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The Mr. Magazine™ interview: Martha Stewart Living’s Christine Guilfoyle on embracing disruption

“I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.” Christine Guilfoyle, SVP, group publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group

 

Mr. Magazine Interview ()

 

From Rachael Ray Every Day to Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living to the former ink on paper MORE magazine, Christine Guilfoyle has been a staple at Meredith Corporation for over eight years. Today she has Martha Stewart Living back in her stable and is enjoying yet another round of promoting and selling the one and only Martha Stewart and her brand. The original, as Chris touts the entrepreneurial businessperson who has become a household name with her media empire.

I spoke with Chris recently and we talked about her admiration for Martha Stewart and her appreciation for the opportunities that Meredith has given her over the years, such as launching the phenomenal The Magnolia Journal. And while disruption in magazines and magazine media has become the norm, Chris says that she embraces disruption and finds excitement in the many opportunities that the constant changes of today’s publishing industry brings. Of course, Chris isn’t naïve either, she knows that never taking anything for granted is the rule of thumb in the present-day world of magazines, but she also knows the power of the brand, especially the tried and true ones, such as Martha Stewart Living, always giving hope to a brighter and more stalwart future.

So, I hope that you enjoy this lively and interesting Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman just as lively and interesting as her magazine adventures – Christine Guilfoyle, senior vice president, group publisher Meredith’s Women’s Group.

 

MSL October ()

 

But first the sound-bites

On what has been going on at Meredith: I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Everyday with Rachael Ray, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on More at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

On what she has been up to at Meredith over the last seven years: Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

On some of the challenges she faces today that are different from those she faced when Rachael Ray Every Day launched: Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent. The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting.

On how she feels being back at Martha Stewart Living once again: From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honoured to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity.

On the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced 28 years ago: I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

On whether she is selling Martha Stewart or Martha Stewart Living: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

On whether she does things differently when selling Martha Stewart Living versus selling Rachael Ray Every Day: I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

On how the role of publisher has changed over the last five years: I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control. To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

On how she differentiates Martha Stewart Living brand from the other competitors in the marketplace: That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

On anything she’d like to add: First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you. The rumour of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

On what she believes is the biggest misconception about herself: About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be. So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favourites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

On what keeps her up at night: Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it.

On whether the integration of editorial and ads makes her job tougher: Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

 

Christine Guilfoyle and Martha Stewart header ()

Christine Guilfoyle and Martha Stewart

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Christine Guilfoyle, Senior VP, Publisher, Meredith Women’s Group at Meredith Corporation.

Chris, give me an update; since the last time we spoke a lot of things have changed, what’s going on these days at Meredith?

I have to tell you, I just came from a meeting recently with Tom Harty (president and CEO, Meredith) and I said to him, seven years ago we, the Meredith Corporation, announced the acquisition of Rachael Ray Every Day, which is a bit mindboggling to me that it has been seven years ago. I had just been back at the company for a year, I was on More at the time, so my personal journey in these seven years, and I think you know that I have known Tom for a long time, twenty-plus years, seeing what he has been able to accomplish, not only for his own personal development, but also for the company, has been extraordinary.

I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing, because believe me that has never been my goal, but Tom has done an incredibly amazing job and it has been so interesting and exhilarating to be sitting and watching what has gone on in the last seven years.

So, tell me, what are you up to these days – what have those seven years brought for you?

Well, I’m repeating myself. You know, two times at Rachael Ray; two times at Better Homes & Gardens; this is my second time now at Martha Stewart Living; my third celebrity assignment. What am I doing? Well, listen, what we’re all doing. I’m blocking and tackling. Everyday I’m blocking and tackling.

As you block and tackle your third celebrity venture, what are some of the challenges you face today that are different from those you faced when you first started with Rachael Ray Every Day?

Today versus 2005 when Rachael launched; here’s the thing, every single thing is different, from one year to the next, from one assignment to the next and it really has more to do with the industry than it has to do with the platform and the work, the content that you represent.

The media industry, the traditional publishing industry, is in complete and utter disruption. And as you and I have talked about many times, I embrace that. I think it’s exciting. I have two teenaged daughters and every single day is filled with disruption and the bombardment of new media. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I have had 14 assignments in the last eight years where I’ve been able to start each assignment really as though they were brand new jobs. It’s an entrepreneurial environment, so I can try new things, not only because the industry demands it, but because each of these assignments are new and differentiated.

And when you got your latest assignment and knew that Martha Stewart Living was once again in your domain, what was your first reaction? Not again or you were so happy to be back at the brand?

From a personal standpoint, I have been a Martha Stewart Living brand evangelist for a long time. In 1988 when I was at TV Guide, I had the classic meatloaf and the classic macaroni and cheese recipes in my bag that I had brought in for clients, and they’re recipes that I still cook. Martha and her daughter Alexis were at a table in Nobu and Harrison Ford, Edd Byrnes, Calista Flockhart, Christy Turlington, and Tony Bennett were all in Nobu that night that I was there with clients. I mustered my way past the bouncers to go over and introduce myself to Martha. To me she is extraordinary.

She is someone who I have personally admired, and over the course of my career, have voraciously tear sheeted and I couldn’t be more honoured to get to work with a woman who continues to evolve, embrace technology and reinvent and/or reinvigorate not only herself, but her brand. And I feel humbled to have that opportunity. And when Martha Stewart calls you a badass, which is what she said to me when she found out I was back on the brand, that’s not something I would ever take lightly.

So, how do you use that as you go out and meet with clients and prospective clients? What is the power of the brand today versus what it was when it was introduced around 28 years ago?

I think that the brand has always been incredibly powerful with consumers. The vitality with the consumer is not necessarily in our industry what gets celebrated, it’s the vitality with the advertiser, and that kind of dims the light on the consumer involvement. Martha’s relationship with the consumer, in my opinion, has never been stronger. And she has had the ability, both personally and through the leadership of Elizabeth Graves in Living, to be as relevant as ever.

We are finding that millennials, not only millennial readers of Martha Stewart Living, but also U.S. millennials, look at Martha the person and Martha Stewart Living the brand, as being the ultimate influencer. And they look to her and the content that surrounds her brand proposition as being modern and trustworthy. So, that’s exciting from a consumer proposition standpoint.

When I’m speaking to millennials, which is most of our audience, I try to be as dynamic and energising and on millennial point as I can be. And frankly, this story resonates. Her doing the Justin Bieber Roast, in my opinion, was a pivotal, social, zeitgeist moment for her. She’s gone on now to do the Bruce Willis Roast and she’s next door neighbours with Blake Lively and she’s at New York Fashion Week and continues to modernise her footprints, so clients and agency people are more aware of her than ever before. The Snoop Dogg relationship obviously is very much talked about within the agency cycle. And I’m finding it to be incredibly fun and that there is a high level of brand receptivity that should translate itself into ad pages and integrated deals.

 

 

MSL ()

 

 

Are you selling Martha or are you selling Martha Stewart Living?

Christine Guilfoyle: It’s the same thing to me. Ultimately, we sell the woman that has made the brand and then we talk about the platform of content extensions, both those that are operated by the Meredith Corporation as it relates to digital and video and social, but we also discuss Martha’s own social activities and her television, in the form of PBS or celebrity judge on Chopped or VH1 with Snoop. To me it’s all the same.

What is the difference between selling Martha and Rachael Ray? Do you do anything differently?

Do I do anything differently because of the two women? I would say that I do everything differently than I did seven years ago. I do everything differently than I did three years ago. The basic fundamentals of sales account management kind of guides me, they’re my guiding principles, but how I would talk about Rachael or Martha, or Jo as it relates to The Magnolia Journal; I talk about each one of those women in a very different way because they are different, but also because the time of which my assignment corresponds to the external ad market is different.

When I went from Better Homes & Gardens and Martha to Shape, which was almost three years ago, every single thing that I did at Shape, not just because it was a new category to me, but because the market was moving so quickly, was incredibly different in how I rallied the sales team, the marketing team and the editorial infrastructure from a go-to-market standpoint than I had done two and half years ago when I first got to Better Homes & Gardens from Rachael Ray.

It seems to me that your career has been like a walk in a rose garden.

A walk in a rose garden? I would say that I love to smell the roses and I try to avoid the prickers. (Laughs)

How has the role of publisher, chief revenue officer, changed over the last five years?

I can’t talk about the overarching role because I think that everyone brings their own individual experience and expertise to a job. I can tell you how it has changed for me because it’s what I personally own and can control.

To me, I feel like there was a time in my career where I really was a management role, where I, as much as I like to get out and about and I think it is something that I can do because of the relationships that I have, I had full staffs of very senior people in all of the key markets and I could just do my flyover to say thank you. I now feel like my role, if we’re going to talk about titles, senior vice president group publisher, that’s my title, but I’m a super sales person.

Every team is leaner; there are far more people internally because of our new Brady Bunch family that I need to continually look to educate, to differentiate, to be solution-based so that both the people internally in the broader Meredith Corporation, the corporate digital foundry, are educated on the nuance of my brand, Martha Stewart Living. And I am going out into the market to make sure that I am blocking and tackling and driving revenue to each and every issue and/or platform every single day.

Give me your elevator pitch on how you differentiate Martha Stewart Living brand from the rest of the competitors in the marketplace.

That’s a very good question. She’s the original. In a world that is infatuated with celebrity and/or influencers, Martha Stewart is the original. And she practices what she preaches. There is nothing that we cover from a content-based standpoint that she herself has not done. That she has not intellectually curious about; where she has not rolled up her sleeves and participated in the action. And that’s home, food, travel, entertaining, etc. She is the original.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

First of all, I want to say thank you for wanting to talk to me. I think the thing for me is that although I have had a lot of jobs, I have never been in a position in my eight years back at the company where I have ever been allowed to be bored (Laughs). And I think that’s a gift because if that had not happened, up until the last seven years, like Martha says, when you stop living you’re dead; when you’re afraid of change I think you’re out. I feel like my career here has very much paralleled Martha’s life mission. And I feel invigorated and grateful that I have been given the opportunity here at the company to do all that I have been able to do.

Being able to meet Rachael Ray at the start – really the start, because when she was on the Food Network it was not what it is today. And to sit around the kitchen table with her and John (Cusimano), who was not her husband at the time, to launch her magazine, that’s extraordinary. It’s an experience that can’t be taken away. And then to get to work on it twice, that was just icing on the cake.

To launch The Magnolia Journal for the Meredith Corporation, which will go down as its most successful launch probably ever, that’s pretty cool. To onboard the Martha Stewart Living brand for the company and have it as my sole assignment during these highly disruptive days, that’s amazing.

Last time we talked, I asked you if you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be and you said don’t take anything for granted. Have you changed your tattoo or is that still true?

No, I don’t know that I would change that tattoo. And I think about in today’s world, think about what has just gone on. The closing of Redbook, and when I say closing, the moving to digital, but we all know what that means, it means taking resources away from traditional platforms. Redbook is not a surprise to me, and probably not to you.

The rumour of Glamour, that scares me to the core of what it is that I have learned. A brand like that, that I have competed against, a newsstand giant, that quakes me to the core as somebody who has studied and championed and heralded the industry, so no, I don’t take a single thing for granted. And I remind myself of that every single day.

Here’s a question that I borrowed from one of our graduate students who now works for 60 Minutes, she asked Paul McCartney: what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

About me personally? (Laughs) That’s a good one. A long time ago Tom Harty and Dick Porter in our TV Guide days said I am too emotional. In my performance review when I moved from Better Homes & Gardens to Shape, Doug Olson told me that I was not as excited about the move from BH&G to Shape as the company would have liked me to be.

So, I don’t know if that was a misconception, but I feel like the brands that I have led are like my children and the people at those brands become part of my family literally. And ultimately, I do in fact love all of them and all of the brands. But I have favourites, so maybe the most common misconception is that I become too emotionally connected, but I would say that in each and every assignment I never ever lose sight of the P&L and what it is that I have to do to drive the business. Never.

 

MSL summer ()

 

Anything changed about what keeps you up at night these days?

Outside of my teenaged daughters? No. What keeps me up at night is each and every close, and each and every client, and I would say this whole native and editorial integration – I think there are brands, Allrecipes for example, another brand that I helped my good buddy Steve Grune, who I hired to the company, launch. I think that Allrecipes is a brand made for client integration. I grapple with integration as it relates to a brand that has a real person attached to it. Not because of the women, and by all means I am not leaving out Chip (Gaines), I am not anti-Chip Gaines. (Laughs) But as you and I have discussed, it is truly Joanna who is the editorial driver.

I think that editorial integration in celebrity brands is more delicate. I don’t want to say more challenging, I think it’s more delicate, because again, it’s about the consumer. You have to make sure that the integration is authentic to the consumer. And I don’t know that agencies and/or clients fully understand intellectually the relationship that the content and the consumer have and the level of authenticity around the integration.

Does this make your job even tougher?

Well, I don’t know that it’s even tougher; I think as a steward of the brand I am more diligent. I’m more involved and more critical of the agency and our client/partner, because if we do something that is not brand-true, we will hear about it.

Thank you.

 

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