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On a recent July afternoon, Emily Dougherty sat at a polished white table in the 17th floor corner office of nail polish magnate Essie Weingarten. As the sun streamed in through the windows, Dougherty and Weingarten talked color. “I love the idea of neon red,” Dougherty said, pulling out a poster board sprayed with various shades of bright red, “but it tends to skew pink and I’m not as happy with it as I thought.”
“I don’t know if a spa customer will like neon,” mused Weingarten. “What about a new spin on blue? I’m so in love with blues. Blues and greens have been so good for us.”
This story first appeared in the September 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Weingarten started mixing colors in an empty bottle, carefully adding two shiny silver balls before giving it a shake to mix it.
Dougherty took a box of pastels in varying shades of azure out of her canvas tote. “I personally like less chalky shades,” she said, assessing Weingarten’s first offer, before pausing: “Will blue make your hands look even redder? Because so many people get red and puffy hands at the beach.”
Dougherty’s concerns were valid. Although she’s the beauty director of Elle magazine, she wasn’t here today to choose products for the pages of her publi- cation. Rather, Dougherty was working with Weingarten on creating exclusive shades to be sold at the Elle Spa at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami.
The spa, which opened in June, is just one example of how magazines in general and many beauty editors specifically are expanding their sphere of influence, offline and online, and significantly altering the relationship they have with readers. Today, the most forward-thinking editors are tweeting, blogging and posting pictures both personal and professional. They’re on TV, commentating on the latest celebrity look or skin care trend. They’re online, hosting how-to videos demonstrating the latest hair or makeup look. They’re in the halls of major beauty brands, giving feedback on launches. Of course, they’re producing magazine pages, too, but for editors today, the point isn’t a month-to-month communication with readers. It’s minute by minute.
“The role of the beauty magazine has changed,” says Linda Wells, the editor in chief of Allure, who started the magazine 20 years ago. “With all of the new devices and iterations of the magazine, with the brand on the Web and on the iPad and mobile devices, [our] role becomes a lot more direct.”
For Allure, that means playing a much more explicit role in recommending specific products, a position the magazine is capitalizing on with the launch of its Beauty Product Finder on allure.com. The magazine is partnering with Beautybar.com and Soap.com, to enable users to click-to-buy on recommended products, provided the item is available on the partner sites. Wells says currently about 30 percent of the products that are reviewed on the tool are available on the e-commerce sites.
“This is a really different world and a natural progression,” says Wells. “One day not too far from now, [readers] will be able to tap on a story in the magazine on the iPad [and buy a product.]” For now, they’ll have to content themselves with the Allure Sephora palette, a $34 limited edition interchangeable makeup palette that the editor and her team designed for the retailer.
Whether it’s a magazine-branded makeup palette or a luxe spa or even sheets and duvet covers (Teen Vogue recently launched an eponymous bedding line), more and more magazines are expanding beyond the printed word. “We didn’t used to think of magazines as brands,” says Aileen Gallagher, assistant professor in the magazine department at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. “We thought of them as publications. They’ve always had a strong identity, but now they can put their thumbprint on all sorts of things that aren’t the magazine.”
Take the Elle Spa, an experience Dougherty says was designed to bring the magazine alive for all five senses. “From the moment you enter till the moment you leave, we want it to be a deep dive into our pages,” she says. To that end, Elle’s music editor created the spa’s sound track, its fashion editor curated the clothing selection in the boutique. And Dougherty herself oversaw the treatments. “We have a column called Doctor’s Orders,” she says as an example, “a single page on what really works to fix skin problems. So with acne for example, we interviewed top dermatologists about the ingredients that work, then created a facial protocol based on those ingredients. Then, when the client is leaving the spa, she gets a copy of the story. The goal is for the spa to be another touch point.”
“The wishword is ‘immediate,’” says Roberta Myers, Elle’s editor in chief. “The more mediums that allow us to do that, the better, particularly with beauty, which is so universal.”
“Multiple platforms give us more space, they allow us to go deeper into a subject and to talk to our readers 24 hours a day,” adds Dougherty. “Our goal is to have Elle beauty wherever she needs it and whenever she needs it.”
In today’s environment, few mediums are as immediate as Twitter, which has brought the reader closer than ever to the once-rarefied world of editors. “Our audience wants to know who we are,” says Eva Chen, beauty director of Teen Vogue, who had 17,626 Twitter followers as of press time. Although that’s nowhere near the 9 million-plus followers a celebrity like Kim Kardashian commands, it’s an impressive number for an editor.
“Editors are no longer like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. This is the post-Devil Wears Prada, post-Project Runway audience,” says Chen. “I used to write letters to the editor. Today, readers want to be able to reach out and get an answer immediately.”
Chen, whose Twitter handle is evachen212, tweets multiple times a day, touching on the personal and professional. On August 21, for example, she tweeted 41 times, on topics ranging from recommending her favorite red lipstick to a reader (Dior) to anxiously awaiting the finale of The Glee Project to posting a picture on Instagram of a chic Céline wallet she covets. “I love Twitter,” says Chen. “At first, I dreaded joining because I am quite private, and I was worried about that, but I realized there is a way to make people feel like they know me without giving too much away.”
Chen uses Twitter to give her followers the illusion of being insiders. For example, at a launch event for Bottega Veneta’s new fragrance, Chen was forbidden by an embargo to tweet pictures of the actual bottle. Instead, she tweeted pictures of the event’s locale, which took place in an apartment made famous by the Sex and the City movie. “My readers care about that just as much,” she says. “The things they care about most are the things that make them feel like they’re inside the event with you.” For editors of celebrity magazines, that urgency is even more incumbent. Now that readers can speak to celebrities directly via Twitter, editors are using the medium to both establish their bona fides and burnish their brand positioning.
“There’s no longer six degrees of separation,” laughs Gwen Flamberg, beauty director of Us Weekly. “Readers can see exactly what the celebrity is doing, and they can interact with them. I have to tweet and draw my followers attention to what celebrities are doing in the minute. Real time meant something different a few years ago. Today, in this world of instant gratification, we have to bring the brand to life 24 hours a day, minute to minute.”
Kika Rocha, beauty and fashion director of People En Español, uses Twitter to gauge the interest of her readers on various topics, be it a hair style or a celeb. “For me, it’s a great way to test what they want to see in the magazine, what their concerns are, their beauty problems, their questions,” she says. Rocha’s question/answer advice tweets have found such a strong audience that in August, the magazine’s Web site, peopleenespanol.com, launched Los Tips de Kika on its home page, highlighting a question of the day. Just two weeks into the launch, Rocha’s Twitter followers increased 16 percent to 15,373, while her influence, or amplification, in the social media space increased 32 percent, according to Klout, which measures influence online. Says Rocha, “It’s great, never-ending conversation.”
As dreamy as that is for an editor, unexpurgated contact with readers can also be a double-edged sword. “There is a lot more pressure on the editor,” says Gal- lagher. “They used to be able to put what they wanted on a page or in a story, and even if everyone hated it or the hair dye didn’t work, they would never really hear about it. Now if they make a bad call, they hear about it, from hundreds of people. Readers police the writers more than they ever did,” she continues, “and it raises the game for everybody.”
There’s also the danger of losing focus. The magazine has to remain the raison d’etre of the entire enterprise, warns Samir Husni, director of the magazine inno- vation center at the University of Mississippi, AKA Mr. Magazine. “Even though we’re bombarded with information, we’re less informed than ever before,” he posits. “Tweeting and blogging are the appetizers. The brand, the magazine, has to be the main dish. If you’re going to survive in this multifaceted world of information, you have to do what makes you special.”
That’s a lesson Teen Vogue’s Chen and her compatriots know well. “People call it new media and social media, but to me, it’s media. It’s different layers and everything has to serve its purpose,” says Chen, noting that may mean producing a beautiful photo shoot for the magazine, then providing a tutorial for how to get the finished look at teenvogue.com and behind the scenes pictures at Tumblr and the musical playlist from the shoot at Spotify. “I want readers to be able to literally live the story. The magazine always has to be the standard to which everything else is held.”
Magazines: The New Brand Experience
Direct Effects: Whereas once the primary purpose of a magazine was to entertain and educate, today readers are looking for direct recommendations and guidance through the thicket of product launches.
Branding Beyond the Page: Magazine-branded items, from bed sheets to beauty products, are on the rise.
Hi, I’m Your Editor: Thanks to the immediacy of social media platforms, readers no longer view the editor as an all-powerful arbiter, but rather as someone who’s available anytime, anywhere for instant advice.
The Big But: Despite the new bells and whistles, success still depends on what’s inside the pages of a magazine. Readers desert those who forget that.