Journalist Q&A: Lisa Lillien, Hungry Girl

Lisa Lillien, founder of Hungry Girl, talks to Brittaney Kiefer about how she only partners with brands she uses and loves and the evolution of the company from its early newsletter-only days.

Journalist Q&A: Lisa Lillien, Hungry Girl
Lisa Lillien

Hungry Girl
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Lisa Lillien, founder of Hungry Girl, talks to Brittaney Kiefer about how she only partners with brands she uses and loves and the evolution of the company from its early newsletter-only days.

How did you start Hungry Girl in 2004, and how have you grown the brand and audience?
I was a TV executive before Hungry Girl, but I was always obsessed with food. I wanted to create a relatable brand from every woman's perspective.

Hungry Girl started as a daily email because that was a unique way of delivering content back then. Readers wouldn't have to remember to visit a website, and then they could share the content with friends. The brand was built by word of mouth. I have never advertised because if you have good content, people will find a way to get it. That's what's so amazing about the Internet; it's a level playing field.

Between 70 and 80 people received the first email from a list of former colleagues, friends, and family. I told them to let me know if they wanted to receive more newsletters.

I'm against adding people to a mailing list without asking. From there, the numbers gradually increased. The first huge bump came from somebody talking about [Hungry Girl] on a Weight Watchers messageboard. A lot of nice PR came my way after that, including articles in People and Good Housekeeping.

How do you keep readers engaged?
We send daily emails Monday through Friday. Every day there's a different theme and the content changes to keep it fresh. We include breaking news, new recipes, and run it like a daily newspaper.

I've got a fantastic staff of 12 people, including editorial, recipe developers, a kitchen manager, and a graphic designer. I edit every piece of content to maintain the voice. If I wasn't Hungry Girl, I'd be the number one fan. I know what women want to eat, what tastes good, and what they're thinking, and that's what I put out there. If you don't think your content is great, why would anyone else?

On what other platforms have you expanded the brand?
The email newsletter is the heart and soul, but since 2008 publishing has also been a big part of the brand. Hungry Girl to the Max will come out October 16 - our biggest book ever with 650 recipes.

In the spring, we're releasing our 200 under 200 desserts book, which includes dessert recipes, all under 200 calories.

We launched a TV show with the Cooking Channel in 2010. It did so well that it was picked up by the Food Network.

Since 2008, Hungry Girl has published several recipes books including a cocktail guide.
How do you use social media for the brand?
I started to concentrate a lot on social media, branching out on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram because I like Hungry Girl content to be wherever potential fans are.

I use social media to communicate directly with the fans. I don't have anyone tweet or post for me. What's important about the brand is people feel like they're my friend.

My posts are not always related to food - they can be photos of cats and bunnies, what I'm eating and doing, and pop culture references. It's a fun hobby for me.

The people who are most successful with social media are those who really enjoy doing it, so it doesn't feel staged.

How have you partnered with brands?
I only partner with foods and brands that I use and love.

Anything paid for or sponsored is marked as such. I try to do creative things with the sponsors because I know I have a really engaged audience that believes in the brand and values what I say.

With General Mills, for example, I recently did a partnership with them for the Fiber One Chewy Bars where we created a sponsored Pinterest board sponsored along with a couponing campaign.

What is your view on reaching people through digital content instead of traditional media?
The Internet gives anyone the ability to stand out.

When I worked in TV, I saw people spending a lot of time and money on creating things for the Internet, but they weren't using the Web for what it's really good at, which is having people able to access what they want when they want it.

They were spending money on creating huge portals that appealed to a very small amount of people.

I did the exact opposite of that, creating a small amount of content that appealed to a lot of people.

What's the best way to pitch you?
I get a lot of PR pitches - 40 boxes of food every two weeks, at least. The best way is to email me. I go through that inbox every day.

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