Journalist Q&A: Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief, More magazine

Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More, took time during her magazine's Reinvention Convention in New York City on October 18 to talk to Kimberly Maul about effectively reaching the broad female audience

Journalist Q&A: Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief, More magazine

Name:Lesley Jane Seymour
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: More

Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief of More, took time during her magazine's Reinvention Convention in New York City on October 18 to talk to Kimberly Maul about effectively reaching the broad female audience

Tell us a bit about your background and how you became editor-in-chief of More?

I actually was an English major who always knew I'd write, but I didn't know how. I ended up getting a job as an intern at Seventeen magazine as a teenager. When I was there, I saw WWD and thought, “Well, I want to write and I like this fashion thing,” so I just wrote to them and asked if they had a job. I started freelancing for them in college. Isn't that funny? And they published my stuff.

I then went to work for them and was there for about two and a half years. I then went over to the New York Daily News, then Vogue, then Harper's Bazaar, and back to Vogue for nine years. After that, I left for my son and started freelancing for a while, but I never got back to corporate life. I ended up at Glamour as its beauty director, and then I had a second baby.

At that point, several people had said to me, “You should try running a magazine.” I never thought about that, but then I got myself a job as editor-in-chief of YM, a teen book. From there, I went to Redbook, then to Marie Claire, and then to More. It was a long, circuitous route.

Women today have style and substance, but also a variety of interests that differ not only from men, but from one another. How do you balance that responsibility to reach such a broad audience?

As a magazine, you don't want to be everything to everybody. That's a mistake, especially today. You can't be a generic magazine; nobody cares for that. So I really talk to very assertive, self-actualized, smart, and accomplished women. It's a certain type who's going to be attracted to the magazine and we have a lot of substantive articles, such as the profile Lynn Sherr wrote on Nancy Pelosi in our October issue. We also cover fashion, beauty, health, and fitness, but More has a good serious portion. You're never going to feel hungry when you leave the magazine.

Is it going to appeal to everybody? No. It's a 1.3 million circulation, maybe it could go to 1.5, but it's not everybody. And that's OK. I really edit for women like me, and that is a joy because you know it's very easy to edit from your gut. You can do what feels right and what's on your mind.

What's odd is whatever is on my mind ends up being on my readers' minds – so it's interesting. And I love that because it's therapy for me to not feel alone when I'm thinking these strange thoughts. It's like, “Wow, whatever happened to all my friends? Now my kids are out of the house and I don't have any friends. How did that happen?” Then you write about it and you find out that all these other women in America are going, “You know, I have the same problem.” It's just so interesting to me. I enjoy it.

More has received several awards and accolades. To what do you attribute that success?

We've gotten some really nice nominations. We've been up for an ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) Award twice now. I've gotten four nominations for General Excellence, which is very hard to get.

I believe our writing is as good as Esquire or GQ, and we model ourselves after any great men's magazine. With that in mind, we had a very interesting run-in with Pelosi after the article we ran. She didn't like the headline we used on the cover. When I really probed down with the guy in her office who was calling to chew me out, I said, “Look, I'm sorry. Maybe we went too far. We were trying to bring our readers in and we did something a little tabloid-y.”

However, I decided I really didn't care when he said, “Well, when we do a women's magazine, we expect different types of treatment.” At that point, I thought, “I'm actually glad that I totally threw you for a loop because guess what? You shouldn't. What do you think I'm going to do? Just softball you because you're a woman? Are you kidding me?” But that's how they think. And it's interesting; the prejudices live on, but I'm going to use it to my advantage.

They thought we were supposed to be gummy, but we had a little bite and they were shocked. Men's magazines have all kinds of bite all the time. That's their trade, but why shouldn't it be our trade? We struggled to do really great reportage. We have the best writers in the country working for us. We have award-winning writers, we have leading writers, and we let them run – that's one of the unusual things. I challenge you to find a women's magazine that lets somebody use any kind of word they want. They can use dirty words and they can go on for 5,000 words. There really aren't many venues for that, and that's why we get the writers we do.

What are some of your favorite issues and topics to tackle?

I'm always fascinated by women who are changing the world, that's just a personal passion. I'm always intrigued by what one woman can do. I never like to paint them as perfect or convey that, “Oh, this is so easy.” I really like to paint all the shades of gray, and that's what we do very, very well. We don't wrap things up with a little bow. We don't make it sound easy. We don't only pick the nice people. We profile some pretty icky people out there, ones who initially cause me to think, “Ick! We're going to profile her? I hate her.”

Sometimes, however, what's really interesting is when you profile those people, you find out they actually have a positive side. It still might not change my opinion, but they're human beings. They have many shades and that's how you really learn about human nature. I find that much more interesting than the nice stories where the bad things a woman says are left out. That's not my magazine. It's not what we do.

How do events like the Reinvention Convention help build More's brand?

Look at all these women sitting in the back of the room. I just passed a table of women who were toasting to change and renewal. That takes the magazine and makes it real, makes it come alive.

A lot of publishers talk about making the magazine come alive, but they really don't know what they mean by that. I get the privilege of actually having it come alive. Almost all of these people you see on stage have been in the magazine and you get to see what happens when you put them up there. You get to see how real they are, how interesting they are, and the reaction they draw from the audience.

And why the focus on reinvention?

Reinvention is a fact of life. Women have been reinventing themselves since they day they first blew their hair out; they decided instead of curly hair, they were going to have straight hair today. It's just part of our constitution to constantly be improving ourselves, changing ourselves, or working on ourselves – it's very female.

That's why women are often happier than men. I don't know if men know they can reinvent themselves as much as women do. That's why you bring this to life and it's become a really big happening.

What's your relationship like with PR people?

I'm in the PR business. I love PR when it's done well. Really great PR is well thought out, has a mission, has backup, and has a hook. It's a shame there is a lot of crappy PR that's done. I get a lot of this junk just sent to me in e-mail. They don't know who they're e-mailing. They just send all this junk in and you think, “Come on. I'm not the footwear editor. Just do your homework.” I'm not even going to read it. You just waste my time and yours. I know it costs nothing to send it, but it's just silly.

The world moves on PR. We all know that. Bad PR can sink you and kill you - we know that especially on the Web.

PR is everything. Look at President Obama. What is he struggling with? I believe his number-one problem is bad PR. I don't think they've talked about what he's done. He's done great things, but no one has articulated them. And it's shocking to me that you can be at that level, having accomplished so much, and no one can get out there and get the message across.

Great PR is worth every penny. Today, you really have to know how to do PR online, as well. You must know how to put out fires and how to redirect people. There are things I say in my editor's letter that can be misinterpreted. A fire will start online and I'll have to go in and say something, readdress it, clarify, or whatever. It's a much more challenging business – and it's more exciting.

How is More using social media to advance the brand?

We love social media. I live on my Facebook page, though I would like to find something other than Mark Zuckerberg's platform. I just love being out there, but I'm a public person. There is too much junk, however. So much noise and clutter that eventually will get filtered out.  

Is the magazine itself on Facebook and Twitter?

We are, though I'd like to have more time to control that. I don't right now, but that's something I would like to get more involved with because I love the power of what you can do with social networking. It's really extraordinary.

I get a lot of ideas sent to me on my Facebook page that I end up using in the magazine.  It got to the point where I had a job opening and I was sending stuff to my assistant saying, “Load this person, load that person.” Then I had to tell her to keep the e-mail and tell me where I met them. Were they from Twitter or Facebook? Where did I meet them? Did I really meet this person? Are they in my business? I don't even know anymore because it just comes in at so many different angles.

What is the best way to reach you?

PR people should go to the correct editor because I simply can't respond to all the stuff that comes to me that's incorrect. Look at the masthead and pitch the right person. Of course, my page in the magazine gives my contact address and we do read all of those comment and all the letters. We really do.

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