Everybody's a Critic

Re-branding BH&G

This just in from a Better Homes & Gardens editor who spoke at a recent media gathering:

  • The hard-working folks at BH&G’s parent company Meredith (slogan: We Inspire. She Makes It Happen) have re-branded their editorial staff as Content Strategists.  Whenever a piece of content (commodities that were themselves re-branded from their old, boring names of ‘writing’ and ‘art’) comes their way, they strategize over what to do with it. Should it be an article? A sidebar? A blog? A book? A video?  An email? A video game? A toy?  A tool? A punctuation mark?  It’s up to the strategists.
  • The way to really make bank at BH&G is to suggest homes or gardens for them to photograph.  If you do that, you’re called a ‘finder’, and you get $500 just for finding it.  If you take the photos or write the article, you also get a cookie.  (Kidding.  They do pay for that, too.)
  • You’re gonna see a lot more of those now-and-then ‘specialty’ publications from them (BH&G Decks & Patios, that sort of thing)
  • One of those specialty publications, Nature’s Garden, is all about gardening WITH nature.  As opposed to…well, never mind.  One word they don’t use in Nature’s Garden? "The O-word." Why?  "Well, there’s another magazine that has that pretty well covered." That’s right.  Even ‘organic’ has been re-branded as…uh…gardening with nature.  But not necessarily without Miracle-Gro.  I get it.  I guess.
  • They’re having a devil of a time figuring out how to reach those durned twenty and thirty-something gardeners. Are they out there?  Who are they? What do they want?  Not the O-word, right?   We don’t use the O-word.  It’s not part of our content strategy.

You figure it out.  I’m going back to bed.

Posted by on April 7, 2008 at 5:51 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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24 responses to “Re-branding BH&G”

  1. Michele Owens says:

    As far as I can tell, those twenty-somethings have all been to good colleges as a prelude to career in farming. I have been meeting more young, college educated farmers! So those magazine people ought to embrace the “o” word.

  2. Grey says:

    I’m an early 30something gardener, who spends a lot of time helping 20something and 30something gardners figure out what they are doing. My group wants all kinds of gardening advice, tips on companion planting, and yes, the O-word! We want fresh veggies over that irradiated crap in the store.

  3. Anita says:

    I’m twenty-something, and I want honesty; I want to see real pictures of real gardens and get real advice about how to make-do on a tiny budget. I want to know about companion planting. I want to see picture trials of organic methods and controversial subjects. I’d like ongoing features on the work in a particular space, and encouragement in the slow-and-steady improvement.
    If I found that in a magazine, I’d pay for it.

  4. Kim says:

    I’m 32, and I would love to see more of the o-word, but not in the gimmicky way that it is usually used. “M______ G___ O_______” does not cut it for me. (Neither, to be fair, does the thoughtless use of any organic fertilizer.) Composting is nice, but what about other tricks like starting annuals from seed and planting more of them together in clusters instead of relying on any kind of fertilizer?

    I also want everything that Anita wants… and articles on how to mix ornamentals and edibles artfully (not just pretty kitchen gardens–yes, most of them are pretty) and articles on modern gardening. Reusing things cleverly, mixing heirlooms with modern schemes, etc.

  5. Patti in NNY says:

    I’m 34 and I’m wondering if any of you other 30 something gardeners would be my friend. Everyone in my garden clubs has at least 20 years on me. I’d like to talk to someone about the challenges and rewards of gardening with small children around, rather than the impact of pulling weeds with arthritic hands.

    But I enjoyed this post. BHG has irritated me for some time. I just discovered this blog and knew I would stick around after only reading that wonderful manifesto. Thank you, ladies!

  6. Benjamin says:

    I’m 31, will have a PhD in a year, like writing, gardening, long walks in the organic tall grass prairie, responsibly grown high-cocoa-content chocolate on co2-induced warm January evenings–wait, I’m married. I’ve worked in a marketing “firm” where every creative term we had was switched to the above types of mechanical titles. We stopped producing art or caring about the end user’s smart, raw humanity. Did I say end user? See? Damn it all. No one thinks anyone else is passionate or smart anymore. That’s the problem. Stop spoon feeding people plasticized, assembly line thinking, please, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised what happens.

  7. Kim says:

    Amen to Benjamin. (And it’s so easy to buy into this stuff, isn’t it? I was just wondering whether I needed a content strategy for my hobby blog. And I don’t even have advertising!)

  8. Mathi says:

    I am also a 30-something gardener. I have found plenty of information on the general stuff (‘O’ is not a new concept at all, the library has tons on it).

    What I am looking for are the little things. The creative extras that are hard to describe but make you say ‘ooh I should do that’ when you read one. Compost and other fundamentals are great…but real people giving real eureka moments are what I want to read.

  9. aepva says:

    Hear hear. I’m a thirtysomething and I have to say that what I want in a garden magazine is more like what I get with Dwell. Yes, it’s sometimes too pretentious, has overtones of architect porn, and comes often appears to forget most of us live on budgets. But it nonetheless speaks on an intelligent level that this non-architect and non-designer can understand–and it even educates me. It has features and regular columns explaining the history and significance of design icons, does interesting reviews of modernist design in cities worldwide (for the traveler looking for modernist fare), all the while doing its core job of showcasing modernist projects and properties.

    So…BH&G, stop picturing me as a consumer for starters. I don’t think I could ever afford most of what I see in any magazine anyway. Stop thinking I have the attention span of a gnat. If it seems that way, it’s only because I’m turned off by superficial content manufactured by ‘content strategists’.

    Instead, start thinking about me as someone who invests wisely – I am jealous with my time, my money, and my energy. I did all the finish work in the recent addition to my home, saving thousands of dollars in labor that allowed me to spend more on sustainable materials.

    Guess what? I did it all from reading books, talking to my local green building suppliers, and scouring trusted websites like Taunton’s Fine Homebuilding. I did not do it by reading sidebars in mass market magazines. I didn’t even go to them for ideas, because they were so far removed from what I wanted in materials and prices.

    I was (and still am – kitchen is next) an avid consumer of information on sustainable choices that are not only affordable but also available to and install-able by homeowners and DIYers. So, I challenge BH&G to publish something more like that.

    And one more word on the ‘specialty publications.’ As I see it, they should be renamed ‘magazines about products, with some articles thrown in’. To me, one of the great mysteries of the American public is that people will actually pay $5.95 for a magazine full of product announcements that lacks comparative reviews by experts. But in an age when TV news anchors get to hawk their own books on air–without a peep of indignation from the listening public—I suppose the specialty publication was inevitable.

    Oh yes, did I mention I watch less than 1 hour of TV a week? Baseball, football, and soccer. Not much else worth watching any more.

  10. I’m 33 and I want a reason to read. It has to be an interesting story, great idea that I can copy without spending $500, fantastic photos, good plant information, not be written for a complete novice, but not full of so much information that I tune out. I prefer a conversational style of writing, which may be why I read so many blogs and so few magazines.

  11. Reading Dirt says:

    I want a garden magazine that’s about gardens — not garden products, not garden ornaments, not garden furniture and outdoor stoves and all those gewgaws. Not fancy-schmancy plants that require a home improvement loan to buy and care for. Not even gardens designed by professional landscapers that require a coordinated team coming in weekly to maintain.

    I want real gardens made by real people who have jobs other than gardening, landscaping, or nurseries. I want a magazine that finds beauty in that old rowboat someone turned into a giant planter for their front yard (really — I know where to find it), in the tractor tire painted white and filled with pink petunias, in the messy little square of radishes and beans planted by a three-year-old who “checks” the roots every day to see how they’re doing.

    I’m a gardener. Not a landscaper, not a “designer” who “decorates” with “plant material,” and NOT a garden product consumer. Just a gardener.

    So where’s my magazine? I guess Green Prints will do for now, though it doesn’t have photos. Just got a subscription.

  12. Emma says:

    I’m a 33 year old gardener AND a reader of Nature’s Garden. I have to wonder..have you read the magazine? I don’t know about content strategy and finding fees and even that Meredith publishes Nature’s Garden. I do know that thanks to this magazine, I saw my very first humming bird in my backyard last summer, I now buy ORGANIC worm poop plant food packaged in recycle plastic pop bottles (it was voted best green company by Newsweek–are they a Meredith magazine?), got the idea to buy my butterfly-loving sister a buddelia plant, AND get this…I bought Amy Stewart’s book “The Earth Moved ” after reading a glowing review of it by Adam Levine in the Summer 2007 issue. I don’t get it? What’s the problem? It’s encouraging me and others to embrace wildlife, yes, nature…in my own backyard. How can that be bad?

  13. caliGardengirl says:

    The biggest problem with “O” is that very few people can actually make money on it. I mean think about it, being really organic requires you to buy very little (or almost nothing) to create a garden.

    No fancy soil – you can build that. No fancy fertilizer – you can make compost. In reality you only need five tools. After that, it’s only imagination and you know what? Usually that requires people to spend little to no money!

    That’s why no one has printed a magazine, and with the plethora of information on the internet, and a tech-savvy generation, why would one have a magazine when we have GardenRant?

  14. Kim says:

    Had to think a moment about the O. My first thought was Oprah. She’s cool but I hate the leaches that are feeding off of organic gardening to make a buck!

  15. Benjamin says:

    I thought the “O” meant something a bit more, um, risque and truly, truly enjoyable….

  16. Mark says:

    Apparently, Amy is affiliated with a publication competitive to Nature’s Garden and feels threatened by what she sees (and apparently doesn’t read). If she had done adequate research, she certainly would have enjoyed articles like the one in the spring 2008 issue on an organic salad project, or the article in the summer 2007 issue on using organic fertilizers, calle “Grow Organic”, or the story in the same issue called Sweet Rewards, where the word “organic” is used 10 times.

    So, tell us, Amy, unless you’re referring to a different “O-word”, what’s the REAL issue here?

  17. Tovah says:

    It’s true, I’m not a ranter. Never was. Probably never will be. Instead, I go for the slow burn. But we’re all headed for the same goal, I think. And that goal is earth stewardship and keeping our Mother Earth, as we know her, around. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s also about infusing life with beauty, and championing the concept that the simplicity of nature is beautiful. Some of us see it as more beautiful than fast cars and big footprint homes. It’s a way of seeing things. It’s a perspective. And I really do believe that there are people out there who need to make the connection. These magazines that you’re taking on – what they’re doing is spreading the word. And I don’t get it = what’s wrong with that?

    So, you don’t want to read about real woodland gardens, maybe? You think it’s a lousy idea to publicize scavenger hunts for kids? You’d rather not know about the patterns on butterfly wings?

    Okay, so I often write for Nature’s Garden, it’s true. But I’m a real person and a real gardener. Every day, I’m out there gardening, and I’ve got the backaches to prove it. I garden organically, I use composted goat manure produced by my own Saanen goats, I experiment with heirloom vegetables, I dig the holes, I spread the stinky stuff. My garden isn’t always picture perfect – because it’s real. But I’m doing it, guys. And the editor for Nature’s Garden – he’s a real life gardener also. And he’s struggling to do it in Des Moines! In his spare time, he takes kids on nature walks and he does bird counts and confronts builders about ways to protect migrating birds from slamming into windows of corporate buildings. He’s real – honestly.

    Ditto for the gardeners profiled. They’re real. They’re passionate people, and they did it, and they should be applauded. Maybe we’ll get some converts. Would that be so bad?

    We’re trying to do this right. We mention organic continually. It seems to me that we have the same goals as the folks on this web site. Fact is, Nature’s Garden has very few ads. The magazine shows how gorgeous a salad garden can be – even if it’s in pots on your back patio. And although I’m not prone to rant, I’ve got to say that I’ve always considered myself to be on the side of the Gardenranters. We’re working toward a common goal.

  18. Emma says:

    Touché, Tovah.

  19. Amy Stewart says:

    Don’t get me wrong–I like Nature’s Garden, I just wish there was more nature throughout other garden publications. (and no, I’m not a shill for some other magazine–I’m not that clever or powerful. My opinions are mine alone)

    But I think the content-strategization of the garden media world leads to a certain calculated blandness that turns people off–and makes it so surprising when anyone has anything other than ‘how nice!’ to say.

    I think the very fact that this post generated so many heated comments on both sides shows that there are a lot of strongly-held opinions in the garden world and we don’t hear enough of them. If you read about technology, sports, food, or art, you’ll see a lot more strong opinions and even criticism than you ever see in garden media.

    A few things I liked most from the above comments:

    –Stop seeing me as a consumer and give me actual comparative reviews of products by experts (which I take to mean that some of those reviews will actually be negative–don’t buy this plant or those gloves)

    –Follow real gardens throughout the year

    –Give me an authentic, conversational style.

    –Big damn yes to organic. Not a dirty word.

    I think part of the reason that so many garden writers and editors read GardenRant is that we are a source of unfiltered and perhaps contrary opinions. Nothing wrong with that!

  20. Helen says:

    After reading the posts, I am curious – why all the bashing? Lighten up! Have you picked up the magazine and read it or are you just ranting b/c of the posts?

    I garden organically with children and Nature’s Garden is our favoriate nature magazine.

    My garden is not magazine worthy, but I enjoy reading them all, particularly NG.

    In fact, I am amazed with every issue how James Baggett did it – again. He is clever, creative, and gives me great ideas to do with my 3 kids.

    M G has a new organic product line. But even still, you are the consumer – you can choose to supplement or not. But to trash a great publication because – why again? I dont get it…really!

  21. susan harris says:

    All this makes me want to subscribe to Nature’s Garden. Seriously. Thanks, everyone.

  22. Peg says:

    44 year old gardener here (they tell me I look 28 tho, does that count? I assume gardening keeps me young).
    I got a new sub. to BH&G, mainly cuz House & Garden went under. I find the gardening articles not too terribly useful yet, but I am willing to keep reading. Nice to hear about that “finder’s fee” thing, hmm, maybe I will try that!
    I enjoy the gardening features in Cottage Living magazine, just wish there were more of them.

  23. susan harris says:

    I take it back. For the life of me I couldn’t find Nature’s Garden on the web – anywhere, not even the BHG site itself.
    I did notice that BHG has three gardenblogs, though. Anybody a reader who’d like to review them?

  24. DD says:

    Nature’s Garden website:

    http://www.bhgnaturesgarden.com

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