Kristine Brabson, site director at Hearst Digital Media publications GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com, talks to Gorkana about reaching new audiences through digital and maintaining magazines’ legacies while adapting to modern life.
How does your role as a digital journo differ to that of your print colleagues?
When it comes to brass tacks, I’d say the biggest difference is where and how we focus our time reporting and creating content. Print editors have a clear and relatively fixed platform that they’re producing for daily/weekly/monthly. The goal: Create the best all-in-one experience that hits on variety, balance and the most engaging topics they can fit.
In the digital landscape, there are no limits or even single platforms — all we’re held back by is our time and resources! So this means we can expand and explore new topics, help bring the brand into smaller niches and onto broader platforms or into bigger conversations.
More and more every day, we have new places we can bring ourselves to and use to capture and delight people. And we’re pivoting quickly to grow and stay relevant. We’re not just thinking “How can we fill these 70 edit pages with the best of the best?” It’s more: “Okay, this hour, how can we program our site with awesome content that can live on the dot com and elsewhere?” And then, even more importantly these days: “What do we want to delight people with on our core social platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram), on newer social platforms and tools (Instagram Stories, Facebook Live), via distributed video, on our content apps, and now for some of my colleagues, on podcasts, Snapchat Discover and more, more, more…
That said, I’d argue that the idea of “print journalist” is no more, or is too dismissive of people who see their work in print first or in addition to digital. No matter where your story first appears or what specific platform you might focus your daily efforts on — a magazine, a website, TV, a book, a podcast — if you want a story to resonate and your work to reach people, you have to know how to make it impactful.
You need to know how it can have legs in all the places it might live, to drive chatter, engagement or reactions. We’re in a world where stories exist in so many ways and journalists are working to make them fit in, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s all about a great story and multiple ways/places to tell it.
Why is digital important to Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful?
Good Housekeeping celebrated 130 years last year and House Beautiful is celebrating 120 this year! So this answer may sound like a cop-out, but in a world where there are new digital-only editorial juggernauts taking over the social universe, where retail brands and celebrities are content creators, and where a beauty-obsessed teen in her room in Florida can have millions of YouTube fans, we have to keep expanding our bag of tricks and find our audience.
It’s nothing new, but it’s the truth of all media: we have to follow where the people are and evolve to stay relevant and interesting. I sincerely believe magazines are here for the long haul, but as audiences diversify how they want to be informed and entertained, GH and HB have to do that as well, or risk aging into extinction.
We have almost no overlap between our readership of the magazine and our social and dot com audiences— that means every person we bring into our digital world is a new person to the brand. I take that responsibility very seriously by aggressively seeking out new places to bring people into our universe and by taking risks, thinking about how the brand can be a little different (but still keep its hand on the core touchstone) and be interesting to differently aged women (and men — we have 20% male readership in digital), with different interests and passion points, and even levels of experience. It’s a great big puzzle — and I focus on all the pieces everyday but know exactly the beautiful picture we’re making.
How would you describe the magazines’ online style? Are there any golden rules?
There are many rules and we always assume next week, they’ll probably be broken — because they’ll no longer be relevant. But the one core question we ask ourselves before we ever commit to anything we do is: “Who will care about this? And why?” With so much to do and only limited time, it keeps us focused and successful.
Online, for both brands, our goal is make the tone and voice sound relatable, clear and human. On GH, we try to be that smart, but not pedantic, girlfriend, who is the one you always call when you need to buy a new fridge, you hate the at-home fringe trim you just gave yourself and “OMG, what do I do?” or even when your kid is being a total brat — because if she doesn’t already know the answer, she knows who to ask or she just read something about it and has a link to send.
She’s going to sympathise and she’s going to help. I take our 130 years of being a trusted brand very seriously. We’re careful to not just repeat bad advice floating around Pinterest or repeat poor advice, we bring our GH Institute in as myth busters or guideposts and service is our backbone.
We also want to reflect what the modern family and woman’s life looks like today, so we actively pursue less mainstream topics via personal interest stories and dig deeper on tougher subjects, such as domestic violence, mental illness and other meatier pieces.
For House Beautiful, it’s about a mix of “get that life” and “dream the dream” — we use the beautiful, deeply informed design foundation that the magazine brings to life each month as a foundation for “your dream home” and room porn eye candy, but then take other elements of the brand, which has been America’s home décor bible for 120 years, and bring to life the service, the tips and how to make it work.
What sort of content does well?
On GH, almost everything! And I’m glad that we’ve curated an audience that has such a broad palette. That was my immediate goal when I took over GoodHousekeeping.com three years ago: Make the digital world understand we aren’t just cleaning tips (but we do have those and yes, they work) and amplify that the brand has always been about relationships/family, beauty and personal care, health, food and more. A to Z of a woman’s life. In terms of engagement, our top performing categories are beauty (especially trends and inspiration), home care tips (who doesn’t love a good hack — that works?), and really relatable personal essays and parenting stories.
On HB, organizing. The world is just awash in stuff and people never tire of learning how to deal with it. Also, we’ve had great success with anything we pivot around “expert advice,” which is perfect for us because we’re a stage for so many fantastic designers, manufacturing experts and more.
When are PRs most useful to you?
Press releases keep us informed but they can be overwhelming. The ones that stand out in the flood are the ones that truly keep tabs on what we’ve covered before, what a rep has seen has gotten engagement on our social channels and considers that when pitching, supplies an angle or calls to light why we might want this for the platforms we care about.
What do you wish they would remember?
If you gave the same quotes, photos, stories, book excerpt, or FB Live interview to a bunch of other people, it’s just not important to us anymore. Try to think about how to differentiate.
What would you like to do more of?
Video! And much more of it is coming. Keep your eyes trained on our Instagram and Facebook pages in the next couple months. We’re doubling down.
Also, investigative, meatier features continue to be one of three top priorities for the year ahead. I’ve spent the last two to three years recreating the content strategy and growing the online and social audiences on both GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com, and we’ve been nimble and expanded our scope.
Now I want to continue to go deep and produce more extensive editorial experiences that come to life in different ways across the sites and social platforms. It’s important as we keep growing to continue to bring to life online the storytelling and personal experiences that that magazines have a legacy of creating.
To me, the world is ready to read deeper pieces and consume juicier content. Our audience’s engagement with long-form pieces and more expansive content already exists, so we want to keep sating that hunger.