'Nylon' EIC Michelle Lee to Oversee Branded Content

Is editors working with advertisers the future of media?
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Dhani Mau
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Is editors working with advertisers the future of media?
Michelle Lee. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Michelle Lee. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Condé Nast made headlines when it announced a new platform for which the editors of its titles, including Anna Wintour, would help create paid content for brands. It was a seen as a big departure for the publishing house, which had historically kept editorial and advertising separate.

However, it may be representative of where content companies are headed. On Thursday, Nylon announced that its own EIC Michelle Lee would be taking on the additional role of head of brand strategy, in which she will work with advertisers to oversee all of the publication's branded and native advertising, in addition to her duties as editor-in-chief.

When we first sat down with Lee following her appointment at Nylon eight months ago, she mentioned that she intended to have her hand in all aspects of the brand — even if it wasn't strictly editorial. And for Lee especially, that makes sense. Before joining Nylon, Lee founded Magnified Media, a company that created content for brands. "Because I know both [editorial and advertising], it's put me in an interesting position," Lee explained over the phone Thursday. "I've been in this business for 15 years and looking back, the landscape has changed so much, and I think as an editor, you also have to change." 

Lee is welcoming that change with open arms: "[Nylon is] known throughout the world as being a cool brand and we speak to millennials. Needless to say, every brand right now is figuring out how to speak to millennials and we have that. Who better to help them to do that than the editors? I see it as being such a hugely valuable thing," says Lee. "To have things being shared on your platforms or beyond, we want it to be high-quality, and as an editor, it’s awesome to be given some insight and shape that."

Lee sees her role as simply an "added layer" to her day-to-day responsibilities, and that, at least for now, the majority of her focus will still be on editorial.

Still, Lee says the company as a whole is making a big investment in branded content and native advertising across all channels. Nylon's current editorial staff will be involved with it, as well as some new hires as that area of the company grows and talent is needed to create the content. "There will always be some crossover; some editors are great at generating ideas, and as editor-in-chief, I value that. Once you get to a certain level, you appreciate people who can think big and are fantastic at strategy."

So what does that mean for readers? Sponsored content and advertorials will always be marked as such in digital and print, respectively. "We don't want to confuse people," says Lee. In addition to lots of sponsored videos (which we wrote about here) and mini sponsored magazines inside print issues of Nylon, Lee hopes to be able to offer advertisers "360 degree massive campaigns" that utilize digital, print and its community of influencers.

As for proponents of the proverbial "separation of church and state" who are critical of such arrangements, Lee feels that kind of thinking is simply unrealistic."Editors in chief wear a lot of hats and are incredible at juggling a lot of things ... and can distinguish what is a sold campaign and what is editorial. Anything I’m working on, I understand what it is and any talented group of people can accomplish both without muddying the waters."