Archive for the ‘The Mr. Magazine™ Sunday Interview’ Category

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Doug Olson, President & GM, Meredith Magazines On Social Responsibility, Diversity, And The Role Of Magazines Today: “We Have Decided That It Would Be A Lot Better To Try To Tackle This And Continue The Journey, Versus Pretending It’s Not There.” The Mr. Magazine™ Sunday Interview…

November 29, 2020

“We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. Doug Olson…

No one can deny it has been a rough 2020 (and it ain’t over yet). But those of us who believe in continued hope and positivity know that things are going to get better and everything is going to turn around. Doug Olson, president and GM over at Meredith Magazines, is one such optimist and believer. Between the pandemic, the social injustice and division that we have seen in our country and world these days, it hasn’t been an easy task to remain upbeat and positive, but Doug is doing it with the plethora of Meredith brands. He is taking diversity and inclusion and bringing it to a new level by dedicating himself and his brands to the journey.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about this uncertain time in our country’s history and the role magazines play. It was a most intriguing and all encompassing conversation with the president of the largest magazine media company in the world. And now the Mr. Magazine™ Sunday Interview with Doug Olson, president & GM, Meredith Magazines.

But first the sound-bites: 

On how he views the diversity and inclusion changes that are taking place in the industry today: First of all, it’s good for business, anytime you can expand your audiences and grow your business it’s good. And we’ve been at this for some time, as you said. We still have work to do just like everyone else does, but at the end of the day, it’s hard.

On whether he thinks there’s an opportunity for mainstream magazines to diversify even more: There are two ways to look at it. Number one, taking a brand or a platform and going after a new audience or a new community. And number two, new brands and products and services aimed at a specific community. I believe we’ve done both. And we’ll continue to look at both opportunities.

On whether we will see more dissection of the audience in the Meredith brands, more diversity: We are. As a matter of fact, at Meredith, I have a committee that’s been put together of our employees that are bringing us ideas. They always bring us ideas, but now we’ve kind of formalized that and have a very talented leader of that group that’s looking at opportunities for us to expand in lots of different communities. Not only the Black community, but the Hispanic community and others that we think our content resonates very well with.

On whether Meredith will try and reach every single woman in America, no matter their ethnicity: Again, back to my current answer, which is you’re going to see brands aimed at women in general. We reach nearly 95% of all U.S. women. And then you’re going to see brands that are much more niche aimed at certain communities if there is an unmet need that exists out in the marketplace or an audience that we can go after. I don’t know how many will be in magazines, to be honest with you. Other platforms might lend themselves to a better solution at this point in time.

On if he thinks there is a conflict between the social responsibility of magazines as reflectors of society or as initiators or entertainers and the business model for magazines as moneymakers: I don’t think there is a conflict, absolutely not. In the long term it’s good business to continue to expand your audiences. We put a lot of time, effort and money behind our vetted premium content. We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. And that’s our focus.

On whether he believes magazines in the near future will be in the business of selling content and experience-making, rather than just matching the advertiser with the audience: Magazines are always going to be a part of the solution, but from an advertising perspective the ebbs and flows and the shifting that’s taking place has required us to look at how we can have a deeper relationship with the consumer. And if we can find consumers that are willing to spend their well-earned money on magazines, we try and put a better product in front of them.

On the “Reasons For Hope” campaign that is in all of Meredith’s titles: I’m glad you asked that because I am so excited about it. In the middle of the summer when all this was going on and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of listening, we have this awesome platform. We have the best brand portfolio in the industry; we have all of these consumers and all of these people that we reach out to every single day and not only focused on women, but a general audience. We have a lot of consumers that we interact with. So someone brought up that we should do something that uplifts the country. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought election and very divisive, all the social justice and equality issues that were happening at the time and then let’s not forget this thing called the pandemic that hasn’t gone away.

On the sudden explosion of Black subjects on the covers of many magazines recently: One of the things that has taken place there is that we’ve all witnessed some things that shouldn’t have happened. And clearly it’s been a difficult summer having a lot of conversations and doing a lot of listening to our employees, to our friends, to people who are leaders in social justice. And everybody wanted to do something. Whether it was the right response or not, it was from a good place.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Olson, president & GM, Meredith Magazines.

Samir Husni: As a president of a national magazine division and as somebody who is playing a major lead role with your director of Diversity and Inclusion and what she is saying about all the changes that are taking place from recruitment to retention to education to changing content and working with the team; tell me how do you view this change that’s taking place in the industry? The change where suddenly magazines are celebrating Blackness and giving it more than just lip service? 

Doug Olson: First of all, in the long run, it’s good for business, anytime you can expand your audiences and grow your business it’s good. And we’ve been at this for some time, as you said. We still have work to do just like everyone else does, but really at the end of the day, it’s hard. 

It’s hard in the middle of a pandemic; it’s hard when we have this great political divide in the country; it’s hard to be someone that leads a brand that talks to millions of people each week or each month or each day. Words matter and they have to be very careful in how they respond to some of these issues that are out there, but we have decided that it would be a lot better to try and tackle this and continue the journey, versus pretending it’s not there. Have we made every single step the right way, probably not. But have we done it from a good place, absolutely.

Samir Husni: As we look at the magazine scene out there, almost all of the major Black magazines have ceased to exist: Ebony, Jet, Essence has gone to six times per year. Do you think there’s an opportunity for mainstream magazines to diversify? It’s not just a social responsibility, but it’s also a good business decision?

Doug Olson: There are two ways to look at it. Number one, taking a brand or a platform and going after a new audience or a new community. And number two, new brands and products and services aimed at a specific community. We’ve done both. And we’ll continue to look at both. 

It’s a lot of hard work to take a brand and to change what it has been focused on for a long time. I’m not even talking about the current issues that we’re facing, I’m talking about even the age difference. You take an established brand and you try and make it young and vibrant and appeal to the up and coming generation like Gen Z, it’s just tough. It’s tough to do because you have to hold onto your current audience at the same time that you’re trying to attract a new audience.

The content leaders in our organization and in the industry in general have to deal with that all of the time. What you’re seeing is there are some who are responding to it very appropriately and others are doing some things that maybe aren’t as authentic as you’d like to see, but I think most people would rather be criticized for trying than just doing nothing. 

Samir Husni: You’ve launched magazines aimed at specific audiences and you’ve worked with specific celebrities, for example Ayesha Curry with Sweet July magazine. Are we going to see more of that dissection of the audience? As you said, you are going in two directions, expanding the audiences of the existing titles, but also launching new titles. Will we see more of that?

Doug Olson: We are. As a matter of fact, at Meredith, I have a committee that’s been put together of our employees that are bringing us ideas. They always bring us ideas, but now we’ve kind of formalized that and have a very talented leader of that group that’s looking at opportunities for us to expand in lots of different communities. Not only the Black community, but the Hispanic community and others that we think our content resonates very well with. 

Samir Husni: As a leader in women’s magazines and as somebody that reaches more women than anyone else on the face of the earth, you’ve launched Hispanic magazines before, Hispanic magazines for women, for parents; will we see something similar with the Black audience and then Asian Americans? Are you going to try and reach every single woman in America?

Doug Olson: Again, back to my current answer, which is you’re going to see things aimed at women in general. And then you’re going to see things that are much more niche aimed at certain communities if there is an unmet need that exists out in the marketplace or something that we think we can go after. I don’t know how many will be in magazines, to be honest with you. Other platforms might lend themselves to a better solution at this point in time. But definitely, the Ayesha Curry’s of the world and some other things that we’re currently working on, we’re putting pen to paper and looking at the business case for them. Some are investments that will pay off in the long run and some are fairly easy and no-brainers that we’re going to go after.

Samir Husni: As a president of a national magazine group, do you feel that sometimes there is a conflict between the social responsibility of the magazines as reflectors of society or as initiators or entertainers and the business model for magazines as moneymakers? 

Doug Olson: I don’t think there is a conflict, absolutely not. In the long term it’s good business to continue to expand your audiences. We put a lot of time, effort and money behind our vetted premium content. We want to make people’s lives better and do what we can from a business perspective, and certainly as the largest publisher in the industry we have a responsibility to be an industry leader. And that’s what we’re trying to do. 

It’s hard though. You have to be committed to the journey. You have to look at how we can serve our communities better with our existing brands; how can we launch new brands and platforms; how can we continue to expand our contributor networks; how can we get representation on our advisory boards that we use. 

And that’s extra hard right now because of the pandemic. A lot of businesses have had hiring freezes. A lot haven’t had a lot of openings because there aren’t a lot of people feeling comfortable making a change. They don’t want to potentially lose their healthcare. There are a lot of reasons for people remaining still right now, but it’s mostly because of the economy. So we’re doing all of this at probably the toughest time in our history, but organizations like ours and our industry are committed to doing the right thing and it will turn into good business for all of us. 

Samir Husni: I feel as though the business model of the magazine world is changing from counting customers or selling numbers and selling the audience to selling the content and the experience-making aspect of magazines. So, you are depending on your revenue, a little bit less on advertising, but adding to the circulation revenue by the higher cover prices, by the approach to the new business model. Do you think we’ll see more of that? Do you think magazines will be in the business of selling content and experience-making, rather than just matching the advertiser with the audience?

Doug Olson: Magazines are always going to be a part of the solution, but from an advertising perspective the ebbs and flows and the shifting that’s taking place there has really required us to look at how we can have a deeper relationship with the consumer. And if we can find consumers that are willing to spend their well-earned money on magazines, we try and put a better product in front of them. 

Some of these quarterlies that we’ve been doing under the premium publishing banner: Rachael Ray In Season, Magnolia Journal, Reveal, Sweet July by Ayesha Curry, those are all really good products and they’re aimed at the consumer. And if advertisers happen to want to be a part of this as we aggregate the audience, then obviously that’s a bonus in all of this. 

We’ve all seen the shifts in advertising and it’s hard to rely on, even though we still are the industry leader by a long way, but it’s tough when something isn’t growing. Our digital business is growing nicely. Our consumer metrics have been unbelievable through this pandemic, including the newsstand, which has snapped back as the rest of the industry has opened up in several of the states from a retail perspective. 

Samir Husni: It seems that you have a lot of hope and that you’re not giving up. You’ve started this campaign “Reasons for Hope” in all your magazines. Can you tell me a little about that?

Doug Olson: I’m glad you asked that because I am so excited about it. In the middle of the summer when all this was going on and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of listening, we have this awesome platform. We have the best brand portfolio in the industry; we have all of these consumers and all of these people that we reach every single day and not only focused on women, but really just a general audience. We have a lot of consumers that we interact with. 

So someone brought up that we should do something that uplifts the country. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought election and very divisive, all the social justice and equality issues that were happening at the time and then let’s not forget this thing called the pandemic that hasn’t gone away. 

We want to use our platform and our audiences to do something good and to point out some amazing things that have happened in our country. It all started from this people franchise called “100 Reasons to Love America,” but we changed it to hope because we thought it would be less of a lightning rod because some people, believe it or not, believe the words Love America is somehow a political statement which it was never intended to be. 

We wanted to do something that was on-brand for each brand in our portfolio, which is quite an undertaking because they all have different publishing schedules to be able to pull this off. We wanted to point out things that were uplifting and it could be something as simple as somebody who was providing a meal to healthcare workers, all the way to organizations that stopped producing things so they could make ventilators. And everything in between. 

There are just so many amazing stories in all of these communities, in all of these parts that our brands represent, whether it’s in the food industry or the home industry or the entertainment industry, you name it. Again, as the industry leader, we have a responsibility to try and help bring this country back together. The last thing we wanted to do was anything that could be considered political and it’s mission accomplished. We have been able to talk about things that people really can’t take a side on other than to say wow, that’s an amazing feat by that person or that organization. 

Samir Husni: In the last 120 days we’ve seen more Blacks on the covers of magazines than we’ve seen in the last 90 years. Is there anything you’d like to add about that?

Doug Olson: One of the things that has taken place there is that we’ve all witnessed some things that shouldn’t have happened. Clearly it’s been a difficult summer having a lot of conversations and doing a lot of listening to our employees, to our friends, to people who are leaders in social justice. And I think everybody wanted to do something. Whether it was the right response or not,  it was from a good place. 

Everybody has tried to do their part and whether they need their content to be more diverse or whether they need their employees to be more diverse or their contributing network to be more diverse, we’re all committed to the journey and approving. I know there has probably been statistically a big push on more Blacks appearing on covers, but that’s a natural outcome from where the country and the discussion was.

To me the bigger issue should be that everyone continues to be committed to having diverse audiences and diverse employees and a more diverse contributors’ network and advisory board a year from now, two years from now, five years from now versus just reacting to the outcome of the summer, which was a good start. Everyone needs to do something and that’s what you’re seeing. We, like you, want to celebrate the change that’s taking place now. I want people to judge us over the long haul and the journey that we’re taking. I hope everybody else in the industry is as committed to this journey as much as we are. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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