Liz Vaccariello was 23 years old when she bought a flight ticket to New York City. In her 20s, she was living in Cleveland. She didn’t know any New York publishers. She went to the local library and found the addresses and names of fifty of New York’s top newspaper and magazine editors. She sent letters asking for meetings — to all 50 of them.
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right,”Sie says. “I wanted to pack in as many interviews as possible. And it worked. I came home at the end of the week with a job offer.”
She was offered the position as articles editor at Fitness magazine. But one of the other editors who responded to Vaccariello’s letter was Carol Wallace, the second woman to run People since its founding in 1974. Wallace was not looking for a job but Vaccariello saw her first glimpse of her. “magic mix”That is People. A mélange of intimate newsmaker profiles (almost always done in the subject’s home) with inspirational — and sometimes devastating — stories about ordinary people, People has remained true to its original intent.
Today, Vaccariello, a married mother of 17-year-old twins, is People’s new editor in chief (and vice president), named to the post in February after DotDash, the publishing arm of Barry Diller’s IAC, acquired People parent Meredith last fall for about $2.7 billion. Vaccariello comes to People having held leadership positions in several Meredith publications, including Real Simple. She’s also written several dieting and cookbooks.
People remains one of the most popular magazines in America, with over 25 million readers and an audience totaling more than 100,000,000 (including digital and print) Many spin-offs, podcasts, and TV franchises are available. “People Magazine Investigates”Investigation Discovery is entering its sixth season. The brand will premiere a show at HGTV this April. “Home Town”Ben and Erin Napier were married. “Home Town Kickstart.”
In a wired world that has obliterated the profit margins of dozens of magazines and local newspapers, People is still among a handful of titles that sells — and occasionally sell out — at newsstands. You will still find it in your doctor’s office, at the nail salon and at airport lounges. You can leave it alone, and without the need for a digital paywall. Vaccariello says: “People is more relevant than ever.”
Q: Which is the most difficult thing for magazines at this time?
Liz Vaccariello: Anyone who works at a magazine will tell you that they’re an employee of the brand. If we’re talking about magazines specifically, People very much still thrives as a print product. The number of subscribers has remained stable for over a decade. We still have a readership of 25 million, and that’s just print. No other competitor can reach as many adults as we do. Our readership is greater than all of our competitors combined. Our readers still love getting this magazine in the mail, putting it on their coffee table, and using it as an escape while they’re at home. Our goal is to keep them entertained, pique their interest and take them on an exciting journey with a true story. We also delight them with the glamorous Hollywood.
WWD: What is the secret to People’s survival? Many have either stopped publishing print editions or switched to digital only brands. What’s the People secret?
L.V.: The secret sauce really is built into People’s DNA, and first and foremost, it is about trust, truth, credibility. People magazine is personality driven. But the most important thing about the People brand is that if you read it in People, you know it’s true. People is still the preferred publication for celebrities to publish their biggest news. It’s a vast audience reach for these big moments in their lives, both happy and sad. Whether somebody is announcing their sexual identity, talking about death or an engagement, we’re the publication that’s most trusted. We’re going to get it right.
WWD: What do magazine covers mean?
L.V.:It is impossible to underestimate the power of magazine covers. This is an unforgettable moment. Jojo Siwa was featured in the pages. The death of Nick Cannon’s baby, he wanted to talk to People magazine about it. This was an opportunity for him to talk about his feelings. I think that’s part of the magic. There’s still power and a meaning behind being on the cover of a magazine.
WWD: Celebrities are using social media to share personal and professional information. Is this affecting the availability of exclusive reveals to be booked?
L.V.: That’s a great question. We might take it a step further with weddings. An exclusive video might be made. The inside scoop on the ring might be shared. We’ll have the first big photoshoot with a couple. We still have that access. Exclusive moments will be available. And then if there’s a story that’s complex, which most emotional stories are, we still get that because the newsmakers trust People to get the complexities right. To not be clickbait about it. No, we’re not going to get every celebrity wedding photo first, but we still get a lot of them first. We get deeper layers and we get different access.
WWD: People’s bread and butter have been the emotional reveal. Many celebrities use Instagram to share these stories. It makes me wonder, though, if this is becoming more difficult in today’s digital age.
L.V.: It’s changed. I would say that sometimes a celebrity, an actor or an actress, isn’t comfortable or doesn’t feel like they’re articulate enough to put words to what they’ve been through. People magazine provides them with the best storytelling. Lizzo is an excellent example. We did a cover on Lizzo [Vaccariello’s first cover as editor] and we didn’t even talk about her body until several paragraphs in. Und sie sagte, “I want to own it. I want to own fat shaming. I’m not embarrassed to talk about it. Let’s talk about it.”We are, because, this is her quote “If I don’t show people what I went through, the kids won’t have the keys.” So there’s something about sharing who you are and why you are the way you are through a brand like People. You aren’t just speaking to your target audience because of our scale. You’re amplifying who you are and why you do what you do to a broader audience.
WWD: Is photography important in booking these covers. How important is photography at People?
L.V.: People has a reputation for personality journalism and photography is vital to it. This project required a lot more thought and effort. When people’s magazines started almost 50 years ago, we wouldn’t do an interview unless we could do it in someone’s home or on a walk with them. Our goal was to showcase the human side the newsmaker. Today [newsmakers] are either showing everybody everything, or they don’t want to show anybody anything. The special sauce is the photography power and access we have to some of the most well-known photographers around the globe, along with up-and coming photographers. The current issue features a profile of Tinx, which spans four pages. [Los Angeles-based lifestyle content creator Christina Najjar]She is kind of the Oprah from TikTok. Art Streiber shot her. She is a woman who can do everything on her smartphone. You can celebrate this persona and show Tinx so beautifully and powerfully when you open People magazine.
WWD: Do your journalists feel that celebrities are less likely to interview in person due to the popularity of Zoom since the outbreak?
L.V.:Two years ago, I believe everyone understands the importance of face-to-face interaction. It is still possible to have that interaction with people. Our journalists are on [film and TV] sets. [Writer] Jason Sheeler went to Lizzo’s house. This is because of the kind of story that we’re doing, it’s not the talking points. It’s the whole package, the whole environment. That’s what’s going to show people your personality. And that’s what we’re about.
WWD: Do you place a lot of emphasis on celebrity news? This is an extremely competitive industry.
L.V.:People.com is a part of our DNA. We do original reporting every day. Every week I receive a report on our newsmaker interviews, and People is the source all other aggregators use. If you are a former “Bachelor”Colton Underwood was engaged to us, and we talked to him. But also, we’re going to knock on the door of the criminal who just got indicted. It is this access and original reporting that makes us stand out. We are the trusted source, that’s part of why we’re able to break news. However, exclusives are what we seek. Going first does matter. But I’m of the opinion — maybe because I come from Cleveland and not from the coasts even though I’ve been in New York for 20-plus years — our readers aren’t reading the Hollywood trades. So to me, it’s not the end of the world if Lizzo talks about her new television show in Variety a few days before we did our cover story.
WWD: Magazines have had to close down and downsize due to declining print revenues. Digital revenue is not sustainable. People seems to be somewhat shielded from the digital collapse, as it has 25 million printed subscribers.
L.V.: We’re doing the balancing act that every magazine brand has; print revenue is going down and digital revenue is going up. All of this is supported by strategic plans. We’re big enough and our consumer revenue is high enough because of our millions of subscribers and people who will pay $6 an issue at the newsstand. People has a much larger revenue share than any other platform. We’re still getting millions in advertising. Our influence is very strong in the media industry.
WWD: So you don’t envision People going behind any kind of paywall?
L.V.: People’s content is for everyone and we do not have plans for paywalls. Our audience enjoys a premium experience that we are constantly improving.
WWD: Your new role as editor in chief? Are there coverage areas you’re looking to expand or break into?
L.V.This is the same magic mix that has been in place for over a century. We’re about the headliners. We’re about the stars and the up-and-comers, human interest, crime is very important to the mix. I’d say if there’s one thing that I personally want to bring to the table it’s really new voices. Sports are something I’m more passionate about than the characters in the NFL. Beauty is something that I really care about. You’ll see more beauty in our pages. Television already has a large presence for us.
WWD: Which person would you like to be on the cover of your magazine?
L.V.:While this is not something I fancy much, it’s still a great cover and would be awesome to have Jason Bateman. I’m a huge “Ozarks” fan. He’s got a wonderful story to tell. I’m not interested in his marriage or his family, but just as a media personality and the choices that he’s made. He is fascinating to me. Will Smith is a great friend of mine. I can’t get enough Will Smith and I can’t get enough of his wife Jada and that whole family.
WWD: Your career is clearly on the rise right now. Where was your career lowest?
L.V.: As I say to my mom, they love me until they don’t. Many companies have seen leadership changes. And I’ve been sort of tapped on the shoulder and told, you know, maybe we want to make a change. Sometimes it’s because I just didn’t have the same vision as the new person coming in. Sometimes it’s because I made too much money. Losing your job in magazines is never a detriment, it’s just part of the résumé. However, there were moments when I was unsure if my actions were correct. What could I do to win the new CEO’s trust? You are all that you can do. I’ve tried to learn and become a better manager and leader and employee, but I am who I am. While I do my best to remain professional, I still have a positive personality. I’m optimistic. I’m not going to ever work well at a magazine or a media brand that is sort of cynical. Or gossipy. It has been a blessing to stay true to my values. Telling stories is what I love to do. Video is what I am passionate about. I love TV, but written stories, magazine stories, that’s where my heart is.