Elizabeth Graves made the leap from editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings to Living last year. And while she was no stranger to the Martha Stewart brand, the role did carry the added weight of joining the flagship vertical. Not to mention the inherent challenges content creators all face in today’s media landscape. So with that in mind, we decided to check in with Graves to see how things are going now that she has settled into her role and looks ahead to this year and beyond.
Folio: Tell us about some of your big wins since you came on as editor-in-chief last year.
Elizabeth Graves: This past year was a big one for us with a lot of change. We started working as a team together last January. And while I’m no stranger to Martha (I was EIC of Martha Stewart Weddings for six years and worked on Blueprint prior to that), I hadn’t worked with many on the Living staff. Fortunately, the transition was fairly easy. I’d always admired their work from down the hall, and we came together quite quickly on what we wanted to evolve. I’m lucky to have editors who know the brand and where we’ve been, but are also really excited to forge ahead and try new things.
We took a good look at our core values first: Who we are as a brand? What we have always stood for? And what will continue to be important to us forever and always? Then we set out to innovate and bring in new energy and life. We reorganized the flow of the magazine, created new columns, reworked the tone, brought Everyday Food back into the Living fold as a new food section and tried many new photographers. We saw our audience grow bigger and get a little younger. Newsstand continues to be a challenge for everyone, but we were encouraged by having more than a few wins and nice surprises there, and our subscriptions are up.
Folio: Conversely, what were some unexpected challenges you had to confront?
Graves: We gained office space at Meredith Corporation in Midtown, and now we split time between there and our studios and test kitchens in the Starrett-Lehigh Building, in Chelsea. Working out of two offices on different sides of town was tricky at first, but everyone acclimated pretty well. We have the best of both worlds now: It’s fantastic to be part of Meredith and this network of great magazines; and continuing to have our prop house, test kitchens, and studios downtown is what helps us stand apart visually. (Thank God for the subway and Citi Bike, though; that combo is still the fastest way to get down and across town!)
Folio: What has you excited about magazine media right now?
Graves: So many things; it is a time of flux. But I think there are exciting things to capitalize on. People are taking note of where their content comes from, and since we’re a trusted brand, this helps our cause. We spend a lot of time testing our recipes, reporting our stories with experts, and creating fresh, new ideas instead of simply following trends. It’s a good time to be different.
Living is also well poised to capture a younger audience again, because our core values are in sync with them—we love to learn new things, we care about creating something personal and authentic, we celebrate creativity and individuality, and we want to have fun in the process.
Folio: What would you say is the biggest opportunity for content creators right now?
Graves: I think everyone has different opportunities; there is no one-size-fits-all opportunity. We continue to leverage print, digital, video and social in a way that is true to what we do. It’s always tempting to emulate the tricks of others who have had success doing certain things a certain way, but it is a surefire way to water a brand down. Consumers today have so much content and noise pointed at them all day long; it’s important to break through it with something fresh and memorable. We continue to be excited about Facebook Live and Martha’s success there, as well as Facebook 360, and new things happening in VR. We like bringing the pages to life in many new ways.
Folio: What projects do you have in the pipeline you can share with us?
Graves: Our annual Martha Stewart American Made Awards has been a great vehicle for highlighting—as Martha has always done—the most talented makers in the U.S. I’m excited to be planning more Maker Meet-ups in more cities this year. We had one in San Francisco before the holidays, and our next one will be in D.C. in February. It’s great (and fun) for the editors to be able to go into a town, meet the top makers, and learn about what they produce and how they’re helping their communities. In a similar but different vein, our next initiative, called “Change the Day,” is exciting too. You will be hearing more about this soon, but the idea is that a lot of little efforts can significantly help improve our world.
Folio: This is a question we ask most interviewees: What do you envision for the future of print?
Graves: Maybe I’m eternally optimistic in the face of challenge, but I envision a bright one for us. Not all magazines necessitate a printed form, but Living does—our readers continue to enjoy and save issue after issue. The visual experience is important to them. We are also a magazine about celebrating life, and that never falls out of fashion in good times or bad.
It takes a village to help maintain print’s integrity and the power of the platform. But it is unparalleled when it comes to reader trust, and we need to keep that. I like many mediums, but print will always be my first and lifelong love.