House Beautiful’s EIC on Why ‘A Woman’s Touch’ Is Good for Business

Back to school for the kids, and back to Michael's for the media set.

House Beautiful EIC Sophie Donnelson and FishbowlNY's Diane Clehane
House Beautiful EIC Sophie Donnelson and FishbowlNY's Diane Clehane
House Beautiful Editor in Chief Sophie Donelson and FishbowlNY’s Diane Clehane
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It’s back to school and the cool kids have returned to the cafeteria! The media mob was out in force at Michael’s today despite the soul crushing heat. I was joined by Sophie Donelson, editor in chief of House Beautiful since January of this year. The tireless and terrific Alexandra Carlin, Hearst’s vice president of public relations arranged our tête-à-tête. As a longtime fan of the magazine and a homeowner who gets completely overwhelmed at the prospect of having to buy living room curtains, I was eager to get Sophie’s point of view on how she makes the daunting task of decorating without divorce. After discussing the finer points on how to get your spouse to sign on to your design choices with the minimum amount of angst –“You’ve got to know which rooms are important to you, focus on those and let him have his own space,” counseled Sophie, we got down to business.

Having arrived for our lunch bearing copies of the September and October issues with their requisite cheerful and beautifully executed color coordinated interiors and cover lines, Sophie was brimming with enthusiasm about her still new-ish job as EIC. While her CV boasts impressive credentials in shelter magazines — she was “fresh out of college ” when she began working for Newell Turner (who is now once again her boss) at Hamptons Cottages & Gardens and has held senior editorial positions at ELLE DECOR and Martha Stewart’s Blueprint, she told me she feels most at home at Hearst. “The culture of Hearst is very unique. There is a complete lack of ego. Everyone is so even keeled and people want you to succeed. They root for you,” she marveled. “I never expected it.”

Perhaps that’s because she’s off to a roaring start. The July/August issue — Sophie’s official first issue  — was the biggest July/August House Beautiful ever with a native advertising series from Sherwin-Williams and a multi-page insert for Pottery Barn. Only the second female EIC in the last twenty-five years, Sophie told me it’s “a women’s touch” that has helped beautify the magazine’s pages and lure more advertisers. “There’s an element of prettiness people expect from House Beautiful.” The book is an inviting mix of the accessible and the aspirational that taps into readers’ desire for “shiny indulgences” and innovative ideas on how a well decorated home can enhance one’s overall enjoyment of life. “We forget living here that in most parts of the country people are entertaining at home — hosting the big game, family dinners and special occasions,” said Sophie between bites of salad nicoise. “It’s about living well.”

Advertisers are also liking what they see. “They know when I’m talking about the kind of light I like in a bathroom for putting on makeup, I know what I’m talking about.” To wit: beauty advertising is up one hundred percent with new business from L’Oreal and Neutrogena since Sophie’s arrival.  And speaking of bathrooms, Sophie is planning a first ever ‘Bath & Beauty’ issue for November highlighting all the different ways her readers can create their personal sanctuary in their homes. “Kitchens and bathrooms are always smushed together. I felt like they needed to be treated separately. Kitchens are communal and are for the family. The bath is where women go to escape. It’s their alone time.”

I asked Sophie why she referred to her reader as female. “At the end of the day, it’s a women’s magazine,” she told me. “And it’s multi-generational. I write articles about life levels — there’s empty nesters who are upgrading and downsizing and then there’s couples in their thirties who’ve just bought their first real home.” Sophie did say that the thirteen percent of her audience that is male is “very vocal” and “diehard” about the magazine. Not doubt they’ll have plenty to say about the cover story ‘Paint Colors Men Love’ in the October issue. Regardless of gender, said Sophie, “Our readers know good content and the magazine is the ultimate dog-earred decorating magazine.”

One thing is for sure, it’s definitely the biggest — and that’s saying something in its super competitive set. House Beautiful’s social media platforms reach 6.1 million and it’s in the top ten magazine brands on Facebook. Sophie told me she is a huge fan of Instagram which is a great source of inspiration, story ideas and locations. “I’ll see a great farmhouse and ask, ‘Has this been shot before?’ We never show anything that our readers have seen anywhere else.”

As we finished up our coffee, Sophie offered a final tasty tidbit during this afternoon’s lunch. She’s married to my predecessor, Greg Lindsay, now an author and inspirational speaker. I always say all roads lead to Michael’s — and it’s great to be back in the Fishbowl.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. The early show: SiriusXM’s president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein, attorney Allen Grubman and two other fellows we meet. Chapter two: Barron’s managing editor Phil Roosevelt

2. Peter Brown

3. Joan Jakobson and Lorraine Boyle (the late, great Peter Boyle’s wife)

4. Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers

5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

6. Kate Johnson Edelman

7. Actress Leesa Rowland and former Miss USA Julie Hayek

8. Uber agent Ed Victor celebrating his birthday with his wife, Carol Victor. Cheers!

9.  Elevate’s EIC Richard Perez Feria

11. Wayne Kabak

12. Sherrie Westin

14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew

15. British Heritage’s publisher Jack Kliger

16. Shelia Johnson

17. Luke Janklow

18. Round One: Hank Ratner, vice chairman of Madison Square Garden and Cablevision; Act Two: Producer Beverly Camhe and Bill McCuddy

20. Glamour’s glam publisher Connie Anne Phillips

21. The dashing Euan Rellie and The Guardian’s film critic Tom Shone. I stopped by their table to say hello and Euan told me about Tom’s new book, Woody Allen: A Retrospective due out from Abrams next month. Euan tells me they’re pals dating back to “the wild London of the early nineties.”

23. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Bisila Bokoko

25. Attorney Bob Barnett

26. PR princess Elizabeth Harrison

27. Sophie Donelson, Alexandra Carlin and yours truly

29. David Sanford and Lewis Stein. I would like to take a moment to add my congratulations to the long list of David’s friends and colleagues and salute him on his incredible 50 year career in journalism which included winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for chronicling his battle with AIDS. Last week, David retired after 35 years at The Wall Street Journal. We are in awe, sir.

81. Barry Frey and Mike Shehan, co-founder and CEO of SpotX

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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