HGTV Magazine's Peterson gets crafty to reach homeowners

Three years after launching HGTV Magazine, editor-in-chief Sara Peterson shares how the publication stays fresh.

Sara Peterson
Sara Peterson

Name: Sara Peterson
HGTV Magazine
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HGTV Magazine editor-in-chief Sara Peterson speaks to Brittaney Kiefer about listening to readers, and how the brand collaborates across multiple platforms to deliver creative content.

How long have you been at HGTV Magazine?
The magazine launched about three years ago, and I was working on the launch issue for about a year before we premiered – doing prototypes and research, and hiring a small staff to help create it. [Prior to joining HGTV Magazine, Peterson was editor of Coastal Living.]

Besides being under the HGTV brand, how did you set yourself apart when there are many home publications vying for readers?
We are the magazine that has the most fun with decorating. We love color, DIY projects, and pretty accessories that look like they cost more than they actually do.

We approach decorating with this attitude: It doesn’t have to be stressful, expensive, or intimidating. It should be a fun way to express your personality.

We have 1,016,455 subscribers and 1,353,974 readers [which includes subscribers and newsstand]. That’s up 14% over 2013 subscriptions.

Describe the magazine’s personality?
For the TV network and magazine, the personalities are the same. I had my thoughts about the brand before our research, but in all our focus groups everybody used the same words to describe the brand: Trustworthy, inspiring, approachable, and fun. As much as we want to entertain, we also want people to learn something new about the home.

How does HGTV Magazine work with the TV network?
We collaborate well and often. The network has been on for 20 years, and the magazine is the print extension of that brand. Once a month, I meet with some of the top editors, producers, and executives at HGTV to share updates about what we’re doing. The producers will tell me about shows they are running the most, new talent they’re bringing in, or advertising efforts, and I’ll share the stories we are planning.

We also try to do tie-ins with the network. For example, HGTV series Property Brothers started a new show, Brother vs. Brother, and we did a column where the stars faced off in the magazine. We try to sync up with content that’s on the network, but it’s never just a TV guide or promotion for the network. It’s about getting to know the designers, talent, and shows in more depth.

In the magazine, we can have more photos or information you might not have time for in a show.

We’re all part of one mother brand, so the magazine content lives on Every month we give them the best stories for the website. 

How have reader expectations changed?
Our readers have been pretty consistent, but lately they want more DIY ideas. They can’t get enough of that. For example, our flea market flips are popular. We’ve expanded the definition of DIY for the magazine – it’s not just ‘do it yourself’ but also ‘design it yourself,’ where you put your custom touches on something.

What’s coming up for the magazine?
We pick up speed in the spring and summer. In May, we will publish our second paint issue, with about 20 pages dedicated to paint ideas. The paint issue has four different versions of the cover, and HGTV’s network talent gets involved as well.

In June, we have a special pullout booklet, like a mini magazine, called the Annual MANual. We will feature about 10 to 12 guys from HGTV and the DIY Network, and each one is going to give in-depth information and advice for homeowners.

What lessons have you learned since launching?
More than any other magazine I’ve worked on, our readers are pretty vocal and we pay close attention as that makes it easier to deliver what they want. My main boss is the reader.

When you are in launch mode, you have to make something different with its own strong personality. You never want to lose sight of that goal even after one to three years. We always want to keep the title fresh, whether we are 1 or 5 years old.

How do you find inspiration when you are feeling stuck for new ideas?
I have to get out of that Manhattan magazine bubble and see what real homeowners are doing. I’ll call my friends in the Midwest and South, and keep tabs on what’s keeping them busy in their own homes.

I also just bought a house, so that gives me lots of new material for the magazine.

Who would you love to interview for the title?
Already got it. Both Kitchen Cousins Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri are appearing in features this year.

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