Redbook Knows What It Means to “Keep It Real”
Editor-in-chief Meredith Rollins describes how the magazine’s Real Women Style Awards struck the right chord with its readers.
Despite the criticism many magazines receive for airbrushing cover models and featuring women who realistically represent a very small minority, there are some brands rejecting the status quo. Redbook is the most recent example of this and its September issue takes it a step further by not only featuring six “real women” on the cover, but also honoring them as part of the second annual Women Style Awards editorial feature. Since revealing the cover, Redbook has received a lot of praise from within the industry and by various media outlets. Here, FOLIO: talks with editor-in-chief Meredith Rollins about the genesis of Redbook’s September issue, what it means for the brand and its readers and the current state of magazine media.
FOLIO: How does a package like this benefit your brand from a business perspective?
Meredith Rollins: It’s funny, we started talking to Dove about this project months ago and the alignment felt really right to both of us. They loved the idea of our Real Women Style Awards and we loved their brand, so we moved forward from there. They weren’t part of the editorial process at all; they were completely surprised when they saw our winners when we gave them a sneak peek.
FOLIO: How did your relationship with Dove begin?
Rollins: They’re a brand who’ve advertised in the pages of the magazine for a really long time and the genesis of it was over a lunch that we had with the brand. They were excited about the package we were doing and it just kind of went from there. It’s funny, with these kinds of projects, you want to be partnering with a brand that really reflects what you’re doing in the magazine; it has to feel natural and it has to feel like the synergy is exactly right, and that’s the way that it felt with Dove.
FOLIO: How does all this align with your editorial mission?
Rollins: Partly, it’s an extension of what we’re already doing in the magazine. This is the second year of our Real Women Style Awards, which was really a success with our readers. When we did it last year, we just put it inside the magazine and the reception was much bigger this time around.
On one hand, it just made sense that we were going to do it in a bigger way because there’s just not much fun in doing the same thing over and over again. And it’s also an extension of how much we know our readers enjoy seeing real women inside the magazine. I think women are craving seeing diversity in magazines. They want to see women who look like them and so it made sense that we put them on the cover.
FOLIO: What’s different about this year’s program?
Rollins: We actually had ten winners last year instead of the six that we have this year and our reader response was really great. When we announced that we were going to put the winners on the cover back in the spring, our numbers just really popped up. It’s not really that surprising; the chance of being on the cover of a magazine is still a really big deal. We had 5,000 pictures uploaded to the contest and then we narrowed it down to 25 finalists. Our readers were asked to vote for “Reader Winner” and we got 25,000 votes for that.
We [also] had a group of celebrity judges, two of whom were Brad Goreski, who does Fashion Police, and Mally Roncal, who’s a makeup artist for Beyoncé and has her own makeup line, they’re both columnists in the “Team Red” section of the magazine. They weighed in with their picks, as did Jill Martin from the Today Show, Gabi Gregg who has the GabiFresh blog, and Jodi Arnold who’s a designer for ELOQUII. It was interesting how they all sort of coalesced around the same six women who turned out to be our winners.
Rollins: Our editors looked through all of them. I have to give a big shout out to Tiffany Blackstone, who’s the deputy editor. I don’t know how she did it but she got through all of them. So, yes, we looked through all of them and we took our time with it and narrowed it down to the 25. The judges didn’t see anyone until we got it down to the 25.
FOLIO: Feel free to disagree, but there seems to be a general hesitation in magazine media to step outside the box and do things differently. Why do you think that is? And how do you reject that notion?
Rollins: The magazine business is in the business of selling magazines. You want to go with things that you know are going to work and that’s not news. We’ve done well on the newsstand so far this year. Taking a step towards putting real women on the cover might be risky on the one hand, I don’t know, ask me in a month, but it also felt like a natural progression for us. This was an award that we’ve done before; it doesn’t feel like a stunt at all.
We just posted pictures of the cover today [August 17] and some of the Instagram comments I’m getting are things like, “This is why I’m a subscriber to this magazine.” You create a cover in a vacuum, you put your very best effort out there, you hope you’re giving your readers something they’re going to love and connect to and to see it already feel that way is a very moving experience. It underlines the power of the magazine and the power of the printed page and also it’s just a perfect reflection of the time we’re in right now where women are craving images of women who look just like them. Diversity is incredibly important and it was just fun to put that on the cover of the magazine in a major way.
FOLIO: According to your media kit, 86 percent of your audience is 35 and above, but looking at the most current Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report, we see a lot of digital growth for your brand, especially in mobile Web traffic [+65 percent YoY]. Is your audience getting younger or more digitally savvy?
Rollins: It’s definitely both, our median age is going down and I think that’s great! I love our readers who’ve been with the brand for 40 years and write me letters talking about how they’re 75 years young. Those are some of my favorite letters that I get; they’re hilarious and great, but it’s nice to reach a new audience and know that we’re giving them something that no other brand is giving them. Just seeing those numbers go up, that’s a great sign that points to the vitality of the brand.
FOLIO: What are you doing differently with your content online than you are with the magazine?
Rollins: The stuff that rates online for us is the same stuff that rates online for a lot of other magazines. It’s quick little news stories and quick little bits of information that we can’t really keep up with. So automatically the website is a slightly different beast, but it has the same tone. I think it’s important the tone is the same throughout, but there are things that work well for our online audience that we wouldn’t necessarily put in the more curated print brand.
FOLIO: Any plans for video?
Rollins: We’ve done it here and there. We actually have a video that goes along with the Real Women Style Awards, which is very cute and they’re sharing all of their style tips and it’s great. We haven’t done a ton of it yet but we’re definitely not ruling it out for the future at all.
FOLIO: So the question we ask everyone: What’s the future of print for your brand? Will digital replace the magazine some day
Rollins: Honestly, it’s probably a long way off in the future. We know that our readers love to get an actual print copy in their hands whether it’s on the newsstand or in their mailbox. The numbers this year have been pretty great so I don’t see that for the immediate future.
Interestingly, we unveiled the cover to a very small group of people last week and one of them was Christine Buzan who is the woman with the red hair in the middle [on the cover]. She lives in New York and she came to the party and when we unveiled the cover she had tears in her eyes. So unbelievably excited at the idea of being on the cover of a magazine and I think that speaks volumes about the vitality of print overall. It’s a huge deal to be on the cover of a magazine, even for a 25-year-old who works in digital [marketing]. That, to me, sums it up.