The latest subject of the So What Do You Do Exactly? series is Jessica, who comes to us from the front lines of none other than the editorial department at Parents magazine.
What’s your actual job title? Editorial Assistant at Parents magazine
What would your job title be if it actually encompassed your day-to-day? Professional Intern. I mean this in a good way–I feel like the kind of “do anything with a smile” attitude that’s so crucial in an internship is the defining characteristic of my job. In the workplace hierarchy, I’m a step above the interns and a step below the editors. I have to be excited about pitching in wherever I’m needed. This could mean editing my own pages or wrangling person-sized cardboard boxes in our scary-packed product closet.
Sounds like your tasks are all over the place, what’s a sample of your day? Every day is totally different! I generally have a mix of administrative, editorial, and creative duties. For example:
9:30-10:30: Make contracts for freelance writers
10:30-11:30: Follow up with PR contacts about samples we requested for a photo shoot. We needed them yesterday, and there’s no sign of them!
11:30-12:30: Make origami boats for a photo shoot
12:30-1:30: Desk-side meeting with Olympic Paint to learn about ColorClix, their new mobile app that allows you to take a photo of anything and match the colors to shades in their paint collection
1:30-2:30: Unpack boxes and organize new product shipments when the samples arrive
2:30-3:30: Phone interview with Katie Workman about her new book, The Mom 100, for a cookbook excerpt I’m writing for our website
3:30-4:30: Write the table of contents for the magazine
4:30-5:30: Write text for our email newsletters
5:30-6:30: Go to the Target press preview to see the upcoming fall collection and scout for things we might be able to include in future stories
So Parents, eh? You’re not a parent! Why would they hire you? Well, for one thing, a lot of the work that goes into creating a magazine has nothing to do with generating content! To make the magazine happen, we need to employ a lot of people with skills that don’t necessarily have anything to do with parenting. We have a photo department that arranges shoots, an art department that makes the fonts gorgeous, and a web team that makes our articles SEO-friendly. Also, a lot of what I do, like working on stories about family-friendly food or crafts, is stuff that I can relate to (Check out Jessica’s blog for crafts for parents and non-parents alike). So, it’s not as though I’m a guru shelling advice about tantrums and breastfeeding to impressionable parents!
The key for us is developing concepts that are age-appropriate and relatable. And I do remember doing a lot of crafting with my parents, and the kinds of concerns they had about it: is this going to stain the carpet, is my kid going to slice her hand off, does this require fancy supplies or advance planning–parents want to avoid a trip to the store to buy craft supplies they’ll only use once. We try to focus on creative ways to repurpose things you already have around the house (like this cute bird feeder made out of paper plates). And luckily, I have parents! I run ideas by them, and they let me know if it’s totally off base (ie, a glass terrarium with cacti. Not toddler-friendly.)
Tell me something that has surprised you about modern parenting, or the way we talk about modern parenting, or the way we think about modern parenting. Before taking this job, I didn’t think about “parenting” as a verb. I was really intrigued by this idea of parenting not as a series of big plans (like whether or not to circumcise your son, how much money to set away for college), but as a series of small decisions you make every day–like how you’re going to teach your kids about healthy eating habits by making whole grains seem yummy (banana quinoa waffles? Sold!).
One thing that surprised me was that the vast majority of our content (editorial and photos) is targeted towards mothers, even though we know that dads are taking a much more hands-on role in kids’ lives than they were 86 years ago, when the magazine was first published. I think (well, at least I hope?) that dads often have a really active role in modern parenting, and I’m glad when we have an opportunity to profile them (like the wonderful daddy craft blogger at Made By Joel).
What are your favorite parts/least favorite parts of the job?
It’s really exciting to see one of my ideas in print. One of my first tasks was helping to make crafts for this spread in our May issue, and I got giddy thinking that I could teach other people how to make little tissue paper flowers or cupcake topper garlands. I would like to be a kind of Martha Stewart for young, lazy people without a disposable income. Another perk is that PR companies are constantly sending people in the office products to sample. This means that we have an ever-evolving supply of random things: macaroons, nail polish, toy cars, party favors. At least at the entry level, publishing isn’t a lucrative field–but there are lots of free snacks!
What makes a successful pitch? I’ve learned that the more detailed the pitch, the better. It seems that good pitches are basically an outline of the story, not just a description of the topic. I think that good pitches are basically shortened versions of good articles: they have a strong lede and emphasize an element of service for the reader. For example, an article that discusses ways new parents waste money would be more service-y if it also described ways parents can save money (like sites such as thredUP, where parents can trade in kids’ clothes once they outgrow them).
What makes a parenting mag different than any other? Or the same? Like most other magazine, we try to have diverse content: health stories, features, essays, lifestyle, beauty, food–it’s just all targeted towards parents. But targeting a specific demographic is nothing new–men’s and women’s mags do it all the time. And there are even additional distinctions within those categories: Seventeen is for the young woman, Marie Claire is for the twenty- or thirtysomething, and More is for women in their 40s and 50s. That’s not to say that the content wouldn’t resonate with other readers–I love reading all of those magazines, and I think that the content in Parents is actually great for happily unattached people, too: there are great recipes and easy crafts that you can make without any fancy skills or tons of free time. We just published a cookbook, and these recipes are great for post-college people trying to teach themselves how to be adults–cheap ingredients, nutritious, tasty, and quick.
What does the future of the magazine industry look like from your vantage point? I think that the future involves lots of digital content. We have a presence on Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, and each month, the magazine produces special tablet videos and interactive elements. I hope that paper magazines don’t become obsolete, but I think that readers will increasingly expect new content to be packaged on each of those platforms.
Want more Jessica? Don’t we all. Check out her craft blog Nest, and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaHester
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