Archive for the ‘Redesigns’ Category

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Garden & Gun Magazine’s Three Secrets Of Success: Continued Commitment To Content Excellence, Refreshing New Design, & Always Putting The Reader First – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief, & Marshall McKinney, Design Director…

January 8, 2018

“What we do doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy search. We deliver an experience; we want every issue to be a reading experience and a surprising experience. I like to think of it as almost like an album. Every issue has to have the perfect mix and it works really well when it does; when you’ve got a surprising story up front or an amazing photo and a hard-hitting journalistic piece, and then a light story on a good dog. I just think readers aren’t going away, and even more so than ever they appreciate good work.” David DiBenedetto…

“I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard. If it feels like there was some effort involved and some degree of discipline brought to bear on the content, I think people recognize it as something valuable.” Marshall McKinney…

When a magazine is working brilliantly and has a unique character and style that resonates with people, why would you ever consider shaking that up, even a little? Why? Well, for your readers of course. For that indelible right they have to continued growth and evolvement with even one of their very favorite titles: Garden & Gun. Because as Editor in Chief David DiBenedetto said, they don’t sit back and enjoy the success, they keep pressing forward, striving to be even better than they were yesterday, while always keeping an eye on the future. And, as Dave said throughout the interview, always putting the reader first.

Along with Dave, Marshall McKinney, design director, have both been with the magazine for almost its entire 11 years of existence. G&G is the recipient of their life’s blood and the magazine’s excellence of character and grace reflect that. It’s a magazine that southerners and Yankees alike love and cherish and bring into their homes with no intention of ever letting leave. It’s the pull-up-a-veranda-have-a-refreshing-mint-julep friend that they never show the front door to. But after 10 years at the magazine that is getting ready to increase its rate base to 400,000 as of the Feb./March issue, Dave and Marshall felt that it was time for a change with their beloved magazine, so they set about to refresh and reinvigorate it with a more modern feel while remaining true to its journalistic style and panache that readers have come to love.

I spoke with Dave and Marshall recently and we talked about the redesign and all of its many facets, both the good ones and the improvable ones. It was a true Garden & Gun conversation, easy, informative and effortless when it came to the passion and love these two have for the brand. As always, Mr. Magazine™ was enthralled and entertained. I hope you are too. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David DiBenedetto and Marshall McKinney (who I am proud to say, and for truth in reporting mention, that Marshall was a student and a graduate teaching assistant of mine during his graduate studies at the University of Mississippi)… enjoy the interview and pick up a copy of the recent issue of Garden & Gun at a newsstand near you!

But first the sound-bites:

David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief

On where they think the industry is heading in 2018 and beyond (David DiBenedetto): Well, that’s certainly the million dollar question, right? (Laughs) I for one don’t think magazines are going to disappear. I do think some magazines will be weeded out. Obviously, these days you can find a lot of information online; you can find recipes; you can find sickness tips; you can find so much, and I think the magazines that will survive are the ones that are doing real original stuff that can’t necessarily be found through a Google search.

On the secret sauce that allows Garden & Gun to increase its circulation rate base to 400,000 when many other publications are seeing decreases (David DiBenedetto): I think that’s part of it. For one, and it’s been the sort of magical thing about this magazine from the beginning, there’s nothing really like it out there. I always have a hard time finding the direct competitor. We always say they found the white space when they thought about what’s missing from the magazine rack. This was something new; there wasn’t anything there yet. And I think that’s really part of the calculus.

On how his role as editor in chief has changed over the last 10 years (David DiBenedetto): How has it changed in the last 10 years? I started as the number two here and even only eight or nine years ago, social media wasn’t something that we thought about every day. Like every editor, your job responsibilities have increased because you have more ways to reach the reader. Now it’s digital, podcasts, Twitter, Instagram, and these are great. These outlets are amazing because we used to only have one way to reach the reader and that was through our pages. And now we have so many ways, so many touchpoints that when you’re doing it right all of these outlets are tremendous for you.

On whether he thinks all of these social media outlets can be a double-edged sword when it comes to good content (David DiBenedetto): Right; absolutely. That’s the challenge, fighting through the clutter, so that your work can be seen. That’s the biggest challenge with these social media outlets, but I do think and I do believe that good content rises to the top and will rise to the top even more. I think folks are getting tired of shallow pieces, shallow journalism; lists of funny cat photos. We’re going to reach a point where it tips a little bit back toward appreciating good stories, good storytelling, and good journalism. People appreciate good work.

On how he would define content today (David DiBenedetto): It’s everything. Content is anything that we touch. And it can be in a digital form; it can be video or audio; it’s good storytelling; obviously, it’s prose in the magazine. And in my mind too, photography and design and illustration is content and that helps drive the narrative art too. It’s all content Everything that we touch; everything that comes out of the Garden & Gun voice is content.

On whether they believe there is some sort of litmus test for readers so they can differentiate between good content and crappy content (David DiBenedetto): I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. Hopefully, it’s pretty transparent real quickly when they look at it. Like I said, it’s about paying attention to that detail that we do in a way that a lot of these other outlets don’t.

Marshall McKinney, Design Director, Garden & Gun magazine

On whether they believe there is some sort of litmus test for readers so they can differentiate between good content and crappy content (Marshall McKinney): I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard.

On the process of reenergizing the Garden & Gun design (David DiBenedetto): Marshall and I both have been here almost 10 years now and we’ve lived with the design of Garden & Gun for those 10 years, and it really hasn’t changed much. There wasn’t any reason to change it for the longest time, because it was really successful, people loved it and we enjoyed it, and readers responded to it. But I think Marshall and I both, as we approached this anniversary year, we said it’s time for a refresh. We both felt the magazine needed a little bit more of a modern feel. Nothing was wrong with it, but you just can’t stay that way forever; you have to keep evolving. We think a magazine should evolve, and it shouldn’t just evolve for evolving’s sake, but it should evolve when the time is right. And we felt that hitting that 10th year stride; now was the time to shake it up a bit.

On the process of reenergizing the Garden & Gun design (Marshall McKinney): A decade is a long run and we have a lot of paint on the walls after a decade. We’ve introduced a few fonts, so aesthetically it was just nice to kind of strip it down to the studs, and thinking about what came before can be very disciplined, but also the South is professionally reinventing itself. There are new trends and artists, things happening in literature, and things are happening all over the South that are progressive and that are pushing the envelope.

On whether having relatively no direct competition makes his job as design director easier or harder (Marshall McKinney): I can’t necessarily speak for the brand when I say this, but I think of my competition as Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Dwell, GQ; I think of those brands as competition. I want to be taken seriously. I want to be competitive with them, and what I love about those brands and why I have so much respect for them is that they always reach a certain level of originality; they ring with originality and that’s what I want Garden & Gun to do.

On whether having relatively no direct competition makes his job as design director easier or harder (David DiBenedetto): It’s true; what Marshall is saying is that we strive to be the best in the business. We don’t think of ourselves as a Southern magazine; we are a national magazine. And while I don’t think we have a direct competitor, in terms of how we view our work, in our own minds we put it up against the best out there and hope that it holds right there with them.

On the magazine’s new food section called Jubilee (David DiBenedetto): I will say this, one thing that we do to celebrate Southern food is we’re not trying to write about food that’s necessarily highly nutritious and “good for you,” like healthy food. We’re writing about food that is just tasty, that makes you drool and is steeped in heritage and tradition. And maybe it’s being reinvented and maybe it is more healthful than when your grandmother made it, but we’re just trying to make food that’s super-tasty and that can become new classics in your life.

On the magazine’s new food section called Jubilee (Marshall McKinney): We like to joke around here sometimes that we’re a food magazine about the South. (Laughs)

On whether we may be seeing a new bookazine called “Jubilee” with all of the food content in the magazine (David DiBenedetto): Absolutely. I think that anytime you’re creating a magazine and you’re seeing a trend and you’re understanding what your readers are, no pun intended, “salivating” for; if it’s a success then you think about how you can take that farther along. There aren’t memos here about a new food magazine, but it’s certainly been in my head. If “Jubilee” is a raging success, then why not keep moving forward with it, and either have an SIP Jubilee or maybe a spinoff? I just think that we’re going to see how it evolves and grows, and get the readers reaction to it.

On what has been the biggest challenge from an editorial viewpoint with the redesign (David DiBenedetto): My biggest challenge was that people absolutely loved what we were delivering, and I’d lay awake at night wondering if I really wanted to make any changes. These readers are so passionate; they read every page, some of them know the magazine better than I do. That was a challenge to me, getting over that hump. It was time for a change; it’ll be okay. (Laughs) You have something that works and you don’t want to screw it up. That was certainly something that I thought about a lot.

On what has been the biggest challenge from a design viewpoint with the redesign (Marshall McKinney): I have to second what Dave said; I’ve never experienced this before, an audience that is as rabid for the brand as this. We get fierce letters, real emotional and passionate letters, about everything we do and every story we write, down to the Facebook page. We get unbelievable comments if we just post something small; the smallest thing, maybe about BBQ sauces.

On whether they’re now on top of the mountain or there are more cliffs to scale (David DiBenedetto): I’ll first say, I will never think of it as being on top of the mountain, you just keep raising the bar and keep striving to be better. And there’s always room to be better, in terms of print, your website; in terms of the way you use social media. We just have to continue to evolve and be smart. We’ve had great success, but none of us sit back and enjoy it, because we know as soon as you do that, there goes your success. In this environment, you have to work harder than ever to keep your readers.

On whether they’re now on top of the mountain or there are more cliffs to scale (Marshall McKinney): I worry a lot about newsstands and what’s happening in the bog box sector, they’re shrinking and getting smaller as a result. There’s not as much real estate inside the big box for the large newsstands. I worry a little bit about that. Here in Charleston I can only think of two places where you can even find magazines outside grocery stores. Those logistical things worry me a little bit.

On whether they’re having to work with less these days, as far as staff (David DiBenedetto): We haven’t faced the cuts that other companies have; we’ve been very lucky financially, that we haven’t had to do that. But we haven’t really grown that much either. Every year there are more things that we need to accomplish, like we talked about, social media, digital, books; we’re asking to up video; books are getting asked to do a lot more than they were eight years ago. So, the landscape is just different, and we’re all doing more.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (David DiBenedetto): For me that’s going to depend on the season, because in the winter it’s dark when I get home, so whenever I have the chance I go outside, whether I’m taking the dog to the dog park or taking the boat out for a quick fishing mission, or taking advantage of Charleston. But when winter hits I’m often having a glass of wine and lately I’ve been addicted to Godless on Netflix. I have to say that when I get home at night, personally, I don’t often pick up another magazine only because I spend my entire day thinking about them. And I know if I pick up a magazine at home, I’m going to start thinking about work immediately and I’m trying to do a better job of not doing that all of the time.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Marshall McKinney): I’m ashamed to say this, but after you get home and you walk the dog, you take the trash out, just whatever, things start to settle down; I hate to say this, but I have a Netflix program going. I’m checking out Facebook, Instagram, The New York Times. I’m looking at a few blogs that I like to peruse, and I’m doing it all at the same time. And then I pick up a magazine, I have it in my lap; I’m flipping through the magazine, and then I go to bed and I read an article or two from The New Yorker or catch up on WSJ or The New York Times Magazine. That’s kind of how I put myself to bed.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (David DiBenedetto): From a professional point of view, I would love for someone to say he always thought about the reader first.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Marshall McKinney): I would just want it to read that he cared about quality, and he cared. Maybe a little bit too much, but I always want to be associated with quality. A craftsman who cared about quality.

On what keeps them up at night (Marshall McKinney): What I worry about and what keeps me up is that we’ve created something that so many people cherish and adore, and I don’t want them to turn on us. I want to continue to meet and exceed their expectation level. And to suddenly find myself in a position where we can’t do that, that bothers me. We have a pretty smooth ride right now; we’ve crafted a very smooth ride, and when I feel drag on it I get really concerned. I don’t like that feeling of anything dragging it or holding it back.

On what keeps them up at night (David DiBenedetto): Every issue keeps me up. It does. Not to sound like a workaholic, but every time in that cycle where we get close to having it all dialed in and figured out, I will wake up at 3:00 a.m. and ask, is the mix perfect; is the cover going to resonate with readers on the newsstand; should I have done something better or should I have switched this article for that. Each one of them is like having a child.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with David DiBenedetto, SVP/editor in chief and Marshall McKinney, design director, Garden & Gun.

Samir Husni: As you look toward 2018 and beyond, you’ve been with the magazine now for 10 years and you’ve seen all of these changes taking place, not only at Garden & Gun, but throughout the entire industry. Where do you think the industry is heading in terms of journalism, print, and magazine media in general?

David DiBenedetto, Senior Vice President/Editor In Chief

David DiBenedetto: Well, that’s certainly the million dollar question, right? (Laughs) I for one don’t think magazines are going to disappear. I do think some magazines will be weeded out. Obviously, these days you can find a lot of information online; you can find recipes; you can find sickness tips; you can find so much, and I think the magazines that will survive are the ones that are doing real original stuff that can’t necessarily be found through a Google search.

And I think that’s been a part of Garden & Gun’s success. What we do doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy search. We deliver an experience; we want every issue to be a reading experience and a surprising experience. I like to think of it as almost like an album. Every issue has to have the perfect mix and it works really well when it does; when you’ve got a surprising story up front or an amazing photo and a hard-hitting journalistic piece, and then a light story on a good dog. I just think readers aren’t going away, and even more so than ever they appreciate good work.

Samir Husni: And if I look at your numbers, your subscriptions have increased more than eight percent; your newsstand sales have increased more than eight percent during a time when we’re seeing a lot of decreases. If someone were to ask you the secret recipe you’re using to technically go against the trends, where you’re increasing your circulation rate base to 400,000 starting with the February issue, what would that be? Why do you think Garden & Gun is able to do this, is it because of what you told me, that experience you provide, or there’s more to it?

David DiBenedetto: I think that’s part of it. For one, and it’s been the sort of magical thing about this magazine from the beginning, there’s nothing really like it out there. I always have a hard time finding the direct competitor. We always say they found the white space when they thought about what’s missing from the magazine rack. This was something new; there wasn’t anything there yet. And I think that’s really part of the calculus.

And then again, it does go back to that experience. I think when you pick up this magazine, you may not know what to expect, but our goal is that when you pick this magazine up, no matter what page you turn to, we want to draw you in. And that means that we’re paying attention to every detail on the page. That means we’re thinking about the head and the deck until we’re blue in the face. That means we’re thinking about the caption. Obviously, we’re thinking about the story itself; is the lead graph going to grab somebody and is it going to pay off what we promised?

And then the design and the photos; it’s really a visual experience. And I think the redesign reflects this. We’re not jamming a million things onto a page; it’s not always about more beans in the pot for us. It’s just one great piece of meat. And when you can do that, and other magazines do that, I’m not saying that we’re the only one, but when you’re doing that, when you can grab somebody, you’ve got one shot and it could be any page of this magazine, you’ve got to grab them. And you’ve got to think that way. You always have to think about the reader first. It’s all about grabbing the reader. And that’s how we’ve trained ourselves here and I believe it’s working.

Samir Husni: And through the last decade of training yourselves that way, how has your job as editor in chief, as senior vice president, changed? Or has it changed? Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or you’ve always felt as though there was a “gun” aimed at your head, no pun intended?

David DiBenedetto: (Laughs) I think I follow that question.

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

David DiBenedetto: How has it changed in the last 10 years? I started as the number two here and even only eight or nine years ago, social media wasn’t something that we thought about every day. Like every editor, your job responsibilities have increased because you have more ways to reach the reader. Now it’s digital, podcasts, Twitter, Instagram, and these are great. These outlets are amazing because we used to only have one way to reach the reader and that was through our pages. And now we have so many ways, so many touchpoints that when you’re doing it right all of these outlets are tremendous for you.

And we’ve seen that growth in our Instagram followers; our Facebook followers, and they help our brand tremendously. So, my job has changed in the way that it used to be a lot about words and photos on the page, and now it’s a lot more than that.

Samir Husni: But do you think this is sort of like a double-edged sword? On the one hand, it’s great for those who use it well, but it’s not so great for others? When I spoke with the editorial director at Hearst, she said content today can be great, but there’s also a lot of junk out there.

David DiBenedetto: Right; absolutely. That’s the challenge, fighting through the clutter, so that your work can be seen. That’s the biggest challenge with these social media outlets, but I do think and I do believe that good content rises to the top and will rise to the top even more. I think folks are getting tired of shallow pieces, shallow journalism; lists of funny cat photos. We’re going to reach a point where it tips a little bit back toward appreciating good stories, good storytelling, and good journalism. People appreciate good work.

Samir Husni: What is your definition of content today?

David DiBenedetto: It’s everything. Content is anything that we touch. And it can be in a digital form; it can be video or audio; it’s good storytelling; obviously, it’s prose in the magazine. And in my mind too, photography and design and illustration is content and that helps drive the narrative art too. It’s all content Everything that we touch; everything that comes out of the Garden & Gun voice is content.

Samir Husni: And is there a litmus test; is there some way that readers should and can differentiate between good content and crappy content?

David DiBenedetto: I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. Hopefully, it’s pretty transparent real quickly when they look at it. Like I said, it’s about paying attention to that detail that we do in a way that a lot of these other outlets don’t.

Marshall McKinney: I think there’s a litmus test for what makes the grade as Garden & Gun’s content. There’s a matrix that we run everything through and if it hits a certain standard then we key in on it. Also, like Dave was saying earlier, there’s a lot of crap out there and I think when people read content that rings with truth, that has this sort of voice that rings with truth, they recognize it as something reaching a higher standard. If it feels like there was some effort involved and some degree of discipline brought to bear on the content, I think people recognize it as something valuable.

Samir Husni: As I look at the December/January issue of G&G, and the efforts that have been put forth to, not necessarily reinvent the magazine, but more like to reenergize the magazine. Can you go through that process; how the two of you worked together to do this?

David DiBenedetto: Marshall and I both have been here almost 10 years now and we’ve lived with the design of Garden & Gun for those 10 years, and it really hasn’t changed much. There wasn’t any reason to change it for the longest time, because it was really successful, people loved it and we enjoyed it, and readers responded to it. But I think Marshall and I both, as we approached this anniversary year, we said it’s time for a refresh. We both felt the magazine needed a little bit more of a modern feel. Nothing was wrong with it, but you just can’t stay that way forever; you have to keep evolving. We think a magazine should evolve, and it shouldn’t just evolve for evolving’s sake, but it should evolve when the time is right. And we felt that hitting that 10th year stride; now was the time to shake it up a bit.

And we always said that we weren’t going to gut this magazine, it was working, but we wanted it to be fresh. And we wanted to do it in a way that kept the DNA of the magazine, but still gave it, like I said, a more modern feel.

Marshall McKinney: A decade is a long run and we have a lot of paint on the walls after a decade. We’ve introduced a few fonts, so aesthetically it was just nice to kind of strip it down to the studs, and thinking about what came before can be very disciplined, but also the South is professionally reinventing itself. There are new trends and artists, things happening in literature, and things are happening all over the South that are progressive and that are pushing the envelope.

We just totally redid our website and energized it, and I think we did an incredible job with it. It was just time to strip everything down to the studs and start anew with the spirit of reinvention and lay down a groundwork that we can build on for another decade. And that will cross multiple platforms and is very synergistic in a clean way.

Samir Husni: Dave was talking earlier about how he cannot find a competitor for Garden & Gun, that you’re covering that white space and covering it well. Does that make your job as design director easier or harder, having no competition?

Marshall McKinney: I can’t necessarily speak for the brand when I say this, but I think of my competition as Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Dwell, GQ; I think of those brands as competition. I want to be taken seriously. I want to be competitive with them, and what I love about those brands and why I have so much respect for them is that they always reach a certain level of originality; they ring with originality and that’s what I want Garden & Gun to do.

I feel like everyone on the newsstands is my competition, but I’m not sure that we have a competitor right next to us, but I do see everyone as my competitor and I want to perform at a high level that I hope reaches the standards set by those magazines I mentioned.

David DiBenedetto: It’s true; what Marshall is saying is that we strive to be the best in the business. We don’t think of ourselves as a Southern magazine; we are a national magazine. And while I don’t think we have a direct competitor, in terms of how we view our work, in our own minds we put it up against the best out there and hope that it holds right there with them.

Samir Husni: Let’s talk about one new section that you’ve added to the magazine. You’ve always had food in the magazine, but now you’ve created the section that you call “Jubilee.” Food is the number one magazine category in the country now. We have more food magazines than ever before. And to quote from the magazine, how are you “Celebrating Southern food and drink” differently than other publications, in terms of content and design?

David DiBenedetto: I will say this, one thing that we do to celebrate Southern food is we’re not trying to write about food that’s necessarily highly nutritious and “good for you,” like healthy food. We’re writing about food that is just tasty, that makes you drool and is steeped in heritage and tradition. And maybe it’s being reinvented and maybe it is more healthful than when your grandmother made it, but we’re just trying to make food that’s super-tasty and that can become new classics in your life. And maybe they’re some classics that you grew up with, but have evolved and changed.

What I thought about when we introduced that section, and obviously that’s the biggest change in this redesign; when I first got here, along with Sid Evans and Marshall, we knew food was going to be important, but back then, almost 10 years ago, we had no idea how important food would be to this audience. We just didn’t know. And the more we did it, the more folks loved it.

We have an unbelievable photography director in Maggie Kennedy, and I think our food photography is as good as anybody’s out there, by far. It’s just stunning. And I thought, okay, we know the readers love this and we had food kind of scattered throughout the magazine. It was making sense, but I thought let’s just bring it all together and give them what they want. Again, this is about delivering to the reader.

We’ve got this great John T. Edge column, Fork in the Road, that’s run for a number of years, and it’s always been in the very back of the book and honestly I felt like sometimes it got lost back there. Some of the best writing in the magazine, issue to issue, and this allowed me to bring it up front and really give it a place where I think it belongs, because it’s not always about food. It’s about how food and social issues interact and it’s a very powerful column. And that’s one reason why I was delighted to introduce “Jubilee.”

Marshall McKinney: We like to joke around here sometimes that we’re a food magazine about the South. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too). Is that a hint of something to come? That we may soon see an SIP or a bookazine called “Jubilee” from Garden & Gun with all that food content?

David DiBenedetto: Absolutely. I think that anytime you’re creating a magazine and you’re seeing a trend and you’re understanding what your readers are, no pun intended, “salivating” for; if it’s a success then you think about how you can take that farther along. There aren’t memos here about a new food magazine, but it’s certainly been in my head. If “Jubilee” is a raging success, then why not keep moving forward with it, and either have an SIP Jubilee or maybe a spinoff? I just think that we’re going to see how it evolves and grows, and get the readers reaction to it.

Samir Husni: As you began the refreshing of Garden & Gun, what has been the biggest challenge from an editorial point of view and from a design point of view?

David DiBenedetto: My biggest challenge was that people absolutely loved what we were delivering, and I’d lay awake at night wondering if I really wanted to make any changes. These readers are so passionate; they read every page, some of them know the magazine better than I do. That was a challenge to me, getting over that hump. It was time for a change; it’ll be okay. (Laughs) You have something that works and you don’t want to screw it up. That was certainly something that I thought about a lot.

Marshall McKinney: I have to second what Dave said; I’ve never experienced this before, an audience that is as rabid for the brand as this. We get fierce letters, real emotional and passionate letters, about everything we do and every story we write, down to the Facebook page. We get unbelievable comments if we just post something small; the smallest thing, maybe about BBQ sauces.

So, it was trying to honor what we’ve done before, take the same aesthetic values, but sort of retool them for what’s to come. When you launch a magazine, you put your best foot forward, but you have all of these unforeseen situations that sort of arise over time and you have to patch it up as you go. But this was an opportunity to really address some of those things and start afresh, but hopefully honor what came before.

The magazine is dense; it’s a thick book. And just by virtue of its thickness, sometimes when you fold it open the ads can kind of come over onto your content, so we wanted to create a larger margin to create more spaciousness around the page for that reason. So there were some mutual agreement reasons to do it, but anytime you affect change it comes with a lot of good and a little bad. But so far, the good has outweighed the bad, but time will tell, we’re still pretty new into this thing.

David DiBenedetto: And I’ll add, Marshall and I both believe that a redesign is not one issue. A redesign evolves. You get that first issue back and you look at it and you’re proud and delighted, but you also see some things that you could do better. And you improve those in the next issue. In my mind a redesign isn’t really strong until it’s two, maybe three issues down the road. Again, just making those minor tweaks and evolving. And just thinking about the reader.

Marshall McKinney: I keep using this home metaphor maybe because we’ve done so much work to ours lately, but once you’ve taken down the studs, you put the drywall back up; you paint it, and now it’s a matter of getting the furniture the way you like it and everything hung the way you want it.

For example, when you take all of that good, and some of our best-looking content, out of the front of the book and you put all of that food content into Jubilee, that leaves you a little thin in the front of the book. You have to figure out, and time and the market will tell you, what it wants and how it wants to evolve that front of the book section. And so we tucked that into the back of our minds as we approach this second issue of the redesign. And I think you’ll see a huge leap in the presentation of the “Talk of the South.” So, I think it takes a minute to hit your stride and we’re getting there.

Samir Husni: Are you now on top of the mountain? Or are there more cliffs to scale? What’s next for you two?

David DiBenedetto: I’ll first say, I will never think of it as being on top of the mountain, you just keep raising the bar and keep striving to be better. And there’s always room to be better, in terms of print, your website; in terms of the way you use social media. We just have to continue to evolve and be smart. We’ve had great success, but none of us sit back and enjoy it, because we know as soon as you do that, there goes your success. In this environment, you have to work harder than ever to keep your readers.

Marshall McKinney: I worry a lot about newsstands and what’s happening in the bog box sector, they’re shrinking and getting smaller as a result. There’s not as much real estate inside the big box for the large newsstands. I worry a little bit about that. Here in Charleston I can only think of two places where you can even find magazines outside grocery stores. Those logistical things worry me a little bit. Staying fresh and artful, creating that see-me-flip-me-buy-me reaction. I love that. Making covers to have subtext and impact that sell, that’s always the day-to-day struggle.

But looking forward, I’m really excited about the creative opportunities and breadth of the brand and how we can diversify going forward. I can see us having a channel of Garden & Gun content. I can see us having radio. I’m really excited about future creative endeavors.

David DiBenedetto: Video, you know. Storytelling, the word, certainly gets a bad rap these days, but it’s about the different ways that we can unpack these stories. It’s not only print these days; video for us is going to be really strong. I just think our narratives really lend themselves to that. Like I said earlier, the potential is there in just so many different outlets.

Samir Husni: So are you doing more these days with less, as far as staff?

David DiBenedetto: We haven’t faced the cuts that other companies have; we’ve been very lucky financially, that we haven’t had to do that. But we haven’t really grown that much either. Every year there are more things that we need to accomplish, like we talked about, social media, digital, books; we’re asking to up video; books are getting asked to do a lot more than they were eight years ago. So, the landscape is just different, and we’re all doing more.

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

David DiBenedetto: For me that’s going to depend on the season, because in the winter it’s dark when I get home, so whenever I have the chance I go outside, whether I’m taking the dog to the dog park or taking the boat out for a quick fishing mission, or taking advantage of Charleston. But when winter hits I’m often having a glass of wine and lately I’ve been addicted to Godless on Netflix. I have to say that when I get home at night, personally, I don’t often pick up another magazine only because I spend my entire day thinking about them. And I know if I pick up a magazine at home, I’m going to start thinking about work immediately and I’m trying to do a better job of not doing that all of the time.

Marshall McKinney: I’m ashamed to say this, but after you get home and you walk the dog, you take the trash out, just whatever, things start to settle down; I hate to say this, but I have a Netflix program going. I’m checking out Facebook, Instagram, The New York Times. I’m looking at a few blogs that I like to peruse, and I’m doing it all at the same time. And then I pick up a magazine, I have it in my lap; I’m flipping through the magazine, and then I go to bed and I read an article or two from The New Yorker or catch up on WSJ or The New York Times Magazine. That’s kind of how I put myself to bed.

David DiBenedetto: That’s like an overachiever. (Laughs)

Marshall McKinney: I am totally immersed in media; it’s like a huge wave that’s trying to gobble me up.

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

David DiBenedetto: From a professional point of view, I would love for someone to say he always thought about the reader first.

Marshall McKinney: I would just want it to read that he cared about quality, and he cared. Maybe a little bit too much, but I always want to be associated with quality. A craftsman who cared about quality.

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

Marshall McKinney: Lately it’s been the house; it feels like it’s trying to eat me. But what I worry about and what keeps me up is that we’ve created something that so many people cherish and adore, and I don’t want them to turn on us. I want to continue to meet and exceed their expectation level. And to suddenly find myself in a position where we can’t do that, that bothers me. We have a pretty smooth ride right now; we’ve crafted a very smooth ride, and when I feel drag on it I get really concerned. I don’t like that feeling of anything dragging it or holding it back.

David DiBenedetto: It’s different; when you’re launching the magazine you’re this precious new thing, and you’re the new kid on the block. It’s a different experience when you’re trying to sustain the momentum; when you’re trying to keep it going. It’s definitely a different challenge.

Every issue keeps me up. It does. Not to sound like a workaholic, but every time in that cycle where we get close to having it all dialed in and figured out, I will wake up at 3:00 a.m. and ask, is the mix perfect; is the cover going to resonate with readers on the newsstand; should I have done something better or should I have switched this article for that. Each one of them is like having a child.

To me that’s the immediate thing that keeps me up, because as Marshall said there’s an expectation from the readers that they’re going to be blown away by every issue. That they’re going to want to collect it and put it on their coffee table. And that’s a lot of pressure; that’s a wonderful pressure and a wonderful position to be in. But you don’t want to let them down and that certainly keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

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Cosmopolitan’s Editor In Chief, Michele Promaulayko, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “It’s Great To Have A Brand That Lives Across Every Platform In Such A Robust Way.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

October 4, 2017

“But when Cosmo came calling, it was a combination of things. It was the most iconic, global, young women’s brand, and only four other people had sat in that seat, so of course I wanted it. I had so much affection for the brand, having spent years there. And yes, I did miss print, to be honest. I missed the ability to have the deeper storytelling, to have the lush visuals, to have time to digest things and to think about how you want to execute them.” Michele Promaulayko

When you’re THE magazine for women when they want to get an authoritative and unequivocal voice on sex, relationships, work, and anything else that has to do with their overall wellbeing and get that advice with a twinge of humor and sass, and you’ve been doing it since the mid-sixties when your editor in chief was the inimitable Helen Gurley Brown, why would you want to refresh that page of success?

Why? Well, because your current editor in chief is the inimitable Michele Promaulayko and while she totally agrees that nothing about Cosmopolitan is “broken,” there’s also nothing wrong with infusing a healthy dose of “newness, novelty, excitement, and more visuals” into the already extraordinary pot of deliciousness.

Cosmopolitan has always been a trendsetter, going back to the days of the spunky Ms. HGB. And nothing about that character trait has changed in the years since Helen. The magazine has evolved of course, but never changed from its cutting edge content that always pushes the envelope and provides its audience with the most current and captivating information.

Today, Cosmo is helmed by Michele Promaulayko, who knows a thing or two about the magazine, having been executive editor for eight years before joining Women’s Health as VP/editor in chief. She also served as the editor in chief of Yahoo Health, a digital-only entity, before coming back home to Cosmo.

I spoke with Michele recently and we talked about the retooling and refreshing of the highly successful and popular brand. Michele is excited about the refresh, because she believes disruption can be good when it comes to infusing a new energy into the magazine’s pages, bringing old friends new life and introducing new neighbors into the community so they can begin to add their own positivity and clarity to the equation. And finding innovative and creative ways to bring the print and digital components together communally is another faction that is proving to be successful for the magazine. With the November issue, readers will find new friends and old ones living in harmony between the magazine’s covers and enjoy the same humor and sauciness that has always been a part of its DNA.

So, sit back, grab your favorite beverage of choice (Rosé, if you’re anything like Cosmo’s delightful editor in chief) and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michele Promaulayko, editor in chief, Cosmopolitan.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she felt the need for a refresh of Cosmopolitan in this day and age: In today’s world novelty and newness are rewarded, so I felt like it was time for a design refresh. I’m not calling it a redesign, because there are definitely some things that are carryovers from the former design; nothing was really broken. It was really just about infusing it with newness, novelty, excitement, and more visuals.

On why she believes Cosmo hasn’t faded like some of the other trendsetting magazines have over the years: I think it’s because Cosmo has a very honest relationship with its readers. From Helen’s day (Helen Gurley Brown), to my day, we talk openly with them about anything and everything. So, it’s a place where they can come for real talk, frank information on the things that matter to them most, and that’s never going to go out of style. The packaging, yes; we stay on trends; we tap into the zeitgeist, talking about current things. But at our core, our foundation is to help young women navigate in an increasingly confusing world, whether that’s their work-world or their relationship-world. And they know that we’re going to give it to them straight.

On whether she thinks that foundational concept is still as valid as ever or even more so today: I think it’s always been valid in certain conversations, be they about sex or women’s advancement in the workplace. Decades ago those were taboo topics that weren’t talked about openly, so it was important for Cosmo to do that then. And I think it’s just as, or more important, to have those conversations now.

On whether she feels more balanced working for a publication that has both a print and digital platform, rather than when she was editor of the digital-only Yahoo Health: That’s a great question. I left Women’s Health to go to Yahoo, because I really wanted to immerse myself in digital. Obviously, I was seeing consumer media habits. My own habits were becoming more and more digital and I really wanted to learn the ropes there, and it was a tremendous experience. Previously, I’d had 20 years of print experience. But when Cosmo came calling, it was a combination of things. It was the most iconic, global, young women’s brand, and only four other people had sat in that seat, so of course I wanted it. I had so much affection for the brand, having spent years there.

On who the magazine would turn into if struck with a magic wand that made it human: I’m not sure there’s just one person who would personify all of the strengths of Cosmopolitan. That would be a pretty amazing person and I’d like to meet them, because I sort of think of us as counselor, cheerleader, protector, and best friend. We have all of those roles in different areas of the magazine.

On the reaction she’s hoping for from the audience once they see the retooled and refreshed November issue of Cosmopolitan: I don’t have any hard and fast expectations. I solicited their feedback and I hope I get that. And I think it takes time for people to adjust to change and sometimes to even notice it. Some of the changes are extremely noticeable, but hopefully I will hear specific things back from readers.

On whether there is anything in Cosmo that ever makes her blush: No, it’s funny, it’s like a party game with my friends, let’s see if you can make Michele blush, because after all of the years I spent at Cosmo as the executive editor, and then coming back, it’s almost impossible. But now that I’ve said that, it’s like I’ve issued a challenge. (Laughs) Somebody is going to try really hard to embarrass me. But when it comes to these topics, not really.

On anything she’d like to add: Just that we’re all about the humor and the joy and the surprise. We live in a very serious world right now, politically serious, and serious in that we’re dealing with one natural disaster after another. And Cosmo is a place where, yes, we talk about issues, absolutely, but it’s also a place where we can provide levity and joy. And that’s very intentional on our part, and I am very proud of that.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Maybe two X’s on a globe. (Laughs) Hugs to the world. The world could use more hugs, right? More love and more hugs. Cosmo is really about harmony. Harmony between the sexes; harmony and self-peace; feeling confident, and that’s one of the things that we try and instill in our readers. Maybe it’s just the word harmony.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Well, one, you probably won’t catch me at home, because I go out a lot a night. I have a lot of dinners outside of my place. You’d be lucky if you tried to just stop by, an impromptu visit, and I was there. But if I was there, I probably wouldn’t be drinking, because I rarely drink alone. But I do like to drink with other people. And I might be binging on the latest Netflix thing, because I’m a big binger. And it doesn’t have to be Netflix, it can be anything. Right now, I’m binging Jessica Biel’s USA show called “The Sinner.”

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night isn’t one thing. And honestly, I’m a pretty good sleeper, so not too much keeps me up. I really love my life; I love all of the interesting things that I get to do and the places that I get to go, and the place that I live; just all of that. I think it’s just the challenges of maintaining that awesome level of experience, because it takes a lot. It takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. So, just knowing that I’m tending to everything well enough to keep it all going at the same level, or at an increased level.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michele Promaulayko, editor in chief, Cosmopolitan.

Samir Husni: Why did you feel the need to retool and reengineer Cosmo in this day and age?

Michele Promaulayko: In today’s world novelty and newness are rewarded, so I felt like it was time for a design refresh. I’m not calling it a redesign, because there are definitely some things that are carryovers from the former design; nothing was really broken. It was really just about infusing it with newness, novelty, excitement, and more visuals. As our readers’ needs change and as trends change; as we spend more time with the audience; as we get tired of looking at the same pages ourselves (Laughs), it tells you that it’s time to put a sheen on it. So, that’s what we did and we had a lot of fun doing it.

And in doing it, we disrupted some long-held magazine tenants; for instance, having a TOC. We now have a one-page table of contents called “Get Into It,” and it really has all of the information a reader needs. It has the cover lines, so if you’re pulled in by a cover line, you can go to the page and find it. It has the section heads; you can find the wellness section; you can find the beauty section, so it provides the navigation a reader might want without seeing three pages of cute captions that nobody reads. I felt like that was an old carryover that we editors reflexively use in our magazine and I just didn’t feel like we needed it anymore.

Samir Husni: One of my recent class lectures was on the six magazines that in the last decade have been trendsetters: Cosmopolitan, Playboy, MS., The Advocate, Ebony, and Rolling Stone. Why do you think Cosmo over the years never faded like the other five have?

Michele Promaulayko: Great question, and thank you for including Cosmopolitan in that short-list. I think it’s because Cosmo has a very honest relationship with its readers. From Helen’s day (Helen Gurley Brown), to my day, we talk openly with them about anything and everything. So, it’s a place where they can come for real talk, frank information on the things that matter to them most, and that’s never going to go out of style. The packaging, yes; we stay on trends; we tap into the zeitgeist, talking about current things. But at our core, our foundation is to help young women navigate in an increasingly confusing world, whether that’s their work-world or their relationship-world. And they know that we’re going to give it to them straight. It’s not going to be a bunch of platitudes about how wonderful everything is all of the time.

We obviously have a lot of fun in the magazine and that’s another part of the brand’s DNA that I wanted to sort of reinstitute a little bit, but the primary thing is that we have this really candid conversation with readers. And they know that they can’t get that anywhere else.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that foundational concept is still valid today or even more so than it was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s?

Michele Promaulayko: I think it’s always been valid in certain conversations, be they about sex or women’s advancement in the workplace. Decades ago those were taboo topics that weren’t talked about openly, so it was important for Cosmo to do that then. And I think it’s just as, or more important, to have those conversations now.

Young women have a much more confusing set of circumstances to deal with, even if you just distill the dating scene. It’s so different now than it used to be. It’s so confusing. We live in this app-driven dating world, which has really depersonalized the process. We hear from young women all of the time about these pen pal relationships with guys that they meet online and they have conversations with them, but then they never actually meet up. And there’s so much frustration and confusion, and when they do meet up, they’re so used to having these digital conversations, they just sort of look at each other and ask, “What do we do now?” (Laughs)

That’s the extreme version of it, but something as simple as dating has gotten so confusing and complex. So, I think our ability to have that kind of straight talk with them about that or anything else is critical now.

Samir Husni: I coined a phrase for what you’re describing, I call it “Isolated Connectivity.” We feel we’re so connected, yet we’re more isolated than ever.

Michele Promaulayko: Exactly. And that’s the sad reality; we have more ability to connect and more channels to connect through, however, we are more isolated. And I’ll tell you a funny anecdote.

This summer I went to Greece with a friend; we visited a couple of islands. And I was on this tiny satellite island called Antiparos, and I was at this bar/restaurant, beach club and I looked over and saw a guy that lives two doors down from me in my apartment building in Manhattan. And I had never really spoken to him; I recognized him, but I had never had a conversation with him and we live two doors down from each other. And now I’m on this little Greek island and I thought I was seeing things, but I hadn’t had that much Rosé; I’d had a little, but not that much. (Laughs) I wasn’t hallucinating.

So, I walked over to him and introduced myself. He was like me, he couldn’t believe we’d ran into each other there, it was weird. We get back to New York and he slips a note under my door that simply read, “Wow, that was weird. Let’s grab a drink; hope you had a great trip.” I posted the note on my Instagram and Facebook, and it blew up. It broke the Internet. I got more engagement, more comments, and more likes that on anything else I had posted.

And it was simply because people saw that; and by the way, it’s not a romantic storyline, he’s gay, we’re not going to get married, but the people who were seeing this note and hearing the story of how I met my now-neighbor on a little island in Greece, were so enthralled with the idea of this meet-cute story, this romantic storyline, because we’re so devoid of that. I actually write about this in my next editor’s letter in the November issue, because we have a lot of dating content and I wanted to make a point about how illuminating that was for me. It shows how desperate and hungry people are for a sort of retrograde meeting. To your point, that just goes to show that the isolated connectivity is there.

Samir Husni: How are you utilizing the print Cosmo and the digital Cosmo? You have both in your background; you were the editor in chief of Women’s Health and then you were editor in chief of Yahoo Health, which was digital-only. Are you more balanced within yourself now, having a print brand that’s also digital, rather than just digital only?

Michele Promaulayko: That’s a great question. I left Women’s Health to go to Yahoo, because I really wanted to immerse myself in digital. Obviously, I was seeing consumer media habits. My own habits were becoming more and more digital and I really wanted to learn the ropes there, and it was a tremendous experience. Previously, I’d had 20 years of print experience.

But when Cosmo came calling, it was a combination of things. It was the most iconic, global, young women’s brand, and only four other people had sat in that seat, so of course I wanted it. I had so much affection for the brand, having spent years there. And yes, I did miss print, to be honest. I missed the ability to have the deeper storytelling, to have the lush visuals, to have time to digest things and to think about how you want to execute them.

So, of course, it’s great to have a brand that lives across every platform in such a robust way. All of the social platforms; all of the digital platforms; live events; TV shows, and a super-healthy print brand. All things considered, yes, it was the dream job.

The difference being that as a monthly magazine, we have to think about how we play to those strengths. And we clearly can’t capitalize on news the way Cosmopolitan.com can, but what we can do is take a timely story, because we still try to be timely, we don’t want to be evergreen. We’re not looking to do things this year that could appear in the magazine next year, or could have appeared last year, we want it to be timely.

So, we take something that’s happening in the zeitgeist and we try and assess whether it’s going to have a long enough shelf life for us to talk and write about it, and then also exploit some aspect of the story that a digital site isn’t going to take the time to get into. So, really, using newsy things as a hook to get into what it might mean for the reader. And how it applies to their life in a way that’s not just reporting on the news, but going deeper.

Samir Husni: One of Cosmo’s attributes since its founding has been the magazine’s ability to create a friendly relationship with its audience. That being said, if you had a magic wand that could instantaneously turn the magazine into a human being with one strike, who would that person be?

Michele Promaulayko: (Laughs) I’m not sure there’s just one person who would personify all of the strengths of Cosmopolitan. That would be a pretty amazing person and I’d like to meet them, because I sort of think of us as counselor, cheerleader, protector, and best friend. We have all of those roles in different areas of the magazine.

We’re like a best friend, you can talk honestly with us and we’re going to give it to you straight, and we’re going to make you laugh. We’re going to warn you if there’s things out there in the world, whether it’s health wise or potential dating pitfalls, or even bigger dangers; we’re going to protect you from that and warn you so that you’re going into everything with eyes open. And we’re going to champion the things that you do that are so great, and bolster you and tell you that you can do it. And we’re going to give you the authoritative advice that we have the ability to give, that your best friend can’t because they don’t have the expertise at their fingertips.
So, I don’t really think one person could possibly embody that, which is why you need a magazine like Cosmopolitan, because even if you have a village at your disposal, you may not have all of those things.

Samir Husni: Looking at the November issue, I read your letter from the editor, and I saw your signature, the two X’s and Michele. And then when I flipped to page 154, I see a list of symbols and what they are supposed to mean.

Michele Promaulayko: (Laughs) Oh no, are you dissecting my scribbles?

Samir Husni: And it read that two X-crosses means pent-up frustration about something. What are you frustrated about, Michele? (Laughs)

Michele Promaulayko: (Laughs again) No, Samir, those are crosses and mine were X’s; they’re not the same thing. Mine just means hugs. Hugs, Michele, that’s really what it means.

Samir Husni: Once your audience sees this retooling, this fresh look with the November issue, the double covers; what is the reaction you hope to get?

Michele Promaulayko: I don’t have any hard and fast expectations. I solicited their feedback and I hope I get that. And I think it takes time for people to adjust to change and sometimes to even notice it. Some of the changes are extremely noticeable, but hopefully I will hear specific things back from readers. But the decisions we made to change things were made based on what’s happening in the world and on things we were hearing anyway. So, it’s not like we just pulled them out of thin air. They’re grounded in what we know to be the most useful and exciting execution.

To that point, readers tell us that they want order and organization. They want a clear architecture, so they know where they are in the magazine. And we did that. But at the same time they want to be surprised, so they want to know where they are and they want some kind of formula to that, but they also want those moments of serendipity; wow, I can’t believe they did that! So, we’ve allowed room for that.

And with the TOC, I just felt like it was two extra pages that weren’t working as hard as they needed to work and that we could dedicate those to something more exciting. So, we boiled that down to one page that gives them everything that they need to find the stories that they want to find.

Another thing that we did was change the health section to wellness. I have a background in that, and wellness really speaks to the 360 approach that we take to health. So, it’s mental health, nutrition, fitness, sexual health, emotional health; it’s the whole thing that contributes to your wellbeing. And we wanted to reflect that in the name. And we also did this “One-Move Workout,” which is a great workout in only one move, and who wouldn’t want that?

And that’s the point. They’re not coming to Cosmo for a full workout, they’re going to other brands or they’re going to Cosmopolitan.com, but what we can do is provide this really graphic visual that they can then take a picture of or tear it out and bring it to the gym or the hotel and have something healthy and useful. And that’s what we want to be.

We also started our “Gyno Report” because Cosmo should own sexual health. Again, it’s a place where we can be authoritative and honest, so I wanted to provide a place where we could talk about the latest and most important sexual and reproductive health issues.

And we have some really strong, bold visual pages; some of the beauty pages; one of the workouts that I just talked about, and also “Cosmo Bites,” and that’s because we’re dealing with a readership that’s addicted to images. And we wanted to give them these really grabby, bold images, that in some cases also contain service, like the beauty photos that still have service, but they’re not text heavy. And I think you need that kind of difference in pacing. You need some longer reads, some really visual things, things that are easy to digest.

And we also wanted to strengthen the companionship between different factions of the brand. We wanted to have things in common with Cosmopolitan.com, so they’re doing the Workout as well. Cosmo Bites is something that they do; Cheap Thrills, the sort of budget beauty page is something that we’re both going to be doing.

We’re increasing that relationship between the digital and the print sides of the brand. And we’re also deepening the companionship between your device and the print version. In other words, you might snap a picture of your One-Move Workout, so you’re using your device at the same time you’re reading the print version.

Those are some of the changes. And then we added a section called “Too Funny.” We absolutely know that humor is a huge reason that people come to Cosmo; it’s always been a part of the brand’s DNA. There have always been Laugh Out Loud cover lines and the Confessions and the Dates From Hell, and those are some of our readers’ favorite things. They love it. So, we corralled them all into one section called “Too Funny.”

Samir Husni: The entire refreshing of the book is extremely well-packaged.

Michele Promaulayko: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Is there anything in Cosmo that makes you blush?

Michele Promaulayko: No, it’s funny, it’s like a party game with my friends, let’s see if you can make Michele blush, because after all of the years I spent at Cosmo as the executive editor, and then coming back, it’s almost impossible. But now that I’ve said that, it’s like I’ve issued a challenge. (Laughs) Somebody is going to try really hard to embarrass me. But when it comes to these topics, not really.

In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Grub Street Diet, but New York Magazine gets different people, authors and actresses, writers and editors, to do sort of a food diary. And they asked me to do it and it came out recently. In there, you talk about what you’re eating all day, but you also talk about other things. And I was saying that I grabbed a certain food and went to a cover line meeting with my creative director and we always decide that we’re not done until we’re laughing or one of us is blushing. And I said it’s usually not me. It’s usually my creative director. (Laughs)

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

Michele Promaulayko: Just that we’re all about the humor and the joy and the surprise. We live in a very serious world right now, politically serious, and serious in that we’re dealing with one natural disaster after another. And Cosmo is a place where, yes, we talk about issues, absolutely, but it’s also a place where we can provide levity and joy. And that’s very intentional on our part, and I am very proud of that.

And also, just talking about the climate politically. There’s such a division between the sexes and I really feel like Cosmo has always appreciated men who appreciate women, in that we have an opportunity to unify the sexes, and that’s another mission of mine. We all have to be in this together, so those are important things.

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

Michele Promaulayko: Maybe two X’s on a globe. (Laughs) Hugs to the world. The world could use more hugs, right? More love and more hugs. Cosmo is really about harmony. Harmony between the sexes; harmony and self-peace; feeling confident, and that’s one of the things that we try and instill in our readers. Maybe it’s just the word harmony.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of Rosé, and I’ll be specific since I know you like Rosé; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Michele Promaulayko: Well, one, you probably won’t catch me at home, because I go out a lot a night. I have a lot of dinners outside of my place. You’d be lucky if you tried to just stop by, an impromptu visit, and I was there. But if I was there, I probably wouldn’t be drinking, because I rarely drink alone. But I do like to drink with other people.

And I might be binging on the latest Netflix thing, because I’m a big binger. And it doesn’t have to be Netflix, it can be anything. Right now, I’m binging Jessica Biel’s USA show called “The Sinner.” And I don’t know if I can ever go back to waiting for one episode after another to come out, because I like watching them back-to-back. I go into a feeding frenzy. So, if you happen to catch me at home, when I’m not out to dinner, I’ll probably be chilling on my couch, binging on the latest show that I’m obsessed with.

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

Michele Promaulayko: The sirens that roar down my street in New York. Truthfully, the only thing that could keep me up is just worrying about the wellbeing of my family. That’s the only thing. I have parents who are getting older. But if it’s a question aimed at the challenges of the industry, that would be a different answer.

What keeps me up at night isn’t one thing. And honestly, I’m a pretty good sleeper, so not too much keeps me up. I really love my life; I love all of the interesting things that I get to do and the places that I get to go, and the place that I live; just all of that. I think it’s just the challenges of maintaining that awesome level of experience, because it takes a lot. It takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. So, just knowing that I’m tending to everything well enough to keep it all going at the same level, or at an increased level.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Martha Stewart Living: A Recipe For Magazine Success — Stay Authentic To Your Namesake & Pure To Your Audience – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Elizabeth Graves, Editor In Chief & Daren Mazzucca, VP/Publisher…

September 28, 2017

“I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.” Elizabeth Graves…

“We’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more. Luxury and beauty, those are areas that we’re focusing in on as well. Meredith has done well, and Martha Stewart has been leading a lot of that push.” Daren Mazzucca…

Martha Stewart Living is reveling in its continued energy and commitment to its audience with a brand new redesign that refreshes the already notable brand. The October issue’s cover features Martha herself in the perfect Autumn setting, complete with burnished colors and pumpkins and gourds. The redesign’s cover line is subtly powerful in its statement that “Fall is Fun.” And expresses in no uncertain terms that so is the magazine.

Elizabeth Graves is editor in chief and Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher of this signature brand that is one of the many great titles under the Meredith umbrella. Elizabeth has been on Martha’s team for quite a while, having served as editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings and an editor at Blueprint magazine, before coming to Martha Stewart Living, where she oversees the editorial and visual content.

Daren Mazzucca joined Meredith in 2010, and today is responsible for advertising sales for both Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings and their related business operations.

I spoke with Elizabeth and Daren recently and we talked about the woman, the magazine, and the brand – Martha Stewart. The passion these two people have for all three is fairly palpable. Their vision is clear and strong, following Martha’s own belief that remaining authentic and vital to your audience is fundamental, and that evolvement breeds new energies.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with two people who know what their brand stands for, and more importantly, who their brand belongs to – its audience…Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief & Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

But first the sound-bites:

On the many different screen-to-print brands under Meredith’s umbrella and whether they ever feel as though some of their competition is coming from inside (Elizabeth Graves): From our sister publications? I don’t think so. I think we’re all different in different ways. Martha’s book sort of launched her and got her started on TV, and then of course the magazine, because she is just very prolific in content and had a lot to say every month. Then came Martha Stewart Living. Martha has really inspired a lot of people. There’s room in the world for many points of view and Meredith has a stable of lots of really talented and great people behind wonderful publications.

On the business side of having so many great brands under one roof (Daren Mazzucca): From a business point of view, actually it’s a good collaboration, because if a marketer is trying to reach women 25 – 49, all of our sister titles perform well against those targets and we usually excel. And that’s why we’re happy to report some good sales performance for our brands.

On the key to their successful relationship with Martha Stewart and the brand (Elizabeth Graves): The content has always been good, but one of the challenges in the business was MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) itself was a small company. And to have a company like Meredith come along and help us with covering the production costs, and then getting partnered with Daren, who I have gotten along with since day one; I think we have such an affinity for the brand and a respect for Martha, Daren works wonderfully with her, and I know Martha enjoys and respects him so much, it’s been great. So far, so good.

On the key to their successful relationship with Martha Stewart and the brand (Daren Mazzucca): I’ve said this a few times, and you’ve noticed before I started at Midwest Living, and I worked at Better Homes and Gardens; I say that I have one of the best jobs here at Meredith Corporation representing the Martha Stewart brand , working with Elizabeth Graves, and of course working with Martha Stewart, because we’re taking this 27-year-old print brand and really bringing it forward with corporate marketing efforts behind us.

On Martha Stewart herself being on the October issue’s cover and whether that will continue for other covers (Elizabeth Graves): It just seemed like the right thing to do. It was an image that we loved, and I think we’re always looking at what’s going to be our best cover and she was our best cover. There isn’t a “no Martha rule” for the cover; there never has been. It just seemed to really make sense for it, and it was our favorite one, to be honest.

On Martha Stewart herself being on the October issue’s cover and whether that will continue for other covers (Daren Mazzucca): I would also just say, and it’s Elizabeth’s decision, of course, along with Martha Stewart about what images go on the cover of the magazine, but to her point, it made sense. We don’t have a mandate that she’s going to appear in every issue moving forward. But Martha’s hot right now. She’s more cross-platform than ever before and we’re going to capitalize on her renewed popularity.

On what Martha Stewart Living is offering different from other women’s service magazines (Elizabeth Graves): I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.

On whether her role as editor in chief today is easier or harder as it is ever-changing in this digital age (Elizabeth Graves): I feel very happy to be in this role; I love this job and I’ve loved this magazine from day one. I was an editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings for six years before this one, so my role as editor has changed dramatically in that sense. But the world is changing too, and you have to evolve with it. So, yes, is it more challenging – well, we’re always up for a challenge.

On how the business role has evolved (Daren Mazzucca): We just hosted some clients for a tour and a lunch of Martha’s studios and test kitchens, and we were talking about the genesis behind the beef and mushroom meatballs in the October issue. They’re absolutely delicious. As people tend to try and eat healthier and stay with high proteins, but also intermix vegetables, this recipe really is a perfect blend, if you will, of great taste and the unique use of meat and mushrooms. In the food category, that’s some of the things that we’re doing in pushing the envelope. And at the end of the lunch, someone asked Martha what her next cooking would be, and she said that she wanted to learn Japanese cooking. So, she’s constantly learning herself, and she challenges Elizabeth and the editorial team to push the envelope for the brand. And we just follow that from the business side and leverage it.

On how often they talk to Martha (Daren Mazzucca): I speak to Martha probably once or twice a week, either electronically or on the phone. And I see her probably every seven to 10 days in person.

On how often they talk to Martha (Elizabeth Graves): I would say it’s the same for me. There can be a week where I talk to her every day. I never feel out of touch with her. And I physically meet with her as well. There’s just so much to get to.

On how involved Martha Stewart is with the editorial content of the magazine (Elizabeth Graves): I always talk to her about it. Whether it’s new themes for the issue; she’s always full of ideas. I take her to the book and we talk about her column; we talk about the cover; it’s as it has been since day one, she’s very collaborative in her spirit. She’ll call me up when she’s excited about three story ideas.

On any obstacles they’ve had to learn to overcome (Elizabeth Graves): Of course. When you’re working in any collaborative environment, especially with people who want to excel and are creative, there is always push-pull. My approach is always kind of like, may the best argument win. (Laughs) And sometimes I’m passionate and I want to lay down for it, but it’s usually may the best argument win when it comes to surveying our audience and making sure that the content hits all of the notes that we want it to. I guess there are always challenges, but I never see that as a bad thing.

On who the magazine would turn into if struck with a magic wand that made it human – Martha Stewart (Elizabeth Graves): I think it’s Martha and friends. I think there are a lot of people coming out of the magazine now. Our audiences have very big relationships with our editors, they know who Sarah Carey is; they know who Greg Lofts is; they have a relationship with our home editor or Kevin Sharkey, who is always with Martha. There are a lot of people who are Martha in many ways.

On why they felt a redesign of the brand was needed (Elizabeth Graves): It’s by far not a broken brand, and I think one of the things that Daren and I really gave thought to when we began working as a team almost two years ago, was that this is a magazine that has a great audience and is very healthy. But what we’ve always done is evolve. And one of the things that has attracted people to this brand is that we’re always striving to stay ahead and to continue to inspire people. So, I don’t think you can take the tactic of just letting things be and hoping you’ll continue to get the same effect doing the same thing all of the time.

On whether new advertisers have come onboard since the redesign (Daren Mazzucca): Yes, we’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Daren Mazzucca): For me it would be work smart, have fun, and make money. In that order. (Laughs) It’s a mantra of sorts.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her (Elizabeth Graves): That’s a hard one. I think above all, be kind. No matter what.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home (Elizabeth Graves): It could be all of the above, but you would definitely be greeted by my young son, James, who might make you play with his trains because I play with trains every night. And definitely cooking, and being with my family. They’re one thing I definitely love coming home to every night.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Daren Mazzucca): I may have told you this before; I have five beautiful children, so when I’m home I love to unwind with them. Some of them are in college, so we Facetime and we chat socially, and that’s where I spend my greatest moments. It keeps me highly motivated when I return to the office.

On what keeps them up at night (Elizabeth Graves): When I drink coffee after 3:00 p.m. (Laughs)

On what keeps them up at night (Daren Mazzucca): What keeps me up at night is really staying current in this cross-platform world that we live in. We have to be knowledgeable in print, digital, social, and there’s a lot to learn and it keeps us motivated and that’s what keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief, & Daren Mazzucca, VP/publisher, Martha Stewart Living.

Samir Husni: Martha Stewart was one of the first brands that came from the screen to print 28 years ago, before it became a trend in publishing. And today, within the same company there is Rachael Ray, allrecipes.com has become a magazine, The Magnolia Journal, which is the Chip and Joanna Gaines’ brand that also came from the screen to print; how does it feel for the both of you to be working for the same company with all of these great brands? Does it feel as though you have inside competition?

Elizabeth Graves: From our sister publications? I don’t think so. I think we’re all different in different ways. Martha’s book sort of launched her and got her started on TV, and then of course the magazine, because she is just very prolific in content and had a lot to say every month. Then came Martha Stewart Living. Martha has really inspired a lot of people. There’s room in the world for many points of view and Meredith has a stable of lots of really talented and great people behind wonderful publications.

Daren Mazzucca: I agree.

Samir Husni: And from a business point of view, Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: From a business point of view, actually it’s a good collaboration, because if a marketer is trying to reach women 25 – 49, all of our sister titles perform well against those targets and we usually excel. And that’s why we’re happy to report some good sales performance for our brands.

Samir Husni: The eternal question that everybody keeps asking is until the Martha Stewart brand came over to Meredith, it had a few rocky relationships; a few editors in chief; a few publishers; what makes your relationship, the two of you, with Martha Stewart, work? There is a simpatico between you, everything is calmer, fresher; she’s back on the cover this month; what’s the key for your successful relationship with her?

Elizabeth Graves: I’ve worked with Martha since 2005, on a number of different publications. When I took over the editor’s position almost two years ago, it’s not that I think I was that much more brilliant than the people in front of me, it was quite different than that. There has been talented editors, as you point out, and great publishers behind it.

The content has always been good, but one of the challenges in the business was MSLO (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) itself was a small company. And to have a company like Meredith come along and help us with covering the production costs, and then getting partnered with Daren, who I have gotten along with since day one; I think we have such an affinity for the brand and a respect for Martha, Daren works wonderfully with her, and I know Martha enjoys and respects him so much, it’s been great. So far, so good.

And we’re a good team and we have a lot of fun doing what we do. The brand, Martha Stewart Living, is a fun one. It’s all of the things that people who work on it are naturally into. There’s a lot of great excitement for it and we’ve been having a good time doing it.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ve said this a few times, and you’ve noticed before I started at Midwest Living, and I worked at Better Homes and Gardens; I say that I have one of the best jobs here at Meredith Corporation representing the Martha Stewart brand , working with Elizabeth Graves, and of course working with Martha Stewart, because we’re taking this 27-year-old print brand and really bringing it forward with corporate marketing efforts behind us.

When we develop a Martha Stewart integrated program for an advertiser, we can scale that if they want to have additional reach. We can add our sister titles in, like Better Homes and Gardens or Shape Magazine. The idea might initiate with the great content leader here at our brand, but we can scale them across the Meredith portfolio. I absolutely adore this brand. We were competitors many years ago when she started it, and it’s wonderful and refreshing to be leading it now.

Samir Husni: As you’re leading the brand, I’ve noticed that you’ve brought back Martha to the cover. Is that going to be a recurring theme, with her on every cover, or was this just something you’re doing for October?

Elizabeth Graves: It just seemed like the right thing to do. It was an image that we loved, and I think we’re always looking at what’s going to be our best cover and she was our best cover. There isn’t a “no Martha rule” for the cover; there never has been. It just seemed to really make sense for it, and it was our favorite one, to be honest.

We really just loved it and it felt right, because when we were looking at refreshing the magazine, my whole process for being on this brand has been to look back at what made us great in the beginning, and keep reimagining that. Keep evolving it. And she’s still very much a part of this; this is Martha Stewart Living. It goes full circle for me to have her on the cover for the redesign.

Daren Mazzucca: I would also just say, and it’s Elizabeth’s decision, of course, along with Martha Stewart about what images go on the cover of the magazine, but to her point, it made sense. We don’t have a mandate that she’s going to appear in every issue moving forward. But Martha’s hot right now. She’s more cross-platform than ever before and we’re going to capitalize on her renewed popularity.

Samir Husni: As we talk about that renewed popularity, I read Martha’s quote in the current issue of Forbes Magazine, where she’s talking about being authentic and being vital for your audience. How are we seeing this new genre of women’s service magazines competing with the legacy ones? Elizabeth, from an editorial point of view, what are you offering different?

Elizabeth Graves: I think we’ve always been offering different, so we have to continue offering different. When Martha speaks about being authentic, it’s when we’re creating original ideas. As editors, we’ve always turned the lens outward, but also had it inside about what we editors were excited about. Yes, we live in a world with trends, but we don’t always follow trends. There are plenty of wonderful magazines that will tell you what’s in fashion and food; what’s in fashion to wear. Our unique differentiating point has always been that we’re looking to the things that inspire us, excite us, and they don’t have to be trends.

Samir Husni: Daren just mentioned that he has the best job at Meredith, and his job became much easier because he can use the competitive set within the company. Elizabeth, is your job as editor in chief easier or harder as the role these days is ever-changing?

Elizabeth Graves: I feel very happy to be in this role; I love this job and I’ve loved this magazine from day one. I was an editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings for six years before this one, so my role as editor has changed dramatically in that sense. But the world is changing too, and you have to evolve with it. So, yes, is it more challenging – well, we’re always up for a challenge.

I do feel very lucky that I come to work and I’m very inspired by everyone I work with, and inspired by Martha. The content we cover is fun for me. I’m in meetings and find myself thinking that I want to cook that recipe we’re talking about tonight, so it’s things that I use and that I do. Yes, the business has its challenges, but I feel very lucky to be a part of Meredith and have a lot of help and support on that front. And we also work with a great, talented team of editors who come up with great ideas every day.

Samir Husni: And from a business perspective, Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: Well, you mentioned the October issue, and we just hosted some clients for a tour and a lunch of Martha’s studios and test kitchens, and we were talking about the genesis behind the beef and mushroom meatballs in the October issue. They’re absolutely delicious. As people tend to try and eat healthier and stay with high proteins, but also intermix vegetables, this recipe really is a perfect blend, if you will, of great taste and the unique use of meat and mushrooms.

In the food category, that’s some of the things that we’re doing in pushing the envelope. And at the end of the lunch, someone asked Martha what her next cooking would be, and she said that she wanted to learn Japanese cooking. So, she’s constantly learning herself, and she challenges Elizabeth and the editorial team to push the envelope for the brand. And we just follow that from the business side and leverage it, because usually the advertisers, whether it be a spice manufacturer or others, they’re also on the same pulse right behind us, so it’s a beautiful thing.

Samir Husni: How often do you talk with Martha? Is it daily or weekly? Both on the editorial and advertising side.

Daren Mazzucca: I speak to Martha probably once or twice a week, either electronically or on the phone. And I see her probably every seven to 10 days in person.

Elizabeth Graves: I would say it’s the same for me. There can be a week where I talk to her every day. I never feel out of touch with her. And I physically meet with her as well. There’s just so much to get to.

Daren Mazzucca: We take her out on a lot of sales calls too. Elizabeth and I had her in Chicago last year, and we’ve taken her to Detroit to see startups, to align with our “American Made” initiative, which is very important to Martha and to the brand.

Readers want to know about entrepreneurs as they consider their own careers, so we’ve taken Martha out. We’ve also brought her to clients, such as General Motors Corporation and others. We spend a lot of time with her. I often say we have dual citizenship; we’re Meredith employees in representing the Martha Stewart brand, but we have full access to her offices and our test kitchens are located in their studios and address location.

Samir Husni: Elizabeth, how involved is she in the editorial content of the magazine?

Elizabeth Graves: I always talk to her about it. Whether it’s new themes for the issue; she’s always full of ideas. I take her to the book and we talk about her column; we talk about the cover; it’s as it has been since day one, she’s very collaborative in her spirit. She’ll call me up when she’s excited about three story ideas. She generally gets excited about things, and I think she gets us excited about covering them, because usually what we try to do with every story is learn something. So, when she’s wanting to learn about the next thing, that excitement is infectious. And it often turns into a great story.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ll add one comment here. Elizabeth mentioned her tenure with Martha Stewart, both on Weddings and she originally worked on the Blueprint brand as editor, so she has Martha Stewart DNA in her blood and I think Martha trusts her and her vision, and the editorial vision of the team to lay out what we’re going to produce content-wise moving forward.

Samir Husni: Even the best-matched DNA, every now and then they have struggles or difficulties. Has it been a total walk in a rose garden or have there been obstacles you’ve had to learn to overcome?

Elizabeth Graves: Of course. When you’re working in any collaborative environment, especially with people who want to excel and are creative, there is always push-pull. My approach is always kind of like, may the best argument win. (Laughs) And sometimes I’m passionate and I want to lay down for it, but it’s usually may the best argument win when it comes to surveying our audience and making sure that the content hits all of the notes that we want it to. I guess there are always challenges, but I never see that as a bad thing.

Sometimes you can go into a story meeting and I’ve worked with some of the most talented creative directors and I think when people are all pushing for a story to be its very best, it usually gets better.

Daren Mazzucca: I agree.

Elizabeth Graves: I like that idea of swimming in a fast heat, because if everyone is swimming fast, you usually swim fast yourself.

Daren Mazzucca: I’ve seen this happen, Samir, I’ve seen the idea, as Elizabeth mentioned, start with Martha and then our editors make it better. I’ve seen the ideas come from our marketing department and then Elizabeth and the content team make them better, and that’s good. Sometimes you really have to look at things from a different perspective to make it a stronger, better, more compelling story. We’ve had a really good go with Martha for these past two and a half years we’ve been together.

Samir Husni: If I give you a magic wand and you strike the magazine with it, and a human being takes its place, who would that be? Martha Stewart coming out from the pages, or maybe her distant cousin?

Elizabeth Graves: I think it’s Martha and friends. I think there are a lot of people coming out of the magazine now. Our audiences have very big relationships with our editors, they know who Sarah Carey is; they know who Greg Lofts is; they have a relationship with our home editor or Kevin Sharkey, who is always with Martha. There are a lot of people who are Martha in many ways.

And I think our editors live the Martha life. We really join in the pursuit of a life made better, in terms of making our own homes better, our cooking better. So, I think you see a lot of “we” are Martha coming out of the Martha brand now. I would say it’s Martha and friends.

Samir Husni: Why the refresh of the brand?

Elizabeth Graves: It’s by far not a broken brand, and I think one of the things that Daren and I really gave thought to when we began working as a team almost two years ago, was that this is a magazine that has a great audience and is very healthy. But what we’ve always done is evolve. And one of the things that has attracted people to this brand is that we’re always striving to stay ahead and to continue to inspire people. So, I don’t think you can take the tactic of just letting things be and hoping you’ll continue to get the same effect doing the same thing all of the time.

We know that our audience is full of highly-achieving women, and they want to be pushed. They want to open up that magazine and have an experience. They still expect to see new photographers and beautiful images, so that’s where we started. Let’s reorganize it first; let’s refresh it; and then let’s redesign it. And do it in a way that is very true to our DNA. And it continues to really ignite readers too.

Since I started reading the magazine in high school, it was my mother’s magazine, Martha has always made me want to do things. And I think we have to keep that energy going. We have loyal readers who have been with us for nearly 27 years now, and we want to talk to our new audience, it’s so fun to see new readers discover Martha, but we also want to appeal to the people we’ve had for a long time. So, it’s been a lot of fun, and the art team, with our design director, Jaspal Riyait; they just knocked it out of the park with the redesign. It really feels right and we’ve gotten a great response already.

Samir Husni: Daren, are you getting new advertisers that were not onboard before the redesign?

Daren Mazzucca: Yes, we’ve actually enjoyed two years of great advertising growth since the brand has been a part of the Meredith group, from food, packaged goods, appliances; really across the board category growth. I believe there are still opportunities in 2018 to push the envelope with electronics and more. Luxury and beauty, those are areas that we’re focusing in on as well. Meredith has done well, and Martha Stewart has been leading a lot of that push.

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

Daren Mazzucca: For me it would be work smart, have fun, and make money. In that order. (Laughs) It’s a mantra of sorts.

Elizabeth Graves: That’s a hard one. I think above all, be kind. No matter what.

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

Elizabeth Graves: It could be all of the above, but you would definitely be greeted by my young son, James, who might make you play with his trains because I play with trains every night. And definitely cooking, and being with my family. They’re one thing I definitely love coming home to every night.

Samir Husni: And Daren?

Daren Mazzucca: I may have told you this before; I have five beautiful children, so when I’m home I love to unwind with them. Some of them are in college, so we Facetime and we chat socially, and that’s where I spend my greatest moments. It keeps me highly motivated when I return to the office.

Samir Husni: What keeps you both up at night?

Elizabeth Graves: When I drink coffee after 3:00 p.m. (Laughs)

Daren Mazzucca: What keeps me up at night is really staying current in this cross-platform world that we live in. We have to be knowledgeable in print, digital, social, and there’s a lot to learn and it keeps us motivated and that’s what keeps me up at night.

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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Horse & Rider Magazine Brings Its Sister Titles Into The Same Stall – Creating A Larger, More Dynamic Stable For Them All – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Horse & Rider Editor, Jennifer Paulson…

July 24, 2017

“I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication. I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.” Jennifer Paulson (on whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist)…

Active Interest Media is known for its uniquely, community-driven magazine environment. From its marine group of titles to its equine publications, AIM is all about the targeted reader, that fact is obvious.

That’s why when Horse & Rider magazine opened its pages and welcomed sister titles, American Cowboy and The Trail Rider, into its fold, the redesign and expansion became more of an opportunity than a misfortune. According to Jennifer Paulson, editor at Horse & Rider, it just made sense to bring these groups together into one magazine, because for most horse enthusiasts, the animals aren’t just a lifestyle, they are their lives.

I spoke with Jen recently and we talked about this “western life” that Horse & Rider is now embracing with a more rounded view of Western heritage and the scope of events and content that envelop it. With the addition of many of American Cowboy and The Trail Rider magazine’s contributors and editors, Horse & Rider is ready to inspire and educate readers with new and broader features that will come from the added viewpoints of the other titles. As Jen put it, it was an opportunity that was considered very thoughtfully. And with mostly positive reader feedback, it appears to be working.

So, I hope that you enjoy this interesting look into the equine life and the magazines that support and promote it, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Life magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On combining the three titles of Horse & Rider, American Cowboy and Trail Rider all together into one magazine, Horse & Rider: It just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

On whether she believes print and digital will continue to coexist or that print is on its way out: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is still the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs) There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source.

On whether a day in her professional life could be described as a smooth trail ride or a bumpy road: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me. So, it is a lot of different hats these days.

On which hat, out of all of the ones she wears as editor, is her favorite: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.

On choosing the cover image: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

On whether she’s noticed any evolvement with the other equine titles in the marketplace: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

On how she would like the magazine’s readers to view the newly combined publication: I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

On the moment of conception for the redesign and when she saw it as an opportunity: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

On whether she feels readers are more attached to horse titles than with other special interest magazines: Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

On whether they’ve received any reaction from readers, either positive or negative, since the redesign: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her:
I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

On what keeps her up at night: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jennifer Paulson, editor, Horse & Rider magazine.

Samir Husni: When I read your editorial for the July issue of Horse & Rider, with its new look and more pages, you write that you’re bringing not only Horse & Rider, but American Cowboy and Trail Rider magazine all into one. What message are you trying to send to your readers? Are you telling them that business is tough, so you’re combining three magazines together, or are you saying that this is a great opportunity to upscale and enlarge Horse & Rider? How do you view the merging of all three titles from an editor’s point of view?

Jennifer Paulson: From an editorial point of view the message is that we’re able to give them more. Between these three groups of people, you have that western horse life that I talk about in the column too. And so, it just makes sense to bring these groups together to offer all of this information in one spot, because we’re all in this together with horse ownership and our western life, because for most of us horses are not a lifestyle, they’re our lives. It’s not like a tennis racket that you go and play tennis one day and you wake up the next morning and say, “I don’t think I’m going to play tennis anymore.” There’s a lot more of an investment with a horse.

So, the idea of your horse life and bringing all of it together makes sense. The original core Horse & Rider reader did pro ride as well as compete, so bringing those pro rider readers over to enhance that trail riding content is great. And also, most of the time if we’re going on vacation or somewhere else, we’re centering that around a western event or a western destination of some kind, because that’s our whole life and what we’re most interested in. So, bringing the other two groups in with Horse & Rider helps us to augment the content we can offer in the magazine. And honestly, boosts the size of the magazine so that we can all share one space.

Samir Husni: Some people might say that what you’re doing, combining the three titles, is yet more proof that print is in decline or print is this or that. Do you agree that we’re losing that core print cornerstone to the digital sphere, or do you think the two platforms will continue to coexist?

Jennifer Paulson: I think they will continue to coexist. Honestly though, print is the only thing people still pay for. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: There’s an authenticity and a trust factor there; a real relationship. They come to us knowing that we have the information that they need, instead of Googling it and maybe getting some unreliable source. I really feel like they come to us and they still pay for the magazine. And advertisers still pay for the inner magazine, because there is a lot of value to that print publication.

I think the digital aspect is obviously very important, but I believe it will continue to live side-by-side with print. I don’t like reading a magazine on my tablet. It’s not the same experience. You don’t get to look at and enjoy the beautiful designs that the art director has worked so hard to put together, as well as the experience of the content. So, I think print is here to stay for sure.

Samir Husni: As an editor, your role today has changed so much. You’re now part curator, part creator and part marketer. Describe for me a day-in-the-life of Jen. Is it like taking a nice relaxing ride on your horse, or are there many bumps along your daily trail?

Jennifer Paulson: I wouldn’t call them bumps; I think there are great opportunities every day that keeps my job exciting and also to learn different skills. Of course, I write a lot of the content in the magazine and I shoot a lot of the photography. But I also have an assistant editor who I mentor, and I get to do a lot with her, and help her along with her career as others did for me.

I get to work with our senior editor, Jenny Meyer, who has been with Horse & Rider for a very long time and has a lot of magazine experience. I get to collaborate with our art director, Adam Purvis, on design and he has a lot of great experience too. He came from the Paint Horse Journal and worked with Darrell Dodds there before coming to Horse & Rider, which has been around 10 years now.

And then I work with our digital team on our website. My assistant editor and I work together on our social media. We have a lot of fun on Instagram; that’s a fun spot right now, we can kind of show behind the scenes of our photo shoots and what we’re doing in the office. And then Facebook is a bit more serious; we give our readers content that’s timely and relevant to them at that moment.

There has also been a lot of marketing right now with this new product. So, obviously there’s a big push behind that. And lots of work with newsstands on figuring out how to bolster sales, if there’s a way to do that. So, it is a lot of different hats these days. It could be seen as bumps in the road, I suppose, but I see it as an opportunity to keep things interesting and to broaden my skillset and hopefully become even better at what I do.

Samir Husni: From all of these different hats that you wear, which one do you enjoy most? The writing; the photography; the marketing; or do you love them all?

Jennifer Paulson: I do enjoy them all, but most of the time the photography is my favorite. It may not be what I’m the best at, but it’s my favorite because I get to be out in the barn or in the arena or at a horse show, and with people who are as infatuated with these horses as I am. And we get to share that passion and talk about them. And they get to tell me all about their horses and some really great stories about their lives with the horses. Experiencing that is probably my favorite thing.


Samir Husni: Being also one of the visual people, one of the photographers; do you do something specific with the cover image that leads the reader directly to that cover story?

Jennifer Paulson: We do cover testing for every issue through AIM’s research department. We usually have two or three images, plus we have a whole roster of different cover lines that are put together and sent out by email. We also do a Facebook post to ask our audience what they prefer. And that helps us determine that cover image.

To me; we know that newsstand is maybe not what it used to be, but we have the newsstand of our readers’ coffee tables, so they probably have multiple Horse titles, maybe they have multiples of different kinds of magazines, different things that they’re looking at. But we want to stand out on their coffee table or their kitchen counter as something they would want to read first.

Samir Husni: As you look at the entire equine category as a whole and the titles that are out there, from a reader’s point of view, have you seen any evolvement with any of those titles? Or do they appear to be struggling just like most of the industry today?

Jennifer Paulson: Looking at other titles, some things that I’ve noticed, if you look at what the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is doing with their magazines, they’re going deeper into their niches, and really defining those audiences and separating them out. And that’s because now they’re producing the Quarter Horse Journal, but they also have the Ranch Horse Journal , the Performance Horse Journal , and I think they’re going to have a racing journal a couple of times a year too.

So, I think you’re seeing those types of places going a little bit more into their niches, as opposed to what we’ve done, which is try to expand the tent and invite everyone in to find their place. I think it’s just a different way of looking at things, but they are going deeper into their own individual niches. What we’ve done is really something different. I guess we’ll see if it’s successful, But I think it’s innovative compared to what’s going on elsewhere.

Samir Husni: You’ve coined this new phrase: Today’s Western horse life, and you were very adamant in your editorial to express that it’s a life, not a lifestyle. What message do you want your readers to receive from this new expression? Do you want them to view the magazine as a manual for their Western horse life?

Jennifer Paulson: No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are ways to inspire our readers within the pages of the magazine. And there are ways to educate them. All horse owners want to take better care of their horses. It’s much like being a parent; you want to make sure that you’re doing the right things for them. There is some instructional content and some advice, but there is also inspiration and fun. We have a great department in the front of the book called “Saddle Chat,” where our readers can really participate in the magazine and become a part of it, and share their stories. And that could even inspire broader feature ideas.

We want it to be their magazine and we’re taking all of their feedback very seriously. And when you do something like this, it’s an evolutionary process. We’ll figure out what works and what maybe needs to be tweaked, and come up with new ideas as we go along too. We really want the readers to feel like that we’re in this horse life with them, and we want to hear from them and we want to be sure that we’re giving them what they’re looking for. I think it’s really important that we be a voice for them.

Samir Husni: When was that moment of conception for the redesign? Was it when American Cowboy and Trail Rider folded or was it before that? When did you get the idea for this opportunity?

Jennifer Paulson: There were multiple factors that came into it. I first became aware of it as an opportunity in November and just started coming up with ideas of ways it could work. There was a very thoughtful process where we asked, “Could this work?” It wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be forced. You could call it an arranged marriage, I guess, but we wanted to make the union to have some love in it too. (Laughs)

We just sat down and tried to figure out the pieces that really went together from each of the audiences. And we know there are a portion of American Cowboy readers who don’t own horses and maybe this won’t be their magazine anymore, but maybe it will. We hope it will. We hope that they find interesting content here. We did a lot of research between the three audiences and we tried to figure out the best mix. So, I think we were really thoughtful about bringing them together. It wasn’t just a smashup.

Samir Husni: With the issue that I received, there was a letter from Tom Kaufman, who talked about the silver lining when bringing the three magazines together. Do you feel, especially in the equine business, that there is this affinity between the readers and the editors more than with other special interest magazines? Because in the letter to readers, he mentions editor Bob Welch and many others that were associated with American Cowboy. Or do you think there is just something special about horse titles?

Jennifer Paulson: I think maybe it’s a little of both. Readers do become attached to columnists and editors in magazines who share their insights in columns and their ideas. And we meet our readers when we’re out and about at events and different places. So, I do believe there’s a friendship between the reader and the editor and the contributors of the magazine.

But I don’t ever want to discount that relationship with the horse; that’s so important. And it brings out something in people that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise. That relationship with the horse is extremely important, therefore the relationship with the magazine is equally important.

Samir Husni: In this age of instant communication with the reader, what has been the reaction so far? Have you received positive feedback from your readers, or negative feedback? Have you gotten any reactions from your readers at all?

Jennifer Paulson: We’ve had quite a bit. We just heard from our circulation department that the retention is higher than what we expected, because in many things like this you expect a little bit of fallout and for people to cancel. But it was tracking higher for retention than what was expected. We have heard from some readers who are upset, but they want to give us a chance to see if we manage to get it right for them. We’ve heard from a few people who are really angry and have cancelled their subscriptions, but as I said, only a few. But we’ve heard more comments from people who are really happy with it.

And there have been some who were really skeptical when they got the letter that they wouldn’t be receiving The Trail Rider or American Cowboy anymore. And they were skeptical and did not want to like it. But when they got it and looked through it, they really liked it. And they’re excited to see what we come up with in the future. So, there has been more of that type of reaction, where they’re a bit surprised that they actually like it.

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

Jennifer Paulson: Are the kids in bed or not? (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Jennifer Paulson: If you came to my house in the evening, this time of year, I probably wouldn’t be at home. I’d be at the barn. My kids are learning how to ride, so that’s our evening life right now. But I do read a lot of magazines, and I do enjoy a glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Or I could be on social media seeing what else is happening in the industry, such as right now we have a big event going on in Oklahoma City, the National Reining Horse Association Derby, and I’m following along with what’s going on there when I’m at home in the evenings.

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

Jennifer Paulson: I would want people to recognize that I’m really passionate about the horse industry. And I work very hard for it, and want to see it be something that continues, so that my kids will always have it in their lives.

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

Jennifer Paulson: Advertisers. (Laughs) Deadlines and advertisers.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Rejuvenated Magazine Capturing An Audience Pursuing Quality Over Quantity – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Megan Murphy, Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek…

June 21, 2017

“With Businessweek, there’s no question that we skew, and we’re always going to skew, towards capturing people who are pursuing quality over quantity, people who are going to prefer to look for more intensive analysis, insight and value to add, than you can get from just a commoditized news platform.” Megan Murphy…

Bloomberg Businessweek has been around for the last 88 years. And yes, some of those years it existed without the Bloomberg attachment. The brand has covered the companies, people, and products that have shaped and reshaped the world’s economy. But evolvement in the 21st century is a given. While our world has become more instantaneous, more urgent, and in more need than ever for a clear and concise, authoritative voice out there, Businessweek is reinventing itself to meet those needs.

Megan Murphy has been at the editor’s helm for around seven months now, having previously been a Financial Times reporter and the journalist who ran Bloomberg’s Washington, D.C., bureau during the election. In her most recent editor’s letter, Megan stated that, “More than ever, Businessweek readers need journalism to be more authoritative, more urgent, and more indispensable. We need to take you to where today’s events will be tomorrow’s trends. And we need to do more to help you to cut through the noise to better understand the dynamics that are disrupting the way we work and live.”

Mr. Magazine™ agrees. In all the chaos and melee that surrounds us, news and information that is indispensable is definitely most welcomed. I spoke with Megan recently and we talked about the new relaunch and her ideas and thoughts for Businessweek’s future. Megan is passionate about news, politics, finance and business; everything that her brand deems important as well. So, it’s a match made in magazine heaven, or at least Mr. Magazine™ thinks so.

Megan Murphy, Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek, Photo by Lori Hoffman/Bloomberg.

Her editor’s letter promises a magazine, with sharper storytelling, cleaner and more consistent design, and richer graphics and photography. And on the digital front, there is a suite of digital products you can access wherever you are and whenever you need them, including a redesigned app, “Daily IQ,” which is an email newsletter delivering analysis and insight from senior Bloomberg Businessweek editors worldwide directly to your inbox each afternoon; and a revamped vertical on Bloomberg.com, with fresh stories, a sleeker design, and easier navigation.

Who says you can’t find compelling stories and provocative design among exceptionally precise, important journalism? Certainly not Mr. Magazine™, because I do believe I’ve found it in the new Businessweek. So, I hope you enjoy the equally compelling interview with its editor, Megan Murphy.

But first, the sound-bites:

On where she thinks magazine media is heading: I think the biggest shift is really just the bifurcation of taste and habit that has been radically transformed by consumption habits. Here’s the thing, social media has been a great disruptor, but people also forget, in terms of where people go for immediate news, that we increasingly live in a TV society as well. So much of what you see playing out in Washington or Westminster or Hong Kong is dominated by what used to be called the twenty-four-hour news cycle, which now is almost like the one-hour-thirty-minute news cycle. That is really great for TV and why you see continued strength in TV, but also why you see print mediums really struggling; obviously magazine brands struggling at some point, but also newspapers as well. I’m an ex-newspaper hack for a long time.

On whether she is overwhelmed by her role as editor of Businessweek, with all of Bloomberg’s many platforms: When I first took over Businessweek as the editor, I had been the Washington Bureau chief—obviously, a tumultuous campaign—and one of the big things I was really clear about from the start, and I’m glad in retrospect now, seven months later that I was, is Businessweek always needs to have a clear lane within the broader Bloomberg enterprise. And when I came in, the other point I tried to make was, we don’t want to compete at all, or cannibalize at all, with our existing platforms. We want to be complimentary and do what we can to surface all of the great journalism that’s being done at Bloomberg, but we have to be distinct and separate from them.

On why she thinks that even though times have changed within the world of journalism, the actual reporting hasn’t: I know, it drives me crazy. Just to go into background, about five years ago I created a product at the Financial Times called “Fast FT,” because what I believe passionately is that you can actually add value within the first five minutes. It’s just that more people aren’t doing it. So at Fast FT that’s what we were really trying to do, add value immediately. Instead of just reporting what everybody already knows at length.

On the specialness of the six to eight issues digital subscribers get of the printed magazine: As the editor of Businessweek, I think one of the amazing things about Businessweek is that I learn so much, especially about topics I’d fancied myself very knowing on. I think, if we surface that content, if we patch it in the right way and we get it to people—that’s what some of the special issues are designed to do about these issues that we feel really passionately about—that’s why we do them. That’s why, for digital access, we’re giving them to them.

On how her own personality figured into the new redesign of Businessweek: When I came in, they wanted to redesign. Time has moved on. We live in incredibly different times then when Bloomberg first acquired Businessweek during the first year of the Obama presidency. We face challenges unlike we’ve known in foreign policy, in economic populism, in very disruptive trends that are really changing the way people live, the way they retire, the way they care for their families, the way they project their own personal and national identity, so I try to stay in lanes and empower the people. They knew that they wanted to take this product to be a cleaner, simpler, more robust design that would allow the quality of our journalism to shine through. I pretty much got out of the way and let the experts take the reins on that and do it.

On if someone gave her a magic wand that could humanize Businessweek, both the print and digital versions, who would that person be: The recent cover of the book is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. And do you know why I think he is the perfect manifestation of what you just described? It’s because he is, and I’d actually never met him; he is a deeply thoughtful human being. And we had a deeply thoughtful, substantive discussion.

On whether she feels they’re on the top of the mountain with the new redesign: In terms of the book, we’ve done a really good job of cracking at least most of that. And I think now it’s about execution. Obviously, it’s always going to be about content and what we get and how we do it. But in terms of directionally knowing where we’re going and how we want it to look, I’m looking at the current issue now and it looks so amazing. And we’re so excited about it.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening after work: I have been wanting to write a book for a long time about people and YouTube. And the sort of weird communities that exist around YouTube, because I’ve heard of this one community, and there are a lot of strange communities on YouTube, but this one is about people who film themselves at garage sales looking for very unique things, such as baseball cards or old video games, things like that.

On the words or phrase that she would want tattooed on her brain to keep with her forever: One thing that is already tattooed on my brain, and I’ve said this before, but I’m quite competitive, and when I was growing up my dad had this favorite phrase that he would always say: show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

On what keeps her up at night: What keeps me up at night is the same thing that keeps so many people, I think, up at night, which is not political polarization; not a decline of civility; not any of these disruptive trends. But it is the biggest, I think, disruptive trend of all that we’ll look back and say was the unifying factor. And it’s that we do have this increasing divide between the elite, or the perceived elite, and everybody else.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Megan Murphy, editor, Bloomberg Businessweek.


Samir Husni: In the middle of all of the instant changes that are taking place in our industry, now it’s no longer just mobile, it’s voice first. And for the last 10 years, we’ve heard everything from the tablet is taking over, to mobile, to voice—so, where do you think we are really heading and how are you adapting to all of these changes?

Megan Murphy: I think one of the most profound changes in our industry—and when I say our industry, I might be talking about journalism more broadly, is that okay?

Samir Husni: Definitely.

Megan Murphy: I think the biggest shift is really just the bifurcation of taste and habit that has been radically transformed by consumption habits. Here’s the thing, social media has been a great disruptor, but people also forget, in terms of where people go for immediate news, that we increasingly live in a TV society as well. So much of what you see playing out in Washington or Westminster or Hong Kong is dominated by what used to be called the twenty-four-hour news cycle, which now is almost like the one-hour-thirty-minute news cycle. That is really great for TV and why you see continued strength in TV, but also why you see print mediums really struggling; obviously magazine brands struggling at some point, but also newspapers as well. I’m an ex-newspaper hack for a long time.

With Businessweek, there’s no question that we skew, and we’re always going to skew, towards capturing people who are pursuing quality over quantity, people who are going to prefer to look for more intensive analysis, insight and value to add, than you can get from just a commoditized news platform.

That being said, I don’t think you can be relevant in 2017 unless you address consumption habits of people by trying to go to the mediums where they’re consuming journalism. That means on mobile, on tablet—through social, in terms of how we effectively mobilize our audience through social—on TV, on the radio. I feel for us the responsiveness is making more people aware of how quality a publication our content is on more platforms; so keeping that commitment to excellence and quality in everything we do, trying to get that out to as many people as we can to actually see it, and, at the same time, being more responsive in a thoughtful, considered, shall we say Businessweek way, as things happen and develop. [We do it in a way] where we can really carve out and develop out a lane for us that we see consumers and readers responding to.

Samir Husni: When you look at your big network of 2,700 writers, correspondents, and staffers all over the world, are you overwhelmed by your role? And how do you curate all of that and then distill them to say, “Okay, this is going to be on the app, this is going to be on mobile, and this is going to be for the magazine.”

Megan Murphy: That’s a great question and this answer may get a little long, but I’m still going to bring it out. When I first took over Businessweek as the editor, I had been the Washington Bureau chief—obviously, a tumultuous campaign—and one of the big things I was really clear about from the start, and I’m glad in retrospect now, seven months later that I was, is Businessweek always needs to have a clear lane within the broader Bloomberg enterprise. So, you’re exactly right, in that we have 2,700 journalists and analysts in 120 countries around the world; we’ve got a whole TV network, we’ve got various premium products, various sort of analytical premier products like Business Intelligence; we’ve got our editorial site; we’ve got our radio station. We have invested so much in our editorial operations over the years. It truly can be overwhelming when you think about it.

I run a very important part of that enterprise, we think, because it is consumer facing and it’s such a well-known brand, and has been around for so long, and is known for its excellence. But it’s also, people-wise, relatively small.

And when I came in, the other point I tried to make was, we don’t want to compete at all, or cannibalize at all, with our existing platforms. We want to be complimentary and do what we can to surface all of the great journalism that’s being done at Bloomberg, but we have to be distinct and separate from them. We have Bloomberg.com; we have a separate consumer app; we have the Terminal, which is an amazing product. So, we were very ruthless, I would say, about making sure that we had had a very clear sense of mission and purpose about what we’re doing.

So, taking all of that into this question, let’s use an example, as we’re talking right now, we’ve got Whole Foods and Amazon merging, and I was onset when the story broke. My thing now is going back to the journalists and saying to, not a Businessweek reporter, but actually a Bloomberg editor, who is the head of global business, and saying, ‘I want to know everything that you’re going to do on this deal.’ But Businessweek is never going to write “Amazon Just Acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 Billion,” because that editor knew that immediately. Anybody who is at all interested in the sector knew it already.

What I need to think about now for Businessweek and my audience, is what are they going to want to know about this deal, not immediately when it happened, but maybe in a hour or two? What’s counterintuitive? Who are the players behind it? What is this going to mean for the rest of the industry? What does this mean for the trajectory of Amazon? More importantly, the trajectory for other supermarkets, other grocers in the sector?

Again, everybody can see the immediate share-price reaction, but what I want to know is what’s going to really push me to think differently about what Jeff Bezos’ strategy was, or about what Wal-Mart is going to do to respond to this?

So, that’s what I do as the editor of Businessweek, which is an incredibly fortunate position, and I’m a business and finance, news junkie. I always have been. I’ve been a business reporter all of my life, except for my stint in politics. So, that’s what I really want to think about for my consumer, my reader; what are they looking to Businessweek to value-add to a deal that really will be an industry changer. And how can I harness those 2,700 journalists in 120 countries, this time we’re looking at a lot of them domestically and internationally, to say, ‘What are you guys looking at that we can combine on; that we may take and curate for our app, that’s going to push this story in a direction that’s more than what everybody knew five minutes ago?

Samir Husni: What you said is just common sense, yet why haven’t the newspaper people and some of the media people changed their way of reporting?

Megan Murphy: I know, it drives me crazy. Just to go into background, about five years ago I created a product at the Financial Times called “Fast FT,” because what I believe passionately is that you can actually add value within the first five minutes. It’s just that more people aren’t doing it. So at Fast FT that’s what we were really trying to do, add value immediately. Instead of just reporting what everybody already knows at length.

I’ve been surprised by the lag in our industry about moving to that type of quicker analysis takes, and being not so heavy on what’s already known and out there. Social is so dominant, and as I said earlier, TV is so dominant too in the “what’s happening” space.

And I do think that as professionals, we really need to push ourselves harder when we are asking people to invest their time and more than 140 characters. We need to be giving them content that’s worth more than 140 characters. (Laughs) And I don’t think that everybody is quite there yet.

Samir Husni: I tell my students, “What’s in it for me?” It’s as simple as that.

Megan Murphy: Why would I give you my eyeballs? Why would I give you my time?

Samir Husni: Exactly. Now, as you move forward; I’ve noticed that if people just subscribe to the digital, they still get six to eight special issues of the printed magazine. Can you explain those six to eight issues? What’s so special about them?

Megan Murphy: We still breakout the year ahead, and what we call our “Franchise Issues” here, so, I can’t tell you some of them, because they’ve changed since I’ve come in. Businessweek has been an incredibly fun list editorial, in terms of changing direction, but we’ve also put it at the center of our events strategy at Bloomberg. Frankly, we have been underleveraged at Bloomberg on events. I’m not saying that as like a PR person; I’m just saying as a journalist, events can be a platform to really service your journalism again to other people to get exposure.

So, when we think about franchises and these special issues, those are usually franchises that are tied into broader events that we really want to use as showcase events. For example, we’ve had a franchise called “The Year Ahead,” which has traditionally been one of our blowout issues where we really step back, draw on some of our analysts, and say, “Okay, really think hard about what this coming year is going to look like.” We use their projections across business, finance, ecology, the economy, to really build a cool magazine around those projections. That’s one of those special issues that we’ll be keeping.

Some of the other franchises are changing a little bit, some that we haven’t announced yet. We have a special issue coming up that’s focused around jobs. It goes directly to what we were just talking about, “What’s in it for me?” I do believe that so much of journalism now—and I’m a passionate, passionate advocate for fantastic, investigative reporting and long form—but I also believe that you have to have a way that makes people invest their time.
One way to do that is to do special issues where you say to them, “Look, everybody is talking about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. Everyone’s talking about technology disrupting the workforce. Everyone’s talking about ‘Are robots going to be doing my job?’ not just in America but around the world. Okay, let’s really talk about this and let’s blow it out and give you twenty pages that really look at this, at the disruptive workforce, where the future of the work force is going, why manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, why everybody’s probably going to be more in the service sector, what’s going on with Asia in terms of China, Japan, and the knock on in Southeast Asia, why do we still have a persistent wage gap, [etc.]. Let’s really look at these issues, go in depth.”

I think when you make that value prop to people and you say, “Give me thirty minutes. Give me five minutes on your mobile at first. Give me twenty minutes at night. Give me an hour on the weekend.” If I can get people to do that with Businessweek content, that is great. I do think that is the way, directionally, we want our readers to experience and consume our content. If you are really interested in the subject, and I think everybody is, we’re going to give you a package of articles that are going to make you think differently. Maybe it’s going to confirm some of the things you thought, but it’s also going to really push you to think “Okay, I know a lot more about this landscape than I ever thought I would.”

As the editor of Businessweek, I think one of the amazing things about Businessweek is that I learn so much, especially about topics I’d fancied myself very knowing on. I think, if we surface that content, if we patch it in the right way and we get it to people—that’s what some of the special issues are designed to do about these issues that we feel really passionately about—that’s why we do them. That’s why, for digital access, we’re giving them to them.

Samir Husni: As I hear you talking, I can feel your passion to the subject matter you’re covering and working with. How did your own personality and background factor into the redesign that took six months in the making, especially after Businessweek was relaunched as Bloomberg Businessweek. There was a lot of talk about the design and the whole aspect of the magazine. How did all of that factor in this new redesign?

Megan Murphy: I feel incredibly grateful and lucky in the sense that I am a journalist. I love the content. Of course, I love breaking news, but I love even more when I can tell you that something you thought you knew isn’t really true. Just to use an example: In our recent issue, we’ve got a story on exposure of female workers in technology companies in South Korea and how, as of recently in 2015, they have been exposed to toxic chemicals during the chip making process, something that should’ve been eradicated twenty-five years ago. That journalist has spent years working on that. We’ve got a story on Western Union. The thing I love about that story is you think you know what Western Union does? Guess again. It’s surprising. It’s an amazing corporate profile.

I’m so proud of some of the journalism in the front of the book—all of the journalism in the front of the book. But we’ve also done stand-out graphics. I am a journalist. I am a content person, and I think everybody knew that about me when I came in. The flip side of that is, I let the people who are experts about design, about photography, about art direction—of which we literally have many of the best in the industry—I want to empower them to take responsibility for the design direction of this magazine. That is what they did.

When I came in, they wanted to redesign. Time has moved on. We live in incredibly different times then when Bloomberg first acquired Businessweek during the first year of the Obama presidency. We face challenges unlike we’ve known in foreign policy, in economic populism, in very disruptive trends that are really changing the way people live, the way they retire, the way they care for their families, the way they project their own personal and national identity, so I try to stay in lanes and empower the people. They knew that they wanted to take this product to be a cleaner, simpler, more robust design that would allow the quality of our journalism to shine through. I pretty much got out of the way and let the experts take the reins on that and do it. (Laughs)

Of course, there are certain things that I like that are reflected, but what Rob Vargas, our creative director, and Clinton Cargill, the director of photography here; what they have done is exactly what I wanted and 100 times more. And I’m so grateful and proud of them, in taking responsibility and ownership of the book and putting it on themselves to develop a product which we always say that we wanted it to come out to market and have people say that it was so much better.

Yes, the design is cleaner, but it’s also better, in terms of showcasing the stories and the content that we really want to get out to people. And at the end of the day, Businessweek will always be about fantastic design, but it’s also about fantastic business journalism. Fantastic journalism about technology; fantastic journalism about politics, and we want people to know that and they hit out of the park with the redesign, as far as I’m concerned.

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand that allowed you the power to humanize Businessweek; those pixels on the screen and that ink on paper, who would that person actually be?

Megan Murphy: The recent cover of the book is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. And do you know why I think he is the perfect manifestation of what you just described? It’s because he is, and I’d actually never met him; he is a deeply thoughtful human being. And we had a deeply thoughtful, substantive discussion. In fact, I did an interview with Obama a year ago, and he reminded me of that interview, in the sense of, many times when you talk to corporate leaders, I’ve been in this business a long time, and even if they give the impression that they’re really engaging with you and telling you what they really think, many of them are so studied that it’s actually just PR statements repeated in a false folksy way. And what really struck me about Tim was his genuineness and humanity; his passion in ways that I didn’t expect, his passion about music, about Steve Jobs, and the Apple legacy being very separate from his own.

And I think there are things that he talked and said that were totally unexpected and surprising, engaging and thought-provoking, and that go far beyond Apple, but more about America’s place in the world.

And that is what we seek to do every week at Businessweek. To give you the substance beyond what you think you knew, or the headlines, or where you think directionally things are traveling. In that sense, putting totally aside whether or not people agree with him and what he’s saying, in terms of conveying substance, genuineness and surfacing ideas, I thought it was a really interesting discussion.

Samir Husni: What’s next? Are you on top of the mountain now, after the redesign?

Megan Murphy: In terms of the book, we’ve done a really good job of cracking at least most of that. And I think now it’s about execution. Obviously, it’s always going to be about content and what we get and how we do it. But in terms of directionally knowing where we’re going and how we want it to look, I’m looking at the current issue now and it looks so amazing. And we’re so excited about it.

But digitally; when you layer this on the digital products, the app, the new vertical, and with the newsletter, which I will be personally writing next issue, it’s a lot of stuff. First of all, we’re not even in the footholds. I actually used to be a mountain climber; I would climb Mt. McKinley and Denali, and I would always think, before you get to Denali there’s like 100 miles of no population and very tall mountains, and that’s where we are. It’s like this is work; this is hard work. It’s hard work to create journalistic excellence; it’s hard work to create design excellence; and it’s hard work to create and sustain this much of a product relaunch, in terms of ethos, mission, brand and design.

It is going to continue to require work every single day, and creativity, innovation, and teamwork. So, I wish we were at the top of the mountain, but all I know is that this crew is strapped in and they have shown, every time I thought we were all going to collapse during what was a frankly grueling time, they always rose to the occasion. And they always just wowed me. I always say that I was along for the ride with some of the most talented people that I’ve ever worked with. And I think that’s going to continue to be the case. Maybe later in the summer, when we have more great issues to look at, we’ll feel that we’re halfway up the mountain. (Laughs) I am so pleased at how the rollout has gone, but there’s so much more work to be done.

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

Megan Murphy: I have been wanting to write a book for a long time about people and YouTube. And the sort of weird communities that exist around YouTube, because I’ve heard of this one community, and there are a lot of strange communities on YouTube, but this one is about people who film themselves at garage sales looking for very unique things, such as baseball cards or old video games, things like that.

There are certain characters that I identify with; I am just fascinated by how communities form in modern society and how even now through social media platforms, your weird little obsessions can become something that 10,000 people watch, such as filming yourself going to garage sales looking for video games. To me that’s a fascinating thing about how communities form, so you would likely find me with a glass of wine, probably watching YouTube videos about this subject. So, that’s a weird one, but it’s true. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If there was one thing that you’d want tattooed on your brain, something that would be with you forever, what would it be?

Megan Murphy: One thing that is already tattooed on my brain, and I’ve said this before, but I’m quite competitive, and when I was growing up my dad had this favorite phrase that he would always say: show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Megan Murphy: So, that’s the permanent tattoo that’s on my brain. I could never get it out.

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

Megan Murphy: What keeps me up at night is the same thing that keeps so many people, I think, up at night, which is not political polarization; not a decline of civility; not any of these disruptive trends. But it is the biggest, I think, disruptive trend of all that we’ll look back and say was the unifying factor.

And it’s that we do have this increasing divide between the elite, or the perceived elite, and everybody else. And for me, that is the most worrisome; the most dangerous; the most underreported, on a global sense; and the most potentially catastrophic element of both Western Democracies and in places like China and Japan. Until we can find a way where globalization, either true or perception-wise, does lift all boats. That we can have people begin to think that the political class is not elite, but relevant to their daily lives.

Where people feel that the decisions being taken in centers of government actually are going to make their lives better. That there representatives are working for them and that we don’t have a capitalist society or a corrupt society, like other places in the world that just strips and cleans off the world for the elite. Where things talked about have real world impact and people believe that. Until we start moving that way as a society again, where people feel truly vested in the decisions made in the corridors of companies and the corridors of Westminster and the corridors of Washington, we are in for a really big problem if this continues to go in the other direction. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about that topic, and whether media is a part of the problem or part of the solution. And I try to be part of the solution.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

FourTwoNine: Cracking The 429 Code In Luxury Men’s Magazines – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Maer Roshan, Editor In Chief/Chief Content Officer & Richard Klein, Publisher/Chief Creative Officer, FourTwoNine Magazine…

May 16, 2017

“When people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.” Maer Roshan

“People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.” Richard Klein

You say 007, folks say James Bond. You say 429, folks-in-the-know say the very successful website, dot429, the online network for LGBT professionals, a brand that also manifested itself through the pages of an ink on paper magazine, aptly named FourTwoNine. But where did the name originates from, well, you don’t have to look further than the dialing pad on your phone. Four is for G, Two is for A, and Nine is for Y. Four Two Nine = GAY. However, the magazine focuses on a myriad of topics, from politics to fashion, and touts itself as much more than just a gay-based magazine. According to publisher, Richard Klein, it’s a men’s title and a brand that aims itself at people of all genders.

Editor in chief, Maer Roshan, who has known success at such high-profile titles as Talk, Radar, and Vanity Fair, hopped onboard with Richard and agrees that FourTwoNine is definitely a differentiator among the LGBT magazine communities.

I spoke with Maer and Richard recently and we talked about the factors that make FourTwoNine a game changer when it comes to content, design and audience engagement within the gay magazine space. It was an often fun-filled conversation, but also a very informative glimpse into what each of them think a gay magazine should be. And according to Maer, it’s most definitely not supposed to be earnest, dull, or predictable.

So, without further ado, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with the powers behind FourTwoNine Magazine, Maer Roshan and Richard Klein.

But first the sound-bites:

On how FourTwoNine is different than other gay media (Richard Klein):

Richard Klein, publisher and creative director, FourTwoNIne magazine

We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

On how FourTwoNine is different than the many other magazines that Maer Roshan has worked at or started (Maer Roshan): I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense.

On how the magazine seems aimed at a very upscale audience (Richard Klein): The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. Brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

On what Maer thinks and says about the magazine at the end of the day (Maer Roshan): Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Maer Roshan):

Maer Roshan, editor in chief, FourTwoNine magazine.

For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print. But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Richard Klein): People like something tangible. The magazine s quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital.

On how Richard balances his roles as both publisher and chief creative officer (Richard Klein): I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with.

On the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue (Maer Roshan): It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have.

On whether Maer believes the journal-like, high cover-priced magazines can overtake the industry (Maer Roshan): I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money, and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

On the comparison of FourTwoNine to Monocle (Richard Klein): Monocle is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

On the origins of the name FourTwoNine for the magazine (Richard Klein): The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

On anything either of them would like to add (Richard Klein): I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

On anything either of them would like to add (Maer Roshan): Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Maer Roshan): That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Richard Klein): I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

On what keeps them up at night (Richard Klein): There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

On what keeps them up at night (Maer Roshan): Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Maer Roshan, editor in chief/chief content office & Richard Klein, publisher/chief creative officer, FourTwoNine Magazine.

Samir Husni: Richard, since you’re more of the publisher and chief creative officer, which is somewhat of a rarity in the magazine business; if someone were to ask you how you differentiated FourTwoNine from all of the other gay media out there today, what would you say?

Richard Klein: It has changed quite a bit. We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve edited several magazines, whether as top editor or in starting your own. How do you differentiate? If someone asked you: you’re the editor of FourTwoNine, how is that different from anything else you’ve done; what would you say?

Maer Roshan: That’s a good question. One of the first magazines that I started right after college was a gay weekly in New York, called NYQ, and it was right in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Eventually, it was sold to Time Inc.

But what made me interested in doing this (FourTwoNine) was how much the gay landscape has changed since I did NYQ. And just the definition of how gay people fit into society and what gay culture means has changed dramatically.

Basically, I know how to do a very limited amount of things. I like making new stuff and pushing the envelope a little bit. And adjusting culture and good writing. So, we try to do the same thing in every magazine, and in that way things haven’t changed.

But I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense. And we’ve had a great response. We’re one of the earliest people to cover him in that way.

You mix that with some of the other stories that we’ve done, especially when applying a sensibility, and I think that things now are more political for gay people that it’s been in a while. But it defines itself less just as being gay; it’s part of a larger movement.

One of the things that has always amazed me about a lot of gay magazines is that gay culture is humorous and fun, and kind of pushing the envelope. And gay magazines tend to be so earnest and dull. (Laughs) A while back someone had talked to me about doing Logo, the gay network, and they asked me what Logo should be like. And I said Logo should be Bravo, so it’s not ostensibly a gay network. And if we were to put magazines in that way, we would go to a Bravo model over a Logo model, which is earnest and dry…

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Maer Roshan: …if that gives you some idea.

Samir Husni: Richard, in addition to the great editorial content; even looking at the ads, it seems like you’re aiming at a very upscale audience. Is that by choice or is that another point of differentiation? You’re not a mass magazine, or like you said; you’re not a big major brand, but at the same time, you’re aiming high.

Richard Klein: The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. As we built that network, and started speaking to the membership of the network and to partner that with the way we sort of differentiated ourselves from brands like the dating sites that were out there and the hook-up sites, and some of the magazines that aren’t with us any longer, such as “Instinct” or “Next,” that kind of syllabus in the gay landscape.

So, brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

Samir Husni: Maer, I noticed that you’ve assembled quite a team, from your East Coast editor, Hal (Rubenstein), to all the others working and writing for the magazine; at the end of the day, what do you think and say about the magazine?

Maer Roshan: Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

But I also hate pretentiousness, you know? One of the things that I’d talked to Richard about when he asked me to come over here was, when I think about what the purpose of the magazine is I think “Vanity Fair” meets “Vice.” It has great reporting and great production values and great writing. It’s edgier and pushes the envelope and has its finger on the pulse of culture.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve worked at some very high profile titles, whether it’s Talk or Radar, which you started. And then we came to a point where everyone was saying print is dead, we’re folding our print edition and going online. Yet, FourTwoNine is almost reverse engineering; it started as a website and now it’s a print magazine. Do you feel that there’s still room for print in today’s digital age?

Maer Roshan: For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print.

But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.

Richard Klein: People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.

Maer Roshan: I don’t think you could have a media property these days and not have web and print and events and all that stuff. The days where you could just have one of those things are over. All of those things play into each other and they’re vitally important . All of these different elements work together and are important in building a community, which we’re trying to do, but also building an ad-base and a web engine base too.

Samir Husni: I started as a graphic designer, even when I was in high school, before I left Lebanon. That was my whole work before I went to college, and now I work more on the business side. How do you balance your roles? Do you work both sides of the brain when you’re the publisher and the chief creative officer? Do you have to change hats or does it just come naturally to you?

Richard Klein: I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with. While it’s left-lane, right-lane in one sense, they both go hand-in-hand and are very much a brand ambassador to FourTwoNine.

Samir Husni: In the case of the print magazine, I noticed that with the first issue you had different covers; with the second issue, you had three covers that you edited. What’s the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue?

Maer Roshan: It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have. It’s all tied together by sensibility and point of view, but there are some people who are really interested in one thing and some who are interested in another, so we try and showcase different elements within the magazine that will hopefully resonate with different audiences.

Samir Husni: There is a lot of buzz around these new types of magazines that look like a journal, but read like a magazine. They have the high cover price and the connectivity with the audience; can those types of magazines overtake the industry?

Maer Roshan: I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new, and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

And if you look through our issue, we’re as up-to-date as possible. And part of that is because we keep our deadlines really, really late, before we go to press, precisely because we want to stay in the moment. It gives you this rare combination of really good production values and coffee table quality, but most of the content is vital and makes news. Looking at newsstands, which I obviously did a lot before starting this venture, there’s not a lot of magazines that provide both of those things. And that’s what made me interested in this project.

Samir Husni: When I picked up Issue #9 and then Issue #10, the magazine that comes to mind more than anything else is Monocle. I don’t know whether it’s the combination of glossy and matte paper or the design; am I way off here?

Maer Roshan: I could see where you would say that. What you should look at as maybe a better example is Monitor. I like Monocle a lot; it’s very packaged and glib. I’m hoping that we’re less that. When I hold Monocle, I love what it says about me, but I’m not sure that I would be an avid reader of the magazine. Does that make any sense?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Richard Klein: “Monocle” is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

Maer Roshan: “Monocle” also seems a bit earnest to me at times. I think that we take a little bit more liberties and that’s because of our content and our audience. We have a little bit more of a point of view. But it’s beautiful and very well-conceived and put together. And it’s a compliment for you to compare us to it.

Samir Husni: To me, Maer, FourTwoNine is one of the best magazines that you have created so far.

Maer Roshan: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Richard, what is the origin of the name FourTwoNine? It isn’t the area code.

Richard Klein: The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

Samir Husni: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Maer Roshan: I think we covered everything; the combination of things that we’re doing. The fact that it’s not just in one sphere, it’s all these different spheres at once.

Richard Klein: I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

Maer Roshan: Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

And while we’re a national magazine, I kind of look at it like when I was in New York, working for “Talk” or “Vanity Fair.” You covered the nation, but it was from a distinct New York/East Coast sensibility. It’s kind of amazing to me how few magazines are like this, are rooted in the West Coast ideas and values, but cover the world from that. It’s not really a regional magazine, but takes the best of what the cultures are doing on this coast and magnifies it in coverage and everything else.

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

Maer Roshan: That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place. (Laughs) Most of the reporters were waiting outside, but we were saying that we might possibly want to join the FBI, so they ended up letting us in and then I got kicked out. (Laughs again) They checked my ID. But my reporter went in and I think we were one of the only people to be reporting from the actual location of where James Comey was supposed to be. And it’s on our website now.

I go out with friends and try to keep up with the culture, because that’s my job, but also because I love it. A lot of it goes into the things that excite me, and that ends up making me a good editor, I think. Curiosity brings a lot of different stuff. I try to keep up with all the appointments, television, things like that. I still read books, because I’m old school that way. And I hang out with friends.

Richard Klein: I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

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

Richard Klein: There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

Maer Roshan: Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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