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The Mr. Magazine™ interview: Jo Packham, a self-proclaimed woman of ideas

“I’m a traditional print girl. I was in book publishing for 30 years. When that ended and I got the opportunity to do the magazines; I don’t even go on Instagram. I don’t answer my phone; I hate anything technological. I really love paper and print. I wouldn’t have even considered anything else.” Jo Packham

 

Mr. Magazine Interview ()

 

Jo Packham believes we all have a story to tell and she also believes it is her job to give a venue to those ideas; hence, the four titles that she created and formerly published (three of them anyway) with Stampington & Company by her side. But today is a new day, and a new title. No longer is she affiliated with the giant crafting publisher. Today, she is following through with her own vision, through her partnership with Disticor, and she has decided there is more to tell than just “where,” we also need to know “what.”

I spoke with Jo recently and I must say, it was one of the most delightful conversations I have ever had. Jo is as passionate about her magazines as she is her readers and contributours. We talked about that passion, which was something that ignited and brought forth her latest title “What Women Create.”

Jo believes that the stories within the pages of her magazines should all express individuality and the rawness that makes them unique. That’s the main reason there is no heavy editing with contributors’ offerings, just mainly spelling. And she likes it that way.

Since parting company with Stampington & Company, where she had had a long-running relationship, Jo is now feeling unencumbered by guidelines and predisposed aesthetics, and is enjoying spreading her wings a bit. And while she is grateful for everything she shared with Stampington, she is also excited by the future’s possibilities. Even though she says (her words, not mine) who knows what’s going to happen with a 70-year-old, self-proclaimed idea woman. If Mr. Magazine™ could offer his opinion here (and why not, it is my blog after all), I’d say 70 is the new 50 and that is just the right age for Jo Packham and her latest endeavours.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very lively conversation with a woman whose youth is apparently eternal, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jo Packham, creator and editor in chief of all the “Where Women Create,” “Where Women Cook,” “Where Women Create Work,” and her latest, “What Women Create.”

 

Jo Packham ()

 

 

But first the sound-bites

On how she got her start in magazines: I worked really, really hard and I have been very, very blessed. I think it happened because my entire career has been about surrounding myself with really creative, successful women. I always wanted to be an artist; I grew up wanting to be an artist, and I’m a horrible artist. My 7th grade art teacher told me I should do something else.

On combining food and crafts with her magazines: In the early days what I had to do was go to the crafters and the creative people, because they have fabulous kitchens and they like to cook, they don’t consider themselves foodies, but because they’re so creative they like to cook. So, we would feature five of them with really beautiful kitchens and then we would feature five of the top food bloggers and foodies in the country and focus on their food. And it kind of became more of a cooking magazine than a “where” magazine, it just morphed into that. But we still try to include some kitchens and other kinds of things, but that’s the way it started.

On how she would describe herself today: I think I’m creative in my own way in that I can bring people together, because there are a lot of publishers and a lot of agents who I think are driven by money, so I believe I am a creator and a gatherer; I think I inspire people. I don’t know, I work hard. (Laughs) I don’t know what I am. I’m just the person behind the scenes who wants you to have the opportunity that maybe I can help you get.

On how she says that she wants to be behind the scenes, yet her name is on the cover of all of her magazines: It’s on the covers of the old ones too. And the reason I did that is for the first time in my 40-year career when I went to work for Stampington, and when we launched Where Women Create at Stampington, it was an atmosphere of distrust for large corporations. And even I didn’t know in those days that Stampington was a big company; I had no idea how big they were. So, I felt if I put my name on the cover that the people who we featured and the people who were our readers would understand that it was a single woman doing the job and making it happen instead of a big corporation, so that they would trust me more and look at us through a different perspective.

On whether she’s had any stumbling blocks to face or it’s all been a walk in a rose garden: Oh, a million stumbling blocks. It’s so not easy. It’s always what you don’t expect. You’re sailing along and something happens that’s totally out of your control, and it’s that telephone call in the middle of the night that you dread your whole life. And I’ve gotten mine. I’ve lost everything. I completely lost everything and had to start from scratch, that was 10 years ago. I lost everything.

On whether she feels like she’s now in a safe end with her new deal with Disticor: I don’t believe in a safe end. I think the world is so fragile and everything we do is so fragile that I’ve got the best gig of all time. When people talk about living the dream, this is it. It’s not easy; I’m working myself to death, but it’s living the dream. But I also know that I could wake up in the morning and Barnes & Noble could go bankrupt and there could be no more distributor for the magazines and we would be done.

On whether anyone ever questions her sanity because she is publishing four print magazines with high cover prices in this digital age: Oh, yes. We just started the Disticor partnership last November and I had never met them and they flew out here to meet me. We had dinner in my studio and I had a chef here. We cooked a private dinner for them and they told me that they had just decided to do this. I told them that I didn’t believe in contracts, but my ex-husband said I had to have one and they said that was great. And I asked them how long the contract should be for, and Mike, who is the president of Disticor, said 10 years. And I just started laughing and he said, what the hell? And I said I am 70-years-old, you’ll have an 80-year-old editor in chief. No one wants an 80-year-old editor in chief. (Laughs) So, I told him that we’d start with three years.

On why she chose print and not a digital-only entity: I’m a traditional print girl. I was in book publishing for 30 years. When that ended and I got the opportunity to do the magazines; I don’t even go on Instagram. I don’t answer my phone; I hate anything technological. I really love paper and print. I wouldn’t have even considered anything else.

On her new publication What Women Create: When I got the opportunity to work with Disticor, they told me that I could do whatever I wanted. And I said, really? And they said, sure. So, we started with the three that we knew, but then we were preparing the first issue of “Create” and “What” came up at the table and it’s brilliant. And it’s not a how-to magazine; it’s just a beautiful pictorial anthology of the passion and the inspiration. It’s meant to be the story of the women who create; it’s behind-the-scenes on how they do what they do. It’s not a step-by-step. And it’s such a great partner with “Create.”

On whether the magazines, in human form, are her: I hope so. I would hope so. I would hope that I embody the passion and inspiration of all of us, that I’m a good representative and I will be cognisant of who they are and what they do and never take advantage of them. And always represent them in the best way. So, I would hope so.

On anything that scares her with this new venture: (Laughs) Everything scares me. I have these constant panic attacks, because I feel responsible. People have trusted me with their stories. Once, somebody said to me, all we do is produce junk mail because they buy our magazines and then they throw them away. And I said that’s not what I do. I give these people the opportunity to tell their stories in their own words, the way they want, without edits. We don’t change it; we don’t give any guidelines. It is their opportunity to have a magazine for just a minute to tell the world what they want the world to know.

On whether she feels she’s publishing inexpensive books, but expensive magazines: They are, and it’s because we don’t sell advertising. We’re a newsstand model, so we have to make our money somewhere and printing is more expensive, photographers are more expensive, and shipping them is crazy. When I ship one magazine to Europe it’s $27 and some cents. So, it’s not that we’re making more money on the backend on this end, it’s just that we’re producing a really beautiful, collectible piece. Because when they’re not done in seasons and they don’t do holidays, it’s not that you ever throw them away, unless you’re cleaning out your closet. You can save them as an inspiring piece of literature to go to just like a book.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: You would find me going through magazines. (Laughs) Right now on my dining room table I probably have 50 of the latest magazines from all over the world, trying to see who is doing what and what I love. So, you would definitely find me reading magazines.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: That I gave people the opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

On what keeps her up at night: (Laughs) Being 70. I have all of these thoughts: what if I can’t remember anymore, or what if I can’t go up the stairs anymore. That scares me to death.

 

Where women work ()

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jo Packham, creator/editor in chief, Where Women Create, Where Women Cook, Where Women Create Work, & What Women Create magazines.

You’re the publisher and creator of not one, not two, not even three, but four magazines, all at the same time. Tell me how you got started.

I worked really, really hard and I have been very, very blessed. I think it happened because my entire career has been about surrounding myself with really creative, successful women. I always wanted to be an artist; I grew up wanting to be an artist, and I’m a horrible artist. My 7th grade art teacher told me I should do something else.

And so I thought, you know what, I love it so much that early on, 40 years ago, I decided to publish cross-stitch books and I owned a small yarn and thread store. When cross-stitch was getting really popular, I decided to publish cross-stitch books, and I couldn’t do it myself, so I would just work with other women and surround myself with them and be the person who published them.

I would do the part of their creative life that they didn’t want to do, because they want to be creative, right? They didn’t want to deal with the publishing and write the stories, they didn’t want to get all the backend done, and things like that. I don’t really have very much of an ego and I was really happy to promote them and just be the person behind the scenes. I feel like a bus driver sometimes. I just get everybody on the bus and I get everybody where they need to go and then I get everybody off the bus and then I fill the bus up again.

It just led from one thing to another. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve had some really dramatic failures in my career, but when you surround yourself with women who are so inspiring, they always have a new idea. And they always pick you back up and they always need someone like me behind the scenes. So, that’s the role that I love and that I took on, and that’s how I got where I am. It’s because of them, it really is.

You combine both crafts and food; tell me about that mix. You have the food magazine, the craft magazine, and then you have the “What” magazine. 

That’s really a funny story. When we started we had “Where Women Create” and it was all about the studios and everybody loved it and it’s really popular. I was not a foodie, but what happened was I was in the Texas Hill Country photographing Robin Brown and John Gray’s home, they own a company called Magnolia Pearl.

We were on a photo shoot and we got there one morning at around 6:00 a.m. and Robin’s guilty pleasure, and she lives way out in the country, her guilty pleasure was every morning a woman would come from Fredericksburg, Texas and bring in all fresh fruits and vegetables, and she was her cook for the day, her sous chef, if you will, and she would prepare all of these fresh fruits and vegetables. So Robin, because she’s a creative, had the most beautiful kitchen I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

So, when we walked in that morning and there was that entire array of fresh fruits and vegetables on the cabinet, I said we needed to publish where women cut. And when I first started it, I really thought it would be about the kitchen, just like it was about the studios. But I stayed an extra four days, photographed the kitchen, did all of the cooking, and I thought, I don’t know any foodies, so I should contact the top 10 food bloggers in the country.

I found out who they were, wrote them all a letter, said I would love to feature each of them in the magazine, they all said great, and I told them that we’d come and do a photo shoot in their kitchen, and they said yeah, no, that’s not going to happen because they were all about the food and not about the kitchen.

So, in the early days what I had to do was go to the crafters and the creative people, because they have fabulous kitchens and they like to cook, they don’t consider themselves foodies, but because they’re so creative they like to cook. So, we would feature five of them with really beautiful kitchens and then we would feature five of the top food bloggers and foodies in the country and focus on their food. And it kind of became more of a cooking magazine than a “where” magazine, it just morphed into that. But we still try to include some kitchens and other kinds of things, but that’s the way it started.

I had to go buy my first set of pots and pans. Since I was starting the magazine, I went into my kitchen, took all of my paintbrushes and all of my tools out of my silverware drawers, and all of my paintbrushes out of my cabinets and went and bought a complete set of silverware and a whole new set of pots and pans so that I would feel a little more like I could walk the walk and talk the talk.

What do you consider yourself; a creator? I see “created by Jo” on each one of the four magazines. Or a curator? Someone who reaches out to all of these bloggers and creative people. If you had to describe Jo today, what would be some of the adjectives that come to mind?

Jo Packham: I think I’m creative in my own way in that I can bring people together, because there are a lot of publishers and a lot of agents who I think are driven by money, so I believe I am a creator and a gatherer; I think I inspire people. I don’t know, I work hard. (Laughs) I don’t know what I am. I’m just the person behind the scenes who wants you to have the opportunity that maybe I can help you get.

I’m a philanthropist, because I really want to sell a million magazines; I really do. But if I sell a million magazines; we always feature two really famous people in the magazine because they sell magazines, but then we feature 10 that no one has ever heard of, because if we can give them an opportunity to make their dreams come true sincerely, then that’s what sells more magazines that pays my bills and it’s a win/win situation for everyone.

You say that you want to be behind the scenes, yet your name is on the cover of all four of the new magazines.

It’s on the covers of the old ones too. And the reason I did that is for the first time in my 40-year career when I went to work for Stampington, and when we launched Where Women Create at Stampington, it was an atmosphere of distrust for large corporations. And even I didn’t know in those days that Stampington was a big company; I had no idea how big they were. So, I felt if I put my name on the cover that the people who we featured and the people who were our readers would understand that it was a single woman doing the job and making it happen instead of a big corporation, so that they would trust me more and look at us through a different perspective.

And the only reason I put my name on the second ones, with this new publisher, is because he absolutely insisted. And Barnes & Noble and Costco said Jo’s name has to be on the cover and I said that’s ridiculous. People don’t buy these magazines because of me, they buy these magazines because of the stories inside, but they felt like with my name on the cover that people would be assured that there was no advertising and that the stories would be sincere. And that it’s the same model. The first 30 years of my career, no one knew who I was; my name was never anywhere. Ever.

 

What women create ()

 

Now your name is everywhere. Did it feel like a walk in a rose garden or were there some stumbling blocks you had to overcome?

Oh, a million stumbling blocks. It’s so not easy. It’s always what you don’t expect. You’re sailing along and something happens that’s totally out of your control, and it’s that telephone call in the middle of the night that you dread your whole life. And I’ve gotten mine. I’ve lost everything. I completely lost everything and had to start from scratch, that was 10 years ago. I lost everything.

The story between Stampington and I is crazy and then the one between Disticor and I is even crazier. So, I’ve been at the top and I’ve been at the bottom. I’m great at cocktail parties; I have a lot of stories. (Laughs)

So, today, do feel like you’re sailing smoothly, leaving what happened behind you? Does the new deal with Disticor make you feel as though you’re finally in a safe end?

I don’t believe in a safe end. I think the world is so fragile and everything we do is so fragile that I’ve got the best gig of all time. When people talk about living the dream, this is it. It’s not easy; I’m working myself to death, but it’s living the dream. But I also know that I could wake up in the morning and Barnes & Noble could go bankrupt and there could be no more distributor for the magazines and we would be done.

So, I never plan on that kind of thing. I enjoy what I have. I used to plan on it in my younger days, but now I’m just very grateful and very thankful for what I have today and I work very hard for it. And if I wake up in the morning and it’s still there, I’m grateful tomorrow too. But I’m 70 years old, so who knows, right? Geez, I could fall down the stairs. (Laughs) It is what it is.

At those cocktail parties, when you’re sharing your ups and downs, does anyone ever question your sanity because you’re publishing four print magazines with very high cover prices in this digital age?

Oh, yes. We just started the Disticor partnership last November and I had never met them and they flew out here to meet me. We had dinner in my studio and I had a chef here. We cooked a private dinner for them and they told me that they had just decided to do this. I told them that I didn’t believe in contracts, but my ex-husband said I had to have one and they said that was great. And I asked them how long the contract should be for, and John Lafranier, who is the president of Disticor, said 10 years. And I just started laughing and he said, what the hell? And I said I am 70-years-old, you’ll have an 80-year-old editor in chief. No one wants an 80-year-old editor in chief. (Laughs) So, I told him that we’d start with three years.

But when I tell those stories and I’m at cocktail parties, people do look at me, because all of their lifetime friends in their communities are retired and traveling, doing all of those kinds of things, and I’m working 18 hours per day. And I ask myself whether I could retire and if that would be a good idea, but then I think, no, I’ll do this as long as I can. Just enjoy it. I love my job.

Why did you decide to publish print? Why not just a blog or a digital magazine?

I’m a traditional print girl. I was in book publishing for 30 years. When that ended and I got the opportunity to do the magazines; I don’t even go on Instagram. I don’t answer my phone; I hate anything technological. I really love paper and print. I wouldn’t have even considered anything else.

When things got really bad and I lost the first company, I lost my house and everything, I got a job at Starbucks. I was going to work at Starbucks. (Laughs) I thought that was a good alternative; they had really good benefits. And they would send you to school. (Laughs again) But it never even occurred to me to do anything but print.

 

Where women create ()

 

You’ve redesigned all of the magazines, you gave them a new fresh look. And you’ve added one new title that you didn’t publish with Stampington before. Tell me about What Women Create.

When I went to work with Stampington, Kellene (Giloff, founder and president) was extremely generous with me, but even though What Women Create was my brand and my concept, I was still part of the Stampington Group. So, I had to adhere to their guidelines and their aesthetics and what Kellene wanted. And she’s very secure in that and likes that. She would never let me branch out on my own. And I certainly appreciate that. It’s hard to have two brands under one umbrella.

But I’m an idea girl, right? I have a million ideas. And I would present them and Kellene is really conservative and she has 36 of her own magazines, so she didn’t need any more of mine. (Laughs) So, the reason the whole thing happened was because Where Women Cook was just out of her wheelhouse. She’s a craft person, and so she was going to cancel Cook. And even though I am not a foodie, Cook is one of my favorites.

When I got the opportunity to work with Disticor, they told me that I could do whatever I wanted. And I said, really? And they said, sure. So, we started with the three that we knew, but then we were preparing the first issue of “Create” and “What” came up at the table and it’s brilliant. And it’s not a how-to magazine; it’s just a beautiful pictorial anthology of the passion and the inspiration. It’s meant to be the story of the women who create; it’s behind-the-scenes on how they do what they do. It’s not a step-by-step. And it’s such a great partner with “Create.”

“Create” has been on the market for 10 years and I believe that everything has a shelf life. I’m not sure if we haven’t started the shelf life over with the new, reimagined “Create,” so maybe we can start counting again. But I felt like for security, for retirement, if I ever do (Laughs), that I needed something new and fresh, and a different take on it. And I thought “What” was the perfect partner. And I called Disticor on the phone and asked them what they thought about “What.” And they said that I should absolutely do it. So, I did.

When I flip through the pages of the four titles, the relaunched and the new one, I can see you in the pages of the magazines. Your passion, your craft, your touch, is there. If I give you a magic wand that could make the pages come to life and you strike the magazines with it, and suddenly a human being appears. Will that be you?

Jo Packham: I hope so. I would hope so. I would hope that I embody the passion and inspiration of all of us, that I’m a good representative and I will be cognisant of who they are and what they do and never take advantage of them. And always represent them in the best way. So, I would hope so.

Is there anything that scares you with this new venture?

(Laughs) Everything scares me. I have these constant panic attacks, because I feel responsible. People have trusted me with their stories. Once, somebody said to me, all we do is produce junk mail because they buy our magazines and then they throw them away. And I said that’s not what I do. I give these people the opportunity to tell their stories in their own words, the way they want, without edits. We don’t change it; we don’t give any guidelines. It is their opportunity to have a magazine for just a minute to tell the world what they want the world to know.

So, I feel responsible for that. And that scares me because they’re trusting me with their dreams and their heartaches and their pasts. I think that’s why the magazines are so personal, because they write their own stories, I don’t have editors. We do correct spelling, because I think that’s important. People write the way they speak. I speak in long runoff sentences and that’s the way I write. And I don’t want some editor making it sound like copy that you can find in any issue of the magazine that’s edited. I want everyone to be totally different. It’s like you’re sitting at the kitchen table learning about somebody new. And if they speak in broken English, they should write in broken English. That way we really know who they are and they really have the opportunity to tell their story.

 

Where women cook ()

 

Do you feel that you’re publishing inexpensive books, but expensive magazines? Your magazines look and feel like a book, but inexpensive compared to hardbacks, but expensive compared to magazines.

They are, and it’s because we don’t sell advertising. We’re a newsstand model, so we have to make our money somewhere and printing is more expensive, photographers are more expensive, and shipping them is crazy. When I ship one magazine to Europe it’s $27 and some cents. So, it’s not that we’re making more money on the backend on this end, it’s just that we’re producing a really beautiful, collectible piece. Because when they’re not done in seasons and they don’t do holidays, it’s not that you ever throw them away, unless you’re cleaning out your closet. You can save them as an inspiring piece of literature to go to just like a book.

If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

You would find me going through magazines. (Laughs) Right now on my dining room table I probably have 50 of the latest magazines from all over the world, trying to see who is doing what and what I love. So, you would definitely find me reading magazines.

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

That I gave people the opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

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

(Laughs) Being 70. I have all of these thoughts: what if I can’t remember anymore, or what if I can’t go up the stairs anymore. That scares me to death.

Thank you.

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