Back in November, Condé Nast announced that Michelle Lee would take over as Allure's new editor-in-chief, alongside news that the magazine's founding editor, Linda Wells, would be stepping down after 25 years in her role.
Lee, who previously served as the editor-in-chief and head of brand strategy at Nylon, comes with an unusually extensive knowledge in both branded and editorial content. At Nylon, she helped to launch an in-house creative agency called Nylon Studio; prior to that, she was the chief content and strategy officer at Magnified Media. Her publishing experience is just as impressive: She helped launch both US Weekly and The Daily Front Row, was formerly editor-in-chief of InTouch Weekly, and held senior staff roles at several other titles. Basically, Lee really knows her stuff — in both the digital and print realms.
At Tuesday's NYC meetup event, moderated by Fashionista's Chantal Fernandez, Lee explained that personal affinity aside, her decision to leave Nylon was very much influenced by the tremendous opportunity that she saw in growing and expanding Allure.
"Everyone, of course, says Allure is a beauty expert — but what does that mean?" she asked. Her first order of business, then, was to articulate the Allure brand and identify the reader. "Allure has always been strong with products," she pointed out. But she also aims to build upon the magazine's beauty industry authority and create a "whole layer of inspiration," hoping to drive readers' desire to share its stories and engage with its content. To that end, the future issues of Allure will have more original photography, with more products being shot alongside people.
Making Allure feel more personal is also a top priority on Lee's list. "If we share a photo on Instagram, I want people to be obsessed with it because it's so good. And I don't know if people necessarily feel that way [right now]," she explained. "I think from an emotional level, they trust Allure, but I don't know if they are obsessed with it yet." And as for Allure.com — which faces significant competition from digital players like Into the Gloss, Byrdie, xoVain and, of course, tutorials on YouTube — Lee plans on collaborating with experts and bloggers with dedicated followings, rather than going up against them.
Another point of discussion during Tuesday's meetup was the ever-controversial topic of branded content. "I think traditional editors are certainly afraid of it. They think that there has to be this wall," she explained, using the analogy of church and state. "But I actually always viewed it as a really fun, creative outlet that makes you think in different ways." When asked what the key is to making good sponsored content, Lee first cited authenticity, as well as changing one's general attitude towards it. Rather than thinking of it as "forced," Lee suggested that editors think of it as an opportunity "to do something awesome" with advertisers — i.e. go beyond the typical products-in-gallery slideshows.
To close out the talk, Fernandez asked what qualities Lee looks for in potential employees. As someone who's hired around 100 people throughout her career, she said that it often comes down to two things: attitude and communication. "Don't be invisible. I feel like that is the kiss of death," she said. "I really appreciate hard work and everything, but you do have to have a certain level of self-promotion... Understand your value... No matter what level you're at, ideas are welcome." In addition, she's often drawn to applicants who "are a little weird," since it's outside-the-box creativity that helps bring publications and brands to the next level.
And as for the tricky, eternal question of how long someone should stay at a job before moving on, she suggested not jumping around as she did, as that might signal a red flag to future employers. ("I wouldn't suggest that because it did come back to bite me in the ass.") That said, use your best judgement and don't pass up on great opportunities. "Within media, in order to move up, you have to move on. So somehow that was sticking early in my career."
Thanks to our sponsors: