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How Editor-in-Chief Jane Francisco Found Success Leading Legacy Brands

Many editors hear the call of New York City – few get an actual call asking them to grab the reigns at an established, storied brand. Here’s how one Canadian positioned herself so that was inevitable.

BY AMBER NASRULLA  PHOTOGRAPHY Ari Michelson

Jane Francisco is a master at reinvention. She’s been a model, waitress, theatre company manager, and run a fashion design company. But when she co-created an art/pop culture magazine after university, she found the path she’d walk for years – and the industry where she’d leave her mark.

“These different aspects of my personality and life began to come together,” she says of that time. Venue, a glossy monthly, premiered in 1994, and put her on the map in Toronto magazine circles.

Hard work, talent, and ambition propelled her to senior jobs and, before she left Toronto for NYC last year, she’d held the top edit gig at some of the country’s largest and most influential women’s magazines.

Now, she’s Editor-in-Chief of Good Housekeeping, Hearst Corporation’s 130-year-old legacy brand. Every month, 25 million readers flip through its pages and click on its web links for dinner ideas and help with fashion, for décor suggestions and relationship advice.

It’s Jane’s job to keep the heritage readership happy and inspire modern followers, too.


[bs_lead]Getting The Call From New York City [/bs_lead]

Jane’s recruitment began last summer when Eliot Kaplan, director of talent acquisition for Hearst Magazines, emailed cryptically via LinkedIn: would she consider moving to New York City from Toronto for work? Jane, then Chatelaine‘s Editor-in-Chief, didn’t think the email was targeted to her personally, but that it was intended for numerous qualified editors. That might explain why is took her a couple of days to respond and why, when she did, her response was also cryptic: “If the opportunity is right, sure.”

Within a week, Kaplan flew to Toronto for a face-to-face. During lunch they discussed the Chatelaine brand and its position in the market, and as their meeting wound down, he asked directly if Jane would be interested in the GH editor job. She was equally direct: Yes.

“I started thinking about how amazing it was to work on Chatelaine, which was this heritage, multi-generational legacy brand, and what we were able to do with it,” she says. “If you could do something similar with a brand that has been around even longer, and has an audience around 10 times the size, in a market that has that much more potential…I was excited by the idea and the opportunity.”

A series of interviews in New York City followed. Three months later she had it. “Jane has great instincts for transforming a legacy business and making it modern,” David Carey, President of Hearst Magazines said in February.


[bs_lead] How Jane Landed on Their Radar [/bs_lead]

Jane has been working non-stop since university. Two credits short of her bachelor’s in philosophy and English, she left the University of Toronto to launch Bananafish, a fashion design company, with two friends. When one left for Spain, the business floundered. Francisco went back to school. With no job prospects after graduation, she worked with her boyfriend in a small theatre, producing at Toronto’s Umbrella Factory and the Acme Theatre Co. “I was personally making posters,” she says. “In a small theatre, you’re everything. You run the budget, you oversee the production…”

In 1999 (a year after Venue closed), Jane interviewed with Giorgina Bigioni, then Fashion Magazine‘s publisher. Francisco applied to be Editor-in-Chief but didn’t prepare. “I was protecting myself emotionally,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to get this anyway, so I’m not going to get vested in it.’ That was a big misstep on my part.

“I totally blew that opportunity. I didn’t stutter or do anything crazy, but I was not memorable,” she laughs. Jane went home, tore the magazine apart, and wrote an extensive editorial plan outlining her vision for Fashion should she become Editor-in-Chief. She’d add service stories (rather than long features); include what readers – not just models – could wear and where they could buy highlighted product; she’d showcase how to create different looks with the same item…None of this sounds groundbreaking today, but 15 years ago these were new and innovative ideas, few magazines were taking this approach. She got a second meeting.

Bigioni, now publisher of digital beauty magazine The Kit, insists Jane was dynamic from the get-go and not just because of the bright blue peacoat she wore that day. “John Macfarlane [former, long-time Toronto Life editor] and I were doing the preliminary round of interviews and Jane immediately rose to the top three.” Jane brought in pages from other fashion magazines showing she’d identified trends and knew what was popular with readers. “Jane was articulate, smart, creative and strategic,” Bigioni says. “These are the characteristics of a good editor.” She didn’t land the coveted job, but Bigioni asked her to be marketing director.

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[bs_lead] When You Lead a Legacy Brand, Embrace Your Heritage and the Future [/bs_lead]

At the time, Fashion  was a Toronto magazine attempting to go national. It needed a marketing team that understood all aspects of publishing, not just an editor. “Jane had that experience [at Venue] and, importantly, she also had entrepreneurial spirit,” Bigioni says.

Within a short time, Fashion became the most-read fashion magazine in Canada and Jane’s entrepreneurial spirit didn’t go unnoticed by competitors. In 2001, she was hired to launch Glow Magazine, a publication of Rogers Communications. Three years later, Bigioni hired Jane again, this time as founding editor of Wish Magazine. Bigioni was confident in her choice: “She can identify and develop progressive strategy and get involved in the minutia of creating a page editorial.”

Jane had, by 2009, edited or launched some of Canada’s most well-known, large-circulation women’s magazines including Style at Home (for six months in 2009). That’s when Ken Whyte, then President of Rogers Publishing, challenged Jane with reviving Chatelaine. Since the legendary Rona Maynard’s departure in 2004, four editors had whipped through and readers balked. From spring 2004 to spring 2010, the Print Measurement Bureau reported that Chatelaine lost nearly 85,000 readers, a 19 percent decline. Jane’s turnaround strategy? “Let’s embrace both our heritage and our future.”

To that end, her editor’s notes were witty and whimsical: “…my favourite TV show as a kid was The Bionic Woman. I liked it because the title character (played by Lindsay Wagner) was not only beautiful, stylish and smart, she was super strong. Stronger than any man.” That buoyant approach (along with her eye for crisp design, service stories, product reviews, and recipes) appealed. By 2013, Chatelaine became the largest paid-circulation magazine in Canada with 536,000 subscribers.

After 20 years in the Canadian magazine industry, Jane is setting into New York City. Her Toronto home has sold, and her husband, photographer Colin Faulkner, along with their eight-year-old son, Greydon, are joining her. “I feel like my whole life is about being a sponge for every woman I meet,” reflects Jane, “trying to sort through the similarities of what all of us want and need and what makes us excited.” What distinguishes her from other good listeners is that “at the same time, I’m also taking note of the differences.”

For this master of reinvention that’s no challenge at all.