I am a magazine hoarder. My home, my office, my world is covered in magazines. And we’ve been so fortunate to see the name of our store grace the pages of so many of our favorite titles. But this, my friends, is totally different. To have a SIX PAGE feature in Better Homes & Gardens is something beyond amazing; It’s a dream come true. I’m sure many of you are wondering what goes on behind the scenes of a magazine feature (and how we scored one!), and I thought it would be fun to share a bit of the process with you.
The story (kind of) starts in 2011, when I was still packing orders in the basement of my house. I received an order from a man named Eddie Ross, whose name I instantly recognized from the show “Top Design” on Bravo. I had followed the show and even commented on Eddie’s personal blog a couple of times. So of course I emailed and said hello and thank you and gushed all over him. The products he ordered were used for a Halloween feature in a special interest publication that fall.
Now let’s fast forward to the winter of 2014, when Eddie (who was now the East Coast Editor of Better Homes & Gardens) was a keynote speaker at a party blogger conference that I attended in Arizona. The night of Eddie’s presentation, I went up and introduced myself and my social media director, Stevie, and told him that he was one of the first editors to shop with me…way back when. And guess what? Not only did he remember me, but he remembered the exact products he purchased!!! We chatted and chatted while the line of people queing up to meet him grew and he said, “We should do something with you for the magazine!” which is the precise moment that my jaw dropped to the floor. I happened to be going to New York the following week for a gift show and we decided to meet for coffee while I was in town.
I have to segue a bit here and tell you that I was flying to New York from Chicago in January, and there was a little blizzard brewing that week. But there was no way I was going to let that ruin my plans with Eddie Ross. I ended up having to fly to Minnesota, to Atlanta, to New York to make it there. But I made it.
The morning of our breakfast meeting, Eddie surprised me with a special guest – his friend and colleague Jessica Thomas just happened to be in New York from the Meredith Headquarters in Des Moines, where she’s the style director of BHG. We chatted like three old friends and eventually talked about the prospect of me being featured in the magazine, which they thought could be a real possibility. They asked me to send them some pitches for summer entertaining. Now, I have to tell you I have never pitched anything in my life. But funnily enough, I had gone to a class on pitching to magazines at that party conference the week before. I left breakfast and immediately called Stevie and told her we needed to work on summer party ideas. So we brainstormed, we created secret pinboards, we polled the other Lulus in the office, and we created five summer themed pitches, which I emailed to Eddie. After much back and forth, these five pitches were whittled down to three, then revamped, agonized over, and tweaked about 5 times over the next few months. What you have to realize is that, even though they might love an idea, if it’s been done recently, or possibly EVER, they might not be able to use it. At one point, I thought they may have ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. But then in October, I got a call from Eddie saying they wanted to run a feature ON ALL THREE themes we had finalized. This was basically unheard of, and I think I practically peed my pants when I got the call. We set a tentative date to shoot the themes in January at their headquarters in Des Moines.
Over the next few months, we continued to tweak the themes. I grilled Stevie, a culinary arts graduate, about food pairings; I had phone calls with Eddie about food ideas, crafts, drinks, props, and products from the store; We brainstormed. I learned that if we used pink, for example, in one spread, we couldn’t use it in the next. We couldn’t create paper fans because that had been done before. And I had to source products from other vendors; This was a story about summer entertaining, not just a catalog for my store – so the products we used couldn’t all be from Shop Sweet Lulu. This was an education.
Almost a year to the date after my first meeting with Eddie and Jessica in New York, I met with them again at the Meredith Campus in Des Moines. Eddie gave me the grand tour and I became kid in a candy store exploring the vast space that makes up Meredith. To see the sets, the prop rooms, the studios – it was like heaven. I wanted to know how they did everything. I was a five year old girl. We spent the afternoon prop shopping with only a quick stop for frozen yogurt and maybe another stop for chocolate. One of the vintage pieces we found that day – an old, worn pair of binoculars – made it into the Starry Night Picnic in the magazine. Other items we found didn’t make the cut.
The following morning, I got to meet my team on set. To say it takes a village is an understatement. There were nine of us there to shoot the feature: me, Eddie, and Jessica, plus Kim, the craft stylist; Adam, the photographer, Jason, the photographer’s assistant, Jennifer, the food stylist and her assistant Jill, and Joseph, THE assistant. That’s not even everyone that’s involved, because the story will still need to be written (hi Natalie Dayton!), and graphics will need to be added.
What followed were two full days of shooting, like all day long…to produce exactly 4 photos for the magazine – three tabletop shots, and one of me Styling on set was just like it was at my office – we tried things, moved them around, looked at them on the camera, tried other things, then would send someone out to buy something we didn’t know we needed until right that very moment. Three of us might be staring at the computer monitor to decide if a blueberry was in the *just* right place. It’s all about the little details. I thought I might learn some tricks from the food stylist, but I was surprised to learn they don’t use any tricks to style their food – they want their recipes to be able to be recreated at home, so the food is all real on set!
One of the highlights of our photo shoot was getting my portrait taken. My daughter had “borrowed” my makeup brushes, and I hadn’t even remembered to pack hairspray. It was a comedy of errors doing my hair and makeup. But it was awesome have a whole group of professionals styling the set around me. “Can you hold this tray in one hand and throw confetti in the air?” “Now look this way and laugh.” I stood on a crate. Eddie expertly trimmed the tassel tails with precision; Joseph stood on a ladder and made it rain confetti while Jason swept it up and threw it at me. I’m glad I didn’t ask about their readership until AFTER the photo was taken. Had I known at the time that, with pass-along readership, 30 million people would eventually see this issue, I might have been a little more self-conscious.
After the last shot of the day, we scrambled in to take a group photo at my request. No joke, we did not prep for this or plan to coordinate. I thought I might cry. I had SO MUCH FUN with this cast of characters, and I was sad to leave.
A few weeks after I got back from Des Moines, I heard from Natalie Dayton, the editor who would write the story to accompany the photos. We chatted on the phone, and had a follow-up call about a week later. We talked about everything from how I started the shop to my favorite color palette. I had no idea if my story would be a little blurb on the sidebar or an in-depth interview. I was terrified because I get nervous and say stupid things during interviews. But now that the issue is out, and looks beautiful and amazing, I can happily report that I must not have said anything terrible because Natalie wrote the sweetest intro of all time, ever.
So, that, my friends is how my feature in the June issue of Better Homes & Gardens came to be. Are you wondering how you can get a feature too? Here are my 5 tips, plus a bonus tip from a friend:
- Be aware of the magazine’s editorial calendar, and keep in mind that they often work 6-8 months in advance. An editorial calendar highlights the planned features/themes a magazine will be covering for the year. You can usually search for a magazine’s (or publisher’s) “media kit” to find their editorial calendar.
- Do your research. Pitch your idea to a magazine that features the type of story you’re suggesting and speaks to your intended demographic. Chicken Magazine (it’s real, look it up) isn’t going to feature your glazed donut party.
- Find the appropriate contact. We can’t all run into Eddie Ross at a party blogger conference, but you guys, it is SO easy to find editors these days. They’re on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat…all the social medias. I don’t know how things EVER got done in the days of card catalogs and microfiche, but today you can find exactly who you’re looking for online. Look at their names in the byline of a similar feature and then google them.
- Write up the story you’re pitching and give as many details as possible – What month would this be appropriate to publish? What’s the setting? What’s the color palette? What kind of food would be included? What products/props would you use? I’m going to play High School English Teacher here and say, “Be specific!” Make sure to include your name and contact information on each page.
- Editors are visual, so give them images to get the feel of the project you’re pitching. Attach this as a second page to your pitch.
As my girl Rachel Hollis told me, your job is to make the editor look good. Give them something good to work with.