Archive for October, 2011


Sid Evans’ Seven Commandments to Succeed in Today’s Magazine Marketplace… as told at the ACT2 Experience

October 29, 2011

The ACT2 Experience at the Magazine Innovation Center @ The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media ended last night. However, while the events came to a conclusion, the Experience continues and the lessons from the aforementioned Experience continue to be bountiful. Here is lesson one written by Tony Silber on his blog at Folio:.

Sid Evans on What Southern Magazines Can Teach the World About Media
A report from the ACT2 Conference.
By Tony Silber

To watch Sid Evans presentation at the ACT2 Experience click here.
What’s the difference between Garden & Gun and Portfolio, two award-winning magazines that were both launched in 2007?

Other than the obvious response—Portfolio is out of business while Garden & Gun thrives—for Sid Evans, the difference comes down to one word: Soul.

Evans, the group editor of Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Division and founding editor of Garden & Gun, says being “soulful” makes all the difference between magazine success and failure, and it’s something Southern magazines can teach the world.

Evans was a keynote speaker at the ACT2 Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, and in his presentation, he offered seven key ingredients for success of Southern magazines, ingredients that all magazine brands can emulate. “Our first cover had Pat Conroy standing in a fountain,” Evans said. “It was not a choice a focus group would have made. But to me it made sense!”

In music, art, literature, architecture, food and more, there is “an abundant, rich life” in the South, and that’s what people want, Evans said. “We were a general-interest magazine about Southern culture, and it struck a nerve immediately,” he said. “And somehow, that translates beyond the South.”

Here are Evans’ 7 ingredients of successful Southern magazines.

1. Make people proud of where they’re from. Think about what was going on in the South in 1966, when Southern Living was launched, he said. It wasn’t great. “But Southern Living was about a civilized, gracious place.”

2. Make food the center of everything.
“Food is what binds people together,” Evans said. “It’s what they talk about. And it’s not just the recipes, it’s the stories—the barbeque joint that’s been around since the 1950s. The term ‘American food’ doesn’t really mean anything—but Southern food, that means something.”

3. Never underestimate the power of a great story. “A lot of the media world has lost sight of that fact,” Evans said, recounting a story in Southern Living of how people survived the devastating tornados in Alabama earlier this year, and how it touched people all over the world.

4. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.
“Even as you do Facebook and develop a Twitter presence, remember nostalgia,” Evans said. “At Garden & Gun, we got a letter from a reader in New Jersey who said we made her nostalgic for a place she’s never been. We did story on Facebook about Southern sodas, regional sodas that people grew up with. It was like someone dropped a bomb on our Facebook page!”

5. Have a drink. Southern Living has had a “tortured relationship” with alcohol over the years, Evans said, but now, alcohol is a regular part of the magazine, as it should be. “When you do a story about a mint julep, you’re doing something about more than a drink,” he said. “When you think about most kinds of alcohol, they come from somewhere else. But bourbon is ours. It is uniquely Southern.”

6. Pick the right heroes.
“One of the things that makes Southern magazines unusual is that readers treat celebrities as members of an extended family,” Evans said. “When you’re writing about celebrities, you need to be careful. If they don’t seem real, if they don’t represent the South well, then you lose credibility with readers.”

7. Make your readers the star.
“Elevate them,” Evans says. “Recipe sharing is a huge part of the culture—a kind of cultural secret weapon.”

And in the end, Evans repeated, a magazine should “be soulful. It’s not a business strategy, but it is a business philosophy.”

The ACT2 conference is organized by Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at University of Mississippi the journalism school, and widely known as “Mr. Magazine.” The two-day event, in its second year, has doubled in size from 2010, Husni said.

To watch Sid Evans’ presentation at the ACT2 Experience click here.


Sporting News Magazine: Fuzzy Math, a Sign of the Times, or Just a Last Gasp!

October 20, 2011

Long time ago, in not a far away place, magazines used to consider their subscription cards as a legally binding contractual agreement with their subscribers. If you subscribe for a magazine for a year or a specific number of issues, the magazine used to honor your subscription to that entire period of time. You subscribe for six issues, you get six issues regardless of the frequency of publishing. You subscribe to one year, you receive a one year of magazines unless there was a specific number of issues mentioned in that one year subscription. Frequency was and should never be the basis for magazine subscriptions.

Well, yesterday I received a post card from Sporting News Magazine. It read, “We have decided to merge the bi-weekly (28 issues a year, including four double issues) print edition of Sporting News Magazine with our affiliated Sporting News Yearbooks. The resulting publication will continue to be called Sporting News Magazine, will be published monthly, and will generally focus on one seasonal sport preview.” So far, so good. You will say it is a sign of the hard economic times.

My subscription to Sporting News Magazine runs until May 21, 2012. So, I figured they will take the number of issues remaining in my subscription and extend my subscription to the new monthly until all my issues have been sent. Well, I figured wrong. Instead of receiving at least another 14 issues of the magazine, I was told that “after serving your October 10, 2011 issue, you currently have $4.60 remaining on your paid subscription to the bi-weekly Sporting News Magazine. To fulfill that, we will send you 1 issues (sic) of the monthly Sporting News Magazine.” Yes, you have read that right, 1 ONE issue left. The card went on to read, “If for any reason you choose not to continue receiving Sporting News Magazine, please contact us at 1-800-777-6785 (U.S. only) for a full refund on the remaining dollar value of your paid subscription.”

I called the number and was put on hold for ten minutes because they are “experiencing heavy calling volume and if I want to cancel I can go to” I tried the number again today and received the same recorded message. I opted to wait and when the subscription agent took my call, she explained to me the change in frequency and the way they calculated my remaining “dollar value” from the magazine. She also told me that the new cover price of the magazine will be $8 and the Nov. issue will be a double issue with a $16 cover price, so the magazine is doing me a favor by rounding up by remaining $4.60 and sending me one issue with the $16 cover price.”

I am sure that the folks at Sporting News Magazine have cleared this deal with their lawyers and accountants, but even if it legally a way-out of fulfilling their subscription obligations, I do not believe it is the right way or the moral way to deal with the folks who believed in their magazine and subscribed to it for a lengthy period of time. Even if it the legal thing to do (and I am not a lawyer) I do NOT think it is the right thing to do.

Sporting News Magazine should respect the contractual agreement it had with its subscribers and should honor that either for the number of issues remaining or the time frame remaining. Asking folks to cancel their subscription if they do not like the alternative is indeed a sign of the these tough economic times. I said it once and I will say it again, magazines and newspapers are not dying, but too many are committing suicide. I wish Sporting News Magazine with its 125-year history will not join those who “are committing suicide” by the actions and marketing philosophy they are taking.

In my many years of observing and following the magazine industry, I never recall a time where a magazine encouraged its readers to cancel their subscriptions. This must be a first. Yet, I do believe that there is still time to change, survive and thrive.


What Every Magazine Media Company Needs: A Chief Dream Officer

October 18, 2011

“This idea will never work,” is by far the most often used phrase when it comes to launching a new magazine. The history of magazine publishing is filled with stories about great publishers who were told, time and time again, that their magazine idea would never work. Guess what, that fire did not quench their passion and desire to prove the naysayers wrong. Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, People and Maxim are but four magazines whose publishers heard the aforementioned phrase, “This idea will never work.” (photo illustration from

So what is the difference between yesteryear and today? Passion and dreams. Magazine publishing was an act of passion and a conception of a dream. Publishers dreamt and lived and executed their dreams. Today, dreams have become business plans, test issues, focus groups, more focus groups and an entry and exit strategy for the newborn publication.

Yesterdays’ magazines were the “dream come true.” For example, some, like The New Yorker, had no masthead. The product was the dream, and the dream was more important than the dreamer. Magazine publishers were in the business of making their dreams come true. The magazines were the most important manifestation of the passion and dreams of the publishers. Reading the history books of how some of those great magazines were born, one must wonder what has happened to the old publishing business model.

Magazine publishing has become a business plan, numbers and statistics, analysis and more analysis (think “paralysis by analysis”). Ideas are no longer the manifestations of a dream. They are the results of calculated risk analysis with no passion, or for that matter any type of emotion. Magazine publishing has become the domain of the MBAs, with their computer-generated flow charts and five-year projections.

I know times have changed, and companies and boards of directors have taken over most magazine publishing houses. Very few individuals still dream and decide. The board has to report to the shareholders and the shareholders to their pocket books. These are the days where dreams are kept dreams and never brought to fruition.

The reason for this lengthy introduction is to issue a call for the creation of a new position in magazine and media publishing companies – The Chief Dream Officer, i.e., someone in charge of dreaming and executing big ideas. Steve Jobs did just that. No focus groups, no test markets, no statistical analysis of the success or failure of the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Dreams fueled by passion and executed by sheer will power. “If you build it, they will come,” can easily be translated into, “If you publish it, they will come.”

Each and every company needs a Chief Dream Officer. After all, we have all types of chiefs now, from a Chief Revenue Officer to a Chief Content Officer to a Chief Creative Officer. Why not add one more chief, the Chief Dream Officer? The job description – dream big, execute bigger and follow your passion. If you publish it, they will come. Just know your “it.”

I know of one such company with an unofficial Chief Dream Officer. Mr. R is the strategic dreamer of the company. This blog is a salute to his dreams and a call to make his title official. In magazine publishing, the road to success is paved with a lot of dreams. History teaches us that behind every successful magazine, there existed a Chief Dream Officer. Let’s remake some history today.


Our State magazine: Three Hours of Unadulterated Pleasure Oasis. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Bernie Mann, Publisher of Our State magazine and Creator of a “Desire for Quality.”

October 11, 2011

Not too many people are able to buy a stale 48-page black and white magazine and turn it into a very successful 200 plus all color pages monthly magazine. Not too many people are able to continue to thrive in the midst of one of the worst economic downturn in the magazine business history. And not many can and will continue to enhance the editorial content without sacrificing a beat in terms of quality or quantity of the editorial product. Creating a magazine that people really want and are willing to pay almost $28 for a yearly subscription is what makes Bernie Mann, publisher of Our State in North Carolina, tick and click as he publishes one of the most successful state and regional magazines in the country today. If you are in the magazine business or thinking of starting a magazine and getting into this business, Our State magazine should be the model of your business plan and the magazine to imitate and learn from. It is a thriving, living and captivating magazine that can teach both big and small magazine publishers a lot of lessons on how an ink on paper magazine can thrive in today’s digital age.

“I am not in the content or information business,” Bernie told me. “I am in the beauty business.” His mantra is simple, indeed very simple, “I want to be an oasis; I want to be a place where, when you pick up my magazine, you can have 2.5 to 3 hours of unadulterated pleasure.”

As I was interviewing Bernie on the phone, I could feel the passion in his voice as he talked about the magazine and its audience. He practices what he preaches and he preaches what he practices. A consumer-centric publisher whose puts into practice the tag line he uses for his magazine over and over again. “If you like North Carolina, you will love Our State magazine.” Yes indeed.

In a typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews, here are the sound-bites first, followed by the entire, lightly edited, transcript of the interview:

On his secret success strategy: The key is putting out a magazine that people really want.

On a state magazine success strategy: What we try to do is hold up a mirror and let them see their own state in the most positive light.

On the value of advertising and marketing: I think it’s outrageous to tell people they should advertise and we don’t.

On lessons learned form successful companies: They create great products and they are also good at marketing these products. You’ve got to start by creating a great product.

On his web strategy: We are using the website to enhance the magazine. We do put our stories on our website, but we don’t put our photography.

On his advice to someone starting a new magazine: What is this unique feature that you have that is going to make people want this magazine?

On what makes Bernie tick: Mostly what energizes me is the thrill of being around some of the most wonderful people. I’ve been fortunate in collecting a staff of terrific people. I love watching them do terrific things.

On the future of magazines: I think the magazine business is getting the short stick – The thrill of reading a magazine, of seeing stories, of having the pleasure of carrying it with you and reading it where you want to.

And now for the full interview with Bernie Mann, publisher of Our State magazine in North Carolina:

Samir Husni: What’s your secret for success? Why even in this economy are you still publishing 230-page magazines?

Bernie Mann: Let me start by saying we value the product. We start everything with “How do we make the product better and how do we make sure the reader gets full value out of each magazine?” I think there are too many magazines that are published because they are a way to sell advertising. The key to me is that I almost feel it is a fiduciary responsibility because I have 147,000 people who send me $27.95 every year. I feel an obligation to give them terrific value so at the end of the year they vote to send me another $27.95. I think the key to quality is not putting out a magazine that is full of advertising. The key is putting out a magazine that people really want. I often say to my friends in the magazine business “Besides your family and your employees, if you stop publishing, who would care?” I think you have to put out a magazine that, if you were 5 to 6 days late in getting it to their mailbox, people would be in an uproar and would be desperately upset that they don’t have their magazine. If you can create that desire for quality, by the fact that you have touched their lives, by the fact that everything you do gives them pleasure, now you’ve got something.

We have a variety of things that we do. Everything about our magazine is positive. We never have a negative word. That’s why we don’t review restaurants. We review 5 books a month, but if we don’t like the book we don’t run the review. Everything is positive. I think in this world with so much negativity, when you pick up a magazine or turn on the television or read a newspaper, it’s just one bad story after another, and you say, well maybe tomorrow will be better. Well, tomorrow is worse. I want to be an oasis; I want to be a place where, when you pick up my magazine, you can have 2.5 to 3 hours of unadulterated pleasure. We are fortunate that in North Carolina the North Carolinians are very proud of where they live. What we try to do is hold up a mirror and let them see their own state in the most positive light.

It’s hard to give you one answer. We spend a lot of money on marketing. I think it’s outrageous to tell people they should advertise and we don’t. If I think advertising is so good then why the hell don’t I do it? I do it. I advertise in other magazines and on television, but we are very selective about where we advertise. We think it is very important to advertise to whoever we think our best prospects are. We do the usual direct mail, but we do a lot of other things to help us build our circulation.

SH: You came from a completely different background. Can you recreate the move that you made from radio to magazines? What were you thinking?

BM: I used to own radio stations. We would buy radio stations that weren’t doing well because I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t buy a successful station. I would buy stations that were in poor health and looked crummy and did poorly. I would build it up, then sell it, and then do it again somewhere else. I had 12 radio stations over the course of 25-30 years. The radio business changed and was no longer an entrepreneur business. The FCC rules changed. So then I was out there looking for something else to do.

Over the course of a couple of years looking, I couldn’t find anything. Then I was offered the chance to own this magazine and it looked like one of the crappy radio stations. It was 48 pages and it was black and white. It had no appeal. I had seen Arizona Highways and I had seen what you could do to show the beauty of a state. I thought, “Well, Arizona Highways is nice, but Arizona is not more beautiful than North Carolina. We don’t have deserts, but we have beautiful oceans and mountains.” I thought what the heck, I know a little bit about how to sell advertising, and it had virtually no advertising in it. I knew something else – I knew that if you can create a great enough product, you could make a big difference. I have studied enough companies to know that. Whether it’s Proctor and Gamble, who create great products and are good at marketing, or whether it’s Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons that create great service, or Starbucks that creates a great atmosphere and also high quality product. You look at the best companies; Toyota, Rolex, etc., – they create great products and they are also good at marketing these products. You’ve got to start by creating a great product.

You can never ever let anything happen to deteriorate that product because you don’t have a second chance. We always say every issue has to be better than the last. When I see my friends who only have a little bit of advertising so the magazine gets thin in January and February, I say to myself “Gee, that’s like Proctor and Gamble putting a sticker on the box of Tide, that says ‘we have very little detergent in the box this month because we didn’t have a lot of sales last month. Next month when sales get better we’ll put more detergent in the box.’” Every month you’ve got to produce a great magazine. Sometimes we produce a magazine where the relationship between advertising and editorial is skewed higher towards editorial than I would like it to be. I can’t not do that. I’ve got to put out a great magazine. I’ve got to put out a magazine that is always fulfilling to the reader. Or normal ratio is 60/40, 60 editorial, 40 advertising but sometimes it becomes 70/30 when sales are lousy, but I’m not going to put out an 80 page magazine. How could you do that? I’m fortunate in that I own it and I don’t have to report to some group who’s trying to make quarterly dividends and announcements. I can take those shots.

SH: What was the turning point after you bought the magazine? When did you flip it?

BM: I bought the magazine in 1996. We really felt that we were starting to be recognized and make some headway after about 4 years. It takes a while. You know the old theory of entrepreneurship, “It always takes longer and costs more than you expect.” If you have deep pockets like some magazines, like Garden and Gun, who had a $10 million budget started – I didn’t have that. I had to do it with money that we generated.

SH: What was the most pleasant moment in your history of ownership of Our State? What was the day you felt vindictive that you had done that or proud that you’ve done that?

BM: We started using a phrase that we use in everything. “If you like North Carolina, you’ll love Our State magazine.” After about 4-5 years, it takes a long time. People who think you can put out something and all of a sudden everybody knows about it, it takes a long time and a lot of advertising and a lot of promotions. Finally, people started saying to me, “I love your magazine.” Now we hear that all the time. We had a staff meeting about a month ago, and I said to our staff of about 45 people, “When you go anywhere and you meet somebody for the first time and they ask you where you work and you say ‘I work at Our State Magazine’, What is the first thing that people say to you?” It was like a great chorus. Every one of the 45 people answered the exact same thing “Oh, I love that magazine.” When you can get people to say they love something, that’s strong. I use toothpaste twice a day and I don’t even know the name of it. My wife loves Starbucks but very few people say I love American Airlines, or I love CBS. There are very few inanimate objects that people will truly say they love. If you can get that love brand going, boy that’s something. People loved Saturn, the car, but they screwed it up. So now people don’t love it anymore. They had it going for them, they had these “love fests” and people would go to Tennessee and all meet there and love their Saturns. It was wonderful. Then GM screwed it up. As quick as you get it, you can lose it if you don’t maintain it. The addiction is a result of their love.

SH: Did you have any down moments?

BM: Of course. We couldn’t find sales people. At one point we thought we would put out a magazine and just try to get subscribers. When you don’t know the magazine business, you don’t know what to do. We all thought “What the hell are we on newsstands for?”, because at one point newsstands were 25% or 28%. Even we knew that was crazy. Throwing away about 72% of what I send to someone makes no sense. It takes a while and it takes gunning it out. We haven’t always done well but we have never backed off the idea of people paying for the magazine. I think that is crucial. I get mailings for $5 subscriptions to magazines that come out every month. It costs them more than that to mail the dang thing and they’re going to let me have it for $5? To me that say “We don’t care that much about this product, we don’t think it’s worth anything. We’ll give it to you and all we want is advertising revenue.” I don’t think any worthwhile company would give their product away. Even when we had a little cell phone business we would say we would give the cell phone away because all we wanted was the usage. Kodak used to say they would give away the camera because all they really wanted was for people to buy film, but they never did. The cell-phone companies keep coming out with different cell phones to make you want to buy the cell phone. You’ve got to put a value on it.

SH: In this “Digital Age” is there a need for print on paper?

BM: If I were a magazine that had news in it, that would be a little different. The Internet is an incredible way to get timeliness to people. I’m not in the news business. We produce the plan for 2012 in August 2011. We know what each issue is going to be like no matter what the hell is going on in the news because we are producing issues that have no relevance to the timeliness of things.

Our website carries things about our magazine, I felt it had to. I really like this because the magazine is 2-dimensional, and with the website I can add 2 more dimensions – the dimension of sound and the dimension of movement. If we have a story about a man who makes violins, then I can show, not only how he carves the violin, but the sound that it makes. We are using the website to enhance the magazine. We do put our stories on our website, but we don’t put our photography. The photography is not as attractive on a screen and it doesn’t give the same feel as holding a glossy piece of paper. This is not true for everyone. There are a lot of magazines, particularly city magazines, where they want to convey a lot of information. We’re not an information source. I don’t think of myself as being in the magazine ink-on-paper business, I’m in the beauty business. I produce something that is so beautiful that people keep it, that they put it on their coffee table, and they save it. That’s not traditional ink-on-paper stuff.

SH: If somebody came to you today and said, “Mr. Mann I want to start a new magazine,” what fatherly advice would you give him or her?

BM: So many people who have ideas for a magazine are like the people who have an idea for a book. They have a life or interests that are so fascinating that other people want to know about it. I would start off by saying; “We use a phrase for ourselves that says burr of singularity.” I borrowed this from Lee Barnett, who is a great Chicago adman. He used to talk about a burr of singularity in advertisement. I would say to anybody who wants to start a magazine, “What is this unique feature that you have that is going to make people want this magazine?”

Secondly, “How are you going to fund it for three years?” Don’t tell me you are going to sell it on the newsstand or that you have a lot of friends and family who will buy subscriptions. Tell me how you are going to fund this without any income coming in for at least three years. That’s the failing for a lot of people. Often we get people who come to us with editorial ideas but they don’t have a business plan. I think the business plan is what keeps them afloat.

SH: What makes Bernie click and tick? What gets you up in the morning?

BM: I’m fortunate to be doing something I love. Even in 2008 and 2009, when our advertising revenue turned sour. To me it’s a challenge. How do you keep your business afloat? How do you keep your employee? We’ve never had to dismiss a single employee. We cut back on things like fresh flowers in the lobby, a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks. We use to have a big candy jar. We asked our own staff for ideas of how to save money. We would print on the back of paper that had already been printed. We tried to save money in a lot of different ways. Mostly what energizes me is the thrill of being around some of the most wonderful people. I’ve been fortunate in collecting a staff of terrific people. I love watching them do terrific things.

SH: You are known for keeping your office human, real folks answering the phone, etc. Do you still have the same practice of always having a real person answering the phone all the time?

BM: Without a doubt. I read a survey in Consumer Reports about things that aggravate people the most in business. First were the little charges that they didn’t expect and second was calling a company and not getting an answer. We have six people ready to answer the phone in case someone is busy. Within three rings you are going to get a person answering the phone. I’m in a service business, how could I not provide a service to the people that are calling me? That’s their first impression. They get a voice, a friendly voice, and a person who gives their name and tells the caller they are anxious to be of help. I think that’s crucial.

I think the magazine business is getting the short stick – The thrill of reading a magazine, of seeing stories, of having the pleasure of carrying it with you and reading it where you want to. There are too many twenty-something’s that think this is an old business that’s going the way of the horseshoe. They’re stupid because they don’t understand. One business never replaces another. Television never replaced radio. Businesses don’t get replaced; they change. The magazine business is changing. I don’t think it will ever go away. Too many people love it. I think that magazines need to improve by constantly making themselves more appealing. Look at This Week, what a terrific concept for a magazine. They are doing news in a way that allows them to fit into people’s lifestyles. That is a change. People’s lifestyles are constantly changing and you want to be aware of that, but you have to separate the fad from the trend. For example, I think Groupon is a fad, not a trend. I don’t think they are going to be in business five years from now. But, Steve Jobs’ business is no fad. That is really solid. He put out an iPad without doing any research. I love my iPad.

SH: Thank you.


When it comes to Steve Jobs, TIME is Timely and Timeless…

October 6, 2011

Halting the presses and reacting to the news of Steve Job’s death, TIME created a commemorative issue with a 21 page cover story package dedicated the late Apple and tech genius Steve Jobs. The magazine scrapped the original cover package and replaced it with the timely, yet timeless content devoted to Jobs. The issue reaches the stands and tablets tomorrow.

In a press release the magazine said

The issue includes a six-page essay by Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, a historical report on Jobs career by TIME technology reporters Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman and a photo essay by Diana Walker, who has been shooting Jobs for TIME since 1982.

The cover image is a photograph of Jobs taken by Norman Seeff in 1984. This is the seventh time Jobs has appeared on the cover of TIME.


George Clooney to TIME’s Managing Editor Rick Stengel: I Worry About the Media Content and Not the Delivery System

October 6, 2011

It is rare that magazines invite other journalists and reporters to cover a story or an interview they are conducting. However, TIME’s managing editor Rick Stengel did just that. For TIME’s famous last page department, 10 Questions, Mr. Stengel conducted a live interview with the Oscar-winning actor, producer, screen writer, and social activist George Clooney. Mr. Clooney’s new movie The Ides of March opens in theaters nationwide October 7.

Here are some sound-bites from the interview:

Content More Important Than Delivery

Mr. Clooney, the son of a news broadcaster, told Mr. Stengel regarding the media, “I am not really as concerned with the delivery system we have. I worry about about the content and who is minding the store.” It is important to put things in perspective, “Perspective was very big with my father,” Mr. Clooney said, and part of the responsibility today is for folks to “put things in context.”

Writing vs. Texting

Mr. Clooney cherishes the art of writing letters, “Letters are a great thing and I am afraid we will not have some of those great letters in the future.” Can you imagine what would have happened to the great Adams-Jefferson Letters if they were just texting? Mr. Clooney loves writing and reading letters and loves the feeling of holding them in his hands. He referred to two letters among the many he has, one form Walter Cronkite and one from Paul Newman.

New Media vs. Traditional Media

As for the social media, Mr. Clooney told Mr. Stengel, “I don’t use twitter because I drink at night and I don’t want something I write at midnight to end my career.”
And where does Mr. Clooney get his news, “From television, the newspaper and the internet.”

Running for President

Would he run for president? His answer, “I will run from the presidency. My job is much much more fun.”

Check the TIME coverage of the interview with Mr. Clooney here
Photo credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images


It’s a Fun, Fun, Fun Fun Magazine: HGTV Magazine. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview with Sara Peterson, HGTV magazine Editor-in-Chief

October 3, 2011

Here is the latest birth announcement from the magazine world hospital delivery room: Hearst Communications and Scripps Networks proudly announce the arrival of their second child HGTV magazine. Welcoming the baby is big brother Food Network magazine and the Godmother of both children, Hearst Magazines’ Editorial Director Ellen Levine.

The two siblings, HGTV magazine and Food Network magazine, share the same DNA and it shows. The bright colors, the scripted type, the cable channel celebrities, the intelligent fun, and the addictive content are all there. The newborn has a lot to live up to, after all, its big brother Food Network magazine has proven to be the most successful birth of a new magazine in the last three years. Yet, at the same time, the newborn HGTV magazine has a very good example to follow, and it is already following. From the publishing schedule (one test issue now, followed by another in Jan. 2012) to the extensive focus groups and meetings with potential readers and customers, the first issue of HGTV magazine shares a striking resemblance to the first issue of Food Network magazine.

However, HGTV magazine is an entity on its own, and the determinants of success or failure are going to depend on the magazine itself and not on its siblings. Early vital signs are excellent and the buzz around the birth of this new title is more than positive. After all, this is a major launch of a print (that is ink-on-paper) magazine from a major publisher.

To find more about the launch of HGTV magazine and the story behind it, I reached out to the magazine’s proud and happy mama, editor-in-chief Sara Peterson (who used the word fun at least 17 times during the 20-minute interview) and I asked her about the magazine, the timing, the ink on paper and her expectations of the new child. What follows are, in typical Mr. Magazine™ Interviews format, the sound-bites first, followed by the very lightly edited conversation with Ms. Peterson.

First the sound-bites:

On the magazine concept: A fresh, fun, home-style magazine, that wasn’t out there.
On the magazine audience: It’s a new kind of home magazine for all of the people who still love magazines.
On ink on paper: We still believe in the visibility factor of a magazine. People love to thumb through and read and look at it and save pages and experience it on paper.
On the competition: This is a different kind of magazine in that we bring a lot of fun to the pages. We want to entertain the reader from the first page to the last, just like the TV shows.
On the focus of the magazine: We are devoted to the little changes that have a big impact.
On the brand: It’s so important to spend a lot of time knowing your brand inside and out, really understanding the brand and the reasons people love it, go to it and what they expect from it.
On the service to the readers: We want you to live with what you love, so we will help by giving you options.
On her biggest fear: It’s so hard to be the captain of the ship and think like that. It’s not my nature to be that way. You have to stay positive and confident that you have done your best.
On what makes her tick and click: It’s just about creative expression for me.

And now for the conversation with Sara Peterson, editor-in-chief of HGTV magazine:

Samir Husni: Why now and why in print?

Sara Peterson: When Ellen Levine, who is the editorial director of Hearst, and I started talking about this project a year ago, I kept thinking ‘This is a really popular brand.’ People are huge HGTV fans – millions of people watch this network. So many people love it and describe themselves by saying ‘I’m addicted to HGTV’ or ‘I’m obsessed with HGTV.’ We really felt like we had a built-in audience and that it was the next extension that made sense for the brand. We felt like we could produce a fresh, fun, home-style magazine, that wasn’t out there. We felt there was an audience for it, and we had the partnership to create that kind of magazine.

SH: Why ink on paper?

SP: HGTV is all about being multi-platform. We have this great partnership where we are now HGTV on television and HGTV dot com. We also meshed the TV and magazine together by doing a show on the magazine that aired last week. We felt like that was the next extension for the brand, and there are millions of people who love magazines, so why not try to create one that’s fresh and different? It’s a new kind of home magazine for all of the people who still love magazines.

(The numbers for HGTV, by the way, are: 1.7 million Facebook fans, 82,000 followers on twitter and 5.6 unique visits to the HGTV website each month)

We still believe in the visibility factor of a magazine. People love to thumb through and read and look at it and save pages and experience it on paper. We believe that.

SH: Are you expecting success like the Food Network Magazine?

SP: I just hope people love the magazine – knock on wood. Food Network is a huge success and so, yes, it is something to follow them. I have learned a lot by working with Ellen (Levine) who also worked on Food Network Magazine. We hope it will be a big success and that people will find it as something new and different.

SH: What’s your major challenge in launching this magazine?

SP: I spent a lot of time thinking about how to translate the HGTV brand into print. We spent so much time thinking, “Do we have all the content that we need?” Because people watch HGTV for so many reasons – real-estate to renovation, household help, landscape and DIY projects.’ I am constantly pushing myself to make sure we have a really dense magazine that covers all the home topics that we want to talk about. I think about that every day.

I am also thinking “Is the reader getting a lot of bang for their buck in this magazine?” Are we tackling all the topics that have to do with life at home? Are we packing this magazine with creative ideas for a fun life at home?’

This is a home magazine that needs to talk about everything that people deal with at home, whether it’s decorating, entertaining, cleaning, lawn mowing or picking out light bulbs. We want to talk about everything that goes into your life at home. That is a huge topic. I’m always wondering if we put enough different ideas in the magazine. People can never have enough ideas, because there are never too many ideas for your home.

SH: What’s the good thing going for HGTV Magazine?

SP: I think it is so fun and fresh and different that it will be a big surprise. One of the things that will surprise people most about the magazine is that it goes far beyond decorating. We’re much more than a decorating magazine. We are about all the things people have to deal with at home. I am really proud and feel like we have a success because we are so fun and different in that way.

We also work hard to keep the entertainment factor in mind. HGTV shows are a great way to learn and get great ideas, but you are also entertained. This is a different kind of magazine in that we bring a lot of fun to the pages. We want to entertain the reader from the first page to the last, just like the TV shows. We are always asking each other if we have we made the story fun enough and given it all the great information. Have we “funned” it up enough? It is really what we want to do for the reader. For example, we have a section called “fun decorating” because that’s exactly what we want to do.

We also love makeovers, but all different kinds of makeovers. You don’t have to renovate your entire house. There are lots of little things you can do to have big impacts. That’s really important now, especially in this economy. People are spending more time at home but can’t always afford the big “renos,” like remodeling the kitchen or adding on to the house. There are little things you can do to not only maintain and increase the value of your home, but that also make it a little happier.

The magazine has a story called “Front Door of the Month,” and we show how you can do small things like paint your front door, swap out your welcome mat or try new flower pots and make your whole house look different. It’s like giving your house a “curb appeal” make over.

We are passionate about those little things that make a big difference in your home. I think that is how we are different from other home magazines. We are devoted to the little changes that have a big impact.

SH: As you know, Hearst succeeded with the Food Network magazine, but failed with Lifetime magazine. So it seems it is not just enough to have a television audience for a magazine to work. What are you doing to ensure HGTV magazine will work?

SP: It’s so important to spend a lot of time knowing your brand inside and out, really understanding the brand and the reasons people love it, go to it and what they expect from it. We were very thorough in that. We took the magazine prototypes to focus groups all around the country. This is a national magazine, so we wanted to hear from all parts of the country. We really listened to what they expected from a print extension of the HGTV brand. I listened very carefully to that.

You also have to say “How are we different, how are we doing something new?” It’s twofold – you’ve got to know your brand and you have to challenge yourself to make something original. I felt like we did that. We have an audience that wants to hear about real life at home. This is not a magazine that lectures readers on how to have the perfect house or the perfect room or the perfect paint color. We want to be a fun, lively, cheerful and friendly magazine. We felt that this was a new concept and original enough that people would love it.

SH: If I give you a magic wand and you strike this first issue of HGTV Magazine and a human being comes out, who would it be? If you could humanize it who will it be?

SP: When I worked at Coastal Living, I always referred to the reader as Sandy Shore. What is Sandy wanting from this magazine? What does she expect? What does she like? We really built this profile and got to know her. We knew where she shopped, the kind of seafood she liked and what she liked to cook. I don’t have a name for our reader yet, but I think this person would be someone who really enjoys and takes pride in their home. They really feel house-proud and think it is fun to try new ideas and express creativity inside and outside their home.

The magazine is for all homeowners, men and women. There is a topic for everybody, just like HGTV shows. They love color and would probably wear colorful outfits. I am looking at the cover now and the pillows on it are fun and colorful. They are conversational, fun and peppy – someone you would want to have coffee with. I think I would go have chips and salsa with this person.

SH: That fun appears in a lot of pages of the magazine, including the page which you carry different colors and variation of the cover image…

SP: I think that is fun. The idea came about because we were thinking of the similarity of watching an HGTV show. It’s fun to watch along, and you feel like you are a part of the show. You get to think “What would I do in this situation? What house would I buy? Or which kitchen renovation would I choose?” That is the fun participation aspect to watching the shows. We were trying to translate that involvement and participation into print. We thought it would be fun to show different options that the reader could choose. Maybe you want your sofa to be yellow, maybe you want it to be pink. It’s fine with us, we don’t have decorating rules. We want you to live with what you love, so we will help by giving you options.

SH: What’s your biggest fear?

SP: It’s so hard to be the captain of the ship and think like that. It’s not my nature to be that way. You have to stay positive and confident that you have done your best. Think about that time you first had people over to see your grandson; that’s kind-of how I feel. It’s out there now and in people’s hands. They’re looking through it and judging it – good and bad. And we are going to listen to them. Of course I want people to love the magazine, but I know that this is a process, and we have to adapt as we go.

SH: What makes Sara tick and click? What makes you get out of bed?

SP: Creative expression. I would not be in this business and go to work every day if I could not find a way to creatively express ideas that people can relate to. Whether I’m doing that at work, at my home or shopping for shoes, the same phrase pops into my brain. I think I heard Woody Allen say one time he couldn’t imagine not making movies even if no one came to see them. It’s just about creative expression for me.

SH: Thank you.

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