Men's Health editor doesn't sweat about the future of print

Bill Phillips, editor-in-chief of Men's Health, speaks to Lindsay Stein about his new book and a risky move to find a cover star.

Bill Phillips
Bill Phillips

Name: Bill Phillips
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: Men’s Health
Preferred contact:

What have you been most proud of since taking the helm in 2012?
One of the proudest things we have done is the Ultimate Men’s Health Guy search, which we did last year with the support of Kenneth Cole Mankind. That was a major risk.

For the first time, we put a reader on the cover through a contest. We had no idea if anybody would apply. However, we got 1,246 entries, most of which were amazing. It was so daunting to cut it down to one: Noah Galloway. And to see his success since winning and appearing on our November 2014 cover has been the coolest thing. Galloway became the face of Kenneth Cole Mankind and participated in Dancing With the Stars. [He is a former US Army sergeant who lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg just above the knee during his second tour of duty in Iraq in 2005. Galloway will be a contest judge this year.]

As a successful brand, you don’t want to do something that is a major mistake because so many stakeholders, readers, and advertisers are counting on you.

But Maria Rodale, CEO and chairman of Rodale [which owns Men’s Health], and Scott Schulman, president of the company, encourage risk-taking and that was one that really paid off, so much so that we are doing it again this year. It’s going to be the highlight of the year for us. Last year’s issue was among the best-selling of 2014.

Tell me about the book coming out this month.
It is called The Better Man Project. It’s really an owner’s manual to being a man.

Initially, when I arrived at the magazine, I thought it would be a two-year stop or a stepping stone to something bigger and better, but what I didn’t realize is that it was a stepping stone into a better me. Once you start living by the brand and what it can teach you, you change and don’t want to go anywhere.

This book captures the latest science-related tips and advice from our experts in terms of how men can be the best version of themselves across every category, whether it’s health, fitness, fatherhood, or being a husband or boyfriend.

One of the coolest parts of the book is the last chapter, which has 35 projects. They’re meant to be easily digestible ideas about how to improve yourself, such as lowering your blood pressure, being more interesting, or being a better father. It’s something you can start today and in a week or two, see results. Once you see those results, you can move on to another project.

Do you ever think digital will overtake print?
Print is here to stay. We treat print and digital as separate, but complementary businesses. We have 13 million men and women reading the print magazine, but we also have 12 million to 13 million unique visitors online per month.

The site is not an extension of the magazine. Yes, some stories in the magazine eventually appear online, but we’re a daily news operation and we are breaking news and coming up with cool tools and microsites.

Are your audiences online and in print different?
On average, our online readers are five years younger than our print audience. The magazine reader is really engaged. I try to engage anybody who writes into Men’s Health in some way, because I want to know what they are thinking and how we can improve. They are passionate, articulate, and they expect nothing but world-class ideas and content from the magazine.

Digital audiences, in general, are a little bit brand agnostic. They often come in through side doors, such as Twitter or Facebook, and though they are aware of Men’s Health or have an affinity for the brand, they don’t come in with the same passion and expectations of the print readers. They move on quicker, but for print readers, each issue is an event.

What’s your advice for aspiring journalists?
Chase great stories, not clicks. In the end, quality journalism, information, and tips – all well-researched and fact-checked – will rise above everything else. The brands that have stuck to quality and being authentic are going to win. Credibility is going to get more important.

What guidance do you have for PR pros?
PR folks have a challenging job because it’s hard to get attention and be heard above the noise of not just other pitches, but emails. My advice is to develop relationships. It’s easier when you know me and say we worked together in the past. It’s hard to cold pitch somebody these days through email or calls.

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