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Rich Battista, President & CEO, Time Inc. To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: Time Inc.’s DNA Is Incredible Content And Brands, I Think We Must Find Ways To Leverage Those Brands And Exploit Them In As Many Platforms As Possible, Build New Revenue Streams, And Grow Old Revenue Streams.

July 7, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive

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

“I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.” Rich Battista

“One of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.” Rich Battista

Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc. is a man on a mission. He was hired a mere 10 months ago to turn the largest magazine media company in the world around and bring it back to a growth mode as the world of magazines and magazine media continues to change and evolve. He wants to be remembered as the man who did that and made the company the media leader that it once was. In fact, he would like to return the company to the innovative years of Henry Luce, whose news reel “March of Times” earned Luce’s creation the title, “innovation of the year, 1935.”

In the midst of all the news generated about Time Inc. since Rich took over, Mr. Magazine™ wondered how the captain of the largest magazine media ship in the world was dealing with this most coveted and most watched job in the media industry? Was navigating the luxury liner relatively easy in these early months or were there some rough seas he was having to roll through?

In this exclusive telephone interview, I was able to ask Rich about those waters of “Time” he was sailing upon and many other questions about the giant company and the plans for its future.

But first, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interview style, the soundbites, followed by the complete, lightly edited transcript of our conversation. I hope you find this exclusive interview with Rich Battista, President and CEO, Time Inc., another in depth look inside the great minds of magazine media makers. And an informative, educational and fun chat with the captain of the largest ship in the magazine media industry, worldwide.

The sound-bites:

On how he feels being the most watched CEO in media today: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it. The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here.

On how, during the 10 months he’s been CEO, he has implemented his belief that Time’s trusted, quality brands puts them ahead of some of their digital competitors: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades. I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams.

On why people criticize his “multimedia” platform, when Time was always considered a multiplatform company, even during the Henry Luce years: I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world. To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical.

On whether he feels this new direction is going at the right speed and it’s full steam ahead: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

On his decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham, Ala.: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move. Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

On why Time Inc. invests so much in bookazines: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

On why the bookazine model couldn’t be utilized across the board for the magazine industry: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged.

On whether Time Inc. would ever team with a partner to bring a magazine to the marketplace: Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that. I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us.

On anything he’d like to add: In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening after work: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

On what keeps him up at night: I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Rich Battista, president & CEO, Time Inc.

Samir Husni: I truly appreciate you taking the time for this interview. You’re the CEO of the largest magazine media company in the world, Time Inc., which has to also be one of the most coveted positions in magazine media. I just did a search, and Time Inc. has been mentioned in the news over five million times.

Rich Battista: That’s good news for Jill (Davison – VP, Corporate Communications); it keeps her busy.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, how do you feel being the most watched CEO in the media today?

Rich Battista: I’d say a couple of things. One, I feel very privileged to lead this great company. It’s an iconic company, obviously, with iconic brands, so I feel a real privilege and responsibility to lead this company. That’s the first word that comes into my mind when I think about it.

The second word I say is excitement, because I think there’s so much potential and upside opportunity and value to unlock across these brands. I feel like I have the right mix of background and experience to lead the charge, and I think we’ve put together a terrific senior management team and we have world-class people who work here. I believe we have tremendous raw material and tremendous assets to take this company into the 21st century and to really turn it into a growth company again, which is what my mandate is.

Samir Husni: You mentioned when you took this job less than ten months ago, that the trusted, quality nature of Time’s brands puts you ahead of some of your digital competitors. How have you put that belief into practice over the last 10 months?

Rich Battista: I’d say a few things. Some of it is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I feel like I walked into a company that has been creating quality journalism and trusted journalism, for 90-plus years. The good news is, I walked into a company that knows how to do that in spades.

I think what I’m trying to bring to the company are a few things. In order to really grow and succeed in this new world, you have to be a multiplatform consumer media company. In a company that the DNA is incredible content and brands, I think we must find ways to leverage those brands and exploit them in as many platforms as possible, build new revenue streams, and grow old revenue streams. The print business is in a secular decline; I don’t think any of us can deny that. But, our print business is still number one in publishing , which is still a huge part of our revenue base. There are lots of advantages to what we can do with our print platform that helps us in many other ways.

So, I’d say that what I think I brought to the company is: A) skill sets and pushing people to think about new ways we can leverage our brands in a lot of these exciting platforms, and B) trying to create a bit more of a nimble entrepreneurial culture.

In order to win in today’s world, you have to be on top of these incredibly dynamic changes that are happening. You have to have a staff and an organization that are excited about embracing change and embracing the new world, and that can move quickly to exploit it. You have to be willing to take some bets, and be an innovator and a pioneer. And I think we’re showing that and doing it in a number of different ways.

Samir Husni: While some media people, without actually studying the history of Time Inc., criticize the company’s ‘digital first,’ ‘consumer first,’ or ‘this or that first’ mindset. I was looking at an article from 1936 in which they named Henry Luce chief innovator of 1935 for the launch of the March of Time, which was a half-hour movie theater reel, right after he launched the March of Time on radio in 1931. So, Time Inc. has that innovation and multi-media history as its basis. Suddenly, when you say you want to be multimedia, that you cannot exist unless you are multimedia company, people directly start saying, “Rich is getting rid of the magazine—what’s happening to Time Inc.?”

Rich Battista: You’re right. I think it’s an unfair characterization. I think, to be fair, in the last fifteen years our company hasn’t embraced change like it did under the Henry Luce years. We haven’t been aggressive in expanding into the new world.

To be fair, I don’t think we did under Time Warner. And I think it’s one of the reasons we spun out, so we could 100 percent focus on Time Inc. as one entity and 100 percent focus on what this company could be, and have people leading this company who believed in its growth. That’s critical. And, to be fair, I don’t think this company had that for a lot of years, before we spun out. And as a result, people thought of us as slower, less willing to change and less willing to embrace the new world.

Samir Husni: As you drive this big, huge cruise ship in a new direction; are you going the right speed and it’s full steam ahead, or do you feel like you are still in slow mode?

Rich Battista: I feel like we’re moving very aggressively and quickly. It’s never fast enough for me, frankly. But, I have been thrilled with how this company is willing to embrace the new world and diversify our revenues and think bigger.

Also, partnerships, too. One thing I was surprised by when I got here is how inwardly facing the company was. The company didn’t do a lot of partnerships and didn’t look at creating lots of new relationships. It was a very inwardly facing company, and I was really surprised.

I think that’s one discipline I’m absolutely trying to bring to the company, is making us much more outwardly facing and much more open to partnering, as well as looking at new opportunities and thinking differently. That’s something that I’ve tried to bring to the company. So, I think that we’re moving quite quickly in that regard. You see what we’re doing in some of these new spaces—we really are one of the innovators and pioneers. You look at what we’re doing with snap and Snapchat, right? Where People is one of the first 11 new channels they put on the Discover platform.

Now we’ve launched two other channels, EW and Essence. And we have other pop ups, one day pop-ups with half a dozen other brands. We’re doing great work with Facebook; we’re aggressively looking at creating more content with them. We announced with Twitter that we’re doing live video content with them, with Essence. We’ve launched our new OTT service, the People/Entertainment Weekly Network —which is a long form, video network that, I’d say, can compete with any network on the dial.

In the audio space, we’re being a very aggressive first mover. We just announced with Amazon their new Echo show product, which is audio, but with video as well. We’re one of the early companies that has partnered with them with our People brand. I have to tell you, I think we’re doing a fantastic job in moving quickly and embracing change. It’s never fast enough, but—relatively speaking—if you asked people in the community, they’d tell you that it’s definitely a new Time Inc. here.

Samir Husni: One thing for sure that I hear from a lot of people is that you’re not shy or hesitant about some of the changes you’ve made. For example, your latest decision to move Food & Wine’s test kitchen to Birmingham. Media people were asking, “What is he doing? This is Food & Wine, it should be in New York,” without even going and visiting and seeing the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: It’s an incredible operation down there. To be fair, we should be leveraging it more than we have. To your point, that is certainly one of the big reasons we made the move.

Of course, we’re not going to relinquish our presence in New York with Food & Wine, of course we’re going to keep staff here. It’s very important for the brand. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great headquarters for Food in Birmingham, Alabama, where we have: A) great talent, B) incredible assets. We have twenty-eight test kitchens. We have four studios. And think about the fact that now we can collaborate across all our brands who cover food; they’re now all in one building pretty much.

And that’s really powerful when you’re trying to leverage the scale and resources of this company, and it’s the kind of thing we never used to do with the company. We used to be set up, literally, as if every brand was their own mini company. We weren’t sharing content. We weren’t creating best practices. We weren’t, frankly, leveraging our purchasing power and creating efficiencies in how we operate.

Now, we’ve gone to this enterprise platform approach at the company, which I think is a game changer for us. You need to be nimble and entrepreneurial in today’s world, you have to operate much more on a platform basis. You need to have the speed to move, and if you have 22 different content management systems, with 22 different brands, it’s hard to decide to make a technology move and have it run through all those brands. But, if you have one or two platforms, you can do it instantly—literally, in a day.

Samir Husni: In April, I took a group of my students to visit the test kitchens in Birmingham.

Rich Battista: That’s great.

Samir Husni: And when I heard the news that you were moving Food & Wine’s test kitchen there, I said, “Why did they wait that long?”

Rich Battista: Also, to be fair—I love New York, I work here every day and New York’s an incredible city, but not everything has to be in New York to be successful. I think we’ve shown that we can have headquarters in other parts of the country and have had great success in that regard. And Birmingham’s certainly a perfect example of that.

Samir Husni: As we look at the state of the magazine industry, I have noticed—and it cost me a lot of money to notice this—that Time Inc. is partnering, and doing a lot of bookazines. It’s almost like you are publishing four or five titles, if not more, per week, with a $12.99 or $13.99 cover price. Yesterday, I bought twelve bookazines, published in just the last two weeks, and it cost me $280.

Rich Battista: Music to my ears.

Samir Husni: (Laughs) So, while the regular magazine business model is, as you said, declining and struggling; on the other hand, we see Time Inc. investing a lot in bookazines. Why do you think that’s the case? Is this the future of print?

Rich Battista: I’m really glad you brought that up, because we talk a lot about it. I think there are a few reasons why bookazines are showing success. I think, one: a lot of the time they’re timely and pegged to an event. When Carrie Fisher passed away and we put out a bookazine a week later, it was on people’s minds. She was somebody they’d had a lot of admiration for, so you’re leveraging the news cycle. That’s one reason.

Two: they’re often collectables, right? These are often special collectors’ editions. People like having things that feel special or that are tied to events. I think that’s been well received.

Then, the third thing is, we think we’re doing a good job of covering topics in a fulsome way that are important to people today. I think our most successful bookazine, or one of the most successful, is on mindfulness; it’s one of the Time’s bookazines. Now, I wouldn’t have guessed that or predicted that ahead of time, but that, I think, is our number one bookazine right now. I think we’re printing a bunch more now.

So, if you can find a topic that is appealing to a mass audience and you cover it in a fulsome, strong way, and it can help their lives be better and be useful to them and create service for them, then I think you’re going to see people willing to pay. If they think something is of value to them that can help their lives; they’re demonstrating that they’re absolutely willing to pay.

Samir Husni: Why can’t we move that model, and start applying it to create a new magazine business model that’s less dependent on advertising and more dependent on customers?

Rich Battista: We think about that a lot; we talk about that a lot. At the same time, we have incredible, loyal readers, we have incredible advertisers who support our print products. We still make a tremendous amount of money from print advertising, so I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon. I think it’s challenged, and so declining over time. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, but I think you are right; there are other models you can explore, particularly if you have a title that maybe is more challenged. Maybe there’s a different model you could look at; maybe you charge a higher price and you reduce your sub-base and your ad base, but maybe because you charge a higher price you are able to make economics work.

So, one of the things I will tell you under my leadership here is, we are very open to exploring all kinds of new models. I’ve said this before, “There’s no sacred cows here.” I come from outside the business—sometimes that’s a benefit—and I haven’t been here for ten, twenty, thirty years, and sometimes that’s a benefit. I can come in with a fresh set of eyes and challenge conventional thinking and have people think in new and different ways. We’re doing that at this company.

Samir Husni: We see Hearst, Meredith, Condé Nast, all teaming up with celebrities and other partners to launch new print magazines. Would we ever see Time Inc. teaming up with a celebrity chef, a partner, or some other celebrity?

Rich Battista: I’ll applaud my sister companies; I think they’ve done a really nice job in that regard. Just to be clear, we have one very successful partnership with American Express, with our Departures magazine, and it’s basically a licensing deal; we create the book for them. It’s been very successful. So, absolutely, I think we are exploring and looking at opportunities. Frankly, I think this company has missed that.

I talked about us being inwardly facing, and that’s a perfect example of where this company wasn’t thinking enough creatively; particularly this company, which has by far the most resources in the magazine business and the biggest asset base. If someone wants to partner on a magazine, there’s no better company to do it with than us. We also have incredible marketing power; we’re bigger than everybody else, so we can actually market these titles better than anyone.

So, we are looking and exploring some of those opportunities. I have nothing more to say about it at this time, but we are absolutely looking. And I do applaud my sister companies. I think in general they’ve done a nice job.

Samir Husni: If you were to grade yourself from September 13, 2016, when you became CEO, until today, what grade would you give yourself based on everything you’ve done so far?

Rich Battista: It’s a little early for me to say right now, but maybe at the one year mark we can talk again.

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

Rich Battista: Two things I’d like to add that I think is interesting. In addition to obviously creating what we think is the best journalism, we pride ourselves in not just covering and reporting news, we often feel as though we drive the conversation. And we create news. I think a great example is the work People did during the tragic Orlando shooting. We had a two-page spread where we listed the phone numbers of everyone in Congress, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. And that helped to drive the conversation and create debate about a topic. I think whenever we can do that, we’re offering a service to the community.

When you look at the kind of covers that Time Magazine has done over the last six to nine months related to the election and the presidency; almost weekly I was getting kudos from people who would tell me what a terrific job we were doing covering the White House and the election. As you probably know, our second meltdown cover was Cover of the Year. And I want to just reiterate that we do believe our titles continue to be important in the zeitgeist, certainly in the U.S.

That’s A). B) is one of the interesting things that we’re doing with our brands is a tremendous amount of television and long-form now. We’re going to do 40 hours of television programming with our brands. I think we’re working with about 15 different networks, broadcast cable and digital players.

And what we’re doing, especially with our more newsier brands, such as People, Time, Sports Illustrated, EW and the like, is in Hollywood, where I lived for 25 years, production companies and the networks will sift through People magazine every week for story ideas and develop those ideas for television shows and film. So, we have this unbelievable set of journalists here who are obviously great assets to this company. And these folks are unearthing amazing stories, particularly human interest stories and the like, and writing great pieces because they’re great storytellers. And we were never capturing any of that value when it came to transitioning it to television or film. Other folks would take our articles and then they would figure out how to make a TV show or a movie out of it. So now we’re going to take it into our own hands.

For example, we’re creating TV movies with Freeform network, from stories that were in People Magazine. We’re partnering with famed documentarian Morgan Spurlock to create similar pop culture versions of the 30 for 30 documentaries that ESPN does, with our EW brand, and we’re doing them for a major cable network.

We’re doing a two-night, four-hour, prime time special with ABC on the life of Princess Diana. You might ask why ABC is doing that with us, and the answer would be that we’re experts on the Royals; we have incredible access to that world. Princess Diana was on the cover of People Magazine more than anybody, 57 times. We have incredible promotional and marketing assets, so before the show comes out, we’re going to promote it across all of our platforms and get very excited about it.

My point is, not only do we sell magazines so that people can read great stories every week and great content, but also we’re taking that great content and finding other ways to maximize that revenue; maximize that asset base. And that’s something we’re really proud of . And what I love about it is our editors are now getting to work in other platforms. We have our first hit show on the Investigation Discovery Network called People Magazine Investigates. Again, it’s based on all of these incredible true crime stories that we find at People Magazine. And now all of the crime writers who work for us, they’re involved in the show. They’re writing and developing the story ideas; they’re interviewed on the show; they’re helping to produce the show. And that’s really exciting and it gives people a much more expansive job responsibility.

Another great example is the Essence Fest, which just ended. More than 470,000 people went this year. And it used to be that we did music concerts; now it’s a full three days. During the day we have unbelievable programming and a curriculum of activities around business, health and wellness, sports; just all over the map. Again, we leverage that brand and our editorial experts; we leverage our relationships and the content that we create and turn it into this incredible three-day event. It’s one of the largest festivals in the U.S. And we had great social media response from that festival, so that’s really exciting.

So, I wanted to make that point too, that we really look at our magazines as kind of a foundational platform and that’s really helping us when we go into these other platforms and create new revenue streams.

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

Rich Battista: I would say that we returned Time Inc. to a growth story.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on an iPad; cooking; sitting and reading a magazine with a glass of wine? What’s your end-of-day “me” time?

Rich Battista: I would probably be either reading a magazine, looking at news on the web, or watching a documentary. One of those things.

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

Rich Battista: My dog who lays in bed with us.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Rich Battista: No, I think I hit on it earlier. I would say speed. Just being sure that we’re staying ahead of the change; that we’re innovating and moving quickly; that we’re embracing the new world, while respecting our legacy and heritage. That this company is becoming a real player in the new multimedia ecosystem. Every time I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels and I want to make sure that we’re pushing the envelope. I tell people that I’m a real believer in that if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not trying hard enough.

I worked for Rupert Murdoch in his organization for almost 20 years. And that culture is about taking calculated bets and getting behind those bets. It’s about thinking unconventionally. It’s about not always following the pack. It’s about sometimes being a contrarian. And that’s the kind of culture I’m constantly looking to infuse here, and that my senior team is also looking to infuse here. I think that’s a really important success factor in navigating today’s world.

And I’d also like to say that it’s great to speak to someone who is passionate about print. I’m someone who grew up loving print. I’ve had more than 10 magazine subscriptions throughout different points in my life. I love the print medium and nothing would make me happier than helping this company win in this new world and grow again. That’s what we wake up every day to do here.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Meredith Core Media: A Strong Belief In Print As Its “Core” Business With Several New Titles To Prove It, And More On The Way – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Doug Kouma – Editorial Content Director, Meredith Core Media. A Mr. Magazine™ Exclusive…

July 5, 2017

Two New Magazines, Hungry Girl, Waste Less, Save More, To Join Eat This, Not That, The Magnolia Journal, And Forks Over Knives, In Meredith Core Media’s Stable Of New Shining Print Stars…

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

When a company puts print first, or at least at its core, no matter what the negatively-slanted pundits might say, in Mr. Magazine’s™ humble opinion, the future will be rosy indeed. Last week I wrote about Hearst Magazines and their print proud philosophy, today I am proud to highlight Meredith Corporation’s Meredith Core Media group. The group helped launch The Magnolia Journal, and with its recent phenomenal success the magazine is now been brought into the bigger fold of the Meredith Corporation. Meredith Core Media is enjoying a definite print prosperity.

From the early beginnings of the successful Eat This, Not That brand, where Meredith partnered with David Zinczenko’s Galvanized Media Group, to their extremely beneficial Chip and Joanna Gaines association, Meredith Core Media has proven that affiliations with other successful brands can certainly be major opportunities for the realms of print. And the company’s editorial content director, Doug Kouma, believes that wholeheartedly.

I spoke with Doug recently and we talked about Meredith Core Media’s success with The Magnolia Journal and its past accomplishments with Eat This, Not That, and also about the Beekman 1802 Almanac, which was a beautiful attempt to bring the unique brand to the mass market audience. From successes to even the shorter-lived achievements, Meredith Core Media has always put print at the helm of its ship and never strayed off course.

And the mission continues, as in January, 2018, the company will partner with former Food Network channel star, Hungry Girl (Lisa Lillien) to bring Hungry Girl Magazine’s premier issue to the marketplace.

And they will be partnering with the CropLife Foundation on a new magazine that will bring attention to the issue of food waste, a hot topic in sustainability circles today. Tentatively titled “Waste Less, Save More,” this annual bookazine will provide real-world strategies for planning, shopping, and cooking, as well as 50+ recipes, to help consumers use more of the food they bring into their homes and cut back significantly on what goes into to the landfill.

It doesn’t sound like print is declining in Meredith’s world at all. And according to Doug, it’s more relevant than ever, even with millennials. So, enjoy this informative interview with a man who believes the tangible nature and power of print is still a legitimizing factor in the world of media, across all platforms; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Kouma, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media.

But first, the sound-bites:

On defining Meredith Core Media: It’s something that’s evolved over the last couple of years out of Meredith Special Interest Media. I think it was three years ago that we first entered into a partnership with the Eat This, Not That brand; that’s David Zinczenko’s brand through his Galvanized Media Group. We launched a bookazine with them. At the time, the bookazine format was for—and I don’t want to use the phrase “lookbook,” but that’s kind of where we were using it—a high end décor and building side. This was a new opportunity to try something in a high quality format that was really mass market-driven and really service-driven.

On why many publishers have lost faith in print, while companies like Meredith and Hearst have never given up on their “core” product: I think it requires a change of mindset in many cases. We’re not out there trying to launch a $3.99 general interest magazine with anyone. In a lot of cases, these products are pretty niche, they already have a pretty loyal brand following, and they’re premium products. I don’t always think of them as magazines in the traditional sense of the word “magazine,” something you have sent to your home or you purchase, you sit down with it for half an hour or an hour, and then you’re pretty much done; you move on. That’s not what these are.

On how The Magnolia Journal came into being: The idea started as a seed with Joanna herself, with both Chip and Jo believing that they had a concept here that their consumers would respond positively to, and that would be unique in the marketplace. But, they didn’t have anyone on staff who had really worked in the publishing industry, or really knew anything about it.

On any conflicts that may have arisen between the Gaines, “Fixer Upper” and Meredith: As we were conceptualizing the magazine with her, we had to get our heads around what the Magnolia brand meant versus what the “Fixer Upper” brand was, and how we knew them from that show. Magnolia is far broader and encompasses far more aspects of the lifestyle, from food and gardening, to family relationships, to travel. Because of their relationship then with Scripps we were restricted in some ways, in terms of how much home and remodeling content could be a part of the magazine. I can’t say that really tied our hands, because Joanna’s vision was for something broader than that.

On whether he has a favorite “baby” or is he proud of all of the magazine children under his care at Meredith: I would say that, obviously, everybody here is really proud of the success of The Magnolia Journal, it was—I don’t like to use the cliché phrase labor of love—but I think that’s what it was for a lot of that team. I guess if I had to identify one that kind of holds a special place for me, it would probably be the Forks Over Knives launch. It was a content area where we saw a need in the marketplace. One of the leading—if not the leading—brand in the plant-based eating lifestyle, and to see how that came together and to see how successful it was on newsstand, and how it did it quietly, as some higher profile projects were hitting the marketplace around it…it’s just pretty cool to see something like that.

On whether any of his “children” have disappointed him: Yes, I would say the Beekman 1802 Almanac, mostly because I love that product. I loved working on it—Josh (Kilmer-Purcell) and Brent (Ridge) are fantastic guys to work with. We had a great time putting it together, and there’s still a little bit of sadness there that we couldn’t figure out, in the limited time we had available to us, how to make that product work in the mass market.

On any new projects in Meredith’s future: We’ve got a couple of irons in the fire that are pretty hot. Hungry Girl, who is a former Food Network personality, a cookbook author; she’s got a really good digital and social presence; we are launching a new magazine with her. It’ll be Hungry Girl magazine, coming out in January, 2018. That’s the newest launch that we’re really in the thick of right now.

On why he thinks media reporting is always so negative about the magazine industry: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say it probably requires a shift in mindset. You can’t even say that the big brands, the Better Homes & Gardens of the world, are necessarily struggling from a consumer standpoint. I think they’re just as relevant as ever. The rate base is just as strong as it’s ever been. When I’m cooking, I’ve learned that I don’t like to cook by trying to read a recipe on my phone or my computer, because I have to scroll back and forth and my fingers are dirty and it’s messy and it’s not convenient and I spill something. I’d rather have a magazine or a cookbook in those cases.

On whether he believes print legitimizes online media and that’s why many blogs and websites are adding a print product to their portfolios: Yes, I think actually the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.”

On anything else he’d like to add: Just that we’re seeking out ideas on our own, but we’re always happy to have inbounds as well. If somebody out there has got a great concept and wants to float it our way, we’re happy to have those conversations. And, if it’s not right for us, maybe help identify who it is right for. That’s part of all of this; we’re really passionate about this. A good idea is a good idea, and I always like to see that come to fruition—whether it’s with us or someone else.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening after work: You will catch me cooking dinner—that’s kind of my unwind. I specifically cook something several days a week, usually with a glass of wine. I’m pretty passionate about my California Sonoma County wines. You’ll see me taking my dog out for a walk. You probably won’t see me reading magazines at home.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him: I would like to believe that people view me as honest, kind and authentic.

On what keeps him up at night: I think the future; the future of the industry; my own personal future. I think we’re doing a little bit of reinvention here, and that doesn’t mean everything’s a success. It’s human nature, and it’s my nature especially, to want to succeed at what we’re doing. And that just doesn’t always happen. So, I think it’s worry about whether we can really make some of these things work.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Doug Kouma, editorial content director, Meredith Core Media.

Samir Husni: Tell me, what is Meredith Core Media?

Doug Kouma speaking at the ACT 7 Experience, April 2017.

Doug Kouma: It’s something that’s evolved over the last couple of years out of Meredith Special Interest Media. I think it was three years ago that we first entered into a partnership with the Eat This, Not That brand; that’s David Zinczenko’s brand through his Galvanized Media Group. We launched a bookazine with them. At the time, the bookazine format was for—and I don’t want to use the phrase “lookbook,” but that’s kind of where we were using it—a high end décor and building side. This was a new opportunity to try something in a high quality format that was really mass market-driven and really service-driven.

That magazine, Eat This, Not That, has books publishing around that, and David Zinczenko has a pretty robust digital program around that; but the magazine is what fleshed that out and allowed it to be a true 360 brand. That was successful from issue one. It’s been solid on newsstand over the years. The product has continued to evolve as they, and we, figured out what that mass market consumer is looking for in that type of product at that price point.

That relationship began to show the possibilities of working with other brands, working with third parties who had great ideas or had great existing products in other spaces, and who sought to move into the print magazine space.

What Meredith brings to the table is huge scale on the backend, and some significant cost efficiencies, in terms of the printing production and distribution. Then, of course, by working through the special interest media group, we have traditionally had a team of scrappy editors who work on a wide variety of projects—who are pretty nimble, who are able to pivot from one to another across a variety of content areas.

So, we began to look at other opportunities and others began to look at us as a potential publishing partner. I would say over the course of a year / year and a half, that grew to the point that we identified the need to create a group within Meredith that would specifically take on or manage some of these projects. That’s where Meredith Core Media was born.

At the time, it also included some other Meredith brands that were unique properties unto their own; I’m talking about our diabetes publications, our quilting publications, things that didn’t necessarily align nicely with Better Homes & Gardens, which is where most of the special interest portfolio was.

At the time that Meredith Core Media was born, those were part of our group as well. I’d say it was about half managing our own brands, and half managing or working with outside partner brands. And, again, that continues to evolve over the next year / year and a half to where we are today. Those Meredith brands have realigned with other properties within the Meredith infrastructure that makes sense for them. What Meredith Core Media is today is a business entity specifically designed to work without side-brands on print magazine products.

Samir Husni: I’ve tried to think who, besides Meredith and Hearst, are actually bringing those print magazines to the marketplace and going into second printings. Forks Over Knives, a Meredith Core Media brand, had a second printing on the newsstands. Also, who hasn’t heard about The Magnolia Journal and the rapid move the magazine had from zero to one million in a very few months? The same thing is happening with Hearst’s Pioneer Woman. Why do you think, as an industry, that a lot of publishers have lost faith in print?

Doug Kouma: I think it requires a change of mindset in many cases. We’re not out there trying to launch a $3.99 general interest magazine with anyone. In a lot of cases, these products are pretty niche, they already have a pretty loyal brand following, and they’re premium products. I don’t always think of them as magazines in the traditional sense of the word “magazine,” something you have sent to your home or you purchase, you sit down with it for half an hour or an hour, and then you’re pretty much done; you move on. That’s not what these are.

So, in the case of a magazine like Magnolia, which is not quite to the full premium bookazine end of the spectrum, but it’s definitely a premium product; it has that limited frequency—it comes out quarterly—and it’s a high quality product, but it has recipes that you’re going to want to go back to on a regular basis. It has the beautiful lifestyle photography and the beautiful home décor photography.

It’s really meant to be a coffee table magazine, something that you are going to want to hang onto for a while. What we have seen with that brand in particular is those consumers, who are very passionate about the Magnolia brand and what Joanna (Gaines) does, they want to build a collection of those magazines. Even subscribers who got into the system on issue two—in pretty decent numbers—started contacting Magnolia, wanting to get their hands on issue one. They wanted to build that library for themselves at home.

I don’t know if that’s quite answering your question, but when I look at some of these brands, what they want to do, and what we’re doing with them…you’re really creating an experience for, largely, the brand loyalists, while you do look to expand the reach of the brand a bit in the newsstand space. It’s a focused, curated experience, and it’s meant to be something that the consumer is going to hang onto for a while.

Samir Husni: I understand that The Magnolia Journal has now immigrated to the “main ship” at Meredith, but you were there at the beginning. Can you describe for me that moment of conception? How did the idea of The Magnolia Journal come to fruition, and how did you team with the Gaines to make it happen?

Doug Kouma: The idea started as a seed with Joanna herself, with both Chip and Jo believing that they had a concept here that their consumers would respond positively to, and that would be unique in the marketplace. But, they didn’t have anyone on staff who had really worked in the publishing industry, or really knew anything about it.

As I understand it, because I wasn’t involved in those very early conversations, they sought out a couple of publishers to begin to pitch the idea to. At the point when they got more serious, they began discussing it with Meredith, which is the point when the conversations moved from our business development group to begin to include the editorial teams.

That’s what those early conversations were; they were sitting down with Chip and Jo and a couple of members of their staff and listening to what they wanted to do, listening to what they thought would work. Then, once we had a deal, taking ourselves down to Waco and immersing ourselves in their brand and in the Magnolia world so that we could really understand what it is that they wanted to convey to consumers.

They’re building a brand that’s separate and apart from “Fixer Upper” as a broadcast property, and that was something that we had to get our heads around very early in the conversations. I think it’s something that consumers had to begin to see differently with that first issue.

Samir Husni: At present, and I don’t know the latest status with the Gaines and HGTV, but does their relationship with HGTV change anything in the game? Have there been any conflicts with any of the brand’s established platforms?

Doug Kouma: Well, there’s a lot of stories out there and rumors out there that aren’t based in fact, and what Joanna has said is if you don’t see it come from Magnolia themselves, through their own properties, then view it with a skeptical eye. I can’t comment on the status of any of that.

What I can say is, as we were conceptualizing the magazine with her, we had to get our heads around what the Magnolia brand meant versus what the “Fixer Upper” brand was, and how we knew them from that show. Magnolia is far broader and encompasses far more aspects of the lifestyle, from food and gardening, to family relationships, to travel. Because of their relationship then with Scripps we were restricted in some ways, in terms of how much home and remodeling content could be a part of the magazine. I can’t say that really tied our hands, because Joanna’s vision was for something broader than that. We’ve been able to include the team and been able to include the right amount of home content for that brand, but there were some considerations there with some places we weren’t able to go because of that relationship.

Samir Husni: To specifically talk about you and your role as editorial director; is there one of the many babies you take care of that has a special place in your heart? Or do you try and treat all of your children the same? Do you think, “Wow, look at the success of the Magnolia Journal, or Eat This, Not That, or Forks Over Knives or the Beekman 1802 Almanac; I’m so proud of one of them or all of them? How do you handle being the editorial director for all of these magazines?

Doug Kouma: Well, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, I get to work with a really diverse group of brands and outside contributors and get to see things from different points of view, and I really enjoy that. On the other hand, I really don’t get to dive in as deeply or work as closely with some of the content on most of these as you might assume, or as might be interesting or fun.

I would say that, obviously, everybody here is really proud of the success of The Magnolia Journal, it was—I don’t like to use the cliché phrase labor of love—but I think that’s what it was for a lot of that team. It was a small group of us who all had—I’m not saying this isn’t our job—but we all had full time jobs when that came into our world. It was “hey, let’s all put in some extra effort here and some extra hours, and see if we can turn this thing into something. So, we’re all really proud of that.

I guess if I had to identify one that kind of holds a special place for me, it would probably be the Forks Over Knives launch. It was a content area where we saw a need in the marketplace. One of the leading—if not the leading—brand in the plant-based eating lifestyle, and to see how that came together and to see how successful it was on newsstand, and how it did it quietly, as some higher profile projects were hitting the marketplace around it…it’s just pretty cool to see something like that.

Samir Husni: Is there a child that disappointed you?

Doug Kouma: Yes, I would say the Beekman 1802 Almanac, mostly because I love that product. I loved working on it—Josh (Kilmer-Purcell) and Brent (Ridge) are fantastic guys to work with. We had a great time putting it together, and there’s still a little bit of sadness there that we couldn’t figure out, in the limited time we had available to us, how to make that product work in the mass market.

That’s the challenge here. Ultimately, the delivery vehicle we have available to us through Meredith is mass. Over the course of the last year, in particular the last six months since the success of Magnolia, we’ve had a few ideas. And there’s really good ideas out there that are not necessarily right for Meredith as a publisher, because, although we can go focused and direct, we can’t go too niche in many cases. That’s not who we are.

So, that one was hard. I think it was a gorgeous product, but we’re just not in an environment—I mean, it’s a creative lab, I’ll say that—but it’s not a creative lab that allows us to spend a lot of money or, frankly, lose money in any case. We want to know if we can break even out of the gate and build something from there; maybe we can get some longevity with something. But, unfortunately, on that one we just weren’t able to scale it. I’m really pleased that they’ve been able to continue publishing it on a smaller scale, but that one will always have a special place for me as well.

Samir Husni: What does the future hold for Meredith Core Media? Any major things in the making?

Doug Kouma: We’ve got a couple of irons in the fire that are pretty hot. Hungry Girl, who is a former Food Network personality, a cookbook author; she’s got a really good digital and social presence; we are launching a new magazine with her. It’ll be Hungry Girl magazine, coming out in January, 2018. That’s the newest launch that we’re really in the thick of right now. And I think you are already aware that Forks Over Knives is going into two more regular productions in 2018, so we’re in the thick of that as well.

Also, we recently announced another project. We’re partnering with the CropLife Foundation on a new magazine that will bring attention to the issue of food waste, a hot topic in sustainability circles today. Tentatively titled, “Waste Less, Save More,” this annual bookazine will provide real-world strategies for planning, shopping, and cooking, as well as 50+ recipes, to help consumers use more of the food they bring into their homes and cut back significantly on what goes into to the landfill. We haven’t announced a publication date yet.

Samir Husni: I feel as though you might agree with me when I say, “We don’t have a print problem and we don’t have a magazine problem; we have a magazine business model and content problem.” If you look at all the media reporting, you would think print died in 2009. And then you hear that Rodale is putting their magazines up for sale. Then the media reporters tell you, “Oh, because print is in decline; everybody is selling.” Why don’t we see more stories about what Meredith Core Media is doing and what Hearst Magazines are doing? From a journalistic point of view and being an editorial director, why do you think people have that mentality?

Doug Kouma: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I would say it probably requires a shift in mindset. You can’t even say that the big brands, the Better Homes & Gardens of the world, are necessarily struggling from a consumer standpoint. I think they’re just as relevant as ever. The rate base is just as strong as it’s ever been.

I have my own theories on that. I think consumers over the course of the last decade, particularly in the last five years, have begun to—consciously or not—digest different types of information in different ways, and I’m the same. There’s the stuff that I want to see through my social media feeds, there’s the regular websites and blogs that I go to where I’m happy to get that information, but when I want to really enjoy big, beautiful photography, I don’t want to look at that on my phone. I want to look at that on a beautiful printed magazine page.

When I’m cooking, I’ve learned that I don’t like to cook by trying to read a recipe on my phone or my computer, because I have to scroll back and forth and my fingers are dirty and it’s messy and it’s not convenient and I spill something. I’d rather have a magazine or a cookbook in those cases.

When I’m dreaming a little bit, when I’m wanting to feel inspired a little bit, again, it depends on what it is. If I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but it’s the end of January and spring is right around the corner and you can smell it in the air, I love to get my hands on a gardening magazine and begin to get inspired. If I want to find 10 ideas on how to style my porch, then maybe I’m going to get online and look for those, because there’s immediate gratification and I’m looking for something very specific. Whether we, as consumers, have really begun to think about it in that way, I do think you’re seeing a resurgence in consumer recognition of the value of the printed product in parts of their life.

I think it’s evolving, just like every introduction of a new form of media. When television came along it didn’t kill radio. When the ability to record to VHS tape and then to record to DVR came along, it didn’t kill live TV. But everything’s evolving, and it’s therefore informing the content decisions that are being made across those different platforms. So, I suspect that’s what’s happening in the magazine space.

It’s probably also not quite fair to say that today; you know, maybe these partnerships, maybe building around these dynamic brands that were not print-first brands, that might be the future of magazine publishing—it’s certainly not what’s ultimately paying the bills and keeping the lights on today; those are the big boys, like Better Homes & Gardens. There’s definitely opportunity here, it’s definitely growing.

Samir Husni: Do you think that’s the main reason we’re seeing a lot of blogs coming to print and publishing magazines, that there is something missing in that 360 brand if you don’t have a print product?

Doug Kouma: Yes, I think actually the tangible magazine you can hold in your hands is a feather in the cap for a digital-first brand. It’s what says, “We’ve made it. We’re here to stay. We’re legitimate.”

And, almost counterintuitively, I suspect a lot of that is being driven by millennials. For as digitally savvy, and as digital-first a generation as millennials and Gen Z’s are, there’s also this yearning for authenticity and for something real. Again, I think it’s based on the type of content. I think with that generation in particular. It’s not fair at all to say millennials aren’t magazine readers. They’re magazine readers, but they want different types of magazines and want to consume information in different ways.

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

Doug Kouma: Just that we’re seeking out ideas on our own, but we’re always happy to have inbounds as well. If somebody out there has got a great concept and wants to float it our way, we’re happy to have those conversations. And, if it’s not right for us, maybe help identify who it is right for. That’s part of all of this; we’re really passionate about this. A good idea is a good idea, and I always like to see that come to fruition—whether it’s with us or someone else.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Are you on an iPad; cooking; sitting and reading a magazine with a glass of wine? What’s your end-of-day “me” time?

Doug Kouma: You will catch me cooking dinner—that’s kind of my unwind. I specifically cook something several days a week, usually with a glass of wine. I’m pretty passionate about my California Sonoma County wines. You’ll see me taking my dog out for a walk. You probably won’t see me reading magazines at home.

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

Doug Kouma: I would like to believe that people view me as honest, kind and authentic.

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

Doug Kouma: I think the future; the future of the industry; my own personal future. I think we’re doing a little bit of reinvention here, and that doesn’t mean everything’s a success. It’s human nature, and it’s my nature especially, to want to succeed at what we’re doing. And that just doesn’t always happen. So, I think it’s worry about whether we can really make some of these things work.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

The Pioneer Woman Magazine: Pioneering Its Way To A Phenomenal Debut And Proving That The Power Of Print Is Stronger Than Ever – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Vicki Wellington, Vice President, Publisher & Chief Revenue Officer And Maile Carpenter, Editor In Chief, The Pioneer Woman Magazine…

June 28, 2017

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 06: (L-R) Vicki Wellington, Ree Drummond, and Maile Carpenter attend The Pioneer Woman Magazine Celebration with Ree Drummond at The Mason Jar on June 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for The Pioneer Woman Magazine)

“We’re never done climbing the mountain, Samir, you know that. (Laughs) Ever. And I’ll tell you what I love, and I feel this maybe more than I did back when we launched Food Network, everybody is rooting for us. Everyone is so excited that we have this great news. And Ree (Drummond) as well. I just feel there is a lot of positive energy around us, wherever we are. Whether we’re inside Hearst; Michael (Clinton) said it better than anybody, this company is very much print-proud.” Vicki Wellington…

“We talked about this in the past; a magazine is such an intimate experience. It is so perfect for her brand. As I said, she has such a great connection with her fans, and the idea of spending this precious “me” time with Ree really happens in the magazine. It’s different from the other platforms. Her blog is amazing, and you get all of these personal details, so that’s incredibly successful in its own right. But a magazine is something that you can sit back and really fall into.” Maile Carpenter…

The Pioneer Woman Magazine: A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

At the beginning of June, The Pioneer Woman Magazine debuted at Wal-Mart, the retailer where Ree Drummond, who is the “Pioneer Woman” has her line of cookware, dinnerware and home products sold. Initial distribution of the Hearst Magazines’ premiere issue was 150,000 copies. Mere weeks later, the magazine was nearly sold out and went back to press for another 100,000 copies. Can we say – wow! The power of print brings another facet to an already successful brand.

Vicki Wellington is publisher of the new magazine and Maile Carpenter is editor in chief. These two ladies are a proven team, having launched the Food Network Magazine with amazing success. Now, at the helm of this latest Hearst print endeavor, an immediate grand slam is no surprise to anyone, especially Mr. Magazine™.

I spoke recently with Vicki and Maile, and we talked about The Pioneer Woman, both the magazine and the living, breathing human being. Although, in all honesty, Mr. Magazine™ couldn’t tell the difference between the two, as the ink on paper reflects the person so beautifully.

It’s an intimately personal and connected look at Ree Drummond and her family, but more importantly at her lifestyle. And according to Vicki and Maile, it’s something her fans have readily accepted and that was long overdue for the woman who has shown many people a unique and exciting way of life.

As for Hearst’s involvement, it has been my experience in watching the company and in how they handle new launches, and their portfolio in general; the folks absolutely know what they’re doing. They’ve been bullish about print forever, even when most everyone else was buying headstones in the ink on paper cemetery. But Hearst never gave up on the power of the printed word, and to this day still proclaims it the core of their business. As does Vicki and Maile. So, who better to head up The Pioneer Woman than two ladies who “put the wagons in a circle” and headed out on their own print journey a few years back, when most everyone else was boarding the cyberspace connection?

So, without further ado, here is the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicki Wellington and Maile Carpenter as they share their excitement about Hearst’s latest print success story: The Pioneer Woman Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On how the magazine came into being (Maile Carpenter): We’ve been working with Ree (Drummond) for years through the Food Network. Ellen Levine gets credit here, because she noticed a couple of years ago that Ree just had such huge appeal with people, and Ellen said then that we should keep an eye on her. And sure enough, Ellen did, and had some conversations with Ree, and now here we are.

On how Maile’s editing approach differed from the Food Network Magazine to The Pioneer Woman (Maile Carpenter): It’s always different when something is based on a person than when it’s based on a brand. It presents different possibilities. What’s great about Ree is she has such a clear vision and such a clear brand. Her following is there and it’s strong. So, we really had a very good sense of who she is when we started.

On whether Vicki has any preference or inner struggle when it comes to selling ads for the Food Network Magazine versus The Pioneer Woman (Vicki Wellington): As you know, I have two girls in real life, and I love them both equally, but they’re both very different girls. And Maile actually has two girls as well. So, when it comes to the two magazines, I really feel exactly that. I literally call them the big girl and the baby; that’s actually what I say here at work. So, you know what? No, they’re totally different girls; they have different needs, and we love them both, but they’re two, completely different kids. That may sound funny, but it’s actually true.

On the advertisers reaction when Vicki first starting meeting with them about the first issue of The Pioneer Woman and whether it was different than when she first started selling the Food Network Magazine (Vicki Wellington): It was different. When we started with Food Network, the world was a mess and people sort of questioned whether the Food Network Magazine would really be a success. Now, I think we walk in with great credibility and they know that our editors have created this fantastic magazine, right on brand, that continues to sell amazingly well on newsstand and to subscribers with renewals. So, now I think we walk in as really credible, experienced people, where there’s very little risk, to be honest. And what was neat about this, which I’d never done before and is kind of interesting, we limited the number of ads that we took, because it was all about the edit and the content and how consumers would react to the content. So, we brought in a limited number and we couldn’t fit everybody in. It was a nice strategy and people were really dying to get in the magazine.

On the ad focus for the second issue (Vicki Wellington): With our second issue, we will be accepting more advertisements, but we’ll be limiting them as well. When we were out selling the first issue, we sold them both at the same time, which is really an advantage for the advertisers. So, a lot of it was presold in the very beginning. What’s neat is now you see it’s a huge success, as you said we went back to press for another 100,000, the feedback and the early research has been phenomenal.

On the role the printed magazine plays within The Pioneer Woman’s already successful brand (Maile Carpenter): We talked about this in the past; a magazine is such an intimate experience. It is so perfect for her brand. As I said, she has such a great connection with her fans, and the idea of spending this precious “me” time with Ree really happens in the magazine. It’s different from the other platforms. Her blog is amazing, and you get all of these personal details, so that’s incredibly successful in its own right. But a magazine is something that you can sit back and really fall into.

On the fact that Hearst still holds that print is the core foundation of its business, while others continue to doubt the power of print (Vicki Wellington): Let me just say, and you know how I feel about this, and I feel like this is true of the press in many ways; it’s always so much more exciting to jump on the negative, and to jump on the things that are going badly. And I’ve always thought this. We’ve had this amazing story from the very second that we started, yet it’s not always interesting to the press. And I don’t know why, because it really should be.

On whether Maile feels as though she’s reached the top of the mountain with The Pioneer Woman (Maile Carpenter): I will say that creatively it’s been like, as we all said, adding a new baby to the family, but for all of us it’s been so fun and exciting to work on another brand. It’s helped both. It’s helped us define ourselves at Food Network, and know who we are, and when funny story ideas come up, we know that they’re exactly right for Food Network.

On whether Vicki feels as though she’s reached the top of the mountain with The Pioneer Woman (Vicki Wellington): We’re never done climbing the mountain, Samir, you know that. (Laughs) Ever. And I’ll tell you what I love, and I feel this maybe more than I did back when we launched Food Network, everybody is rooting for us. Everyone is so excited that we have this great news. And Ree as well. I just feel there is a lot of positive energy around us, wherever we are. Whether we’re inside Hearst; Michael said it better than anybody, this company is very much print-proud. But we’re out in the community. Clients, everybody is excited for Ree.

On what’s next for The Pioneer Woman (Vicki Wellington): Well, we have a second issue to put out, which obviously, everyone will do a beautiful job on. And we’re doing a lot of research; we’re checking consumer feedback, which again, just the first 20 days are crazy off the charts. Obviously, Michael (Clinton), David (Carey), and ourselves, will make a decision about our next steps. Again, we’re feeling bullish, but you know how the company is; they’re smart, and slow and steady wins the race; we’ll check all of the consumer research make sure that this is something that people really want, and we’ll take it from there.

On why they think more publishers aren’t doing what Hearst does when it comes to new print publications (Vicki Wellington): I honestly don’t know that answer, it’s hard to know what goes on in other families, it really is. I really don’t know the answer. I’m just glad we’re here.

On why they think more publishers aren’t doing what Hearst does when it comes to new print publications (Maile Carpenter): I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Hearst knows how to launch magazines and puts the support behind them in the right places.

On anything else they’d like to add (Vicki Wellington): I will just say that with The Pioneer Woman, the feedback that we got was great. But not only on the food front, which we would expect, of course, but also the feedback that readers seemed to love when we showed pieces about the ranch and her family, and her life beyond. Right now the magazine has about 33 percent food, so it’s much more of a lifestyle, plus everything else. And we’re excited that the feedback came back so positively on these other fronts.

On anything else they’d like to add (Maile Carpenter): We’ve just been so happy with how closely we’re working with Ree. Like I said, you never know when you start something, but she’s been so great to work with, and she has such clear vision. It’s been really fun and exciting to work with her, and see her creativity at work. She really touches every page.

On breaking new ground with non-endemic ads or new advertisers in The Pioneer Woman (Vicki Wellington): I think the L’Oréal piece was good. They came in very early on, an exclusive beauty advertiser, actually in both of our issues. They’re running many different kinds of ads, and I think they got it. They got it early on, they were excited about it. So, I think that might have been a surprise for people.

On whether either of them are a “pioneer woman” themselves (Maile Carpenter): Well, Ree gave me a pair of cowboy boots, so now I am, I guess. (Laughs) I’m pioneering my way through the city. (Laughs again).

On whether either of them are a “pioneer woman” themselves (Vicki Wellington): You know what, I’m not. I’m definitely not a pioneer woman, but here’s the neat thing, and this is why I get it. I see how great it is to lift the veil and see what a life would be like that’s so completely different from my own. And I love that.

On what they would have tattooed upon their brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about them (Vicki Wellington): For me, it would be “fight on.” Keep on moving; keep on climbing the mountain. Keep moving ahead; keep the positivity moving forward. I try not to involve my brain with all the craziness of our world and our country, and life in general. I just come in everyday to this amazingly beautiful Tower and I’m excited to be here and to see my team. And I’m excited to work with Maile and her team. So, fight on and keep it going.

On what they would have tattooed upon their brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about them (Maile Carpenter): Mine would be “to always be authentic.” That’s the magic of Ree and we’re all learning that from her and reminding ourselves when we work with her of how important it is to be authentic and true to yourself.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vicki Wellington, vice president, publisher & chief revenue officer and Maile Carpenter, editor in chief, The Pioneer Woman Magazine.

Samir Husni: I understand The Pioneer Woman is going for a second printing, so let’s begin with our last conversation. The last time we talked, both you and Maile hinted that something was brewing. At that time, you couldn’t really tell me anything except that something was going to happen. And lo and behold, The Pioneer Woman Magazine was born. And I read the letter that both of you wrote that basically said: here’s a woman who had everything but a magazine. And now, we all have the magazine.

Vicki Wellington: Yes, we do have the magazine. I can let Maile tell you about how we got it up and running, and I can certainly talk a little about the feedback and success.

Maile Carpenter: We’ve been working with Ree (Drummond) for years through the Food Network. Ellen Levine gets credit here, because she noticed a couple of years ago that Ree just had such huge appeal with people, and Ellen said then that we should keep an eye on her. And sure enough, Ellen did, and had some conversations with Ree, and now here we are.

What’s interesting about Ree, and I think what makes her so successful, is that she really built her following from the ground up, one person at a time. She was one of the original mom-bloggers, and she cares deeply about every single person who follows her. She really does reach out to them and has conversations with them, so this isn’t the same as having someone who launches a television celebrity, who then begins talking to people on social media. Ree really knows the people intimately and they know her, and they feel a very personal connection to her. And we’re seeing what that does. They just love everything that she does; they want to be a part of her life and they could not be more excited to have a magazine based on her. We’re getting such a great response from people. They’re going to multiple stores to find a copy.

Vicki Wellington: We saw a first issue selling on eBay for $40. We had a few others, but how funny is that?

Samir Husni: Maile, as you put the first issue together, and you’ve been editing the Food Network Magazine for some time now; how did your approach to The Pioneer Woman differ from your approach to the Food Network brand?

Maile Carpenter: It’s always different when something is based on a person than when it’s based on a brand. It presents different possibilities. What’s great about Ree is she has such a clear vision and such a clear brand. Her following is there and it’s strong. So, we really had a very good sense of who she is when we started.

The other great thing is she is super-involved. You never know when you go into something like this, how much time a person is going to have to put into it, but she’s been amazing. With every, single page she’s been involved. Picking out every item, the headlines and the decks and the stories. She’s writing for the magazine and providing images; this is truly hers. And people will accept that because they know her so well and have a very personal connection to her. They would know if it wasn’t hers. (Laughs) It has to be authentic. She is truly authentic, and people know that about her.

Samir Husni: Vicki, this is the new baby, but do you have any preference? When you’re selling the Food Network Magazine versus when you’re selling The Pioneer Woman; is there any inner struggle when it comes to getting ads for the magazines, in choosing one over the other?

Vicki Wellington: As you know, I have two girls in real life, and I love them both equally, but they’re both very different girls. And Maile actually has two girls as well. So, when it comes to the two magazines, I really feel exactly that. I literally call them the big girl and the baby; that’s actually what I say here at work. So, you know what? No, they’re totally different girls; they have different needs, and we love them both, but they’re two, completely different kids. That may sound funny, but it’s actually true.

Samir Husni: Can you relive that moment when you first started meeting with advertisers and talking about the magazine; did you get the same reaction from them as when you introduced the Food Network Magazine or was it different?

Vicki Wellington: It was different. When we started with Food Network, the world was a mess and people sort of questioned whether the Food Network Magazine would really be a success. Now, I think we walk in with great credibility and they know that our editors have created this fantastic magazine, right on brand, that continues to sell amazingly well on newsstand and to subscribers with renewals. So, now I think we walk in as really credible, experienced people, where there’s very little risk, to be honest.

And of course, as Maile said, interestingly, Ree started from this social platform when nobody was on social. So, if they needed to know who she was and what she was doing, they could go right on her blog and find out. You could see her taking her kid and looking for colleges, like we all do. You could see her bringing out sandwiches to her son and the whole baseball team. You can see all of these things and you also see her fans responding back and forth with her. So, I believe people get the relationship right away. That, combined with the credibility of what we’ve already done; I think this was easier, much easier. It really was.

And what was neat about this, which I’d never done before and is kind of interesting, we limited the number of ads that we took, because it was all about the edit and the content and how consumers would react to the content. So, we brought in a limited number and we couldn’t fit everybody in. It was a nice strategy and people were really dying to get in the magazine. We didn’t do that with Food Network; we didn’t do that with Domino, but we did it here and it was really nice and encouraging to see the great interest from advertisers to get in on the action.

Samir Husni: What’s the focus for the second issue?

Vicki Wellington: With our second issue, we will be accepting more advertisements, but we’ll be limiting them as well. When we were out selling the first issue, we sold them both at the same time, which is really an advantage for the advertisers. So, a lot of it was presold in the very beginning. What’s neat is now you see it’s a huge success, as you said we went back to press for another 100,000, the feedback and the early research has been phenomenal. So, anybody coming into the second issue should run and sprint to get in, honestly. Seriously, because they’re getting such a sure thing.

Samir Husni: Maile, you write in the introductory letter that you felt it was high time that Ree had a magazine too. From an editor’s point of view, what role does the printed magazine play within The Pioneer Woman’s already successful brand?

Maile Carpenter: We talked about this in the past; a magazine is such an intimate experience. It is so perfect for her brand. As I said, she has such a great connection with her fans, and the idea of spending this precious “me” time with Ree really happens in the magazine. It’s different from the other platforms. Her blog is amazing, and you get all of these personal details, so that’s incredibly successful in its own right. But a magazine is something that you can sit back and really fall into.

And her images, she photographs her ranch in the most beautiful ways. People have been seeing these images on her blog, and we’re able to really fall into them in print and tell stories from her ranch. I think the magazine is such a nice format for her. And as I said, her fans want so much to be a part of her life, and they want her in every possible form. And it’s not like they’re choosing a medium; they want her on TV; they want her blog; they want everything they can get. And the magazine was just the right piece. We’re already seeing the results.

Vicki Wellington: The results are just phenomenal. I can’t share them just yet, because they’re so early, but from what I understand, this company has not seen results like this in a long time. So, we’re very bullish.

Samir Husni: Vicki, tell me, when I interviewed Michael Clinton recently, he said that print is still the core business at Hearst. Yet, we see so many other companies and so many articles out there still doubting the power of print. From a publisher’s point of view, what’s your secret sauce? What are you doing differently at Hearst?

Vicki Wellington: Before the secret sauce, let me just say, and you know how I feel about this, and I feel like this is true of the press in many ways; it’s always so much more exciting to jump on the negative, and to jump on the things that are going badly. And I’ve always thought this. We’ve had this amazing story from the very second that we started, yet it’s not always interesting to the press. And I don’t know why, because it really should be.

And honestly, it’s Maile and her team. From the minute I met Maile, her only care has been about the reader. What does the reader want? What is the reader looking for? And she asks this in every meeting we have; how about the reader? And I think, because she’s executed it so perfectly, it’s easy and a pleasure to market and sell something like that. She makes our job easy. So, I think it’s about her getting the product right.

You look at this magazine, our baby, and you look at our big girl, and they look nothing alike. But the same team, the same small team, put both of these products together and they’re right on brand, and they look nothing alike. So, I think that says a lot.

Maile Carpenter: Our creative director, Deirdre Koribanick, is amazing. Her secret; she always talks about this, she has since we launched, is about being able to open a magazine to any page and know what magazine you’re in. And if you can open to different sections and they look entirely different, then you haven’t successfully created a single design method. And I think that she’s been so great in both magazines in unifying the look.

Samir Husni: Maile, have you reached the top of the mountain?

Maile Carpenter: I will say that creatively it’s been like, as we all said, adding a new baby to the family, but for all of us it’s been so fun and exciting to work on another brand. It’s helped both. It’s helped us define ourselves at Food Network, and know who we are, and when funny story ideas come up, we know that they’re exactly right for Food Network.

Vicki Wellington: We’re never done climbing the mountain, Samir, you know that. (Laughs) Ever. And I’ll tell you what I love, and I feel this maybe more than I did back when we launched Food Network, everybody is rooting for us. Everyone is so excited that we have this great news. And Ree as well. I just feel there is a lot of positive energy around us, wherever we are. Whether we’re inside Hearst; Michael said it better than anybody, this company is very much print-proud. But we’re out in the community. Clients, everybody is excited for Ree.

We had a party for her to celebrate the premier issue, and we had people come from hours away. We had a client who took their private jet and flew in for this party. Ree was there, her family, which was actually really neat. And you’ll see her daughter in the magazine, and her handsome, cowboy husband is so excited about the magazine. But I just think everybody is rooting for it, so it feels good. It feels good to have a new baby that everybody wants to see succeed.

Samir Husni: So, what’s next?

Vicki Wellington: Well, we have a second issue to put out, which obviously, everyone will do a beautiful job on. And we’re doing a lot of research; we’re checking consumer feedback, which again, just the first 20 days are crazy off the charts. Obviously, Michael (Clinton), David (Carey), and ourselves, will make a decision about our next steps. Again, we’re feeling bullish, but you know how the company is; they’re smart, and slow and steady wins the race; we’ll check all of the consumer research make sure that this is something that people really want, and we’ll take it from there.

That said, we’re proud of everything we’ve done, as we always are, of the product we represent and the new baby. And we’re proud of our big girl. We don’t talk about our big girl, but we’re turning 10. We have a birthday next year in 2018, which it went by like a minute, but it’s a big birthday for us.

Samir Husni: Every time I speak with David or Michael, there’s something new brewing. It seems like you’re always having a baby right after the new baby has been born, especially this year as you had almost twins with The Pioneer Woman and Airbnbmag.

Vicki Wellington: But they’re very different kids, as you know. They’re in our family, so think of them as cousins. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Vicki Wellington: Born around the same time; they hang out a little bit, but born to different families.

Samir Husni: With the true “Rose Garden” picture that you’ve painted, why do you think that only a few other publishers are doing what Hearst is doing?

Vicki Wellington: I honestly don’t know that answer, it’s hard to know what goes on in other families, it really is. I really don’t know the answer. I’m just glad we’re here.

Maile Carpenter: Yes, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Hearst knows how to launch magazines and puts the support behind them in the right places.

Vicki Wellington: And we love the joint venture teams. Again, we have our family and we have their family; combined, we have so many more assets together. I don’t see anybody else doing that, but it’s a wonderful thing that we’ve got this extended group of knowledgeable, smart people, with again, a very positive culture, able to help.

For example, when we put out the premiere issue, we supported it at Hearst, obviously, and across Hearst Digital in many ways, but of course, Scripps supported it in a huge way. So, again, I feel like everybody doesn’t get that kind of advantage.

Samir Husni: Any stumbling blocks that you’ve ran into?

Vicki Wellington: Not right now, Sir.

Maile Carpenter: We need more hours in the day. (Laughs)

Vicki Wellington: We’re busy, that’s for sure. But we can’t complain about that; we really can’t.

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

Vicki Wellington: I will just say that with The Pioneer Woman, the feedback that we got was great. But not only on the food front, which we would expect, of course, but also the feedback that readers seemed to love when we showed pieces about the ranch and her family, and her life beyond. Right now the magazine has about 33 percent food, so it’s much more of a lifestyle, plus everything else. And we’re excited that the feedback came back so positively on these other fronts.

Maile Carpenter: We’ve just been so happy with how closely we’re working with Ree. Like I said, you never know when you start something, but she’s been so great to work with, and she has such clear vision. It’s been really fun and exciting to work with her, and see her creativity at work. She really touches every page.

Samir Husni: As I look at the ads in the first issue, did you feel that you broke any new ground? I remember in the past, you and I had talked about getting new advertisers, non-endemic advertisers in the Food Network Magazine. How about in The Pioneer Woman?

Vicki Wellington: I think the L’Oréal piece was good. They came in very early on, an exclusive beauty advertiser, actually in both of our issues. They’re running many different kinds of ads, and I think they got it. They got it early on, they were excited about it. So, I think that might have been a surprise for people.

Samir Husni: If someone asked either of you if you were a “pioneer woman,” what would you say?

Maile Carpenter: Well, Ree gave me a pair of cowboy boots, so now I am, I guess. (Laughs) I’m pioneering my way through the city. (Laughs again).

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Vicki Wellington: You know what, I’m not. I’m definitely not a pioneer woman, but here’s the neat thing, and this is why I get it. I see how great it is to lift the veil and see what a life would be like that’s so completely different from my own. And I love that.

Maile Carpenter: No, but you are, Vicki. This is the thing; I love Ree’s editor’s letter, and did not change a single word of it, she turned it in exactly as it appears in the magazine, word for word. And it was about how we’re all pioneer women, no matter where we happen to live or what we’re going through in life. I thought it was a nice way to see things. And I think Vicki is a pioneer woman.

(Everyone Laughs).

Samir Husni: I always thought Vicki was a pioneer woman.

Vicki Wellington: I’m an urban pioneer woman, perhaps. Again, I think it’s like a kind of fantasy. It’s an opposite life from mine, but it would be so cool for me to pop on a neat pair of blue cowboy boots and go out on the ranch. I don’t know how long I could live; I might die within 48 hours. (Laughs) But I think it would be exciting to try. For me, that’s how I look at it.

Samir Husni: I’ll give you eight hours, Vicki. (Laughs)

Vicki Wellington: My husband might give me four hours. (Laughs too)

Maile Carpenter: It’s really an incredible experience to go out to Oklahoma. Everyone is trying to sign up for the next trip when we shoot out there. It’s breathtaking. It’s just so beautiful.

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

Vicki Wellington: For me, it would be “fight on.” Keep on moving; keep on climbing the mountain. Keep moving ahead; keep the positivity moving forward. I try not to involve my brain with all the craziness of our world and our country, and life in general. I just come in everyday to this amazingly beautiful Tower and I’m excited to be here and to see my team. And I’m excited to work with Maile and her team. So, fight on and keep it going.

Maile Carpenter: Mine would be “to always be authentic.” That’s the magic of Ree and we’re all learning that from her and reminding ourselves when we work with her of how important it is to be authentic and true to yourself.

Vicki Wellington: And that’s the secret of Maile’s editing success, it really is. For both magazines. Her honest, authentic genuineness.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.

h1

American Affairs: A New Print Journal, Born From The Web, That Provides A Forum For A Much Needed Public Policy Debate– The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Julius Krein, Editor, American Affairs…

June 26, 2017

“The surprising popularity is what lead us to conclude that we should do something more and move from an anonymous blog to a signed, fully out-there larger publication—with a print edition as well as an online presence—and try to build on the success of the online blog. Make the content a little more formal, a little more far reaching, and hopefully offer something unique intellectually.” Julius Krein…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch story…

When a relatively unknown blog that began during the last presidential campaign begins to take off with viewers by providing a forum that takes exception to the more conventional partisan platforms, what could the powers-that-be at this new player in the political media game do next to top that surprising coup? Why, bring a print component into the game, of course.

Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought. According to part of the magazine’s mission statement: We (American Affairs) seek to provide a forum for the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas, and a platform for new voices distinguished by originality, experience, and achievement rather than the compromised credentials of careerist institutions.

I spoke with Julius recently and we discussed this new policy journal called American Affairs. Along with being a (now) magazine editor, Julius is also an investment analyst and said that the differences between journalism and investment analysis aren’t as many as some might think. Uncovering facts and discovering unique and new views on the world is a must for either profession.

Photo by N.Y. Times

And with American Affairs, and Julius’s own background in finance, they’re hoping to bring many new voices and perspectives to the journal, giving the magazine a much-needed contrast from some of the other, more traditional political media outlets.

So, I hope that you enjoy this intellectually stimulating and informative discussion with a young man who has a definitive idea about what a journal on public policy should be, and it’s called American Affairs.

But first, the sound-bites:

On why he decided to publish American Affairs, with all the journal-type magazines already out there: The magazine basically arose as a response to the 2016 campaigns, the issues that came about during them, and the surprising results revealed to everyone. There had been a lot of issues that hadn’t really been addressed in conventional, elite political discourse. We wanted to do that.

On the public’s reaction to the magazine’s first issue: So far, the reaction has been very positive. There has been a lot of media attention, both from conservative media as well as from liberal media, including places like The New York Times, The Nation, etcetera. Most of it has been pretty positive and pretty open-minded. Inevitably, you get some very critical and hostile pieces as well, but that’s all part of the game.

On that moment of conception for the magazine: This journal really arose out of a blog that we did. It started in 2015 and then went on in early 2016 through the primary campaign, and this was just a little anonymous blog on a blogspot.com address, absolutely nothing fancy. We didn’t really think anyone would read it, but it ended up getting in the low hundreds of thousands of views per day.

On why in this digital age they decided on a print edition too: I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it seems like having a print edition does add a certain level of prestige, cachet, and seriousness to it. It also imposes a little bit of editorial discipline as well. With online, there’s really no limit to the content, but with print you have to lay it out; you have to decide which articles are going to go into the print edition.

On any stumbling blocks they’ve had to face since starting the magazine: Actually, in some ways the biggest stumbling block maybe, was the surprise of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, which we didn’t expect. That ended up being a bit of a challenge for us because some of the people that were involved in the blog ended up going into the administration, and therefore obviously wouldn’t be participating in the journal. It also created a weird situation where, you know, on the one hand it’s harder for people to see this project as independent from some of the day-to-day political events or the administration itself, even though it is independent. But at the same time, it’s created an opportunity in that I think it’s gotten a lot more attention than it would have otherwise.

On his being an investment analyst and whether that brings a different perspective to the role of magazine editor: A lot of people might be surprised, but much of investment analysis is very similar to journalism and sort of analysis anyway. It typically commands higher salaries, but fundamentally, all you’re doing is either trying to uncover facts or sort of develop a unique view on the world that is different from what everyone else has, but at the same time, hopefully, a more accurate description of reality and prediction of future events.

On whether he feels the mass audience is lost today between two extreme political points of view: That seems to be increasingly the case. I think it’s a very troubling phenomenon. In many ways, I would like to see this project as an attempt to counteract that. And as I said, we bring in interesting voices from both the right and the left, to actually try and have a dialogue and a substantive discussion, rather than the sort of increasingly vicious—and not particularly serious—Twitter wars or television sound bites. Increasingly, as you mentioned, there’s this sort of complete separation of the country, where people are just reading completely different things and have sort of two sets of “facts” and two viewpoints that never interact or overlap.

On what he hopes to have accomplished a year from now with American Affairs: I’d like to think that it will shed some light on the major issues in our economic and political life that we don’t’ really think about much, and that have been obscured by the conventional, ideological molds of “Big Government” or “Small Government” or “Internationalism” or whatever the opposite of that is. And show what’s happening in the finance industry, and in tech. And answer the questions, “How does our economy actually work?” and “How does that influence our politics in ways that the typical slogan doesn’t really capture?”

On anything he’d like to add: One thing I want to be able to do, and we’ve done a little bit of it so far, but one thing I’d like to be able to do is actually get people from the investment world, from the tech world—you know, professionals working in this industry—to write a little bit more. And, given my relationships from finance, I think I can.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I generally do enjoy reading these articles and editing them, so there’s a very fine line between work and leisure for me. Reading this stuff is what I would be doing anyway, so typically you’ll find me trying to read more articles, especially things that I haven’t read—maybe I didn’t have the time or incentive to read—before starting the magazine. I’m just trying to, again, find a larger group of writers, new people, new audience to include in the magazine.

On what keeps him up at night: Not to be too dramatic or sanctimonious or anything, but I am genuinely worried about the state of the country and what, to me, seems like the deeper fraying of the social and intellectual fabric that I’ve seen in my comparatively brief lifetime.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Julius Krein, editor, American Affairs magazine.

Samir Husni: In the midst of all the journals that are out there, why did you decide to publish American Affairs today, in this marketplace?

Julius Krein: The magazine basically arose as a response to the 2016 campaigns, the issues that came about during them, and the surprising results revealed to everyone. There had been a lot of issues that hadn’t really been addressed in conventional, elite political discourse. We wanted to do that.

Photo by N.Y. Times

The other opportunity of doing a new publication is that we didn’t bring any ideological—or other—baggage that inevitably arises from existing publications, and therefore we can bring together interesting voices, hopefully from the right and the left, to address these issues that perhaps both sides have ignored.

Samir Husni: What was the reaction to the launch of the first issue of American Affairs?

Julius Krein: So far, the reaction has been very positive. There has been a lot of media attention, both from conservative media as well as from liberal media, including places like The New York Times, The Nation, etcetera. Most of it has been pretty positive and pretty open minded. Inevitably, you get some very critical and hostile pieces as well, but that’s all part of the game. So far, it’s been okay. David Brooks wrote a column about it recently, other fairly prominent people have been reading it and talking about it. I’ve been very happy with the reaction so far and the reception and so forth.

Samir Husni: Can you go back with me to that moment of conception, when the idea hit you or hit the team, and you said, “You know, this is a completely different election year. We’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe we need a journal.” How did it actually happen?

Julius Krein: This journal really arose out of a blog that we did. It started in 2015 and then went on in early 2016 through the primary campaign, and this was just a little anonymous blog on a blogspot.com address, absolutely nothing fancy. We didn’t really think anyone would read it, but it ended up getting in the low hundreds of thousands of views per day. Everybody was talking about it; it became surprisingly popular. I think it was evidence of the fact that we had hit upon some things that other people weren’t talking about or maybe just approaching things from a new perspective, in a new way.

Anyway, the surprising popularity is what lead us to conclude that we should do something more and move from an anonymous blog to a signed, fully out-there larger publication—with a print edition as well as an online presence—and try to build on the success of the online blog. Make the content a little more formal, a little more far reaching, and hopefully offer something unique intellectually.

Samir Husni: Why did you decide to have the print edition? People say we live in a digital age, so why do we need print?

Julius Krein: I can’t really explain why this is the case, but it seems like having a print edition does add a certain level of prestige, cachet, and seriousness to it. It also imposes a little bit of editorial discipline as well. With online, there’s really no limit to the content, but with print you have to lay it out; you have to decide which articles are going to go into the print edition.

Those constraints, I think, add some level of rigor and discipline and, for some reason, still command a little more prestige in the wider public. That was basically why we decided to do it, and really in my experience adding the print edition really didn’t add any more work. It’s not particularly expensive, so it really wasn’t all that difficult. I think it was a good decision, and it probably gained us a little more attention than we probably would receive. And I’m glad to see that the print edition is now out there in stores across the country.

Samir Husni: After the blog and since the first issue came out, has it been a walk in a rose garden, or has there been some stumbling blocks that impacted the launch? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Julius Krein: Actually, in some ways the biggest stumbling block maybe, was the surprise of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, which we didn’t expect. That ended up being a bit of a challenge for us because some of the people that were involved in the blog ended up going into the administration, and therefore obviously wouldn’t be participating in the journal. It also created a weird situation where, you know, on the one hand it’s harder for people to see this project as independent from some of the day-to-day political events or the administration itself, even though it is independent. But at the same time, it’s created an opportunity in that I think it’s gotten a lot more attention than it would have otherwise.

I honestly have to say, since the actual launch in February… nothing’s ever quite the walk in a rose garden, but it’s been as close to that as I could really imagine. I think we’ve been very fortunate. So far, things have fallen into place really well, with a lot of new authors coming out of the woodwork. I think the media attention has taken care of itself, so we don’t have to worry about that too much. Really, it’s just trying to find good articles and make the magazine as good as possible, which of course is a problem we want to have.

Samir Husni: I see you wear two hats. You are the editor of the magazine, but you are also an investment analyst. Which one of the two do you enjoy more? Or, does the investment analyst bring a different view to editing a magazine than just a journalist editing a magazine might?

Julius Krein: A lot of people might be surprised, but much of investment analysis is very similar to journalism and sort of analysis anyway. It typically commands higher salaries, but fundamentally, all you’re doing is either trying to uncover facts or sort of develop a unique view on the world that is different from what everyone else has, but at the same time, hopefully, a more accurate description of reality and prediction of future events.

So, it’s not actually as different as you might think. I would say the one bigger difference is just the kind of people you end up meeting and talking to. Having moved over to work on the magazine, it has been a lot more travel than I’m used to, and—in a good way—a lot of meeting new people, scholars, academics, other people in the industry, and journalists. That’s been very interesting, but like I said, it’s actually not as different as you might think.

Samir Husni: As both an analyst and a journalist, what advice would you give the masses today that are bombarded by two extreme points of views. Whether you watch CNN or whether you watch Fox, whether you read this paper or that… Do you feel the mass audience is lost in the middle? That there’s no intersection between the two?

Julius Krein: That seems to be increasingly the case. I think it’s a very troubling phenomenon. In many ways, I would like to see this project as an attempt to counteract that. And as I said, we bring in interesting voices from both the right and the left, to actually try and have a dialogue and a substantive discussion, rather than the sort of increasingly vicious—and not particularly serious—Twitter wars or television sound bites. Increasingly, as you mentioned, there’s this sort of complete separation of the country, where people are just reading completely different things and have sort of two sets of “facts” and two viewpoints that never interact or overlap.

I don’t know that I have any advice; it seems to be that if you don’t have time to read everything, then you should almost not bother reading anything, because most of it, in my opinion, is pretty terrible, not true, and a waste of time. If you don’t have time to read and sift through everything, then it’s probably not good to sort of selectively just pick the things that you agree with. I’ve always felt that if I read something and agree with it one hundred percent, then I probably didn’t learn anything. I wish more people would take that view. But, this is just the climate we live in.

I don’t think there’s any real solutions to it. In a way, I think it’s one thing that makes us unique. It’s an advantage for us at American Affairs, and I hope that we can actually succeed in bringing more people from different sides and with different perspectives in dialogue around, maybe, some surprisingly common issues that have been overlooked and that certain people have an incentive to overlook.

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation a year from now, what would you hope to tell me that you have accomplished in this first year of the print version of American Affairs journal?

Julius Krein: It won’t be for me to judge what it actually accomplished, but what I hope it will accomplish is to have brought together, like I said, interesting voices—new voices—from both the right and left to really address the questions of, “What actually holds us together as a nation?” “What are the common themes of our politics that might actually move us forward toward more positive politics all around?”

And also, I’d like to think that it will shed some light on the major issues in our economic and political life that we don’t’ really think about much, and that have been obscured by the conventional, ideological molds of “Big Government” or “Small Government” or “Internationalism” or whatever the opposite of that is. And show what’s happening in the finance industry, and in tech. And answer the questions, “How does our economy actually work?” and “How does that influence our politics in ways that the typical slogan doesn’t really capture?”

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

Julius Krein: One thing I want to be able to do, and we’ve done a little bit of it so far, but one thing I’d like to be able to do is actually get people from the investment world, from the tech world—you know, professionals working in this industry—to write a little bit more. And, given my relationships from finance, I think I can.

It seems to me that a lot of what’s written out there, and not that it’s bad, but it’s always written a lot by scholars, think tank people, who typically have not really done anything in the real world. I think that inevitably misses some things, and I’d like to think that maybe we could bring in some more voices from the actual business community to comment on their industries. I hope that will provide some unique perspectives as well.

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 book; on your iPad; watching TV; or something else?

Julius Krein: I generally do enjoy reading these articles and editing them, so there’s a very fine line between work and leisure for me. Reading this stuff is what I would be doing anyway, so typically you’ll find me trying to read more articles, especially things that I haven’t read—maybe I didn’t have the time or incentive to read—before starting the magazine. I’m just trying to, again, find a larger group of writers, new people, new audience to include in the magazine.

In a good way, it’s taken up a lot more of my time editing this than I ever anticipated, but, as I said, it’s been a very positive experience so far and I have really enjoyed spending more time on these issues.

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

Julius Krein: Not to be too dramatic or sanctimonious or anything, but I am genuinely worried about the state of the country and what, to me, seems like the deeper fraying of the social and intellectual fabric that I’ve seen in my comparatively brief lifetime.

But, it just really worries me. These items every day, such as the recent shooting (GOP Baseball practice); I think we’re going through a potentially very frightening and troubling stage in our politics, and I really do worry about that. I hope we at American Affairs can offer something useful towards fixing it.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Cuisine Noir: From A Website To A Printed Magazine, And A Brand Where African American Culinary Talents Shine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sheree Williams, Publisher & Editor In Chief, Cuisine Noir Magazine…

June 23, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“Also, I love, but just can’t compete with, in some instances, Essence and Black Enterprise and Ebony. They all have forty plus years on me. I’m a newbie in the game. So, there are some challenges there in terms of the advertising dollars and things like that. But, we continue to move forward. I have a wonderful staff of different people around the world, and we continue to believe in the project, what we’re doing and telling the stories that we tell; the stories of some of the heroes that are in these industries that are not necessarily featured in some other publications. That really keeps us going. Unfortunately, there is no walk in a rose garden, but we’re just excited to be able to be in the space and tell the stories that we are able to tell.” Sheree Williams…

Cuisine Noir debuted in the world of cyberspace in 2007, setting a precedent by featuring the talents of African American culinary and wine professionals. The online entity tapped into the world of African American foodies and became a vehicle for showcasing these great chefs from the industry.

In 2009, Sheree Williams took the lead with the website and began to show that not only did African Americans like to experiment with different flavors and food cultures, they also loved traveling, wine and the entire scope of the foodie lifestyle. Sheree raised the bar even more when she took the pixels from the screen and transposed them to the printed page with vibrant life and amazing vision.

I spoke with Sheree recently and we talked about Cuisine Noir and the multicultural message the magazine strives to convey with every page. Showcasing what African Americans are doing around the globe is a cultural movement and Sheree is determined to passionately continue the magazines mission.

From celebrities who are just as at home in the kitchen as they are onscreen or onstage, to unsung heroes who know more about mixing ingredients and producing amazing flavors than they do holding a mike or reading a movie line, Cuisine Noir is the platform that encourages both factions. And shows that African Americans have influence throughout the worlds of food and travel around the globe.

I hope that you enjoy this very “tasty” Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows a thing or two about food, wine and travel, but more importantly, about the passion it takes to put that knowledge to the test, inside the pages of a magazine, Sheree Williams, publisher, editor in chief, Cuisine Noir magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Cuisine Noir: I always tell everyone that I didn’t start the magazine. A different chef who is in California started it in the late ‘90s. He’s a chef down in L.A. and just wanted to get more exposure to black chefs. I connected with him in 2007 and, at that time, he had introduced the concept to me. So, we worked together to launch it [the Cuisine Noir site]. Then in 2008, I took it over because he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it.

On whether everything went as she expected, or there were some bumps along the way: I’m sure you know how tough the magazine industry is. We still face that challenge, you know, being a multicultural publication, in terms of dollar allocation. Before, a lot of advertising agencies would have pockets of money just for multicultural initiatives, whether it was black, Latino, Asian, etcetera. Now we’re finding a lot of the agencies are rolling those dollars into the general market and not having that pot anymore, so it is tough.

On whether Cuisine Noir’s platform is about promoting famous chefs or discovering hidden talents: Well, we go in and out. I’ve personally had the honor of speaking to Dr. Maya Angelou; that was an awesome interview that I was able to do. With her two books that she had out, she was all about cooking and entertaining. We’ve interviewed Russell Simmons and Wendy Williams, so we do try and capture the celebrity foodies. We don’t make it just about celebrity foodies, because again there is so much talent among people who are not celebrities. But, we do want to capture what the celebrities are doing.

On how she convinces advertisers that Cuisine Noir is deserving of their dollars: We’ve really tried to present my analytics; we’ve got a great customer base. Unfortunately, there are some stereotypes and there are some perceptions about black consumers, about black travelers, etcetera, that we try to make sure we, in terms of where we’re spending, especially, our disposable income.

On getting traction in the multicultural publications with ad dollars: I have found, not naming any particular brands or companies, but I’ve worked with some in the past and had a good relationship. But then people are always changing in agencies. People are always leaving, and sometimes it’s like a revolving door. You have to ask, “Okay, who is the new person overseeing this account?” and you have to start building that relationship all over again. I think it’s important to have people in these roles that are making the decisions of where these multicultural dollars are going, to understand publications such as ours. Again, you want the quality of trying to reach the consumer—in terms of the quality of the consumer and not necessarily the quantity.

On whether she feels being based on the West coast is helping or hindering her success with the magazine: For me, I think it helps—especially when it comes to the food [industry]. I feel California is a leader when it comes to the food movement, especially around sustainable eating and things like that, and especially when it comes to the wine industry. I feel that I either need to be here or in New York, and luckily I’ve got correspondents in New York that help me make sure that if there’s anything in New York that we’re invited to, then we’re there. I definitely think that we’re in a good place, being here in Oakland and San Francisco that allows us to keep a good pulse on the industry and what’s going on.

On if she had the opportunity to present her sales pitch about Cuisine Noir to a big ad agency CEO, what she would say: I would definitely try to talk about, one: working with someone who is truly about getting their brand in front of consumers and making a difference. For me, it’s not about just taking someone’s money. I understand that there’s a return on investment that needs to come back and that they’re looking for certain things. For me [though], it’s about relationship-building. So, if they [the advertising CEOs] are looking for someone who is going to partner with them to help meet their goals, plus build a really good relationship, that’s who Cuisine Noir is.

On the most pleasant moment so far during her Cuisine Noir experience: It was one of those days where I was thinking, “Oh, you know, nothing is clicking today.” It was just one of those off days. I remember receiving an e-mail from the Smithsonian Channel, and it was one of the producers that was putting together a video for the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C. They wanted to secure one of our covers to be placed in a video that can still be seen today when you go to the fourth floor of the museum. There is a video that talks about African American cuisine, and the cover of Cuisine Noir comes up on the video.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face: I think one of the biggest ones unfortunately, is around engaging advertisers. When there’s an advertiser that you’re trying to engage and, for whatever reason—it could be something that we did, but I try to make sure to fulfill our agreements—but when they decide to go in a different direction, those are advertising dollars that are taken away from you. Those are planned, and so the only thing that I can do is just work harder. It shows you that you really still have to work harder because nothing is guaranteed. No one is guaranteed to stay. That was sort of, I think, an eye-opener.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just say that we really love the people we are able to showcase and the stories. It’s really great. I love getting emails from people who have discovered us. For instance, we just got an email from the comedian Bernie Mac’s ex-wife’s publicist, about doing something with her.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: You would probably, if I’m not on a deadline, find me with a glass of wine, just watching my TV or something. I think sometimes I just try and turn my brain off. I read so much; I’ve got a whole table full of magazines. But, you know, I definitely just like to relax.

On the one thing she would have tattooed on her brain to be remembered about her forever: That I never gave up.

On what keeps her up at night: Trying to figure out how to get my advertisers and my sponsors engaged. That keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sheree Williams, publisher, editor in chief, Cuisine Noir magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Cuisine Noir. How did you come up with the name, and then how did you get from the blog all the way to the magazine?

Sheree Williams: I always tell everyone that I didn’t start the magazine. A different chef who is in California started it in the late ‘90s. He’s a chef down in L.A. and just wanted to get more exposure to black chefs. I connected with him in 2007 and, at that time, he had introduced the concept to me. I was doing my backgrounds in PR advertising and PR, and thought it was a very interesting idea, because I also was writing as well.

So, we connected in 2007 and I told him, because at the time I was in grad school, that the web was about to really blow up and a lot of media properties were going to be on the web. I worked with him to launch a Cuisine Noir site online in 2007. It was really exciting, because that’s when Tre Wilcox was on Top Chef and Aaron McCargo, Jr. had just won Food Network Star and the Neely’s (Gina and Pat) were just coming out. That’s when we were really starting to see diversity in Food Network and things like that.

So, we worked together to launch it [the Cuisine Noir site]. Then in 2008, I took it over because he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it. From there, I said, “You know what, I want to do food, wine, and travel.” I was an avid reader of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines, and I just saw that there was a big opportunity to really showcase black food, wine, and travel.

In 2009, as I started to lead the magazine and take it over, that’s when I started to rebrand it. I relaunched it, and relaunched a website online with Carla Hall, so that was exciting. Then, in 2011 is when I said, “You know what? I think we’ve got a good following and a good market, let’s take it into print.” I took it into print then, with Tre Wilcox being our first cover story. We’ve been going ever since then.

Samir Husni: Has it been like a walk in a rose garden for you—everything went exactly like as you expected—or have you hit some bumps along the way?

Sheree Williams: I’m sure you know how tough the magazine industry is. We still face that challenge, you know, being a multicultural publication, in terms of dollar allocation. Before, a lot of advertising agencies would have pockets of money just for multicultural initiatives, whether it was black, Latino, Asian, etcetera. Now we’re finding a lot of the agencies are rolling those dollars into the general market and not having that pot anymore, so it is tough.

Also, I love, but just can’t compete with, in some instances, Essence and Black Enterprise and Ebony. They all have forty plus years on me. I’m a newbie in the game. So, there are some challenges there in terms of the advertising dollars and things like that.

But, we continue to move forward. I have a wonderful staff of different people around the world, and we continue to believe in the project, what we’re doing and telling the stories that we tell; the stories of some of the heroes that are in these industries that are not necessarily featured in some other publications. That really keeps us going. Unfortunately, there is no walk in a rose garden, but we’re just excited to be able to be in the space and tell the stories that we are able to tell.

Samir Husni: It has been said that when it comes to the multicultural—to African Americans, to Latinos, to folks from Middle Eastern descent, like me—that you have a certain color until you become rich and famous. Then, everybody’s color is green. How do you deal with that? Are you featuring the famous? Or, are you working more as the talent discoverer and that’s what the Cusine Noir platform is all about?

Sheree Williams: Well, we go in and out. I’ve personally had the honor of speaking to Dr. Maya Angelou; that was an awesome interview that I was able to do. With her two books that she had out, she was all about cooking and entertaining. We’ve interviewed Russell Simmons and Wendy Williams, so we do try and capture the celebrity foodies. We don’t make it just about celebrity foodies, because again there is so much talent among people who are not celebrities. But, we do want to capture what the celebrities are doing.

We just talked about—we had her on the cover before—Laila Ali. She was on one of my fall covers and just announced that she’s coming out with a cookbook to honor her father that’s due to come out in January, 2018. We talk about Patti LaBelle’s cookbook that just came out. So, we do celebrities, and I think if we can do more, get the brand out there more… I don’t know if the celebrities are going to help us blow up a little bit more? But definitely just more of them communicating to their audiences who will probably help bring more awareness to what we’re doing.

We definitely find as we’re growing, when it comes to the dollars, it seems to be a numbers game. They [the advertisers] want the millions of viewers. Essence has a circulation of over 800,000, and I’m not there yet. When it comes to those dollars, if they’re looking at eyeballs and things like that, then they [Essence] are going to be the obvious choice, and deservingly so. I get it; it’s just a numbers game.

Samir Husni: So, how do you then convince those advertisers and ad agencies that you’re more about the customers who count, rather than counting customers?

Sheree Williams: We’ve really tried to present my analytics; we’ve got a great customer base. Unfortunately, there are some stereotypes and there are some perceptions about black consumers, about black travelers, etcetera, that we try to make sure we , in terms of where we’re spending, especially, our disposable income.

Looking at a snapshot of our reader [base], I try and tell them that our readers are very sophisticated. They love to try different cuisines. They love to travel internationally—and this next print issue that we’re working on is all about travel. We’re all about that, so we talk about that. We talk about the spending power of African Americans, and how it’s in the trillions, and a lot of that is being spent in the food and beverage categories. We really just try to look at our customers, where they shop and what they like to do. I try to make sure, as much as possible, that I can say, “You know what? Here is a customer that is all about trying new products and getting out and trying new experiences,” saying, “This is someone that you definitely want to market to. This is someone that we’re talking to directly.”

We’ve got a very active group on Facebook. We’re sharing recipes all of the time. We’re sharing stories all of the time. Really, we’re just trying to let the advertisers know that the readers are engaged and they’re all about food, so if you’re coming out with a food product or you’re talking about this, then we’re the right people to talk to. That’s what the readers are coming to us for.

Samir Husni: Why do you think this is falling on deaf ears? Why do you think, after all these years, we keep celebrating diversity and yet—when the rubber hits the road—we feel as though we are not getting any traction?

Sheree Williams: I have found, not naming any particular brands or companies, but I’ve worked with some in the past and had a good relationship. But then people are always changing in agencies. People are always leaving, and sometimes it’s like a revolving door. You have to ask, “Okay, who is the new person overseeing this account?” and you have to start building that relationship all over again. I think it’s important to have people in these roles that are making the decisions of where these multicultural dollars are going, to understand publications such as ours. Again, you want the quality of trying to reach the consumer—in terms of the quality of the consumer and not necessarily the quantity.

Sometimes, I have to admit, and I can’t say it for sure, but sometimes I have to wonder are the people making the decisions in some of these agencies, do they truly understand our publications, the influences that we can have in these markets and in these communities? And, if they did, would that change things? Would they say, “You know what? I’m not going to spend a $100,000 here, or $50,000—or whatever they’re spending on some of the more seasoned publications—but I am going to take a risk with you.” Again, sometimes I think it comes down to who is making the decisions and [whether or not] they truly understand what we do and who we reach in order to give us a chance to really knock it out of the park.

Samir Husni: Do you think that being based on the west coast is helping or hindering you when it comes to the magazine’s success?

Sheree Williams: For me, I think it helps—especially when it comes to the food [industry]. I feel California is a leader when it comes to the food movement, especially around sustainable eating and things like that, and especially when it comes to the wine industry. I feel that I either need to be here or in New York, and luckily I’ve got correspondents in New York that help me make sure that if there’s anything in New York that we’re invited to, then we’re there. I definitely think that we’re in a good place, being here in Oakland and San Francisco that allows us to keep a good pulse on the industry and what’s going on.

Samir Husni: If you had the opportunity to meet a CEO of one of those big ad agencies, say, you’re alone with him or her in an elevator and you have 18 seconds to give your sales pitch about Cuisine Noir, what would you tell them?

Sheree Williams: I would definitely try to talk about, one: working with someone who is truly about getting their brand in front of consumers and making a difference. For me, it’s not about just taking someone’s money. I understand that there’s a return on investment that needs to come back and that they’re looking for certain things. For me [though], it’s about relationship-building. So, if they [the advertising CEOs] are looking for someone who is going to partner with them to help meet their goals, plus build a really good relationship, that’s who Cuisine Noir is.

We’re really about those relationship buildings, and we’re really about getting their products in front of our consumers—and I also love getting new things in front of my readers; that’s what it’s all about too. I think it’s a win-win situation. That’s what we’re all about: that relationship-building, trying to be an influencer for them, and then also engaging our readers and letting them know this is what’s new, this is what’s great, and this is what’s out there.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in the history of you and Cuisine Noir. Is there one specific moment you reflect back on and say, “Wow?”

Sheree Williams: It was one of those days where I was thinking, “Oh, you know, nothing is clicking today.” It was just one of those off days. I remember receiving an e-mail from the Smithsonian Channel, and it was one of the producers that was putting together a video for the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C. They wanted to secure one of our covers to be placed in a video that can still be seen today when you go to the fourth floor of the museum. There is a video that talks about African American cuisine, and the cover of Cuisine Noir comes up on the video.

And that just made me cry. We celebrated that with the opening of the museum last September. My family and I went to the museum a couple of days later to see the cover just flash up on the screen in the museum. That was ad still is definitely a very proud moment for me.

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

Sheree Williams: I think one of the biggest ones unfortunately, is around engaging advertisers. When there’s an advertiser that you’re trying to engage and, for whatever reason—it could be something that we did, but I try to make sure to fulfill our agreements—but when they decide to go in a different direction, those are advertising dollars that are taken away from you. Those are planned, and so the only thing that I can do is just work harder. It shows you that you really still have to work harder because nothing is guaranteed. No one is guaranteed to stay. That was sort of, I think, an eye-opener.

But I also have to admit, too: I have a bachelors in advertising, and I did an advertising internship here in California before I actually moved from Chicago to California. I’m glad that I had that background. I think this whole thing with trying to solve the advertising puzzle and what is really going to get our foot in the door comfortably, is softened because of my background, knowing the lingo, what they’re looking for, and things like that.

I’m constantly having to overcome objections of “You’re too small. You’re great! But you’re too small.” So that’s still a stumbling block that I’m still overcoming right now. I’m actually constantly working on what is a good strategy, and I actually have a meeting with someone who I’m throwing out some strategy ideas to continue to overcome that stumbling block. I would say that’s one of the things I am constantly trying to overcome.

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

Sheree Williams: I would just say that we really love the people we are able to showcase and the stories. It’s really great. I love getting emails from people who have discovered us. For instance, we just got an email from the comedian Bernie Mac’s ex-wife’s publicist, about doing something with her.

We just contributed to something with Steve Harvey’s producer who is a baker. I love being able to tell those stories, when it comes to the community heroes. And also to share the stories of the celebrity foodies who are known for singing or doing something else, but also just awesome in the kitchen. I really am excited about that and just excited to see where we can go. I definitely hope people continue to follow us and join us for the journey and the ride.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Would you be drinking a glass of wine, eating some Southern cuisine, reading a book, watching TV, on your iPad, or something else?

Sheree Williams: You would probably, if I’m not on a deadline, find me with a glass of wine, just watching my TV or something. I think sometimes I just try and turn my brain off. I read so much; I’ve got a whole table full of magazines. But, you know, I definitely just like to relax.

You’d probably find me, if I’m not out eating with someone, just sitting here on different things. I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s going on, watching some of the culinary competitions on TV to see who’s doing what. Or I’m just organizing. We get so busy sometimes. I’ve got a bookshelf I need to put up, so one evening I’m going to get to the bookshelf that I need to do. It really just varies, but one thing is sure, I’m relaxing. I definitely need to relax.

Samir Husni: If there was one thing you would want engraved or tattooed on your brain, that would be remembered about you forever, what would it be?

Sheree Williams: That I never gave up.

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

Sheree Williams: Trying to figure out how to get my advertisers and my sponsors engaged. That keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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

June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first, the sound-bites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Samir Husni: Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Michael Clinton: Hearst Magazines’ Strong Belief In Its Core Print Product & Its Continued Dedication To Digital Innovation Makes For A Bright Future – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines…

June 19, 2017

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

Hearst Magazines has been at the forefront of print since the dawn of the digital age. While never turning a deaf ear on what the innovations of the 21st century offered, Hearst also never gave their core product the cold shoulder either. Print was and still is the foundation of their company and no one has ever felt the need to apologize for that. Kudos to Hearst. Mr. Magazine™ has never felt that particular need either. Print remains the backbone of publishing and the only format that defines the word “magazine.”

That being said, we’re approaching that midway point in 2017, and I wanted to catch up with Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director of Hearst Magazines, and ask him how things were going at this stage of the yearly game, and also what the future looked like for Hearst Magazines. Michael was in Paris recently and I spoke to him by phone to propose a few questions. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about the company and about new things that are up and coming, which are both innovative and exciting.

From Hearst for Humanity to partnerships with companies like Airbnb and Pioneer Woman, Hearst is leading the way when it comes to new ideas and projects. As Michael himself put it, “Great ideas do get funded” when you have the great, innovative idea.” Enough said.

I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who is both grounded in print, but open to all of the possibilities that the 21st century has to offer, Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

But first the sound-bites:

On where he thinks Hearst is heading in the future: It continues to be a very topsy-turvy time in the business world at large–all business, all media. You may have read recently that Amazon is buying Whole Foods, so you’re getting all sorts of interesting acquisitions and partnerships and all of that. You know, in the midst of it I think that we continue to have a very strong point of view about our business. Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it.

On how he keeps up with the fast-paced changes in the publishing world today: I think that you have to figure out where you’re going to place your bets. You know, you have to figure out when the marketplace is shifting. For example, it was shifting to mobile first. It was really great [for us], because we were right there at that moment with all our technology and our digital team. So, it’s capturing the shift at the time that it [the current trend] begins to get stale and [the new trend] begins to gain momentum.

On why he thinks partnerships are the key to the future of magazines: Partnerships are a very important part of our strategy. And, you know, with a lot of noise and a lot of clutter out there, it’s always great to partner with a brand that has lots of touch points with consumers. Airbnb is a great example. Obviously, it is a community driven brand. The Airbnb community has a huge brand allegiance and is connected to the Airbnb world, and they learn lots of different things from Airbnb.

On anything that might be in the hopper for the future: We always have a couple of things that are, you know, “in the hopper,” but we do this process called the “discovery phase.” I think that before we even knew that we were talking to Airbnb, there was maybe a year of this discovery phase. You know, it is a way to get the name checker, the research, and really understand the plan, get the opportunities, talk to consumers, talk to advertisers, and so there are a couple of ideas that we have “in the hopper.” Oftentimes they never see the light of day, but, you know, a new idea is born.

On why Dr. Oz The Good Life became a bookazine: I think it has an enormous consumer following. And, you know, when we looked at the business model, and we looked at how we thought we could make a bigger business and profit, we felt that shifting it to the bookazine model would give us a bigger partnership together.

On what Hearst for Humanity is about: Well, first of all it won’t be every magazine every month. I had an observation, as many people have, that started about eighteen months ago. Many consumers, especially younger consumers, especially those “famous millennials,” like to buy products where there is a give back, a cause-relationship, an ability for them to participate in a way that they feel they’re a part of doing good. And so, I challenged our consumer marketing team—and it took about a year to put in place—to come up with what could be a unique cause-related platform for the Hearst magazines to create and develop. This is what has become Hearst for Humanity. So, if our editors, in any given issue, decide that there is a theme that has the potential, they will inform our consumer marketing department, who will then create with them a give back approach. We’re going to test it in the second half of this year with four magazines.

On anything else he’d like to add: I’m trying to think if there’s any sort of hot news that I didn’t cover. You might be interested in this. We’ve had a very successful—extremely successful—business with delish.com, so we began to look at other areas of other categories where we might be able to use that digital model. So, we’re going to launch later in the year a new site called Glo.com. Glo is going to be in the wellness/health/fitness space. It will be what delish is and it will be predominantly video. It’ll have a fun, quirky sense of humor, and it’ll be cheeky the way delish is—and fun. We’re going to see if we can create another digital business along the delish model with Glo later in the year.

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

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director, Hearst Magazines.

Samir Husni: Michael, what’s your feeling now, as we hit that midpoint in 2017? You’ve launched two new magazines this year and you’ve relaunched other magazines last year. Where do you think Hearst Magazines is heading?

Michael Clinton: Well, you know, it continues to be a very topsy-turvy time in the business world at large–all business, all media. You may have read recently that Amazon is buying Whole Foods, so you’re getting all sorts of interesting acquisitions and partnerships and all of that. You know, in the midst of it I think that we continue to have a very strong point of view about our business. Obviously, we believe in our core product—which is print. Why do we believe so strongly? It’s because the consumer believes so strongly in it.

I think you know, because we’ve talked about this in the past, that magazine circulations have been surprisingly stable, in terms of consumer buying. It’s been a very, very stable part of the business. The audiences are actually growing in a lot of places, and there aren’t a lot of media that can say that. When you think of all media—television, cable, newspapers—magazine audiences continue to be very strong. Now, as we know, newsstands continue to be a challenge for a whole host of reasons, but we ask consumers to pay for our media. You know, that’s a big differentiator. So, it’s one of the reasons why we continue to test new products, like Airbnb and Pioneer Woman, and always innovate on our existing products, you know, evolve them. And then, as things become available, we take a look at products that might be available to buy.

So, that’s sort of part one, you know, continuing to believe in our core business. Then, of course, like everyone else, have a very significant build-out on all digital and social platforms. All that has to run parallel to our print issues. We want our brands living everywhere. Now we have six brands on Snapchat. We want our brands to be on Snapchat and on Instagram and on Facebook and on whatever is going to be invented in the next, you know, year or two. Somebody could invent something new and we’re going to want to be there too.

I think that’s a multiplatform approach, with the core always being very important.

Samir Husni: Tell me Michael, as you expand the brand on all platforms: for now everyone is saying “Video, video, video. We have to be on video. Mobile is the thing for now.” You know, ten years ago it was the tablet. Before that, it was the homepage. So, how can you, keep up with the pace of the changes that are taking place that we have no control over?

Michael Clinton: Well, I think that you have to figure out where you’re going to place your bets. You know, you have to figure out when the marketplace is shifting. For example, it was shifting to mobile first. It was really great [for us], because we were right there at that moment with all our technology and our digital team.

So, it’s capturing the shift at the time that it [the current trend] begins to get stale and [the new trend] begins to gain momentum. So, you know, right now everybody is talking about “voice first” as the next thing. At the CES Show in Las Vegas, it was all about Alexa and all about Siri and now Amazon has announced its product, so this is the next thing on the horizon; the “voice first” platform. But, it’s still in its early days, you know? At what point do you say “Okay, I’m going to spend time, money, and people to build out a “voice first” acquisition. You have to figure out when the market is going to be ripe to go in and make that move. Then you decide how you spend your resources.

So, you’re absolutely right. On the iPad—when the iPad was born–all the magazines had a mad rush to the iPad. Certainly, we were on the front, leading edge of that; we’re always going to want to try and be the first mover in the beginning, to test different things.

We created the “App Lab,” you might remember. And it was our little incubator for trying and testing and playing with different formats on the iPad. I mean, others did too. You know, we put the resources against it, to make sure we were tracking it, watching it, and, as you know, it didn’t have the big promise—or certainly hasn’t had the big promise yet—nor did it have the big promise that everyone thought.

You know, every year there seems to be a new “next thing.” We have to play in the space, and we have to know when to push forward or to pull back based on time and resources and people. And so that’s just the skill of it, I think. Yes, we always have to look at everything.

Samir Husni: One of the things that you looked at and that you did very well with were the partnerships you created. Since the launch of O, The Oprah Magazine, to the Food Network, HGTV, Dr. Oz; some are very successful and some, you know, are limping a little bit. Why do you think partnerships and launching new magazines is going to be the key to our future? Or do you think that?

Michael Clinton: No; as you point out, that has been a very important part of our strategy. And, you know, with a lot of noise and a lot of clutter out there, it’s always great to partner with a brand that has lots of touch points with consumers. Airbnb is a great example. Obviously, it is a community driven brand. The Airbnb community has a huge brand allegiance and is connected to the Airbnb world, and they learn lots of different things from Airbnb. Airbnb communicates with them, obviously through their site, but also through newsletters and email and social, so being able to join forces with them to talk to their community about a new magazine that they’re going to do with us has really been a great example. You know, the famous Pioneer Woman has twenty-six million blog followers.

So, when she puts out a communication to her followers, that sure does help, in terms of having a successful liftoff of a new product. So, I think today and in the future, it’s those brands that have lots of various touchpoints with consumers [that help us]. You know, comments that say like Food Network and HGTV. Obviously, there’s a big Cable channel play, and conversations when Oprah was on daily television. Airbnb is more of a digital communication. So, you know if you get the right idea and the right partner, it can all work very well.

Samir Husni: Last time I was in NYC, David [David Carey; President, Hearst Magazines] was talking about something in the hopper for next year?

Michael Clinton: Did he now? (Both laugh) You know, we always have a couple of things that are, you know, “in the hopper,” but we do this process called the “discovery phase.” I think that before we even knew that we were talking to Airbnb, there was maybe a year of this discovery phase. You know, it is a way to get the name checker, the research, and really understand the plan, get the opportunities, talk to consumers, talk to advertisers, and so there are a couple of ideas that we have “in the hopper.” Oftentimes they never see the light of day, but, you know, a new idea is born.

Samir Husni: Well, you were hoping for a trifecta with The Food Network, HGTV, and Dr. Oz The Good Life. What happened with Dr. Oz The Good Life?

Michael Clinton: You know, I think it has an enormous consumer following. And, you know, when we looked at the business model, and we looked at how we thought we could make a bigger business and profit, we felt that shifting it to the bookazine model would give us a bigger partnership together. Obviously that would give us a bigger plot structure than a magazine, a magazine staff, and all that stuff. I think that, when you look at the consumer and you do the research, when you see how we approach the bookazine, there’s going to be a deeper dive into a variety of different health subjects. So, we just thought that this shift in this business model, I think David [David Carey] was quoted, and it’s true, that, aside from regularly published magazines, the bookazine sector is very strong at the moment. We haven’t played a lot in that space, but we want to, and this was a really good opportunity to pivot.

How we see the future is: not all magazines will be [published] ten times [a year]. Some will be six. Some will be four. Some might be two, you know? I’m not saying necessarily our existing magazines, but, maybe. And maybe new magazines. I think that, when you look at where there’s consumer engagement and on what level, then you decide from there. We looked at the Esquire Big Black Book and, you know, we think it makes sense to continue to do that twice a year. We don’t think it makes sense to do it four times.

But, then again, we might look at something else and say that, okay, this is four times. So, we haven’t made the decision too early on our newest products: Pioneer Woman and Airbnb. But I think we have to break out of our traditional thinking that you go out with a new product and it automatically has to become a ten times a year product; that’s not necessarily so. So, we’ve been looking into different approaches.

Samir Husni: Yes, you know, the worst thing we can do is the same thing we did five hundred years ago. (Laughs)

Michael Clinton: Right, exactly.

Samir Husni: So, tell me a little bit about Hearst for Humanity. I was reading recently about you launching this venture, where every magazine or every brand would team with a charitable or humane organization. What’s the genesis of that? I mean I know your folks talk so much about your generosity. So, is this a reflection of you? Or is this a whole Hearst venture?

Michael Clinton: Well, first of all it won’t be every magazine every month. I had an observation, as many people have, that started about eighteen months ago. Many consumers, especially younger consumers, especially those “famous millennials,” like to buy products where there is a give back, a cause-relationship, an ability for them to participate in a way that they feel they’re a part of doing good. And so, I challenged our consumer marketing team—and it took about a year to put in place—to come up with what could be a unique cause-related platform for the Hearst magazines to create and develop. This is what has become Hearst for Humanity.

So, if our editors, in any given issue, decide that there is a theme that has the potential, they will inform our consumer marketing department, who will then create with them a give back approach. We’re going to test it in the second half of this year with four magazines.

So the first one, this year’s Country Living magazine, they have something called the ‘Water’ issue. It’s all about, not just the spawning of lakes and oceans and summertime and getting out on the water, but literally [it’s about] clean water, if your community water is clean, etcetera.

Throughout the magazine, there are tips about how you can conserve water, keep water clean, use water in an efficient and green way. Then, if you believe in this as a cause, you can participate by going online to donate to The Nature Conservancy Group. We have a big water initiative.

So, if someone is a reader of Country Living and they say “You know what, I really believe in clean water and good water and all this stuff they’re putting in the magazine. This is a really important cause to me. I’m going to go online and make a donation towards the cause, I’m going to learn a little more about the cause.” Obviously, we’ll connect that to a special offer to subscribe to Country Living if you’re not a subscriber.

Then when Marie Claire wants to do an issue on sustainable fashion or if Good Housekeeping wanted to do a theme on feeding hungry children in poor parts of the country, we can connect the stories directly to the charity that is their partner. So everybody wins. The magazine wins because it’s doing good, the consumer wins because they’re being informed and connected to an important cause, and the cause wins because they’re getting engagement and—hopefully—a donation and may talk to people who want to be a part of their world.

It all started with this observation that—and you’ve seen this research too—brands that are connected to causes have a higher level of brand engagement with their consumers. And some good examples of that in the product stage is the Iowa Company, Toms Shoes; there have been other one-off initiatives in media like “Stand Up for Cancer” in the television world, which you might be familiar with. You know, the old fashioned thing was the telethon. This is our way of saying, “How do we build out a cause-related platform?” And this is really through our editorial products. I mean, our editors have another arm.

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

Michael Clinton: I’m trying to think if there’s any sort of hot news that I didn’t cover. You might be interested in this. We’ve had a very successful—extremely successful—business with delish.com, so we began to look at other areas of other categories where we might be able to use that digital model. So, we’re going to launch later in the year a new site called Glo.com. Glo is going to be in the wellness/health/fitness space. It will be what delish is and it will be predominantly video. It’ll have a fun, quirky sense of humor, and it’ll be cheeky the way delish is—and fun. We’re going to see if we can create another digital business along the delish model with Glo later in the year.

You know, our big push in the last year has been on a lot of our global buildout, and so one of the reasons why I’m spending a few days in the marketplace here in Paris before I get down to Cannes, is that we’re doing a lot of big digital, global deals, which is very exciting. We’ve taken our platform media in the US and we’ve pushed it across the globe, [such as] all of our owned and operated companies, for starters. From a digital point, a brand can buy a digital campaign or a digital cobranded project across ten countries, and we can deliver it in a very seamless way because we have the technology now. We’re having a lot of success in that area. We’ve gone more global in our digital technology, in our digital abilities. So that’s a big area of development.

Samir Husni: My new final question; if you were to tattoo or engrave something on your brain that people would remember you forever for, and you would remember yourself, what would it be?

Michael Clinton: Well, it would be something we just did. We just did a fun session that we do every year in the company which is called Unbound 360, which is when all the magazines present to each other their best and most innovative projects of the year. And I can share with you that Harper’s BAZAAR won, because the whole company votes. You might be familiar with Harper’s BAZAAR’s Empire State Building project a while back. And, you know, Tiffany was the business partner; Tiffany was our advertising partner in this huge project. It was extremely innovative in print, digital, video, and all the above.

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

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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