people at the incoming Time Inc.’s stable of brands and their employee base. We think that together the combination will be dynamite.

We have to go through this period where we get our go-to-market messaging correct and we have to get the right team on the field. Basically, we’re pivoting to change the sales structure as we speak. We told the marketplace that in roughly 60 days it would be business as usual from when we closed on January 31. Toward the end of March people are expecting to hear from us again. We’re working really hard to pivot this large portfolio and this big sales force to capitalize on the market.

Samir Husni: With all of the changes that took place at Meredith and venturing from print to multiplatform to capturing the audience, the consumers, you’ve never changed the structure. You kept the publisher as the title of publisher; you kept the editor as the title of editor. There is some talk or some quotes from Tom Harty and maybe others that those titles are coming back to the newly acquired magazines.

Doug Olson: We’re strong believers in that somebody has to get up every single day and focus on the individual brand. At Meredith, everyone is an integrated seller, it’s just to what degree do they focus on print versus digital and some of the other advertising mediums that are out there now. So, we want to take the best of both organizations…there are some things at the incoming Time Inc. organization that were working pretty well in the marketplace. There were a lot of things, especially around People magazine, that have been very vibrant for them. They’ve done a great job of focusing on what really throws off a lot of revenue and a lot of profit for the old Time Inc..

We think that we do some things particularly well; we’ve really stuck to our X’s and O’s blocking and tackling, if you will, uncovering the market, while everybody else in the marketplace was going through some kind of change, we just stuck with it. And we believe our secret sauce is working together, regardless of how we’re organized. The people who work at the legacy Meredith Corporation understand that we’re going to work together. So, if we need someone who has a little more expertise in shopper marketing, we bring them in and utilize them. At the end of the day, I think the structure is important, but I don’t think structure should get in the way of your ability to be successful.

Samir Husni: You mentioned People magazine and of course, it’s the number one moneymaking magazine in our country, both from circulation and from advertising, or at least it used to be for years. How does it feel to suddenly have weeklies now?

Doug Olson: It’s definitely different for us, but the great news is there is a lot of expertise on the weeklies that exist in the acquired organization, and we’re clearly leveraging their expertise. We admire the People brand. Obviously, as you mentioned, it’s the largest in the U.S., probably the largest in the world, if you really get down to it. But we’ve also run a very large brand ourselves called Better Homes & Gardens, which has a lot of multiplatform tentacles hanging off of it; a huge licensing program at Walmart; a very large special interest media stable of brands that we sell on the newsstand. We’ve got a very large digital presence, so we’re used to overseeing and managing very large brands, but clearly People is at the next level.

Samir Husni: Recently, Tom Harty made comments about possibly increasing rates, cutting frequencies and reducing circulation, mainly due to the postal service, can you comment on that?

Doug Olson: We stand by his comments that if such a large increase is passed on to an industry in one fell swoop, especially the way they’re talking about it, there’s going to be some kind of fallout. You can’t continue to do what you’ve been doing, business as usual, with such a large increase in your expenses.

Samir Husni: The last time I spoke with Tom, he mentioned that, because a lot of the talk in the industry was that Meredith was going to sell whatever is not aimed at women, whatever isn’t a women’s title, and Tom told me that Meredith was going to look at everything: men’s, women’s; you name it, although your expertise is in women’s titles. Can you put those rumors to rest, that you’re not going to be just a pure women’s magazine company?

Doug Olson: First of all, I don’t think people understand that we actually have some other men’s titles within the legacy Meredith stable. Successful Farming started the company and is very much aimed at mostly males, although there are more and more females that are operators in that space these days. Wood Magazine is another one. We do a fair amount of custom printing things along the way for some male audiences as well.

What I would say is that we’re looking at everything, like Tom said. Five years ago there were a lot of rumors that we didn’t want to buy the news and sports business – because we didn’t. But a lot has changed in the last five years. Those businesses have really nice digital extensions now and big audiences. When we say we’re looking at the portfolio in totality, we have to, because we have so many great brands in this stable and we want to make sure we put our best foot forward when we go to market.

But we’re a publicly-traded organization and so anything that makes money, obviously is high on our list. We don’t run brands that are unprofitable very long, so when we look at the new realities in the marketplace, we’re looking at it from all angles. How important is the digital business on some of these brands? What does their print future look like? Rate base, frequencies; there’s a lot to look at. We haven’t come to any conclusions yet, because we’re right in the middle of the analysis.

Samir Husni: Meredith and Hearst have been bringing in a lot of new magazines and entering a lot of new partnerships. Just before you bought Time Inc. you launched Hungry Girl with a partnership with the Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien. Do you feel that you’re in a race with Hearst or the two of you are just happy to be the number one and number two in the magazine media field?

Doug Olson: I think Hearst is a very formidable competitor. They have some great brands over there as well and some really good people. I would say that they have chosen a path and we’ve chosen a slightly different path. We think brands matter tremendously and I think they do too. But we’ve put our money on brands that are some of the biggest in the world and they’ve went after some smaller, what we would call tuck-in acquisitions. I think both strategies are good strategies. It’s great to have a strong competitor, to be honest with you. It makes us better if we have a strong competitor.

Samir Husni: You’ve been so busy with the acquisition and you said that you had 60 days before it was back to business as usual, so will we see a calmer Meredith this year while you gather all the pieces, or you’re still going to be full-steam ahead?

Doug Olson: We’ve shared with our shareholders, our board and our leadership team that this is really a two-year journey. This is a big undertaking; we want to get it right and take our time. We want to get the cost structure in line with the realities in the marketplace, and we don’t think we can do that in one fell swoop. We have to be very iterative, if you will. So, we’re doing some things now that are going to give some clarity to the marketplace as to who is covering their account and who they need to talk to. And how do we make sure that we get all of our brands covered, so that there are not brands lost in the shuffle.

We’re working really hard on our organizational structures and what that’s going to look like over time, and we are doing it in a very controlled and managed fashion. It’s not going to be 60 days and that’s it, and then move on to greener pastures. We have a lot of work to do. We have some trends that we need to reverse, mostly with advertising. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get back to those X’s and O’s, blocking and tackling, that we’ve been talking about. It all starts with clarity to the people that work in our organization and clarity to the marketplace.

Samir Husni: With the extra responsibilities that you have and the extra titles under your belt, and there was a lot of talk in the industry when Tom’s salary was revealed and how much less money it was compared to previous CEOs and other CEOs in the magazine business, because of all of these extra responsibilities, did Meredith double or triple your salary?

Doug Olson: (Laughs) I would love it if you would send an email with that in it to Tom Harty. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Doug Olson: We think that we’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace over the last few years. We believe that we’re very competitive and we’re going to be an employer of choice when all is said and done here. And I think there’s a lot of people at the incoming Time Inc. who are looking forward to some really good, solid leadership. They have great career opportunities in front of them. Like I said, everyone is an integrated seller.

We haven’t even talked about how awesomely the content generation mechanism of this organization is. The editorial and the content production that we do is second to none. It’s amazing. We cover a lot of different categories, readers’ patch and points. The people who create this great content every single day, as I meet more and more of them, are really tremendous resources and really good people.

We’re intentionally leaving the editorial alone for now and really focusing on the sales and marketing and some of the support organizations. We don’t want to get in the way of producing great content.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re spending your time now? Are you shuttling between downtown New York and Des Moines?

Doug Olson: Yes, we’re spending a lot of time on the new business, but at the same time we have our existing legacy Meredith business to also run. The great thing is I have really good people who work for me and throughout this organization. We’ve asked everybody to step up and do more. We want to learn as much as we can of what was happening in a real positive way at the old Time Inc. and not lose that in all of the changes. But clearly there will be some changes and we’re going to put the best possible team on the field to go out and deal with the new realities of this marketplace, which is a lot tougher than it used to be.

Samir Husni: If you had to pick one major stumbling block that faced this entire transition, what would that be and how did you overcome it?

Doug Olson: That’s a good question. We’re not past it yet, we’re in the early stages. The easy part is actually done. The hard part now is making sure that we execute it the way we drew up the plans. But I think the biggest stumbling block was just getting everyone to believe and see what we see. That we see some great brands, that print is still a very big piece of an advertiser’s success moving forward. All of these great platforms, that large digital business that we have now between the two organizations puts us at number six for all unduplicated unique visitors in the country.

Turning around advertising is huge for us. We need the entire portfolio to be more in line with what the legacy Meredith business is doing. Continuing to build digital is high on our list because six is great, but Facebook and Google at number one and number two, depending on which article you read, take anywhere from 65 to 80 percent off the top. And we have to continue to get scale and be innovative there so people want to turn to us at the same time they’re turning to Facebook and Google.

And when you’re doing all of these things at the same time, there are a lot of moving parts. I always describe it to my staff as we’re trying to change the tire on the car as we’re going 80 mph down the interstate.

Samir Husni: And if anyone can, Meredith can.

Doug Olson: We hope so. We’ve made a very large bet and the Meredith family has entrusted the management team and the board here has entrusted the management team to make this successful and we think we’re off to a good start. But like I said, it’s early days and a lot of work in front of us still.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Doug Olson: With all of the traveling that I do, it’s probably talking to my wife with a glass of wine in hand. We like to record some TV shows. For example, I hope no one lights me up over this, but we like to watch The Voice. That and we’re huge sports enthusiasts, so we like to go watch basketball and hockey games, volleyball and football, obviously. Anything except baseball regular season. I can’t do that. I try to go to the playoff games, but I can’t watch regular season baseball. Anything else sports-wise, we’re in. We’re also big water people, so we do a lot of wakeboarding, skiing, boating and tubing, and things like that. Only in the summertime, of course, in Iowa.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Doug Olson: I take this lead from my father who passed away last October. My dad always treated everybody the same. It didn’t matter if they were the CEO of the company or the person who was delivering the mail, he always treated people the same. And that’s what I try to do. So, I hope that people would say he was fair and treated everyone the same.

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

Doug Olson: The biggest thing that keeps me up at night is the advertising marketplace. I struggle sometimes as to why advertisers put their money where they put it. We have all of the platforms. We believe that if an advertiser has a need, we can help them solve whatever issue they’re trying to tackle. To me, some of this is all about attitude. The people who tend to work for us are very resilient; they’re very good at what they do. They get out there no matter what they’re told, even if they get a 15-minute meeting that was supposed to have been an hour gets shortened because of other commitments that the advertiser or agency has. They do their best to get the message out there. We can help sell more products and improve their brand.

We have this sales guarantee and it just always kind of blows my mind that more people don’t take advantage of that. We guarantee they will have more ROI if they put enough advertising into a national campaign. We can move the needle for them. They have a lot of choices, obviously, there’s a lot of experimentation, but I think there has been a lot of money put toward the things that really don’t move the needle. And I’m always struggling with why they don’t go back to what is proven. Whether it’s our digital or print, we’re going to stand behind it if they put a big enough campaign in the marketplace. Why would you not take a sure thing?

When people say, gee, my boss told me that we can’t do print anymore because print is dead, I don’t know what they’re really looking at to come to that conclusion. Other than a whole bunch of social media, which we know is not always exactly on point with the truth.
At the end of the day, I think the beauty of the new Meredith Corporation is that we understand there is some transitioning or shifting going on, but we believe we’re in a place to participate in that, too. If you want to reach consumers in a very credible way, we have these big brands that have lots of tentacles on them, including a very large print footprint. It’s really interesting to me that a lot of these social media people keep coming to us because they want to have a print presence, because it legitimizes their social standing. If they can see it in print, it confirms that they made it.

One of the things that’s important to me is that we’re playing to win. In its simplest form, my elevator pitch is we’re playing to win versus a lot of people are playing not to lose. You can use any sports analogy that you want on that sentence, but the people who play not to lose generally lose.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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