Editor vs Editor
Sometimes the real competition is with those on your side....
One of my new favourite discoveries on this platform is the occasional memoirs series from Kim France. The former editor of Lucky is, like me, feeling able to be a bit more candid about her time in magazines. She wrote a piece recently about her amusingly terrifying encounters with Vogue legend, Anna Wintour, and it also detailed some of the rivalries she regularly encountered within her own company. Lucky was published by Conde Nast, as is/was Glamour.
I loved it because as a fellow Conde Nast editor, I’ve had many of the same experiences.
Obviously it’s no surprise to anyone that, as the editor of Glamour, I had to shoulder ferocious competition from the rival mags in our market - Grazia, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan and then latterly Stylist magazine. But what is less understood is how vicious and downright bitchy the competition could be within your own company.
Like Kim, I felt that the management viewed this sibling rivalry, this pinch of mistrust between senior executives, as healthy competition that would spur us to excellence. In many ways they were probably right. Those scenes you see between Miranda Priestley and her French rival, Jacqueline Follet, in The Devil Wears Prada were fictional, but not baseless.
In my case, it started months before Glamour would even send one page off to print. When I joined in the summer of 2000, I spent my first months seeing as many people as I could to try and hire a team. I’d been politely warned off poaching anyone from magazines within the company. Just not cricket, apparently. Silently, I filed that under ‘Balls to that.’ If someone wanted to join Glamour, that was their business. All’s fair.
So I started contacting some of the people working on other mags within the company who I’d thought would be a good fit for Glamour. And many internal staff phoned me begging to be considered. But I soon found out that either way, for most of them this was just good old fashioned espionage. A new and expensive magazine launch will have everyone bristling about how the new team’s salaries and budgets will compare to theirs. But hey, like I say, all’s fair.
Several of these internal staff said to me in our chats, ‘But I’ve heard that this magazine only being launched so that when it fails it’ll be a good excuse to fire [redacted name of senior executive]?’
Hearing this nonsense from one grown adult was pretty funny. Hearing it from five was just staggering. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that intelligent people thought it credible that a company would launch a £5m magazine as the cunning move to oust a lone employee.
Skip forward a few months and finally, Glamour was on the newsstands. About four people had joined the team from Vogue and GQ. But - oops - there turned out to be no good reason to fire anyone involved. She was flying. I never thought Glamour would fail, but I was pretty stunned by how well it did from the get go. And I was not alone. As one of the drivers from the company’s account car service was always bursting to tell me.
Any time he had me in the car he’d say the same thing, chuckling: ‘You really shocked that Vogue lot. They were so sure it would fall flat on its arse. They don’t get what all the fuss is about.’
No idea who he meant by ‘that Vogue lot’. His indiscretion apparently had some limits.
So I guess you have to respect the colleague who told me to my face that they didn’t understand why my magazine that was ‘full of silly stuff about orgasms’ was doing so well. Or the one who told me more than once that they’d been stunned when I got hired (with my working class/mass market mag background) but that hey, it seemed to be working out (um… thanks?). Or the one who, during a boardroom lunch where we were all there to charm an important advertiser, announced how depressing it was to see so many advertisers wanting to pile into a magazine just because it was new. This prompted my boss to turn to me laughing and say, ‘Don’t take it personally!’
But as I say, they enjoyed us feeling a bit threatened by each other. One of my least favourite moments of the week was the Friday memo that was distributed to us all, detailing every magazine’s sales figures. For a good few years, Glamour’s juggernaut numbers were so much greater than the rest of the stable. And that was the point - it was the only middle market magazine in the company and was supposed to have bigger numbers than the niche figures of the more upmarket brands. But I think it just wound people up.
That wasn’t helped when I featured in an Observer newspaper piece titled ‘30 under 30’. It was very flattering to be asked, especially since no one seemed to have clocked that I was now actually 31. I didn’t think it worth mentioning. I was even standing next to mega actor Chiwetal Ejiofor in my pic, but I don’t think we said a word to each other all day. I wasn’t interviewed for the piece. They took pics and someone on the paper wrote short profiles of us all. In their wisdom, they decided to write that Glamour’s success made it likely that I would soon be ‘promoted’ to be the editor of Vogue. Never mind that I didn’t say a word about that. Or that I loved that Glamour job so much I had no thoughts of wanting another job. I was even a little insulted that people would think I thought anything might be a ‘promotion’ over it.
But it didn’t stop people pulling me aside and quietly suggesting I wind my neck in. And I tried to ignore things like the time I took my seat in a people carrier next to a stablemate editor and she actually said, ‘Oh no’, under her breath.
Still, time marched on and while Glamour enjoyed strong sales for many, many years, competition only increased. Thanks to everyone’s new best frenemy, the iPhone, sales were harder won, but advertising even more so. Yep, iller winds were gathering for poor old Glamour, and so too was the Schadenfreude.
When my regular invitations to important company conferences - usually somewhere glamorous like Cannes or Venice - just stopped, it was a pretty big statement: Glamour was no longer the company’s shiny bauble. Time was when I’d been deemed a permanent, unquestionable fixture at such gatherings. Sure, I moaned every time I had to go - you be put in charge of a ‘team building exercise’ that features the editors of French AND Italian Vogue and see how much you like it - but wanting to go is very different to wanting to be invited.
As always, the buzz was gathering about the next one planned. In Evian, I think. A colleague asked me what I was packing for it and gets no Oscar for her feigned ‘shocked face’ when I was forced to say I was not invited. But nor do I for my wholly unconvincing nonchalance.
At a magazine awards ceremony, where my company had two tables full of hopeful nominees for trophies like editor or art director or cover of the year, another editor leaned over to me and said, ‘I think it’s really awful that they haven’t seated you on the top table with the boss.’ It hadn’t occurred to me at all to interpret the seating plan as some sort of coded pecking order. But well, now her work was done and I started examining all future seating arrangements with a newfound paranoia.
But you know what felt worse than any of that kind of inter-company sparring? When people stopped asking me about any of it at all. When we were riding high, I guess there was an assumption that I was confident and smug and deserved a bit of taking down a peg or two. That’s my best guess, because when our fortunes slid, and those damned weekly sales memos put our bad news knickers on display for the whole company, something worse than bitchiness started coming my way: pity. This is the era I’ve written about before, when people would pull me aside in corridors or company events and pep talk me about demanding a pay-out when the axe fell.
People being nice in a competitive hot house? So much worse than being told what I was doing was silly.
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