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

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Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights, to Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Our Belief Is That The Conditions In The World Today, The Pace Of Change And The Disruption, Makes Highlights Even More Relevant Than When We Were Founded 71 Years Ago… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

September 14, 2017

The Story of Highlights Documented in the Movie 44 Pages

“I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.” Kent Johnson…

Highlights has been around for 71 years, educating and entertaining children throughout generations. It is a legacy brand, certainly, but it’s also a brand that believes in creativity and innovation, evolving perfectly with the times, becoming globally successful, while remaining the beloved companion of children across the U.S.

A 90-minute documentary entitled “44 Pages,” chronicling the history, process and philosophy behind the Highlights brand has been released and the film premiered on the national film festival circuit earlier this spring and is now touring across the country making stops in select cities for screenings and events. It’s a poignant look at the family who brought us this great children’s educational tool, exploring the rich and tragic history of the magazine and brand.

Kent Johnson is the CEO and the great-grandson of the founders of the company, Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers. I spoke with Kent recently and we talked about the past, present and future of the brand. We even discussed the controversy surrounding the company’s diversity values and how they handled the situation. It was nothing less than you’d expect from a man who grew up on those same values; ones that are enveloped with ethics, fairness and the firm belief that children are the most important people in the world.

So, I hope that you enjoy this glimpse into a brand that has been around for a very long time, and has found that with age, not only does wisdom come, but also a layer of commitment and ethical truth that the company’s CEO is in perfect step with, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights.

But first the sound-bites:

On his then 12-year-old son’s question of will there be print when he is an adult, which was highlighted in the new Highlights documentary: Well, I had asked him what did he think it would be like when he was an adult, and he had the reaction that he wasn’t sure there would be print magazines. And so they took that quote from me during the filming where we talked about that because I think they liked the way that worked as the lead-in for the section they were going to do. It kind of portrayed some of the tension that our company and our digital partners have had about the role of print versus the role of digital.

On whether, at 71-years-old, he feels the magazine is still relevant and needed in these digital times: Yes. Our belief is that as we look out into the world, many of us feel that we’re living in times that are filled with some contention, trouble and challenges in our society. Our belief is that the conditions in the world today, the pace of change and the disruption, makes Highlights even more relevant than when we were founded.

On having a Ph. D. in physics and whether it’s the scientist in him or the passion for the brand that makes him believe it’s still relevant today: I think it’s both. But I think it’s also the data that we see, and maybe that’s the scientist side of me. We see and measure positive reaction; we see millennial parents; we see parents looking for meaning and connection, and we listen to the feedback. We don’t have advertisers, so the people we listen to, in terms of relevance, are our readers and our subscribers.

On the magazine’s rocky start: There was a rocky start from a business perspective, and I think that if it weren’t for my great-uncle getting involved and having an entrepreneurial inspiration, as well as many others. People who believed in their vision and invested money, and printers and vendors that were critical, the sales team; we probably wouldn’t have made it through the first half dozen years.

On whether he thinks that Highlights’ business model is still just as valid today as it was years ago: Our model includes extending well beyond magazines. And we tend to think of our magazines as products, but there’s also an audience associated with each of our magazines to the progression from infant and toddlers, up to preschool, and then our Highlights readers. So, we’re constantly working to think about new ways to serve those audiences and that might be with digital products that we hope our subscribers would buy, and we do sell digital subscription products. Or it might be with our clubs, where we have people join who want to go deeper into a specific content area or really want to get into puzzling as opposed to something else. To move beyond and extend from a general interest magazine.

On his role (other than CEO) within the company: I’m a relatively humble leader. I try to spend as much of my time as I can talking about our mission, our values, and what we’re trying to do. I think it’s critical that as a leader I’m working to ensure that we’re bringing really talented, skilled people into the company, but also making sure that people who come to work here share our beliefs and our mission. We want to have employees who in addition to being happy and successful in their jobs, we want them to gain an extra sense of satisfaction because of what we do for children. Because they tend to be happier here and more successful.

On the diversity controversy the magazine faced last year: We tend to focus on and think about how does a child see themselves in our magazines. What was interesting when we came under criticism around the issue of same sex, same gender parents, was when we really looked at our magazine, we don’t have many depictions of parents. We tend to focus the content from the kids’ point of view. In some ways, we may have been a little surprised that an adult issue was coming with such strength to us. On the other hand, I think what we learned was that the world has changed pretty quickly on these issues. And Highlights has tended to evolve and change with society and this may have been a case where we were slower than some would have liked to evolve.

On whether it’s easier or harder to take a centrist’s point of view in the magazine with the divisiveness that faces our country today: I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder; it certainly feels like one can be criticized more readily today. I think for us when we did go through the controversy, one of the things that allowed us to not be too distracted was once we decided what we wanted to do, what was consistent with our editorial point of view, our values, and how we wanted to execute it, we were able to shut out the inputs from the outside world. We have an incredible staff, who’s judgement and decision-making I have complete trust in. So, once we knew what we wanted to do, we knew we were doing it with our audience, with children in mind, and we knew there was no way to make everyone happy.

On whether it’s easier or harder to remain ethical these days: I don’t know if it’s easy or hard, it’s just the way we’ve done things from the beginning. And it’s not really a daily choice, it’s the air that we try to breathe as an organization. And I think there are many organizations like that. It can be hard if you’re not rock solid in understanding your commitment to integrity and ethics. It can be difficult in a highly-pressured, highly-competitive world for some organizations.

On the four key values of the company: Our four key values as a company are teamwork, creativity, excellence and integrity. We also have a primary value, which is that children are the world’s most important people. And we carry that along as our primary value to remind everyone that when we look at our values or talk about them, that one is our primary value.

On anything he’d like to add: One thing that I’d like add is we’ve been having some neat success internationally. And a lot of our international success is related to English-language learning and content and products. So, it’s not all magazines. But I found it neat that I got to visit our magazine partner in China back in April. And we are now, I think starting next month, we are simultaneously publishing with our partner in China, both Highlights and High Five, the same issue in China in English, but we also record all of the audio and we print a special layer on the magazines. So, they have a talking pen. The kids in China are reading Highlights and High Five at the same time kids are reading them in the U.S., but they will have a pen where they can touch on anything and it will read them the article, because we’re trying to help them learn English.

On any plans to bring the magazine with the reading pen to the U.S.: Innovative, global partners; every time they do something different that surprises us or often inspires us, we do ask the question: is that something we should bring to us? Or how would that idea work in the U.S. market? And that is often digital, because we feel there’s a lot of great innovation with technology in our foreign markets. We don’t have a distribution approach associated with the talking pen for the U.S., but it’s on our minds to think about whether that would be a retail or a direct to consumer, or something that we need in our market. We don’t have any specific plans yet, but we’re always thinking.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: If it’s about me personally, I just hope people would read that I have had a positive impact on those around me. A positive impact on the world and a positive impact on the company I’m part of and positive impact on my own family. That would be my ultimate goal for someone to see on that tattoo.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m a bit more of an introvert than my job typically requires. I like to try and unplug in the evenings, so you’d see me with my kids. You might see me reading with them or playing a computer game with them, or doing homework. You would probably see me with a glass of wine. If it’s hockey season, you might see me watching a hockey game. And I like to read a lot. If it’s late enough, you might catch me in my bed reading a book, trying to stay awake because it’s interesting or not.

On what keeps him up at night: It’s a good question, because I’m not the best sleeper. Mostly, I’m up at night thinking about all of the opportunities and all of the changes and pressures. So, I’m up a lot thinking about work and how do we adapt to the world that’s changing so quickly, and how do we deliver for our customers on the potential we have, just because of the Highlights brand’s heritage and our ability. We have more opportunities than we know what to do with, and that keeps me feeling a level of pressure and urgency and excitement that does interfere with my sleep.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kent Johnson, CEO, Highlights for Children.

Samir Husni: I just finished watching the new “44 Pages” documentary about the creation of Highlights, and I was struck by the question your son asked you, “Dad, will there be a Highlights in the future when I’m an adult?”

Kent Johnson: Well, I had asked him what did he think it would be like when he was an adult, and he had the reaction that he wasn’t sure there would be print magazines. And so they took that quote from me during the filming where we talked about that because I think they liked the way that worked as the lead-in for the section they were going to do. It kind of portrayed some of the tension that our company and our digital partners have had about the role of print versus the role of digital.

I think my son at age 12 is pretty engaged across the spectrum of technology, but it was eye-opening to hear him say there might not be print when he becomes an adult. But I’m convinced there will be for my lifetime, particularly for kid’s magazines. I think we face different issues in some types of adult titles and different issues in current events and news than in true audience-based magazines. But at Highlights, we’re believers in print.

Samir Husni: The magazine is now 71 years old, and from the days when I was working with the company, I’ve always heard that you’re a mission-driven, family operation.

Kent Johnson: Yes.

Samir Husni: So, do you think that Highlights today, at 71, is still relevant and needed? And is it still a reflection of our times in this digital age?

Kent Johnson: Yes. Our belief is that as we look out into the world, many of us feel that we’re living in times that are filled with some contention, trouble and challenges in our society. Our belief is that the conditions in the world today, the pace of change and the disruption, makes Highlights even more relevant than when we were founded.

And I think part of that at 71 years, Highlights, even though the majority of people know us for our magazine and know that we’ve had the magazine for that entire time, we tend to think of ourselves as you said, as a mission-driven company, but we also think of ourselves as a company that’s focused on serving children and families. And we have a philosophy and a set of values that we think resonate as much today as they ever have with the aspirations that parents have for their children.

We think that people want to try to raise children to become their best selves, and that’s really what we focus on trying to do with our magazine, but also in our digital products, and across all of our other products throughout the company. We even like to talk that we’re not ultimately trying to create a magazine, it’s the experience that’s created when a child engages with the magazine that we care about. I like to think that what we’re doing is creating experiences that help children grow in positive ways.

Samir Husni: I know that your great-grandparents started the company, but something very few people may know is that you actually have a Ph.D. in physics. So, is it the scientist in you or the passion in you that makes you believe the magazine is still relevant?

Kent Johnson: I think it’s both. But I think it’s also the data that we see, and maybe that’s the scientist side of me. We see and measure positive reaction; we see millennial parents; we see parents looking for meaning and connection, and we listen to the feedback. We don’t have advertisers, so the people we listen to, in terms of relevance, are our readers and our subscribers.

I am passionate; we really try to recruit people to our company who are passionate about what we’re doing, who are believers when it comes to the impact that we have on children, and the positive impact that we have in society. But we’re also a group of data-driven, analytic folks who are looking at the data to say that we think we’re still relevant.

Samir Husni: Very few people, including myself, who thought that I knew the history of Highlights; I did not know that it had a rocky start. That after four years, they were losing money and getting ready to close shop. And then your great-uncle came into it. And the tragedy when your family was flying to New York in 1960, and the planes collided and everyone died on that flight. So, it wasn’t always a walk in a rose garden for Highlights.

Kent Johnson: I think that’s true. And I think that the founders started this company as their final chapter. They were 59 and 61 years old, and they were passionate about the mission. And they were exceedingly knowledgeable about parenting, education, literacy and children, but as we like to say when we’re looking back on history, maybe they weren’t as skilled as businesspeople as they were in child development and as educators and editors.

So, there was a rocky start from a business perspective, and I think that if it weren’t for my great-uncle getting involved and having an entrepreneurial inspiration, as well as many others. People who believed in their vision and invested money, and printers and vendors that were critical, the sales team; we probably wouldn’t have made it through the first half dozen years.

And then to be, as they show in the documentary, to be at the stage where, really at that point in 1960 being at half a million subscribers, it had become clear that this was going to be a viable, long-lived company. And to have a tragedy, which was a tragedy for the Columbus community and many, many families, but to have a tragedy where we lost three of our five senior executive, including two family members, was the kind of blow that I think you could easily imagine would do a company in and cause a family to falter.

But I think the reaction, as I look back, the non-family executives, the family members, our founders, who were living and still in the business, but now had lost their son and their president of the company, everyone decided that the company had to go forward. I think that level of commitment to the mission is what allowed us then to get through crises, but it is the kind of commitment that I was brought up in thinking, believing and understanding that we ought to have at Highlights. And it gives us a bit of resilience to get through whatever the crisis of the day, or the difficulties are. We kind of believe that we can and will keep going, no matter what.

Samir Husni: The magazine has never had advertising, so your source of revenue always depended on circulation and subscription. And for years, you were the most expensive children’s magazine on the marketplace. But now with the slew of new children’s magazines coming out, some with cover prices of $12; do you think that the business model that you follow at Highlights is still as valid as it was years ago? Or do you have any plans to change it or do something different?

Kent Johnson: That’s a great question. I think we have often been relatively high-priced compared to some competitors. But we are a mass market magazine, and it’s part of our mission, we want to reach as many children as possible here in the U.S. and around the world, so we try to price in a way that is a good value, given the quality of the content and the investment of the content, but is also enough that we’re able to continue to invest in the content. So, we believe that content has value and the experience we create with magazines justifies the expense. And that it’s a good investment for the quality of time it creates in a family and for a child.

That being said, our model includes extending well beyond magazines. And we tend to think of our magazines as products, but there’s also an audience associated with each of our magazines to the progression from infant and toddlers, up to preschool, and then our Highlights readers. So, we’re constantly working to think about new ways to serve those audiences and that might be with digital products that we hope our subscribers would buy, and we do sell digital subscription products. Or it might be with our clubs, where we have people join who want to go deeper into a specific content area or really want to get into puzzling as opposed to something else. To move beyond and extend from a general interest magazine.

And we’re also trying to go into retail, because we know that in addition to our subscriber base, many people are familiar and have positive emotional connections to the Highlights brand. And to be there in retail with Highlights’ branded products, books and activities, and a variety of categories gives them another way to engage with us. So, I think our business model is evolving, and will continue to evolve, but is evolving to try and really shift from people thinking they are a Highlights subscriber; we want people to say they are part of the Highlights family, and we want them to say they engage with Highlights products beyond the magazine.

Samir Husni: I understand that now Highlights is platform agnostic. What role do you play, besides CEO, when we look at the theme that Highlights will always be an evangelist for children, helping kids be happier and healthier; are you the high priest or are you the altar boy? (Laughs)

Kent Johnson: (Laughs too) I’m a relatively humble leader. I try to spend as much of my time as I can talking about our mission, our values, and what we’re trying to do. I think it’s critical that as a leader I’m working to ensure that we’re bringing really talented, skilled people into the company, but also making sure that people who come to work here share our beliefs and our mission. We want to have employees who in addition to being happy and successful in their jobs, we want them to gain an extra sense of satisfaction because of what we do for children. Because they tend to be happier here and more successful.

I go in and out of a lot of different things with the company, but mostly I try to fertilize and cross-fertilize aspects of our mission and values, and keep us all energized on the things that we’ve been doing for 71 years. We have an incredible energy right now about magazine publishing and I think that’s what you see in the documentary “44 Pages.” The passion and energy for something we’ve been doing for 71 years, but it’s new with every issue. And we’re having a blast on international, on digital, and doing apps. So, I try to keep the excitement and enthusiasm up, because I think that makes it a much more fun place to work. And it ultimately means we’ll create better things for kids, if those things are true.

Samir Husni: I have to ask the question about the diversity issues that took place last year, and some of the criticisms you received in the press regarding the LGBT community. Those who don’t study Highlights; I rarely look at an old issue of Highlights that I don’t see a white child, a black child, a woman, a man, a boy, a girl. Why do you think that for the magazine that has diversity as part of its DNA, you were in that maelstrom of controversy? How did you deal with it? And was it a big surprise to you that someone thought Highlights wasn’t diverse?

Kent Johnson: I do think that a sense of tolerance and a sense of inclusivity and the idea that as humans we always share more with each other than we differ; those have been core tenants that we at Highlights have always tried to focus on. These are human values that we believe in, and we’re proud of our heritage. We have had a lot of diversity within the pages of our magazine over the years. Actually, someone wrote a paper looking at our representation of women and minorities in roles related to science. And it was rewarding for me as a scientist to see the report card that we had been well ahead of the curve, in terms of going against stereotypes, with respect to math and science, because we do have a problem in the science industry with the diversity of folks who are successful and advancing in those careers.

We tend to focus on and think about how does a child see themselves in our magazines. What was interesting when we came under criticism around the issue of same sex, same gender parents, was when we really looked at our magazine, we don’t have many depictions of parents. We tend to focus the content from the kids’ point of view. In some ways, we may have been a little surprised that an adult issue was coming with such strength to us. On the other hand, I think what we learned was that the world has changed pretty quickly on these issues. And Highlights has tended to evolve and change with society and this may have been a case where we were slower than some would have liked to evolve.

We were surprised at the level of intensity of feedback. And I think it all happened at a time, and I think we’re still in this time, but at a high level of contention or divisiveness in our society. And the digital means of communication allow people to pour a fair bit of emotion or intensity in their communications. So, we were a little surprised at the intensity when that all happened.

Samir Husni: One of your editors told me once that Highlights tried to be like an island of clarity in the world that kids are living in. That reminded me of what the former CEO of the Wall Street Journal told me once, that the WSJ had been referred to as an island of clarity in a sea of madness when it comes to business. As we live in this, not only digital age, but with everything that is taking place in our country today, is it easier or harder for Highlights to take that centrist’s point of view and try to provide this island of clarity in a very divided country today?

Kent Johnson: I’m not sure whether it’s easier or harder; it certainly feels like one can be criticized more readily today. I think for us when we did go through the controversy, one of the things that allowed us to not be too distracted was once we decided what we wanted to do, what was consistent with our editorial point of view, our values, and how we wanted to execute it, we were able to shut out the inputs from the outside world. We have an incredible staff, who’s judgement and decision-making I have complete trust in. So, once we knew what we wanted to do, we knew we were doing it with our audience, with children in mind, and we knew there was no way to make everyone happy.

But I think it’s easier for a company like Highlights, being privately-held and committed to the audience and the readers, when we make our decision and make our judgements about what’s in the magazine, we go forward with those decisions. So, we will never sit in the middle of any discussion and try to make the calculation of what exactly does that do to our subscriptions or our marketing, or did people cancel because they didn’t like that decision.

I think as a company, we feel we have a responsibility to be comfortable in our own skin and own our decisions and implement them in the way that we think is best for children in our society. So, I think it’s hard because there’s more external pressures, but it’s also, I think, something that is our obligation as magazine publishers to make and commit to how we want to do things based on the expertise and experience of the team we’ve put together.

Samir Husni: And is it easier or harder to remain ethical? Somebody mentioned in the documentary that you’re one of the few remaining ethical publishing companies.

Kent Johnson: I would never try to compare us to others, because I think there are so many ethical people in the world. Integrity is one of our four key company values. So, for us we have all bought in that being ethical is not a choice, it’s part of who we are. When we make that level of commitment to being ethical, you realize that you have to own up that sometimes that means you’re willing to sacrifice things to be and strive to always behave in the most ethical way one can.

I don’t know if it’s easy or hard, it’s just the way we’ve done things from the beginning. And it’s not really a daily choice, it’s the air that we try to breathe as an organization. And I think there are many organizations like that. It can be hard if you’re not rock solid in understanding your commitment to integrity and ethics. It can be difficult in a highly-pressured, highly-competitive world for some organizations. We try to take it off the table and just say that first and foremost we have to do the right thing.

Samir Husni: You mentioned integrity and ethics, what are your other two core values for the company? You said there were four.

Kent Johnson: Our four key values as a company are teamwork, creativity, excellence and integrity. We also have a primary value, which is that children are the world’s most important people. And we carry that along as our primary value to remind everyone that when we look at our values or talk about them, that one is our primary value.

Those values really came out of a process where we discovered those and engaged our whole organization to define them. What was remarkable is that we went through that process recently, I had my cousin, Pat Michaelson, who is a granddaughter of the founders, to look at it and she said that was exactly what we’d been about since day one. I thought it was neat that today’s organization reflects in an ongoing, consistent way the values that we’ve had for 71 years.

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

Kent Johnson: One thing that I’d like add is we’ve been having some neat success internationally. And a lot of our international success is related to English-language learning and content and products. So, it’s not all magazines.

But I found it neat that I got to visit our magazine partner in China back in April. And we are now, I think starting next month, we are simultaneously publishing with our partner in China, both Highlights and High Five, the same issue in China in English, but we also record all of the audio and we print a special layer on the magazines. So, they have a talking pen. The kids in China are reading Highlights and High Five at the same time kids are reading them in the U.S., but they will have a pen where they can touch on anything and it will read them the article, because we’re trying to help them learn English. And it’s been fun to watch that business grow knowing that audio recorded and content created in Honesdale, Pennsylvania is appearing across China at the same time every month.

We’re printing them; we send the audio and they print a fifth layer that’s readable by a sensor in the pen, so it knows where your touching. They encode it and we record the audio and we’re printing and selling them vinyl copies for their growing subscriber base. We’re somewhat non-traditional as a magazine by going international, so we’ve had to find our way. A lot of our applications have to do with our core identity as a kid’s company and an educational company, so reaching English-language learning in many different ways, a lot of time digitally, but also in print around the world.

Samir Husni: Any plans to bring that reading magazine here?

Kent Johnson: Innovative, global partners; every time they do something different that surprises us or often inspires us, we do ask the question: is that something we should bring to us? Or how would that idea work in the U.S. market? And that is often digital, because we feel there’s a lot of great innovation with technology in our foreign markets. We don’t have a distribution approach associated with the talking pen for the U.S., but it’s on our minds to think about whether that would be a retail or a direct to consumer, or something that we need in our market. We don’t have any specific plans yet, but we’re always thinking.

I’ve tried to say to our company that we should be, not only global, in terms of our sales and distribution of product, but we want to allow being a global company to accept how we think about everything. So, more and more we think about our systems and our ways that we tag our content, or even some of our decisions about product development. We think they all have to at least be looked at through a global lens to make sure we’re doing the very best we can and serve kids all over the world.

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

Kent Johnson: I’ll answer that two ways. One; what I used to weave into speeches, and I still do, if someone ripped me from my sleep and said: quick, you have to tell me about the identity of Highlights for Children or the company, what matters? I always say there are three things: we’re mission-driven and for-profit, two – we’re always balancing the short and long-term time horizons, we’re always thinking both short-term and long-term, and three – we’re an ethical company.

If it’s about me personally, I just hope people would read that I have had a positive impact on those around me. A positive impact on the world and a positive impact on the company I’m part of and positive impact on my own family. That would be my ultimate goal for someone to see on that tattoo.

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

Kent Johnson: I’m a bit more of an introvert than my job typically requires. I like to try and unplug in the evenings, so you’d see me with my kids. You might see me reading with them or playing a computer game with them, or doing homework. You would probably see me with a glass of wine. If it’s hockey season, you might see me watching a hockey game. And I like to read a lot. If it’s late enough, you might catch me in my bed reading a book, trying to stay awake because it’s interesting or not.

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

Kent Johnson: It’s a good question, because I’m not the best sleeper. Mostly, I’m up at night thinking about all of the opportunities and all of the changes and pressures. So, I’m up a lot thinking about work and how do we adapt to the world that’s changing so quickly, and how do we deliver for our customers on the potential we have, just because of the Highlights brand’s heritage and our ability. We have more opportunities than we know what to do with, and that keeps me feeling a level of pressure and urgency and excitement that does interfere with my sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Kalmbach Publishing’s New CEO Is A Firm Believer In The 83-Year-Old Company’s Steadfast Mission Of Putting The Customer Front & Center – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Dan Hickey, CEO, Kalmbach Publishing…

September 11, 2017

“There’s room for it (print), of course, and if you’re in the relationship business, to some extent you’re agnostic. Your job is to really know the customer and how they want content experiences delivered to them. And if they’re raising their hands and saying they want magazines, then you provide magazines. And they still today provide fantastic and immersive lean-back experiences.” Dan Hickey…(on whether there is room for print in the magazine media world’s future)

A legacy publishing company, Kalmbach Publishing has been around for 83 years and has no plans to slow down now. A force to be reckoned with in the world of niche, with titles such as Model Railroader, Discover, Bead & Button, Classic Toy Trains, and Astronomy, plus many more, Kalmbach’s long dedication to its mission statement of putting the customer first is something that drew media veteran, Dan Hickey to the position he now holds as CEO.

Dan is someone who brings an array of skills to the top post at Kalmbach, from his tenure at Meredith, where he oversaw all digital businesses, to his executive position at AOL, and his editorial leadership roles at Walking Magazine and National Gardening, along with many other career experiences that will no doubt help him along this niche path he is now traveling.

I spoke with Dan recently and we talked about his vision for the company’s future, which consists of accelerating Kalmbach’s already very prevalent commitment to its customers, and to keep what he considers the core of the magazine business, relationships, revved up. It was a highly informative and interesting conversation, and one I hope you enjoy.

And now, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dan Hickey, CEO, Kalmbach Publishing.

But first, the sound-bites:

On his vision for the future as the new CEO of the company: The 83-year-old history of the customer coming first, a value that Kalmbach has embraced, is really the foundation of the future as well. I believe that the magazine business at its core is a relationship business. Great content, experiences that you find in magazines, that you find on websites and with other platforms, is the conduit that allows for those relationships. And ultimately, I think it builds the brand loyalty over time.

On his reaction when he learned the Kalmbach board had selected him as CEO: The reason I’m excited, and why I was so attracted to Kalmbach is after a number of visits to the company, I found out several things. First, they are a very proud company and it reminded me of my days at Meredith. Meredith is very similar; 100+ years-old, Kalmbach’s 83-years-old. Kalmbach was not shy about their history of values, they have put the customer front and center for 83 years. And simple things impressed me. They keep their building and campus immaculate, and I saw that right away. I said to myself, this is a company that really cares; about itself, about its employees, and about its customers. So, that was impressive to me.

On whether he thinks his editorial background prepares him better for the business side of the company or could it be a possible stumbling block: I think it prepares me well, and not only my editorial background, but my digital background as well. For the last 20 years, I’ve pretty much been on the digital side of the business, as well as marketing. So, it’s not just editorial. It’s editorial, marketing, circulation, and ad sales. I’ve touched all of those sides of the business and I feel that I have a deep enough understanding of how to weave all of those things together in preparing for the future. I’ve see a lot of silos in my day; I’ve seen editorial silos, ad silos, consumer marketing silos, so I think my background will really help me bring those functions together in an harmonious way to really prepare for the future.

On whether he believes those silos are being torn down quickly enough: I think that as a whole, the industry isn’t clear enough as to where the puck is going. And I really believe we’re in the relationship business and I think there is a shift mentally from companies that say they’re a magazine publisher, to they’re in the relationship business, because once you can shift mentally into that relationship faction, you’re less focused on a particular form factor. And you’re really focused on the relationship itself and the needs of your customers. In my view, the slowness of the industry is embracing that. Once everyone embraces that and ask themselves how they can super-serve their customers, then the silos will naturally break down.

On whether he believes there is still room for print in the future, for our children and grandchildren: Of course. The customer is going to determine that, right? There’s room for it, of course, and if you’re in the relationship business, to some extent you’re agnostic. Your job is to really know the customer and how they want content experiences delivered to them. And if they’re raising their hands and saying they want magazines, then you provide magazines. And they still today provide fantastic and immersive lean-back experiences.

On whether he believes there will ever come a time when people will pay for digital in the same way they pay for print: Yes, and it will be easier. I do think that’s part of building a relationship platform. As you have an ecosystem of platforms from magazines to digital to social to events to potentially subscription boxes or other things that you deliver to your customers, and mobile products as well. Part of the strength of a company like Kalmbach is our circulation departments or consumer marketing departments are essentially very good at handling recurring revenue streams.

On something he looks back on today and wishes he hadn’t done: Ten or 15 years ago, when I first got into digital, I think most publishers, if they could rewind the clock, wouldn’t be giving away free content like they are today. It was the reality that we knew at the time. We thought that “search” was the great disruptor, that it was going to be a level playing field, and that anything behind a paywall was not going to get indexed and we wouldn’t get traffic. And if you could look at what we know today, I think most publishers would agree, we should have been asking for money right away.

On anything he’d like to add: I’m super-excited. We’ve got a great organization with a great legacy and a lot of talent; we have 187 employees and everybody is very proud of our company. They live their work and they work their lives. They’re all enthusiasts at their core, so I’m just super-excited to be here.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’m a big believer in show, don’t tell, in journalism. But if I had to have something tattooed, it would probably be something more aspirational for me. If people were going to remember it forever about me, I would love to be remembered as a kind person. That would make me very happy, and it’s something that’s, again, aspirational and something I have to work on every day.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m probably binge-watching YouTube with fishing or boating videos. I’m trying to perfect my boat-trailering launching, and there’s an endless supply of videos showing, and sometimes they’re very humorous, showing what to do and what not to do with your boat when you’re backing into a lake.

On what keeps him up at night: Figuratively, as I mentioned before, it’s phones, and how we’re going to create and maintain the relationships that we have on that device. It’s already a real challenge for media companies and it’s not talked about enough, and that worries me. It’s something that I think about a lot.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dan Hickey, CEO, Kalmbach Publishing.

Samir Husni: You’re quoted in the press release about your position as the new CEO of Kalmbach Publishing, as saying that Kalmbach has a long and compelling history of putting the customer front and center. That being said, what’s the vision that you bring to the company as you look toward the future?

Dan Hickey: The 83-year-old history of the customer coming first, a value that Kalmbach has embraced, is really the foundation of the future as well. I believe that the magazine business at its core is a relationship business. Great content, experiences that you find in magazines, that you find on websites and with other platforms, is the conduit that allows for those relationships. And ultimately, I think it builds the brand loyalty over time.

More and more this is happening across the brand ecosystem, so Kalmbach has very strong relationships with its customers through the magazine, the website; through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and we have a very robust email program. And it’s emphasizing the strengthening of each platform. Again, Kalmbach’s audience is engaging in print, digital, and events. For example, Kalmbach’s Bead & Button show is the largest event of its kind. So, we have the foundation for a relationship platform, and the vision is to really continue to invest in that platform and better allow the company to manage those relationships across the entire brand ecosystem, including print, digital, social and email.

The vision is a continuation of the nurturing of those relationships, and also creating new relationships. Once you have a relationship platform in place that serves the passion communities that they serve today, you can start looking at new categories and new communities, hopefully with younger audiences, and develop new relationships. And from those relationships, as they become trusted, you can serve those audiences.

And the expectation is that you’ll serve new products and services that enhance the customer’s experience, especially in these niche, enthusiast categories. We’re already doing this at the company, and we’ll continue to do more of it. An example would be premium video in the train category. We have 10,000 people subscribing to the magazine who already pay additional to subscribe to the video service. That’s an example of extending the brand, extending the relationship by providing more value to content in whatever form the audience wants it.

Samir Husni: When the board selected you as the new CEO, what was your initial reaction?

Dan Hickey: The reason I’m excited, and why I was so attracted to Kalmbach is after a number of visits to the company, I found out several things. First, they are a very proud company and it reminded me of my days at Meredith. Meredith is very similar; 100+ years-old, Kalmbach’s 83-years-old. Kalmbach was not shy about their history of values, they have put the customer front and center for 83 years. And simple things impressed me. They keep their building and campus immaculate, and I saw that right away. I said to myself, this is a company that really cares; about itself, about its employees, and about its customers. So, that was impressive to me.

And the second thing I saw was that because of the niche, enthusiast audiences, passion audiences or passion communities, I saw that they didn’t have some of the challenges of the mass market publications, because they’re serving these niche, enthusiast audiences that love their products, from trains and beading, to model cars and astronomy.

And again, it wasn’t just the magazines either; their audiences were already buying premium content in experiences above and beyond the magazine. So, that was super-impressive to me and I thought this was directionally and instinctively the way I would take the company as well, just really kind of accelerate it.

Third, they had a strong balance sheet and they’re very strong operationally. They’re set up for endemic growth, as well as acquisition, and finally I’m one of them. I’m an enthusiast; I have many hobbies and interests, from fishing and remodeling, to gardening and biking. And I understand the importance of passions and how they feed, at least my own, heart and soul. So, I thought that this is something bigger than just a publishing company; that Kalmbach really does serve an important service. Hobbies and passions will be around for a long, long time. And in fact, they may become even more important in the lives of future generations, especially when we see what’s happening with phone usage and the younger generation.

There was just this bigger picture thing there as well, and when they told me that I had been selected, I was super-thrilled. I felt like in some ways the job was just made for me.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the few CEO’s now in the media world with an editorial background. You’ve held a lot of editorial positions, from the days of Walking Magazine to National Gardening to newspapers; do you feel that your editorial background prepares you better for the business side or could it possibly be a stumbling block?

Dan Hickey: I think it prepares me well, and not only my editorial background, but my digital background as well. For the last 20 years, I’ve pretty much been on the digital side of the business, as well as marketing. So, it’s not just editorial. It’s editorial, marketing, circulation, and ad sales. I’ve touched all of those sides of the business and I feel that I have a deep enough understanding of how to weave all of those things together in preparing for the future.

I’ve see a lot of silos in my day; I’ve seen editorial silos, ad silos, consumer marketing silos, so I think my background will really help me bring those functions together in an harmonious way to really prepare for the future. The future is going to take a team. And not just an editorial team, or just a sales team; it’s everybody working together as one team. And I think my background prepares me for that.

Samir Husni: Looking at the industry as a whole, not just specifically Kalmbach, do you feel that we’ve been fast enough when it comes to destroying those silos and building a big brand warehouse for the product, or do you think we’re still taking our own sweet time doing that?

Dan Hickey: I think that as a whole, the industry isn’t clear enough as to where the puck is going. And I really believe we’re in the relationship business and I think there is a shift mentally from companies that say they’re a magazine publisher, to they’re in the relationship business, because once you can shift mentally into that relationship faction, you’re less focused on a particular form factor. And you’re really focused on the relationship itself and the needs of your customers.

In my view, the slowness of the industry is embracing that. Once everyone embraces that and ask themselves how they can super-serve their customers, then the silos will naturally break down. I think you have to understand where your vision and your future is, and then you’ll start to understand that you can’t have it with silo practices and functions within your organization.

Samir Husni: Being in the relationship business, what type are of relationship are you looking for with your customers? A one night stand; a love affair, or a long-lasting relationship? (Laughs)

Dan Hickey: (Laughs too) A long-lasting one, for sure.

Samir Husni: If someone asked you what the future of magazine publishing is, what would your answer be? We know we can’t be just print or just digital, we have to be in it all. But is there still room for print in the future, for our children and grandchildren?

Dan Hickey: Of course. The customer is going to determine that, right? There’s room for it, of course, and if you’re in the relationship business, to some extent you’re agnostic. Your job is to really know the customer and how they want content experiences delivered to them. And if they’re raising their hands and saying they want magazines, then you provide magazines. And they still today provide fantastic and immersive lean-back experiences.

So, to some extent I don’t know why we are a little obsessed with the question. To me, it’s a matter of what the customer wants. And what we do know is that they’re always interested in being immersed in great content experiences, whether that takes the shape of a printed magazine, tablet, or subscription boxes; it really doesn’t matter about the platform to some extent.

Tablets, for example, never exploded like they were originally forecasted to, some of the phone companies are actually giving them away, but no one is asking the question are tablets dead. Again, with the customer as your strategy, you’re going to say, I will deliver content however they want me to deliver it.

What worries me a little bit is the phone and how content is consumed on the phone. And how media companies and publishers are meeting some of the challenges to monetize and maintain the relationship on that particular platform. With most publishers, there is less engagement on the phone than on either desktop or print, or other platforms. And socially than more so. I think one of the challenges for us is to really think about how are we going to deliver on the phone in the future versus some of the other platforms.

Samir Husni: With your digital experience at Meredith, and acknowledging that the phone may be one of the stumbling blocks for magazine media and publishers, do you believe that we will ever reach a stage where people will pay for digital in the same way that they pay for print?

Dan Hickey: Yes, and it will be easier. I do think that’s part of building a relationship platform. As you have an ecosystem of platforms from magazines to digital to social to events to potentially subscription boxes or other things that you deliver to your customers, and mobile products as well. Part of the strength of a company like Kalmbach is our circulation departments or consumer marketing departments are essentially very good at handling recurring revenue streams.

And so, we want to make sure that’s a strength within the company going forward, so that across the entire brand’s ecosystem, our ability to transact with customers and provide those great products and experiences that get them into the recurring revenue streams happens easier and faster. And service those customers along the way just as well as we do today.

Samir Husni: What has been something that you look back on today and wish you hadn’t done, and maybe even promise yourself you will never do again?

Dan Hickey: (Laughs) Great question. Ten or 15 years ago, when I first got into digital, I think most publishers, if they could rewind the clock, wouldn’t be giving away free content like they are today. It was the reality that we knew at the time. We thought that “search” was the great disruptor, that it was going to be a level playing field, and that anything behind a paywall was not going to get indexed and we wouldn’t get traffic. And if you could look at what we know today, I think most publishers would agree, we should have been asking for money right away. We just didn’t know the future; we didn’t know that advertising in the digital space, although there’s a lot of hype around it, it has devolved, if anything. And it has become less valuable in some regard.

So really, it’s understanding that our business has all along been the relationship business and getting the consumer to pay us for great experiences. We somehow forgot that 15 years ago, and now the smart publishers and media people are all coming back to that concept of, what are the other products and services that I can offer to my audiences?

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

Dan Hickey: I’m super-excited. We’ve got a great organization with a great legacy and a lot of talent; we have 187 employees and everybody is very proud of our company. They live their work and they work their lives. They’re all enthusiasts at their core, so I’m just super-excited to be here. And looking forward to digging in, of course.

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

Dan Hickey: I’m a big believer in show, don’t tell, in journalism. But if I had to have something tattooed, it would probably be something more aspirational for me. If people were going to remember it forever about me, I would love to be remembered as a kind person. That would make me very happy, and it’s something that’s, again, aspirational and something I have to work on every day.

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

Dan Hickey: I’m probably binge-watching YouTube with fishing or boating videos. I’m trying to perfect my boat-trailering launching, and there’s an endless supply of videos showing, and sometimes they’re very humorous, showing what to do and what not to do with your boat when you’re backing into a lake.

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

Dan Hickey: Figuratively, as I mentioned before, it’s phones, and how we’re going to create and maintain the relationships that we have on that device. It’s already a real challenge for media companies and it’s not talked about enough, and that worries me. It’s something that I think about a lot.

And sometimes I literally wake up during the night with something that gets me excited for the next day, and once I wake up I usually can’t get back to sleep.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Parents Magazine & Its Editor In Chief, Liz Vaccariello, Both Offering Inspiring Storytelling & A Quieter Editorial Experience In This Manic Digital Age – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Liz Vaccariello…

August 17, 2017

“When she’s (the consumer) reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.” Liz Vaccariello…

“I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.” Liz Vaccariello…

With the recent redesign of Parents Magazine under the direction and leadership of Parents Editor in Chief Liz Vaccariello, the brand known for its credibility and stalwart trustworthiness, has been at the forefront of media these days, and its editor interviewed about the redesign many times over.

So, in true Mr. Magazine™ fashion, I decided to do something entirely different, and mention the redesign minimally, focusing instead on something that both Parents Magazine and its editor in chief have in common: storytelling.

Liz Vaccariello comes home to Meredith (she served as executive editor at Meredith’s Fitness for seven years) after several very successful positions with other titles, most recently as chief content officer and editor in chief for Reader’s Digest. Her storytelling drives her belief in the power of magazines, and the value of the journey they take you on.

I spoke with Liz recently and we talked about the role of print in this most digital age. She was adamant; when someone is reading a magazine, they’re seeking a different type of experience than digital can provide. They’re questing, as Liz put it, for a “quieter editorial experience” and inspiration. That’s very hard to find in the busy, noisy, notification-filled world that roams online.

And while the redesign of Parents Magazine is important and a value unto itself, what fills the pages of those designs, the stories, are always icing on the designer’s cake. So, come with me and experience the passion of a storyteller, a woman who believes magazines have the magical power of telling stories in the most unique of ways, and someone who knew from the sixth grade what her life’s journey would be, a wordsmith, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she feels the Parents brand needs a printed magazine in this digital age: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

On being a storyteller first: I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience. And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration?

On what’s different for her as an editor for Parents Magazine as opposed to other magazines she has edited, such as Reader’s Digest: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

On her reaction when she was offered the job of editor in chief of Parents Magazine: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

On the biggest stumbling block that faced her: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

On why she felt the need for a change in the magazine when it was already strong and healthy: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

On anything she’d like to add: This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

On why there are more line extensions from main titles in the Hispanic market than in the African American market: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby. And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture.

On a memory or memories that she reflects on in her role as editor in chief and main storyteller of Parents Magazine: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

On what keeps her up at night: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, and it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief, Parents Magazine.

Samir Husni: Since the redesign of Parents Magazine, you’ve given quite a few interviews about that, so for this interview I thought I’d ask you something a bit different. In this digital age, why do you think the Parents brand needs a print magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: The answer to that question is also the answer to why we did a redesign. In this digital age, the mom and dad, but mainly the mom, is on her phone and she’s on her social media, or she’s Googling or querying the solution to a problem. She might be on a Facebook page where she’s feeling a little less-than or judged, for example. When she finally puts down that phone, our research tells us that is when she is engaging with the magazine. It’s her me-time.

We did a digital focus group where we had subscribers send in video tapes and show us precisely where in the house they kept their Parents Magazines. It was next to the big, comfy chair, or on their nightstands, or next to the bathtub.

So, when she’s reading the magazine, she needs a much quieter editorial experience. It needs to be more inspiring. And she has more time. She wants to take more of an emotional journey, rather than be hit over the head with all sorts of practical advice and alarming statistics and stories.

Samir Husni: The first thing that comes to mind when I read about you or think about you is storyteller.

Liz Vaccariello: Thank you. I feel like that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story, the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey, that’s a much different kind of experience.

And my love for storytelling is one of the first things that I wanted to bring to this team and ask them, many of whom have been here for decades or more; how do we tap into, not only a mother’s exhaustion, but her exhilaration? How do we tap into nostalgia when it comes to being a mom? Then suddenly, you’re nostalgic for your childhood, for example. There’s so much humor that goes with being a parent. And oftentimes, failing to be a perfect parent. Let’s be able to laugh at ourselves.

You can see in the new magazine, we have very short stories, some are longer, but there are little ways to tell those emotional stories in a way that feels like a complete and authentic life.

Samir Husni: Did you have to make any adjustments when you came to Meredith from Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Reminisce? All these magazines that you’ve edited; what’s different about Parents Magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: What’s different about this role is that it speaks to a very unique and constantly moving readership. And that’s mothers. So, I had to immerse myself into millennial moms, and the world they were coming from. Aesthetically, who are the influencers? Also, verbally. What are the phrases that they’re using? What’s the language that they’re using? And culturally. This is a time where mothers are rejecting the mom-shaming or the guilt trips that used to be put on other mothers.

So, I had to do a lot of research into “what is meaningful right now for this millennial, and even coming up soon, Gen Z mom?” And that was unique. You still want to tell good stories, but you also want to speak in a way that is familiar to your audience so that they get you.

Samir Husni: A little less than a year ago, you and I were talking and this job was in the making. And no matter how much I tried, you wouldn’t tell me the name of the magazine. (Laughs)

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs too).

Samir Husni: Can you describe that moment when you were offered this job as editor in chief of Parents Magazine? What was your first reaction?

Liz Vaccariello: My first reaction was utter shock. And I will tell you the reason why was because Parents Magazine, under my predecessor, was very strong and healthy, highly respected and admired. So, I never in a zillion years thought that this would be an opportunity for me. So, it was shock that I was talking about this suite of Parenting brands.

The magazine; the business was very, very healthy heading into the redesign. Our MRI, our household income, they were both high. We’d experienced a boost of 3.3 percent in household income. So, there was nothing at all broken about the magazine. The fact that my predecessor was leaving was a shock. That was my absolute first reaction.

And then my second one was just feeling my heart swell, because I love to lead brands that touch people’s hearts. You always want to improve people’s lives, but I loved Reader’s Digest because it spoke to positivity and hope. And an oasis of optimism in a world of snark. And with Parents, when you think about optimism and hope, and happiness and meaning, very few things rival being a parent. So, this really hit my sweet spot of service and soul.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Liz Vaccariello: The biggest stumbling block? I don’t know; it was a pretty seamless transition. I was surprised and delighted to find that almost every single person on my team was enthusiastic about taking a shift in direction and tone. People who had been here decades were some of the most enthusiastic participants in the early research and rethink that we did. So, really delight and surprise at how positive people were to do something new and fresh with the magazine. I wouldn’t call it a stumbling block; I’d probably call it my biggest surprise.

Normally, when you come in, the new editor in chief will often bring in their new photo director, their new assistant, their new creative director, and I didn’t do any of that. I found that the team here was filled with superstars. Agnethe Glatved, who did the redesign with me, has been with the magazine eight years, and this is her third refresh of the magazine. When you have that level of talent, they’re able to pivot and embrace change. It was a nice experience.

Samir Husni: Let me go inside your great magazine maker mind, you come to a magazine that is doing well, there was nothing wrong with it; why change?

Liz Vaccariello: You change because your audience changes. The brand didn’t change, nor did what the audience needs from a parenting magazine change. But the generation coming into your space is different from the one that was entering your subscriber file five or ten years ago. They’re speaking a different language. Instead of helicopter parents, they’re the sons and daughters of helicopter parents. So, they’re looking at behavior in a different way. They’re looking at discipline in a different way. They are more interested in hearing from other moms and dads just like them.

For 90+ years, Parents Magazine has stood on the shoulders of its credibility. We’ve always done partnerships with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Every word and picture in Parents Magazine had a reputation for being absolutely trustworthy and credible. So, this generation of reader not only expects that kind of creds from our pages, they want that enhanced by what other parents are doing.

They want to know what the experts say, they want to know that trampolines are dangerous; the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents against having any kind of trampolines in the backyard. But they also want to make their own decisions. Maybe to them the benefit of family exercise and the hours spent jumping on the safest trampoline they can get is worth the mild risk that somebody might twist an ankle. So, what are other parents doing? And how do they justify having a trampoline? So, you need to add how other people in their world are interpreting the news and the guidelines.

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

Liz Vaccariello: I think it’s interesting. We call it the Meredith Parents Network, and Parents Magazine is the jewel in the crown of the Network. And by far, the largest of the magazines, but it also includes Fit Pregnancy and Baby, FamilyFun Magazine, Parents Latina and Ser Padres.

This role is unique in that I am running; I am hands-on-editor-and-chiefing (laughs) the biggest magazine, and the biggest part of the business. But I also get to think beyond the magazine and the magazine’s core general brand and think about Latina parents, one out of every four babies born in this country is born to an Hispanic parent. So, Parents Latina is growing very quickly. And it’s fun to turn my attention to that demographic and see what we can do to interpret this voice and this information for them.

And then think about the baby space and the pregnancy space, and what kind of digital products; what apps; what magazines can we offer the pregnant mom or the wanting-to-be pregnant woman. So, there is always something new; the business is constantly evolving and shifting. It’s a bigger job in that I get to do a lot of fun things, in addition to editing the one magazine.

Samir Husni: Why have we seen more line extensions in the Hispanic market than we have in the African American markets when it comes to the main titles?

Liz Vaccariello: That’s a really interesting question. In the case of parenting, and I’ll answer in my space in particular, something unique happens when a second generation Latina in the United States becomes a mom. She doesn’t necessarily think of her Latina identity in the forefront of her mind until that moment she has a baby.

And then suddenly she’s thinking more about her heritage and it becomes much more important to her. She wants to have one foot back in that culture. And it’s important that her child be perhaps bilingual and understand the Spanish language. Maybe she doesn’t know it, so she wants to learn it too. So, the cultural touchpoints become very important to her in the parenting space. That’s why in my network Parents Latina made sense.

Samir Husni: What memories from your own childhood do you reflect on in your role as editor in chief and head storyteller of a parenting magazine?

Liz Vaccariello: I often return to a moment in sixth grade when I was doing homework in my bedroom. I remember writing a book report about something and I was sitting at my desk with my pencil and paper. I remember looking at a sentence and thinking that I wanted to change the sentence, so I took another piece of paper and put it next to the first and began to change the words around in the sentence and reading it out loud and listening to the changing rhythms. And then deciding on the perfect way I wanted to say that sentence and putting it back on the paper.

In that moment, there was a knock on my bedroom door and in walked my dad. He said you’re up late, you must be doing homework. He had come in to say goodnight. And I remember saying to him that I had just decided that I wanted to be a writer. I remember that moment and the idea of creating a story and telling it in a rhythmic, pleasing way. And working with the words. The words acting like a puzzle. So, I always remember my father being a witness to that pivotal moment in my life.

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

Liz Vaccariello: (Laughs) Mom to Sophia and Olivia. Sophia and Olivia’s mama; that’s my most important job. I think that’s why I get so excited and lit up about my job, because I get to help mommies and daddies and I know how much fun that is and how helpful that can be when you’re a mom. If we can help someone with the stories that we tell; make her laugh or feel better, or do something more efficiently, that’s wonderful. I’m in a good place and I have one of the best jobs in America.

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

Liz Vaccariello: We’re always concerned about the decline in print advertising. Meredith has a wonderful story about how the growth in digital advertising has far outpaced our small declines in print advertising. But, it doesn’t keep me up at night, because I just got back from a road trip with my publisher, Steven Grune, and I have to tell you, it made me proud to be a Meredith employee because I’m showing this redesign, and I’ve done a lot of road trips over the years for various companies and with various publishers. But when Meredith comes to town, it speaks highly of Meredith and of Steve Grune and the Parents brand, but when we come to town 30 people show up and they want to hear what’s new with Meredith and with Parents Magazine. So, that speaks highly of our position in the marketplace. And also of Steve. Our September issue is nice and thick; our October issue is even thicker, so it’s looking really good. I’m actually sleeping quite well. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Print Proud, Digital Smart…

July 21, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
“Imagine” John Lennon…

Perhaps John Lennon said it best. But when it comes to print, Mr. Magazine™ has also perhaps been a dreamer his entire life. Print has always been a part of my DNA since as far back as a small boy growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon. And for anyone who knows me, this isn’t breaking news.

However, CEOs and presidents of major publishing companies cannot afford to be entirely dreamers. I’m not implying that these men and women do not have visionary outlooks about their companies’ futures, but they also have a very shrewd and knowledgeable view of the business side of publishing. And when it comes to their bottom lines, they aren’t going to risk adding value to those simply to realize a childhood dream.

That being said, in the past few weeks I have interviewed any number of CEOs and presidents from some of the biggest publishing companies in the world, and they’ve all had one thing in common: their strong belief in being print proud and digital smart. Which as it turns out happens to be my theme for the upcoming Magazine Innovation Center’s 2018 ACT 8 Experience: Print Proud, Digital Smart. (Save the dates April 17 to 20, 2018). No apologies from Mr. Magazine™ for being in tune with some of the industry’s most intelligent and perceptive leaders. These men and women have a strong belief that print is their core product and THEY make no apologies for that, while acknowledging that digital is equally important in its own space.

It began with Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines. Hearst has seen amazing success with titles such as “The Pioneer Woman,” HGTV Magazine,and “Food Network Magazine,” both print publications having been born from equally successful partnerships with these multiplatform brands. Perhaps Michael said it best in Hearst’s case:

“I think that we continue to have a very strong point of view about our business. Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it.”

“Great ideas do get funded. You know, create and sell. Great ideas get funded. Oftentimes, what I would tell our team when they would say, “Well, they don’t have a print budget.” I would say, “Let me ask you a question: do they have a budget?” Because every brand has a marketing budget, right? And, if you bring them a great idea, a great idea will get funding. And so we have many, many, many examples of business that has been created with no budget. The idea creates the budget. So, my mantra is “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.”



I spoke with Doug Kouma next, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media. Meredith has also found success in outside brand partnerships, having teamed up with Joanna and Chip Gaines from the highly popular HGTV series: “Fixer Upper,” to launch “The Magnolia Journal,” a magazine that was met by a huge success that it was moved from Meredith Core Media to the core Meredith magazines group. Perhaps Doug said it best in Meredith’s case:

“I actually think the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.” And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.”

From Doug Kouma, I spoke with Rich Battista, president and CEO, Time Inc. It’s hard to argue with anything one of the largest publishing companies in the world does. For generations, Time Inc. has been an innovator, going multiplatform even from the days of Henry Luce, with the launching of the “March of Time.” Perhaps Rich said it best in Time Inc.’s case:

“In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.”

Andy Clurman, president and CEO from Active Interest Media was up next. Andy believes that for magazine media people, the transition to digital was not necessarily a natural progression. And why would it be? Perhaps Andy said it best in AIM’s case:

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.”

Former CEO, Penton and former CEO, Cygnus Business Media, and now co-founder of French LLC, John French emphatically believes the future for print is bright, if you do it right. Perhaps John said it best in his case:

“I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.”

And last, but certainly not least in this elite group of industry leaders, I spoke with Bonnie Kintzer, president and CEO of Trusted Media Brands. Bonnie’s print titles come from a legacy of being consumer-first publications. From Reader’s Digest to the Roy Reiman titles it acquired, such as Taste of Home, TMB and its leader thinks that putting customer first is the secret to their continued core success. And make no mistake, Bonnie believes that print is their core foundation, but also expects major growth from their digital side. Perhaps Bonnie said it best in Trusted Media Brands’ case:

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.”

And Mr. Magazine™ is in complete agreement with each and every one of these savvy industry leaders. And is waiting on the day when all of the print naysayers and the pundits who shout that print is on its way out realize that in the 21st century those of us who love print for its experience, its power, its engaging and interactive relationship with the audience, let alone the money that it can bring a media company, does not mean that we do not also relish the convenience and scope of digital. We can and we should have both. To each has its power and reach. We don’t have to choose. Perhaps someday they’ll realize that.

Perhaps…

Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…

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Bonnie Kintzer: The President & CEO Of Trusted Media Brands Explains Why It’s Always Consumer-First; Always Has Been & Always Will Be – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Bonnie Kintzer…

July 19, 2017

“Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Bonnie Kintzer…

Trusted Media Brands prides itself on being genuinely connected to its consumers. In fact, the company’s president and CEO, Bonnie Kintzer, believes that in order for a media brand/company to have true success, it must put its readers and consumers first. No exception. And of course, anyone who knows Mr. Magazine™ at all knows that he is in total agreement. Audience first is a mantra of which no apologies are needed.

From Reader’s Digest to The Family Handyman, to the former Reiman Publications that TMB has under its umbrella; all are and have always been dedicated to the consumer. And for the most part, have also been filled with user generated content before the phrase was supposedly coined in the 21st century with the onset of digital. But remember, there really isn’t anything new under the sun. UGC has been a part of Trusted Media Brands’ collection of titles since the beginning.

I spoke with Bonnie recently and we talked about the success of print at TMB, and about the naysayers and gloom and doom prophets who still cry from their digital horsebacks that “print is in decline” or “print is on its way out.” And about Bonnie’s recently-written analogy that all of that incessant noise about print’s demise sounded like the clamor from a continuously running toilet. Again, Mr. Magazine™ would have to agree and maybe go so far as to add, that it sounds as though some are in need of a print plumber to unclog their thinking drains.

Be that as it may, I sincerely hope that you enjoy this uplifting conversation with a woman who believes in print and in her print audience. She hasn’t forsaken the core product of her company, nor its loyal and faithful followers, but at the same time emphatically embraces and believes that her company’s digital future is as bright as its print tomorrows. Bonnie said it very eloquently herself, “Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.” Indeed.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bonnie Kintzer, president & CEO, Trusted Media Brands.

But first, the sound-bites:

On where the Trusted Media Brands (TMB) are today: As a company, we have finished our three-year turnaround plan, which is incredibly exciting. We have stabilized our core business; we have grown our digital ad revenue; we have brought in an incredible amount of digital talent into the company; and we are 100 percent debt free.

On whether brands under the TMB umbrella, such as Reader’s Digest and Reiman Publications, have always had that secret formula of consumers first: Yes, I think that both companies were founded on that; you’re right. Reiman and Reader’s Digest were always consumer first. They also sold other products to consumers. If you think about it, Reader’s Digest was selling books and music, and for Reiman it was the Country Store. So, we’ve never lost that focus on the consumer.

On why media industry and its reporters keep spouting the negative about print, despite the recent success stories of magazines from Hearst, Meredith and TMB: Your question is one that I think about often. Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.

On how, in this age of fake news, Trusted Media Brands are providing trusted content:
We have a great history of fact-checking, as you probably know. So, we take that very seriously; we always have. We’ve always had fact-checking people on staff for Reader’s Digest to make sure that we were providing information that was factually correct.

On her belief that accountability is important and for whom: When I think about accountability, I actually think about it on an employee level, but I’m happy to talk about those other stakeholders too. Successful companies, successful company-cultures, really have to have employees who feel that they are accountable for moving things forward. And I do think one of the biggest transformations in our success has been the empowerment and accountability of our employees.

On the host of bookazines TMB has in its portfolio: It’s a very important part of our business. They do incredibly well. We’re also doing The Family Handyman and Birds & Blooms bookazines. Of course, Taste of Home leads the way for us. We have so many. We have digest-sized bookazines and full-sized. We were, I think, the first coloring book bookazines on newsstands. And we rode that very well. And now we’re doing Dot to Dot specials, and we’re doing Color By Numbers.

On whether bookazines have been a good return on investment for TMB: Bookazines have been a very good return, and we’ve been in them for a long time. And we’re expanding them. So, you’ll see more, particularly with The Family Handyman. We’ll be doing more of them, because the DIY space is a growing space and The Family Handyman has tremendous authority.

On raising the rate base for The Family Handyman: We’ve raised the rate base for The Family Handyman twice in 18 months, so yes, The Family Handyman has been an incredible circulation story.

On the fact that they’re hiring as a company, while most everyone else is reportedly firing: We are hiring everywhere. I am going to The Family Handyman soon, and we have 12 people there. We just had five new people start recently. We are really looking at where we believe the revenue is, and we believe there’s tremendous revenue opportunity in our core brands. And so we’re hiring a tremendous amount of digital talent, video talent and technical talent.

On whether her three and half year journey since she returned to the company has been a walk in a rose garden:
I came here on a mission to prove that we could grow again. I really did. I watched from afar those seven dark years, as I call them, when I was gone. And it definitely made me angry and made me want to prove to our employees and the market that we could grow. And doing that, it keeps you very focused. It keeps you very focused.

On one moment in time during that three and a half years where she absolutely knew she’d made the right decision about becoming president and CEO of the company:
What a great question. I think there have been a couple of moments. When I saw that we were going to be able to stabilize our renewal pool I was ecstatic. I thought, ‘Wow, we can actually do this.’ Because that takes time; your acquisition numbers have to be high enough to have a high enough renewal pool.

On anything else she’d like to add: Someone said something to me early on, when I got here, which was that unlike maybe other brands, people were really rooting for our brands. They really wanted to see Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home, and The Family Handyman succeed. And I’ll say that whether it was my competitors or former employees that I worked with, everybody has been rooting for us and always available to help or to talk. And I’ve been grateful for that, because it was quite the turnaround.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:
We grew this company.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’m probably outside, unless it’s freezing cold, with my husband. I just got remarried two years ago, so we’re usually outside, either having a glass of wine, or just talking about the day. We still have a little bit of newlywed in us, so it’s usually a very happy moment to reconnect at the end of the day.

On what keeps her up at night: I’m obsessed with how to grow as quickly as possible, and what kind of acquisitions can we afford? We still have cash on our balance sheet, even after paying down the debt. For the first time we’re starting to talk about whether we do some small acquisition. It’s a whole new world here now. Stabilization is now yesterday’s news. Now it’s how do we grow? What have you done for me lately? So, that keeps me up. But it’s a much more exciting reason to stay awake than before.

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

Samir Husni: If you were to give an 18 second elevator pitch about where the Trusted Media Brands are today, what would you tell me?

Bonnie Kintzer: As a company, we have finished our three-year turnaround plan, which is incredibly exciting. We have stabilized our core business; we have grown our digital ad revenue; we have brought in an incredible amount of digital talent into the company; and we are 100 percent debt free. Recently effective, we paid off the rest of our debt, and that was obviously a very big key initiative for us. So, we are poised for great growth and it’s a very exciting time for us.

Samir Husni: You mentioned in a piece that you recently wrote that the only way to move forward in this business is by having a consumer-first mentality; you have to focus on the consumer first, rather than the markets or the platform, or anything else. And the two main assets that you have, Reader’s Digest and the former Reiman Publications, were founded as consumer-first from the beginning. Reader’s Digest did not take advertising in its first 20+ years; Reiman Publications never had any advertising. The focus was always on the consumer. Do you think that you always had that secret formula and then something happened, and now you’re going back to it?

Bonnie Kintzer: Yes, I think that both companies were founded on that; you’re right. Reiman and Reader’s Digest were always consumer first. They also sold other products to consumers. If you think about it, Reader’s Digest was selling books and music, and for Reiman it was the Country Store. So, we’ve never lost that focus on the consumer.

We still provide a lot of value to advertisers. I would like to say that’s part of the value equation for advertisers, that we have very deep relationships with consumers. We will always be a consumer-first company. And I can say that emphatically. I love advertising dollars and I love advertising partners. I think they should be proud to work with a company that thinks about its consumers just like they think about their consumers. We are interested in all areas to satisfy our customers, that’s the way we think.

Samir Husni: In a recent article that you wrote, you compare those who keep incessantly saying that “print is dead” like the noise from a running toilet.

Bonnie Kintzer: (Laughs) Yes.

Samir Husni: Why do you think even today, when we are seeing big success in print, whether it’s from Hearst or Meredith or TMB; why do you think the media industry and its reporters continue to write about the negative when it comes to print? You rarely find an article that isn’t reporting “print is in decline” or “print is on its way out.”

Bonnie Kintzer: Your question is one that I think about often. Why do people feel this need to beat up on print, in particular people in the industry? We closed our fiscal year June 30; we were up on advertising for both Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home year over year. Print is strong for us. We have a great respect for print and we have a great respect for the print reader. Of course, we expect greater growth to come from digital advertising, but one does not preclude the other.

And I think that’s what people are missing. Why it isn’t a battle. It’s not a battle; it’s about serving consumers in the way they want to get their print. It’s serving advertisers in the way they want to reach consumers, and it should not be a duel between two different forms of media. They’re quite complementary to each other, as many research pieces have shown.

Samir Husni: Besides being consumer-first, another point you’ve mentioned is that you have to provide and value great trusted content. In this age of fake news, how are you doing that?

Bonnie Kintzer: We have a great history of fact-checking, as you probably know. So, we take that very seriously; we always have. We’ve always had fact-checking people on staff for Reader’s Digest to make sure that we were providing information that was factually correct.

And of course, we are the original UGC (user-generated content) people. If you think about Taste of Home, it’s 100 percent UGC. It was before people knew what that acronym stood for. So, for us, we’re really about the dialogue with our consumers, and that is a big part of our print.

When we’re writing stories, whether it’s a Birds & Bloom story, we’re using experts who are really experts in a birding or flower conversation. And as I said earlier, at Reader’s Digest we have always had fact-checkers on staff. We take that very seriously.

Samir Husni: You’ve also said that you must focus on accountability. To whom? You’re now a debt-free company. Is it accountability to the reader; the customer; to the advertiser; or to the investors?

Bonnie Kintzer: When I think about accountability, I actually think about it on an employee level, but I’m happy to talk about those other stakeholders too. Successful companies, successful company-cultures, really have to have employees who feel that they are accountable for moving things forward. And I do think one of the biggest transformations in our success has been the empowerment and accountability of our employees.

If you look at the amount of people that we’ve hired in the last 120 days, you would be wildly impressed with who we’ve been able to attract to this company. We recently hired someone from Vice, so we’re pretty psyched. We know that when people come here, they have accountability on their shoulders to make things happen. And we’re a small company, and that means that every individual that joins us really has the ability to make an impact.

So, I believe that’s where accountability starts. From my perspective, me personally, I’m very accountable to my investors. I may not have debt, but I still have equity holders here. I have a tremendous board of smart people; people who know media; people who understand companies. And they’ve been tremendously helpful to me. Before we paid off our debt, we invested tens of millions of dollars into acquiring customers. And that was because we had a board that understood.

And when I got here again three and a half years ago, I was very clear. I put it in black and white: the only way that we were going to turn around this company was by bringing in new customers. And thankfully, once we went out into the marketplace and let people know that we were asking them to come and buy our products, they happily said yes. But we have brought in a ton of new customers over the last few years. And that’s really at the core of the stabilization.

Samir Husni: When I spoke with Rich Battista from Time Inc., he mentioned the power of the bookazines and how many they’re doing and selling. What we used to call, and you mentioned in your recent article, special interest publications. You also have a host of bookazines or specialized magazines. From Church Dinners to Brunch, you have quite the collection.

Bonnie Kintzer: It’s a very important part of our business. They do incredibly well. We’re also doing The Family Handyman and Birds & Blooms bookazines. Of course, Taste of Home leads the way for us. We have so many. We have digest-sized bookazines and full-sized. We were, I think, the first coloring book bookazines on newsstands. And we rode that very well. And now we’re doing Dot to Dot specials, and we’re doing Color By Numbers.

We really look at the bookazine channel in a couple of ways. One is to test new product ideas, and the other is to really look at where consumers are spending their money, and capitalizing on that. So, we’re both opportunistic as well as strategic with our use of bookazines.

Samir Husni: Has it been a good return on the investment, especially in this day and age where everyone is saying that the newsstands are dying?

Bonnie Kintzer: Bookazines have been a very good return, and we’ve been in them for a long time. And we’re expanding them. So, you’ll see more, particularly with The Family Handyman. We’ll be doing more of them, because the DIY space is a growing space and The Family Handyman has tremendous authority.

Samir Husni: And wasn’t last year one of the biggest years for ad pages and an increase in revenue for The Family Handyman?

Bonnie Kintzer: Not in ad pages, but in terms of rate base. We’ve raised the rate base for The Family Handyman twice in 18 months, so yes, The Family Handyman has been an incredible circulation story.

Samir Husni: The final point that you mentioned in your recent article is to empower our content-creators. And by the way, your article should be a road map for the media industry. Everything you talk about is just common sense. And you just said moments ago that you’re hiring, but everywhere else, we hear people are firing. What gives?

Bonnie Kintzer: We are hiring everywhere. I am going to The Family Handyman soon, and we have 12 people there. We just had five new people start recently. We are really looking at where we believe the revenue is, and we believe there’s tremendous revenue opportunity in our core brands. And so we’re hiring a tremendous amount of digital talent, video talent and technical talent.

I think we have been very prudent, I’d like to say frugal and I say that with pride. And I think now we basically saw last year that we had gotten to that position of stabilization. We went to the board in February before the fiscal year ended and we said that we needed to invest $10 million in hiring. Here’s what we need to bring in, and here’s what we believe the return will be, and we got approval from the board. And we’ve been on a crazy hiring spree ever since.

We beat our bottom line numbers higher than budget. And we think we’re going to grow our bottom line by about 50 percent in this new fiscal year that’s just started. We’re very disciplined here and when we talk about empowering people, it’s also empowering them to use the metrics.

So, as you mentioned earlier, it’s a kind of return to our roots, thinking about what else the consumer wants. I would also say that we’ve returned to our roots of being highly disciplined with analysis. In today’s day and age with digital media, you can measure everything. And you know what? Every editor is empowered. They have the tools to see how their content is doing and to see how consumers are reacting to that content, and they can adjust accordingly. And to me, that’s the way to success. It’s not about managing on high. It’s about setting a vision and empowering your people and measuring.

Samir Husni: As you reflect on these three and half years that you’ve been back, there were rockier years before you, but since you took over, has it been an easy walk in a rose garden, or have you had some stumbles along the way?

Bonne Kintzer: (Laughs) There were a few moments that I remember in my first year, where I thought, ‘Oh my, what have I gotten myself into.’ But I would say that I came here on a mission to prove that we could grow again. I really did. I watched from afar those seven dark years, as I call them, when I was gone. And it definitely made me angry and made me want to prove to our employees and the market that we could grow. And doing that, it keeps you very focused. It keeps you very focused.

So, no, there have been dark days. Eric Schrier is the chairman of our board, and he was my boss when I was here years ago. And he was the person who called and asked me if I wanted to become the next CEO. And I remember calling him with a kind of, “Oh my gosh” type call, and he said he’d been waiting for that; what took me so long?

But I’m an optimist. Yet, there were definitely moments. But I have an incredible team of people, Bruce Kelley, our chief content officer, who I know you talked with in an earlier interview. Alec Casey, our chief marketing officer; Vincent Errico, our chief digital officer; Rich Sutton, our chief revenue officer; and many more. I have an amazing team, and everyone I bring in here, I have always told them the truth about the challenges. And if they wanted to come here, not so much now, but if they’d wanted to join us two or three years ago, they had to think challenge and fixing were actually fun as I do. And they’ve done a great job.

Samir Husni: If you could pinpoint one moment in time out of those three and half years that you absolutely knew you’d made the right decision, where you said to yourself, “I’m glad I took this position of president and CEO,” what would that moment be?

Bonnie Kintzer: What a great question. I think there have been a couple of moments. When I saw that we were going to be able to stabilize our renewal pool I was ecstatic. I thought, ‘Wow, we can actually do this.’ Because that takes time; your acquisition numbers have to be high enough to have a high enough renewal pool.

And I would say that I felt it again this past February when I asked the board for that investment money. And it was also funded, so I wasn’t asking them for money, but that we were strong enough to self-fund our own investment, that’s pretty amazing.

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

Bonnie Kintzer: Someone said something to me early on, when I got here, which was that unlike maybe other brands, people were really rooting for our brands. They really wanted to see Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home, and The Family Handyman succeed. And I’ll say that whether it was my competitors or former employees that I worked with, everybody has been rooting for us and always available to help or to talk. And I’ve been grateful for that, because it was quite the turnaround.

I think you have to remember that we have our challenges in our industry, but there wasn’t a single person that I couldn’t have called upon and asked for assistance. So, I’d like everyone to know that.

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

Bonnie Kintzer: We grew this company.

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

Bonnie Kintzer: I’m probably outside, unless it’s freezing cold, with my husband. I just got remarried two years ago, so we’re usually outside, either having a glass of wine, or just talking about the day. We still have a little bit of newlywed in us, so it’s usually a very happy moment to reconnect at the end of the day.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night? Since you’re debt free, do you sleep better?

Bonnie Kintzer: No, now I’m obsessed with how to grow as quickly as possible, and what kind of acquisitions can we afford? We still have cash on our balance sheet, even after paying down the debt. For the first time we’re starting to talk about whether we do some small acquisition. It’s a whole new world here now. Stabilization is now yesterday’s news. Now it’s how do we grow? What have you done for me lately? So, that keeps me up. But it’s a much more exciting reason to stay awake than before.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

John French: Putting Audience First Instead Of Platform Using A 360 View Of Your Customer, Shows The Power Of Print Is Stronger Than Ever – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John French, Co-Founder, French LLC…

July 17, 2017

“How I look at that is, decisions of print frequency, distribution, going to digital-only formats and dropping print entirely; those decisions are being made in the finance department and I believe that those are decisions that really should be made in the editorial and audience departments. Let the audience tell you what they want; how often they want it; and in what format they want it.” John French…

“I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.” John French…

In April of this year, the Magazine Innovation Center here at the University of Mississippi hosted its annual ACT Experience. This year was number seven. And among the many luminaries and leaders in the magazine media industry, from printers to distributors to CEOs of companies who attended, John French, former CEO Penton and former CEO Cygnus Business Media, and now co-founder of French LLC, was also one of the keynote speakers. John talked about adding value to your brand and how growing your top line, through organic or non-organic growth, could prove to be the hardest thing a brand would have to do, but also how it was invariably the most important too.

I spoke with John again very recently and this time we talked about the optimism he feels about print, and how if you put your audience first (something Mr. Magazine™ agrees with wholeheartedly and always has) you may discover something shockingly apparent, even to the print naysayers, the audience has never abandoned the print experience, nor is there an imminent exodus in the near future.

John thinks that if you do print right, the way the audience wants it, when they want it, the audience will respond. And as a B to B man, John knows the pitfalls of trying to infuse a different life’s blood into your creation to do it right, but he also knows that it can be done, even with B to B magazines. And in our interview, he shares many insights and the optimism that he so believes in.

So, I hope that you enjoy this enlightening conversation with a man who has seen what the power of print can do, if it’s done the right way, which is putting your audience first, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John French, co-founder, French LLC.

But first, the sound-bites:

On balancing between his optimistic point of view and the industry’s pessimistic point of view regarding print: The point is, I think that people in our industry, and I think that you’re one of them, and I’m certainly one; I’ve always been kind of a contrary investor when it came to my personal investments or when it came to my professional choices, jobs and companies, things like that. And I’ve had pretty good success, but when everybody is going in one direction I tend to go in the other direction, because I want to find out why and is there an opportunity there. And I think that’s what’s happening in the print industry now. Everyone is going in that one direction that says it has less value and they’re going to sell it, and they’re not going to get a premium for it. And there are some of us in the industry that are going in the other direction and saying, “Wait a minute. How do we understand or normalize some of the statistics that are out there?”

On whether he thinks media reporters as a whole are looking through the prisms of cuts their own publications have made and projecting that onto the entire print industry: To be fair, I’m not in their shoes, and I don’t look at the numbers and I don’t see the cost that they’re incurring, and things like that. But if I had to take a gut-feel, I think in general, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that everything is going south in print. I mean, I get it. You sit there in budget meetings and you say, “We’ve got 12 issues and it costs X amount of dollars to print and then there’s the distribution and the postage; we have to put them on skids and there’s presorting, all that kind of stuff.” But at some point are they being colored by what they believe as opposed to going back into the audience and saying, “What if we customize this for you? It will cost you some money, but wouldn’t you pay a little more to get this in print if it was customized?”

On why he thinks the media never reports on the successes in print, such as The Magnolia Journal and The Pioneer Woman:
That’s an excellent question. I did reference that in the interview I did with Adweek. I also used HGTV. And again, this is a broad, and probably dangerous observation, but if you’re on the side of the fence that’s not growing in print, the world looks dire. And you start to believe all of this negativity that’s out there.

On whether he believes the B to B business will see a print resurgence or is that era over: With the Cygnus turnaround, and that’s probably been the most famous thing that I’ve worked on; one of the things that we did when I got to Cygnus in 2010, we brought it out of bankruptcy in 2009, and we still had a lot of magazines and we were trying to grow the trade shows, but we were really trying to grow the digital and the data businesses, spending a lot of our money there. We redesigned our B to B publications at a very difficult time in the company; J.C. Suarez did it and it worked successfully and they were beautiful magazines. And by the way, when we sold the company those magazines had a higher valuation because they looked damned good. And if we hadn’t done it, they would have looked like tired, old B to B magazines, and they would have been viewed that way.

On where he thinks magazine media is heading: I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. Fifteen years ago people were saying that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.

On his belief in taking a 360 view of the audience instead of the brand:
That’s exactly right. We have a couple of clients right now, and one of them does fulfillment. They take a 360 view of that audience, not the brand, but the audience. Who is Samir? What more can we know about Samir that we don’t know now and will help us to serve him better? And if we serve him better, the advertisers that come in on that with us will also be better served.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him:
I think I probably touched on it earlier. If they remember anything, and not in an egotistical way at all, in fact, in the most basic and humble way possible, just when everyone was going one way, I’ve managed to at least look, and very many times run, the other way.

On what keeps him up at night: Fortunately, not a lot, which is great. But from a professional standpoint, I think that it’s trying to keep up with the technology, not be a slave to the technology and developments, but always be a half step ahead. If you’re going to be a leader, especially in the media industry today, you have to be a half step ahead of the technology and not leave it to your tech people, after the fact.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John French, co-founder, French LLC.

Samir Husni: I saw your comments in Adweek, where you were talking about audience first and why people in magazine media should focus on this more, rather than the platform. At the same time, I noticed a bit of bias with the caption under the picture; people aren’t selling magazines because print is in decline. How do you balance between your optimistic point of view and the pessimistic industry point of view?

John French: I didn’t see the article, but Tony Silber (vice president, Folio) saw it and I was talking with him recently and I mentioned the fact that I’d done the interview with Adweek, and he told me that he’d read it. And he commented that it seemed kind of weird. And I asked him what he meant. And he said that the author started out with such pessimism and seemed to be going doing the road that print just doesn’t have value. And you’re right by the way, I think the caption with the Men’s Health cover and the other one, was just a real downer. Then Tony said, however, with the second half of the piece, my part, it was much more upbeat. And Tony said that he actually agreed with the upbeat part of the article.

And the way I explained to him about the article was that when I got the call from the reporter and she asked me would I give her my views on what’s happening in print, and I said sure. And during the interview, the reporter was very professional and very smart, but it seemed we were going down this certain road, and I sort of mentally held up my hand and said, “Wait. Hold on a second.” And I told her that I wasn’t that pessimistic, which I think surprised her a bit. But to her credit however, she took great notes and reported it pretty accurately.

The point is, I think that people in our industry, and I think that you’re one of them, and I’m certainly one; I’ve always been kind of a contrary investor when it came to my personal investments or when it came to my professional choices, jobs and companies, things like that. And I’ve had pretty good success, but when everybody is going in one direction I tend to go in the other direction, because I want to find out why and is there an opportunity there. And I think that’s what’s happening in the print industry now. Everyone is going in that one direction that says it has less value and they’re going to sell it, and they’re not going to get a premium for it. And there are some of us in the industry that are going in the other direction and saying, “Wait a minute. How do we understand or normalize some of the statistics that are out there?” And just so you know, I asked the reporter is she’d ever heard of Mr. Magazine’s™ ACT Experiences or Mr. Magazine™ himself and what’s going on at the Magazine Innovation Center in Oxford, Miss. and she said that she hadn’t. So, I told her about the ACT 7 Experience that I had attended.

I said that I had went to this conference, and I’ve always felt this way about print, but it was reconfirmed when I visited Oxford; I told her that when you go this conference and people are presenting real data that said the demographic of roughly 18-30 year olds, are probably having more interactions with print magazines than ever; how do you explain that? And I told her that my theory was that people are looking at print as a very generic category.

And by the way the origin of this, I believe, and it’s not the only one, but I think it’s one of the beginning ones, was that certainly in the B to B industry for the last 10 to 15 years, private equity has come in and bought and sold a lot of sets of assets in companies. And they’re really the scorecard. They’re the people who have established the worth of a platform. And correctly so, they value data businesses and especially trade show businesses very highly.

So, it comes down to the multiples. They’ll pay 10, 11, 12 percent times ebitda, and they’ll do it gladly because they think that if they can build a platform on it and sell the company later on, they can make even more money. They’ll pay for digital businesses, maybe eight to ten times ebitda. Data businesses up around events, because that’s pretty hot right now.

But they have become convinced, because they were burned in the last recession, 2006, 2007 and 2008, when print really took a beating, they just said, you know what, there’s no worth here at all. And they put multiples there of one and two percent ebitda, and that was kind of a signal to the rest of the world saying, “Okay, the money guys established the value of print, so we ought to go down that road because they know what they’re talking about.” And I think it’s time to put up our hands and say no, it’s the audience that values what platform and what protocol they want to use to receive the information. And if the audience is saying, “We’re not bankers; we’re not in private equity, but we do know what we like. We still like the magazine experience and we want that magazine to be as customized and tailored to me personally as possible. And if you do that I will give you that 30 or 40 minutes per month or per week, or whatever it may be.” So, my premise is if you take the whole category and say it’s devalued, then I think you’re making a serious mistake because the audiences are not behaving that way.

Now, as I said in the Adweek article, and I may have inflated the numbers, but going back in time, there were Time, Life, Saturday Evening Post-type magazines that were going into households, and I think the last statistic I saw was that People magazine claimed to be read, or at least passed along to doctor’s offices and other places; that one out of every three adult consumer in the United States has exposure to the People brand.

Now, I’m not doubting that’s the case, but that may not continue going forward, because that’s a mass audience and what I do believe is that audiences want, not unlike surprisingly the web behavior, they want to be part of the community and they want theirs to be represented. So, In content, they want to consume. They want to do it in print; online; they want to do it possibly at live events, but they want to self-select. And so, bigger magazines, I think will continue to morph into more enthusiast industries, whether it will be fashion for young women, or hunting, or just whatever it may be, passionate interests, those magazines will continue to flourish as long as they’re surrounded by the necessary satellites of digital and interaction and multiple-channel delivery.

That may be a long answer to your question, but how I look at that is, decisions of print frequency, distribution, going to digital-only formats and dropping print entirely; those decisions are being made in the finance department and I believe that those are decisions that really should be made in the editorial and audience departments. Let the audience tell you what they want; how often they want it; and in what format they want it.

John French speaking at the ACT 7 Experience at the University of Mississippi in Oxford

Samir Husni: Do you think media reporters as a whole, whether it’s the folks at Ad Age, which cut its print publishing from 52 issues to 24, or Adweek, which is now like a shadow of its former self, or Folio that cut its print edition to once a year; do you think those reporters are looking through the prism of their own publications and projecting that to the entire industry?

John French: To be fair, I’m not in their shoes, and I don’t look at the numbers and I don’t see the cost that they’re incurring, and things like that. But if I had to take a gut-feel, I think in general, the answer is yes. To some extent, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that everything is going south in print. I mean, I get it. You sit there in budget meetings and you say, “We’ve got 12 issues and it costs X amount of dollars to print and then there’s the distribution and the postage; we have to put them on skids and there’s presorting, all that kind of stuff.” But at some point are they being colored by what they believe as opposed to going back into the audience and saying, “What if we customize this for you? It will cost you some money, but wouldn’t you pay a little more to get this in print if it was customized?”

Daniel Dejan, who also spoke at your ACT Experience, talked about the experience of touching a magazine and the interaction, and I take it one step further and make it personalized. With the technology that’s available in printing today, with cover-wraps and all kinds of other technologies that I don’t understand, but I do understand the output.

For example, if you were to get a copy of a magazine and it literally said “Good afternoon, Samir,” and we knew that you loved this part of the industry, and we know because we’ve been tracking your offline and online behavior, that you’ve been visiting our website; you’ve been on our portal and you’ve been on certain subject areas, etc. What if there was a magazine that was customized for you? One that said, if you go to page 37, it’s a roundup of all of the things that you’ve been looking at. And granted that may be a little too much pie-in-the-sky, but we could do that today.

So, I think before any decision is made to cut all print and go all digital, I would go back to the audience and ask them the question would they be willing to pay for it if it were customized? Would they find an appetite for a more customized print vehicle and at least give it a shot? It doesn’t cost a lot to research and find out what that answer might be, as opposed to, I think there is some self-fulfilling prophecies where people on the print side of the business are saying they believe all of that, but I don’t believe they’re listening to what their audiences are telling them. And frankly, I think it’s just a hangover from the rotten recession we had a few years ago. People are still skittish and I think the value of print has fallen dramatically in the views of the financial people.

Samir Husni: Recently, I interviewed the publisher of the Food Network Magazine; they just launched The Pioneer Woman, and she actually asked me the same question; why do you think media reporters do not tell our print success story, which is now 10 years and growing? We’re the largest food magazine in the country, and we just launched The Pioneer Woman. Meredith just launched The Magnolia Journal and it went from zero to one million. She noted that you never read about those stories, only the negative ones, such as Rodale is thinking about selling the magazines. Or Rolling Stone is selling Men’s Journal.

John French: That’s an excellent question. I did reference that in the interview I did with Adweek. I also used HGTV. And again, this is a broad, and probably dangerous observation, but if you’re on the side of the fence that’s not growing in print, the world looks dire. And you start to believe all of this negativity that’s out there.

But you brought up two magazines, and The Magnolia Journal is one of them, that husband and wife fixer-upper team down in Texas, and now the wife is emerging to sort of take on the role of the new Martha Stewart, because she’s not just telling people how to fix up houses, she’s telling people what clothes to wear and what food to eat and what their kitchens should look like, and how they should entertain and many other things. But she’s doing it in print after spending years on television, so I don’t buy this “print is dying” thing. And it’s the same thing with The Pioneer Woman.

And the other example I’ve brought up many times, including at your seminar in Oxford, is Airbnb. Yes, they fell down the first time because they called it Pineapple. I knew what Pineapple meant, back in Colonial times it was a symbol of welcome. But frankly, most people in the demographic they were gearing to, was much younger, and most of those folks didn’t have a clue that a pineapple represented hospitality. How the research agency or whoever they hired got away with that, it was horrible.

However, they’re restarting it and when they wanted to dramatically broaden their ability to promote their brand across an industry, they did it in a beautiful, in this case, sexy-looking magazine. And by the way, the Pineapple one was geared toward the people who owned an apartment or a condo.

But they decided they needed to get the message out to all of the people who are consuming the product, which is a much larger audience. And when they needed that larger distribution, this expansion of their branding, they went to print. And they spent money. And that front cover is, I believe, a very attractive women, and she’s in a bathing suit on a beach in Los Angeles, and it’s saying if you rent an Airbnb property in Los Angeles, then we, Airbnb, recommend you go surfing. And this is where you should go surfing. And this is how you can learn to surf , and it’s a whole lifestyle thing.

And maybe people are doing something that they always secretly wanted to do; they wanted to be a surfer on the West Coast and they’re capturing all of this great imagination and they’re doing it in print. On paper; beautiful stock paper that says I am different than the average person. Airbnb has targeted me to rent a luxury property in L.A. And I’m going surfing. And they did all of this in print. And I don’t think that’s changed in 100 years.

Samir Husni: With your background in the B to B business, do you think we can bring to fruition a new type of print magazine that will serve the B to B market, or do you believe that era is over?

John French: With the Cygnus turnaround, and that’s probably been the most famous thing that I’ve worked on; one of the things that we did when I got to Cygnus in 2010, we brought it out of bankruptcy in 2009, and we still had a lot of magazines and we were trying to grow the trade shows, but we were really trying to grow the digital and the data businesses, spending a lot of our money there.

However, in 2010, which was at the very beginning of the turnaround, the tricky part where we were trying to see if we were going to be able to stay in business; I met a guy named J.C. Suarez, he was introduced to me by one of our board members. And unfortunately, J.C. passed away a couple of years ago, but quickly we became very good friends, and he was one of the best magazine designers in New York. He worked on everything. He worked on Martha Stewart’s magazine; he helped design Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and he knew Michael Jackson. For a long time, he was also the art director for the cover of Shape Magazine. So he was very well-known in New York circles.

The reason I tell you this is at the time I had no money. (Laughs) I said to him after we became friends, and he gave us a bargain because he liked me and he liked the company, I said J.C. it’s 2010 and I’m looking at all of these other things, but I still have like 25 magazines. And they’re not going anywhere soon, and I think they’re old. And no one has touched them. I’d like to infuse a fresher sense of pride in the people who are writing for these magazines. So, what I’d like for you to do is come in and run a bunch of seminars on how to turnaround magazines and design, make the B to B magazine look like consumer magazines. I asked him that even though we were B to B, would he mind coming in and doing this? And he stayed with us for two years, before he unfortunately passed away.

He made the B to B magazines that we had look like they came out of Meredith; they were beautiful. And what I found was the editors then took pride again in their magazines, and what it enabled us to do was to then get more productivity out of them and also they moved more easily from print to doing the digital stuff. J.C. put together cover rules with the B to B magazines. I don’t remember them all, but one was the cover story had to have two bullets. And he would rewrite all of the cover tags for all of the magazines. Originally, it might say “Pickup Truck Roundup.” When he got through with it, the cover would read in big letters, “What you need to know about buying your next pickup.” Now, that’s consumer, but it was also our B to B.

So, to answer your question, we put our money where our mouth was. We redesigned our B to B publications at a very difficult time in the company; J.C. Suarez did it and it worked successfully and they were beautiful magazines. And by the way, when we sold the company those magazines had a higher valuation because they looked damned good. And if we hadn’t done it, they would have looked like tired, old B to B magazines, and they would have been viewed that way.

Samir Husni: As you have more time to reflect on the future, where do you think we’re heading?

John French: I think the future is bright and I think it’s bright in print. And people would have hesitated, even myself, to have said that five years ago because you didn’t want to be labeled a dinosaur.

When I got to Prime Media in 2002, we had a digital department there. We had around 50 magazines in all different industries. And we had a digital department that had 25 or 30 people. When I got there, there was a real discourse between the digital people and the publishers. And I had to find out why.

The digital people in that department in 2002 were telling the publishers that they had to listen to them, that they had no idea what the hell they were doing, and that they were a print publisher and in all probability within two years, maybe less, they would all be out of a job and the digital department would be running all of the properties.

That was 15 years ago. (Laughs) And those people did not lose their jobs in two years. In fact, we went on a string of digital growth over those five years, from 2003 to 2008. Our keg of growth was 52 percent on digital. A keg of growth incorporates an ever-increasing base. So, we were growing at a real 52 percent per year on an average of five years in digital. Far outstripping, I think, most of our competitors.

The point is that’s ancient history. That was 15 years ago and people were saying then that publishers were going to be losing their jobs and print would be dead. You’re still hearing some of that today. Not as verbose and not as much, but you can still hear it. And I don’t believe it. Again, I think the audience is saying that if you do it right; if you customize it to what their area of interests are; if you make it look pretty, and you make it an experience that the audience can be proud of; make it theirs and something they can take ownership of, then they will read our print.

Now, the next question would be do you abandon digital and data and everything else that isn’t print? No, you don’t do that at all. In fact, what I’ve been working with companies on is a 360 view of that customer. We don’t just want to know why they’re reading that magazine, we want to know what else they’re doing. What are they doing online; where are they going for more information; how do they make the decisions; when can we get those decisions?

But to answer your question, I think the initial future of print is still good because I can’t shake the one fundamental belief that a lot of this communication between editors and readers is still based on the fundamental magazine presentation. And if you really want to get out into a mass market, especially in the consumer end, it’s going to cost you money, and you’ll have to save money up to fund the launch; you can’t do those things on a shoestring.

But if you really want to dominate and own a part of the market of enthusiasts or hobbyists, whatever it may be, if you want to go out there and do it right, the audience will respond. And I think that’s why I’m very optimistic about print. And there are going to be more Magnolias and more growth in things like boating and hobbyists and skiing. Those magazines have gone through changes and they’ve had problems, but they’re still strong. I see more and more that passion in print going forward. And I think if someone has the guts and the entrepreneurship to do it, I think they’ll be successful.

Samir Husni: You’ve turned the tables on almost everyone I’ve talked to. They talk about making their brand 360, you talk about audience 360. How can we really be an audience first community if we focus more on the brand than the audience?

John French: That’s exactly right. We have a couple of clients right now, and one of them does fulfillment. They take a 360 view of that audience, not the brand, but the audience. Who is Samir? What more can we know about Samir that we don’t know now and will help us to serve him better? And if we serve him better, the advertisers that come in on that with us will also be better served. Now, this has yet to be proven, by the way, so this is all developmental.

But I do believe that if I’m a consumer of information, I’m an audience member, and I have an affinity for a brand, and in this case it could be a magazine or online, but let’s say it’s a magazine. If I have a great affinity for this magazine, and I’ll use an example; say I love fly fishing, once a month this magazine talks to me about fly fishing, not only about what the new equipment is, but the experience. And these people are just like me and I want to know more about them. And again this is unproven, but I think people would be more freer to give up their information to that type of environment, because of the trust and the connection they’ve made with the magazine.

I’ll talk to people and say you’re going to the consumer industry, by and large, so when you have a subscriber, and a B to B magazine may have 25,000 subscribers, but we know a lot about those people. And they will tell us information about themselves, because it’s professional information. So, they’re less protective and less secretive. And they know if they can get better information, it could help their careers and all of the other things we know about B to B.

But when you go the consumer end, you don’t have 25,000 subscribers. What if you have 250,000 subscribers? You look great in bulk, but what do you know about each one of those 250,000? And I believe the consumer industry is starting to come around to the understanding that the 250 is good, but I have to know a hell of a lot more about Samir Husni than I do right now, which is basically this is where he gets his magazines delivered to. And we know his credit card information because he paid a subscription to us.

If I want to know more about Samir, I need to establish some type of trust or bond, or whatever that may be, and come back and prove to him that if he tells me the products that he’s most interested in, or the content that really forces him to open up and look forward to receiving my magazine, he has to tell me more about himself so that I can service him better. And of course, I promise I will not give his name to just anyone, but if he tells me more about himself, I can service him better, in terms of his informational needs and we’ll have a better relationship. And I really believe that’s where consumer print needs to go. It’s a tough road, but I think it’s worth it.

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

John French: I think I probably touched on it earlier. If they remember anything, and not in an egotistical way at all, in fact, in the most basic and humble way possible, just when everyone was going one way, I’ve managed to at least look, and very many times run, the other way. What is going on that would force people to go away from this, and is there an opportunity there? That’s probably be the thing that I would be the most proud of, because to me it’s a lot easier when the crowd is going right, but you take a left anyway. It’s also a hell of a lot more interesting. We do it because we get paid, but the real juice here is this curiosity to ask, if someone doesn’t like something, why is that, and can I look at it differently? So, if anyone remembers anything about me, that would be it.

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

John French: Fortunately, not a lot, which is great. But from a professional standpoint, I think that it’s trying to keep up with the technology, not be a slave to the technology and developments, but always be a half step ahead. If you’re going to be a leader, especially in the media industry today, you have to be a half step ahead of the technology and not leave it to your tech people, after the fact.

So, if there’s anything keeping me up at night, it’s that I think about what’s going on in social media and I know it pretty well, but is there something that I missed? Is there some new platform or new application or new company that I don’t know about? Am I going to get surprised by a client or someone two months from now saying, “I can’t believe you don’t know that.”

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Active Interest Media (AIM): Halfway Through 2017 & Going Strong Through The Rest Of The Year With A Unique Business Model That Propels Its Success – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Andy Clurman, President & CEO…

July 11, 2017

“This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.” Andy Clurman

“I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.” Andy Clurman

The traditional business model for magazine media can be a bit difficult to implement in these times of digital, mobile and video technologies. And while print is the most significant “technology” of them all, the business model our forefathers set up for it may or may not be the most advantageous for the magazine industry today.

Enter Active Interest Media and its president and CEO, Andy Clurman. Mr. Magazine™ has been saying for years that the magazine media business doesn’t have a magazine problem, it has a business model problem, and Andy agreed with me. And he should understand that better than some, because his company AIM has found a unique community-driven niche that fits them to a perfect T.

I spoke with Andy recently and we talked about the communities and demographics that Active Interest Media lives in. And about the different levels of that same vertical well the company keeps drilling within, striking gold almost each and every time. When you put your audience first, and you know that audience like you know the back of your hand, it stands to reason that those subtly different layers of consumer need you’re delving into should pull up golden success. And it has and still is.

So, I hope that you enjoy this “in depth” interview with a man who would like to be known as an innovator and an important contributor to his company’s success (something Mr. Magazine™ doesn’t think he has anything to worry about), the president & CEO of AIM, Andy Clurman.

But first, the sound-bites:

On what he would say to his audience if he were giving an elevator pitch today about Active Interest Media: This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.

On why he thinks it has taken legacy media quite a bit of time to see some success going from print to digital: I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out.

On whether he agrees with the Mr. Magazine™ statement that we don’t have a magazine problem, we have a magazine business model problem: I absolutely agree with that. We have lots of magazines, if you look at them in isolation, across the 50-some brands we have, that are really possible, healthy, sustainable businesses, albeit, you can’t project them on their traditional business model, that they’re going to grow three to five percent per year. And if they’re not growing, you’re going out of business slowly, because inevitably your costs will keep rising and if your revenues don’t rise, you’re going to be losing altitude.

On why he thinks the magazine industry isn’t freeing itself from the traditional business model: I think we are. Every time I talk to people at other companies, whether it’s an IMAG company or an MPA company, large or small, I’m always amazed by the innovation and inventiveness of those people. And people from the outside might look at this as a business that’s slow to change, but I think that perception is because of the scale of the traditional business model and how big a ship it is to move if you’ve got a large scale business. We don’t have a large scale business, so for us it’s a lot easier for us to move to that inflection point I described.

On whether he thinks the magazine industry can ever escape that traditional model, or does he believe it’s still working: I don’t think it’s escaping as much as it’s evolving. Where print advertising became multiplatform advertising a long time ago, we now have multiple channels and multiplatform advertising, which in many cases has become a full suite of marketing services. I think we keep advancing and changing what advertising means to be a much broader set of media assets and services. And so, again, it’s just a matter of can you scale that up? Our mission would be to transform our ad business into one that is at least, if not 50 percent; the majority would be driven by a more strategic products and services relationship with our marketers.

On what’s next for him and for AIM: We recently closed on another acquisition, and we’ll be announcing that soon. We’re basically taking the things that are working really well for us and looking at what might be the next adjacent frontier either geographically or expanding further into the audience with more services.

On their most recent acquisition: A year and a half ago we bought the World Series of Team Roping, which is the single, largest and richest rodeo event in the world. And that’s been wildly successful, so we’re buying the company that does all of the handicapping, like the PGA of Golf for team roping, because to compete you have to have a handicap.

On why AIM’s investors haven’t flipped the company yet: We did sell our boat show business, and that was a very successful outcome. I think because they’ve looked at the trajectory that we’ve had post-2009, and the growth that we’ve had, even without the boat shows; what we’ve been doing year over year, and what we expect to do, and what we did last year, and the plan we have for the year after and for the next couple of years. We just finished a very in depth, long-range plan, which we call our “Value Creation Plan.” They’re not venture capital, they’re private equity. They’ve seen the value of their investment increase every year, so they want to stick around and get the benefit of that.

On whether AIM plans to get into the voice-activated business, such as Siri and Alexa: (Laughs) We’re pretty fixated on the communities that we operate in and where they’re going. It’s what I was talking about earlier; how can we serve them? We’re probably not as forward-looking, in terms of mega-trends on media and media models. We sort of leave that to the big guys to figure out.

On anything else he’d like to add: By virtue of selling one of our big assets, we’re in a rare moment where we’re sitting around thinking how can we go farther faster, and should we be doubling-down on investments we’ve made and see if we can scale things at a faster rate. It’s challenging, but a good position to be in.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’d like to be thought of as an innovator and someone who’s been a great contributor to the growth of these fantastic communities, sports, hobbies, and these interests. I hope that I’ve helped them to evolve, and that I’ve evolved our company and our communities in a very innovative way.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Andy Clurman, president and CEO, Active Interest Media.

Samir Husni: If you were going to give an elevator pitch about Active Interest Media today, what would you say to your audience?

Andy Clurman: This has been a really important year for us, because we’ve hit what we’re calling the “inflection” point. Inflection point is where we’ve been building these new businesses to drive the business organically, not just by making acquisitions. And scaling these new businesses at a rate that will more than offset any ongoing decline in print revenues.

And we hit that point in Q-4 2016, and continue to ramp that up in Q-1 and through Q-2. So, the combination of really four major things, which fall into that category for us, which is our video; AIM’s Studio business, where we do a lot of work for hire; a lot of marketing and services work; our branded content and television, and we’ve doubled that in the fourth quarter and doubled that in the first half of this year from previous levels. Our marketing and services business, which we call “Catapult,” similarly, we doubled that in the fourth quarter and doubled that in the first half as well.

And then all of our online education, which we launched, at this point, probably a year and a half ago, had some early success and saw that double in 2016, and we’re about 50 percent ahead of ‘16 in the first half of 2017. So, those things are adding a lot of revenue and a lot of good momentum there.

We continue to grow all of our memberships, things we’ve talked about before, like our USRider® Roadside Assistance program and our Yoga Benefits program for yoga teachers and fitness trainers.

And then, just our core digital ad revenues, which had been growing, I’d say, at single digit rates in previous years; we’re off to a really fast start. We’ve put all of our websites on one common CMS platform that’s allowed us to track the audience and package it, and deconstruct it for buyers. So, we’re tracking almost 20 percent ahead of last year on digital ad revenues.

Just a lot of really good stuff, which all of those things combined really help us to broaden and diversify our revenues coming from consumers for content in the form of video and online education, and diversify our revenues from marketers in the form of marketing services. Everything seems to be working. You never declare victory in the early stages of transforming a business, but we’re super excited about what we’re seeing and about what we’re doing.

Samir Husni: Why do you think that we’re seeing a lot of bloggers and TV networks; you name it, launching print magazines, such as Meredith’s The Magnolia Journal and Hearst’s The Pioneer Woman? And Condé Nast is bringing Goop with Gwyneth Paltrow. Why does it seem that legacy media hasn’t been as successful doing the reverse business, going from print to digital? It has taken so much time, and now finally after 10 or 15 years, we’re starting to see some of that success. Do you think it was driven by the decline in print advertising or was it driven by the needs of the customers?

Andy Clurman: I think a few things are going on; one, certainly when you look way back when the print business was pretty fat and happy and the margins were pretty strong; the level of urgency wasn’t there, so that created some inertia, for one. The first movers in digital, particularly the large scale ones, ended up carving out a lot of market share.

And number two; I think fundamentally digital businesses are not the same as the magazine media business. We all have social media and you could say a magazine audience might be, from a community standpoint, like the original social media, but Facebook’s business model and Google’s business model are pretty radically different than the traditional magazine business model. So, it wasn’t a natural progression that if you’re in the magazine media business, you should have, would have figured all of that out. We’re not heavily vested in technologists and software development and the things that the people who broke those businesses had as their core focus.

Then there was a lot of fixation on trying to apply our old business model, or I should say, our existing business model to digital, which is aggregate an audience and then sell advertising against it, or if you can both aggregate an audience and sell access to your content, and sell advertising; that’s the magazine business model. And people have had success doing that, but not at a scale that is transformative for many companies, with some exceptions. That’s the second thing.

And then the third thing is there are magazines that have been around for 100+ years; you have many first editions yourself, I know.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Andy Clurman: We own some that have been around for decades and decades, but consumers change, generations change, tastes change and interests change; some products may have outlived their moment, and so there are opportunities for new products. You mentioned The Magnolia Journal and The Pioneer Woman; we launched Anglers Journal, which I know you’ve seen, a couple of years ago, and it’s not a large scale Hearst launch, but for us every aspect of that magazine has been growing organically: the newsstand, the subscriptions, the advertising. We did launch a television show around it; we wanted to have more than just a magazine, and I think that’s helped a lot. It’s a new product and a new take on fishing and fishing culture, fishing photography, art, literature, and it has found an audience.

We’ve spent a lot of time trying to modernize legacy magazine brands and some of them have been able to navigate that and make that leap, and some of them haven’t. There are lots of examples that you know from eons ago: Look magazine and Life magazine, and all of those.

Samir Husni: One of my statements that I’ve used over the years is that we don’t have a magazine problem, we have a magazine business model problem. Do you agree with that statement?

Andy Clurman: I absolutely agree with that. We have lots of magazines, if you look at them in isolation, across the 50-some brands we have, that are really possible, healthy, sustainable businesses, albeit, you can’t project them on their traditional business model, that they’re going to grow three to five percent per year. And if they’re not growing, you’re going out of business slowly, because inevitably your costs will keep rising and if your revenues don’t rise, you’re going to be losing altitude.

We’ve all studied and talked about all of the brain sciences and ROI studies on magazines and how they work, so there’s no question that they work for an audience and they work for marketers, but the traditional business model is not a growth model, so we have to find a growth model.

Samir Husni: The magazine industry probably has some of the smartest people on the face of the earth, so why do you think they are so grounded with this traditional business model and aren’t freeing themselves from it?

Andy Clurman: I think we are. Every time I talk to people at other companies, whether it’s an IMAG company or an MPA company, large or small, I’m always amazed by the innovation and inventiveness of those people.

And people from the outside might look at this as a business that’s slow to change, but I think that perception is because of the scale of the traditional business model and how big a ship it is to move if you’ve got a large scale business. We don’t have a large scale business, so for us it’s a lot easier for us to move to that inflection point I described.

Where a Hearst or a Condé Nast or Time Inc., they’ve got so much of their revenue vested in print advertising and print subscriptions, probably newsstands are less these days, so the scale that they have to invent and sustain has to be pretty big to transform their business into a new model. I know everyone is working on it feverishly.

Samir Husni: True. It’s only when you hear that there’s a decline in advertising, then suddenly you hear that the industry needs to be more consumer-centric. And then the minute the market shapes up a little bit, we go back to the advertising and rate cards and selling subscriptions for $1. We forget about actually being consumer-centric.

Andy Clurman: I think sometimes that debate sort of devolves into some question of which is more virtuous; is relying on the consumer more virtuous than relying on the advertiser? But magazines do a lot for marketers when it comes to selling their products for them and helping to build their brands.

So, if you have a business model that is based on advertising and it works for the advertisers, I think it’s no less virtuous than something that’s based purely on the consumer. Given the whims of the advertising market are such that you end up with a more concentrated business if it’s centered on advertising, because you’re getting money from fewer people than if you have a business distributed across millions of consumers who are paying just a little bit. And if you lose one of those it’s not the end of the world, whereas if you lose a Procter & Gamble, that could ruin your year.

Samir Husni: After all of these years, and with the influx of digital and everything else that’s taking place, do you think we can escape that model or is it still working? It’s as you said, what if one magazine dies; it’s not the end of print or the marketplace, because 10 more will take its place.

Andy Clurman: I don’t think it’s escaping as much as it’s evolving. Where print advertising became multiplatform advertising a long time ago, we now have multiple channels and multiplatform advertising, which in many cases has become a full suite of marketing services. I think we keep advancing and changing what advertising means to be a much broader set of media assets and services.

And so, again, it’s just a matter of can you scale that up? Our mission would be to transform our ad business into one that is at least, if not 50 percent; the majority would be driven by a more strategic products and services relationship with our marketers. It’s a lot more interesting, a lot more fun and a lot more gratifying. When you’re at the table as a full partner with a marketer, reviewing the results of your work and seeing that you’ve helped launch a brand and help to build a successful business and you’re a full partner in that, it’s far more gratifying than selling someone a page or a banner or a campaign and just hoping they come back again.

Samir Husni: What’s next for you and for AIM?

Andy Clurman: We recently closed on another acquisition, and we’ll be announcing that soon. We’re basically taking the things that are working really well for us and looking at what might be the next adjacent frontier either geographically or expanding further into the audience with more services. For example, we were launching a joint venture in China; we have a fitness business that we bought a year ago, which is the largest association of fitness trainers and convention for fitness trainers in the U.S. and we’re doing a joint venture to launch that exact thing in China, because they have an emerging health crisis with billions of unhealthy people and they’re really motivated to bring fitness to the populations. So, that’s a natural for us.

We also have another one keyed up in another country to be named later, so we have a very successful business model that’s based on events and membership and education with a very targeted group of fitness trainers and we’re going to expand that geographically.

Samir Husni: And what is the acquisition you recently closed on?

Andy Clurman: A year and a half ago we bought the World Series of Team Roping, which is the single, largest and richest rodeo event in the world. And that’s been wildly successful, so we’re buying the company that does all of the handicapping, like the PGA of Golf for team roping, because to compete you have to have a handicap. It’s a sport that people play for money, so the handicaps are critical; you can’t compete and enter an event without one.

So, we’re basically buying the business that does all of the handicapping. It’s essentially a data business that takes all of the results in real time and crunches them together to keep people’s handicaps. So, that will effectively have the easy go-to membership and data source for that. It’s kind of small and little-known, but an incredibly loyal and lucrative industry.

We’re also expanding our insurance program that we have for fitness trainers and yoga teachers, adding horse, health and mortality insurance to a lot of the horse membership programs that we have. So, it’s like we keep drilling down deeper and deeper and finding more levels of what our customers are already buying and what they still need. And that makes sense for us and is complementary to our brands and our skillsets. And we have the ability through our video platforms to promote, which gives us an unfair advantage over other people.

Samir Husni: A question I’ve heard asked is why the investors at AIM haven’t flipped the company over yet? Do you have any comment on that?

Andy Clurman: We did sell our boat show business, and that was a very successful outcome. I think because they’ve looked at the trajectory that we’ve had post-2009, and the growth that we’ve had, even without the boat shows; what we’ve been doing year over year, and what we expect to do, and what we did last year, and the plan we have for the year after and for the next couple of years. We just finished a very in depth, long-range plan, which we call our “Value Creation Plan.” They’re not venture capital, they’re private equity. They’ve seen the value of their investment increase every year, so they want to stick around and get the benefit of that.

Samir Husni: When I interviewed Michael Clinton and I asked him what was next; we have video, but what’s next? And he answered: voice. That everyone was scrambling now to see how they can become a part of Siri and Alexa and Echo. Any thoughts on that? Are you planning to get into the voice-activated business?

Andy Clurman: (Laughs) We’re pretty fixated on the communities that we operate in and where they’re going. It’s what I was talking about earlier; how can we serve them? We’re probably not as forward-looking, in terms of mega-trends on media and media models. We sort of leave that to the big guys to figure out. And if it flows down to a level that we feel comfortable with, or we see that it’s something that’s a big deal in the markets we’re in, then we’ll pay attention to it. But that’s not remotely on our radar, in terms of what our business plan is.

Samir Husni: Yes, when I think of AIM, I think of communities and community-driven media, whether that’s sports, horses, yoga or something else. It’s like you said, you’re drilling deep into the vertical well.

Andy Clurman: A good long time ago we kind of broadened the definition of what our business is and could be. Some people would say “stick to your core business,” and this is our core business. Broadening the definition of the core business to whatever makes sense to serve the audience, and that’s complementary to our brands and our skills, that’s what we’re interested in.

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

Andy Clurman: By virtue of selling one of our big assets, we’re in a rare moment where we’re sitting around thinking how can we go farther faster, and should we be doubling-down on investments we’ve made and see if we can scale things at a faster rate. It’s challenging, but a good position to be in.

Samir Husni: My new typical last question; if you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Andy Clurman: I’d like to be thought of as an innovator and someone who’s been a great contributor to the growth of these fantastic communities, sports, hobbies, and these interests. I hope that I’ve helped them to evolve, and that I’ve evolved our company and our communities in a very innovative way.

Samir Husni: Thank you.