ELLE Magazine’s EIC Robbie Myers

When defining good content there is no better person to ask than an Editor-in-Chief of a magazine we love, so when we had the chance to talk to Robbie Myers – EIC of ELLE Magazine – we wasted no time in trying to find out what she views as quality media. Myers, who has held her position for over fifteen years, believes content should be engaging on several levels including emotionally and intellectually — and thinks it doesn’t hurt to bring your readers to tears every now and then.

However, Myers divulged more than just tips on content, she also told us about the time she sat next to Ricky Martin at a dinner party, and recounted working for Andy Warhol at Interview. Read through the below carefully Potatoheads, we consider great advice from great editors gospel of sorts…

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

I’m an Upper West Sider, so I would start at Sarabeth’s. I would have something rich and carby, but also include protein. For lunch around here I sometimes go to Bar Americain – and Marea is really good. I like that restaurant. I’m kind of old school, from back when I worked for Andy Warhol, so I might actually go to Odeon for dinner. I went there when it was popular, then not popular, and now I guess it’s sort of hot again. It’s like my shag haircut; I just hang on for decades, until it comes back. I was hardly in Andy’s inner circle but I worked at the magazine [Interview], and work was what we did in between going out. So you would work until ten, and then you would go out, and then you’d go back to work the next morning (late morning) and then you would work and go out again. It was pretty good.

Was there a dinner you can remember where you were sitting there thinking, “Wow – I can’t believe I’m here”? Where was it and who was there? 

You know what, that actually happened a couple of times. I was in the movie Caddy Shack (for literally three minutes) and during that time, I was on set for about two days. There was a moment, where I was at a dinner at the Fort Lauderdale Hoolihan’s, and there was Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Harold Ramis (the director). I was pretty young, so that was my first real, “What am I doing here?” 

Then there was another dinner – one of my early, early dinners in fashion, – where I was seated next to Ricky Martin, and a crowd of all these young, beautiful, amazing people. I was in Milan and I thought, “Oh this is a moment.”

I was also at a castle in Rome for work, and it was like Game of Thrones. It was a small fashion crowd and I thought “Okay, an actual king lived here.” It was sort of a fortress – and apparently it was quite special that we were even allowed to be in the building that evening.

I’m happy that I still have moments like that. 

Since you started in this industry, how has publishing changed the most?

Well, I think you have to be in every medium that you can. You express your brand values in various mediums and I think it’s interesting. Project Runway started with ELLE, and it was the first time a big american fashion media brand was on television in the way that it was; it was still really the beginning of reality television competition series, and it democratized fashion. Say what you will about it, but that was really the beginning if you think about new mediums that fashion was expressing. If you believe in your voice and your product, and your point of view of the world, then be in every medium that you can be. 

How do you personally define good content? 

Well, obviously it’s been my life long profession to make content and put it out there, so what we aspire to, obviously, is to create something that is new and relevant. And what’s great content? It’s mildly addictive and it’s engaging on several levels. It engages you emotionally and it engages you intellectually. I always say, make them cry at least once an issue, because if you’re that good at telling a story – that you can make people so emotional – then you have them for life. We’re in an aesthetic medium too; a lot of people forget that a magazine is a real visual thing. It’s a product. It has to be beautiful, interesting, inspiring, new and not predictable. I think that’s important. 

And as a consumer, how do you personally consume content? What is your favorite type of content?

I couldn’t really give you a good answer on how I divide my time. I spend a lot of my time working, so I’m constantly looking at things online and in print, as those are my competitors. In a way, you guys are our competitors because we’re all competing for a person’s time. We all want to speak to young women – a certain kind of woman with a certain world view. So, in terms of providing good content for [our woman], I think we assume a certain level of erudition. We don’t feel that we need to explain the culture or the pop culture that we’re referencing; we assume that they know that already, and that they’re already a part of that conversation. We assume that they want to take agency in their own lives, so we let them do that but we don’t dictate. We don’t talk down and we don’t say “you must.” We say, “Here’s this amazing stuff that’s out there.” Our editors edit – we go out there and look at literally 100,000 pieces of clothing in a season. Some of them are good, some of them are repetitive, and some of them are not good. We edit that for you.

What do you think about editors as social media personalities?

I think that choice is personal taste. Again, I think the editor, in his or her role, is editing. They’re showing you the things that they get to come up with, or that they get to see. Everybody has a certain comfort level too, which I think is a natural expression of who they are, so I would never say that people should or shouldn’t be doing something. I think it’s just how they choose to express themselves.

Does it ever bother you, seeing online, how viral fast content can be versus something that’s really quality?

As an editor or a journalist, you think, “Okay, what are people talking about, and why is it going viral?”  Sometimes things go viral because they are just easy to consume and funny – like the gold blue dress that went everywhere. I was into that too! But you know, it was three minutes of diversionary fun in my life, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because it has gone wide, it’s not good content.

Do you have a favorite social media outlet that you personally enjoy? 

I’m kind of a news junkie, so I read my Twitter feed when I need to know what’s going on. I have the NYT app and the BBC. I follow John Oliver; I follow Shonda Rhimes. I actually have a laundry list of people.

On Instagram, I follow photographers like Terry Tsiolis, Paola Kudacki, Dan Martensen, Mark Seliger, and so many more who shoot for ELLE so I can see the creative ways they use that medium to channel their vision. It’s also fun to follow people I work with and used to work with like Joe Zee and Keith Pollock, and friends at other magazines like Ariel Foxman and Michael Carl to see what they’re up to, I love Brie Larson’s sense of humor, and I’m always looking out for what’s new and inspiring from the designers we love to watch, and my kids.

How do you personally practice beauty from the inside out?

Well, there’s this thing that I started to tell myself, which is to choose generosity. I sometimes have a hard time telling people how much I appreciate them, including my colleagues. My son made up this phrase: “It squeezes my heart.” I’m kind of shy about doing that and I remind myself to risk sounding foolish or vulnerable and just to make sure that I tell people how I feel, and to be generous with them. When I’m not, it’s not because I’m not feeling it, it’s because I’m sometimes reluctant to share it. I don’t know if that’s beauty from the inside out exactly, but I hope so.

What would your last meal be and who would it be with?

It would have to be Italian, right? We play a game a lot with my kids called Desert Island Food. If you get three, what do you get? If you get four, what do you get? And it’s always some combination of pizza, ice cream, and macaroni and cheese – or something high carb. It would be with my family.

Is there one mentor that you had throughout your career that made such a difference in your life, or a piece of advice from a certain person?

I had so many. Jean-Louis Ginibre (who was the longtime editorial director at Hachette) and I went through something really interesting having to do with a choice that I made about a magazine cover. It was questioned by some of the executives in the company, and it was a challenge. He called me up and he said, “I support you.” I was a young editor at the time, and I was working at a magazine called Telle – Teen ELLE, get it? – and they were questioning my choice of the cover. He was not in the meeting but he called me afterward and said “I will support you 100%. You just have to make sure that whatever you are doing, you are doing for your readers, and not for your peers.” I think that’s a mistake a lot of young editors make; they feel the need to show that they’ve gotten access. You really have to remember to work for your reader and your audience, as opposed to your friends who you want to show how amazing you are.

What’s the thought process behind choosing a cover every month?

Well, our covers just go around the world. The fact that we can get one to two billion press impressions off an ELLE magazine cover is kind of incredible. We only have twelve months in a year, and some months we do multiple covers – like women in television or women in comedy. We are interested in women who are making the culture in some way, who have some kind of voice, who are often at an inflection point in their lives – and something is about to change or they’re about to grow – and who love fashion or embrace it in some way.

In the same vein as the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato for you right now?

Women in comedy! I always say that comics are kind of like our reporters. They’re not the canaries in the coal mines, but if you want to know what’s going on with women –  like really, what we’re talking about, what we care about, what’s making us angry – they’ll say it first.

Also read our interviews with W Magazine’s Edward Enninful and Harper Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey. 

*Robbie Myers, photographed in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann