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

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

March 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies’ Man

By Jonna Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME: At 98, Still Transforming And Giving Birth To A New Vertical: TIME Business. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With TIME’s CEO and Editor In Chief Edward Felsenthal.

February 28, 2021

 

“When you and I talked last in 2014, there was just a period where the word legacy was kind of a bad word in this industry. It was considered a negative, because all of the digital upstarts seemed like they were the sole future of media. And there was a skepticism in the industry itself about legacy. And I think what we’ve seen in the pandemic, with the misinformation about vaccines, the election, with the lies that have spread through the campaign and after, I think you’re seeing a resurgence of legacy; the power of legacy media; the value of legacy media, because we have 100 years of trust that nobody can replicate.” Edward Felsenthal…

Edward Felsenthal is the Editor in Chief and CEO of TIME. Prior to his current position, Edward was managing editor of Time.com where he directed its digital operations and successfully created a global 24/7 news operation. 

I spoke with Edward recently and we talked about his current role at TIME and operating such an esteemed and important legacy title during a pandemic. Soon the magazine will celebrate its 100th year in publishing. On March 3,  the brand will be 98-years-old and is still going strong. Edward shared that after they were removed from the constraints of being a part of Time Inc. and sold by Meredith to their current owner, opportunities became a reality, even during a pandemic.

In April of this year TIME will launch a special print issue called TIME Business and rollout a digital component of it as well. Edward said it will be a vertical area of focus for the company. The print magazine is now biweekly with a minimum of 100 pages per issue. 

So, while times may be trying and uncertain right now, Mr. Magazine™ can appreciate this ray of hope on the horizon, hope which always springs eternal. So please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Edward Felsenthal, CEO & Editor in Chief, TIME.

Edward Felsenthal, CEO & Editor in Chief, TIME

But first the sound-bites:

On how his role is different today as CEO of the entire Time brand than when he was managing editor of Time.com: The theme is the same throughout, which is transformation. We have a brand that will be 98-years-old next week, March 3rd. And so we’re nearing our 100th anniversary. Our brand has been built on this amazing magazine, which we all love and that I grew up reading. The task of the last couple of decades, and certainly the theme of my tenure at Time, which started right before you and I talked in that 2014 conversation, has been transformation. What are we going to build on top of the magazine? What is its digital future and where can the brand go? So, that’s the work I’ve been engaged in since Rick Stengel and Nancy Gibbs hired me.  

On how the turmoil of 2020 impacted TIME: First of all, like everyone, we had to figure out how to do what we do remotely. We’re at almost a year from when we sent everyone home from our New York headquarters. We had just moved into a beautiful new office in Midtown a few months before and we were just adjusting to that space when everything went remote. And the rise in and realization of the danger of misinformation that ran through the election and continues to run through the world we cover has been a massive change in society. 

On how TIME combats the spread of misinformation: You had a presidency conducted by Twitter. And so I think it extends beyond the pandemic and it extends beyond the media. Obviously, we have a role to call it like it is; to commit to truth. We have an opportunity as a brand. And I think what we’ve seen in the pandemic, with the misinformation about vaccines, the election, with the lies that have spread through the campaign and after, I think you’re seeing a resurgence of legacy; the power of legacy media; the value of legacy media, because we have 100 years of trust that nobody can replicate. 

“Obviously, we have a role to call it like it is; to commit to truth. We have an opportunity as a brand…” Edward Felsenthal

On anything new on the horizon for print: With Time Inc., as I said, there were some constraints. Many times opportunities and investments went to other brands. But now, in April, we’re launching TIME Business and we’ve hired a terrific editor from The Wall Street Journal. It’s going to be a vertical area of focus for us. We’ll launch it with a special print issue and a digital rollout in April, looking at the role business plays in these various crises the world is facing. 

On how he decides when content should be in print and what content should go online: We love print and I love print. And we have a very strong presence in print’ we’re a million-six subscribers in the U.S. We’re the largest player in print on news in the U.S. and in number of subscribers. Every issue is 100 pages at least, generally more. We’re really using print as a vehicle to go deep.

On whether moving forward, TIME will continue to be biweekly with double issues: Yes, double issues. A lot of brands now are doing double issues with 70 pages. I think the 100-page experience is a better experience. And it’s what print is supposed to be. It’s depth and you can immerse yourself into it in a way that you can’t in a 56-page book.

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the mornings: It goes back to what we talked about earlier. This is a moment of crisis for all of us across the world and I feel at TIME we have an opportunity to make a difference as the world rebuilds. We’ve really totally adjusted in the way we think about our coverage in light of the last year. And what the world is facing is unprecedented. We’re facing these multiple crises all over the world all at once. Health crisis; crisis of inequality and injustice; a sustainability crisis; a trust and truth crisis; an economic crisis. And the opportunity in these crises is how we rebuild. What gets me up in the morning is thinking about the role that TIME plays in this.  

On how he unwinds in the evenings: I have three young kids, great kids. An upside to having our offices being remote is it’s two and a half hours of commuting that I don’t have to do. We have homeschooling here; we have remote work. It’s crazy. So there’s not a lot of R & R.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s just been such a challenging time, such a challenging year. As I said, I’m incredible inspired by the TIME team, their commitment and focus and coordination across the global team. A big worry of mine is burnout and stress, and the fact that I had trouble answering the “how do you relax” question is indicative of where everybody is right now. (Laughs) 

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Edward Felsenthal, CEO and editor in chief, TIME. 

Samir Husni: Last time we chatted, you were the managing editor of Time.com, now you’re the CEO and editor in chief of the entire brand. How different is your role today than what you were doing?

Edward Felsenthal: The theme is the same throughout, which is transformation. We have a brand that will be 98-years-old next week, March 3rd. And so we’re nearing our 100th anniversary. Our brand has been built on this amazing magazine, which we all love and that I grew up reading. The task of the last couple of decades, and certainly the theme of my tenure at Time, which started right before you and I talked in that 2014 conversation, has been transformation. What are we going to build on top of the magazine? What is its digital future and where can the brand go? So, that’s the work I’ve been engaged in since Rick Stengel and Nancy Gibbs hired me.  

A lot of magazine companies and Time Inc. was one of them, although there were some early efforts, the profits from print were so good for so long the digital transformation happened slowly. Starting in 2014, I remember during the interview process for Time.com, the lead story was about Lincoln. So we really set about for the next few years building a major website; building an audience; building the relevance of the brand between the magazine and the web.

We built a huge social presence; we’re one of the largest players now on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in our business. When I got to Time, we did about four videos per week, which were usually an editor interviewing another editor about what was in the magazine that week. We’ve now got an Emmy-winning video team and a studio division that is producing broadcast television and documentaries, and growing very quickly.

My role expanded when my friend Nancy left and I became editor and we also have new owners. As you know, Meredith Corporation bought Time Inc. and put some of the titles up for sale and TIME was one of them. And I led that process for the TIME brand. And when our new owners acquired us and we became an independent company for the first time in many decades, they asked me to take on this added role. But the work has been the same, transforming the brand; how do we have impact in our journalism and how do we deliver that journalism across platforms. 

We had expanded into live events until the pandemic hit. We’re now doing virtual events. The pandemic accelerated massively all of that change. 

Samir Husni: In 2018, under the new ownership, you went more toward an entrepreneurship and all of these changes began to take place. Then everyone was hit by the pandemic, social unrest, and the turmoil of the election. How did all of that impact TIME?

Edward Felsenthal: First of all, like everyone, we had to figure out how to do what we do remotely. We’re at almost a year from when we sent everyone home from our New York headquarters. We had just moved into a beautiful new office in Midtown a few months before and we were just adjusting to that space when everything went remote. 

Actually, there was kind of a prophetic moment for us in the early part of last year, we were on our morning editorial meeting, which is where people from other parts of the country and the world join virtually and one of the editors in our Hong Kong office said greetings from the future, because they had already left their offices. That comment was driven home to me a couple of weeks later when we began working from home. 

And that was of course a massive transition, but our team did a wonderful job getting everyone out safely and ensuring that our operations continued. And we didn’t miss a beat. 

We then had to regroup in several areas. One of the nice things about getting out of Time Inc. was we had been somewhat constrained. All of these brands grew out of TIME: PEOPLE, Sports Illustrated; they all grew out of TIME. They were all pages in the magazine at one point. And we were constrained in some areas within that context.

One of the things that we were able to do as we got out on our own was live events. We had a great TIME 100 Summit in April 2019 with a long list of dignitaries. And we were going to do it again in 2020 until the pandemic came and it wasn’t possible. So we launched TIME 100 Talks, which over the last year has been our fastest growing product in business. So we now do more or less once a week a virtual Summit. So we pivoted very quickly digitally.

Another example was TIME for Kids. We’ve been doing it for 25 years; it’s print and it goes into schools. But nobody was in school, so there was no way to deliver it. In a period of two or three months, we did something that was already on our roadmap, but the pandemic just hurried it along, now it’s a digital subscription product. Of course, we had to make the school product digital, but it also enabled us to offer for the first time an at-home option for kids and an international option for kids. We’ve accelerated a lot of the digitization of our work and what we do. 

You mentioned social unrest and the overdue awakening around racial justice that began in earnest after the killing of George Floyd and obviously that has played out in both our coverage and in our company. We’ve dedicated ourselves to the areas of focus in our coverage. One of them is equality and justice, and injustice. And that has been a value running through our coverage for a while, but was redoubled in 2020. 

We’ve also recognized that we must hold ourselves accountable for ensuring that equality and justice and inclusion runs through our company, and building a company that reflects the demographics and experiences that we cover. So that has been a powerful change and direction for us. 

And not just the presidential election, but the rise in and realization of the danger of misinformation that ran through the election and continues to run through the world we cover has been a massive change in society. Charlotte Alter and some of our team went on the road in the Fall and did a series where they really explored and exposed what was called on that piece “Unlogic.” And the prices of unlogic. I think we all thought at some level there was a combination of optimism and realism. This crisis of misinformation and some of the other crises that the pandemic and 2020 exposed are going to be with us for a long time.

Samir Husni: How does TIME combat the spread of misinformation?

Edward Felsenthal: Martin Baron, who is retiring from the Washington Post, has been doing a series of interviews. Recently in one, he was asked this same question and he said, and I agree with him, the press, the media, we have a big role in addressing this crisis, but it obviously extends way beyond us. And talking about the impact of the pandemic, I think a lot of it goes back to so much media now coming through social media, where this is no filter or where the filter are minimal. 

And you had a presidency conducted by Twitter. And so I think it extends beyond the pandemic and it extends beyond the media. Obviously, we have a role to call it like it is; to commit to truth. We have an opportunity as a brand. 

When you and I talked last in 2014, there was just a period where the word legacy was kind of a bad word in this industry. It was considered a negative, because all of the digital upstarts seemed like they were the sole future of media. And there was a skepticism in the industry itself about legacy. And I think what we’ve seen in the pandemic, with the misinformation about vaccines, the election, with the lies that have spread through the campaign and after, I think you’re seeing a resurgence of legacy; the power of legacy media; the value of legacy media, because we have 100 years of trust that nobody can replicate. 

And that’s not everything because there are people out there who are going to believe what they believe and for whom the legacy either doesn’t matter or they treat as a negative. But I think an institution like ours has a tremendous amount of trust. At a time when there’s very little trust in society at large; we have a lot. And I think we have an opportunity there to use that.

I would add that I think that trust applies, not just what to know, but what to do. We’ve seen that in the pandemic. What I mean by that is for decades TIME’s role was informing people about what’s happening in the world. But we’re also seeing that people trust us as I said, not just about what to know, but about what to do in their own lives. 

And we asked what is our value-add going to be in covering the pandemic? And we said that it was going to be holding governments accountable, providing trusted guidance about the pandemic and the health issues; it’s going to be celebrating the front line workers and this incredible moment where people were coming together in powerful ways. But also providing clear information about how to keep safe. The vaccines as they’ve developed, the masks, and really providing guidance to our readers as human beings and to their families. 

We launched a Coronavirus newsletter that is now over 100,000 subscribers, the fastest growing newsletter by far. And I think that’s another level where trust connects to the pandemic. We have found our role, and we had it all along, in the guidance we’re providing to people about their own health and the health of their families during the pandemic.

Samir Husni: Anything new on the horizon as far as print that you’d care to talk about?

Edward Felsenthal: With Time Inc., as I said, there were some constraints. Many times opportunities and investments went to other brands. But now, in April, we’re launching TIME Business and we’ve hired a terrific editor from The Wall Street Journal. It’s going to be a vertical area of focus for us. We’ll launch it with a special print issue and a digital rollout in April, looking at the role business plays in these various crises the world is facing.  

We’ve always had business coverage, but the focus of business at Time Inc. was Fortune, so we have an opportunity now and a great new leader coming in for it.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed that TIME the magazine is published biweekly now instead of weekly, with an additional issue in January. Yet the website is 24/7. How do you decide what content should be in print and what should go online?

Edward Felsenthal: We love print and I love print. And we have a very strong presence in print’ we’re a million-six subscribers in the U.S. We’re the largest player in print on news in the U.S. and in number of subscribers. Every issue is 100 pages at least, generally more. We’re really using print as a vehicle to go deep. Nobody is getting their news in a physical product delivered to their door. Breaking news is already there; our readers know what’s happening in the world when they pick up the magazine. So we want to give them depth and take them somewhere, and an incredible experience with that physical magazine, 100 pages with a great glorious cover. 

We have 2.3 million print and digital subscribers around the world, so all of our content is on the website. We’ve launched a digital subscription that is a huge area of focus for us, growing our digital relationship with our consumers. Our print readers can connect their accounts to digital. We’re just a few weeks into it, but it’s great to see the interest in TIME digital and that people are willing to pay for our digital content as well as our print. 

Some brands have pulled out of video. Our philosophy has been multiplatform. We love print; we’ve invested tremendously in digital and digital subs; and we’ve built out video and are doing short and long-form video, and in-studio. We did three, one-hour primetime broadcast specials in the Fall of 2020. So, we’re committed to multiplatform and we’re reaching different people on different platforms; expanding our audience and expanding our impact and reach of the journalism that we do. And that’s incredibly exciting.

Samir Husni: Moving forward, TIME will continue to be biweekly with double issues?

Edward Felsenthal: Yes, double issues. A lot of brands now are doing double issues with 70 pages. I think the 100-page experience is a better experience. And it’s what print is supposed to be. It’s depth and you can immerse yourself into it in a way that you can’t in a 56-page book. 

We have an incredibly loyal readership, a million-six subs and people just love the brand. And we say thank you. 

Samir Husni: Henry Luce was described as Time’s lightning and Briton Hadden as its thunder. Are you both the lightning and the thunder now?

Edward Felsenthal: (Laughs) I think I’m lightning. I’ll have to think about who’s thunder. 

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Edward Felsenthal: It goes back to what we talked about earlier. This is a moment of crisis for all of us across the world and I feel at TIME we have an opportunity to make a difference as the world rebuilds. We’ve really totally adjusted in the way we think about our coverage in light of the last year. And what the world is facing is unprecedented. We’re facing these multiple crises all over the world all at once. Health crisis; crisis of inequality and injustice; a sustainability crisis; a trust and truth crisis; an economic crisis. And the opportunity in these crises is how we rebuild. 

So what gets me up in the morning is thinking about the role that TIME plays in this. There aren’t many brands like ours; we’re global; we have 100 years of trust and a brand that can reach everywhere in the world. We have an opportunity and an obligation to spotlight solutions, write about solutions for the crises themselves, but also focus our journalism on how we can make the world better.

Samir Husni: After a very busy day, how do you unwind in the evenings?

Edward Felsenthal: I have three young kids, great kids. An upside to having our offices being remote is it’s two and a half hours of commuting that I don’t have to do. We have homeschooling here; we have remote work. It’s crazy. So there’s not a lot of R & R. 

I have some friends whose kids are older who talk about just finishing something on Netflix and they’re about to start something else. We’re doing a little bit of that, but it’ll take me another 20 years of getting through Netflix. There’s not a lot of relaxing. (Laughs)

But I feel very fortunate. We’ve been healthy; the TIME team has really pulled together. It’s been really hard on everybody. And I’m really proud of the team. 

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

Edward Felsenthal: It’s just been such a challenging time, such a challenging year. As I said, I’m incredibly inspired by the TIME team, their commitment and focus and coordination across the global team. A big worry of mine is burnout and stress, and the fact that I had trouble answering the “how do you relax” question is indicative of where everybody is right now. (Laughs) 

And we’re working hard to do what we can to make sure people take their vacations, even though sometimes it’s unclear where to go. Or to take time off and encourage them to raise their hand if they feel burned out. But everyone is so committed to what they do. But that’s a concern, mental health and wellness as we approach the year mark of this massive change in the way we live and work.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Hoffman Media’s President & Chief Operating Officer, Eric Hoffman, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: The Relationship With Our Print Customer Is Special And We Believe In It And We’re Committed To It. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

January 12, 2021

“We very much think that the core print business, consumers want it; it’s an invited friend to their mailbox. It’s a wonderful opportunity when our magazines show up in a world where so many things that we get in our mail we don’t like and don’t want to see or is complete junk.” Eric Hoffman…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 8: Eric Hoffman, President & Chief Operating Officer, Hoffman Media.

2020 is now behind us with a brand new year finally here. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

Family owned and operated, Hoffman Media is a leading special-interest publisher based in Birmingham, Ala. From Southern Lady to Bake from Scratch, Hoffman Media creates some of the most popular and iconic brands in the marketplace today. But like everyone else in 2020, the company had some major adjustments and shifts to contend with during the pandemic.

I recently spoke with Eric Hoffman, president and chief operating officer of the company, who along with his twin brother, Brian Hart Hoffman, and their mother, founder of the company, Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, runs a tight ship and saw many opportunities and blessings even through this pandemic year of 2020. 

So, please enjoy the eighth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year (2020) interviews with Eric Hoffman, president & chief operating officer, Hoffman Media.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that Hoffman Media faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: Where we’ve shifted, coming off the challenge of 2020, is we’ve shifted to having a lot more emphasis on video education, paid video, and we’ve done that both within our sewing business and also within brands such as Louisiana Cooking and in a broad way, we’ve done it with Bake From Scratch.

On the roadmap for Hoffman Media into 2021: We believe that with the vaccine and when things reach a certain point, and live events are able to come back, I think there will be an enormous pent up demand for those live experiences. We’re being very cautiously optimistic about the event business coming back, potentially in the second half of 2021. That being said, we’re investing heavily in our video platform. We just announced a renewed partnership with Williams Sonoma for an 11-week program kicking off in January.

On the future of print in this digital age: I oftentimes think that people are scared to say because they somehow think it’s going to drive their valuation and their business down. I could care a little bit less about that. As you know we have a family-owned business; we do not have institutional investors and we frankly think that the print business managed right can still be a remarkable business to be in. Having the quality of the customers rather than the quantity is something that resonates better today than maybe ever.

On the changes he sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: In respect to the larger media houses, I do see them making a fundamental shift. Certainly there are several brands and SIPs that have become a meaningful piece of their business and look to be doing quite well. I certainly see them in a leadership role in our industry, both really running that business in the right way to the consumer, but also creating the narrative to the advertiser of why these niche markets actually matter, because changing the conversation with ad agencies can be difficult. And I think you need industry advocates at the top that truly believe that. So, when we see that and I think we are, that’s going to be exciting.

On some of the things Hoffman Media is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company: On the editorial side of the business we certainly have been vocal to that end. Take southern cuisine and food, for example, you go back to the cultural influences that drive the cuisines that we celebrate today, absolutely there’s a voice there and we celebrate that. Hoffman Media is a family business and we love our employees, we love our customers, and we love our clients. And we treat them like family.

On whether he thinks we’re erasing history or trying to learn from history: I’m of the mindset that erasing history is short sided because to celebrate where we are today, it means that much more when you know where we’ve come from. Within the Black community, to have U.S. presidents, to have Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, valedictorians at Princeton University, these are wonderful opportunities to celebrate. When organizations and municipalities choose to completely eliminate history, I question whether it long-term impacts the successes and the achievements that are actually there right in front of us today.

On what makes him tick and click: I’ve been spending a lot more time this past year on things that I would call “on” the business rather than “in” the business. I’ve read several books this year that were exciting to me. I read “Scaling Up,” “The Great Game of Business,” and “Built to Last,” and have really been thinking differently about the way we run our business. I think the intrigue over scaling is interesting and doing it the right way. So, the strategy side of our business is certainly what’s driving my ambition today.

On how unwinds at the end of the day: I’ve gotten into making a really good Old Fashioned. (Laughs) And I love to cook. I spend a lot of time barbequing and I’ve learned to cook a pretty mean gumbo.

On what keeps him up at night: As of recently, I would have to tell you that it’s the political unrest. I was deeply disappointed to see where we are as a country sort of play out on national television. I’m hopeful that as a nation and as a country we can find some unity and find ways to work together on both sides of the aisle. I believe we as a country have never been more divided, at least in recent years. So, I think there is certainly opportunities for us as business leaders in the community to carry that message. To the extent that I have the ability to do that within my role, I hope to do that in my own community.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Eric Hoffman, president & chief operating officer, Hoffman Media. 

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that Hoffman Media has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Eric Hoffman: For us, as a business, if you go back and look, November 2018 we made a strategic acquisition where we acquired the original sewing and quilting expos from F+W, which is a wonderful business that’s been around for a long time. We have nine markets that we’re in. It’s a fantastic business and has great customer loyalty. We had gone into 2020 with projections of growing the business. Obviously, around March 13, give or take, the live event business was brought to a halt.

We were very fortunate in some other respects in that throughout the year we saw our subscriber base not only stay with us, but grow, so we had a remarkable year on the subscription front. Average customer value increased; retention rates were phenomenal; and direct mail performed at probably  the highest level we’ve seen in a long time. 

So, the core magazine business, if you think about the consumer first as a business model, a lot of our larger competitors in the marketplace are sort of speaking this narrative of late, that they’re looking at more consumer-driven businesses and less advertising-ended businesses, which you and I have talked now for the better part of a decade or longer that our business model seems to make a lot of sense. 

Through the pandemic we saw some things happen and one was that the newsstand held up very well in light of everything taking place. If you think about checkout for example, which drives about 70 percent of magazine volume sales in grocery stores, we originally thought that might be challenged, because standing six feet behind the next person might prevent you from perusing and making a last minute purchase. But we saw the newsstand perform well. 

I would say, that while we’re not an ad-driven business, one of the most remarkable things we saw through 2020 was our advertising business and our clients stayed with us. In fact, we were flat on advertising revenue from 2019 to 2020 and if you go back from 2018 to 2019 we grew the business 20 percent. So, we were able to deliver a remarkable year. 

And that was driven by CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies that we do business with, they stayed with us. We do a whole lot more than just sell ad space, most of our clients we deal with on a very custom boutique approach, we create a lot of content for our advertising partners. So, we’ve seen a lot of strength in the core business. 

We were very fortunate in being eligible for our PPP loan, which I think a lot of people would point to as a great thing to have. We were very fortunate not to have to lay off anybody, including within our event business.

Where we’ve shifted, coming off the challenge of 2020, is we’ve shifted to having a lot more emphasis on video education, paid video, and we’ve done that both within our sewing business and also within brands such as Louisiana Cooking and in a broad way, we’ve done it with Bake From Scratch. 

Probably the highlight of the year, and much to my twin brother’s credit who is the face of Bake From Scratch and also our chief content officer, Brian Hart Hoffman, we put together a seven week partnership with  Williams Sonoma, where we did Williams Sonoma’s baking academy. It was a live, one hour baking class on Monday nights during the fourth quarter. It was an incredible opportunity for us, for our brand-building, but also a very unique and interesting way to drive profit opportunities in a non-traditional format. 

All in all, Hoffman Media was able to thrive on a net-net for 2020 with obviously some misses coming out of some areas of the business and our consumers really carrying us in other areas. 

Samir Husni: What’s the roadmap for Hoffman Media as you move toward 2021?

Eric Hoffman: We believe that with the vaccine and when things reach a certain point, and live events are able to come back, I think there will be an enormous pent up demand for those live experiences. We’re being very cautiously optimistic about the event business coming back, potentially in the second half of 2021. That being said, we’re investing heavily in our video platform. We just announced a renewed partnership with Williams Sonoma for an 11-week program kicking off in January. 

We have advertising partners like Bob’s Red Mill that we’re doing other baking academies with. We’ve done some Instagram live work with iconic brands like Tabasco with Louisiana Cooking, where we’ve been able to use our chef relationships and do some interesting programs there.

We very much think that the core print business, consumers want it; it’s an invited friend to their mailbox. It’s a wonderful opportunity when our magazines show up in a world where so many things that we get in our mail we don’t like and don’t want to see or is complete junk. I still believe that relationship between our print customer is special and we believe in it and we’re committed to it. 

We will follow the consumer in how they want to interact with our business. We’ve seen podcasts as a growing opportunity; our book publishing business has actually grown and is doing quite well and we see that as still a growth opportunity. And then I wouldn’t put it past us to potentially even look at acquisition opportunities during this time. We believe long-term in the live event business to the extent that there are incremental opportunities to expand there. I think we’ll be doing that. 

Also, with just more pure play digital opportunities; a business like ours that publishes 11 magazines and has for quite some time, we have an enormous amount of content. So, being able to retool the experience of how perhaps new audiences interact with that content might lend itself to more pure digital opportunities. 

Samir Husni: What is the future of print in this digital age?

Eric Hoffman: I oftentimes think that people are scared to say because they somehow think it’s going to drive their valuation and their business down. I could care a little bit less about that. As you know we have a family-owned business; we do not have institutional investors and we frankly think that the print business managed right can still be a remarkable business to be in. Having the quality of the customers rather than the quantity is something that resonates better today than maybe ever. 

If you think about print buying from an advertiser perspective, I think that reaching a quality audience over quantity, certainly that business model works better. I would be very nervous if I were running mass-reach brands that were running on a legacy business model that was large rate-based-driven and running sort of as a loss leader. I don’t see that as a viable business long-term. 

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? What are some of the changes you see taking place?

Eric Hoffman: In respect to the larger media houses, I do see them making a fundamental shift. Certainly there are several brands and SIPs that have become a meaningful piece of their business and look to be doing quite well. I certainly see them in a leadership role in our industry, both really running that business in the right way to the consumer, but also creating the narrative to the advertiser of why these niche markets actually matter, because changing the conversation with ad agencies can be difficult. And I think you need industry advocates at the top that truly believe that. So, when we see that and I think we are, that’s going to be exciting.

I think there’s also opportunity for a lot of new entrants into the market in very niche ways. Magazines that I’ve seen and that I think are doing quite well: Okra Magazine, I’ve certainly seen them growing and I think it’s an interesting brand. So, the entrepreneurial side of this industry exists and always will exist. I’m an industry guy; I hope more people believe in launching their publications and doing things that serve our industry well. 

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality, or inclusion. And at last count in the past several months there have been over 336 magazines that have had Black subjects on the cover, which is more than there has been in the last 60 years. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at Hoffman Media?

Eric Hoffman: On the editorial side of the business we certainly have been vocal to that end. Take southern cuisine and food, for example, you go back to the cultural influences that drive the cuisines that we celebrate today, absolutely there’s a voice there and we celebrate that. Hoffman Media is a family business and we love our employees, we love our customers, and we love our clients. And we treat them like family. 

We’re certainly inclusive and we’re accepting of all. And I think that we demonstrate that day in and day out in our business. 

Samir Husni: Other companies are having seminars and hiring outside consultants on diversity and inclusion and then there are media companies like Condé Nast that I recently read are looking at their archives and erasing things that could be deemed offensive. Do you think we’re need to erase the history or learn from the history?

Eric Hoffman: I’m of the mindset that erasing history is short sided because to celebrate where we are today, it means that much more when you know where we’ve come from. Within the Black community, to have U.S. presidents, to have Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs, valedictorians at Princeton University, these are wonderful opportunities to celebrate. When organizations and municipalities choose to completely eliminate history, I question whether it long-term impacts the successes and the achievements that are actually there right in front of us today. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click these days?

Eric Hoffman: I’ve been spending a lot more time this past year on things that I would call “on” the business rather than “in” the business. I’ve read several books this year that were exciting to me. I read “Scaling Up,” “The Great Game of Business,” and “Built to Last,” and have really been thinking differently about the way we run our business. I think the intrigue over scaling is interesting and doing it the right way. So, the strategy side of our business is certainly what’s driving my ambition today.

We are keenly interested in several structural things within the business. Just for reference, we have 12 months left on our lease of 31,000 sq. ft. of office space in Birmingham. We certainly believe that we will have office space that’s collaborative and creative, but what does that look like? We think that there is going to be a lot more emphasis around where the content is created, in terms of remarkable test kitchens and studios and wonderful space for that, but it also presents an interesting opportunity for us to do something maybe more dynamic than we are today. 

So, there are some things that I think will come down the pike in maybe the next year or two that I think will be exciting for our employees. At the same time, I also would say what allows me to tick also is the family. It’s been interesting working remotely in a lot of ways, but it’s given, not just myself, but all of our employees the time to do things within the home that they needed to do and still perform. And they have done a wonderful job with that. They have made a remarkable shift and are excited about the ability to still be a vital team member and do it in a new and modified format. I would expect to some extent that will continue long-term. 

So, those are the main things. It’s exciting. I believe in our industry and I think that COVID has proven the magazine business is resilient in general. And I think that when you look at our industry relative to a lot of the narrative you’re seeing around programmatic ad buying and some other digital ad tech, we may not be valued in the marketplace as high from your EBITDA multiple or whatever you want to measure us by, but it’s a phenomenal business that has stood the test of time. And I think the consumer, if you listen to them, I think we’ll be here to stay for a while. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind after a day working?

Eric Hoffman: I’ve gotten into making a really good Old Fashioned. (Laughs) And I love to cook. I spend a lot of time barbequing and I’ve learned to cook a pretty mean gumbo. 

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

Eric Hoffman: As of recently, I would have to tell you that it’s the political unrest. I was deeply disappointed to see where we are as a country sort of play out on national television. I’m hopeful that as a nation and as a country we can find some unity and find ways to work together on both sides of the aisle. I believe we as a country have never been more divided, at least in recent years. So, I think there is certainly opportunities for us as business leaders in the community to carry that message. To the extent that I have the ability to do that within my role, I hope to do that in my own community.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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Magazines and Magazine Media: Diversity And Inclusion In The Year Of The Pandemic

December 29, 2020

The year of the pandemic, 2020, brought with it not only pain and suffering from the COVID 19 virus, but also saw major social upheavals on diversity and inclusion issues.  Magazines, being the leading reflectors of society, were in the forefront of covering and reacting to the year of the pandemic.

In fact, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, I was able to find and buy 336 magazines, from all categories and genres, that reflected diversity and inclusion by celebrating Blackness on their covers.  336 Black subjects appeared on the covers of these magazines, almost five times more than what has appeared in the last 100 years.

I reached out to the CEOs and presidents of the major magazine media companies to ask them about what they are doing regarding diversity, inclusion, and equality both in their magazines and in their workplaces. What follows are excerpts from the answers of the CEOs and presidents (in alphabetical order) who took my call and answered my question:

Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines

Hearst Magazines is committed to being a workplace, and also creating media, that reflects the world we live in. We put new training programs into place and added some advisory groups across the company to help us with this. It’s a journey and we know it’s a journey. I don’t think you’re ever finished. We made progress in 2020, but we’re going to continue to build on that progress.”

Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media

“We created a Jedi task force, which is Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and is a cross-section of people from the company. We also brought in an ad hoc diversity officer who has been leading this in terms of sourcing, education, facilitating conversations, doing content and promotional audits, hiring practices, so really looking top to bottom through our organization and our messaging and content. And strategically are there different organizations’ approaches within a different group?”

Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s for Children

“We’ve done surveys and really looked at how can we be better, because our feelings are, if we’re responsible for creating products that affect our society, we better look internally and make sure our company internally reflects well the society that we live in. And then we’re doing it in a way that creates the sense of belonging for everyone at our company.”

Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, Trusted Media Brands

“It’s very important to us and very important to our employees. We have a diversity and inclusion team. They have four pillars that spell out the word MORE within our diversity and inclusion and that’s Mentoring, Opportunity, Recruiting and Education. And honestly, I look at these initiatives and I think these are things that we talked about that we should have always been doing. And now we have so much employee involvement to get these things done.”

Steven Kotok, President & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA

“We’ve engaged with a consulting firm that specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion and we’re going through a process where we’re educating ourselves, meaning the whole company, the whole team. And we’re having some listening sessions as well to hear from the team. And whatever we do, actions or statements, it may take a little longer, but that’s going to come not as a top-down, written by our very excellent communications people, but more bottom-up as a company on where we stand and what we think.” 

Catherine Levene, President, Meredith National Media Group

“We’re focused in two areas. One is the culture inside the company and our workforce and the other is what we show to our consumers and it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good business to enhance our content and storytelling. To be more inclusive both in the content itself, but also in producing that content, whether that be in print, digital, video, in the art that we use, the photography. All of that has to be diverse because our audience is diverse.”

David Parry, President & CEO, A360 Media & Accelerate360

“It’s a topic amongst our senior executives every week, every day. We’re going to see more diversity in the workplace, but we have to also find ways to ensure that we are diversifying the talent pool so we can do so. We have to find ways to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore publishing and media as a career path for them. I think everyone is focused on tackling the challenge and because of that, meaningful changes can be made.”

To read the entire interviews with the seven CEOs and presidents of the aforementioned companies, please scroll down this blog for the full interviews.

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David Parry, President & CEO, A360 Media & Accelerate360, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “People Are Reconnecting With Print Media.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 23, 2020

“Magazines have always been, and continue to be, a great source of comfort for consumers during the most difficult of times. There is something out there for everyone, no matter your interest: celebrity, lifestyle, home, fashion, food, whatever special interest you may have. Your favorite magazine relates to you like a good friend, it shares your interests in the most authentic and authoritative way.” David Parry…

“There is a personal connection that readers have with magazine brands and that brand equity presents myriad opportunities to grow and diversify those brands. Expanding brands with experiential platforms, single-topic issues, audio platforms, and more feature-like video content allow magazine brands to build on what they have been doing for years, engage people deeply. That is an incredibly valuable foundation to be able to build on.” David Parry…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 7: David Parry, President & CEO, A360 Media & Accelerate360.

David Parry, President & CEO, A360 Media & Accelerate360.

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

Accelerate360 is one of the leading wholesale distribution companies in the United States that provides turnkey solutions for retailers and brands. The company manages merchandising programs, featuring more than 600 SKUs in general merchandise and health and wellness, for national and regional grocers, and is the largest periodical distributor in North America delivering magazines to more than 55,000 retail locations weekly. But like everyone else during 2020, A360 found itself dealing with a pandemic, which presented challenges that the company used its experienced leadership to help handle.

That experienced leadership starts with President and CEO, David Parry, who has previously served as President and CEO of The News Group U.S. (TNG), after serving as President and CEO of MagNet, an international data management company. I spoke with David recently in his first interview since he became CEO of A360 Media. It was informative to hear from a man who has experience both in the distribution side of magazines and magazine media, and now also in publishing.

So, please enjoy the seventh and final installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year (2020) interviews with David Parry, President & CEO, Accelerate360.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that A360 faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: On the distribution side, I’ve got more than two decades of experience and have seen my fair share of challenges. This year definitely posed some new challenges. However, I was able to leverage my experience and ensure that all of our clients and retailers were able to receive publications without disruption and done in a way that adhered to the new COVID guidelines. Also, as we navigated the challenges, we were also able to communicate to our clients all of the potential sales advantages that the COVID environment created.

On the future of print in a digital age: I love digital and the print and digital pieces of our brands, when working together, help to deepen that bond for the consumer. Digital is a powerful tool for breaking news or providing that first piece of insight or inspiration that leads to delving even deeper in the magazine format that provides all of the details and depth. It’s an important collaboration that deepens the experience with all of our brands.

On whether print is still the major source of revenue for the company: Yes. This year, it represents 60% of A360 Media’s revenue, with 40% being digital. Two years ago, digital was just 10%.

On his thoughts on the future of magazines and magazine media: There is a personal connection that readers have with magazine brands and that brand equity presents myriad opportunities to grow and diversify those brands. Expanding brands with experiential platforms, single-topic issues, audio platforms, and more feature-like video content allow magazine brands to build on what they have been doing for years, engage people deeply. That is an incredibly valuable foundation to be able to build on.

On how he feels about diversity and inclusion within companies: It’s a topic amongst our senior executives every week, every day. We’re going to see more diversity in the workplace, but we have to also find ways to ensure that we are diversifying the talent pool so we can do so. We have to find ways to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore publishing and media as a career path for them. I think everyone is focused on tackling the challenge and because of that, meaningful changes can be made.

On whether he sees a bright side coming out of 2020: COVID has parked us in our homes and given us a chance to reunite with some of the things that we’ve lost touch with. I’ve watched my kids, and they’re in the 23 to 33-year-old range, I’ve watched them read magazines and books incessantly because they just couldn’t bear to watch television all of the time. Too much bad stuff going on; too much of the repetitive stuff being reported. People are reconnecting with print media.  

On what makes him tick and click: I believe in the product. So I spend my time thinking how do I preserve this; how do I grow it; how do I take advantage of it; how do I build an enterprise out of it? I’m a cup-half-full guy and I’ve been that way my whole life.

On how he unwinds at the end of the day: I exercise. That’s how I keep safe.

On what keeps him up at night: We are moving in so many directions right now, I want to make sure we are focused on the right opportunities. It’s a good worry to have actually, we have so many opportunities, I worry about missing one.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with David Parry, president & CEO, A360 Media.

Samir Husni: You’re now the new CEO of the former American Media, now A360 Media. And 2020 has been one of the toughest years ever on all fronts for the media industry. You’ve been a CEO on the distribution side of the business for many years and now you’re the CEO on the publishing side. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

David Parry: On the distribution side, I’ve got more than two decades of experience and have seen my fair share of challenges. This year definitely posed some new challenges. However, I was able to leverage my experience and ensure that all of our clients and retailers were able to receive publications without disruption and done in a way that adhered to the new COVID guidelines. Also, as we navigated the challenges, we were also able to communicate to our clients all of the potential sales advantages that the COVID environment created.

In regard to A360, I was the distributor for these publications for 25 years, I know the celebrity titles which account for 70% of the business revenues and distributed the monthly titles like Men’s Journal as well. While I may be a bit more unfamiliar with the advertising and publishing aspects, I am learning at an accelerated clip thanks to A360 President Chris Scardino.

Samir Husni: Magazines have always played a positive role in times of crises throughout the ages, as opposed to newspapers and television that are usually the bearer of bad news. Do you think  magazines are a Prozac for society? And what do you see as the future of print in this digital age? Is it all going to be SIPs, like the majority of Meredith’s magazines or Topix Media or Centennial? 

David Parry: Magazines have always been, and continue to be, a great source of comfort for consumers during the most difficult of times. There is something out there for everyone, no matter your interest: celebrity, lifestyle, home, fashion, food, whatever special interest you may have. 

Your favorite magazine relates to you like a good friend, it shares your interests in the most authentic and authoritative way.

I love digital and the print and digital pieces of our brands, when working together, help to deepen that bond for the consumer. Digital is a powerful tool for breaking news or providing that first piece of insight or inspiration that leads to delving even deeper in the magazine format that provides all of the details and depth. It’s an important collaboration that deepens the experience with all of our brands.

For example, if Princess Kate is seen shopping for her children, you may see a social media post about it. One of the celebrity weeklies might have an image on the cover with further insights about where she went and what she bought, how she engaged with the store staff or other shoppers, giving a deeper picture of the whole experience in a 1,000-word article. 

So, in our view, the future is not SIPS. Those are one-time experiences. Our strategy is deepening the embrace of digital and using it to bring the story to life across all platforms.

Samir Husni: Is print still the major source of revenue for A360? 

David Parry: Yes. This year, it represents 60% of A360 Media’s revenue, with 40% being digital. Two years ago, digital was just 10%.

I believe that in 24 months’ time, we will be at a 50/50 balance of print and digital revenue much like many of the other publishers are seeing, or driving towards. 

Samir Husni: You mentioned that changes are on the horizon in terms of distribution, distributing direct from wholesale to the consumer, in addition to the retailer and the businesses. What other changes do you see on the horizon concerning magazine media? 

Davis Parry: As I mentioned above, there is a personal connection that readers have with magazine brands and that brand equity presents myriad opportunities to grow and diversify those brands. Expanding brands with experiential platforms, single-topic issues, audio platforms, and more feature-like video content allow magazine brands to build on what they have been doing for years, engage people deeply. That is an incredibly valuable foundation to be able to build on. 

Samir Husni: How do you feel social responsibility, diversity and inclusion is going to impact magazine media and how are you dealing with it in your own companies?

David Parry: It’s a topic amongst our senior executives every week, every day. We’re going to see more diversity in the workplace, but we have to also find ways to ensure that we are diversifying the talent pool so we can do so. We have to find ways to encourage students from all backgrounds to explore publishing and media as a career path for them. I think everyone is focused on tackling the challenge and because of that, meaningful changes can be made.

Samir Husni: Do you see any areas of “Bloom” in the midst of this gloom and doom ?

David Parry: COVID has parked us in our homes and given us a chance to reunite with some of the things that we’ve lost touch with. I’ve watched my kids, and they’re in the 23 to 33-year-old range, I’ve watched them read magazines and books incessantly because they just couldn’t bear to watch television all of the time. Too much bad stuff going on; too much of the repetitive stuff being reported. People are reconnecting with print media.  

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

David Parry: I believe in the product. So I spend my time thinking how do I preserve this; how do I grow it; how do I take advantage of it; how do I build an enterprise out of it? I’m a cup-half-full guy and I’ve been that way my whole life. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings after you’re done working?

David Parry: I exercise. That’s how I keep safe. 

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

David Parry: We are moving in so many directions right now, I want to make sure we are focused on the right opportunities. It’s a good worry to have actually, we have so many opportunities, I worry about missing one. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

    A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

    The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

    2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

    Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall be behind us.

    Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

    Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

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Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s For Children, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Am So Bullish About The Future Of Print For Kids.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of Year Interview…

December 22, 2020

“I think the adult magazine world should look at the fact that we need to think about the audience, do create great digital experiences, but also provide excellent experiences in print. Print advertising? That’s been the problem. But a print experience for a human, that’s still a strong experience. I think we need to focus on the relevance of the content and the experience we create with our print magazines, our print media. And the future I think looks bright.” Kent Johnson…

“We can all look at our social media feeds and think of it as digital candy, but when you want a meaningful experience, an immersive experience, sometimes you want to get off the screen and engage with the print magazine. And we think that’s really healthy for kids, to engage with print in a focused way as an alternative and not in place of digital, it shouldn’t be an argument of print or digital, it’s what are the experiences that human wants at that time. And how do they have a diversity of positive experiences.” Kent Johnson…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 6: Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s for Children.

Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s for Children.

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

Highlight’s for Children was founded in 1946 by Garry Cleveland Myers, Ph.D., and Caroline Clark Myers, who just happen to be the current CEO Kent Johnson’s great-grandparents. And even though Kent is a direct descendant of the company’s founders, he initially had no aspirations to work in the family business. But as fate would have it, he officially joined the company in 2005 and continues to be inspired by the mission to help children become their best selves – curious, creative, caring and confident – and motivated by the challenge of carrying that philosophy into new markets around the world.

In 2020, Kent’s mission hasn’t changed, but his modus operandi had to with a pandemic changing the course of his company’s history. Learning a “new normal” has been a challenge but one Highlight’s has handled with aplomb and inspiration. I spoke with Kent recently and we talked about the company business during the daunting year of 2020. The supreme optimism Kent spoke with about all aspects of his business, from print to digital to the educational materials, was energizing and wonderful. While 2020 was a difficult time for all of us, Kent and Highlight’s display a motivational and aspirational way of handling it.

So, please enjoy the sixth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year (2020) interviews with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s for Children.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that Highlights for Children faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: The word unprecedented has become overused when talking about 2020. Our biggest challenge, and I think it’s still my biggest focus, is the impact of 2020 on our people. As we moved to remote work, it was worrying about the social, emotional health and well-being, as well as the physical safety of our teams. And trying to stay connected and keeping people engaged. Working together, I think was the most important thing and the biggest challenge, our biggest focus. And I think that’s going to be ongoing into 2021.

On the roadmap for Highlight’s into 2021: For me what 2020 did and what we have to do for our roadmap forward is in a lot of ways it accelerated things; it accelerated the shift to ecommerce; it accelerated how we do things at work through video chats, through working remotely. And so what we talk about is not about getting back to normal, but how do we take the best of what we’ve had to learn during this very difficult year and apply it so that we can come out ahead and use it to our strategic advantage going forward.

On the future of print in this digital age: I am so bullish about the future of print for kids. We spend time in our magazine industry or in education thinking that print is going away, but I think the lessons of 2020 for me are that print is not going away, particularly for kids. What we see is, we in our jobs and kids learning remotely or being at home, we have so many great digital experiences, but there’s a human need for balance. There’s a human need for the tactile, physical experience of print. So, I’ve not been more bullish on print as a technology that’s great for kids in literacy development, in puzzling and engagement.

On whether he has seen an increase in Highlight’s subscriptions: Our subscription business is up as well. What’s interesting about our subscription business being up is that people who are buying those subscriptions through digital means have exploded. But grandparents who are responding to direct mail is also way up. So, there’s a diversity of people who I think are looking for something that is engaging and is a quality use of their time.

On his thoughts on the future of magazines and magazine media: I’m a big let’s-measure-what-happens-in-the-world-and-respond-to-it, as opposed to “let’s predict.” I think that magazine media, magazine titles, companies and verticals that really understand and focus on the consumer’s needs in their audience, for me I think the future there is bright.

On some of the things Highlight’s is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company: Highlight’s serves kids and we create the products, the content that kids are consuming pretty young in their lives, we’re proud of our heritage of inclusion and the diversity that we’ve depicted in our magazines, but absolutely this year has caused us to double-down, reexamine, look at our structures, look at our approach, look at how we’re building content to be as inclusive as possible. So, we’re working on continuing to try to always be open and as we talked about, always evolving to make sure our magazines are as inclusive as possible. 

On anything he’d like to add: I’ve really learned during this pandemic, as a leader of an organization, I’ve realized how much more important it is for me to focus on how our people are doing than it is for me to focus on how they’re doing the work. The power of engagement, community, belonging, social and emotional well-being in an organization, that power will never cease to amaze me. And that’s what has gotten us through.

On what makes him tick and click: One of my focuses through this pandemic has been trying to focus on the idea of making sure I have enough gas in the tank. I think it’s emotionally and physically taxing to live under the stress of the pandemic, the stress of what’s going on, the divisiveness in our society and the concerns we all have for our teams and our business in this environment.

On how he unwinds after a busy day: Obviously, our house with two kids at home; I’m sure our Netflix bandwidth is pretty large. (Laughs) I try to watch some videos that allow you to escape. I’ve also increased my amount of reading. When we’re on the screen so much we need some way to unwind. I certainly like meditation apps, but I’ve been reading more nonfiction, more history.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s always people. I think our people are really stressed. I keep telling my team to take 10 days off this holiday. What keeps me up? I’m a little tired; I’m pretty engaged with work and life, but I’m nervous about the toll this is having on society.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlight’s for Children.

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that Highlights for Children has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Kent Johnson: The word unprecedented has become overused when talking about 2020. Our biggest challenge, and I think it’s still my biggest focus, is the impact of 2020 on our people. As we moved to remote work, it was worrying about the social, emotional health and well-being, as well as the physical safety of our teams. And trying to stay connected and keeping people engaged. Working together, I think was the most important thing and the biggest challenge, our biggest focus. And I think that’s going to be ongoing into 2021.

But I think by trusting our people and empowering our people, we’ve been able to get through a lot of the business challenges reasonably well. But with so much uncertainty it’s difficult to keep everyone aligned and energized. It’s very taxing to go through a year like this.

Samir Husni: What’s the roadmap for Highlight’s as you move toward 2021?

Kent Johnson: It’s interesting because while Highlight’s is a magazine business, we’re also a diversified educational publishing company, so in addition to magazines, we do subscription clubs and retail products that can be about puzzling and learning.

So, one of the interesting things that happened this year was that parents had to immediately become teachers at home and we stopped going to restaurants and we stopped traveling, and there became an increased focus on how do you create a quality experience at home? And for some of our business lines that actually helped us. We felt like we were able to come to the aid of parents, who like us, now had kids at home. So we started making free digital content for kids to try and give them things to do at home. 

But for me what 2020 did and what we have to do for our roadmap forward is in a lot of ways it accelerated things; it accelerated the shift to ecommerce; it accelerated how we do things at work through video chats, through working remotely. And so what we talk about is not about getting back to normal, but how do we take the best of what we’ve had to learn during this very difficult year and apply it so that we can come out ahead and use it to our strategic advantage going forward. 

So, the things we’ve learned about increasing employee engagement; how can we continue to focus on engagement in 2021? Being more relevant to our audience; providing solutions that really matter to parents in the home. Being consumer-focused and becoming more consumer-focused is 100 percent on our roadmap. We’ve also learned a fair bit about digital marketing, whether it’s through the platforms of Amazon or through social media or ecommerce and search. So continuing to refine those lessons and continuing to accelerate the digital communication we use to reach, particularly millennial parents, to purchase our products. 

We’re excited about the brand and we’re excited about being focused on being relevant to our audience with the services that we’re going to add in 2021. 

Samir Husni: What is the future of print in this digital age?

Kent Johnson: I am so bullish about the future of print for kids. We spend time in our magazine industry or in education thinking that print is going away, but I think the lessons of 2020 for me are that print is not going away, particularly for kids. What we see is, we in our jobs and kids learning remotely or being at home, we have so many great digital experiences, but there’s a human need for balance. There’s a human need for the tactile, physical experience of print. So, I’ve not been more bullish on print as a technology that’s great for kids in literacy development, in puzzling and engagement. 

And I think the adult magazine world should look at the fact that we need to think about the audience, do create great digital experiences, but also provide excellent experiences in print. Print advertising? That’s been the problem. But a print experience for a human, that’s still a strong experience. I think we need to focus on the relevance of the content and the experience we create with our print magazines, our print media. And the future I think looks bright.

Samir Husni: Have you seen any increase in your subscriptions at Highlight’s?

Kent Johnson: Our subscription business is up as well. What’s interesting about our subscription business being up is that people who are buying those subscriptions through digital means have exploded. But grandparents who are responding to direct mail is also way up. So, there’s a diversity of people who I think are looking for something that is engaging and is a quality use of their time. 

We can all look at our social media feeds and think of it as digital candy, but when you want a meaningful experience, an immersive experience, sometimes you want to get off the screen and engage with the print magazine. And we think that’s really healthy for kids, to engage with print in a focused way as an alternative and not in place of digital, it shouldn’t be an argument of print or digital, it’s what are the experiences that human wants at that time. And how do they have a diversity of positive experiences. 

Samir Husni: What’s your thoughts on the future of magazines and magazine media as the industry moves forward into the future?

Kent Johnson: I’m a big let’s-measure-what-happens-in-the-world-and-respond-to-it, as opposed to “let’s predict.” I think that magazine media, magazine titles, companies and verticals that really understand and focus on the consumer’s needs in their audience, for me I think the future there is bright. 

The key is to make sure that the magazine is responsive and relevant to the needs of the audience. A magazine is a cool thing compared to a book. You publish a book and it’s done. A magazine is always organically evolving and is interactive, you have dialogue with your readers, dialogue with your audience. So, you’re always growing and evolving with your audience.

If that’s a focus of the magazine industry, those titles that really stay relevant, evolve, and serve their audience both through the magazine and through the other ancillary experiences, such as products, the ways they interact with their digital, physical, with the things they build around the magazine and build around the audience’s needs, I think the future is great. 

Next year is Highlight’s 75th anniversary. And we’re working on a book called “Dear Highlight’s – What Adults Can Learn From Listening To Children.” And it has samples of the letters we’ve gotten and our responses to kids over the last 75 years. And I think it’s an example of relevance here, if you’re in a dialogue with your readers, you stay in touch and you always evolve to grow with your readers. 

And I think for magazine companies that stay focused on their audience and on their readers, I think the future is bright. 

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality, or inclusion. And at last count in the past several months there have been over 318 magazines that have had Black subjects on the cover, which is more than there has been in the last 60 years. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at Highlight’s?

Kent Johnson: Our employees, our teams, experienced the same thing that everyone across the country experienced and it was an emotional process, an emotional reaction. There are two strands that we’re focused on. 

One is because Highlight’s serves kids and we create the products, the content that kids are consuming pretty young in their lives, we’re proud of our heritage of inclusion and the diversity that we’ve depicted in our magazines, but absolutely this year has caused us to double-down, reexamine, look at our structures, look at our approach, look at how we’re building content to be as inclusive as possible. 

To try to set that as kids experience content, that they see the world they really live in, which extends beyond race and ethnicity, it extends to disabilities, it extends to family structures. Do you have two parents; two parents of the same gender, just trying to show kids that people live in all different ways. Have children see themselves in the product and see the diversity that makes our society great. 

So, we’re working on continuing to try to always be open and as we talked about, always evolving to make sure our magazines are as inclusive as possible. 

The other reaction that we’ve had as a company is that we see clear and systematic problems in our society that people have long been aware of. One of our reactions was we need to look at our own house. So, taking steps to look at our employment policies; look at our diversity, equity and inclusion training internally. We’ve engaged external consultants to help build programs internally. We’ve created a diversity, equity and inclusion council to look at strands in our marketing, in our human talent practices, in our employee engagement practices. 

We’ve done surveys and really looked at how can we be better, because our feelings are, if we’re responsible for creating products that affect our society, we better look internally and make sure our company internally reflects well the society that we live in. And then we’re doing it in a way that creates the sense of belonging for everyone at our company.

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

Kent Johnson: I’ve really learned during this pandemic, as a leader of an organization, I’ve realized how much more important it is for me to focus on how our people are doing than it is for me to focus on how they’re doing the work. The power of engagement, community, belonging, social and emotional well-being in an organization, that power will never cease to amaze me. And that’s what has gotten us through.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

Kent Johnson: One of my focuses through this pandemic has been trying to focus on the idea of making sure I have enough gas in the tank. I think it’s emotionally and physically taxing to live under the stress of the pandemic, the stress of what’s going on, the divisiveness in our society and the concerns we all have for our teams and our business in this environment. 

To be honest, I’m focusing more than usual on going to bed early; on making sure I get my exercise. And I know that sounds pretty basic, but I  think when we’re involved in an organization where we want to take care of each other, it’s important that we’re also taking care of ourselves and making sure that we have the energy and the emotional capacity to lean into those things that matter, our family, our work family and our extended family that we’re not seeing.

So for me, it’s been about just trying to stay engaged and trying to do those basic things right. So, I go to bed about an hour earlier than I do in non-pandemic times. 

Samir Husni: How do you unwind after a busy day?

Kent Johnson: Obviously, our house with two kids at home; I’m sure our Netflix bandwidth is pretty large. (Laughs) I try to watch some videos that allow you to escape. I’ve also increased my amount of reading. When we’re on the screen so much we need some way to unwind. I certainly like meditation apps, but I’ve been reading more nonfiction, more history. Just taking that time that can be a little bit disconnected from this time, from media, from politics – let’s go back to the 1800s; let’s go back to an earlier time and continue learning. 

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

Kent Johnson: It’s always people. I think our people are really stressed. I keep telling my team to take 10 days off this holiday. What keeps me up? I’m a little tired; I’m pretty engaged with work and life, but I’m nervous about the toll this is having on society. 

Going back to virtual learning, the data we’re seeing across the country on what’s happening to kids in schools who are learning virtually or are not participating virtually, the disruption to schoolkids, which I think sometimes people focus on the math and reading, I’m not that worried about the math and reading, what I’m worried about is the social/emotional impact and how are we going to help kids recover and respond to the trauma they’re experiencing and get back into the learning track. That’s probably what I’m most worried about. And I do lose sleep.

If the world were right, our country would have to make a significant investment in helping kids recover from this experience and I’m worried we don’t have the will or the resources to do what we’re going to need to do for kids over the next five years. As we fight, we’re not talking about how much we’re going to have to invest in kids who have had a pretty hard go with this pandemic. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

Up next: David Parry, CEO, A360 Media

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

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Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Have Put More Into Print To Make It An Even Better Physical, Tactile Experience And A Premium Product.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 21, 2020

“I’ll speak for ours (Print) and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best.” Andy Clurman…

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 5: Andy Clurman, President & CEO, Active Interest Media

Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media.

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

One of the world’s largest enthusiast media companies, Active Interest Media (aimmedia.com) produces leading consumer and trade events, websites, magazines, and films and TV shows that reach millions of readers, fans, and attendees in 85 countries. AIM powers the second-richest equestrian competition in the world, the World Series of Team Roping. Understandably, 2020 has been a different year for the enthusiast world as well as all of us.

Andy Clurman is president and CEO of the company and said the biggest challenge for the company this year has been remapping the way AIM conducted its business. I spoke with Andy recently and we talked about this difficult year and the way AIM handled itself during the onset of the pandemic and the successes and challenges they have had so far. 

It was an informative conversation and one that inspired hope and continued energy for the world of magazines and magazine media. So, please enjoy the fifth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media (AIM).

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that AIM faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: I’d say the biggest challenge was just remapping our work life, our product portfolio, and emphasizing what we said about combining frequencies of different print issues because advertising had collapsed in the spring and early summer. We didn’t want to lay anybody off, that was always a high priority. So, we redeployed people and put them to work on a big ecommerce initiative that was showing promise around the company.

On the roadmap for AIM into 2021: As the business has evolved and we see other opportunities out there, it’s clear to us that there are some different opportunities and possibilities that aren’t all similar across all of our groups and finding investors who have a category-focused strategy and the capital to support it in some cases is better than us trying to ration resources and grow all things all the time across multiple different verticals.

On the future of print: I’ll speak for ours and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best. Like others, we have put more into print to make it an even better physical, tactile experience and a premium product, which I think serves a very different purpose than how people are engaging digitally.

On the changes he sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: The old tried-and-true business model was the magazine being the mother ship and the source of all other lines of business, whether it was licensing, a website, or what have you, now the magazine is just one of the planets in this whole galaxy of content and customer connections that you have. It’s continuing to evolve to where you’re able to think about that whole galaxy of content and relationships and grow and sustain all of the points of that as opposed to having it heavily skewed toward emphasis on print or emphasis just on digital.

On some of the things AIM is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company: It’s education first. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on. How do we understand in a deeper way what we should be doing, could be doing, and how to think about it as opposed to the way we’ve all been trained and the structures and the conventions that have led to where we are right now. I think it’s energizing to not just respond, but to think about how we could do things differently that would bring in other kinds of voices and faces to what has been a pretty homogenous group.

On any active initiatives to educate employees about diversity and inclusion: Yes, we created a Jedi task force, which is Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and is a cross-section of people from the company. We also brought in an ad hoc diversity officer who has been leading this in terms of sourcing, education, facilitating conversations, doing content and promotional audits, hiring practices, so really looking top to bottom through our organization and our messaging and content. And strategically are there different organizations’ approaches within a different group?

On anything he’d like to add: We’re very grateful for where we are right now. I’ll say that this year has been and continues to be a major test, but I think if you went around and asked people in our company how they’re feeling, I believe they are feeling energized and gratified by the reinforcement for what we’re doing and that it matters to people and is something that people, no matter what’s happening in the world around them, will continue to value and make a place for in their lives. And that’s sort of the punchline to this terrible joke we’ve all been living through. 

On what makes him tick and click: I’ve always been an idea guy. I love working with our group to come up with the next thing or to activate someone else’s great idea, then watching it proliferate through the company, watching it proliferate through our audience and our community. I get a lot of weird satisfaction from that.

On how unwinds at the end of the day: I’m very fortunate to live in Colorado. So, right outside my door there is always opportunities for a long bike ride or a hike or all kinds of things. I just got a hip replacement recently, so now I’m focusing on physical therapy, that’s my release. I’m hoping to get back to the great outdoors as soon as I can.

On what keeps him up at night: You think you know the unknowns as you navigate life as we now know it. And every once and awhile, you can’t escape that uneasy feeling that you don’t know all the unknowns. Other than that, I tend to sleep pretty well.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andy Clurman, president & CEO, Active Interest Media.

Andy Clurman

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that AIM (Active Interest Media) has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Andy Clurman: It evolved overtime as we experienced, understood and reacted to all the things happening in the country and the universe. Normally, and I’ve been in this industry for a long time, you tend to have an outdated convention, but you used to have a Rolodex of ways to solve problems. You came to work, something cropped up and you remembered how you’d solved it in years past. But there was no Rolodex or no tried-and-true solution to the pandemic. It was of course something that none of us had experienced in our lifetime. 

The level of social and civil unrest, very few of us had experienced in our lifetimes, depending upon your age. So it was uncharted territory as we first began to understand the gravity and depth of what the pandemic was going to impact on everybody, personally, professionally and socially. 

We operate without a major financial net most of the time. And recognizing that businesses were shutting down, our customers in many cases were shutting down their brick and mortar storefronts, consumer demand was plummeting, people were shut-in and staying at home, we first went into a rapid situation of assessment modeling where we didn’t know if the business and demand would just collapse. Would people stop buying things if outlets for physical products were closed? Advertising was cascading downward. 

So, we did a lot of very quick what-if scenarios and looked at our whole portfolio. What are the things in different categories, things that would absolutely be negatively impacted very quickly? Things that might actually benefit from people buying virtually via ecommerce, consuming content virtually, still being able to get magazines in subscription form to people’s homes, and that led to a whole series of decisions that we made, which fortunately turned out to be successful.

Things like certain issues of certain magazines; other people have done this where you combine frequency, suspended some products. All of our physical events were shut down, so which events could we transform into a virtual experience, a hybrid experience. Is there another way to accomplish a similar task or put a different product out into the marketplace? 

Then we wondered what was going to happen to our workplace in terms of how we work, where we work. How are we technology-enabled and do we have all the tools in place; do we have the right support for the staff to do what they do; how are they feeling, are they healthy; can we help them financially? 

I’d say the biggest challenge was just remapping our work life, our product portfolio, and emphasizing what we said about combining frequencies of different print issues because advertising had collapsed in the spring and early summer. We didn’t want to lay anybody off, that was always a high priority. So, we redeployed people and put them to work on a big ecommerce initiative that was showing promise around the company. 

Samir Husni: What’s your roadmap for AIM as you move toward 2021?

Andy Clurman: We’ve been on a fairly traditional course since we started the company, which was to build a large scale, multimedia enthusiast business across multiple categories. And I think we’ve accomplished that very successfully, at least the initial strategy and roadmap that we created 15 years ago. 

As the business has evolved and we see other opportunities out there, it’s clear to us that there are some different opportunities and possibilities that aren’t all similar across all of our groups and finding investors who have a category-focused strategy and the capital to support it in some cases is better than us trying to ration resources and grow all things all the time across multiple different verticals.

So that led to the sale of one of our larger groups to a group that has a very focused category strategy, very focused category investment, and we thought that would be a good way for them to accelerate growth of that group and let them pursue their opportunities. So, meanwhile we’re doing the same thing with the rest of the company. We’re still very vested in horses, homes and the marine industry. And again, even though there are different opportunities there, we have the ability to put the resources we have against growing their lines of business. 

For example, I think one of the silver linings around COVID is people with more time and interest in our online education writer’s group and our woodworking group has really taken off. As well as digital woodworking plans and digital products for people who are at home doing the things they love. 

So, we really want to double-down on those categories. And even though post-pandemic, there’s a COVID bump, I believe, that we all have experienced in parts of the business that may secede as we get through next year, but this has showed us some of the opportunities of the products that we consider to be ancillary to other lines of business that could be much bigger if we put the focus on them. 

Samir Husni: What is the future of the print portfolio?

Andy Clurman: I’ll speak for ours and it could apply to others globally. We are like someone’s happy thought when we show up in the mail amidst all kinds of uninvited and unwelcomed material. We are the thing that is a moment, an opportunity for people to spend some time thinking about studying some of the things that they love best. Like others, we have put more into print to make it an even better physical, tactile experience and a premium product, which I think serves a very different purpose than how people are engaging digitally. 

We obviously have multiple, multiple platforms, but from what we’ve seen, there has been a surprising boon in print subscriptions this year. Things that were questionable, we are now even more convinced they have a long-term viability and a place in people’s media diet. 

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? What are some of the changes you see taking place? 

Andy Clurman: The old tried-and-true business model was the magazine being the mother ship and the source of all other lines of business, whether it was licensing, a website, or what have you, now the magazine is just one of the planets in this whole galaxy of content and customer connections that you have. It’s continuing to evolve to where you’re able to think about that whole galaxy of content and relationships and grow and sustain all of the points of that as opposed to having it heavily skewed toward emphasis on print or emphasis just on digital. 

The words diversification and balance, and this year really was the biggest proof and test of that. What would your business look like if your advertising was down thirty, forty, fifty percent? Do you still have a business? And thankfully, we answered and have driven through that scenario pretty successfully. So, it’s given us a lot more confidence and enthusiasm for the fact that there really is a great business here, but you can’t think of it in limited dimensions.

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality, or inclusion. And at last count in the past several months there have been over 318 magazines that have had Black subjects on the cover, which is more than there has been in the last 60 years. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at AIM?

Andy Clurman: We, in the magazine media, have always thought of ourselves as fairly progressive, enlightened and have not really been at the forefront of accountability around social progression. I think what’s really been brought to the light this year is our audiences, whether it’s younger people or people in the outdoors within our broader audiences, which do have different levels of diversity, have called us to task, which is reasonable and appropriate. 

To think about not just how we present content and what’s the diversity in the content, but how our whole industry and organizations look. Which to be fair, there is a very low level of diversity that we’ve accomplished, both as an industry and in media. And some of the underlying industries that we serve.

It’s education first. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on. How do we understand in a deeper way what we should be doing, could be doing, and how to think about it as opposed to the way we’ve all been trained and the structures and the conventions that have led to where we are right now. I think it’s energizing to not just respond, but to think about how we could do things differently that would bring in other kinds of voices and faces to what has been a pretty homogenous group.

Samir Husni: Are you taking any active initiatives to educate employees about diversity and inclusion?

Andy Clurman: Yes, we created a Jedi task force, which is Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and is a cross-section of people from the company. We also brought in an ad hoc diversity officer who has been leading this in terms of sourcing, education, facilitating conversations, doing content and promotional audits, hiring practices, so really looking top to bottom through our organization and our messaging and content. And strategically are there different organizations’ approaches within a different group? 

People in the marine industry have a different approach than people in the horse industry, but all have their opportunities we’ve found to partner with different people. And a number of the groups have come up with very industry-specific categories, specific strategies, to bring in some new faces and voices.

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

Andy Clurman: We’re very grateful for where we are right now. I’ll say that this year has been and continues to be a major test, but I think if you went around and asked people in our company how they’re feeling, I believe they are feeling energized and gratified by the reinforcement for what we’re doing and that it matters to people and is something that people, no matter what’s happening in the world around them, will continue to value and make a place for in their lives. And that’s sort of the punchline to this terrible joke we’ve all been living through. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

Andy Clurman: I’ve always been an idea guy. I love working with our group to come up with the next thing or to activate someone else’s great idea, then watching it proliferate through the company, watching it proliferate through our audience and our community. I get a lot of weird satisfaction from that.

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

Andy Clurman: I’m very fortunate to live in Colorado. So, right outside my door there is always opportunities for a long bike ride or a hike or all kinds of things. I just got a hip replacement recently, so now I’m focusing on physical therapy, that’s my release. I’m hoping to get back to the great outdoors as soon as I can. 

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

Andy Clurman: You think you know the unknowns as you navigate life as we now know it. And every once and awhile, you can’t escape that uneasy feeling that you don’t know all the unknowns. Other than that, I tend to sleep pretty well. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

Up next, Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights for Children.

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

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Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Print Plays A Very Important Role In The Ecosystem Of Our Brands.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 20, 2020

“For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand.” Debi Chirichella

“We know that print validates our brands’ authority with our consumers and with our advertisers. And that ultimately strong print supports strong digital growth. We’re committed to great print products and excellence in editorial, not just in print, but also in digital. And we’re investing in both.” Debi Chirichella

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom … Magazine Media 2021  Part 4: Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines 

Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy… 

Hearst Magazines has always been a staunch believer in print, and as 2021 approaches, new President Debi Chirichella, confirms that nothing about that faith has changed. Debi feels strongly that print validates the company’s brands with authority and trust. 

I spoke with Debi recently and we talked about the direction Hearst Magazines would be taking in the New Year and the effects the pandemic has had on the daily operations of the business. As she stressed, 2020 was a challenging year, but challenges present opportunities and Hearst is well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities. And as a new leader at the helm, Debi is excited to take the company into 2021 and beyond with conviction and dedication as she helps to seize those opportunities. 

Now, please enjoy the fourth installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Debi Chirichella, president, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge Hearst Magazines faced in 2020 and how she overcame it: Obviously 2020 has been a very challenging year and honestly, I’ve been in this industry for a while, it’s probably been one of the toughest years that I’ve ever experienced. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges that the magazine industry was facing and Hearst Magazines was not immune. But, Hearst is a very disciplined and resilient organization and I am very proud of our performance.

On her roadmap for Hearst Magazines as the company moves toward 2021: For several years now we’ve been on the path of redefining the magazine model based on the power of our brands. And we’re staying on that path. Despite the challenges of 2020, we’re exiting the year with momentum. And in 2021 we just want to build on that momentum. We’ve made great strides in diversifying our brands across platforms, and then taking the audiences we’re building and diversifying them across multiple revenue streams.

On Hearst’s strategy to invest more in print: For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand.

On what she feels is the future of print in this digital age: Print plays a very important role in the ecosystem of our brands. Again, it validates our brands’ authority through trust with our consumer, it separates us from our digitally native competitors, and it allows us to have stronger brands overall. And so we feel like it plays an important role in the future.

On the changes she sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: In this new media environment, choices are abundant. So, we need to focus on getting closer to the consumer and deepening our relationships with our growing audiences. We think it goes beyond scale and we need to build personal connections with our audiences. And then to take those deep connections and monetize them in new ways.

On some of the things Hearst Magazines is doing to implement more diversity and inclusion into the company:Hearst Magazines is committed to being a workplace, and also creating media, that reflects the world we live in. And that’s one that respects and protects and represents voices and opinions of all people. In 2020 we made significant progress against our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. And I think this had actually started a little bit before 2020 — we’ve been implementing operational changes and launching key initiatives to support the enlightened and inclusive workplace that we strive to build.

On whether she believes the move toward more people of color reflected in magazines is a sign of the times or an idea that’s here to stay: Again, we’re on a journey; we’re not done. I don’t think this is a one-time thing. We are really committed to creating media that is reflective of the voices and the opinions of all people.

On anything she’d like to add: It’s been a challenging year, but we have lots of opportunities and I think Hearst is really well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities in 2021 and beyond.

On what makes her tick and click: I love the company I work for; I love the work we do, creating content. I love the people I work with and again, we’ve had lots of challenges, but we also have lots of opportunities and that’s what makes me very excited to get out of bed every morning.

On how she unwinds at the end of the day: You know, I try to find a silver lining through this health crisis. I have three children, they’re not really children anymore, they’re kind of grownup. Two of them came home from college early, I still have a high school student at home and one of the things that I’ve been able to do as a way to unwind is actually spend more time with my family at the end of the day.

On any new launches that are up and coming for the New Year: I think in 2021 we’re going to add some smaller publications as part of our membership. But I’ll have to just let you wait and see for now.

On what keeps her up at night: Again, I’m very family-oriented, and I am a mom. Usually the only thing that keeps me up at night is anything to do with my kids. My kids are young adults, like I said, and they’re thriving. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about them.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Debi Chirichella, president, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: 2020 has been anything but a normal year, on all fronts. With the changes that took place at Hearst Magazines, with you being appointed interim and now the president of Hearst Magazines, what has been the biggest challenge that you faced in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

Debi Chirichella: Obviously 2020 has been a very challenging year and honestly, I’ve been in this industry for a while, it’s probably been one of the toughest years that I’ve ever experienced. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges that the magazine industry was facing and Hearst Magazines was not immune. But, Hearst is a very disciplined and resilient organization and I am very proud of our performance.

If I think about some of the challenges, one that we all faced was the need to switch to a virtual environment overnight. We had to quickly adapt to meet the needs of this new normal and to meet our customers and clients where they were. And we did just that. Our content team produced from home 150 print issues; we produced 3,000 videos without the benefit of our normal expanded video team. We invested in the quality of our print products; and we grew our digital audiences to unprecedented levels, hitting all-time highs. We did all this all at home in a way that, I think at the beginning of January and February, we would have never thought possible. 

So, I’m very proud with how we pivoted and how we met this challenge. 

Samir Husni: Each president, each CEO, when they come to a job they have their own plans and their own ideas. What is your roadmap for Hearst Magazines as you move toward 2021?

Debi Chirichella: For several years now we’ve been on the path of redefining the magazine model based on the power of our brands. And we’re staying on that path. Despite the challenges of 2020, we’re exiting the year with momentum. And in 2021 we just want to build on that momentum. We’ve made great strides in diversifying our brands across platforms, and then taking the audiences we’re building and diversifying them across multiple revenue streams. 

We’ve been focused on leveraging the power of our brands to create the best products and to build strong audiences. We are investing in deepening our consumer relationships. We’re supporting growth in our digital offerings. We’re leveraging our sophisticated data and our technology capabilities to serve our advertisers. All of these are things that we started in and prior to 2020 and will continue in 2021 because they’re working and we see great growth opportunities there. 

At the same time, we are continuing to evolve our culture and we are making Hearst Magazines a great place to work. 

Samir Husni: I’ve heard from other CEOs and presidents of magazine groups that during 2020 they’ve seen an increase in print subscriptions and people are utilizing their digital platforms. What’s the current status of your relationship with the audience? Are you seeing a larger demand for print? I know you’re investing in print and you’ve hired an editorial director for print, tell us a little bit more about that investment.

Debi Chirichella: For several years, as I mentioned, our strategy has been to expand our business model by focusing on new delivery platforms. And that’s going to include not just print, but also going deeper into digital, social and video, and exploring and developing new revenue streams anchored by our brands. But for Hearst, print is an important component of our strategy and our print editions really do remain the flagship of each brand. 

We know that print validates our brands’ authority with our consumers and with our advertisers. And that ultimately strong print supports strong digital growth. We’re committed to great print products and excellence in editorial, not just in print, but also in digital. And we’re investing in both. 

Not only did we move Lucy Kaylin into a new role as vice president of print content, but we’ve also invested in the actual product itself. We’ve launched Premium Print, which is a multimillion investment across several brands in our portfolio to strengthen our position in the marketplace and enhance the quality of our print products. And this is something that we’ve been doing and will continue to do in 2021 and in the future.

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

Debi Chirichella: Print plays a very important role in the ecosystem of our brands. Again, it validates our brands’ authority through trust with our consumer, it separates us from our digitally native competitors, and it allows us to have stronger brands overall. And so we feel like it plays an important role in the future. 

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? What are some of the changes you see taking place, is it in the business model, in the quality of print, or something else?

Debi Chirichella: The magazine media landscape is evolving and changing. And consumer behavior is shifting. We do have what we think are the most powerful brands in the industry and we know we have the most talented group of people in the industry working on those brands. 

In this new media environment, choices are abundant. So, we need to focus on getting closer to the consumer and deepening our relationships with our growing audiences. We think it goes beyond scale and we need to build personal connections with our audiences. And then to take those deep connections and monetize them in new ways. 

We’re building ways for consumers to connect directly with our brands through memberships, bundles and products. We’re putting effort behind our new product “Mylo” through CDS-Global,  making it easier for customers to use and work with our brands. We’re working on personalizing the content experience. So, I really do think it’s all about deepening relationships with the consumer.

Samir Husni: Beside COVID, 2020 was a year filled with upheaval. Whether it was the social injustices and Black Lives Matter, diversity, equality and Hearst, like every other magazine company, was not safe from that environment. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to ensure that social responsibility, inclusion, diversity and equality are taking place at Hearst Magazines? 

Debi Chirichella: Hearst Magazines is committed to being a workplace, and also creating media, that reflects the world we live in. And that’s one that respects and protects and represents voices and opinions of all people. In 2020 we made significant progress against our diversity, equity and inclusion goals. And I think this had actually started a little bit before 2020 — we’ve been implementing operational changes and launching key initiatives to support the enlightened and inclusive workplace that we strive to build.

We put new training programs into place and added some advisory groups across the company to help us with this. It’s a journey and we know it’s a journey. I don’t think you’re ever finished. We made progress in 2020, but we’re going to continue to build on that progress.

Samir Husni: We’ve seen a lot of Black subjects appearing on the covers of mainstream magazines in the last few months. In fact, the last count I had was 318 magazine covers in the last six months that have Black subjects on the covers, which is almost 10 times more than we had in the last 100 years. Do you think this is going to be the new normal or do you think this is just in response to the times we live in now?

Debi Chirichella: Again, we’re on a journey; we’re not done. I don’t think this is a one-time thing. We are really committed to creating media that is reflective of the voices and the opinions of all people. 

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add about Hearst or your position?

Debi Chirichella: It’s been a challenging year, but we have lots of opportunities and I think Hearst is really well-positioned to capitalize on those opportunities in 2021 and beyond. 

Samir Husni: As president of Hearst Magazines, what makes you tick and click?

Debi Chirichella: I love the company I work for; I love the work we do, creating content. I love the people I work with and again, we’ve had lots of challenges, but we also have lots of opportunities and that’s what makes me very excited to get out of bed every morning. 

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

Debi Chirichella: You know, I try to find a silver lining through this health crisis. I have three children, they’re not really children anymore, they’re kind of grownup. Two of them came home from college early, I still have a high school student at home and one of the things that I’ve been able to do as a way to unwind is actually spend more time with my family at the end of the day. I am now cooking dinner most every day, not something that I did. I do like to cook and I have great ideas to pull from because we have Good Housekeeping and Food Network and Delish, so I have a wealth of new recipes to try. 

And so I find unwinding at the end of the day cooking dinner and spending time with my family, something that I didn’t do as much in the past, but again, I think it’s the silver lining coming out of this pandemic. And it’s absolutely the best way to end the day after a steady diet of Zoom calls.

Samir Husni: Hearst Magazines has been known, almost every other year, for launching a major new publication. Do you have anything on the horizon?

 Debi Chirichella: I think in 2021 we’re going to add some smaller publications as part of our membership. But I’ll have to just let you wait and see for now.

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

Debi Chirichella: Again, I’m very family-oriented, and I am a mom. Usually the only thing that keeps me up at night is anything to do with my kids. My kids are young adults, like I said, and they’re thriving. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about them. So, if anything keeps me up at night it’s because something is going on in their lives and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Steven Kotok, President & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Our Readers Stuck With Us And Our Business Grew In A Lot Of Ways, Which Was Good.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 18, 2020

“Bauer will always follow our audience. Our audience is largely women in the middle of their lives. Our digital properties are growing, but they really want the experience that we provide in print. If there comes a day when they don’t want it, we won’t fight it. We will bring them what they want.” Steven Kotok

“I’ve always been an advocate for the audience and the user, money talks, BS walks. If the readers are supporting the content, that’s going to make for better content.” Steven Kotok

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom… Magazine Media 2021  Part 3: Steven Kotok, President & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA

Steven Kotok, President & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president and CEO has arrived. Please enjoy… 

Bauer Media Group Publishes two of the top selling magazines at retail, Woman’s World and First for Women. Their titles connect with a nationwide audience of readers across diverse editorial segments: women’s (Woman’s World, Celebrate, First for Women) and science and technology (iD – Ideas & Discoveries), so there is a broad spectrum of content they cover. Steven Kotok is the president and CEO in the United States of this fifth generation-owned company, something he is very happy about. 

I spoke with Steven recently and we talked about Bauer and the year 2020 in retrospect. Obviously, it was a trying year for all, including Bauer, but as Steven tells me, financially it wasn’t as bad as they had thought it might be, which is always good news. Challenges occurred, but Steven and his team were up for them and still excited about what they do, even during a pandemic.

And now for the third installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Steven Kotok, president & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA.

But first the sound-bites:

On the biggest challenge that Bauer faced in 2020 and how the company overcame it: We’re in a challenged industry, so we’re pretty accustomed to facing challenges, but this year it was just the uncertainty. No one really knew how bad it was going to get and what the effects would be. Going remote was actually surprisingly easy, but really knowing how to respond as a business was the toughest thing. I don’t know that we overcame it; I think we just stayed more flexible than ever.

On any plans he can share for 2021: For us, we’d still like to make an acquisition, it’s pretty tough to find the right thing. I think our 2021 plans are really focused around three things: one is to maintain our number one position for Woman’s World and First for Women on the newsstand, that really remains the bread and butter, but to really grow to other parts of our business.

On the future of print: I’m not a defender of print. I consider myself an advocate for the audience. I’ve always had the good fortune to work for audience-driven publishers, The Week and Felix Dennis, Wirecutter, Bauer. What made us successful was we weren’t focused on the medium. Wirecutter happened to be digital, but the focus was on serving the reader. The Week and Bauer are more largely print, but again we’re audience-driven.

On whether it was a positive that Bauer’s products are mainly distributed inside supermarkets which didn’t shut down at the beginning of the pandemic: Compared to, for example, magazines that have a large airport component, they really felt that because people weren’t flying. I usually fly every month or so and I haven’t flown since February. So comparatively. But we saw a lot of changes in grocery store habits as well. The days of the week that people shopped completely changed. It used to be Friday and Saturday, now it’s really Monday and Tuesday that are the big days.

On what he sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: For media generally, I think we are seeing a shift to more consumer revenue models, in print and digital and in streaming. I personally think that’s good. I’ve always been an advocate for the audience and the user, money talks, BS walks. If the readers are supporting the content, that’s going to make for better content.

On how he feels Bauer handles diversity and inclusion: With Bauer I would go back to 2018. In 2018 we did a really comprehensive reader study with focus groups, but it was also quantitative and it was along with an editorial leadership change and a redesign. And we really heard loud and clear from our African American readers that they love the magazine, and not intentionally, we wound up having some focus groups with just African American readers and they wanted more representation on the covers of the magazines and within the pages, specifically the beauty pages. And that’s something that we did in 2018. It wasn’t difficult. It definitely was a change to something we were doing before in the beauty pages, and seeking new cover subjects. But it made us a better magazine.

On anything he wants to add: Globally and in the U.S., it is an exciting time to be in the company. I’ve only been here four years and I’ve seen so much change in terms of how the company has become more progressive in its leadership style. It’s been a really fun time, even though we’ve been in uncertain times with the pandemic.

On what makes him tick and click: I still love my work, so I would say that makes me tick, and everything I said about serving the audience. To unwind, definitely playing with my son. And working from home, or Sundays it feels like sleeping in your office, but whichever it is, it’s really nice to be able to see him, even if it’s just for 10 minutes before a conference call. It’s the best substitute for what used to be a walk around the block or something, such as when I worked in Midtown. It’s really fun just to spend time with him.

On what keeps him up at night: At this point, I don’t think there’s as much being up at night as there was before. A lot of the things we were all scared of has happened to some extent. I probably feel as good about our business as I’ve felt since I’ve been here. We see the upside in our subscriptions; we see the market with these SIPs; and we’re number one on the newsstand. And I don’t even mention it because I’m not a big ad guy, but we’ve been number one in the women’s category for growing advertising. Woman’s World I think is the only magazine to grow advertising five years in a row.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steven Kotok, president & CEO, Bauer Media Group USA

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the most difficult years for all of us, on all fronts. What has been the biggest challenge that Bauer has had to face this year and how did you overcome it?

Steven Kotok: We’re in a challenged industry, so we’re pretty accustomed to facing challenges, but this year it was just the uncertainty. No one really knew how bad it was going to get and what the effects would be. Going remote was actually surprisingly easy, but really knowing how to respond as a business was the toughest thing. I don’t know that we overcame it; I think we just stayed more flexible than ever. 

Financially, it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Our readers stuck with us and our business grew in a lot of ways, which was good. And thankfully all of our employees remained safe. It was really the uncertainty. A lot of challenges are really difficult and they’re difficult because you don’t like the outcome of them or something. Here, we really had no idea what to expect, so knowing how to respond and how to address the challenge itself was incredibly difficult, because you’re really guessing at some levels. 

Samir Husni: Last year when you and I chatted, you had big plans for 2020 and you were going to acquire or launch something, and then of course everything came to a halt. As you look toward 2021, what’s the roadmap for Bauer? Any plans you can share with us?

Steven Kotok: For us, we’d still like to make an acquisition, it’s pretty tough to find the right thing. I think our 2021 plans are really focused around three things: one is to maintain our number one position for Woman’s World and First for Women on the newsstand, that really remains the bread and butter, but to really grow to other parts of our business. 

The subscription side of our business was probably not emphasized for many, many years. When I got here I made a couple of changes, but in 2021 we’re going to make a very significant investment in subscriptions. We’ve been growing that side of the business, but really amp it up a bit. We’ve done a bunch of testing; we’ve developed some new sources; greatly improved our economics, so now is the time to really triple down and invest in the subscription stream. So, that’s for Woman’s World And First for Women, which are already number one on the newsstand, so we’re kind of furthering the investment in that. 

Then second, it’s really our bookazines, our SIP program. That’s probably going to double in 2021. And again, that grows out of our strength at the newsstand. As you see in so many parts of media, the shift has moved from general interest to very narrow casting with the explosion of cable channels and podcasts, and SIPs are really a part of that, the special interest publications, where you can really narrow cast. And the narrower we go, if we do it right, and we’re doing a lot of these right out of our women’s group editorial group, we really hit it on the head. We did one just on people with thyroid issues, for example. That’s a very narrow topic and it did incredibly well. The Keto Diet has been really popular and effective for people, but we did Keto just for women over 50. And that was one of our bestsellers. 

I think investing in subscriptions for our existing products and launching these new products is by far where most of our financial and our time investment is going in 2021. 

Samir Husni: What do you think is the future of print in this digital age?

Steven Kotok: I’m not a defender of print. I consider myself an advocate for the audience. I’ve always had the good fortune to work for audience-driven publishers, The Week and Felix Dennis, Wirecutter, Bauer. What made us successful was we weren’t focused on the medium. Wirecutter happened to be digital, but the focus was on serving the reader. The Week and Bauer are more largely print, but again we’re audience-driven. 

Some publishers focus more on creating a pleasant environment for advertisers; I’ve just always been at places where we’re creating really a product or a service for consumers. So, Bauer will always follow our audience. Our audience is largely women in the middle of their lives. Our digital properties are growing, but they really want the experience that we provide in print. If there comes a day when they don’t want it, we won’t fight it. We will bring them what they want.

In the larger industry, as we’re seeing a title like Maxim, which once upon a time was huge in print, that audience has moved on. A lot of reference materials have moved on. So, I think the future of print is really audience-by-audience and use-case-by-use-case, not this global print-not print thing. 

Certainly, as we’re seeing it’s the present and the past, not the future. Certain audiences for certain use cases are finding what they need in digital rather than print. And I think that’s great because those are great digital products. I believe it will certainly be less and less that print is the best solution for that audience in that use case.

Samir Husni: Your products are mainly distributed in supermarkets, which did not shut down during the onset of the pandemic, whereas the bookstores did. Was that a positive for your business, being distributed in the grocery stores?

Steven Kotok: Compared to, for example, magazines that have a large airport component, they really felt that because people weren’t flying. I usually fly every month or so and I haven’t flown since February. So comparatively. But we saw a lot of changes in grocery store habits as well. The days of the week that people shopped completely changed. It used to be Friday and Saturday, now it’s really Monday and Tuesday that are the big days. 

So no, we certainly didn’t hit our budget this year. And in April and May, everything saw a huge decline. It has largely come back. It definitely wasn’t a benefit the way Zoom, which we’re using now, and some of these other companies saw a benefit to their business. 

But I think it did strengthen the connection with the readers. We have a lot of health content; we are an every-week read for some people, so I think the tough times can bring you closer, just like they do in a family. But financially it wasn’t a plus, by a long shot.

Samir Husni: In general, what do you see on the horizon for magazines and magazine media? Are we going to see more titles, less titles as a whole?

Steven Kotok: For media generally, I think we are seeing a shift to more consumer revenue models, in print and digital and in streaming. I personally think that’s good. I’ve always been an advocate for the audience and the user, money talks, BS walks. If the readers are supporting the content, that’s going to make for better content. 

In the golden days of advertising you could pay to send someone halfway around the world to write one story for a beautiful magazine and I’m sad that’s gone. But I do think the shift to reader-supported, reader revenue models is definitely here to stay. 

For magazines generally, for print media, that’s going to be a benefit to some and a harm to others. Look at Condé Nast, where The New Yorker was perpetually the money-loser out of that stable. Now it’s very profitable reportedly. And it’s not surprising. They’ve mastered that consumer revenue model. 

In our world, you’re not seeing more launches of magazines, but you’re certainly seeing many more launches of these bookazines, these special interest publications that narrow cast. And those have been successful. 

So, the broad trend I think is a shift to reader-supported models, which is where media started and I think it’s a great place for media to be. It’s longer-term and there’s more stability in that even with all of these disruptions, it can really be difficult. 

Samir Husni: With the social injustices that happened during 2020, the last few months, have seen more Blacks on the covers of mainstream magazines than ever before. How do you feel Bauer handles the issue of diversity and inclusion? 

Steven Kotok: It has been an incredible few years, with both diversity and inclusion, and also the Me Too Movement getting the level of national recognition and also corporate, which is the first time that companies have embraced addressing these issues. 

With Bauer I would go back to 2018. In 2018 we did a really comprehensive reader study with focus groups, but it was also quantitative and it was along with an editorial leadership change and a redesign. And we really heard loud and clear from our African American readers that they love the magazine, and not intentionally, we wound up having some focus groups with just African American readers and they wanted more representation on the covers of the magazines and within the pages, specifically the beauty pages. And that’s something that we did in 2018.

It wasn’t difficult. It definitely was a change to something we were doing before in the beauty pages, and seeking new cover subjects. But it made us a better magazine. Again, when you follow your reader. If anything during that period, we certainly beat the market during that time. Overall, it made us a stronger magazine. 

In terms of representation and the covers you’re talking about, I wish we were a hundred years ahead or even fifty years, we’ve only been around for forty years, but we were ahead of the game on that purely by listening to what our readers wanted. 

From a corporate perspective, this summer a lot of publishers were releasing statements and we kind of debated on doing that. And we felt that we wanted to do something in that moment, but we also felt were we really walking the walk to have a statement be that meaningful? Aside from changing our content in response to what we heard from our readers. 

So we’ve engaged with a consulting firm that specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion and we’re going through a process where we’re educating ourselves, meaning the whole company, the whole team. And we’re having some listening sessions as well to hear from the team. And whatever we do, actions or statements, it may take a little longer, but that’s going to come not as a top-down, written by our very excellent communications people, but more bottom-up as a company on where we stand and what we think. 

What’s nearest and dearest to our heart is really what we put on the pages and what we do for our readers. And we’ve been responsive there. What we do as a company is in process, we had an all-company meeting facilitated by this group. In January and February we’re going to have 10-person listening/speaking sessions. So, more to come on that. But we did feel like it’s best for something so important to not release a statement and be done with it, but try to take a full company approach. 

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

Steven Kotok: With Bauer globally and in the U.S., it is an exciting time to be in the company. I’ve only been here four years and I’ve seen so much change in terms of how the company has become more progressive in its leadership style. It’s been a really fun time, even though we’ve been in uncertain times with the pandemic. 

I’ve heard from a lot of the employees, even after they leave, when they can say whatever they want, that they feel good about working at the company and I feel good about working at the company. For as hard as 2020 has been, and everyone is working harder, we are enjoying it and still find it really gratifying to do what we do. We really feel we are serving an important audience and the response we get from them is very meaningful to us. We feel very vital to the audience we serve and it’s still what drives us. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

Steven Kotok: I still love my work, so I would say that makes me tick, and everything I said about serving the audience. To unwind, definitely playing with my son. And working from home, or Sundays it feels like sleeping in your office, but whichever it is, it’s really nice to be able to see him, even if it’s just for 10 minutes before a conference call. It’s the best substitute for what used to be a walk around the block or something, such as when I worked in Midtown. It’s really fun just to spend time with him. 

I like taking walks or hikes with my wife, we’re fortunate to live on a nature trail. And then cooking; I’ve always loved cooking. I was in the food business before I was in the media business and I don’t really do writing in my spare time, I’m not talented enough for that, but cooking in my spare time is really great. I love putting together something I’ve never made before. In better days, I would have said travel, but that seems so long ago. (Laughs)

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

Steven Kotok: At this point, I don’t think there’s as much being up at night as there was before. A lot of the things we were all scared of has happened to some extent. I probably feel as good about our business as I’ve felt since I’ve been here. We see the upside in our subscriptions; we see the market with these SIPs; and we’re number one on the newsstand. And I don’t even mention it because I’m not a big ad guy, but we’ve been number one in the women’s category for growing advertising. Woman’s World I think is the only magazine to grow advertising five years in a row. 

I really have to say there’s less that I’m scared of now than before. Twenty years ago I would have been up at night thinking about the business as it is, it’s been so difficult, what we’ve seen in the supply chain and all that. But all those things have either happened  or have taken care of themselves. Two years ago it was the supply chain that was really scary, but I feel pretty good about the retail supply chains.

So, I sleep as well I’ve slept, not because things are the best they’ve ever been, but I think we have a better sense of the kind of risks and challenges than we’ve ever had as an industry. 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Up next Debi Chirichella, President, Hearst Magazines.

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. 

Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.D.

h1

Catherine Levene, President, Meredith National Media Group, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: The Magazines That Matter Will Survive: “It’s All About What The Consumer Wants. And The Consumer Has Told Us That Print Matters.” The Mr. Magazine™ End Of The Year Interview…

December 16, 2020

“We know and believe that print matters… Our subscription growth is over 30 percent this last quarter than a year prior. That just shows you that women really appreciate the experience of reading offline. It’s a different experience; it’s a lean-back experience.” Catherine Levene

Bloom in the Midst of Gloom and Doom… Magazine Media 2021  Part 2:  Catherine Levene, President, Meredith National Media Group

Catherine Levene, president, Meredith National Media Group

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, Mr. Magazine™ offers up his end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Our next magazine media president has arrived. Please enjoy…

Meredith’s National Media Group reaches almost 95 percent of all U.S. women and over 190 million monthly American consumers through its trusted and iconic brands. From People to Allrecipes, and all the popular titles in between, Meredith is the largest magazine media company in the world. And for the first time in its 119-year history, a woman is at the helm. And from her own words: “Now that is progress.”

Former chief digital officer for Meredith, Catherine Levene is now heading up the National Media Group Division. In her new role, she will oversee print and digital magazines and the consumer products that are branded with titles of the Meredith magazines. It’s an encompassing job, but one that Catherine is excited and ready to handle. Her vision for the company centers around continued growth and driving engagement across all of Meredith’s platforms. And with 25 years in the business, Catherine brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the job.

Now, the second installment of the Mr. Magazine™ end of the year interviews with Catherine Levene, president, Meredith National Media Group.

But first the sound-bites:

 

On the biggest challenge that faced Meredith in 2020 and how they overcame it: The biggest challenge is probably obvious in that it was adjusting to a company-wide working from home model starting in March and adapting to that. Meredith is a very collaborative culture and it’s a vigorous in-person culture as well. And so working from home was a challenge. But our first priority was keeping our employees safe and healthy and that continues to be our top priority.  We were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly (the adjustment to working from home) went and just how productive and collaborative our employees are working from home. 

On her roadmap for 2021: They’re all around the notion of growth. Number one is to continue to drive engagement across platforms. Last quarter we drove 30 percent more subscribers to our print publications than that same quarter last year.

On whether she feels the increases the company had this year is the silver lining for 2020. It continues to show and prove the relevance and the resonance of our brands and the trust that consumers have with our portfolio. Because our brands are so rich in its content of knowledge about what women need and want, we were able to rise in this area, particularly digital. So, all of that data gives us insight as to what’s important to women.

On what Meredith knows that no other company seems to know that they’re putting so many new ink on paper titles on newsstands: We know and believe that print matters. It’s all about what the consumer wants. And the consumer has told us that print matters.

On any changes she sees on the horizon for magazines and magazine media: There was a period of time years ago when there were so many print magazines in the market. And at that time it was probably hard to differentiate between them. Now the magazines that matter survive, the magazines that are able to adapt to consumer’s needs, that provide quality content and a different experience. And also to be able to extend those brands, it’s not just about print. It’s about digital, audio, video, television; it’s about voice. 

On how she feels Meredith handles diversity and inclusion: I’m very proud of the way our team handles this issue. First of all, internally we have a culture of acceptance and diversity and inclusion. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better and we can always improve. One of our main goals this year and beyond is to continue to advance the diversity and inclusion in our own company.

On more women being at the head of magazine media companies today as CEOs or presidents: There you go. Now that is progress. As we all say, it takes time and I believe we get to the right place. Obviously, we all want to move faster with diversity and inclusion. But I think Meredith has expanded its base of leadership, particularly with women. And I am very proud of that.

On what makes her tick: In general, in life, creativity and progress. I’m constantly full of ideas and being in a position to test those ideas, collaborate with the team to make them better and bring them to life, not just my ideas, but any ideas that our teams have, that really makes me tick. Bringing something to life that didn’t exist before, I would say creativity. And then progress meaning continually trying to improve. Improve myself, improve my work, our work and do things that are ideally helping the world in some way, shape or form.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Besides taking care of the baby, we’ll probably be sitting around the dinner table drinking wine with family and friends. We do that a lot and that’s what I’d say we miss the most. Interacting in person with our family and friends. 

On what keeps her up at night: As it relates to the business, one is just making sure everyone is safe and healthy. And two, is my mind spinning on ideas and opportunities. I keep a pen and paper beside my bed and when I have these inspirational moments I write them down and follow up on them later. That’s what keeps me up at night.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Catherine Levene, President, Meredith National Media.

Samir Husni: Congratulations on being named president of Meredith National Media. 

Catherine Levene: Thank you so much.

Samir Husni: 2020 has been one of the toughest years on all fronts. Even before you became president of the National Media, you were in charge of the digital side. What do you think was the biggest challenge that faced Meredith in 2020 and how did you overcome it?

Catherine Levene: The biggest challenge is probably obvious in that it was adjusting to a company-wide working from home model starting in March and adapting to that. Meredith is a very collaborative culture and it’s a vigorous in-person culture as well. And so working from home was a challenge. But our first priority was keeping our employees safe and healthy and that continues to be our top priority. We were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it (the adjustment to working from home) went and just how productive and collaborative our employees are working from home.

We didn’t adjust a magazine schedule; digital grew, our traffic grew that quarter 19 percent, so we’ve done quite well. The first quarter was very tough for everybody, there was so much unknown, particularly in the ad market. That was a tough quarter, both the decline in ad revenue across the board as well as the getting everybody set up to work from home.

Samir Husni: As you look toward 2021, what’s your roadmap? Now that you’re the president for all of Meredith’s national media, can you tell me about any plans you have for 2021?

Catherine Levene: Let’s start with our most important asset on top of our employees, which is our trusted brands. We produce strong, premium, relevant brands and have very large loyal audiences. We reach 95 percent of U.S. women. So that’s the base upon which we start.

From there, I have three real main initiatives and they’re all around the notion of growth. Number one is to continue to drive engagement across platforms. So, that is in print and as I think you know, last quarter we drove 30 percent more subscribers to our print publications than that same quarter last year. 

We’re driving engagement on our digital properties, that’s on the web and on mobile. We are expanding formats, investing in audio and video. In fact we launched in this calendar year, 9 to 10 podcasts, including one recently from Laura Brown called “Ladies First” by InStyle, which is a fun one. 

So, it’s a focus on cross platform, including social, cross platform growth. And that can come with our existing brands and it can also come from creating new brands. Last year we launched “Daily Paws” in August. We’re proud of the agility and resilience of our team in continuing to stay on schedule. We launched Millie and of course we launched Sweet July with Ayesha Curry. We’re constantly expanding the offerings we have for our audiences.

The second growth area is leaning into our rich and proprietary data, which allows us insights capabilities that help, first and foremost, product roadmaps, and also help our advertisers understand their audiences better and to message to them more effectively. That data is first-party. In a world where third party cookies are going away, the use of proprietary, first-party data is critical and it’s a big asset. It’s also a big differentiator that we have. 

The third area of growth is to diversify our revenue stream. You already know that we have a very large consumer revenue stream in our subscription base, and we’re looking beyond our print subscription base to consumer revenue in digital. And that could be in e-commerce revenue or offering new paid products. 

Samir Husni: You’re the second president/CEO of a magazine media group that has told me 2020 wasn’t that bad after all, in terms of the revenue. Do you think that increase in subscriptions and the increases in print, the growth in digital for the trusted brands; do you think that has been a silver lining for 2020? 

Catherine Levene: It continues to show and prove the relevance and the resonance of our brands and the trust that consumers have with our portfolio. Because our brands are  so rich in its content of knowledge about what women need and want, we were able to rise in this area, particularly digital. So, all of that data that I just talked to you about gives us insights as to what’s important to women. 

Right now we’re in the categories that are most important to women: parenting, family, health, wellness, home, food, and entertainment; those are the categories that are essential for women and they provide inspiration and they provide help for women. Because our portfolio is broad and inspirational for women at this time, we’ve been able to take advantage of that. 

And while that is a silver lining, I don’t want us to forget how difficult this period has been for employees who my have had family members sick; children at home and dealing with parenting while they’re working. And of course, the decline of ad revenue that happened in March, second quarter. While we have absolutely shown that our brands have real resonance and growth opportunity, I don’t forget just how difficult it has been for many people. 

Samir Husni: Meredith launched more print magazines in 2020 than any other magazine media company, large or small. As you mentioned, from Reveal to Sweet July to Millie to all of the SIPs and the specialty magazines; what do you think is the future of print in this digital age? What does Meredith know that no other company seems to know that they’re putting so many new ink on paper titles on newsstands?

Catherine Levene: We know and believe that print matters. It’s all about what the consumer wants. And the consumer has told us that print matters. Our subscription growth is over 30 percent this last quarter than a year prior. That shows you that women appreciate the experience of reading offline. It’s a different experience; it’s a lean-back experience. You’re away from your screen. We all spend so much time in front of our computers and working from home also indoctrinates that. 

Having a lean-back experience or a kind of luxury experience with print isn’t going away. We believe in that. And we’ve shown that. You can have growth in print magazines. 

Samir Husni: What are some of the major changes that you see on the horizon concerning magazine media? Not only at Meredith, but in general.

Catherine Levene: There was a period of time years ago when there were so many print magazines in the market. At that time it was probably hard to differentiate between them. The magazines that matter survive, the magazines that are able to adapt to consumer’s needs, that provide quality content and a different experience. To be able to extend those brands, it’s not just about print. It’s about digital, audio, video, television,voice.

When we think about our portfolio, we don’t think about print, digital, though those are our major lines of business. We think about the brands and how our consumers want to experience them. So PEOPLE is a weekly. It’s much more like a newsmagazine about celebrities than it is a monthly service magazine. We launched the number one TV show, syndicated TV show, this year with the PEOPLE brand and our Local Media Group. PEOPLE had its best quarter yet in his history this past quarter. 

We’re expanding into audio. We’re launching a new podcast early next year called “PEOPLE Every Day” in collaboration with iHeart. It’s going to be the stories of people in a podcast. We don’t necessarily think about the brand as print and digital. We think about it as trusted brand that evolves over time. We want to be in every medium that’s important to women.

Samir Husni: How do you feel Meredith handles the issue of diversity and inclusion? And moving forward, how will you continue to handle it?

Catherine Levene: I’m very proud of the way our team handles this issue. First of all, internally we have a culture of acceptance and diversity and inclusion. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better and we can always improve. One of our main goals this year and beyond is to advance the diversity and inclusion in our own company. 

We’re focused in two areas. One is the culture inside the company and our workforce and the other is what we show to our consumers and it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good business to enhance our content and storytelling. To be more inclusive both in the content itself, but also in producing that content, whether that be in print, digital, video, in the art that we use, the photography. All of that has to be diverse because our audience is diverse. 

Samir Husni: Talking about diversity, it’s the first time that I can recall in magazine media history that there are now four women CEOs or presidents of major magazine media companies.  

Catherine Levene: There you go. Now that is progress. As we all say, it takes time and I believe we get to the right place. Obviously, I we all want to move faster with diversity and inclusion. But I think Meredith has expanded its base of leadership, particularly with women. And I am very proud of that. 

And as far as diversity, I know you spoke to Laura Brown (InStyle) recently and I don’t know if she mentioned but she recently signed onto the 15 percent pledge, which is to support and promote a diverse creative community. They committed 15 percent of its coverage to Black-owned businesses. And they’re focusing on diversity, inclusion as representation. Now that may include models, celebrities, etc. 

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

Catherine Levene: We could talk for hours, but for now you’ve done an excellent job capturing the questions that are important to Meredith. Thank you for all of your work, support and interest in our company. We appreciate it.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click?

Catherine Levene: In general, in life, creativity and progress. I’m constantly full of ideas and being in a position to really test those ideas, collaborate with the team to make them better and bring them to life, not just my ideas, but any ideas that our teams have, that really makes me tick. Bringing something to life that didn’t exist before, I would say creativity. And then progress meaning just continually trying to improve. Improve myself, improve my work, our work and do things that are ideally helping the world in some way, shape or form. 

On a personal note, I would say that what makes me tick is family and my new baby. I just had a baby, she’s three months old. And it is bringing me so much joy during this time to have this little girl, to watch her smile and see the world through her eyes, which is an incredible experience. 

Samir Husni: Congratulations.

Catherine Levene: Thank you.   

Samir Husni: Let’s assume there’s no COVID-19 and I show 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?

Catherine Levene: Besides taking care of the baby, we’ll probably be sitting around the dinner table drinking wine with family and friends. We do that a lot and that’s what I’d say we miss the most. Interacting in person with our family and friends. 

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

Catherine Levene: As it relates to the business, one is making sure everyone is safe and healthy. And two, is my mind spinning on ideas and opportunities. I keep a pen and paper beside my bed and when I have these inspirational moments I write them down and follow up on them later. That’s what keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

A Mr. Magazine™ Editorial

The “Bloom” in the midst of gloom and doom. Magazines and magazine media have mainly focused on the positive and been an advocate for easing the pain and stopping the hate, seeking to help their audiences both in print and online. For these uncertain times and an audience that is constantly bombarded with bad news, magazines are like trusted friends that you can visit with while they console and encourage you in the midst of a pandemic and social and racial conflicts. 

2020 is almost behind us with a brand new year just waiting in the wings expectantly. The hope is there for a return to normalcy, a return to sanity, where life doesn’t seem quite as different and complex as we all have recently experienced. With this in mind, I offer up my end of the year interviews with presidents and CEOs of major magazine media companies to get their take on 2020 and what they feel 2021 holds for each of their companies and magazines in general. Keeping the faith, easing the pain, stopping the hate, spreading the love and hoping that this too shall behind us.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2021

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, Ph.d.

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