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Sports Illustrated: Making The Entire Brand A Much “Brandier” Experience And The Print Magazine A Richer, More “Printier” Component – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Chris Stone, Editorial Director, Sports Illustrated.

October 30, 2017

“A friend of mine recently wondered; he had written a story in 2011, which prophesized that the Kansas City Royals would win the World Series in 2014, which turned out to be true, and is actually one step further ahead than where the Astros stand right now. The Astros haven’t won the World Series yet. And yet my friend was openly wondering on social media recently why more people hadn’t paid attention to that particular prediction, as opposed to the Astros prediction, which actually hasn’t come to full fruition yet. And the reason is very simple; one of the biggest reasons is that the Astros prediction was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we are talking about it to the extent we have recently because that prediction was on the cover of a print magazine, and if it wasn’t on the cover of a print magazine, it would not be the same discussion.” Chris Stone…(On the Houston Astros cover that SI ran in 2014 and has been a hotbed of discussion recently)…

Sports Illustrated has been the go-to source for everything that is “sports” for over 60 years. The brand’s coverage of all types of sports is a trusted source for enthusiasts who want to get that deeply immersive print experience and those who want to get their scores quick and clean online. From the ink on paper magazine to Si.com, Sports Illustrated always has and still does reflect some of the best journalism in sports.

And with Chris Stone, a 25 year SI vet, who began his career at the magazine as a fact checker and now holds the reins of the entire brand, Sports Illustrated has some new moves on the field for 2018 that will bring a deeper, more premium print experience to its readers and a much larger digital footprint as well.

I spoke to Chris recently and we talked about these new and improved changes that will begin in 2018, starting with a reduction in frequency from a weekly to 26 issues per year, which will allow for some aesthetic changes to the magazine as well, such as an increase of 15 percent in its paper stock. And of course, the continuation of the rich content that SI is known for.

And when it comes to its digital footprint, Chris said new platforms are being explored in order to bring the digital audience a more diverse and varied portal to receive their content, with the goal of giving consumers what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

As far as their current digital space, he added that SI.com is coming off its best traffic month in the history of the site for September 2017 and according to the September 2017 comScore report, traffic to SI.com (UVs) was up an amazing 62 percent year over year. And October is on track to be an even bigger traffic month for the site. So, it seems SI has found the right playbook for its future and the right man to order up those plays in Chris Stone.

So, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Stone, editorial director, Sports Illustrated.

But first the sound-bites:

On his 25-year journey from Sports Illustrated fact checker to editorial director for the brand: It’s hard to remember what I thought when I was 22-years-old and arrived at Sports Illustrated. I was fairly certain that I wanted to stay a while, whether I anticipated being here 25 years, I’m not sure. But I did want to be around for quite a while, and be able to participate in the evolution of Sports Illustrated in whatever direction it was going.

On how his thought processes switch between all of the different platforms within the brand: The core of what we do, and I anticipate the core of what we’ll always do, will be built around the stories we tell and the journalism that we do. Over my 25 years, the stories and the commitment to those stories, especially the ambitious, longer form stories; the commitment to those things hasn’t changed at all. They’re very much an essential part of our DNA. Now how we get those stories out to our audiences has most certainly changed in a huge way.

On how he feels the brand will evolve with some of the recent changes in frequency and paper upgrades he is making: Much of our reputation over the last 60-plus years has been built on the back of a weekly magazine, so we were creating a premium weekly experience. And once upon a time that seemed like a high-velocity thing. Think about it, once upon a time to create a weekly magazine meant that you were really working fast. That was a high-velocity product. But in 2017, there’s nobody who is going to suggest that a magazine is a high-velocity product. If you were building a magazine in 2017 from scratch and you said we want to build a weekly magazine because it’s moving at the speed that all of our consumers are, people would laugh at you. In fact, what we have to create in the magazine is an experience that in some ways better replicates what a monthly magazine does.

On whether he feels the industry as a whole, and Sports Illustrated as well, took longer than necessary to realize there needed to be differentiation among its many platforms: I think that’s a fair point. I wish we had done this 10 years ago.

On why he thinks the industry did not implement this type of differentiation 10 years ago: I think that the marketplace was less cluttered and that the foothold magazines had 10 years ago was still pretty strong, with a lot of revenue that was still being thrown off. And when you’re throwing off solid revenue and solid margins, I think a lot of companies, not just within the media industry; it’s hard to recalibrate yourself and anticipate that those margins and revenues might continue to decline. And if you’re still throwing off big profits, I think there’s an inclination not to mess with that.

On how his past decisions as managing editor will impact the brand and his decisions today as editorial director: The goal when I became the managing editor in 2012, in context with my boss, Paul Fichtenbaum and Matt, was to create a more seamless organization, more of a single ecosystem, in which all of the great content that we produced to some degree would be platform agnostic. It’s funny, I was thinking about when I got here in 1992, and all of these great stories would come in a week ahead of time, these great college football stories that were written overnight Saturday and come in on Sunday morning. The same with the NFL Sunday night into Monday morning. And in 1992, imagine if we had the capacity to be able to deliver those stories to our readers immediately?

On the biggest challenge he thinks the brand will face moving forward into 2018 and how he plans to overcome it: The biggest challenge remains economic. There are more good storytelling and journalistic entities out there now than there has ever been, competing for a finite amount of revenue. And that will always remain. And that will remain our biggest challenge going into the new year. Now, the way to combat that and overcome it is to really fortify those new platforms that we’re creating. The digital platforms and the video platforms that enable us to take the best of what we do and reach people the way they want to be reached. And to reach them as quickly as possible.

On some who have compared the recent changes to be implemented at Sports Illustrated to what ESPN does and whether he thinks that’s a fair comparison: No, I think that would be an unfair comparison. I would argue that the fact that there are similar methods that we might be adopting from some of our competitors such as ESPN, it’s not just ESPN that’s adopting that model, it’s all of our competitors out there to some degree that are trying to find a model that happily optimizes the things that they do best. And many of the things that we do best will remain what we do in the magazine.

On whether he’s enjoying his position as editorial director of the SI brand, or he feels as though he has the whole wide world of sports upon his shoulders: No, I don’t feel like I have any particular burden on me, other than the same burden that’s always existed. You don’t stay at a company for 25 years unless you really love what you’re doing. And I’ve been here for 25 years for a reason, and that’s because I love what we’re doing and I love the possibilities that exist. I love the heritage that we have and I love how that heritage enables us to build something bigger and really exciting for our future.

On anything else he’d like to add: Obviously, the future of Sports Illustrated is not going to be built on the back of the magazine, and certainly not the magazine alone. But I’ll tell you a little story that is reflective of why the magazine is a very powerful part of our future in whatever form it takes. A friend of mine recently wondered; he had written a story in 2011, which prophesized that the Kansas City Royals would win the World Series in 2015, which turned out to be true, and is actually one step further ahead than where the Astros stand right now. The Astros haven’t won the World Series yet. And yet my friend was openly wondering on social media recently why more hadn’t paid attention to that particular prediction, as opposed to the Astros prediction, which actually hasn’t come to full fruition yet. And the reason is very simple; one of the biggest reasons is that the Astros prediction was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we are talking about it to the extent we have recently because that prediction was on the cover of a print magazine.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’ll borrow something from my old boss and mentor, Mark Mulvoy – sometimes right, sometimes wrong; never in doubt.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Often cooking, while watching a live sporting event.

On what keeps him up at night: Sports Illustrated keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Chris Stone, editorial director, Sports Illustrated.

Samir Husni: First, congratulations; this is your 25th year at Sports Illustrated.

Chris Stone: It is and thank you.

Samir Husni: You started as a fact checker for Sports Illustrated, and now you’re in charge of the entire brand, not only the magazine, but everything that makes up the Sports Illustrated brand. Can you describe that journey from fact checker to editorial director?

Chris Stone: It’s hard to remember what I thought when I was 22-years-old and arrived at Sports Illustrated. I was fairly certain that I wanted to stay a while, whether I anticipated being here 25 years, I’m not sure. But I did want to be around for quite a while, and be able to participate in the evolution of Sports Illustrated in whatever direction it was going.

I knew from the start that this wasn’t just a job, but it was something that felt very much like an extension of my adolescence. I was doing the same thing that I had been doing pretty much every day since I was seven years old, when I became a sports fan. I was paying attention to sports and I was contemplating what it meant; why we cared about it so much. Why I cared about it so much. So, being here 25 years later, I feel very lucky, and if I could have mapped it out this way, there are worse scenarios that could have unfolded.

Samir Husni: Today, you’ve almost assumed every editorial position conceivable at the brand, at the magazine. You were the managing editor and now you’re the editorial director; how do you shuffle between the changes you’re implementing at the printed magazine; the video facet of the brand and the app? How does your thought processes switch between all of these different platforms within the brand?

Chris Stone: The core of what we do, and I anticipate the core of what we’ll always do, will be built around the stories we tell and the journalism that we do. Over my 25 years, the stories and the commitment to those stories, especially the ambitious, longer form stories; the commitment to those things hasn’t changed at all. They’re very much an essential part of our DNA. Now how we get those stories out to our audiences has most certainly changed in a huge way.

So, if you start with the foundation of great stories and great journalism, and continue doing that, you’ve accomplished one important part of our mission going forward. The harder part, and perhaps maybe even the most essential part, is how are we going to get these great stories and this great journalism in front of as many people as possible?

When I got here in 1992, Sports Illustrated to some degree represented a virtual monopoly on national and global sports coverage, and we had a certain competitive advantage that has been eroded by digital changes, because there’s more great storytelling journalism than there has ever been before because of access to the platforms to tell those stories in journalism. So, we have to accept that we’re now competing in a very cluttered marketplace.

The two things we have to do is continue to tell the best stories and do the best journalism, and to find and build those platforms that help us reach those audiences, because I’m certain that the audience is out there as much as they have evolved over the years, and they still have an appetite for the best, most differentiated content there is. Now, it’s our mandate to find a way to get this to those people.

Samir Husni: One of the things that I read you’re doing as you’re changing the existing platforms and introducing new ones, is decreasing the frequency of Sports Illustrated to 26 times per year, but adding more editorial pages and using better paper for print. How do you feel the brand is evolving with that mix of print and digital in a very cluttered sports marketplace today?

Chris Stone: Much of our reputation over the last 60-plus years has been built on the back of a weekly magazine, so we were creating a premium weekly experience. And once upon a time that seemed like a high-velocity thing. Think about it, once upon a time to create a weekly magazine meant that you were really working fast. That was a high-velocity product. But in 2017, there’s nobody who is going to suggest that a magazine is a high-velocity product.

If you were building a magazine in 2017 from scratch and you said we want to build a weekly magazine because it’s moving at the speed that all of our consumers are, people would laugh at you. In fact, what we have to create in the magazine is an experience that in some ways better replicates what a monthly magazine does. In other words, when the magazine arrives in your hands, the stories that you’ll read in that magazine have to resonate a week later; two weeks later. We can’t just anticipate that every consumer of our magazine, every reader, is going to pick the magazine up from their mailbox on a Thursday or Friday and immediately start reading it. It might lie around for a week or even two weeks, but when that reader does ultimately pick up the magazine it still has to feel fresh.

And the other reason for the frequency change is that the magazine is a product; it is a physical product. And with the changing marketplace, the ability to create a weekly magazine that felt thick, in the way that we remembered Sports Illustrated, was becoming increasingly difficult. So now we have the opportunity to actually create a more premium product on a biweekly basis. It’s not just going to be a single issue of Sports Illustrated; in 2018, it will be 64 to 68 edit pages. Right now it ranges between 48 and 52. So, that’s a pretty substantial change right there.

And on top of that, again, as I mentioned, this is a product, and paper is an essential piece of that product. So, we want to create something that feels more like a premium product in a literal sense. And so, we’re increasing our paper stock by 15 percent. In a year, if we’re having this conversation, I think we’re going to be marveling at what a different product the magazine is, as opposed to what it is now.

Samir Husni: Do you think the industry as a whole, and Sports Illustrated too, took longer than it needed to reach that point of realization that in the midst of all this clutter in the marketplace it had to differentiate between the different platforms: print, digital, and everything else that’s being done?

Chris Stone: I think that’s a fair point. I wish we had done this 10 years ago.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the industry did not?

Chris Stone: I think that the marketplace was less cluttered and that the foothold magazines had 10 years ago was still pretty strong, with a lot of revenue that was still being thrown off. And when you’re throwing off solid revenue and solid margins, I think a lot of companies, not just within the media industry; it’s hard to recalibrate yourself and anticipate that those margins and revenues might continue to decline. And if you’re still throwing off big profits, I think there’s an inclination not to mess with that.

Samir Husni: When you became managing editor in 2012, five years ago, before you became editorial director, you seemed to start two tracks; you were investing in the content of the print magazine, having great editorial moments, whether it was the Jason Collins story or the LeBron James piece, and you also invested in the brand’s digital footprint with Matt Bean, who was your managing editor for SI.com, with the MMQB and the SI Edge. You also built the video production unit, which was the first at Time Inc. So, you had all of these things in the making; how did that impact your current decision to go 26 times a year with the print magazine and the other changes that will happen?

Chris Stone: The goal when I became the managing editor in 2012, in context with my boss, Paul Fichtenbaum and Matt, was to create a more seamless organization, more of a single ecosystem, in which all of the great content that we produced to some degree would be platform agnostic.

You referenced Jason Collins and LeBron, but remember those two pieces lived first digitally, and they probably resonated most deeply as digital stories. What we really wanted to do was recognize that we have this extraordinary trove of content that we produce on a daily basis. So, how do we get that in front of as many people as possible?

And obviously, some of that could work in the magazine, but the fact that digital is every day, digital is every hour and every minute; when stories started to come in, we began to evaluate them as to how they could work best for our audience. Are we holding this story to create a better magazine at the expense of what is the best reader experience? If we have a piece of news like LeBron James or Jason Collins, people should be able to access that as quickly as possible.

It’s funny, I was thinking about when I got here in 1992, and all of these great stories would come in a week ahead of time, these great college football stories that were written overnight Saturday and come in on Sunday morning. The same with the NFL Sunday night into Monday morning.

And in 1992, imagine if we had the capacity to be able to deliver those stories to our readers immediately? In other words, on Sunday for college football; on Monday for pro football, rather than requiring them to wait an extra three or four days. Wouldn’t we sign up for that? And so, digital has afforded us that opportunity. Video affords us the ability to tell those great stories we do in documentary format.

Obviously, this resonates with audiences, especially younger audiences, when you look at the success of something like 30 for 30 and that’s what we want to do with our video going forward. We want to recognize that one enduring trait of Sports Illustrated; that there is always going to be great stories and there’s always going to be great journalism. But if we’re not maximizing those stories in journalism by putting them on the best platform, then we’re doing a disservice not just to our readers, but to ourselves.

Samir Husni: What do you think will be the biggest challenge that you’ll have to face as the brand moves into 2018 and how will you overcome it?

Chris Stone: The biggest challenge remains economic. There are more good storytelling and journalistic entities out there now than there has ever been, competing for a finite amount of revenue. And that will always remain. And that will remain our biggest challenge going into the new year. Now, the way to combat that and overcome it is to really fortify those new platforms that we’re creating. The digital platforms and the video platforms that enable us to take the best of what we do and reach people the way they want to be reached. And to reach them as quickly as possible.

Samir Husni: One of your critics suggested that Sports Illustrated was taking a page from ESPN with the changes; would that be a fair comparison?

Chris Stone: No, I think that would be an unfair comparison. I would argue that the fact that there are similar methods that we might be adopting from some of our competitors such as ESPN, it’s not just ESPN that’s adopting that model, it’s all of our competitors out there to some degree that are trying to find a model that happily optimizes the things that they do best. And many of the things that we do best will remain what we do in the magazine.

We have the opportunity, as we’ve already discussed, to create the most premium magazine experience than an SI reader has had in a long time, in at least a decade. At the same time, we have the opportunity to tell the stories in new ways, and just because the platforms are similar to the platforms that competitors are leveraging, the big differentiating piece is, what is it that we are putting on those platforms? What are the stories that we’re telling; what is the journalism that we’re putting on those platforms? That’s what will represent the competitive advantage for Sports Illustrated and what will differentiate us from what our competitors are doing. It’s in the premium natures of that experience.

Samir Husni: Are you enjoying your work today as an editorial director much more than, say, five or 10 years ago? Or do you feel as though you have the whole wide world of sports on your shoulders now?

Chris Stone: No, I don’t feel like I have any particular burden on me, other than the same burden that’s always existed. You don’t stay at a company for 25 years unless you really love what you’re doing. And I’ve been here for 25 years for a reason, and that’s because I love what we’re doing and I love the possibilities that exist. I love the heritage that we have and I love how that heritage enables us to build something bigger and really exciting for our future.

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

Chris Stone: Well, you’re Mr. Magazine™, right? That’s what they call you, correct?

Samir Husni: (Laughs) That’s my trademark, yes.

Chris Stone: I bring that up because I want to make one more point about the magazine and the power of the magazine. Obviously, the future of Sports Illustrated is not going to be built on the back of the magazine, and certainly not the magazine alone. But I’ll tell you a little story that is reflective of why the magazine is a very powerful part of our future in whatever form it takes. Are you familiar with the cover of the Houston Astros that we did three years ago?

Samir Husni: Yes, I am.

Chris Stone: Obviously, recently that has been a big discussion point that we received a lot of attention for. And I can tell you that a friend of mine recently wondered; he had written a story in 2011, which prophesized that the Kansas City Royals would win the World Series in 2015, which turned out to be true, and is actually one step further ahead than where the Astros stand right now. The Astros haven’t won the World Series yet.

And yet my friend was openly wondering on social media recently why more people hadn’t paid attention to that particular prediction, as opposed to the Astros prediction, which actually hasn’t come to full fruition yet. And the reason is very simple; one of the biggest reasons is that the Astros prediction was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we are talking about it to the extent we have recently because that prediction was on the cover of a print magazine, and if it wasn’t on the cover of a print magazine, it would not be the same discussion. I think we have to recognize that there are parts of the magazine that are always going to be appealing to a broad audience as long as you can continue to deliver topnotch content within that magazine.

I think it’s been a revelation how many people have wanted to talk about that particular prediction. I guarantee you that very few, if any, people would want to talk about that particular story prediction if it had not been on the cover of a magazine. The magazine still represents a point of differentiation, and by extension, a competitive advantage. So, why wouldn’t we feed that competitive advantage, especially when our bosses are giving us the opportunity to create the best print product that we can from a product standpoint in a very long time.

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

Chris Stone: I’ll borrow something from my old boss and mentor, Mark Mulvoy – sometimes right, sometimes wrong; never in doubt.

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?

Chris Stone: Often cooking, while watching a live sporting event.

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

Chris Stone: Sports Illustrated keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Better Homes & Gardens: With A Continued 7.6 Million In Circulation And 40 Million Readers, The Magazine Proves That Staying True To Your Audience Really Does Work – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Stephen Bohlinger, VP/Group Publisher, & Stephen Orr, Editor In Chief…

October 27, 2017

“We’ve been hearing from readers that they’re on every platform that they want to be on. They’re very savvy. They go where they want to get the information the way they want to find it. If they want to find a Butternut squash recipe, they Google it or search for it on bhg.com. If they want to see things in the print magazine, because many of them will say, even millennials, that they like a paper product on certain points because it’s easier to show their husband or their partner an idea, rather than having to find it on their phone. They can just dog-ear the page and then discuss whatever it is with them. So, they’re very savvy about how they use every platform and we as a brand need to be wherever they want and need us to be.” Stephen Orr…

“So, when my advertisers ask me: 7.6 million, are you kidding? I break out my statement and I show them exactly how we’re reaching them. Newsstand isn’t what it used to be, of course, but we still have this magazine going into the homes of consumers across the country and they’re waiting for it and spending time with it. So, our advertisers know this and that’s why we had such a terrific last year, because they want the “reach” title.” Stephen Bohlinger…

Better Homes & Gardens, Meredith’s flagship lifestyle, home and food brand, has grown a lot since it first premiered in 1922. And it’s continued to both maintain and flourish during the digital disruption and rapid technological changes that face the industry on almost a daily basis. Today, it reaches nearly 40 million readers on a monthly basis and still maintains its 7.6 million in guaranteed circulation that it has had for years.
Many would call that amazing in this day and age, but Editor in Chief, Stephen Orr and VP/Group Publisher, Stephen Bohlinger, would say it’s because the magazine has stayed true to its audience and true to its roots, yet evolved with the times, bringing in as many millennials and new readers as its sustained legacy audience.

Stephen Bohlinger, VP/Group Publisher, (left)& Stephen Orr, Editor In Chief, Better Homes & Gardens

I spoke with the two Stephen’s recently and we talked about the solid direction of the brand. Stephen Orr is an editor in chief who believes in speaking to his vast readership as both a group and as individuals, realizing that until the magazine seems personal and meant for one single reader, it hasn’t connected the way it should, and BH&G has its voice down pat, reaching each and every reader as though that issue was meant for just them. His edits are strong and sure, just as Stephen Bohlinger knows how to sell his brand to the advertiser, putting the reader right at the table during the presentation, making it a win/win for the consumer and the ad client.

So, sit back and relax and come into the world of Better Homes & Gardens, a magazine that’s been around for almost a century, yet has stayed as strong with relevance today as it was yesterday – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Orr and Stephen Bohlinger, the Stephen-Squared team that continues to bring the brand success.

But first the sound-bites:

On being the editor in chief of the largest non-membership magazine in the country (Stephen Orr): It’s a very exciting responsibility, which is two strange words to use together, because usually responsibility is not something you call exciting, but I do think of it as a big responsibility, but also very exciting. You’re speaking to such a huge audience, but you’re also speaking to individuals, so each individual is as important as the group. So, when we’re making the magazine, we really are thinking about different types of individuals that different stories will reach. And hoping to reach a broad market, but also speak very specifically to our readers.

On being the group publisher of the largest non-membership magazine in the country (Stephen Bohlinger): When I got the job about a year ago, from Doug Olson, my new boss, he said sit down, I’m about to hand you the keys to the kingdom. And I was elated. Every morning before my feet hit the ground, I am just so invigorated and so excited to work with a juggernaut, a giant magazine called Better Homes & Gardens, and the people that I work for; the brand and the corporation. Meredith, obviously, is so well-poised to win as an organization. The Better Homes and Gardens brand is the largest, so when he tells you you’re going to be handed the keys to the kingdom, that’s certainly a lot of pressure, but I love it.

On what the secret formula is to Better Homes & Gardens continued success in circulation after all of these years and an unpredictable marketplace (Stephen Orr): I think for me, editorially, and that includes the print magazine, digital, video, social, and everything that we’re doing, is we’re a moment of respite for our audience, because to them Better Homes and Gardens means that they can take a break from everything they’re doing with the kids, the demands of the household budget, or the scheduling of everything, or their jobs. All the things that stress people out. We are a break from that. We’re an inspirational break and creative break.

On whether advertisers tell Stephen B. that he is out of his mind when he tells them that the magazine still has 7.6 million in circulation (Stephen Bohlinger): Yes, it’s a question that we get all of the time. We have our earnings call from Meredith coming up and one of the things that Steve Lacy, our chairman, always says to the board of directors and to our shareholders is that we’ve been putting 7.6 million copies of Better Homes and Gardens out today because there’s a need. Our consumers still want it. And what we have today is a contemporary breakout women’s lifestyle magazine, really.

On how Stephen Orr is juggling between retaining his legacy audience and acquiring new readers, such as the millennial age group (Stephen Orr): I’d say that one of the big things is that the idea of the magazine, as far as being relevant, as Stephen was talking about, is that people of all ages want to know what’s cool. They want to know what’s trending; they may not want to do it, but they want to know. In one of our recent focus groups, we had a younger set and an older set of people. And both sides were very similar in their desire to keep up with what the trends are for home décor, home decorating, gardening, cooking and recipe trends. They want to keep up. Now, they may not do all the trends, but they want to know about them. And that resonates over all ages.

On whether you can afford for any advertiser not to love the content of the magazine (Stephen Bohlinger): (Laughs) It’s all about the education process. Think about the median age of our magazine buyers today; our media planners across the country. They keep getting younger every year. The funny thing is, I now have my two kids in the industry, they’re 25 and 24, and they didn’t come up in the same way as young media planners did 20 years ago, which meant their magazines were coming in and it was their priority. They have this thing called mobile in their hands today, so it’s the education process. When we’re talking to them, no matter what account that they’re working on, it’s just explaining to them the significance and the relevance of a magazine brand, specifically the size and scope of Better Homes & Gardens.

On whether he sells everything individually to advertisers, such as print separate, digital separate, video separate, or everything as a package (Stephen Bohlinger): You might recall the old brand wheel. The old brand wheel would have the magazine in the middle and then the spokes would be our special interest magazines, our video, our digital, our partnership with Wal-Mart; whatever it may have been. Now, the brand is in the middle – the brand being Better Homes & Gardens, and the magazine becomes a spoke. So, when we present the brand, we present it as an Omni-channel first and foremost, that’s the first slide we show.

On how he decides what content is best for which platform (Stephen Orr): In the digital space; if people are going to a website, they’re looking for something specific. Generally speaking, they’re coming in looking for one thing that they want; a certain recipe, or a certain way to do some home improvement, or a DIY project. In the magazine, what we always talk about as editors is that we’re showing people things that we think they want before they know they want it. So, we’re giving them ideas and inspiration before they actually recognize it. It’s a surprise for them; it’s more of an a-ha.

On what makes people come to Better Homes & gardens in this Internet age of infinite information (Stephen Orr): Trust, 100 percent. We’re trusted and they know us. We put our recipes through every kind of testing that you can do in our test kitchen in Des Moines. We’ve done all of the homework and we have the knowledge.

On how important that trust factor is in advertisement in today’s world of fake news, fake ads, fake-just-about-anything (Stephen Bohlinger): It’s at the top of the list. They want to trust the editorial product; they want to trust the editor; that’s why the most important thing that I can do for my clients is to get my editor in chief, Stephen Orr, in front of them. Recently, we had a meeting out in the Midwest and Stephen was in town, and Crate & Barrel were also there, and we had a meeting with them and it wasn’t a sales pitch at all, really. It was really to talk about how Stephen curates his edits; and is a modern-day editor’s role different today than it was maybe even four or five years ago, and certainly 20 years ago. And it was an eye-opening presentation, and something that we’re going to consider taking to some other clients, because it’s not a sales pitch; it’s really about the trust of what Stephen has built with his editorial team across the country, and why this is a relevant product today.

On whether there is any internal feeling of competition between all of the many successful Meredith brands (Stephen Orr): Editorially, absolutely not. I’ve never worked at a company where the editors are as closely-knit together. We have regular meetings and phone calls. If one of us has a question about what another person is doing for a specific ad, integration, or app, we just pick up the phone and talk. It’s a completely open-door policy here among the editors, and non-competitive.

On whether there is any internal feeling of competition between all of the many successful Meredith brands (Stephen Bohlinger): And from the advertising perspective, I’ll mirror what Stephen said. I was 20 years at Time Inc. and we certainly got together and shared, but nothing like we do here at the Meredith Corporation. We have publishers meet weekly on Friday mornings at 8:00 a.m. and it’s full disclosure.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Stephen Bohlinger): For me it would be that I care about people. At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is respect and reputation. And it all begins and ends with who you surround yourself with. I’m the son of a coach; my father was a high school gym coach and I learned a lot about how he treated everyone with respect. And that’s something that has carried with me my entire life and I take it very personally. I have three children of my own and the most important thing that you can do and hold is your reputation, and that starts with how you treat people.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him (Stephen Orr): I would say good. I think there’s something about that word that gets overlooked because many lean more toward great. But there’s something about good that is very solid and lasting. And if that was something that I was known for I would be very happy. To be known as a good person and someone who did good work and worked with good people like Stephen Bohlinger and all of the editors I work with, I think that word gets overlooked a lot.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Stephen Orr): I would be cooking and gardening.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home (Stephen Bohlinger): I would be coaching, youth Lacrosse or helping out with the youth basketball team. Again, I’m the son of a coach and a lot of what I’ve learned as an athlete, I played Lacrosse in college, and both my boys played collegiately and I coached them. It’s the greatest joy. I consider my job here as a publisher as a coach. I refer to myself as that, and when you’re a coach, you get some great satisfaction. So, that’s what you would find me doing at home, coaching.

On what keeps him up at night (Stephen Orr): Invariably, it’s making sure the people that work with me on my team have what they need to succeed in a time of shrinking resources, and it’s not always shrinking, sometimes it’s moving, probably more moving than shrinking. It’s the constantly shifting landscape of media and I just want to make sure that the people I work with have all of the resources that they can use to succeed and thrive.

On what keeps him up at night (Stephen Bohlinger): For me, it’s one word: short-term-itis. I don’t even know if it’s a word, but I was at a conference and someone used it and it really stuck with me. And what I mean by short-term-itis is in the industry today we’re always closing the next issue and looking at what’s in front of us at the moment. And what keeps me up is as a publisher and a leader of this great brand, you have to have a 30-60-90, right? You have to think long-term and sometimes you’re going to take your hits and your lumps, but you can’t get caught up with short-term-itis.

Stephen Bohlinger, VP/Group Publisher, (left)& Stephen Orr, Editor In Chief, Better Homes & Gardens

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Stephen Bohlinger, VP/Group Publisher, & Stephen Orr, Editor in Chief, Better Homes & Gardens.

Samir Husni: This question is for the both of you; how does it feel to be the editor and group publisher of the largest non-membership magazine in this country with 7.6 million guaranteed circulation?

Stephen Orr: It’s a very exciting responsibility, which is two strange words to use together, because usually responsibility is not something you call exciting, but I do think of it as a big responsibility, but also very exciting. You’re speaking to such a huge audience, but you’re also speaking to individuals, so each individual is as important as the group. So, when we’re making the magazine, we really are thinking about different types of individuals that different stories will reach. And hoping to reach a broad market, but also speak very specifically to our readers.

And I can tell from the correspondence that I get, either from emails, handwritten letters; a lot of people Tweeting comments to me or private messaging me on Instagram with compliments or criticisms; Facebook too; it’s every form of communication that you can think of where I hear from the readers. And every one of those readers shows one thing, which is that they think the magazine is just for them and that’s exciting and what we want to try and keep going. This personalization with the product for our readers, that even though it’s such a huge audience, every reader feels like it’s written for just them.

Stephen Bohlinger: When I got the job about a year ago, from Doug Olson, my new boss, he said sit down, I’m about to hand you the keys to the kingdom. And I was elated. Every morning before my feet hit the ground, I am just so invigorated and so excited to work with a juggernaut, a giant magazine called Better Homes & Gardens, and the people that I work for; the brand and the corporation. Meredith, obviously, is so well-poised to win as an organization. The Better Homes & Gardens brand is the largest, so when he tells you you’re going to be handed the keys to the kingdom, that’s certainly a lot of pressure, but I love it.

I’ve been in the industry since 1985 and you always want to be with the biggest. It’s like being with the New York Yankees, right? The Dallas Cowboys; the big organization. And to be here at this point in my career, with the knowledge and everything that I’ve learned over the years, it’s just the perfect timing for me. And it’s the perfect timing for me to be with Stephen Orr, who is the best and smartest editor that I’ve ever worked with.

Samir Husni: So, having the two of you together, the Stephen-squared, with the exact same spelling, I might add (Laughs), seems to be working greatly. What’s the secret formula that has kept Better Homes & Gardens, after all of these years, at the same level of circulation with all of today’s changes in the marketplace? It’s still a big, mass-circulation, print magazine, in addition to all of the other digital venues that you have put into place.

Stephen Orr: I think for me, editorially, and that includes the print magazine, digital, video, social, and everything that we’re doing, is we’re a moment of respite for our audience, because to them Better Homes & Gardens means that they can take a break from everything they’re doing with the kids, the demands of the household budget, or the scheduling of everything, or their jobs. All the things that stress people out. We are a break from that. We’re an inspirational break and creative break.

And our audience will tell us that when they get the magazine, or they want to look through our social media, it’s a way for them to connect to their own creativity. And the print magazine, especially, when it shows up, is very special. Recently, we’ve been doing focus groups, and people have told me that they love being able to have that magazine. They will set it aside until they know they can get to it at some point during the week, because that’s going to be their time, maybe with a glass of wine, where no one is going to bother them.

And they can cut out recipes or look at a DIY project that they want to do and dream about how things can look, so I think that’s our connection to the audience. And we haven’t lost that over the years. And that’s what the entire existence of the brand is about, making life better every day. In this day and age, when things can be upsetting on all fronts, Better Homes and Gardens is a haven for people. So, we just keep doing what we’ve been doing and I think the authenticity of that resonates with our audience.

Samir Husni: Stephen, advertisers don’t tell you that you’re out of your mind when you tell them that you still have 7.6 million in circulation?

Stephen Bohlinger: Yes, it’s a question that we get all of the time. We have our earnings call from Meredith coming up and one of the things that Steve Lacy, our chairman, always says to the board of directors and to our shareholders is that we’ve been putting 7.6 million copies of Better Homes & Gardens out today because there’s a need. Our consumers still want it. And what we have today is a contemporary breakout women’s lifestyle magazine, really.

And what Stephen Orr has done is he’s made it relevant for today’s Better Homes and Gardens reader. We have 7.7 million millennials who read this magazine, and it’s because Stephen is connecting with this new generation of Better Homes & Gardens readers. How is he reaching them? He’s reaching them via Instagram, social; he isn’t waiting for the snail mail to show up like we did 25 years ago; he is taking the brand in a direction that is going to be able to communicate with these millennials, and that is making this brand relevant today. And 7.6 million is still the audience because that’s what the demand is.

So, when my advertisers ask me: 7.6 million, are you kidding? I break out my statement and I show them exactly how we’re reaching them. Newsstand isn’t what it used to be, of course, but we still have this magazine going into the homes of consumers across the country and they’re waiting for it and spending time with it. So, our advertisers know this and that’s why we had such a terrific last year, because they want the “reach” title.

Samir Husni: You have 40 million readers per month, and as Stephen said, you have 7.7 million millennials and the rest are your traditional readers. How are you juggling between retaining your current audience and gaining the millennials who are not familiar with the magazine?

Stephen Orr: I’d say that one of the big things is that the idea of the magazine, as far as being relevant, as Stephen was talking about, is that people of all ages want to know what’s cool. They want to know what’s trending; they may not want to do it, but they want to know. In one of our recent focus groups, we had a younger set and an older set of people. And both sides were very similar in their desire to keep up with what the trends are for home décor, home decorating, gardening, cooking and recipe trends. They want to keep up. Now, they may not do all the trends, but they want to know about them. And that resonates over all ages.

They want to keep up with what’s happening, whether it’s a new color or a trend for wallpaper, houseplants, or certain ingredients you might use in a recipe that is new to your pantry. All of those things resonate with all age groups. And what I do is try to take all of the trends that I see and keep up with them in the same way through social media, and friends that I admire who have great taste, and I’m thinking of how I can translate that to our audience.

And it seems to be resonating. If we alienate one group of people with something, other people love it. So, you kind of have to balance it where you know where you’re pushing it a little bit, and you recognize that some will love it and some won’t. But I find that our audience is very accepting for the most part, and recognize that even if it’s not something they want to do, they still want to know about it. People want to be current.

Samir Husni: Stephen, from an advertiser’s point of view, you don’t have the same luxury that Stephen does with the editorial: if someone doesn’t love something, no big deal, they’ll find something they do love. With your advertisers, can you afford to have someone not love you?

Stephen Bohlinger: (Laughs) It’s all about the education process. Think about the median age of our magazine buyers today; our media planners across the country. They keep getting younger every year. The funny thing is, I now have my two kids in the industry, they’re 25 and 24, and they didn’t come up in the same way as young media planners did 20 years ago, which meant their magazines were coming in and it was their priority. They have this thing called mobile in their hands today, so it’s the education process. When we’re talking to them, no matter what account that they’re working on, it’s just explaining to them the significance and the relevance of a magazine brand, specifically the size and scope of Better Homes and Gardens.

So, you really need to slow it down a little bit. And you need to get in there and educate this young team of new media planners that are coming up, and why print. Print in its Omni-channel experience, the way Better Homes & Gardens is presented, is so very important to the ROI of their client’s business. Whether they’re targeting 25-34, 25-54, or 55+, we’re a big brand and no matter how you slice it, we can do runs against your business spec and show why we’re efficient against your business.

Advertisers today are looking for efficiencies and they’re looking for efficiencies with ROI’s. And Better Homes and Gardens provides that. We’re the best and the most efficient, and we’re not compromising our product to get you there. And that’s what Stephen and I do; we meet and talk on a weekly basis.

What I love about Stephen is he has two residences, one here on the East Coast, and one in Des Moines, so he’s back and forth. And when he’s in New York, we meet face-to-face and if he’s in Des Moines, we’re on the phone. He becomes to me like my publishing director. He’s a student of the industry; he’s not just an editor. He’s a modern-day editor who understands the ebbs and flows and the unique asks of advertisers today, and we talk openly about that regularly. And about how best we can work with them, so that they win and our consumers win.

Samir Husni: When you and your team are selling the magazine, are you selling it as an Omni-channel or are you selling each format separate, such as print, digital, video, etc.?

Stephen Bohlinger: You might recall the old brand wheel. The old brand wheel would have the magazine in the middle and then the spokes would be our special interest magazines, our video, our digital, our partnership with Wal-Mart; whatever it may have been. Now, the brand is in the middle – the brand being Better Homes and Gardens, and the magazine becomes a spoke. So, when we present the brand, we present it as an Omni-channel first and foremost, that’s the first slide we show.

Then it depends on what the need of the advertiser is. Sometimes the advertisers that we’re calling on are very specific, such as just print buyers. But we always present the brand as an Omni-channel out of the gate, and we put the consumer, our client, in the middle, whatever their need is, and then everyone decides. If they want just certain things, we can talk to them about that too. We really let them have it the way they want it.

Stephen Orr: And I’d also add to that about the Omni-channel, multiplatform strategy; we’ve been hearing from readers that they’re on every platform that they want to be on. They’re very savvy. They go where they want to get the information the way they want to find it. If they want to find a Butternut squash recipe, they Google it or search for it on bhg.com. If they want to see things in the print magazine, because many of them will say, even millennials, that they like a paper product on certain points because it’s easier to show their husband or their partner an idea, rather than having to find it on their phone. They can just dog-ear the page and then discuss whatever it is with them. So, they’re very savvy about how they use every platform and we as a brand need to be wherever they want and need us to be.

Samir Husni: How do you decide what content is best for which platform?

Stephen Orr: You could say that one topic could be expressed differently and what’s the reader’s desire on how they want to receive that information? So, let’s say, in the digital space; if people are going to a website, they’re looking for something specific. Generally speaking, they’re coming in looking for one thing that they want; a certain recipe, or a certain way to do some home improvement, or a DIY project. In the magazine, what we always talk about as editors is that we’re showing people things that we think they want before they know they want it. So, we’re giving them ideas and inspiration before they actually recognize it. It’s a surprise for them; it’s more of an a-ha.

It’s less likely, unless they’re spending a lot of time working their way through the website, that they’re going to have all of those a-ha moments. So, two ways we service to them in ways they don’t know they want yet is through the print magazine and social media. People look at their Instagram, and it’s served to them much like the print magazine is; it’s things we think they’ll like, and they either like or they don’t, right? They either hit the red heart or they don’t hit the red heart.

Also on Pinterest; if someone is looking for inspiration for a bathroom remodel, they’re looking for something specific. They may also go into their Pinterest account just to look at beautiful images that are served to them in their account. But generally speaking, a lot of people are looking for something specific there. So, we’re there however they like to receive information.

As a journalist, one of the most exciting parts is to give people what they want before they know they want it. That’s very exciting and the trend part of what we’re trying to do.

Samir Husni: In this day and age, where people are bombarded by information and the Web is available at the touch of your fingertips; what makes people come to Better Homes and Gardens?

Stephen Orr: Trust, 100 percent. We’re trusted and they know us. We put our recipes through every kind of testing that you can do in our test kitchen in Des Moines. We’ve done all of the homework and we have the knowledge.

When I go looking for a recipe, a new something that I want to make for Thanksgiving dinner maybe, I have to really compare what the sources are. And as you know from news particularly, what’s given to you on Facebook and through different social media, such as Twitter; you really have to look and see where it’s coming from. And now more than ever, an authentic sense of trust with a brand is more valuable than anything. So, in many ways that’s what we’re giving people is trust, because if it just came from some random spot, it may not work out. But our stuff works and that’s why people keep coming back for all these many decades.

Samir Husni: And how important is that trust factor in advertising in today’s fake ads, fake information, fake you name it?

Stephen Bohlinger: It’s at the top of the list. They want to trust the editorial product; they want to trust the editor; that’s why the most important thing that I can do for my clients is to get my editor in chief, Stephen Orr, in front of them. Recently, we had a meeting out in the Midwest and Stephen was in town, and Crate & Barrel were also there, and we had a meeting with them and it wasn’t a sales pitch at all, really. It was really to talk about how Stephen curates his edits; and is a modern-day editor’s role different today than it was maybe even four or five years ago, and certainly 20 years ago.

And it was an eye-opening presentation, and something that we’re going to consider taking to some other clients, because it’s not a sales pitch; it’s really about the trust of what Stephen has built with his editorial team across the country, and why this is a relevant product today. Where he’s getting his information through social and how he’s finding new ways to inspire and invigorate these readers, which has just been tremendous. And that’s all about trust.

Samir Husni: Meredith is known for reaching more women than any other company; you have the corner on the women’s market in this country, in terms of media brands. Do you ever feel any internal competition? There’s Martha, Rachael, Allrecipes, Chip and Joanna Gaines; is there any feeling of internal competition among the many successful brands?

Stephen Orr: Editorially, absolutely not. I’ve never worked at a company where the editors are as closely-knit together. We have regular meetings and phone calls. If one of us has a question about what another person is doing for a specific ad, integration, or app, we just pick up the phone and talk. It’s a completely open-door policy here among the editors, and non-competitive.

Just to make our portfolio as productive and diverse as possible, I share my cover ideas for as many months out as I can with other titles, so that we can make sure we’re not duplicating cover ideas, because especially around the holidays, you might get the same turkey or Christmas tree idea, and we want to show diversity among our cover images, so we share those images to make sure we’re not working on the same idea. Sometimes we make a mistake, and double up, but we try not to as much as we can. And that kind of sharing I’ve never experienced at any other publishing company.

Stephen Bohlinger: And from the advertising perspective, I’ll mirror what Stephen said. I was 20 years at Tine Inc. and we certainly got together and shared, but nothing like we do here at the Meredith Corporation. We have publishers meet weekly on Friday mornings at 8:00 a.m. and it’s full disclosure. We’re sharing with one another, there’s a great respect for each other, and we don’t let it get in each other’s way. At the end of the day, we want the Meredith Corporation to win and that’s at the forefront. When Meredith wins, we all win. Obviously, we have our own individual brands, but we don’t ever feel the internal competition like you might at other publishing houses.

Samir Husni: Stephen, do you feel like a Midwesterner now? Have you adjusted to the move?

Stephen Orr: I feel like I have the best of both worlds. And many New Yorkers are from somewhere else; I consider myself a New Yorker, but I was born and raised in West Texas and left right after college and moved to New York City. So, I’ve lived most of my life in New York City, but now I’m two and a half years in Des Moines, and I think as a magazine editor, what really works for me is that I can be in New York once every six weeks, and I can soak up as many of those trends and fresh ideas that you get on the streets in New York. Just the way people present themselves; all of the diversity that you see; all the ideas you can pick up from an art museum or a new store or a new restaurant. All of those things help me come back and talk to my editors, and we have New York editors as well, of course, for that reason.

And then when I’m in Des Moines, what’s great is that I’m in the middle of the country, and Iowa has always been symbolic of the heart and soul of middle America, it’s a bellwether state on so many different points, and it’s great to be able to connect with people who live in the Midwest and that way I can understand our reader, many of whom do not live in NYC, obviously. So, I have the best of both possible worlds. I love it and the house I have in Des Moines is my favorite house that I’ve ever lived in. And I love my garden. It’s been great all around.

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

Stephen Bohlinger: For me it would be that I care about people. At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is respect and reputation. And it all begins and ends with who you surround yourself with. I’m the son of a coach; my father was a high school gym coach and I learned a lot about how he treated everyone with respect. And that’s something that has carried with me my entire life and I take it very personally. I have three children of my own and the most important thing that you can do and hold is your reputation, and that starts with how you treat people.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in the industry for a long time and I’ve been a publisher since 2004, which the lifespan of a publisher if you Google it, is not really as long as I’ve been happy to enjoy. And I’ve been able to take with me some of the best people in the industry because of the respect that we have for one another.

Stephen Orr: I would say good. I think there’s something about that word that gets overlooked because many lean more toward great. But there’s something about good that is very solid and lasting. And if that was something that I was known for I would be very happy. To be known as a good person and someone who did good work and worked with good people like Stephen Bohlinger and all of the editors I work with, I think that word gets overlooked a lot.

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?

Stephen Orr: I would be cooking and gardening.

Stephen Bohlinger: I would be coaching, youth Lacrosse or helping out with the youth basketball team. Again, I’m the son of a coach and a lot of what I’ve learned as an athlete, I played Lacrosse in college, and both my boys played collegiately and I coached them. It’s the greatest joy. I consider my job here as a publisher as a coach. I refer to myself as that, and when you’re a coach, you get some great satisfaction. So, that’s what you would find me doing at home, coaching.

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

Stephen Orr: Invariably, it’s making sure the people that work with me on my team have what they need to succeed in a time of shrinking resources, and it’s not always shrinking, sometimes it’s moving, probably more moving than shrinking. It’s the constantly shifting landscape of media and I just want to make sure that the people I work with have all of the resources that they can use to succeed and thrive.

Stephen Bohlinger: For me, it’s one word: short-term-itis. I don’t even know if it’s a word, but I was at a conference and someone used it and it really stuck with me. And what I mean by short-term-itis is in the industry today we’re always closing the next issue and looking at what’s in front of us at the moment. And what keeps me up is as a publisher and a leader of this great brand, you have to have a 30-60-90, right? You have to think long-term and sometimes you’re going to take your hits and your lumps, but you can’t get caught up with short-term-itis.

That keeps me up a little bit, and I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’re going to be around for a long, long time in print and the brand, Better Homes & Gardens, will be around for another 100 years. And you can’t think short-term-itis.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

Sid Evans: My Number One Secret For Success: ALWAYS Put Readers First – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sid Evans, Editor in Chief, Southern Living and Coastal Living Magazines…

October 23, 2017

“I tell my staff all of the time; think about your reader, and when you have a million things coming at you; when you’re wrestling with a story or when you’re confused about what to do next, just think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. And as long as you do that, you’re going to make the right decision.” Sid Evans…

When Sid Evans sits down behind his desk in his office these days, he’s editing for two – two magazines, that is. Southern Living, where he has been mixing the mint juleps for over three years now, and Coastal Living, where he has just begun to navigate the editorial seas. But if anybody can handle the differences of these two great brands, it’s Sid.

Coming from a stellar legacy of editor in chief’s positions: Field & Stream and Garden & Gun, Sid is more than ready for the opportunities this new challenge presents. And he knows that as long as he continues to do what he’s always believed in doing, putting the reader first, the results will be satisfaction to established readers and a refreshing “welcome” to the new audiences coming to both magazines.

I spoke with Sid recently and we talked about the differences in both brands and the editorial role he will play as editor in chief of Southern Living, a magazine that has been around for over 50 years and is a generational staple, and Coastal Living, a publication that caters to everything seaside-inspired, from décor to food and travel. It might sound like the two titles will make for a suddenly incongruous professional life, but Sid is passionately positive that both magazines and everything that goes with their individual brands will continue to prosper, adding only a deep and rewarding satisfaction to his own accomplished journey.

So, grab a glass of sweet tea (or that mint julep, if you prefer) and a nice maritime mentality, and come along with Mr. Magazine™ as we explore the worlds of deep Southern culture and the saltiness of the sea with the man who has his feet firmly planted in both – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sid Evans, editor in chief, Southern Living and Coastal Living magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On being in charge of two magazines now, and how he balances between a legacy brand like Southern Living and a newer publication such as Coastal Living: I think these days this business is all about juggling. There are so many different things that you have to keep in the air at the same time. So, I guess adding another magazine to some extent is just one more thing.

On how he preserves the DNA of Southern Living, yet keeps up with the rapid changes in magazine media today: I don’t think the DNA of the magazine has changed and I don’t think the mission of the magazine has changed, which is really to help people enjoy life in the South to the fullest, and take advantage of all the wonderful things the South has to offer. But what is changing is the South. And we have changed with it, and that’s why the magazine has stayed dynamic, interesting, and relevant to its readers.

On how he is maintaining the youthful spirit of the magazine considering its age: The velocity of what we’re doing has changed. We are now doing about 25 to 30 pieces of original content a day in digital. So, that is radically different from what we were doing even two years ago. And that has enabled us to expand the amount of content that we’re doing; the kinds of content that we’re creating, the stories that we’re telling; and to reach new audiences. And I think that’s really key. And then leveraging all of that content across social media as well. But with regard to the print magazine, I think that has evolved too. Southern Living is a very generational magazine; it’s a brand that gets passed down from one generation to the next. And we reach all of them through print.

On how he makes the decision on what content is for which platform: That’s a great question. When we’re looking at digital stories, we’re thinking about things that are shareable, and they tend to be very focused. They tend to be shorter, and it’s perhaps less dependent on photography, but you also have no boundaries. You don’t have the boundaries of a page the way you do in print. With a print story, it has to be something that’s going to relate to people through photography, design, and that’s going to have a lasting impact.

On whether it makes a difference to writers these days about whether their work appears in print or in digital: I don’t think so; as long as they’re getting paid, I don’t think it matters. (Laughs) Every writer that I know wants to reach as broad an audience as possible. And we don’t have a huge overlap between our print and digital audiences. So, anything that we run in print and then also run on digital, you’re reaching a lot of new people.

On Southern Living’s reach now with digital: We like to say that we are house to house and door to door in the South. I don’t think there’s any other brand or entity that has the penetration and the saturation that Southern Living does. And I think that’s become even more true as we’ve grown our digital audience. When I got here we had about 600,000 unique visitors to our site. And as of last month, we’re at almost 7 million in comScore. So, we’ve grown dramatically and I think we have a lot more growth ahead of us.

On whether reaching that large an audience with the magazine’s message terrifies him: I think it demonstrates that the content we’re creating is relevant to a really large audience. That was true 50 years ago and it’s just as true today. Another thing that’s been interesting to see over the last couple of years is how relevant our content is outside of the South. We have huge audiences in New York and California and of course, all throughout the Midwest, and places where you wouldn’t expect Southern Living to resonate.

On changing his thinking caps between Southern Living and Coastal Living: (Laughs) You have short meetings; you make quick decisions; you plan obsessively; and you stay true to your audience. And you have to be kind of ruthless and decisive about what makes sense for your audience and what doesn’t. Then make a decision and move on.

On how the role and responsibilities of being editor in chief have changed over the years for him: (Laughs) I think I feel more like an entrepreneur than ever before. When I got to Field & Stream, I was managing an historic brand and I was trying to reinvent that brand, but I wasn’t necessarily trying to start whole new businesses. Being an editor today; I feel like you’re constantly looking for new ways to reach audiences, find new revenue streams, new marketing partnerships, and increasingly, find new ways to communicate. And there’s just so much learning to be done every, single day, because everything is changing so fast.

On how he keeps his editorial integrity: Always be true to your reader and always be transparent. I think transparency is paramount. And anytime that you’re creating content that is tied to some kind of partner or advertiser, I think people understand that, as long as you are clear and transparent about what you’re doing. I think that’s absolutely critical.

On anything he’d like to add: Coastal Living is a very different brand from Southern Living. For one thing, it has a very high household income; it’s among the highest in the company and in the industry. So, you have this incredibly valuable audience and they’re used to living the good life. They come to the magazine for escape; they come to it for something that’s going to make them feel good; it’s a place to relax, and the mindset that they have when they pick up a copy of Coastal Living, I think is so valuable. It’s where you want to be. I picture them laying in a hammock or sitting in a chair on a front porch or sitting on a beach. So, they’re in a very happy place when they pick up a copy of Coastal.

On whether there will be more of his handprint throughout the pages of Coastal Living now that he’s editor in chief: (Laughs) I hope so.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: That he always put his readers first. That’s what I tell my staff all of the time; think about your reader, and when you have a million things coming at you; when you’re wrestling with a story or when you’re confused about what to do next, just think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. And as long as you do that, you’re going to make the right decision.

On who each of the magazines would be if he could strike them both with a magic wand and they could instantly transform into a human being: (Laughs) Well, it would definitely be two different people. The Southern Living reader is not a celebrity; it’s someone who is living in a small town in the South and just moved into her dream home. And she’s sitting on the porch with a copy of our magazine and she couldn’t be happier. And for Coastal Living, I think it’s probably the same thing, but she’s on a beach.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I may have told you this before; I’m probably playing my guitar badly, but hopefully I’ve gotten a little better at it since the last time I talked to you. And hanging out with the family; there’s no place that I’d rather be.

On what keeps him up at night: I don’t sleep much anymore, so I’m up a lot. But it concerns me that we’re creating so much content for other people’s platforms. And as an editor, I am something of a control freak. I like to control my content; I like to control how it’s presented; I like to control how it’s designed, and I like to control the vehicle that gets it from me to the reader. And of course, that is more and more of a luxury.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sid Evans, editor in chief of both Southern Living and Coastal Living magazines.

Samir Husni: Sid, you’re in charge of two magazines now instead of one, Southern Living and Coastal Living. Tell me, you’re not even 50-years-old yet, and you’re editing a magazine that’s older than you and one that’s much younger than you. How do you juggle between a publication that was started before you were born, and one that came along when you were in your 20s?

Sid Evans: I think these days this business is all about juggling. There are so many different things that you have to keep in the air at the same time. So, I guess adding another magazine to some extent is just one more thing.

And they’re very distinct brands, and they both have very distinct identities. As long as I keep that in mind and stay true to the brands, I think it’ll be fun. I just have to find a few more hours in the day.

Samir Husni: Technology hasn’t enabled us to add four or five more hours to the normal 24-hour day? (Laughs)

Sid Evans: (Laughs too). If it has, no one has told me.

Samir Husni: Let’s talk a little bit about Southern Living. The magazine is over 50 years old.

Sid Evans: We’re 51 this year.

Samir Husni: As an editor, how do you preserve the identity or the DNA of Southern Living and yet, keep up with all of the changes taking place in magazine media today, whether that’s digital disruption or just the rapid pace of change that’s sweeping the industry?

Sid Evans: I don’t think the DNA of the magazine has changed and I don’t think the mission of the magazine has changed, which is really to help people enjoy life in the South to the fullest, and take advantage of all the wonderful things the South has to offer. But what is changing is the South. And we have changed with it, and that’s why the magazine has stayed dynamic, interesting, and relevant to its readers.

There is constant change and evolution in the South, whether you’re looking at food, homes, travel, or what’s going on in the cities and small towns of the South. So, we stay relevant by trying to keep up with all of that, and capture it for our readers.

Samir Husni: As you’re capturing this change for the readers; you’re not only reflecting, you’re also initiating some things for the South. How do you think you’re mending the fences between established, legacy readers who have been with the magazine since it was born, and the new readers who are coming to the magazine? How are you keeping the youthful spirit of the magazine considering its age?

Sid Evans: The velocity of what we’re doing has changed. We are now doing about 25 to 30 pieces of original content a day in digital. So, that is radically different from what we were doing even two years ago. And that has enabled us to expand the amount of content that we’re doing; the kinds of content that we’re creating, the stories that we’re telling; and to reach new audiences. And I think that’s really key. And then leveraging all of that content across social media as well.

But with regard to the print magazine, I think that has evolved too. Southern Living is a very generational magazine; it’s a brand that gets passed down from one generation to the next. And we reach all of them through print. We reach Boomers, Gen Xers, and we reach Millennials, so it’s all different generations. And we really speak to them all at the same time. And we focus on the things that they have in common; the things that bring those generations together, food being a key one. People pass recipes down from one generation to the next, just as much now as they were 50 years ago. They’re doing it in different ways, but food is still that connective tissue between the generations.

And I think the way that we live in our homes and the way that we decorate our homes, that’s also connective tissue. And of course, southern culture. So we tend to focus on the things, in print especially, that unify people and bring all of those audiences together.

Samir Husni: Is there a light bulb that goes off in your mind when you’re deciding what content is for print and what is for digital? Creatively, how do you make the decision on which stories are for which platform?

Sid Evans: That’s a great question. When we’re looking at digital stories, we’re thinking about things that are shareable, and they tend to be very focused. They tend to be shorter, and it’s perhaps less dependent on photography, but you also have no boundaries. You don’t have the boundaries of a page the way you do in print. With a print story, it has to be something that’s going to relate to people through photography, design, and that’s going to have a lasting impact.

We’re doing over 600 videos a year now, and we’re always looking for stories that will translate well in video. Obviously these take time and resources to produce, so we’re always trying to determine which stories will have the most impact in that medium. Southern Living is generating millions of views both on site and on social by telling stories that resonate with audiences on an emotional level.

Samir Husni: Have you ever had a writer tell you that they wanted their story in print, that they really didn’t care about digital, or does it make a difference to writers nowadays where their stories appear?

Sid Evans: I don’t think so; as long as they’re getting paid, I don’t think it matters. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Sid Evans: Every writer that I know wants to reach as broad an audience as possible. And we don’t have a huge overlap between our print and digital audiences. So, anything that we run in print and then also run on digital, you’re reaching a lot of new people. And then every time they share it, you’re reaching more new people.

Samir Husni: I was told sometime back, in fact pre-digital, if we can imagine such a time, that Southern Living, the print magazine, reached one out of every five households in the Southern United States. What’s the reach now with digital? Do you saturate the South now?

Sid Evans: We like to say that we are house to house and door to door in the South. I don’t think there’s any other brand or entity that has the penetration and the saturation that Southern Living does. And I think that’s become even more true as we’ve grown our digital audience. When I got here we had about 600,000 unique visitors to our site. And as of last month, we’re at almost 7 million in comScore. So, we’ve grown dramatically and I think we have a lot more growth ahead of us.

Samir Husni: Does that terrify you, seeing that you have this massive reach? Does that keep you at night, being in charge of the message that you’re delivering to all of these people?

Sid Evans: I think it demonstrates that the content we’re creating is relevant to a really large audience. That was true 50 years ago and it’s just as true today. Another thing that’s been interesting to see over the last couple of years is how relevant our content is outside of the South. We have huge audiences in New York and California and of course, all throughout the Midwest, and places where you wouldn’t expect Southern Living to resonate. But I think as the South has grown, as Southern culture has become more omnipresent and more relevant to people’s lives outside the South, so has Southern Living.

Samir Husni: With the added responsibilities that you now have, needless to say, there haven’t been these huge increases in staff lately, so how do you change your thinking cap from Southern Living to Coastal Living? How do you divide your day?

Sid Evans: (Laughs) You have short meetings; you make quick decisions; you plan obsessively; and you stay true to your audience. And you have to be kind of ruthless and decisive about what makes sense for your audience and what doesn’t. Then make a decision and move on.

And the planning is really important, more so than ever, because we have a very lean team, and we have limited hours in the day. But when we’re well-planned, we can move quickly. We know how to execute a good story; we know how to pull off a good photo shoot; and we know how to report, whether it’s on the South or on the Coast. But having a detailed editorial plan is more critical than ever.

Samir Husni: You’ve been editor in chief before, of Field & Stream, of Garden & Gun, of Southern Living; now in addition to that, Coastal Living. Can you tell me how that role and its responsibilities have changed over the years?

Sid Evans: (Laughs) I think I feel more like an entrepreneur than ever before. When I got to Field & Stream, I was managing an historic brand and I was trying to reinvent that brand, but I wasn’t necessarily trying to start whole new businesses. Being an editor today; I feel like you’re constantly looking for new ways to reach audiences, find new revenue streams, new marketing partnerships, and increasingly, find new ways to communicate. And there’s just so much learning to be done every, single day, because everything is changing so fast. It’s very exciting, but it’s also very different from what it was like to be an editor 10 or 15 years ago.

Samir Husni: And how do you keep your editorial integrity? What are the lines in the sand that you’ll never cross?

Sid Evans: Always be true to your reader and always be transparent. I think transparency is paramount. And anytime that you’re creating content that is tied to some kind of partner or advertiser, I think people understand that, as long as you are clear and transparent about what you’re doing. I think that’s absolutely critical.

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

Sid Evans: Coastal Living is a very different brand from Southern Living. For one thing, it has a very high household income; it’s among the highest in the company and in the industry. So, you have this incredibly valuable audience and they’re used to living the good life. They come to the magazine for escape; they come to it for something that’s going to make them feel good; it’s a place to relax, and the mindset that they have when they pick up a copy of Coastal Living, I think is so valuable. It’s where you want to be. I picture them laying in a hammock or sitting in a chair on a front porch or sitting on a beach. So, they’re in a very happy place when they pick up a copy of Coastal.

And we hear this from them. We hear them say, I was sitting on my porch reading Coastal the other day. So, that really informs so much of what we do and what that brand is about. And especially right now, in this day and age, when there is so much ugliness in the world, I think Coastal is a reprieve from that. That’s something that has a lot of value to people.

Coastal Living has a remarkably loyal following. And I know what a big fan of print you are, and this is one of those magazines that people take pictures of and they take pictures of themselves with it in all of these wonderful places and send them to us. And five, ten, fifteen years from now, when there are fewer print magazines, I can guarantee you that this one is still going to be around.

Samir Husni: And are we going to see more of Sid’s handprint throughout the pages of Coastal Living now that you’re the editor in chief?

Sid Evans: (Laughs) I hope so.

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

Sid Evans: That he always put his readers first. That’s what I tell my staff all of the time; think about your reader, and when you have a million things coming at you; when you’re wrestling with a story or when you’re confused about what to do next, just think about your reader and put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their perspective. And as long as you do that, you’re going to make the right decision.

Samir Husni: If I gave you a magic wand and you could strike Southern Living and Coastal Living with it and they would both instantaneously turn into a human being, who would that be for each magazine?

Sid Evans: (Laughs) Well, it would definitely be two different people. The Southern Living reader is not a celebrity; it’s someone who is living in a small town in the South and just moved into her dream home. And she’s sitting on the porch with a copy of our magazine and she couldn’t be happier. And for Coastal Living, I think it’s probably the same thing, but she’s on a beach.

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?

Sid Evans: I may have told you this before; I’m probably playing my guitar badly, but hopefully I’ve gotten a little better at it since the last time I talked to you. And hanging out with the family; there’s no place that I’d rather be.

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

Sid Evans: I don’t sleep much anymore, so I’m up a lot. But it concerns me that we’re creating so much content for other people’s platforms. And as an editor, I am something of a control freak. I like to control my content; I like to control how it’s presented; I like to control how it’s designed, and I like to control the vehicle that gets it from me to the reader. And of course, that is more and more of a luxury. And with all of these growing platforms in the world that have such a share of the market, we’re increasingly creating content for them. So, that keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

The Magnolia Journal Celebrates One Year Of Publishing Success – Proving The Power Of Print Is No Longer Under Debate – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group…

October 19, 2017

“I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.” Christine Guilfoyle…

Almost one year to the date, I spoke with Christine Guilfoyle, senior VP, publisher, upon the launch of Meredith’s then brand new title, The Magnolia Journal. At that time, no one really knew the phenomenal success that the magazine would enjoy, in really less time than you could say, Chip and Joanna Gaines, but it did. The ink on paper magazine debuted in October 2016 as a newsstand-only title with an initial run of 400,000 copies and a cover price of $7.99. Within one week, it had sold out certain places across the United States, and was going back to press.

Not hard to see, when you have the right print product, consumers are as anxious to embrace ink on paper as they ever were. It’s as I’ve always said, publishers don’t have a print problem, they have a content problem. There is nothing wrong with the delivery of ink on paper, but instead, it’s what is being put on that paper.

But with The Magnolia Journal, there are definitely no problems with the content inside the very auspicious magazine, nor the Magnolia brand that Chip and Joanna Gaines brought to Meredith. And even though their very popular TV show, “Fixer Upper” is ending its run with this next season (by the Gaines’s choice), number Five, which airs in November, they are by no means slowing down with the Magnolia brand.

According to Christine Guilfoyle, it’s really quite the opposite. I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about the dynamic duo that make up the Magnolia brand, and the couple’s insatiable desire to connect with their audiences, across all platforms. She is convinced that the magazine, an integral part of the empire the Gaines’ have created, has only just begun and still has many plateaus to reach before it gets to the top of the mountain. And while the TV show may be a thing of the past for them, it only opens more doors for the time to do other projects, and move the magazine forward into its very bright future.

After one year, Chris is still as excited as when she spoke to me last October. When I asked her what she thought she would tell me a year from that first interview about whether she would be as positive and upbeat about print publishing as she is today, part of her answer then was: “I can’t imagine, honestly, that I will ever really run out of enthusiasm, even if you told me that I had to do it for 22 more years versus 11, because I think you create your own opportunity. You surround yourself with smart people of all ages and levels of experience.”

And one year later that enthusiasm and positivity is still just as strong as ever, especially when it comes to The Magnolia Journal. So, I hope that you enjoy this conversation I had with a very special and wise lover of print, Christine Guilfoyle, because it’s a given Mr. Magazine™ did.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she thinks The Magnolia Journal is surpassing everyone’s wildest print dreams in this digital age: As you know, I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.

On The Magnolia Journal being launched from Meredith’s Core Media, only to become part of the Mothership after the first two issues with Christine herself overseeing the sales: It was always me and it’s still part of our core business, so I would say that this is a bit of a hybrid. The management team, Scott Mortimer, from a lead publisher’s standpoint; he manages that group, but I was assigned the sales responsibility for The Magnolia Journal from the very first issue. And actually, for the first issue it was just me, so who knows how it became successful with just my one extra set of hands.

On the magic Meredith used to translate two human beings, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and their personalities, into an ink on paper magazine so successfully: Here’s the thing; it has nothing to do with what we were able to do, it really has to do with how incredibly involved the two of them are. And really, let’s face it, it’s Jo. Chip appears, he has a column, but the magazine is really her labor of love. It is her ability to translate all of her passion and enthusiasm around things that she loves: her family, the celebration of holidays, being grateful and hospitable; all of those types of things are translated into the magazine in her voice.

On whether she had to do any recalculating or rethinking when all of the celebrity editors came onboard at Meredith: I think the thing is with each of those celebrities they’re integrated into the family, but in the way that works the best for them. So, I think it’s more individualized versus democratized.

On the future of the magazine and whether she feels there’s still more climbing to do with the brand or they’ve reached the top of the mountain: For The Magnolia Journal, I feel like we’re just getting started. We haven’t even reached the base camp yet. We just closed the fifth issue, which is November. Chip and Joanna announced their Target partnership; they announced that Season five is the last of their TV show. But believe me, they’re nowhere near retirement. And I think it’ll be very interesting to watch them grow and develop new ways of connecting with their consumer constituents.

On whether they will increase the frequency of the magazine from a quarterly: At this point we are continuing with the quarterly frequency, so we’ll do four issues again next year: February, May, August and November. And each one of those issues has a theme, like we had this year. So, it’s intentionality, curiosity, generosity, and contentment. Every issue has a theme, and the content; when Jo sits with the editorial team, it brainstorms around that theme, and then that package is delivered to the consumer.

On whether she feels her job is different now than it was five or 10 years ago: Oh my, are you kidding me? Absolutely! There is hardly anything the same about my job. If you think back to 2005 when I was launching Everyday with Rachael Ray, which at the time was also only two people, Tracy Hadel and myself. I don’t think I can launch a magazine without a Tracy. (Laughs) How we launched Rachael Ray, and it was a different company then, Reader’s Digest, but similar family values under Mr. Ryder (Thomas Ryder, CEO, Reader’s Digest), as The Magnolia Journal is under Mr. Lacy (Steve Lacy, Chairman and CEO, Meredith), it was completely and utterly different.

On the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray (Now Rachael Ray Every Day) at Reader’s Digest: When I think about the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray at Reader’s Digest, we were a very small, but mighty team, and I think the company’s senior management took the launch very seriously, but it seemed the majority of the workforce that worked on Reader’s Digest did not really take it seriously.

On The Magnolia Journal’s current rate base: It’s currently 800,000 and that is our first claimed rate base, and we claimed that in August. And we’re holding that rate base for August and November. And then we’re increasing our rate base in February to 1.2 million.

On anything she’d like to add: I just think that you have to be open to the situation and the circumstance that you’ve been dealt, and use your past experience to help and guide you, but not specifically to set the rule book for you.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: Don’t take anything for granted.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: It’s so interesting; my oldest daughter just went off to college, so I only have one teenaged daughter home, who is 16, and I have to tell you, I don’t know what to do with myself. I said to my husband recently, I can fill my Saturdays with normal things that women do when they’re not working: cooking, cleaning, friends, etc. But when I’ve done all of that on Saturday, for Sunday, I need to find a hobby. I’m tortured with not knowing exactly what to do with myself. (Laughs)

On what keeps her up at night: The disruption that is taking place in the media industry keeps me, and anybody who is employed in it, up at night for a variety of reasons. Are we challenging ourselves? Are we prioritizing our time and resources? Do we have the right talent? If we do, in fact, have the right talent, are we showing them that we appreciate them enough and giving them every opportunity? There are lots of things that keep me up at night, that’s for sure.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith National Media Group.

Samir Husni: I received a phone call recently from a friend of mine who owns a midsized magazine company and he was telling me that everyone working for him was declaring there was no future for print; he better sell the company because he isn’t going to make any more money in print ever again. And of course, the first thing that popped into my mind was The Magnolia Journal. So, what gives, Chris? Why is The Magnolia Journal, a print magazine, surpassing everyone’s wildest dreams in this digital age?

Christine Guilfoyle: First of all, I have 11 more years until I can retire, so I hope those people who told your friend all of that are completely and utterly wrong. And as you know, I have spent my entire career in the print brand space, and frankly, when you give consumers what it is that they want in a space where a specific niche is being filled, there is obviously success attached to that.

And you can look at that thinking with Martha Stewart; with Rachael Ray; with Oprah Winfrey. You can look at it in the continuing production of bookazines and specialty titles, such as WholeFoods Magazine or Kraft’s magazine. So, to the very broad or to the very niche, if you provide consumers with something useful and entertaining, I believe there’s a market for it.

Samir Husni: The Magnolia Journal was launched from Meredith’s Core Media and then after the first two issues, it immigrated to you and now it’s part of the Mothership. Is this the new business model today when launching a magazine?

Christine Guilfoyle: It was always me and it’s still part of our core business, so I would say that this is a bit of a hybrid. The management team, Scott Mortimer, from a lead publisher’s standpoint; he manages that group, but I was assigned the sales responsibility for The Magnolia Journal from the very first issue. And actually, for the first issue it was just me, so who knows how it became successful with just my one extra set of hands.

And at that point, I was overseeing Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living at the time. And you’re right, the first two issues were to see if there was going to be consumer want for the magazine. And I think when you and I spoke a year ago, ultimately, we weren’t sure that the consumer was going to respond to a paid product, and a premium paid product to that end; it’s $7.99 on the newsstand and the sub offer is four issues for $20. So, we wanted to make sure that the consumer, who received a lot of Chip and Jo and Magnolia content for free, was actually going to step up and pay for it. We had a pretty good hunch, just like with Allrecipes, which also if you’ll remember, was completely free content that we curated and charged the consumer for, and there has been a great success around that product as well.

So, the first two issues worked, and they worked incredibly well. And obviously, we renegotiated our contract and said yes, we’re in this now, and let’s move forward and build toward being a rate based model. It’s still managed out of the Core Media Group, as it relates to content and distribution and P&L oversight. But from a sales and marketing standpoint, I manage it here in New York, and the team is incredibly lean; incredibly. There are two dedicated sellers, myself and one other seller who is an ad director, Tracie Lichten. And then one marketer, Tricia Solimeno, who is dedicated 100 percent. And really, the rest of it is good Meredith family values; everybody helping out their sisters.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) No room for brothers?

Christine Guilfoyle: Oh, we’ll take brothers, not just sisters. It’s a non-sexual orientation world nowadays. (Laughs too) You are always welcomed.

Samir Husni: Chip and Joanna Gaines have departed from HGTV, yet they’re on the cover of People this week; they’re on the cover of HGTV Magazine this week; everybody talks about them, and every now and then they appear here in Oxford, Miss. on campus, in our Grove at Ole Miss, what’s the magic that you used to translate two human beings into an ink on paper magazine so successfully?

Christine Guilfoyle: Here’s the thing; it has nothing to do with what we were able to do, it really has to do with how incredibly involved the two of them are. And really, let’s face it, it’s Jo. Chip appears, he has a column, but the magazine is really her labor of love. It is her ability to translate all of her passion and enthusiasm around things that she loves: her family, the celebration of holidays, being grateful and hospitable; all of those types of things are translated into the magazine in her voice.

We were able to do that because, guess what, it’s her voice. She is incredibly hands-on, active, and involved in not only the planning stages, but all the way through until the magazine is sent to the printer.

Samir Husni: We read a lot today in the media about all of these celebrity editors, but for years, no one knew who the editor of Better Homes & Gardens was; it was more about the brand than the person at the helm. But now you’re dealing with quite a few, whether it’s Martha or Rachael or Jo; did you have to do some recalculating or rethinking when all of these celebrities came onboard, or everyone is still one big Meredith family?

Christine Guilfoyle: I think the thing is with each of those celebrities they’re integrated into the family, but in the way that works the best for them. So, I think it’s more individualized versus democratized.

I do agree with you that in the past all brands here at Meredith were about the brand and not necessarily the editorial voice that was behind it. But frankly, many of our brands are traditional media brands and that’s what the relationship was between the content and the consumer. And nowadays, just look at Liz Vaccariello at Parents, or Stephen Orr at Better Homes & Gardens, or Cheryl Brown at Family Circle; these are editors in chief that have their own social platform. And as a result, their voices are being heard as individuals to support the brands.

So, I think that we have shifted toward there being a better understanding of who the editors are, because of where the industry and the consumer has gone. That has happened naturally with our heritage brands. And in this instance, like the Rachael Ray and the Martha Stewart instances, those people had a relationship with consumers already, so we wanted to make sure that we were enhancing that experience, and have the experience be additive, and however that worked for them best personality-wise. Not necessarily what was our model.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you still have 11 years before you can retire.

Christine Guilfoyle: Yes, but my husband would argue with that. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: So, for the future – do you think you’re at the top of the mountain now and you’re going to hope that it’s like a tabletop – flat and holding steady, or do you feel there’s still more climbing to go?

Christine Guilfoyle: For The Magnolia Journal, I feel like we’re just getting started. We haven’t even reached the base camp yet. We just closed the fifth issue, which is November. Chip and Joanna announced their Target partnership; they announced that Season five is the last of their TV show. But believe me, they’re nowhere near retirement. And I think it’ll be very interesting to watch them grow and develop new ways of connecting with their consumer constituents.

For example, recently was their “Silobration” at their Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas. And although I was not there, I watched the video and members of our management team were there, and there were double the number of consumers there this year versus last year. And I would almost suspect that will continue to evolve, and where it’s only a day and half event now, it will eventually become a complete weekend or even a full week of activities. I think it probably will. And then they’ll wake up and have a delicious Cinnamon Bun from their Magnolia Bakery, which are spectacular, and when the fog clears by that afternoon, they’ll be planning for next year’s event.

I think they are just getting started. And that’s exciting. They have books that are coming out; Chip is on a book tour for his book now, and I think their book deal was eight or ten hardcover books, something like that. So, that’s a whole other new area for them.

And you mentioned People magazine, they’ve been on the cover three times since we launched The Magnolia Journal and having worked at People magazine, I know very well that the only way you get to be on the cover is if you sell copies at the newsstand. And frankly, that continues to reinforce our position. And by the way, Jess Cagle (editorial director, People and Entertainment Weekly) is also from Texas, so I’m sure he is voting for the hometown heroes. Actually, Jess Cagle and Stephen Orr, the editor in chief of Better Homes & Gardens, are from the same small town, Abilene, Texas, and they went to rival high schools. So, it’s a small world.

Samir Husni: Are you going to increase the frequency of The Magnolia Journal or stick to the quarterly format; stay with that high cover price? What’s the future of the magazine?

Christine Guilfoyle: At this point we are continuing with the quarterly frequency, so we’ll do four issues again next year: February, May, August and November. And each one of those issues has a theme, like we had this year. So, it’s intentionality, curiosity, generosity, and contentment. Every issue has a theme, and the content; when Jo sits with the editorial team, it brainstorms around that theme, and then that package is delivered to the consumer.

And again, I think the whole notion of more frequency, less frequency; at this point, the amount of frequency that we have, quarterly, is what Jo feels comfortable committing to, based upon her high level of involvement.

Samir Husni: I want you to put on your publisher’s hat, your chief revenue officer’s hat, for a moment; let’s say your dispensing advice to students who are future magazine industry leaders, would you tell them that your job now is any different that it was five or 10 years ago?

Christine Guilfoyle: Oh my, are you kidding me? Absolutely! There is hardly anything the same about my job. If you think back to 2005 when I was launching Everyday with Rachael Ray, which at the time was also only two people, Tracy Hadel and myself. I don’t think I can launch a magazine without a Tracy. (Laughs) How we launched Rachael Ray, and it was a different company then, Reader’s Digest, but similar family values under Mr. Ryder (Thomas Ryder, CEO, Reader’s Digest), as The Magnolia Journal is under Mr. Lacy (Steve Lacy, Chairman and CEO, Meredith), it was completely and utterly different.

Everything about the launch was different. I think the only two things they had in common were they both had a celebrity who appeared on the cover and they were both runaway consumer circulation successes. Outside of that, there wasn’t a single thing that I did the same.

Samir Husni: Could you expand a little bit on that?

Christine Guilfoyle: No one has really ever asked me the question like that before, but when I think about the launch of Everyday with Rachael Ray at Reader’s Digest, we were a very small, but mighty team, and I think the company’s senior management took the launch very seriously, but it seemed the majority of the workforce that worked on Reader’s Digest did not really take it seriously.

I think Rachael’s popularity at that particular moment in time, May 2005, if my memory serves me correctly, is when the article was published in The New York Times about Rachael launching a magazine. And there were many people, including all of my contacts at Unilever, remember I had come from Better Homes & Gardens, so I was calling on all of the major national advertisers, People at Unilever did not know who Rachael was. And she had three shows on the Food Network at the time; probably around 10 cookbooks out at the time, she was a celebrated cookbook author, and you couldn’t turn on the Food Network without seeing Rachael Ray.

The difference was that a celebrity at that particular time, and yes, there was Oprah and her show and O The Oprah Magazine, and yes, there was Martha and all of her great extensions, but celebrities on the Food Network or HGTV, they weren’t looked upon or even known to have extensions beyond just what that program was. I know it seems so completely hard to believe.

I knew Rachael before she had met Oprah, before she had her own talk show, just as she was launching her South by Southwest footprint, and we were all under 40. It was a pretty amazing time. In her particular lifecycle and development, at that time, she wasn’t married, and who she wanted to be as a brand was being defined, and the magazine really got to help shape that footprint of who Rachael was and what she was going to stand for. The consumer is who is important to her and that’s the charm of Rachael. If I can do it, you can too; it’s the whole collective girl-next-door thing.

And with The Magnolia Journal, it’s the same, we don’t need to teach Chip and Jo who it is that they are and what it is that they stand for, and how it is that they relate to their consumer constituency. Like Rachael, they are masterful in the dissemination of their own story, utilizing all forms of social and digital to make sure that who it is that they are, what they stand for, their values and business proposition; all of it is so incredibly crystal clear. So, none of the time that we spend with them is about that. We’re here to be a mentor and a guide on how to produce great consumer content in a magazine format. And that’s something that they haven’t done before.

Our go-to-market sale; at Reader’s Digest, there really weren’t corporate deals, there weren’t any sharing of proposals, the targeted audiences were completely different between the Reader’s Digest and Everyday with Rachael Ray. Here at the Meredith Corporation, we work completely in cooperation. Our book of business is quite similar, but our cost of entry, because of the limited inventory not only in the number of ads, but also in the frequency of publication, allows us to put together a very consumer-centric 85 percent editorial, 15 percent advertising, and that is completely and utterly by design.

Samir Husni: What is your rate base now?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s currently 800,000 and that is our first claimed rate base, and we claimed that in August. And we’re holding that rate base for August and November. And then we’re increasing our rate base in February to 1.2 million.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: I just think that you have to be open to the situation and the circumstance that you’ve been dealt, and use your past experience to help and guide you, but not specifically to set the rule book for you.

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

Christine Guilfoyle: Don’t take anything for granted.

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?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s so interesting; my oldest daughter just went off to college, so I only have one teenaged daughter home, who is 16, and I have to tell you, I don’t know what to do with myself. I said to my husband recently, I can fill my Saturdays with normal things that women do when they’re not working: cooking, cleaning, friends, etc. But when I’ve done all of that on Saturday, for Sunday, I need to find a hobby. I’m tortured with not knowing exactly what to do with myself. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: You can always buy some magazines and sit down and read them. (Laughs)

Christine Guilfoyle: Are you kidding me? You know me, I don’t just read them, I sit down and tear sheet them. And that is a voracious hobby of mine. But I would actually say that falls into the work bucket, versus my leisure bucket. (Laughs)

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

Christine Guilfoyle: The disruption that is taking place in the media industry keeps me, and anybody who is employed in it, up at night for a variety of reasons. Are we challenging ourselves? Are we prioritizing our time and resources? Do we have the right talent? If we do, in fact, have the right talent, are we showing them that we appreciate them enough and giving them every opportunity? There are lots of things that keep me up at night, that’s for sure. But I also think it’s a very exciting time, and one that when we come out of it on the other side, which I hope is sooner rather than later, those of us that have persevered, people and companies, will be better for it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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It’s $4.20 Somewhere… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

October 18, 2017

You may judge a book by its cover, but you definitely can judge a magazine by its cover price! Recently, I was at the newsstand, which is of course my second home, when I discovered two magazines that may not be new, but are new to my area of the magazine world: “Tokewell” and “Stay Wild.” Tokewell, based in Alhambra, California, celebrates the cannabis and music lifestyle and Stay Wild, based in Portland, Oregon, proclaims that we should make the here and now beautiful, while the articles explore feelings, climate change, meditations, and personal adventures of every kind.

Mr. Magazine™ has always said that magazines are the best reflectors of our society, and I’m not about to change that statement now. In fact, these two magazines are perfect examples of that proclamation, right down to both titles’ cover price in the U.S.: $4.20.

Just for your information, assuming you don’t know, 420 is a code-term in cannabis culture that refers to the consumption of cannabis, especially smoking cannabis around the time 4:20 p.m., and smoking and celebrating cannabis on the date April 20, which according to an article published on 4/20/10 by the Huffington Post, dates back to a group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos who coined the term in 1971.

Regardless of the origins of the term, suffice it to say that a $4.20 cover price certainly reflects the times we live in, with cannabis legal in many states, and possibly becoming legal in others soon. So, Mr. Magazine™ is convinced that the publishers of these two magazines decided on that particular cover price intentionally, because it would be a pretty ironic coincidence if it mirrored that iconic term so perfectly totally by accident.

As for the monikers of the magazines themselves, Tokewell is certainly right on the money (pun intended) with its title, and with much of its content and ads leaning toward that “420” lifestyle. Stay Wild, however, is a bit more subtle, with its content aimed at a more natural and open lifestyle, punctuating the heart of the magazine with the self-made statement that “STAY WILD is an ADVENTURE MAGAZINE.” And while the actual mention of cannabis may be missing from Stay Wild, the free-living and anti-establishment aura that infuses it (right along with the spirited nudity you see scattered throughout its pages), certainly lets you know that the outdoor adventures experienced in this magazine are a bit more than mere hunting and fishing.

So, with that, Mr. Magazine™ offers you, the reader, the magazine lover, an opportunity to look in the mirror that exists at the newsstands and find something that best casts your own reflection. And remember…it’s 420 somewhere; you just have to determine what your “420” is.

Until next time…
See you at the newsstand…

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The Journal Of Alta California: A Quarterly Magazine And A Website Launched To Celebrate California’s Culture, Issues & All-Important History – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mark Potts, Managing Editor…

October 16, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

“I think we started somewhat print first, because that was Will’s (William R. Hearst III) interest, so the magazine was the bedrock and we built from there. The website was built alongside it. But we thought of it in terms of a print magazine, which is weird for me because I’m a digital guy, and I’ve spent most of the last 25 years in digital. So, going back to print was different, but fun and really interesting to create a product completely from scratch like this.” Mark Potts…

William R. Hearst III is certainly someone who knows about publishing and magazines, since his last name is Hearst and absolutely synonymous with anything at all that has to do with the industry. So, to hear that he has launched a new print magazine, along with a website to go with it, is not a surprise, but it is maybe long overdue, especially considering that the “Journal of Alta California” (Alta for short) has been on his mind for about 20 years, according to the magazine’s managing editor, Mark Potts.

Mark is an entrepreneur, executive and consultant who has long been on the cutting edge of the digital media revolution. He has been a leader in the development of innovative strategies and products in online media, created and worked for several startups, consulted to some of the nation’s leading digital and media companies, and has taught college classes in entrepreneurship. Mark also created one of the first electronic news prototypes in the early 1990s, and then co-founded The Washington Post Co.’s digital division and he was a member of the founding team of the @Home Network, where he led the creation of the first consumer broadband programming service.

So, with Mark’s digital background and Will’s legacy in media, the two together should definitely be print proud and digital smart. I spoke with Mark recently and we talked about the magazine and how it is something that Will Hearst is extremely proud of, and that it’s definitely a reflection of the man and not the company. It is his paean to California and provides a fresh, smart take on the issues, culture, personalities, politics, lifestyle, culture and history of California, featuring some of the state’s best writers, photographers and illustrators. The magazine’s website, altaonline.com, will be a daily guide to the best writing about the state from Alta and other sources.

Will Hearst will be actively involved in leading the magazine, and along with Mark and the magazine’s creative director, John Goecke, who has created designs for many newspapers, magazines and digital companies, the future for Alta looks bright indeed.

So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mark Potts, managing editor, Alta magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how it’s different today launching a new magazine media brand than it was in the early days when all you had to worry about was the print magazine: That’s a really good question. You obviously have to think simultaneously, in terms of the website and social media, and to some extent video and audio. We’re pursuing all of those. And obviously the website is up and we’re active on social media. And we’re working on our plans for video, podcasts and audio, and multimedia. So, you have to work through the whole thing.

On his reaction when he received the first print issue: I come from a print background, so print still means something to me. It’s not my primary form of consumption anymore; I do just about everything digitally. But it’s still a nice talisman; it’s still a nice thing to have to put on the shelf or sit on the coffee table.

On why the masthead of the magazine reads like a who’s who list of many different people: That was really Will trying to pay tribute to a lot of people who are friends of his or who he admires. Some of those people have actually been involved in the planning of the magazine, but they’re not active, they’re honorary, especially the inspirations. But it’s just our way of paying tribute to the people who gave us good ideas, either directly or even indirectly, things that we saw them do and said, “Gee, this is somebody who we’d love to have or would enjoy what we’re doing and we want to pay tribute to them.”

On the thinking behind the physical attributes of the printed magazine, such as the oversized format and the comparisons to The New Yorker magazine: When we say The New Yorker for California, we’re talking more about sensibility and about literate, witty, and smart content. I would describe it as 70 percent New Yorker and 20 percent Vanity Fair and 10 percent Spy, trying to get the mix in there. But the oversize is another thing that Will wanted to do as sort of a tribute to the New York Review of Books, which he’s a big fan of, and some other magazines that are that size. He wanted to try something different, maybe get a little more attention on the newsstand with that size, but we could definitely do much better graphics and art, and that’s really important. And the first time that I saw it printed out, we did some dummy copies and I was blown away; it was incredible.

On how he decides what content goes on which platform, print or digital: I think we primarily think in terms of the quarterly magazine, because we can’t publish blank pages, so it’s good to keep things for the magazine. But there’s really a phenomenal story about that; the first story that we put up on the web was written for the web. There are a couple of things that were written for the magazine that didn’t make the magazine, so they went up, but there’s a story that went up, a piece on a mobility score; it’s a little calculator that you can use, you put in your address and it tells you how good mass transit is around your house. And that could never have worked in print; it had to be done online, and that’s why we chose to do it.

On where the name Journal of Alta California, Alta for short, came from: There was a newspaper after the Gold Rush called Alta California. It was one of the first and became very famous; Mark Twain wrote for it. And we have a collection of his letters to the original Alta in the first issue. It was something that Will always admired when he was doing some research in California history, he kept coming across the name and liked the idea of calling the magazine The Journal of Alta California, so the name has always been that, and Alta for short. But it’s a tribute to that pioneering journalistic enterprise of the 1860s.

On defining today’s Alta brand: The last page will always be something that looks forward with all prospects, and it’s always about some piece of technology or something. Every trend starts in California, so we want to identify the trends before they start on that last page. So, we always look forward. But we want to look back too. I think it’s to try and get at the richness of California. Someone sent something very interesting to us in a note recently that really encapsulates this. California is always covered as a place where everything is happening right now, and doesn’t often have a sense of its own history. And we’re trying to remedy that a little bit. We’re not going to overdo it, but there’ll be at least one historical piece in every issue, which is similar to what The New Yorker or The Atlantic does.

On whether the journey of Alta has been a walk in a Rose Garden or there have been challenges along the way: It’s been pretty easy. Will has been talking about this for around 20 years. There’s an amazing collection of memos from famous editors proposing versions of it. He and I started talking about it in 2010. I have notes from 2010 about this that aren’t real dissimilar from what we published. It was just a question of timing and when he wanted to commit the time and the funds to it.

On that definitive moment when they decided to just do it: Believe it or not, that was basically in June. We started talking really earnestly about it around a year ago. We did a prototype in February or March, just to see what it would look like. We had a budget, and the real go-ahead did not come until the first week in June, so we put this thing together very quickly. Once we knew it was there, and given how quickly we put it together, I’m happy with the way it came out. Now, we have a little more time to be thoughtful about it.

On whether he feels in today’s digital world, there is a need for both “slow journalism” and immediate journalism: I know that Will refers to this as slow journalism, and I think in print you definitely want to be more thoughtful and take more time. We do a lot of work with our writers in getting stories just right. You have the luxury of that in print; you don’t have that luxury online, where you have to move a lot more quickly. We’re not covering news, I want to underline that. We’re not about breaking news.

On anything else he’d like to add: One thing that’s important is this is a personal project of Will’s, not a Hearst company project. And this is something that he’s really wanted to do for a long time. It’s a chance for him to take advantage of his legacy on his own terms, and really show his chops as a thinker and a publisher. He’s obviously been involved as an editor and a publisher with Outside magazine, Rolling Stone, and the San Francisco Examiner, which is where he and I first met. But this is really something that’s his. And it very much reflects him; it’s his interests in California and being very literate, and sort of the journalism of the West.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I’m surfing the web. I’m on a digital device, reading everything in sight. Twitter, magazines, newspapers, websites, just whatever.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I’m really proud of the role I’ve had as a pioneer in digital media. I started the Washington Post electronic division 25 years ago, and got the Post going online when no one believed that any of this was going to happen. I like creating products that make a difference and that last. So, the legacy is that people look back and say, wow, that’s the product that he created and it’s still here.

On what keeps him up at night: Not a whole lot. It’s thinking of stories; trying to find some really interesting stories to tell people about California. But that’s never a huge problem. We have a lot of great freelancers who are pitching ideas and have become sort of an informal contributing staff to us. It’s been a fairly easy launch and a fairly easy existence so far. We’ll see what the second one is like; we’re in the middle of the second one. But so far, if anything, we’re getting better at it, because we’re starting to get some rhythms. It’s been a great experience. It’s been fascinating to create something this elaborate from scratch; to try and figure out what kind of sensibility it has and the kind of voice it has.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mark Potts, managing editor, Alta.

Samir Husni: As the managing editor of the brand, the magazine and everything surrounding it, how is it different today launching a new magazine media brand than the early days when all you had to do was have that ink on paper component?

Mark Potts: That’s a really good question. You obviously have to think simultaneously, in terms of the website and social media, and to some extent video and audio. We’re pursuing all of those. And obviously the website is up and we’re active on social media. And we’re working on our plans for video, podcasts and audio, and multimedia. So, you have to work through the whole thing.

I think we started somewhat print first, because that was Will’s (William R. Hearst III) interest, so the magazine was the bedrock and we built from there. The website was built alongside it. But we thought of it in terms of a print magazine, which is weird for me because I’m a digital guy, and I’ve spent most of the last 25 years in digital. So, going back to print was different, but fun and really interesting to create a product completely from scratch like this.

Another piece of it that I think is really significant, and I’m understanding this better every day, is the role of social media as a promotional device. And what we’re doing with Facebook and Twitter to push the brand out there. We get inundated with shares and likes and all of the other good things on those two platforms. We’ll also do something really interesting, and this is another piece of it; being a quarterly is a very interesting cadence for us, especially for me coming from digital and daily, quarterly seems very slow. How do you keep the brand in front of people in the three months between editions is a big issue and social media is just phenomenal for that, and the website is too, but social especially, because we can publish every day. We can push things out on Twitter and on Facebook daily; we’re putting magazine stories up, obviously; we’re putting some things that didn’t make the magazine and some fresh property up.

And another thing that we do that I think is really significant, and I’m not aware of any magazine ever having done this, is curating other good content; we’re trying to pull together stories from other sources, the kind of stories that we’d run in our magazine if we had access to them. So, if there’s a great investigative piece in the L.A. Times; a really good feature about California in The Atlantic, or a great profile on someone from California in The New Yorker, we’ll put up those as well. We put up about 10 of those per day on the website and promote those through social media. And that’s been fantastic because it allows us to promote this great content that other people are doing; it keeps us fresh; it gives people a reason to follow us, and it helps those brands. So, we don’t feel like a quarterly magazine; we feel like a daily publication.

Samir Husni: When you received that premier issue of the print quarterly, as a digital person, what was your reaction? Did you feel like “wow” or “OK, it’s another magazine?”

Mark Potts: I come from a print background, so print still means something to me. It’s not my primary form of consumption anymore; I do just about everything digitally. But it’s still a nice talisman; it’s still a nice thing to have to put on the shelf or sit on the coffee table. I had read every word of it 15 times before it went to print, so I’m not reading it as a reader, but it’s a cool souvenir.

Samir Husni: Tell me, with this cool souvenir, I look at the masthead and besides the normal suspects, the managing editor and the creative director, you have a who’s who list of contributors, a who’s who list for your editorial board, and a who’s who list for an inspirational board. Why did you and Will feel the need to populate the masthead in this way?

Mark Potts: That was really Will trying to pay tribute to a lot of people who are friends of his or who he admires. Some of those people have actually been involved in the planning of the magazine, but they’re not active, they’re honorary, especially the inspirations. But it’s just our way of paying tribute to the people who gave us good ideas, either directly or even indirectly, things that we saw them do and said, “Gee, this is somebody who we’d love to have or would enjoy what we’re doing and we want to pay tribute to them.”

Will has been talking about this project for 20 years, and he’s talked to a lot of people about it. So, a lot of those folks are people who have guided his thinking along the way as he’s been conceiving this.

Samir Husni: What’s the idea behind the print magazine being oversized? All the comparisons I’ve read and all of the comments in the media are saying that Will wanted to do something like The New Yorker for the West Coast. Yet, when I received the print edition of the magazine, it was oversized and looks nothing like The New Yorker. What’s the thinking behind the physical attributes of the magazine?

Mark Potts: When we say The New Yorker for California, we’re talking more about sensibility and about literate, witty, and smart content. I would describe it as 70 percent New Yorker and 20 percent Vanity Fair and 10 percent Spy, trying to get the mix in there.

But the oversize is another thing that Will wanted to do as sort of a tribute to the New York Review of Books, which he’s a big fan of, and some other magazines that are that size. He wanted to try something different, maybe get a little more attention on the newsstand with that size, but we could definitely do much better graphics and art, and that’s really important. And the first time that I saw it printed out, we did some dummy copies and I was blown away; it was incredible.

When you look at it in screen and PDF form as you’re laying it out, it looks like a regular magazine, but when you see it in 10×13, and in fact, it was going to be bigger; we had an issue and we had to size it down a little bit, but when you see it in 10×13, you realize that it has some heft to it. It really stands out.

Samir Husni: If someone was going to travel inside your mind as you’re putting the brand together, do you have definitive ideas about what content goes in print and what goes online? How do you process the art of curation? I know the articles from other publications are going directly to the web, that’s the easy one, because you can’t publish them, but what about the original content; do you ever feel an inner struggle about which platform would be best-suited for what?

Mark Potts: I think we primarily think in terms of the quarterly magazine, because we can’t publish blank pages, so it’s good to keep things for the magazine. But there’s really a phenomenal story about that; the first story that we put up on the web was written for the web. There are a couple of things that were written for the magazine that didn’t make the magazine, so they went up, but there’s a story that went up, a piece on a mobility score; it’s a little calculator that you can use, you put in your address and it tells you how good mass transit is around your house.

And that could never have worked in print; it had to be done online, and that’s why we chose to do it. We thought it would be a fun thing to put up there and call attention to. We wrote a very short story about it and put it up. And that will never appear in print, because it wouldn’t work. The point of the story is it’s a fun fact to know and tell, but it doesn’t have any real application. The fun is to keep punching in addresses to see what the different scores are.

Pretty much everything else though is fair game. There’s one story possibility that has a really heavy video package and that’s something that might appear mostly online, because of the video, but we might do something small in print before the online piece. But if it’s word-based, we’re going to start with print, that would probably be our first choice. But we’ll put a fresh story on the website probably every week, and some of those will find their way into the magazine. When we start putting together the magazine, we’ll ask what we put on the web that was really good that we can also put in print.

Samir Husni: For the non-California people, where did the magazine’s title come from? What does Alta, Journal of Alta California mean?

Mark Potts: That’s explained in the Editor’s Letter in the first issue. There was a newspaper after the Gold Rush called Alta California. It was one of the first and became very famous; Mark Twain wrote for it. And we have a collection of his letters to the original Alta in the first issue. It was something that Will always admired when he was doing some research in California history, he kept coming across the name and liked the idea of calling the magazine The Journal of Alta California, so the name has always been that, and Alta for short. But it’s a tribute to that pioneering journalistic enterprise of the 1860s.

Samir Husni: For people who don’t have a copy of the first issue; after reading through the pages, I felt there is a mixture between the old and the new, as if you’re taking your readers through a journey of the past and then suddenly, they’re on a rocket ship to the future. Can you define today’s Alta brand?

Mark Potts: It’s very deliberate. The last page will always be something that looks forward with all prospects, and it’s always about some piece of technology or something. Every trend starts in California, so we want to identify the trends before they start on that last page. So, we always look forward. But we want to look back too.

I think it’s to try and get at the richness of California. Someone sent something very interesting to us in a note recently that really encapsulates this. California is always covered as a place where everything is happening right now, and doesn’t often have a sense of its own history. And we’re trying to remedy that a little bit. We’re not going to overdo it, but there’ll be at least one historical piece in every issue, which is similar to what The New Yorker or The Atlantic does. But it’s something that tries to go back and look at some interesting slices of California’s past that is a great story. Something that gives people a sense of the roots of California, such as the Blimp story in our first issue, which people’s response was they didn’t know that. So, we want more of that surprise. It will be mostly current and looking forward, but we want that bit of anchor with the roots.

Samir Husni: Since you started working with Will and developing the brand, has it been a walk in a Rose Garden for you both, or you’ve been faced with some challenges and obstacles along the way?

Mark Potts: It’s been pretty easy. Will has been talking about this for around 20 years. There’s an amazing collection of memos from famous editors proposing versions of it. He and I started talking about it in 2010. I have notes from 2010 about this that aren’t real dissimilar from what we published. It was just a question of timing and when he wanted to commit the time and the funds to it.

In some ways it has been remarkably easy, because there’s a lot of infrastructure in place these days to publish a magazine that you can tap into. Our production is being done by, Pubworx , which is a Condé Nast/Hearst big venture that does magazine production , which is actually coincidental. There’s a third party distributor that takes care of it. If you plug into these mechanisms, then you can put a magazine out.

And despite the long masthead, the staff is literally like five or six people, and not even that full-time. Two full-timers and me and the art director, the amazing John Goecke, and everybody else is doing it part-time or as freelancers, which tells you a lot about the magazine business these days. You can do things with a network of people that used to be done with an office full of 100 people. It helps that it’s quarterly. Monthly or weekly, I couldn’t even imagine.

Samir Husni: Do you remember that definitive moment when the decision was made to just do it?

Mark Potts: Believe it or not, that was basically in June. We started talking really earnestly about it around a year ago. We did a prototype in February or March, just to see what it would look like. We had a budget, and the real go-ahead did not come until the first week in June, so we put this thing together very quickly. Once we knew it was there, and given how quickly we put it together, I’m happy with the way it came out. Now, we have a little more time to be thoughtful about it.

We have great freelancers, and we’re cultivating more all of the time. We now have another pipeline of stories, which is very exciting, because we started out without one. So, it came together very quickly. It had been talked about for a long time, but the final go decision came just two months before it went to press.

Samir Husni: There are some magazines in the U.K. that people refer to as slow journalism, that they take their time and digest the stories and investigate the stories. As an editor in today’s marketplace and in today’s digital world, do you feel there is a need for that mix of slow journalism and immediate journalism, or do you think that the balance that you have struck at Alta is the perfect recipe for others to follow?

Mark Potts: I don’t know if you ever catch that perfect balance. I know that Will refers to this as slow journalism, and I think in print you definitely want to be more thoughtful and take more time. We do a lot of work with our writers in getting stories just right. You have the luxury of that in print; you don’t have that luxury online, where you have to move a lot more quickly. We’re not covering news, I want to underline that. We’re not about breaking news.

One of the fascinating ongoing conversations that we’ve had is how to deal with Trump. We have had stories that have had things about Trump and I’ve edited them, and then taken that out, because we don’t know what is going to happen in three months. This is the slow news issue, when you have a three month lean-time on a story and the situation is as volatile as the Trump presidency, you really don’t want to be out there saying one thing when three weeks before your issue hits the stands something else happens. So, that’s interesting; slow news versus fast news.

Online we can be a lot more nimble. We’re talking now about what we want to do online with the Harvey Weinstein story. Do we want to chase that a little bit? But with news like that, other people can do that better than us. The Santa Rosa fires; I asked our web editor to look for a good feature about that. Obviously, it’s a news story and it’s being covered beautifully as a news story by other people and we can’t keep up with that. But if there’s something that we could link to that would give people a step back in a way that also works with the magazine and cover that story, then we would do that. But that’s sort of as newsy as we get. We still have this constant battle against being too newsy, that said, we’d love to break some news and we’ll do that as we go along. We hope to have good, investigative stories and interviews that people will love and say, wow, look at that. That’s something that Alta had first. And we’ll do that for sure.

It’s a real interesting balance, and because we’re in print and digital media we can’t ignore one in favor of the other. We’re constantly balancing it.

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

Mark Potts: One thing that’s important is this is a personal project of Will’s, not a Hearst company project. And this is something that he’s really wanted to do for a long time. It’s a chance for him to take advantage of his legacy on his own terms, and really show his chops as a thinker and a publisher. He’s obviously been involved as an editor and a publisher with Outside magazine, Rolling Stone, and the San Francisco Examiner, which is where he and I first met. But this is really something that’s his. And it very much reflects him; it’s his interests in California and being very literate, and sort of the journalism of the West. He’s very fascinated by that, so I think he has this idea of why aren’t we standing in California and looking out, just looking at everything as a surveyor of all things California. So, I believe that’s really his vision, and trying to turn that into a product. So, I think this has been real important to him.

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 digital devices; or something else?

Mark Potts: I’m surfing the web. I’m on a digital device, reading everything in sight. Twitter, magazines, newspapers, websites, just whatever.

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

Mark Potts: I’m really proud of the role I’ve had as a pioneer in digital media. I started the Washington Post electronic division 25 years ago, and got the Post going online when no one believed that any of this was going to happen. I like creating products that make a difference and that last. So, the legacy is that people look back and say, wow, that’s the product that he created and it’s still here.

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

Mark Potts: Not much – Donald Trump.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Mark Potts: But not a whole lot. It’s thinking of stories; trying to find some really interesting stories to tell people about California. But that’s never a huge problem. We have a lot of great freelancers who are pitching ideas and have become sort of an informal contributing staff to us. It’s been a fairly easy launch and a fairly easy existence so far. We’ll see what the second one is like; we’re in the middle of the second one.

But so far, if anything, we’re getting better at it, because we’re starting to get some rhythms. It’s been a great experience. It’s been fascinating to create something this elaborate from scratch; to try and figure out what kind of sensibility it has and the kind of voice it has. What interesting little features that we can put into it to tickle people. And we’ve done some of what we wanted, there are still things that we want to add as we go along, but it’s been fun to ask what would a really high-quality magazine about California be like? And then try to produce it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Between Birth And Death: There Is Always Time To Celebrate… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

October 11, 2017

Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni, founder and director, Magazine Innovation Center at The University of Mississippi. Photo by Robert Jordan/
Ole Miss Communications

The recent death of my brother-in-law brought something to mind, the fact that everyone and everything has a life cycle, people, pets, plants, and even magazines. As the Good Book reminds us:

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

And if I may add, there are many events, changes, birthdays, and anniversaries that make up the hyphen in between that time to be born and that time to die. And just because a baby is born or a person dies, does not mean the entire species hinges upon those two events. With one birth, does not come an entire creation of people, it’s a continuation; just as with one death does not come the end of the human race, it is the continuity of the life cycle. And so it is for magazines as well. When one title dies, it doesn’t mean the entire magazine industry has bitten the dust. When one editor resigns, one publisher dies, or just get fired, it is not the end of the magazine or the brand. It is just part of the life cycle.

That being said let us light some candles and celebrate the hyphen in between those dates for the titles listed here. Maybe the 70s group, Little River Band, said it best “Happy Anniversary, Baby,” but Mr. Magazine™ is saying it to these magazine brands as sincerely and affectionately as I know how.

Happy Anniversary to each and every title on this list, and I certainly have each one of you on my mind as I firmly say there is no better reflector of society in this country, or the world, for that matter, than magazines. And each one mentioned here has a reason to celebrate, in the often uncertain and precarious marketplace that exists in the world of magazines; not one is celebrating anything less than a 20th anniversary, and one is observing a sesquicentennial. Congratulations to one and all, and rest assured you are never far from the mind of Mr. Magazine™.

So without further ado here are magazines celebrating anniversaries this time around:

150th Anniversary

60th Anniversary

50th Anniversary

50th Anniversary

45th Anniversary

40th Anniversary

20th Anniversary

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