Think of traditional men’s fitness magazine covers, and you’re probably picturing a ripped guy with his shirt off, against a white background, covered in oil. It’s that picture that Men’s Health editor Scott Henderson is trying to evolve, in a world where good health means far more than perfect abs.
“We have a rule, that the Men’s Health cover guy has to be aspirational, but still to the point where you can picture yourself going out and having a beer with him,” Henderson explains. “He can’t be so unattainable that it’s offputting.”
It’s certainly a change from the covers of the past, but as Henderson points out, the definition of health has shifted too. “It’s realizing that health isn’t a one-stop shop. It’s exploring that each month: going older, going younger, going with different body shapes. Some guys are lean, some guys are muscular, some guys are big, so it’s mixing that up a little bit.”
Mental health is also a big focus for Henderson, who believes that physical and mental wellbeing go hand in hand. “We’re at that point now where the stigma is broken. But although we’re comfortable talking about mental health, not everyone knows how to look after it.
“Our duty is to give guys the tools to live a better life in every aspect of their health. Our brand pillars never work in isolation: if you exercise and eat right, your mental health is going to benefit. If you’re in a positive mind frame and you can get yourself there through eating, then you’re going to work out. It’s all interconnected.”
Henderson joined Men’s Health as digital editor back in October 2017, so it should come as no surprise that in his new role, he is intent on aligning the two sides of the business. “When we handed over the reins, I didn’t want to let go of the digital stuff, because what we’re doing is so aligned,” he says.
Henderson prefers to think of his content spanning the magazine and digital, in order to bring the brand together as a cohesive whole: “One thing I’ve actively been trying to do is to bring together the content we’re doing. Health is always health, so the pieces we’re writing can be interconnected between the magazine and the website.”
The digital publishing landscape has been rocked by social media algorithm changes over the past year, but it’s not something that Henderson is losing sleep over. Bolstered by the strength of his print product, he explains how good content will always triumph, no matter the channel.
“We were lucky enough to have these great minds in our business who saw [the algorithm changes] coming. And when the algorithm changes hit, oddly SEO went up. That was around the time when we got certified to Google News. So it almost balanced each other out, which was good. We have a really strong brand name and our digital forefathers were savvy, so we are really lucky in terms of SEO and getting traffic organically.
“Plus, we’ve got new platforms popping up all the time. There are always good sources of traffic, and if you’re putting out good content, those sources will always remain open. Instagram’s growing for example, and now we get a lot of traffic through Instagram stories.”
Perfecting podcasts as a magazine brand
Another key area of growth for Men’s Health Australia is its podcast offering, having recently launched Strength Sessions, featuring interviews with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Nathan Charles and Chris Hemsworth. Since its launch, the podcast has risen to eighth place on the Apple Podcast charts. It is currently number one in the health category.
Podcasts are a natural fit for an audience of health lovers, who want to squeeze fitness into every area of their day, says Henderson. “Podcasts don’t necessarily lend themselves to every magazine, it shouldn’t be a box to tick just because it’s there,” he says. “Luckily for us, health tends to be a topic that really lends itself to podcasts. Our audience is actively looking for information to better themselves, and part of that culture has evolved into listening to a podcast on their way to work or on their way home. For us, it’s a natural fit.”
Henderson has learned not to put his magazine and podcast content in separate boxes, especially when it comes to interviewing time-poor Hollywood stars. “It’s a really tough balancing act, because doing a magazine interview is very different than doing a podcast interview. It’s almost like a chicken and the egg situation: do you record yourself doing a magazine interview and then turn it into a podcast, or do you do a podcast and then write an article off the back of that?
“Podcasting’s great because it’s more conversational than a traditional magazine interview. You actually get great content out of [podcasting] that can then be put into a magazine article. In an ideal world, we would do separate interviews with separate purposes, but Chris Hemsworth doesn’t have all the time in the world.”
As a result of his more holistic definition of content, Henderson has seen audiences broaden across both print and digital. “In the last 12 months the demographics of our website have broadened, and the demographics our magazine has also broadened as a result,” he says.
He points to Women’s Health as an example of a brand that has been able to evolve its print product alongside its digital offering. “Women’s Health has always been great at that,” he says. “We’re quite lucky to see them and lead by example, because it’s something that I feel very passionate about.”