Equinox*, the luxury fitness chain known for its provocative ads shot by fashion photographers like Steven Klein and Terry Richardson, is moving into the editorial health and wellness space with a new site launching on Wednesday. The site, called Furthermore, is a "digital magazine," according to Editor-in-Chief Liz Miersch, who was formerly a fitness editor at Self.
Miersch, who came to Equinox five years ago, was tasked with creating branded content for the gym — a concept that was still in its infancy then. The result was Q by Equinox, "a little blog that was going to be a landing page for content that Equinox could put out on social media and in newsletters. We honestly didn't think it would be much more than that," says Miersch. In 2012, a video called "The Contortionist," featuring a woman doing yoga in her bra and underwear, went viral (it currently has over 10 million views), and the team realized it had a captive audience. Q currently has almost 1 million unique monthly visitors, about 30% to 40% of which are Equinox members.
The team wrote a business plan and developed Furthermore, an expanded, stand-alone editorial entity meant to be a player in the sometimes crowded and confusing wellness space. There are nine full-time employees, including three editors, as well as over 20 freelance contributors. In addition, Equinox is hiring a marketing team.
It's a transitional time for traditional fitness and wellness magazines: Fitness was folded into Shape early last year, and Self suffered major layoffs on the print side after hiring a new editor-in-chief and giving the magazine a fashion-forward redesign. Meanwhile, independent digital sites like Well + Good and Greatist have stepped in to offer tons of wellness and lifestyle content, while established brand Self is staffing up its website (Shape and Women's Health, take note) to keep up with the explosion of interest in health and fitness.
Here's what Miersch had to say about the now-common conundrum of how to separate editorial and branding, why focusing heavily on science in wellness writing is crucial, and her plans for tapping fashion-y collaborators and new activewear brands for the new site.
What did you do originally when you started at Equinox?
Equinox was forward-thinking in knowing the value of what content could bring to the marketing of an organization. [After] "The Contortionist" went viral, the entire organization said, "Huh, content could be something that really grows the brand and brings in a lot of eyeballs for us." At the same time, we looked at the editorial landscape and felt like there was this hole where real, authoritative, scientific fitness and wellness content met an elevated, luxury aesthetic. It's been a year since we started thinking about the Furthermore brand. It's a complete redesign going from a blogroll to a more robust digital magazine with a lot of curated sections that feels more searchable.
Is it still branded content or more editorial? How are you crossing that line?
While there are elements of branded content in it, insofar as we use Equinox experts and the health advisory board that Equinox has amassed, we're not really going to be writing about specific Equinox programming. We're trying to be more editorial. But from a business perspective, the plan is to create an advertising model different than anything else out there because we have a tie to the Equinox brand and to these physical spaces and access to a very specific target audience, which a lot of other sites don't have. It's our foray into editorial. We have plans to talk about print and podcasting and other editorial verticals that we want to get into as a brand, which will all be under Furthermore.
Will you talk about competing studios and gyms if you're writing about trends?
We definitely want to talk about what's going on culturally. We did a video a few months ago on the rise of urban running crews and we shot it in New York, London and Paris, and it was about this cultural movement. We do want to stay current, but we won't be doing things like reviewing boutique studios because that's not the kind of site we are. While we won't directly talk about Equinox competitors, we will talk about trends that are much bigger than what's going on in the four walls of the club.
Since activewear is so huge right now, will you cover brands that Equinox doesn't carry in its shops? Is e-commerce in the works?
We're still working out our strategy as far as any e-commerce integration. We will talk about brands outside of what's carried in the physical shops, for sure. We probably won't do bigger partnerships with apparel brands we don't carry because I think that would be a bit of a disconnect, but we'll certainly cover things editorially that aren't in the shop. Oftentimes brands that we end up carrying in the shop are things we've discovered editorially, so we work closely with the retail team. If there is something that our editors fall in love with that we want to bring to our members, they're always open to that.
Equinox is known for working with fashion photographers and stylists on its ad campaigns. Do you hope to bring these people in for original shoots on Furthermore?
We've done original photography and video since the beginning. One of the things we really want to stay true to is bringing in directors, photographers and videographers who have not really worked in the health and wellness space before. That's something that's a huge part of the Furthermore brand. The more we can collaborate with people and really show that wellness is now part of culture, and that the two are really melding, that's a huge tentpole of this brand. I'd love to think about some major [features] we could do with someone like Steven Klein. We haven't quite gotten there yet, but I certainly would love to do that.
Fitness GIFs and tutorials are also huge right now, from magazine websites to Instagram. Will you incorporate these since you have access to so many trainers and instructors?
We've been doing GIFs for four years now. It works so well in this space. There always will be an element of how-to, but it's not the majority of what we do. We want to be a little bit more high level and talk about the broader cultural trends as it relates to health and wellness. But certainly our audience loves when we lend our expertise. One of our best ones was "The Planks You Should Be Doing (But Probably Aren't)." We'll layer that in but balance it out with bigger, more interesting cultural plays. [Editor note: Recipes will also feature on the site.]
Tell me more about covering science-based wellness. One of my biggest pet peeves is when everybody hops on a trend and there's no evidence it's actually beneficial.
That’s our baseline for anything. Yes, we have crazy, sexy advertising campaigns, but the science here is uncanny. The trainers and advisory board are the baseline of the whole business. What's so important to us about this content approach is we want to be the authority. We will never write about anything that is not fully vetted by a team of experts in whatever field. That's our baseline. While we want to create beautiful, elevated content, we want to be known as the pivot point of the conversation, that last word. We did a story on why it's OK to eat white rice. You don't have to demonize all white foods. We try to really stay true to the science. We did something recently on standing desks and how it's not necessarily the thing that's going to be best for you ergonomically. Knowing all this research that's coming out and vetting it for us — we have so much access to that. That was another big reason we wanted to come out with this site. We needed a mouthpiece for all the misinformation that's out there. Readers are pulled in so many directions and don't know what to believe. Our goal is to have a site that is the authority, so that when there is a question, if you come to us you will get the right answer — no matter what else you're reading out there.
*Disclosure: The author is a paying member at Equinox.