Better Homes and Gardens editor Dora Papas on continuing a legacy and the future of a lifestyle juggernaut

After being appointed editor of Better Homes and Gardens at the end of 2019, it’s been a wild ride for Dora Papas, with two mergers, the exit of longtime editor in chief Julia Zaetta and a global pandemic. She speaks with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about continuing the BHG legacy and a new life under Are Media.

2020 has been a hard year for the media, but perhaps most for those in magazines. The complications started for Pacific Magazines 2019 when it was announced Seven would be selling the magazine arm to rival publisher Bauer Media. From there, the sale took several terms, before concluding, finally, a few months into the COVID pandemic.

But it wasn’t the end of the changes. Bauer Media then sold its ANZ arm to private equity business Mercury Capital and a recent rebrand saw it become Are Media.

That process, unfortunately, saw a number of closures and redundancies, but before it all began Dora Papas became editor of Better Homes and Gardens, one of the highest selling magazines in the country and a title which has its own lifestyle brand, including a TV show, and a 50 year history. Luckily, Papas was no stranger to BHG – she became editor after almost 20 years with the title.


Papas tells me she first started as the craft editor of the title in the 90s, but stepped away before returning in 2001. This means she was actually part of the brand before the television show kicked off, in the mid-90s. After six to seven years with Family Circle, and a couple of jobs in niche publishing, Julia Zaetta, the longtime leader of BHG, reached out and called into the fold.

“She really didn’t need to twist my arm. I’d worked with her before, loved the way she worked. It was like coming home. It was pretty fantastic. It’s been so many years but it still feels like yesterday, I think monthly cycles of activity do that. There’s always another deadline and it’s fresh issues each time, fresh challenges. So it just feels like yesterday.”

Zaetta, who was in the role of editor in chief before she left the business after almost 19 years earlier this year, worked closely with Papas, who was deputy editor of the title before becoming editor in August 2019 – a transition she describes as ‘seamless’.

“I feel privileged to have been working alongside her in the deputy editor role for so long, that gave me a really good standing in terms of taking over the top role. But you still take a deep breath and realise ‘oh my goodness, it’s all up to me now to make sure we grow circulation and the brand grows and to find new things we can do and improve’. You’re always looking for ways you can evolve the magazine. It was certainly true during Julia’s tenure and I want it to be true during mine as well.”

One of the things Papas points to as the reason BHG is such a successful brand is the team of experts the content relies on. There are a number of contributors and editors who cover different craft, lifestyle and home topics, with all of them experts and passionate in those areas. While those pillars have mostly remained the same over the rears, they’ve also been updated to include new trends and topics. That’s part of the game, says Papas, keeping the content relevant. It was particularly important during COVID-19 when the print readership jumped 4% year on year to over 1.6m. Digitally, the title reports almost 820,000 UAs and a 33% increase from 2019’s averages to 2020s.

Across 2020 with the pressure of everyone staying at home, and suddenly having a lot more time to complete projects, BHG also saw its social media figures climb – up 1.2% across Facebook and 28% on Instagram.

I spoke with Papas several weeks ago, before the Are Media rebrand, but she was already feeling positive about how the move to Bauer Media was going to help BHG grow. The hardest part, she said, came earlier in the year when a lot of Pacific Magazines staff were in limbo while the merger played out publicly. Then it was transitioning to a new home in lockdown (and all the IT challenges that presented). But it was all fine in the end and now she’s looking forward, to what’s next for the magazine and lifestyle brand.

BHG’s online store, Better Homes and Gardens Shop, adds another revenue stream to the business, something that’s incredibly important as print media figures look likely to continue in a gentle decline for the next few years.

“We started as a magazine in Australia and now we’re a multi-platform brand. We’re on television, we’ve had live events, we’ve done podcasts, we’ve got the ecommerce site, and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s been a complete evolution of the brand. We’ve brought in more pages, like the finance page, technology pages, reflecting the interests our readers have in those sectors,” says Papas.

The plan is to return to podcasting and live events, and hopefully more under the control of Are Media. Papas says the hope in the future would be to expand the ecommerce portfolio, again for the diversity it provides, but the magazine is still a very important part of the BHG legacy.

“Magazines are doing a lot more now. Our content appears online, there’s so much more happening. People talk about the death of print, but I think it’s a little premature. There are some good news stories out there, we’ve got some strong heritage brands [at Are Media]. Look at the Australian Women’s Weekly. Obviously, I’m going to talk about Better Homes and Gardens, but look at AWW, look at Marie Claire, look at House and Garden. It’s not just print anymore, it’s content online, it’s social media, it’s ecommerce. But print will always be that light entertainment that people crave, especially people who spend a lot of time staring at screens and want to do less of that.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.