You serve as editor-in-chief of Watch!, CBS’ glossy entertainment and lifestyle magazine. Where do you see Watch! fitting in to the media landscape – is it an industry publication, a consumer magazine, a fancy promotional tool for CBS’ TV lineup?
It’s interesting because it started off purely as a promotional vehicle. What we found in the first year was that people really responded when we started doing Q&As and stories about our celebrities from a more editorial standpoint.
So we made a very concerted effort to approach it as an editorial product and as a consumer product. We offer our readers content around beauty, health, wellness, food – all kinds of expert information. And I’m very happy to say today I think it is right up there with consumer-oriented publications like People or Us.
Before we had this magazine, we would develop all this great photography and these press kits and what not and then we would just give them away to other journalists, to daily newspapers or magazines. You’re giving them stuff, and they’re going to present it the way they want to. This removed the filter and allowed us to talk directly to the people we want to reach.
It’s been a rough few years for the print magazine industry. How has Watch! weathered the storm in terms of circulation and subscriptions?
We’ve actually been growing. One of the advantages is that we have very little overhead. We’re not a weekly or a monthly, we’re bimonthly. And 90 percent of it is done by freelancers. We also have the world’s best sales department selling the magazine – to have the CBS sales people supporting it and talking it up to clients is invaluable.
What role does the Web play in building and monetizing the Watch! brand? How has the magazine’s content changed and evolved in the digital age?
We really haven’t. Right now our website is primarily a subscription generator. We have TV to tell people to subscribe, and they go to our website, and the website feeds the addresses, and we send the magazines out.
We’re obviously interested in any platform that helps us promote the brand. We haven’t refined our digital strategy yet, but it is definitely something we’re hoping to do in the next year – to really embrace social media and video and more interactive elements.
You launched Watch! in 2005, when the media world was a very different place. What would you do differently if you were launching Watch! today? Do you still think you’d invest in a glossy print publication?
Yes, because I think our viewers are a little more traditional. They don’t want to go online for everything. A lot of people sit at their desk all day and click on blogs and what not, and it’s really nice to have something tangible in your hand. We actually upgraded to a better paper stock last year, so we’re a hundred percent about the printed product.
Our editorial philosophy really targets that working mom who comes home and just wants a couple of hours by herself. Our motto is “escape into entertainment,” so we do a lot of glamour and fantasy and big photo shoots, and having that printed glossy product which someone can curl up on the couch with and read is really what we’re aiming for.
You started your career as a newspaper feature writer and then as a media reporter. Do you see the lines between journalism and corporate communications blurring in a world where everything is content?
Well, I mean it’s kind of a big question. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that is a content company. CBS in every division is creating really compelling and engaging content that people want to read, want to watch, and want to listen to. We’re just following that mandate.
There’s a lot of content competing for the same audience’s attention, and that’s what we always consider when we’re doing the magazine. We’re actually on newsstands and have to sell copies of a magazine, so we can’t just do what the network wants to promote.
We have to think, “What do readers want to read about, who are the stars that are going to sell copies, who are the most popular people on TV?” That’s what helps us sell subscriptions or helps us sell copies or sell ads. We can’t be just a shill for the network.
You know, someone could easily pick up Entertainment Weekly, People, or Us Weekly. We have to be just as, if not more, original and compelling and provide real value whether our content is “branded” or not.
Jeremy Murphy will be speaking at this year’s Custom Content Conference, which takes place March 23-25 in Charleston, South Carolina. Sparksheet readers are entitled to the member rate discount with promo code SPARK.