When Brandon Holley took over Jane at the end of 2005 from the eponymous Jane Pratt, the magazine’s staff gave her a neon sign. It read “She’s so Jane,” and the magazine launched an ad campaign around that tag line to convince readers and advertisers that Ms. Holley would be make a great replacement. “That was more of a Fairchild thing,” Ms. Holley told The Observer over the phone on Tuesday morning.
In July of 2007, less than two years after she took over at Jane, Ms. Holley was called into a meeting with Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse and editorial director Tom Wallace. The two men told her that they had decided to close Jane earlier that day.
After three years away, Ms. Holley is coming back. Last week Condé Nast announced that for the second time in the company’s history it was bringing an editor in chief back to edit a different magazine. Ms. Holley would take over Lucky from Kim France.
For the second time in Ms. Holley’s history, she is taking over a magazine at the company from its founder. And since Ms. Holley had been working at Yahoo for the past three and a half years–editing Shine, its women’s interest site–it is the first time ever at Condé Nast that an editor in chief arrives with experience running a Web site. (Shine draws 25 million visitors per month.)
“I hadn’t thought about going back and, in fact, was pretty clear that I wasn’t going back,” Ms. Holley told The Observer a few hours after her return to the company was announced. But Mr. Wallace convinced her. “Condé is in a really great place,” she added.
“We never lost touch with her,” Mr. Wallace told The Observer last week. After Jane closed, Mr. Wallace got Ms. Holley an interview at Yahoo.
“When they were explaining the job, I just interrupted the person who was talking to me and said, ‘I want this job,’” Ms. Holley said. She remembers using her laptop during her phone interview to look up the definition of acronyms used in Web jargon (e.g., SEO?). “I realized that I had to retool my career and take a step back and start something from scratch in an industry I didn’t know much about,” she said.
She described her time at Yahoo as school. “I have a list of the words I had to look up. And now I wish I could send you some of the emails I write now. You wouldn’t believe what comes out of my mouth–it’s crazy geek talk.”
But Ms. Holley was on the geeky side of Condé Nast editors even when she was editing Jane. In 2006, before magazines, especially those inside Four Times Square, had begun to take the Internet seriously, Ms. Holley was posting videos made by her staff on Jane‘s Web site and asking her editors to blog two or three times per week. She encouraged readers to submit photographs of their breasts and post anonymously on the magazine’s Web site about their bodies.
At Lucky, Ms. Holley’s first mission is to build community on the site. “I want UGC. More UGC, damn it!” she said jokingly (user-generated content, for anyone without a Yahoo diploma). She’s excited about the way women are engaging with the Internet, “how women are using content online, how technology gets them to lean forward and participate and the social aspect. I mean all of that has been a great part of the last three years–not being an editor that sends a magazine out into the world but being an editor that goes back into the common thread, pulls it back out, and interacts with the users on a day-to-day basis.”
Building a robust comment section online isn’t normally something incoming Condé editors talk about in their first interview, but Lucky isn’t a normal Condé title. The magazine, which was inspired by barcode-filled Japanese shopping magazines, was designed as an Internet catalog of sorts before the Internet blossomed as a shopping destination. “There are a lot of women who really love this magazine, and I want to be careful with that,” Ms. Holley told The Observer on Tuesday. She had been in Lucky‘s offices at Four Times Square the day before to meet the staff. “It was a very short meeting, just to say hi to everyone,” she said.
Ms. Holley said she wants to inject newness into the magazine, but first she has to get into the office and determine what is working well. “I do think that bringing bloggers into the magazine now is a great idea,” she said.
“There’s kind of a ground-up thing with fashion right now that’s really fun.”