Jane Francisco: There’s a new kind of EIC in town

The Canadian leading Good Housekeeping says the Canadian magazine industry could learn from its neighbours to the south and explains why she goes on sales calls.
Jane Francisco 1

MiC is looking back at the issues and trends of 2017 with some of the brightest minds in the business, discussing what shaped the industry over the last 365 days, what baggage the business will carry into 2018 and what they hope will change in the months ahead.

Glancing through the latest ad spending projections doesn’t paint a pretty picture for consumer magazines. But last year, Good Housekeeping grew its print advertising by 2%. How does a 130-year-old magazine that was founded in the age where women were expected to do little more than keep house stay current enough to grow ad sales?

We asked the woman at the top. Canadian ex-pat Jane Francisco is editor-in-chief at the popular U.S. publication and editorial director of Hearst Magazine’s lifestyle group. Hearst her in 2014 when she was at the helm of Rogers Media’s Chatelaine, luring her to New York to oversee the shelter title.

She recently visited Toronto to speak at the Ad Club of Canada’s annual Magazine Day, where she discussed the changing role of the modern editor-in-chief, the dwindling “church and state” separation between editorial and sales and how magazines can still prove their worth.

This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

You’ve said that the role of the modern-day editor-in-chief is changing. Do you think there’s still room for the traditional church-and-state editor in the magazine industry?

I think it depends on the business model, but I think that the editors-in-chief have to be a core part of the whole business. And part of your job in doing that is protecting the content. It’s not going out and selling the content… not the pure-play editorial content. You’re out there selling the concept and the idea of being able to co-create content [with brands], but I think part of your job is understanding the wants and the needs of the partners, and really selling the values of the content that the brand creates.

At this moment, what does the word ‘content’ mean to you?

I think content is weirdly an empty shell word. Editorial means it’s been created by an editorial team for our audience. It’s a really specific kind of content, and that’s my job most of the time. Content incorporates that, but it also incorporates anything that engages an audience. Whether it’s audio or in the digital space, people are gathering. Digital has of course been the disruptor, because the source of content has been anything and everything. That’s how people are consuming. So editorial has become a smaller and smaller slice of what is content.

High-value content could come from anyone, though. And the reality is that we, as editorial content creators, are actually competing for the attention and engagement of our audiences.

You and others in the magazine industry have said that the value of magazines is how much time is actually spent with the product. But we’ve seen the ad spend reports that show magazine spend declining gradually. With that in mind, how can magazines capitalize on the engagement?

If I knew that… [laughs] This is part of the reason I’m on sales calls. We are all working as hard as we can to sell the concept of the value of our audience, the value of the relationship and the trust that we’ve built up over some considerable investment. It’s a real relationship that’s high-value. When I’m on a sales call, that’s what I’m selling. I’m not selling a page or negotiating a rate. Everyone in the context of our business is working to make sure that is understood.

You’ve been in the U.S. for almost four years. What can the Canadian magazine industry learn from the U.S., or vice-versa?

I think the U.S. industry is learning from professionals who have worked in markets similar to Canada — yes, Canada, but also the U.K., Australia and some European markets. They’ve been much more nimble, and it means people have to be smarter on their feet. I think the U.S. is already learning from markets like ours. In terms of what we can learn from the U.S., there’s generally greater bravado around the business in the U.S., and this is a cultural difference. I think we can afford to have more bravado in terms of the strong brands that exist here. The bravado coin, of course, has two sides, and I don’t want to change the personality [of the industry], but to just stand up for their value a little more.

If the magazine industry could make one New Years Resolution, what would you want it to be?

I believe in the power of magazine brands, and I believe that all the change and adversity in the marketplace is making people question that to a certain degree. It’s right, you have to question, but there’s some great power in the brands. Have faith in that, and put a lot behind it.