Journalist Q&A: Neha Gandhi, Refinery29

Neha Gandhi, executive editor at Refinery29, a lifestyle and fashion property, speaks about recent changes at the site and forging relationships with readers.

Title: Executive editor
Outlet: Refinery29
Preferred contact: @nehaintown
Website: www.refinery29.com

How did you end up at Refinery29?
I have been here three years and came from Seventeen. When I joined, we were a lot smaller. I was probably the 40th person on the team and the fifth or sixth person on the editorial staff. We were posting eight stories a day, and it was a different site in a lot of ways. But even as we have grown, we’ve maintained what is special about the site.

What do you do differently from other fashion, beauty, and lifestyle e-sites?
We are not limited to any one category – there are very few spaces we are afraid to go. We are a site for women who care about personal style, but are not limited by it. We are a site that speaks to 360 degrees of a woman’s life – what she is interested in, what she is talking about, and what she is thinking about.

Beyond that, we care about great content. This is a place where we really want to nurture our writers and editors. We care that every story that goes up reads thoughtfully and says something, rather than being something that is dashed off. With every one of those stories are beautiful visuals – our design and creative department is second to none.

How has the site developed through the years?
We redesigned the site a year ago. A month before that, we moved into our beautiful digs in the Financial District [of New York City]. We’ve brought on almost 60 new hires. Most important, we’ve grown our audience in this past year by 158%.

We have a fantastic analytics and marketing team that produces a lot of research and insights on stories, such as which ones do better at certain times of the year or times of the day or on mobile. But what is important in our transition is to try something new that doesn’t just rely on historical data and insights. We are always thinking about how to produce great stories that are completely a surprise, the brainchild of someone wildly creative, funny, and smart. We look to the numbers to guide us, but never rest on them.

You are growing your social team. What skills are you looking for?
A great social media editor has to really get our brand and love our site, and, most important, love our readers, because our social platforms are the most direct ways for us to have real conversations with that audience. We get to talk about the stories they love, have spirited discussions about the ones they hate, and get feedback on the things they want to read more about. Ultimately, that relationship with readers is what powers the site.

Any interesting developments in mobile?
We launched a new mobile experience this year. We’re using a "card" format, so you can scroll through our feed of stories easily and instantly interact with the ones that speak to you. Depending on the time of day, more than half of our traffic can come from mobile.

Are you exploring native advertising?
We run native advertising on our site. It is about making sure the stories we are producing in partnership with an advertiser are the stories our readers want to read, and it is about transparency, so a piece of content that is custom is labeled as such.

I love a story that we did for Cottonelle [about how to take a shower without taking one], integrating their flushable cleansing cloths. It’s not the easiest, most obvious product to integrate, but our editors came up with an awesome story that makes total sense here – and offers a ton of legitimately useful advice to anyone who’s ever had a lazy or rushed morning without enough time for a shower. And there are 198 comments that prove how much that no-shower shower idea really does resonate.

What has been your favorite story?
It’s hard to choose one, but our Superwoman series is near and dear to my heart. We talk to a range of women – including [Portlandia’s] Carrie Brownstein, [founder of Nasty Gal] Sophia Amoruso, and [advertising icon] Cindy Gallop – about what success looks like for them. It’s completely inspiring to dig into what drives them and to get their most honest, gotta-try-that-now advice. Plus, those pictures are gorgeous – these ladies own their personal style.

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