Six months in, 2016 has already been a historic year for Minnesota-based health and wellness magazine Experience Life. Apart from basking in the glow of a remarkable five-percent year-over-year leap in average print circulation to just a shade under 750,000, according to data from the Alliance for Audited Media, the brand is also celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Perhaps most notably, however, 2016 marks the arrival of a new editor-in-chief, just the second in the magazine's history. Succeeding founding editor Pilar Gerasimo is Jamie Martin, who first joined Experience Life as an intern fresh out of journalism school in 2005 before rapidly ascending the ranks.
Folio: connected with Martin to discuss her meteoric rise at Experience Life, the state of health and wellness media in the digital age, and her plans to continue growing the brand while remaining true to its mission.
Folio: When you first joined Experience Life as an intern 11 years ago, did you ever see yourself succeeding Pilar Gerasimo as editor-in-chief?
Jamie Martin: No, absolutely not. It was a dream to step into the team and to work with her. She’s been such an important role model in my career and in my life. She’s empowered me to follow my dreams, to go for it when an opportunity arises, to be proactive.
I think it makes sense, the way that the digital world has evolved in the 11 years that I’ve been here, to have someone succeed Pilar who has a lot of experience in the digital space but is still passionate about the editorial that goes into the print product.
Folio: Is continuing to build out Experience Life’s digital presence going to be a major focus going forward?
Martin: Yes, absolutely. I get very lit up about digital and all of the new ways that you can tell stories. I’m really excited to continue to evolve ExperienceLife.com. I think we have a huge opportunity to be commenting and responding in real-time about news in the health and wellness and fitness space, to not be waiting on the lead time for the print magazine, to be really relevant, thoughtful, and intentional about how we cover topics in that space.
If we’re going to be doing real-time coverage, I think there’s an opportunity to be more thoughtful and to do it in a more progressive way than what other digital news outlets are doing. I don’t think Experience Life is really a news outlet, but just being able to contribute more in the digital space, in a timelier manner, is something I’m really excited about.
Folio: Is that something you view as a continuation of Pilar’s mission?
Martin: Yes, that’s not going to change. We’re still committed to being progressive, to being in-depth. No gimmicks, no hype. We’re not going to compromise that part of our brand that really sets us apart in the health and wellness space.
A lot of what you see in the digital space is people going after clicks and using sensational headlines but not really delivering on them once you get to the actual story. We’re committed to staying true to our brand promise of helping people live happier, healthier lives in realistic ways, not over-promising. It’s difficult in the digital space, but we really want to stay true to our brand. I think that’s how we’ll be successful.
Folio: What are some of those challenges when it comes to digital?
Martin: There are just so many people in this space right now. How do you compete and be the most relevant? One of the ways we handle that is just staying true to our commitment of no gimmicks and no hype. How many times have people failed at “Six-pack abs in ten days?” When we can talk about real solutions for real problems that real people are facing in their every day lives, I think we can connect. And it’s not just about how we put together cover lines, it’s also about how we’re approaching social media and our digital strategy overall. Thinking about — when there’s so much noise out there — how we can be the brand that connects with people.
Folio: Does the fact that you’ve been with the brand throughout your career make you well-suited to connect with that audience?
Martin:I think just having grown up with the values of Experience Life being drilled into my head, I can pretty quickly identify a headline that isn’t going to work for us, or a story where there’s just not enough there for us to cover that. The team here is amazing. We have a lot of staffers who’ve been here a long time. They hold me accountable and I hold them accountable. We all work together to make sure we put out quality content that’s really all about how you can be a little bit better tomorrow than you were today — helping people make realistic progress toward their healthy living goals.
Folio: Over the past few years, you’ve managed to actually grow your print audience. How will you continue that progress?
Martin: It’s really a matter of being ahead of the curve in terms of how we cover health and wellness. We have our editors attending some of the leading conferences in medicine. In many cases, we’re the only journalists and media teams who are there. We’re committed to bringing progressive, forward-thinking information to our readers, both in digital and in print. The quality and integrity of the magazine is first and foremost.
We’re going to continue to go deep into topics and debunk myths. You’re going to continue to see real people on our covers who have really amazing stories about health and wellness and transformation. We’re going to continue to feature different types of stories than you’ll see in other magazines in the space — not just fitness and nutrition, but also on the quality of life aspect of it, the mind-body connection.
Folio: What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in the health and wellness media space over the last 15 years?
Martin: The shift to digital has been pretty phenomenal. The time and attention that people are putting into their digital presence is pretty amazing. I think we’re going to continue to see progress in the way we tell stories and engage with people. We’re looking ahead at a lot of that now. We have a big web project in the works that we’re excited to roll out within the next year or so.
Folio: What advice do you have for someone just starting out and looking to climb the ranks in the media business?
Martin: I think the most important thing is just to be willing to try and experiment. Be willing to raise your hand and get involved. Be willing to tackle a project that seems out of your wheelhouse. Be willing to just try something new and be proactive.
That, for me, has been such an integral part of how I’ve gotten to where I am now — not holding back, not being hesitant. We all have things to learn. We all have things to continue to growing in. I’ve been amazed, even just since stepping into this position, at how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown and how much more I still have to learn. If it lights your fire, if it’s something that you get excited about, there’s no reason you should hold yourself back. Show your initiative and just be willing to put yourself out there a little bit.