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So What Do You Do, Pilar Guzman, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living?

The lifestyle leader on Cookie, Martha and moving the Living brand forward

By Amanda Ernst - July 6, 2011
When Conde Nast-owned parenting magazine Cookie folded in October 2009, its founding editor, Pilar Guzman, thought she'd never work in print again. After the magazine she helped conceptualize and create was shuttered, Guzman decided to launch mommy blog Momfilter without advertising instead of creating a for-profit business.

"I had different people sniffing around after the close of Cookie and I had to ask myself, 'Do you want to put together a business plan and actually launch another magazine?'" she says. "I decided I wanted to do Momfilter as a labor of love and pursue other consulting projects that were pay-the-rent kind of jobs."

But an opening at the top of Martha Stewart Living earlier this year proved a strong enough pull to bring Guzman back to print. She started as editor-in-chief in March, joining a handful of former Cookie staffers who were already working for the venerable lifestyle brand. Guzman still works on Momfilter in her free time but concedes that this new job "was a natural fit."

Name: Pilar Guzman
Position: Editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living
Birthdate: March 17, 1970
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Education: University of California, Berkeley
Resume: Worked as a travel writer before joining digital advertising agency RGA. Later penned a travel book on Vietnam. Wrote restaurant reviews, freelanced, and worked on staff for various publications including Real Simple, House & Home and The New York Times. Launched Cookie in 2005, which folded in 2009. Worked as a consultant and launched Joined Martha Stewart Living in March.
Marital status: Married with two boys, ages 7 and 5
Media idol: Clay Felker, "because he pioneered modern magazine making as we know it."
Favorite TV show: The Good Wife, currently, and 6 Feet Under
Guilty pleasure: Cheese
Last Book Read: An advance copy of You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

What is a day in the life of the editor of Martha Stewart Living like?
A lot of meetings. We work in this open plan office, and it's really more like a creative arts studio than it is like any office I've worked in. Every other corporate publishing company looks like corporate law offices, but this is an amazing backdrop for creative people. I spend my day going through story ideas, doing run-throughs once story ideas are developed to see what kind of ideas would be featured in a given story, and having art meetings to determine what photographer or what direction we want to move in for each story. We talk in length about just making beautiful pictures, or how to put together a page that delivers both inspiration and elevates everyday life. A lot of thought goes into the visual side and the editorial side, so a lot of meetings are bringing those two halves of the brain and two types of editors and designers together so we can all be on the same page -- literally.

How often are you in communication with Martha? Her name is part of the brand name, so how much leeway does she give you to have your own vision?
She's obviously a very busy woman and she just wrapped up her TV season, so she's free recently. We do check in pretty regularly, and she has been very generous about giving me some leeway to figure out where we want to take it. We talked a lot about this in the interview process (in broad strokes) where I see the brand going, and we were very much in sync on that.

"I think this is the holy grail to lifestyle magazine makers: to balance inspiration with accessibility."

How are you working with other aspects of the MSLO and Living brand besides the magazine, including the website and new apps?
As with all things in this company, we hit the ground running with the iPad. I wasn't here for the beginning on that, but I think that it required all hands on deck to integrate, to make sure that it was not just a glorified PDF. Our iPad, we consistently [are] the top ranking in the iPad lifestyle apps. The apps can be award winning and head turning, because we have all the great brains and creative minds in this company working on it, which means you get a level of consistency across the platforms.

How did you find out Cookie was closing and what was the final day of the magazine like for you?
I found out an hour before it went public. It was brutal. Of course, the climate being what it was, we were sort of prepared for anything. But the magazine was doing very well. It was a young magazine, and we weren't yet profitable, and so it made sense. There were blue chip brands to save for Conde Nast, so it was a logical decision. But still, it was awful and shocking. We were a family, especially in a start-up situation where you're in the trenches together. It was very sad. Actually, many of us remain close. Many of us are here at Martha Stewart Living. They were here when I got here, which was fantastic. It's one of the upsides of working here.

Martha Stewart Living is a very aspirational magazine. How are you trying to make it more accessible?
I think this is the holy grail to lifestyle magazine makers: to balance inspiration with accessibility. Because there is such a high standard here and such a beautiful aesthetic, I think people forget that nobody is a better teacher than Martha and this brand. No one cares more about spelling out how to get exactly what we put on the pages. But there are different cues that you give the reader that are subtle but significant about how to incorporate some of these ideas into their lives. I'm really pushing that more. There are ways of loosening up photography and, not making the photographs less beautiful, but humanizing some of the scenarios through styling and choices in photographers, so that they feel a little more real rather than completely idealized. That's just a balancing act.

You can have a beautiful table and inject the humanity into it with subtle cues and styling and light, and not having everything be totally lined up, but have the perception of people being there, so that the reader can imagine that they're sitting at that table. We're also collecting people whose lives we admire who have a creative take on everything that they do. We're spotlighting real people rather than casting them, so that you get that level of humanity. It's idealized by virtue of the fact that you want something inspired and beautiful to look at, but the more you can spotlight real people in their environments the easier it is for the reader to imagine themselves there.

"[Martha Stewart Living] is still, in every category, a trendsetter."

With Martha Stewart Living being such an old, established brand, how do you keep it fresh and modern?
The great thing is that Martha Stewart Living was the trendsetter for some; it was one of the reasons that I wanted to get into lifestyle journalism. Martha was talking about seasonal cooking before that was even a word. There were all these things, and she still continues to be this amazing trendsetter. I think the trick is to reinvigorate in some ways with fresh photography and subject matter that feels current and to bring in fresh voices from the outside. But it's all here. It continues to be relevant. Even when I shared an apartment with a bunch of people in my 20's, I still subscribed. It still felt that there were lessons. I never wanted to throw away my Marthas. And I actually moved a couple of times and schlepped my boxes from apartment to apartment because there were always good recipes; there were always great DIY projects. And I think we just need to get out there again for people who have less left to read.

Do you ever find yourself reusing recipes or DIY projects or story ideas?
There's so many great things that may have been done however long ago, but there's always a new take on it. I'm blessed with a bunch of people who have worked here for 20 years and say, 'Oh we did that in '92.' We're never going to do it the same way, so there's a new market or there's some new twist or new update on an idea. We're not at a deficit. There's no shortage of good ideas.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Brandon Holley, Editor-in-Chief of Lucky?

Amanda Ernst is a freelance writer living in New York. She also manages business development and social media marketing for B5 Media, the publisher of five women's lifestyle sites.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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