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Q&A: Maile Carpenter’s Editorial Recipe for Food Network Magazine

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Food Network magazine faced difficult challenges when it rolled out its test issues in 2008. The industry—especially the newsstand—was sliding significantly and the country was entering into The Great Recession. But despite that, the magazine has been on a trajectory of success ever since.

The Hearst Magazine’s brand grew its rate base from 300,000 to 1.7M in a little over five years. It’s the top-selling epicurean on newsstands, and the third-best seller on newsstands overall. It also has a massive social media audience of nearly 20 million.

There’s no doubt that its established television brand has helped build its success, however there’s more to it than that. Here, min speaks with editor-in-chief, Maile Carpenter, to figure out exactly why the brand is thriving and why it stands out.

min: The epicurean space is certainly full of many great brands; how do you try to stand out with your content? What’s your unique value proposition?

Maile Carpenter: The quick answer to this question is in our tag line: Cook Like a Star. Food Network Magazine has always stood out from other food magazines because of its ties to the Food Network brand; readers know the minute they see that logo that they’re going to find recipes, tips and ideas from the stars they love. Of course, it’s not that simple. To stand out these days you have to produce break-through covers (we traded our usual white background for a bold teal one on the June issue) and truly meaningful content. We include more than 100 recipes in every issue, and that alone sets us apart. But we also combine those recipes with behind-the-scenes features, peeks inside the stars’ kitchens and homes, and many other stories that you won’t find in other food magazines.

min: Why is print a valuable channel for a brand like Food Network?

Carpenter: Translating the brand into a magazine has created a whole new way for people to experience Food Network: They can have it right in their hands. The reality of any television network is that it changes from hour to hour, but a magazine can package up all that energy, all of those voices, all of the fun, in one place.

min: What are the challenges like as an editor to develop content that can standalone, separate from the TV network, but still deliver on the brand’s promise?

Carpenter: When you’re presenting a powerful brand like Food Network in magazine form, you have to be careful about so many things: You have to stay true to the voice of the network, you have to live up to huge expectations from the fans, and most of all, you have to make sure you play to the strength of magazine media versus television media. You can’t just turn shows into columns, in other words. You have to build on what the network offers and make the most of your medium at the same time. In our case, that means focusing on great photography and smart packaging. In every issue we produce big, colorful recipe stories that could really only play out in a magazine. For example in May we created a small pull-out booklet of 50 cupcake recipes, packaged inside an extensive cupcake feature full of tips, tricks and ideas. That’s playing to our strength: You can’t find that kind of information, presented in that way, anywhere else.

min: What’s next for the magazine? Anything exciting you can talk about or tease us with?

Carpenter: We have been partnering with advertisers in so many new, fun ways and many of those programs are huge cross-platform concepts. For example, in our September issue we are running a big behind-the-scenes story about the set of Food Network’s talk show The Kitchen, tied to an integrated on-air and in-book program with Behr paint. It’s a true 360-degree deal and a great example of how we can integrate these days, not just in terms of TV-magazine but also in terms of editors and advertisers. When we’re smart about integrations, it’s a win-win-win.

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