Interview: Sharon King Hoge

Sharon King Hoge, the editor-in-chief of Verdant magazine, talks to PRWeek about her PR and journalism experience, as well as the external factors that are affecting the green movement and the role that Verdant plays in green media.

Sharon King Hoge, the editor-in-chief of Verdant magazine, talks to PRWeek about her PR and journalism experience, as well as the external factors that are affecting the green movement and the role that Verdant plays in green media.

PRWeek: Tell me a little bit about your career path to editor-in-chief of Verdant.

Sharon King Hoge: It's actually a two-sided career path because I started in PR working for the attorney general of Massachusetts and for Harvard University Press and being on the publicity side, and then for many years I was on the television side. I was a broadcaster, a consumer reporter on the news, and I also hosted a daytime hourly live talk show. So I had the chance to be both the person who was pitching things and the person who was the pitchee. I really got to see both sides of PR, which was helpful I think.

PRWeek: Why did you switch from PR to journalism?

Hoge: They are always related because you're always disseminating information. I was in graduate school, and I was offered a job to be a journalist. I had a lot of experience, from the time I started my grade-school newsletter to working on journalism through college, so it wasn't a hard switch. Even when I was working for the attorney general of Massachusetts, I was writing a column for the weekly newspapers that we were sending out. It always overlapped.

PRWeek: Has the environment always been a theme in the history of your career?

Hoge: It has always cropped up. From the beginning, when I was growing up on a farm in North Dakota with grandparents who had been through the depression and were very aware of the environment and making the most of everything. Then, I was a consumer reporter in the 1970s and covered the first energy crisis. We had the first awareness of gas prices rising. I covered that extensively as a consumer reporter at WBZ-TV in Boston. We used to present every day what we called the “shocking over-kilowatt awards” to companies who weren't turning off their lights at night for instance.

PRWeek: What do you like best about your position at Verdant?

Hoge: I've always been lucky to be able to do journalism and even PR that was in a way instructive or educational. One of the nicest things to me is helping people discover new areas where they can maybe change their lifestyles in a way that is beneficial to them and the world in general.

PRWeek: What separates Verdant from other green magazines and blogs? They all sort of popped out of nowhere.

They all did, and I think what's different about Verdant is we're a little more higher-end. We're a sister of the cottage and gardens interior magazines, which are beautiful shelter magazines. Our approach at Verdant is that it didn't have to be a grim Birkenstock, organic way of life. You can have a very sophisticated upscale lifestyle which also is reverent to the environment.

PRWeek: Do you cover a lot of fashion and luxury?

Hoge: We have everything at Verdant. It's art, architecture, food, fashion, and travel. Everything in the world and all industries are becoming more ecologically aware, especially overseas. So we're able to tap into all of that as a general interest magazine.

PRWeek: Who is your main reader?

Hoge: A person who reads just general beautiful shelter and lifestyle magazines.

PRWeek: How do you keep up with trends and ideas relevant to the green movement and the publication?

Hoge: Partly, we just try to be aware of everything, but partly that's where the PR aspect is just being unbelievable. We're inundated, which is wonderful, with calls and news releases and information from companies who are introducing new green products and concepts. So a lot of it is just coming to us.

PRWeek: Since the launch of the magazine, what are some external factors that may have impacted the green movement and then the tone of Verdant's content?

The main thing that's happened is there's so much green awareness now. it's not just a sort of off and left-field topic. That's changed immensely in the last couple of years. It just gives us more opportunity to focus on some of the more luxurious aspects of it when some of the other publications are focused on the hard core nitty gritty.

PRWeek: How is the economy affecting all of this?

Hoge: Gas prices are starting to have an impact. We're noticing that since air travel isn't as easy, there's more attention being paid to local and national destinations; also, you have to drive to those. I think that as the economy gets tighter you have to be more and more frugal, and that is kind of an element of environmentally aware living. We talk a lot about global warming, but it isn't just about global warming. It's about squandering. In a way, we've just been a publication that sort of you use it and you throw it away, or you buy it and you don't like it and you throw it away. We don't really put a value on things in a way that people used to have to, and in a way Europeans have had to [do so] more because they didn't have the unlimited resources we had in America. Awareness of that is all going to come into play.

PRWeek: Do you think the green subject-matter is limiting or will be at some point?

Hoge: No. It's so unlimited, because the way I was working on television, especially in Boston where I was for nine years, you get into a cycle, where in January you do the champagne story and you do the Valentines Day story in February and the tax story in April, it got repetitious, and what's wonderful and fascinating about the green movement is there's so much new. There are new light bulbs – Well, how do they work? How do you use them? There are new solar panels. There are new ways of heating your home. There are all sorts of new things. And that makes it even more exciting.

PRWeek: How do you respond to the green-washing issue and concept?

Hoge: You can try to fit angels on heads of pins. People have always done that, and it's very possible to do with green washing. What you have to do is try to be as informed as you can be, yourself, about whether or not companies are trying to put something over on you and also be aware that any little bit of improvement is a bit of improvement or at least a new awareness and all of that will ultimately contribute to enlightened views.

PRWeek: So what kind of interaction do you have with PR people?

Hoge: Just constant and daily. They call, email, leave messages, send things. There are all kinds of different approaches.

PRWeek: Do you have any advice for PR people pitching your magazine?

Hoge: Make it as simple as possible. The simplest thing is, if I was back in PR at this point, to be aware that the person I'm pitching is very, very busy, and now especially with the ways we have access to e-mail and fax and things I didn't even have when I was on television. You're inundated with information. What's helpful to me is get the information clearly – this is what you're going to tell me - concisely, and then you tell me how to reach you. That can make a huge difference.

PRWeek: What do you expect for the future of the green movement and the media that covers it?

Hoge: I don't think it's a fad because there are some factors that make it something permanent. For one thing, there are so many people on the globe. If you have a roommate, you can't just keep adding new roommates and adding new roommates and adding new roommates indefinitely. Something has to give, and there are so many more people on the planet than there even were during the Kennedy Administration. There was a recent television show that said that if everyone in the world lived with the kind of extravagant resources we live with in America, we would need four planets to supply everyone. Even if it were two planets to sustain everyone, something's got to give.

I have a house overseas, and I already see a lot of changes. I drove by the recycling center a couple of months ago, and it was just jammed with people. I said, “What's happening?” They said, “You have to pay. If you don't bring in the things yourself, you're taxed for it.” That's just a way of life there now. I think we'll inevitably be seeing those changes and they'll be good.

PRWeek: Do you think we'll follow in the footsteps of the global movement? Are we leading it in some ways?

Hoge: I think we're really not leading it. We're leading away from it. Possibly with a change of administration we'll have more awareness of it. Also, there are some industries that are much more aware of it than others. The building industry has changed considerably in the last 10 or 20 years and become far more environmentally economical.

PRWeek: I understand that the print magazine is currently on hold.

Hoge: It's on hold and we're doing work on the Web at this point. We update it pretty much weekly. We're focusing our efforts on sort of setting a solid business foundation and then we'll resume with the publishing and remain part of Cottages and Gardens.

Name: Sharon King Hoge

Title: Editor-in-chief

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