Publishing During a Pandemic Part 4… The Human Connection

My friend Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni has been running a fascinating series on publishing in a pandemic, highlighting the publishers who are hitting it out of the park. A week ago I shared his post about Meredith’s current thought leadership on the subject.

This week, we hear from Bauer Media USA president and CEO Steven Kotok. While Kotok notes it’s still early yet to make any predictions, he says  it’s “so far so good.”

His company made what he calls a “surprisingly smooth” transition to working full time from home. They had done some contingency planning in advance, and by the time it came to hold their “practice day,” they all decided it was time to stay home.

Even so, the magazines are still publishing on time. And even if there’s less time for people to be in the shops, he believes if the magazines fit their needs, they’ll continue to buy.

“The topics we cover: inspiration, health, food, are just as relevant now,” Kotok explained in his interview with Husni. Other areas, like news, there’s more interest in maybe other things, where there’s less interest in some, but I think for us our core pillars are just as relevant.”

When Husni suggested Bauer’s heavy presence in grocery stores is a blessing in disguise, Kotok replies in no uncertain terms: “It’s definitely not a blessing in any way, because of how negative it is, but I would say that it has changed patterns.”

“We’re not seeing a lot of ups or downs. In Europe they’re seeing some lifts in their television magazines and puzzle magazines. Here, it may just be too early,” he continues.

Kotok credits his company’s history as a family business for being able to resonate with readers during good times and bad.

“We’re fifth generation ownership, but we’re also a company that’s had some of the same people who have worked for us since the ‘80s,” he tells Husni. “First and foremost, it’s family first and people have to take care of their families and make sure that their families are safe. That’s always been a part of who we are; we’re very serious about business, but we want to do it in a way that the families can be taken care of. And that’s number one.”

While he can’t predict the future at this point, he does credit the industry with having the “muscle” to quickly adapt to dramatic change … like moving an entire organization from offices to home offices in days. And they’ll use that muscle to adapt with whatever change the audience brings to bear.

“I do think a lot of rapid changes that seemed large can really happen swiftly, but I believe it all depends on the consumer. We’re in the business of reaching and engaging with the consumer, so if consumer behavior changes in some material way, that would change the industry,” he notes.

From his leadership style – he encourages his management team to hold 15-minute check-ins with their teams every day – to his strong sense of the Bauer brand, Kotok proves that innovation is alive and well in magazine media today, showing us all how it can be done.