Think about that idea for a moment. It’s what online cannot do; tell you what you didn’t ask for, but that you really want to know. When you sit down in front of your computer, how often does interesting and relevant information automatically appear before your eyes?
The word never comes to mind.
Rosemary Ellis, Editor in Chief of Good Housekeeping and Pat Haegele, Senior Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer of the magazine, have discovered that magazines must provide something that the web cannot: a service of discovery. While any information Google or other search engines out there can provide you with must first be something you’re on the hunt for anyway, magazines, on the other hand, can discover things that you never knew you wanted to know. That’s an exciting premise for a reinvention. And for a staple like Good Housekeeping, any redesign planned better have an exciting premise.
The two farseeing captains at GH’s helm certainly did their homework before attempting to rock this boat, considering they’re guiding a ship and not a mere vessel. It’s a heady feeling when you research your audience extensively, when you almost infiltrate their gray matter, and find out that your more than on the right track – you’re spot-on and actually letting your customer redefine a magazine that’s been around for more than a 125 years.
Now that’s putting your customer, that audience-of-one, first. Kudos to Rosemary and Pat, and everyone at Good Housekeeping. Mr. Magazine™ gives all of you his Seal of Approval.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Rosemary Ellis and Pat Haegele of Good Housekeeping. It’s sure to garner your Seal of Approval too.
But first the sound-bites and then the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Good Housekeeping’s Rosemary Ellis and Pat Haegele.
On how you reinvent a leading magazine like Good Housekeeping: The short answer is: very carefully. The longer answer is that we started with the readers and that’s, I think, the key.
On whether the reinvention was necessary? Advertisers follow readers and so I think having the research and going to market, saying that we spent the time and resources to really talk to consumers, and then going to prototype, going back to prototype again, and then listening to consumers again, that’s what the advertisers found very engaging, to actually hear what consumers had to say.
On how, in this digital age, Good Housekeeping is integrating: Well, we’re integrating more closely than ever. We do editorial planning meetings every month for every section of the magazine, which our key web editors attend. They are specific, detailed planning meetings and we have to do this – we want to do this – because I don’t think you can put out a good magazine by whipping it out at the last minute, then changing everything.
On how they would describe the magazine and the reinvention one year from now: The year I slept the least in my life. It’s incredibly exciting. When I came here I was worried that the magazine was so mass that frankly, I was worried about having to do the lowest common denominator content and that has proven to be so untrue. It’s a really vibrant, really responsive audience. In most redesigns, half the audience never even notices there’s been a change because they’re really not paying attention. But they really noticed this time and they were paying attention, because they’re invested in the brand.
Samir Husni: You’re commanding this huge ship…this isn’t just a lifeboat, and you’ve reinvented the ship. It’s taken some time and you’ve tested it before you changed the logo…
Rosemary Ellis: Yes, the logo was just the beginning.
Samir Husni: So how do you reinvent a major magazine? It’s a big entity in the marketplace.
Rosemary Ellis: The short answer is: very carefully. The longer answer is that we started with the readers and that’s, I think, the key. We started by doing research, well over a year ago now. We went out across the country and went into four markets, talking to three sets of women: loyal subscribers who read the magazine, with a mix of women who bought it regularly from the newsstand, next, we talked to prospects who buy magazines from our competitive set, but not us, and we also talked to lapsed subscribers. For the majority of that focus group they didn’t know that they were talking to Good Housekeeping. We were just asking them about their lives and about magazines, about websites, apps, tablets, and how they use them, what they wished they had and didn’t, and what they think they have too much of. And for the last portion of the focus group, we drilled them and talked about Good Housekeeping. I hadn’t had that kind of research since I had come here. I’d been here, at that point, not quite six years. I changed the magazine and the design a lot when I came, and that was more on a gut feeling, and being fortunate enough to be the target reader. We had done some Seal research, but we hadn’t really done any brand research. David Carey was generous enough, and I think smart enough, to see and agree with me that we really needed to do that. So we started by doing our homework. Then we followed up those focus groups with a much larger online survey that several thousand women across the country participated in, and used the focus groups to, of course, guide the questions. To look at how women are living their lives, what they want from a magazine, what they don’t want from a magazine, how they use a magazine, and specifically, how they feel about Good Housekeeping. So armed with that research our brain-trust team here sat down and we basically ripped apart every page of the magazine, including the pages that we really liked, and pages that we knew reader’s really liked, to look at, not just what we were putting on the pages, but how we were building the magazine. We completely reorganized it in a way that is antithetical to classic magazine design, but that we thinks works much better for a magazine like Good Housekeeping. Good Housekeeping is super-horizontal. When I first came here I thought it covered too much. But in fact, what I now know is that’s why readers come to it. Women who are married and have kids, who work, who volunteer in their communities, they’re super busy and they don’t have time to read 3 or 4 magazines. They come to this magazine because we cover anti-aging beauty, nutrition news, beautifully entertaining stories, gorgeous fashion stories and relationship pieces. And they like that breadth and that’s why they come to us. So, instead of having a big feature well, in which a serious health piece is next to a fashion story, that’s next to a food story, it makes more since for a vertical, but not for something like us. So instead we’ve created, basically seven mini magazines for all the content. From Institute testing to the shorts, to news pieces, to the big heavy features, are divided strictly by content area. So if you love the food you can go right to that. If you know you want to read the short story first, or read the book reviews, you can go right to that. It’s not sprinkled throughout the magazine.
Pat Haegele: Advertisers follow readers and so I think having the research and going to market, saying that we spent the time and resources to really talk to consumers, and then going to prototype, going back to prototype again, and then listening to consumers again, that’s what the advertisers found very engaging, to actually hear what consumers had to say. Then delivering to consumers on what we promised to deliver them in terms of the content. What advertisers also really liked to see is the fact that we enhanced the deliverables of the Seal and the Institute. The Seal is on the cover now and in the seven sections that Rosemary has designed the magazine as, five of those sections have an Institute test that’s synonymous with that section. For example, if it looks good, then it’s going to be the nail polish test. So, what they’re seeing and what is our unique selling proposition are the Seal and the Institute and now that’s even more visibly on the forefront of everything that we’re doing. So we’re delivering on that in a bigger, better way.
Rosemary Ellis: One thing that was so interesting about going up to these focus groups initially is that we saw for, even women in their early twenties, even women who did not associate themselves with the magazine at all; the Seal was very resonant with everybody. People who were not loyal subscribers, people who had never picked up the magazine, still had very strong, almost protective feelings about the Seal and what you could and couldn’t do with it. Everybody knows the Good Housekeeping Seal and everybody has, basically, inferred it as a status of best of breed; they don’t know specifically what it means, they don’t know that it’s basically a money back guarantee, and when they find that out, they’re really blown away, but they do know it means that something is good. And they trust it. So this research underscored what we knew, which was at Good Housekeeping we own trust and we own authority. But what we also found out with the research that we did, and with actually some follow-up research that Pat’s team did, was that women have begun to really miss having fun. When the recession hit several years ago, they decided not to take a vacation, they started nesting, clipping more coupons, or just doing whatever it meant for them to cut back. According to research, they’ve now been doing it for four years. And they’re pretty sick of it. They want to have more fun. A number of these women talked about how they felt they’d simply forgotten how to have fun, and fun as a magazine attribute came up again and again. What we had to interpret was what fun meant in terms of Good Housekeeping, which is not obviously what the same thing means in other brands. And also the elephant in the room was: what does service mean in the age of the Internet? Because 20-30 years ago Good Housekeeping would publish on un-coded stock a huge pulp guide to anything on the way. You would never do that now, because you can Google anything. For example, if you want to know all about diabetes, today you would just Google it. We were doing this before, but we’ve ramped it way up. We coined a phrase: service of discovery, which means a great piece of information that you would never Google, because you don’t even know you need to know it.
Pat Haegele: For example, in our March issue, if you put a stick of chalk in your silver drawer, it will keep it from tarnishing. One of those things you didn’t know you needed to know. Now the reader can go back to bringing her silver out to use it, instead of being bothered about having to clean it each time. And because we have the Institute, and we do nothing but test products and talk to consumers each day, we’re regularly finding opportunities like that we can write about and the competition isn’t. So that service of discovery is fun to the reader, but it also elevates our unique selling proposition to another level. Because if we’re giving her service that she can Google tomorrow, then we’ve missed her and the opportunity to really provide something others can’t.
Samir Husni: One of the things that I have written about is it’s important today to create a product that is necessary, sufficient and relevant. If I’m reading Good Housekeeping, I don’t need to go to the web to finish my experience.
Rosemary Ellis: Or if you do, you’re going to the web for something print can’t possibly deliver.
Samir Husni: So how are you integrating?
Rosemary Ellis: Well, we’re integrating more closely than ever. We do editorial planning meetings every month for every section of the magazine, which our key web editors attend. They are specific, detailed planning meetings and we have to do this – we want to do this – because I don’t think you can put out a good magazine by whipping it out at the last minute, then changing everything. I think that’s a work style that’s often more about the editor’s ego than the quality of the work, especially with Institute testing, which obviously no one else can do. That is one of our most sustainable differentiators. Nobody else has this wonderful staff and the set of tools (that Good Housekeeping has) at their disposal, so it is something that can’t be replicated, certainly not for free. And we have that and the Seal. In terms of visuals, you’ll see, as you look through the magazine, we really wanted to visually elevate the Seal in the magazine. You’ll see us using the oval shape in different places and we’ll use the typeface from the Seal in lots of places too. I don’t expect the reader to necessarily say, “Oh, that’s the Seal typeface” or “Look, they’ve used the Seal star there,” but just underscoring it again and again that the Seal and the brand are one in the same is very important. And in terms of fun, it’s not just the content being the thing that’s useful to know, but also something fun to know and fun to share. Visually, the idea of fun is really important. We’re using bigger graphics, using more photographs and a lot of color. So, after we got this original research and Pat did the additional research and we came back and started ripping apart the magazine, we created a 90 page prototype, almost a full magazine. Then we went back out early last Spring, around May, to the same four markets and talked, not to the same people, but the same groups of people. They had half an hour with the prototype and two color Post-it notes so that they could mark what they liked and didn’t like. We also had a fantastic moderator; he was one of the best I had ever worked with, who did both sets of these groups. We showed them the prototype and they came and they talked about it for a couple of hours. First, we went to Raleigh and it was very positive. Across all three groups, it was very, very positive, and I thought, this is great. But I’m Southern and they’re Southern. Maybe they’re just being nice. There wasn’t a problem of an overbearing personality, I mean, the moderator was great, he was screening for that and controlling that, and I said to myself, I’m going to wait until we get to Northern Westchester and Chicago and Denver to see. And in the second group, which was in Northern Westchester, so suburban New York, we had a very different group of women. I was sitting next to Petula, who’s our fantastic head of research here, and she is a woman who will never, ever use an exclamation point. She’s a researcher, she’s all business, and she’s very straight and doesn’t get excited about anything. She doesn’t get upset easily, and she’s just very low-key. We had been sitting there listening for about twenty minutes to the first group, which were prospects, they weren’t even Good Housekeeping readers, and she finally leaned over to me and whispered, “This is good.” And I said, “Yeah, it is.” And she whispered back, “No, no, I haven’t ever seen anything like this. It’s really good.” And I thought, well, if Petula says I’ve never seen anything like this, then this is really good. In fact, that response was the same response in all four of the markets. We did them for two weeks and at the end of the first week we came back and tweaked a few small things that we thought weren’t working as well and people were confused by. And at the end of the second week, the response was even more positive. So focus groups are not the world, but it was a very good indicator that we had hit the target that we wanted. And what they kept talking about was how they loved the color, how it was fun. The word fun kept coming up and was a brand attribute that we had not gotten before that we did get very consistently this time. And this often happens in focus groups, I think, when people really look at something and say, “Oh, I really like this. This is for me.” This had happened to me before in other magazine focus groups, but I’d never seen such a forcefully positive response and it was really gratifying since we killed ourselves on it.
Rosemary Ellis: No, I think we all here felt really good about it. And with everything we went through, it’s not like we said, “I want to change this one page,” and we decided and said that’s great. I mean, we went through many, many generations.”
Pat Haegele: I can confirm that for advertisers. When we took the finished prototype out to advertisers to show them and their reaction was so outstanding, I mean to a point where just the look in their eyes when they looked at the magazine, it was just truly superior. And we have some preliminary research already coming back from the subscriber as well as from the new reader who’s picking us up on the newsstand and what’s interesting is that the subscriber didn’t want us to change anything, so as Petula would say to you, “As long as she is likes it, that’s good.” But 88% of them noticed that it was new and over 80% of them really, really liked the changes. So to get a subscriber to say that, when they didn’t want anything new, well, we knew we were on to something good. And now we’re getting research from the new reader on the newsstand and 97% of these new readers, mind you, it isn’t conclusive yet, said when we asked them what they thought of the magazine, they said it’s just for them. And we said, “OK that works.” So this is what we’re now out in the market showing advertisers and saying this has been the reaction from both the subscriber and the newsstand reader.
Rosemary Ellis: But who is this subscriber anyway? I mean, we have 21 million women who read our magazine every month. The objective was to keep her and be able to attract a new reader; a younger mom who thought the magazine wasn’t for her, but who now knows it is. But we needed to get her into the magazine, and once we got her in, she really liked the magazine. She’s sees it as something that’s speaking directly to her.
Rosemary Ellis: You know, we’ve debated that immensely, and here’s the thing, it’s really complex. The audience is so broad; we have more readers between the ages of 18-34 than most magazines that target that age group. And we also have several million women in their forties and several million in their fifties. So when you try to boil it down and fit that audience into too small a box, you do yourself a disservice. But something that was true before and is still true: they certainly want to have more fun. When I was at TIME Inc., more than ten years ago, we did research on how magazines compared to the web and digital, and to women it is still true, that when they go online they tend to be more task-oriented. They are shopping for a birthday present; they are looking up diabetes because their mother was just diagnosed and they’re writing emails or texting because they’re meeting their kids after soccer practice. It’s not that they don’t enjoy it, but it’s task-oriented. When they read a magazine they do it for fun. And they use words like downtime and me-time. And that is still true, for women of all ages. We of course asked who had tablets and what they used them for, and across the board what I observed, in both Good Housekeeping readers versus non-Good Housekeeping readers, was that they tend to use their tablets for things like celebrity weeklies. They tend to want to hold on to their print magazines and there were subscribers in their thirties who had paid for Good Housekeeping on the iPad said that they liked it, but then went back to their print subscription. This was very surprising to me. And this is in three different markets and three different women, two in their thirties and one was 42. And when they started talking about it, they all started saying this, “I just missed holding a magazine.” One woman said, “You know, I like to cut things out, and I know I can clip on my computer and save it, but I like to cut it out.” And another woman said, “I like putting it down and coming back two days later and it’s on the same page. I like being able to take it into the bathtub and I like being able to take it to the beach. So, you know, I’m an editor and I edit content. Will it always be on paper? Maybe, maybe not. But this surprised me. It surprised me that there were thirty year olds who said I paid $25 for my iPad subscription and I can look at it when I travel, but my favorite thing is to pick up and hold the print magazine.
Samir Husni: Yes. It’s a completely different experience. When I get someone to come and speak to the students, they are floored when they hear these eighteen year olds say they still love to read their favorite magazine in print. They get their news on their iPhones, but at the end of the day, holding an actual magazine is still their favorite experience.
Rosemary Ellis: I love the iPad because my paper stock is the same as Architectural Digest, right? For me it’s a good thing. I know what they mean, because I’m a magazine lover too.
Pat Haegele: And talking about service of discovery, I also think that news and content is discoverable as well. And on the iPad you have the tendency to go to what you think you want to know as opposed to what you might discover. It’s sort of like reading The New York Times on Sunday and what you didn’t even know you were going to discover, you did.
Rosemary Ellis: That’s sort of the tragedy of, or the loss of online targeted news.
Pat Haegele: Yes, you make your world narrower, I think.
Samir Husni: When I consult with newspapers I tell them, you have to give your reader what they want, not what they need. Because if you give them what they want, they will find what they need as they are flipping the pages. That’s where the surprises come from.
Rosemary Ellis: And The New York Times does that very well.
Samir Husni: Oh yes, they do. And I am a firm believer that as long as we have human beings, we’re going to have print. That experience and that showmanship, that ownership, are vital. From the day we are born our fists are tight; we want to own something. And if all of your belongings or stuff is on an iPad or whatever new tablet you might own, you have nothing to show off. We love that sense of showmanship and that sense of membership.
Rosemary Ellis: Exactly. And as far as the digital concerning Good Housekeeping, we re-launched the website a year ago in September, and added some great features, especially a product channel, which is Hockey-Sticked-Up. It gets a lot of page views. Institute does a blog, different people write it and it’s very highly read. And for the first time we enabled limited e-commerce on products that we had tested, we just passed it through to make it convenient for people. And that has done really well. And when we restructured the magazine, we also restructured how we put the magazine together, because now the visuals are really so important. They were always important, but they sometimes drive the bus now. So we involved the art department even earlier and it’s a very collaborative effort. I mean, we have such a fantastic group of people working at Good Housekeeping and the art department is incredibly collaborative, which is not always the case. And the web team is very collaborative and what that means is that we spend more time in meetings than any of us would like, but we all spend a lot of time together and we work this stuff out at the beginning. The web ideas aren’t tacked on after the story comes in and the artist decides that we have one too many sidebars to fit in the magazine and we say, “Oh, well, put that on the web.” It’s the opposite of that now. The web editor is at the meeting, and in fact, even before the meeting where they present to me what they want to do. And contributing ideas and asking questions and explaining what will or won’t work online and what we should do instead or what could be a social media, Facebook poll that we could do and would enhance a story. And so it’s much more organic from all the different mediums now to story and content creation.
Rosemary Ellis: What I say to both my digital and my print staffs, and of course, they blur more and more with print editors working on digital things and web editors working on print, is I say, do online what you can’t do in print, and do in print what you can’t do online. And if you major in that, then both products will be successful. Aesthetically, there are things that you can do in a print magazine that simply do not translate online. They’re not as beautiful or accessible. But there’s a depth of content, and now this is especially gray with say, Institute testing, and a depth of detail with things like data base cross-referencing and things like that you can do. So if you want to know a lot more about something, you can do a deep, deep dive. Something I could never deliver in print. And even if I could, I wouldn’t because if you’re not in the market for a French-door refrigerator, then I’ve just wasted twenty pages outlining them all. I can do that on the web. It’s not effortless, but we have all the data, we’ve done all the testing. So much of the Institute work that we do used to end up on the cutting room floor because, of course, in a magazine we can only list the top three to five products out of the thirty-two we test, or the fifty-seven. Then we can only put in a little bit of our testing results. It’s really just the headlines. But online you can look and see. The one that ranked 7th, which wasn’t even in the magazine, ranked 7th because it didn’t have these three features. It performed just fine, but it didn’t have these three features that most people want. But that’s not even important to you. So you’re going to spend half as much money because that’s perfect for you. And you can find it online and you can buy it online. That’s a different kind of service of discovery that you can only do online. Finding out that a scuff on your floor you can get up by grabbing a tennis ball and rubbing it, that’s fun and it’s useful. So in little things like that, sort of double-duty ideas, you find fun. And it’s also cocktail party conversation and fun to say. “Hey, did you know that you can light your candle with a piece of uncooked spaghetti?” It’s just a fun thing to know. In small things and in larger things, it’s what is going away in journalism. It’s what’s most at risk with online. It’s what online cannot do; tell you what you didn’t ask for, but that you really want to know. So my job as an editor and all the Good Housekeeping staff’s job as editors, and designers and web editors, are to be six steps ahead of our audience. What do they want to know that they don’t even know to ask?
Pat Haegele: I think another aspect of that too is when we talk about service of discovery, part of what we heard in the research, by the way we reach more moms than any other women’s magazine in the country, is she doesn’t want to be spoken to as a mom first, which I thought was very interesting. Because in the service field it’s about moms being moms first and that’s not what she wanted. She wanted us to speak to her about herself first and the discoverable parts are the things like the good list that Rosemary does every month that’s products that we’ve researched through editors and sometimes through the Institute. There are products just for her. We say, “Go get this for you. It’s $40 or less and sometimes it’s free. But we say this is your oxygen mask because she actually used that term in focus groups. You need to give me the oxygen mask first because then I’ll help the child next to me. I’m going to be that much better of a mom and a gatekeeper once I take care of me first. And she was very clarifying with that.
Rosemary Ellis: What was so interesting to me were these women who were saying, I don’t really want parenting content, or very small doses of it, I want all this other stuff, were the same women who were describing Good Housekeeping as the perfect magazine for moms.
Pat Haegele: So it’s moms as we know them today. I was fascinated by the research as well that she was very comfortable saying what she needed. If we had done this research ten years ago, she may have not said that as freely because she was concerned about not putting everything else first. And that’s discoverable as well.
Samir Husni: If I come meet with you next year, same time, and ask you how do you evaluate this last year?
Rosemary Ellis: The year I slept the least in my life. It’s incredibly exciting. I grew up with Good Housekeeping. My mother subscribed to it for fifty years, my piano teacher read it, my pediatrician read it and it’s sort of in my blood. And I love working here. I love this audience. When I came here I was worried that the magazine was so mass that frankly, I was worried about having to do the lowest common denominator content and that has proven to be so untrue. It’s a really vibrant, really responsive audience. In most redesigns, half the audience never even notices there’s been a change because they’re really not paying attention. But they really noticed this time and they were paying attention, because they’re invested in the brand. They like it and they trust it. So those are the people who really pilot the change. What I want to make sure that I’m doing is in whatever way I’m able to communicate with them that it’s multiple lines of communication and that I’m always listening. And that also I can step back and say that I know from this group of women from having done all this research and from living and breathing the brand, the magazine and the website, day in and day out, that I understand when I hit upon something that they haven’t asked for, I know that they’re going to want it. That’s my job. It’s like, let the research feed your gut, but ultimately if you don’t have good gut instincts, you’re not going to be a good editor.
Pat Haegele: What’s interesting is that in 2009 we celebrated the 100th birthday of the Seal. At that time we introduced the green Good Housekeeping Seal, which research will tell you, it’s the most recognized green emblem in the marketplace today and it has the halo of the Seal. Then in 2010 it was the 125th anniversary of the magazine; so what do you do after that? You have the 100th birthday of the Seal, the 125th anniversary of the magazine, well in 2012 we made a strategic decision that it was time to do a really deep dive into consumer’s minds. In the past, and Rosemary and I have said this, when you have 21 million readers, your first notion is – do no harm, well, our decision this time was really take the research to conclusion to do as good as we could do. And that is the sensation from going from the 100th birthday of the Seal, the 125th anniversary of the magazine, to a really knowledgeable basis of who this consumer is as they’re moving into the future and giving her the deliverables that she’s looking for. And so that would be my takeaway of next year. Having done that and hearing what she has to say, now what? Now what’s next?
Samir Husni: Thank you.