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March 18, 2024

Good Housekeeping MD Liz Moseley’s ambitious growth plan for 102-year-old brand

Good Housekeeping is launching paid-for apps and a VIP paid membership scheme.

By Charlotte Tobitt

The UK edition of women’s magazine Good Housekeeping is “unbelievably successful” by various metrics, as its new managing director Liz Moseley put it, but is nonetheless setting out on an “ambitious” growth plan.

Good Housekeeping UK is in profit with a “thriving” print business that saw a “really strong start” to the year in advertising, Moseley told Press Gazette.

Its print circulation of 364,870, although down 2.7% year-on-year in 2023, saw a smaller decline than many of its competitors and it remains top of Press Gazette’s women’s fashion and lifestyle table. Over the longer term it has seen a relatively modest print decline from just over 400,000 copies per month in 2000.

Paid digital subscriptions for the magazine grew by 43% between 2022 and 2023 to 26,451 (23,239 of these were via all-you-can-read services such as Apple News+ and Readly).

Meanwhile goodhousekeeping.com is the 33rd biggest news/lifestyle website in the UK with an audience of 4.8 million people in January. It also has more than 320,000 daily newsletter subscribers and is said to have generated e-commerce orders worth £15m in 2023, of which Good Housekeeping earns a commission.

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Moseley was brought in as Good Housekeeping and Good Housekeeping Institute’s first ever standalone MD last year with a “change brief”.

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The former marketing boss at Ascential, The Telegraph and The Times – who most recently spent five years as an editor and partner at “slow news” start-up Tortoise – said the brand has “been successful up to now as it is, but our ambition for the brand is sky high”.

Moseley is part of a team at Hearst UK tasked with finding long-term sustainable growth by chief executive Katie Vanneck-Smith, who took the helm in December 2022, also joining from Tortoise.

Moseley said the aim is to "to give all of the brands their best shout at growth. We believe in growth and we're very ambitious for the future of Hearst UK."

The MD job for Good Housekeeping, which is the only Hearst brand to have this dedicated leadership role, was created, Moseley said, because it is "such a big chunk" of the business so it was decided it deserved "real focus".

'It's less about changing the brand, and more about the shape of the business'

Press Gazette sat down with Moseley at Good Housekeeping Institute's testing facility in Feltham, West London, in February on the first of a series of open days to mark the centenary of its launch (some 24 years after the US edition launched its Experimentation Station). The testing lab was founded two years after the launch of Good Housekeeping in the UK in 1922.

The open day was partly designed for Good Housekeeping to begin "re-educating" the advertising community about "what this brand is and who these women are", Moseley told Press Gazette, adding that part of her job is "going out there and getting people excited about it again".

She told attendees of the event it may be a "shock" to some people that it is "probably the only really properly intergenerational lifestyle magazine - it's quite unusual to see that kind of age profile".

Pamco data shows that while the biggest portion of Good Housekeeping readers (24%) are aged 65+, readers are fairly evenly split across the age bands from 25 to 34-year-olds upwards.

Moseley said: "Now if you come in with a change brief on a business that is tanking, it's fine, because you can kind of do what you want to, you're sort of in desperate measures.

"But coming in on a brand that's really successful in a thriving business with diversified revenues, and customers who love you with a change brief, is a bit different."

She told Press Gazette that she is "trying to get the balance of consistency and sameness...because you don't want to run too fast. And you don't want to push people too hard, customers or the team. But we do need to move."

While the Good Housekeeping website will remain free, new paid online content is part of the change brief.

This includes the launch this month of the first paid-for Good Housekeeping app which is focused on food, home, beauty and fashion content and costs an initial 99p for six months or £9.99 for a year, which later becomes £14.99 for six months or £19.99 per year.

Moseley told Press Gazette: "There are opportunities that for lots of reasons, over time, Hearst hasn't been able to optimise, the really obvious one being we've got this huge group of committed GH customers who haven't had a way to pay us for content digitally. Those products just haven't been created yet. And it's just a miss.

"We've built diversified revenue streams in licensing and e-comm and accreditation, but paid-for digital content has just been a stone we haven't turned. And so it's less about changing the brand, and more about changing the shape of the business and the ways people can access it."

However Moseley was also keen to note that at Hearst UK "we believe in print, we know it has a future, there's definitely demand for it. And in the Good Housekeeping world, while we're busy building paid for digital content opportunities, of course we have to, there's all of this exciting stuff happening in print... I can tell you it is alive and well."

Other new apps are likely to follow in key verticals like recipes and puzzles, Moseley said. She is also interested in working out how to "app-ify" the GHI product reviews.

"There's a whole smorgasbord of ways that we're thinking about how would we take that content pillar and platform it for a mobile-first experience," she said.

In video, Good Housekeeping is going beyond the usual "hands and pans" video for Tiktok and Instagram Reels to create three new long-form video launches "to see if that's a way of building the GH trusted content promise in an all-new medium". They will be broadcast on the site and are:

  • At Home With - going inside the houses of famous people and talking about their homes and families, described by Moseley as "Through the Keyhole meets Who Do You Think You Are?"
  • Made With Love - a food show which Moseley said is "partly Delia Smith, but partly Dolly Alderton"
  • Inside the Institute - a "behind the scenes Willy Wonka-style" look at how testing is done inside the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Next month Good Housekeeping is also launching its VIP Club, a paid membership offering following in the footsteps of sister Hearst UK brands Elle UK, Women's Health and Men's Health which have all introduced value-added options for loyal readers in the past six months.

Moseley said they are all designed with the same idea in mind: "The principle of having known customers that our trusted brands in the Hearst portfolio have direct one-to-one relationships with in order that we can better anticipate and serve their needs is the same. The way that that will be rendered is as different as the way the magazine Runner's World is super different from the magazine Good Housekeeping."

The perks in Good Housekeeping's VIP Club will include a monthly book club with a free book download, free tickets to Good Housekeeping Live in London in November (which is massively expanding this year), and the opportunity to be a tester for the GHI. On other sites VIP access has included some premium online content and exclusive newsletters.

Good Housekeeping Institute: Testing 3,500 products every year

The GHI is an 8,000 sq ft facility with rooms full of washing machines, squares of carpets and flooring to be systematically hoovered and mopped, treadmills and weights, hairdrying stations, and beauty machines that can tell you the age of your skin (something this writer chose not to investigate in a room full of observers) as part of testing the efficacy of skincare products.

Visia skin age testing machine at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK
Visia skin age testing machine at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK

Its staff and volunteer testers try out everything from Easter eggs (your reporter was thrilled to discover a delicious new vegan chocolate in the taste test) and hair straighteners to weighted blankets and sex toys.

They aim to assess products to the extent that they would commonly be used by consumers and also to verify any claims made on packaging - for example walking boots are tested with 25,000 steps and waterproof claims are tested.

The food and drink kitchen alone tested more than 2,000 products last year mainly across seasonal themes - Christmas made up a quarter of all the products tested but other themes included Easter, picnics, barbecues and Valentine's Day. The food and drink panels are carried out in a plain room with no distractions around five times a week with up to ten people coming in to try around 12 products each time.

The GHI, Moseley said, is "is why people trust Good Housekeeping in a way that they just don't trust - not just other media brands, but any other brand.

"This place is the beating heart of the Good Housekeeping brand, the mothership. It's not an annex to the main event, it is the main event and it was really important to me to set that expectation from the get go."

The GHI gives products that pass its vigorous testing with a score of 70 or above its Tried and Tested logo (meanwhile negatively-reviewed products are not generally mentioned in editorial coverage). Consumer research in November found that 82% are more likely to buy a product with the accreditation.

Testing kitchen at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK
Testing kitchen at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK

Laura Cohen, head of accreditation at the GHI, told the open day it is "really important to us that we do actually physically test all the products that we recommend to consumers . And that's where that level of trust comes from."

The GHI's accreditation business, through which brands can pay to display the Tried and Tested logo and also to have products tested pre-launch, grew by 10% year-on-year in 2023. And GHI reviews of all the products tested are used as content across Good Housekeeping platforms.

Many publishers have in recent years increased their e-commerce efforts. The latest trends and predictions report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published in January listed e-commerce as the fifth most important revenue stream for commercial publishers in 2024.

Some 29% of news leaders who responded said e-commerce was likely to be important or very important this year, up from 24% in 2023. It came behind subscription/membership (80%), display advertising/sponsorship (72%), native advertising (61%) and events (49%).

Asked how GHI stands out in an increasingly competitive field for affiliate revenue, Moseley pointed to the Feltham facility and constant testing going on.

"This, here, obviously is what makes it different. Because we can see the difference between the e-commerce sales we would get for a tested product that's passed and bears the logo, versus ones that haven't. You just sell a lot more product when it's tested, particularly in GH owned channels, because that's why people come to us, to find, you know, the heated air clothes dryer, that's the one or the air fryer that's the one."

Moseley added: "the other thing that could happen with e-comm is you end up with a really, really long tail of URLs that make a little bit of money. And what we're really working hard to do with our research and insight team and with people here at the Institute, and actually with some partner companies as well, is to identify what are the specific categories of product that are really the ones that make the most sense..."

Testing team at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK
Testing team at the Good Housekeeping Institute in Feltham, West London. Picture: Hearst UK

This is why the GHI is building a whole sleep category and launching the Sleep Awards, as well as the Food Awards and Beauty Hall of Fame - other "hero" areas. It is also expanding into parenting testing and adding the Parenting Awards.

Moseley said the "real sweet spot" for Good Housekeeping was where you have "a commercial opportunity that really intersects with a consumer interest area".

Parenting, she said, has "been very successful in Good Housekeeping in the States. It's a big part of their business. But Good Housekeeping [UK] don't have credibility yet in parenting. It was not a key editorial area. So we're starting by building out the product testing expertise..."

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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