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How 100-year-old Good Housekeeping is meeting the needs of modern audiences

Last year, Good Housekeeping celebrated its 100th anniversary. Celebrations included the first ever Good Housekeeping Live two-day event in London, as well as special centenary series, ‘Brilliant Breakfasts’ and partnerships with the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the National Literacy Trust. But rather than resting on its laurels, the title is working to ensure it continues to remain relevant for the next 100 years.

Editor-in-Chief Gaby Huddart spoke to the Media Voices podcast about using their centenary to be future-facing. She discussed the success of their first big Live event, the role of the Good Housekeeping Institute, and helping the next generation. But of particular interest was Huddart’s assessment of Good Housekeeping’s audience, and how they ensure they’re serving the needs of such a wide range of readers.

A modern mission

When Good Housekeeping was launched in the UK in February 1922, it was targeting middle-class women who were setting up their homes in the wake of the First World War. People couldn’t afford domestic help any more, and needed advice and inspiration for running their homes.

But it was never purely about housekeeping. The first Editor’s letter stated that:

There should be no drudgery in the house. There must be time to think, to read, to enjoy life, to be young with the growing generation, to have leisure time for one’s own – to hold one’s youth as long as possible, to have beauty around us – line and colour in dress, form and colour in our surroundings; to have good food without monotony.

There was also a second prong to this mission beyond creating the ideal home. The magazine also declared that “the burning questions of the day will be reflected in articles by women in the public eye, by women who are fearless and frank and outspoken.”

“So, far from being a title that wanted women to be burdened by housework, Good Housekeeping was keen to help its readers run their homes well and efficiently, thereby freeing them up to enjoy life’s pleasures, and to take part in meaningful conversations on the issues that mattered,” Huddart said in her own Editor’s letter on their 100th anniversary. “All of which has remained core to the brand’s DNA throughout the decades.”

Both prongs are important to Good Housekeeping’s DNA, and it still shapes the title’s approach a century later. “We stay true to that, and that’s why we’re still successful with how we cover these things even though formats and platforms have changed,” Huddart explained on the podcast. “At our root we give people good advice to have a well-run home and a well-run life, and inspire them on all the other areas of life. We also run some cracking editorial to inspire thinking and to challenge people.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been changes over the past 100 years. At Good Housekeeping’s launch, just 20% of women were working. Life expectancy of the average woman was just 54, and women hadn’t yet been given equal voting rights to men. Now, closer to 80% of women are in work, average life expectancy is up to 81, and (at least on paper) women share equal legal and voting rights.

With a long history of challenging articles – from Lady Violet Bonham-Carter’s 1922 article arguing for women needed to be given equal voting rights to men, to a 1972 feature calling for an end to the social stigma of homosexuality – the team believe it is important to continue looking to the future and investing in progressive editorial.

The pandemic forced a huge shift in focus back onto houses and home life. Good Housekeeping found that interest in everything from cooking to home decor and gardens went off the scale. From creating ‘home office’ space to noticing things around the house that needed sorting out, the publisher was well-placed to take advantage of the unprecedented rush of interest. “That love of home and actually making your space somewhere that you wanted to be was really key,” said Huddart. 

As life settles down into more predictable routines once again, Good Housekeeping is once again finding itself in demand thanks to the cost of living crisis. Readers are wanting advice on using less energy at home, cooking more cheaply and trimming living costs, and are turning to trusted brands to find answers.

Helping the next generation of readers

Building trust and helping readers are important aspects in the partnerships the title made for the centenary celebrations last year. Early in the year, they partnered with Women Supporting Women, which is a part of the Prince’s Trust aimed at helping young women aged up to 30 get a foothold in their careers. “I’m very conscious that this was important to help the next generation come through,” Huddart explained. “So we encouraged our audience – who in print would be a little bit older than that – to become mentors.”

Good Housekeeping also partnered with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, creating the Futures Prize with them. This involved a panel of judges from the Women’s Prize and Good Housekeeping, who shortlisted 10 authors they thought would be great authors of the future. “Over the year across our platforms, we introduced those authors and their books to our readers, who then voted,” said Huddart. “At Good Housekeeping Live, we announced who the readers had voted for as their favourite future author.”

The reading theme is continuing this year with the publication’s chosen partner charity being the National Literacy Trust. Research by the charity has found that the pandemic and the cost of living crisis is badly impacting young children, with 1 in 5 having no books at home. 

“As a publisher of magazines and websites, we need the next generation reading and finding joy in reading to ensure fairness in society and diversity of society,” emphasised Huddart. 

Appealing across the generations

For Huddart, getting a pen-portrait of a typical Good Housekeeping reader is challenging as they span so many generations. “I’ll have readers writing to me who are in their 30s, I’ll have readers who are writing to me in their 80s,” she said. “We have to work very hard to appeal across that, and not really thinking about the age of somebody, but what appeals across the audience.”

There are differences in audiences across various platforms. Unsurprisingly, Good Housekeeping’s print audience are mostly women, and skew older. But online, there’s much more variety. Huddart noted that a quarter of visitors to the Good Housekeeping website are men, with recipes and product reviews proving especially popular.

The familiarity and trust of the brand is also helping with younger audiences. “If you’re a teenager and you spill a bottle of red wine on your parents’ carpet when you’re having a party, people know Good Housekeeping well enough to come to us to find out how to get that stain out,” Huddard explained. 

The publisher has increasingly started putting content out on TikTok, and the cleaning videos in particular have done very well. They have also seen success putting out cooking and recipe tips via Instagram. This exponential expansion in being able to reach audiences across different platforms has been one of the biggest changes Huddart has seen in her decade at Hearst.

“Although websites were doing very well ten years ago, I think the expansion of digital content has been absolutely incredible,” she outlined. “Now what we’re all about is being wherever our audiences are. The print brand is alive and very healthy, and some readers will consume us both in print and then go to our website and do a recipe search. But social media is ever-more important.”

Huddart also values the feedback and relationships social media allows Good Housekeeping to build. “Being able to get that instant feedback from your audience is amazing,” she said. “So we know pretty quickly whether you’re getting it right and what they want more of.”