Martha Stewart Living’s Editor in Chief on the Magazine’s Redesign and Keeping the Business Relevant

Elizabeth Graves also shares thoughts on monetizing classic content

Graves represented the publication at the Meredith Corporation's Chicago Brandfront Presentation.
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If Martha Stewart Living were a person, it’d be living on its own for the first time now, learning how to throw dinner parties that don’t involve red, plastic cups and trying to make life as comfortable as possible.

As the magazine enters its 27th year, editor in chief Elizabeth Graves is leading the way. Graves answered some of Adweek’s questions about the magazine industry today, defining success when it comes to print and digital, and spearheading a redesign of the magazine.

Adweek: Martha Stewart Living recently went through a bit of a redesign. How do you approach adaptation as a brand?
Elizabeth Graves: At MSL, we think of ourselves in 2017 and beyond. We’re always trying to have a modern take on ourselves. When I stepped into this role [after previously leading Martha Stewart Weddings], I recognized this brand was by no means broken and had a loyal audience, so we didn’t want to turn the boat so quickly that we’d lose fans.

As editors, we’re always chasing the next best issue or the next best magazine, and Martha is always ready for an evolution or change. First, we reorganized inside our magazine and made sure they were articulated as cross-platform as possible. We have a huge breadth of content that doesn’t always get credit—there’s health and beauty content, so I wanted to help them get noticed.

After we reorganized a little, we started to refresh our content. With the help of great photographers, we’re continuing to instill joy in our readers. I wanted to reinject the joy I know our entire brand lives for. Plus, we’ve reincorporated Everyday Food [a digest from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia that folded in 2012] after an outcry from fans. They missed easy, elevated recipes. With Healthy Appetite, a successful column that we also turned into a video series, we hit all the notes of what our audience wants.

Finally, the redesign: The last time we had a redesign was 2013, and once we started looking at what to change, we realized it was more than we originally thought. We’re already looking at ways to improve it, as we always are, but the feedback has been wonderful. Martha also felt it was time and immediately liked the design direction we were considering. She’s always about adapting to the times.

After 27 years, how do you help keep the brand relevant, especially at a time when so many magazine editors are leaving or shaking things up?
I started reading Living as a high schooler because it inspired me to want to do things. That’s how I want the magazine to continue on. It’s all about making people’s lives better or more comfortable. It gives them things to do in their downtime. Wanting to have the most comfortable bed or eating delicious food or celebrating holidays in memorable ways will never go away.

Martha Stewart Living, then, is timeless. And that’s no small task in our 27th year. People want to take advantage of things that make them feel in control. I feel very lucky we’re not in the business of trying to beat others on newsstands about who’s breaking up or making up. We just take things one day at a time and focus on making good decisions for the values of the brand.

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What do you look for in stories? What does your audience come to you for?
Martha always had a flight plan. Like on an airplane when the pilot gets in, they check all the instruments before they take off to make sure it’s working. We do that with our pitches and content ideas, kinda kick the tires on it to see if it’s a fit.

Our content should be useful, original, authentic, beautiful and help people learn something. Martha’s been known from the beginning as someone who makes creating a home into an art form. And she enjoys the process of doing that for family and friends. Our editors want to come up with ideas that surprise and delight themselves, which helps the magazine become inspiring. We want our content to be approachable and achievable.

Our audience tends to be highly achieving women who like to be pushed; they’re up for something innovative and new, and they also love sharing the results with their friends or with us. We have a spirit of: Why not design your life?

With the redesign behind you, what other successes have you seen recently? What will you continue to take to your readers?
It was so great to see the redesign, especially after so much work went into it. We’re allowed one pause to appreciate it, then it’s back to think of how to evolve it. Our Healthy Appetite and Sweet Talk columns have both grown really well online, as well as remaining popular features in the magazine, and we’ve been able to monetize those as well.

We don’t love to use the word “perfect,” but we use it in our Perfecting column, which was also turned into a web series. They’re kind of one-on-ones led by Sarah Carey [MSL’s editorial director of food] that teach our readers and viewers great tips on classic things you want to do better. It’s been rewarding to see these columns and content be where our reader needs us.

Martha Stewart will be honored at Adweek’s upcoming Elevate: Publishing event on Nov 1. For more information on Elevate, click here.