Meredith’s Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Parents Magazine at Meredith Corporation in the US, explains how her team uses innovation to better engage with audiences through print products – and how a ‘digital mindset’ is improving the print magazine.
Tell us a bit more about your role at Meredith.
I am the editor-in-chief of Parents magazine, the 2.2 million rate base title, as well as group editorial director for Parents Latina and Meredith’s lifestyle titles – including Shape, Real Simple, InStyle, Martha Stewart Living, Health. Therefore, part of my role is driving innovation in print and content – and that innovation is essential to reaching, retaining and growing our audiences.
Can you share a little about Parents as a brand and how you’re bringing innovation to the brand?
At Parents we’re delivering content to a very young audience – Gen Z and millennials – and that consumer group really places a high value on innovation in the media it engages with. We actually study how happy our consumers are with how innovative we’re being and that has shown us that 85 per cent of our magazine readers feel that we are innovating rapidly and well.
The other part of it is that you always want to be delivering content where the reader is and in a way that maximizes that media, but you don’t want to waste all of your resources on jumping on every next gadget. So the Meredith Corporation is conservative in some senses, like the fact that Parents doesn’t have a presence on Snapchat. But it’s innovative for our audience in others – we’re very heavy on Facebook and Instagram. We do not have an artificial intelligence experience within the brand, but we are one of the first brands to be on the Apple News app, we have a number-one Alexa skill and we have one of the top-selling podcasts. We’ve also innovated our print product with the renewed use of smart codes. Parents was one of the first publications within Meredith to do that.
How do you ‘do innovation’ well and what’s the process for harnessing innovation at Meredith?
Our approach to innovation, from a technological point of view, is handled by a dedicated team which sits across print and digital – but all team members are encouraged to embrace innovation.
From a technological standpoint, innovation comes out of the Innovation Group here at Meredith. If we have an idea or an advertiser has an idea, we go to them and they help us execute it. That innovation team is working across platforms. It’s working with the digital platforms to make sure the experience in digital is backing up what we’re doing, and the print team works on it as well.
Innovation isn’t just about launching new products, and processes and systems, of course. Tell us how you manifest innovation in the content itself.
That’s right. We also consider innovation in terms of point of view and voice. That is something that I’m very intricately involved in and I feel is part of the success of the Parents brand. I demand that when we’re working on new content ideas, themes for the year ahead, images for the content, or images for the covers, that all of our staff are bringing inspiration – either things they are seeing in the zeitgeist on Instagram, or even quantifiable trends and insight based on research or social listening.
Do you feel brands and publishers are a little more conservative with innovation now, and a little less gung-ho than perhaps they were when all these opportunities around digital and data first arrived?
I think so. Supporting data and preparation are of course important to innovation, and I agree there has been a shift away from companies simply pursuing innovation on a whim, I don’t believe there is a need to get bogged down in six-to-eight months of research and preparation every time we want to do something. We want to be using trends and basing our ideas on fact, but we still need to be nimble and to try stuff and test stuff. And then of course we measure the impact.
One innovation we have definitely brought to the print product is a more digital approach. Take our ‘Back to school’ issue, which we do every September and which is a big deal for us, as an example. Over the years we’ve packaged it in different ways. One year we did one long story called ‘100 things teachers want to know’. The next year, however, we tested that against a format where we broke that down by age and by grade – so the audience could engage with their specific bit more easily. And what we saw was a much more sustained level of engagement. It was almost like a digital approach to print – it was like clickbait – and the audience loved it. So I think that more digital approach to the print product is innovative in itself and it’s working for us.
What are you most pleased about from a results perspective?
I’m most pleased that the brand is seeing a rise in time spent with the magazine. At a time when the more educated amongst us realise we need to and want to put our phones down, we are seeing people take social detoxes and social holidays – and what’s happening alongside that is it’s causing an increase in book sales and time spent with the print product. That’s obviously good news for print, and we just need to keep innovating and changing to make sure we take advantage.