Always Looking Ahead
by Joyce Kauf
Ask Gayle Butler about opportunities across the media landscape and you’re immediately immersed in a conversation about innovation and setting new directions to help women improve their lives. The editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens since 2006, Gayle exudes enthusiasm – and a touch of awe – about the infusion of technology into media that “brings into focus how many new ways we have to make our lives better.”
Exploring new boundaries has been a hallmark of Gayle’s career along with her ongoing practice of working with new people as a way to keep growing. She joined the Meredith Corporation in 1983, first in public relations and then rising through the ranks to hold senior editorial positions. As editorial director at Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications and Creative Collection, she oversaw a portfolio of more than 100 publications. She added her imprint with award-winning initiatives including Diabetic Living. In June 2011, she was named executive vice president and creative content leader for the Meredith National Media Group, overseeing all creative activities.
Gayle began her career as press secretary to Representative M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia (no relation). That experience was very educational. “He was such an honest listener, actively seeking opinions. I learned how important it is to listen with an open mind,” she explains.
That lesson translated into her own “aha moment” years later. Before becoming editor-in-chief, Gayle toured the country talking to small groups of women. Listening to them, she realized how much they valued the “magazine experience,” which for them was more than simply reading an article.
“Women are so busy. To them, reading the magazine represented their private time – even if only for 15 minutes,” points out Gayle. “They could be inspired and refreshed in that short time.” It is a message that still resonates with Gayle and continually motivates her to explore new topics and new media platforms “to be where the consumer is.”
That’s one of the reasons why Gayle considers launching the magazine’s healthy eating series one of her greatest professional achievements. And in an effort to reach even wider audiences, she expanded the brand via multiple digital touchpoints including social media, interactive digital editions and an enhanced website. That same commitment to meeting people’s needs extends to her staff. “Always acknowledge the contributions of others in a team,” Gayle says, while defining an effective manager as a person who “clarifies goals and gives creative people room to do what they do best.”
Gayle readily admits that’s why receiving the 2012 New York Women in Communications Matrix Award means so much to her “because it reaffirms my commitment to helping women.” As for advising women just entering the communications arena, Gayle urges them to “really learn your craft. Learn the fundamentals of your field, develop a level of expertise and then add to it. You have to own your career path.” She explains that it used to be that you stepped up a well-defined ladder but “now you need skill sets in a variety of media and maybe to reinvent yourself now and then.”
While acknowledging this is a wonderful time to be editor-in-chief, Gayle can envision another career that takes her back into politics doing advocacy work for childhood education or bringing civil discourse “back into the conversation.” For now, however, this novice hiker has set a new, shorter-term personal goal to explore the Appalachian Trail with her husband. Clearly Gayle is still moving ahead and setting a good example for all to follow.
Joyce Kauf is a senior editor at Rapaport Magazine, a diamond industry publication for which she covers marketing and retail trends.