SPI Day One: Dos, Don’ts, and Diving Right In

Keynote speakers Bill Phillips and Brandon Holley
Keynote speakers Bill Phillips, Vice President & Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health, and Brandon Holley, Editor-in-Chief of Lucky

Visualize this: an auditorium full of resolute and eager students who had just graduated from college. There they were, seated and patiently waiting to embark on a six-week journey that will lead them all into the same industry – publishing. It sounds potentially competitive and sinister, perhaps, but hardly so. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, an indication of the terrain that lies ahead for members of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) class of 2013, the class that marks the 35th anniversary of SPI. We all sat in chatty harmony awaiting the arrival of the morning’s editorial keynote speakers: Brandon Holley, Editor-in-Chief of Lucky, and Bill Phillips, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health.

“A magazine is about a reader, not the editor,” Phillips began. “It’s about the person you’re trying to serve.” In a speech of candid honesty laced with humor, Phillips delivered information we earnestly accepted. Pens were scribbling furiously, keeping up with his surplus of tips for applying to jobs and getting noticed. Perhaps the most surprising comment for those of us familiar with slaving over cover letters was this one: “A well-considered cover letter is the key to…never finding a job.” Phillips made the case that the best candidates for hire in the magazine industry are those with the most creative and robust ideas. “If [the magazine] tells you they want five ideas, give them twenty-five,” he said.

When Brandon Holley took over the microphone, she seconded Phillips’ advice and added a few tips of her own. “Your ideas are your commodities,” Holley said, “and if you can make your editors feel like they can’t do anything without you, you’ll get the job.” She continued with a discussion of dos and don’ts related to her professional experience:

  • Do more than expected, faster than expected
  • Read the magazine, and become a mini-expert
  • Show visible enthusiasm for your work

Holley concluded her speech with a discussion of the importance of being multi-platform and using social media wisely. “Social media has to be a tool, not a toy,” she said. “It’s huge because it creates fans – it makes the brand stronger.” And coming from the leader of a magazine that is as savvy as Lucky, we believe it.

Pilar Guzman
Pilar Guzman, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living

Day One continued with a speech from Pilar Guzman, the Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living and the founding editor of Cookie. Guzman took us through her journey of launching Cookie, an upscale parenting magazine designed to demystify the scariness of motherhood. “Launching a magazine brand is having your eye to the ground and seeing how you can uniquely fill that hole [in the marketplace] and solve that problem,” said Guzman. She detailed valuable tips on how to build a brand and believe in it, too. “Give them the wow, but don’t make it so intimidating,” she said. “And it’s about you: do you want to be at the table you’re creating?” This is undoubtedly important information to know as we continue to cultivate our own magazine brands as part of our team projects.

Michael Clinton and students
Hearst Magazines President and Marketing/Publishing Director Michael Clinton with students

The series of presentations concluded with a discussion on the business of magazines from Michael Clinton, the President and Marketing/Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines. Clinton stressed that, contrary to popular belief, it takes a very long time for things to change in this industry. He noted that although digital platforms continue to grow, print media is still strong. Clinton wrapped up his talk with a straw poll asking who we thought should be on the next cover of Cosmopolitan: “Emma Stone! Allison Williams! Blake Lively!” Hands waved wildly and the ideas poured out from all over the room. Clinton took it all in and claimed he had a few good ideas to take back to the office. What’s his advice on choosing a magazine cover personality? “It’s got to be authentic,” Clinton noted. “It’s got to be someone that resonates with the reader.”

A common theme running through all four of the day’s presentations was that having visible enthusiasm for the publishing industry is crucial to getting your foot in the door. Since almost all of the speakers made a point of noting what great questions we asked, I like to think we’re on our way.

by Shannon Ryan


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