– Posted by Helen
INSPIRING MADDERSON WOMEN SERIES
Q&A with Kate Slesinger, publishing director of Vanity Fair & Tatler
Through a combination of being in the right place at the right time and having the right attitude – and guts.
I came back from New York in the 1990s having been working in advertising at J Walter Thompson (JWT group) which was the best ever training. It set me up to be taken seriously in the world of publishing. All I needed was the ‘gloss’ and ‘luxury’ credentials, so I set about doing the shortest stint possible in fashion PR. That enabled me to walk in to Vogue House, really totally uninvited, and request a meeting with Stephen Quinn! (You would never do that now, completely uninvited and unsolicitied.) That was back in 1994, and it all slotted in to place after that. I had the serious hard graft advertising back bone from New York, and I had that little bit of fashion veneer so I could go in to the clients and talk seriously about what the titles could do for them.
In this business you can’t just say ‘your brand would look lovely in this magazine’ – you have to have some hard, strategic arguments. That is more and more so the case with the fragmented media landscape these days. You need that argument at your fingertips.
The other thing that helped me a lot is that I am a ‘real person’ – which sounds tripe but I am very very mindful of other people and how their considerations have to be born in mind. I do have compassion and I think that is quite important. To run a commercial team of motivated, happy people to enable them to sell well you have to have that compassion as a boss.
Which person (alive or dead) is your biggest inspiration?
My Mother who died far too young at age 54 in the early 90s. She was an actress, and she was so glamorous and strong. She was a brilliant cook and she was clever. She inspired me to not do the obvious thing but to push boundaries.
What do you feel strongly about at the moment –political, social, environmental or otherwise?
I feel very strongly about sustainability, partly because I have three children and their generation is desperately concerned about the state of the planet! They are forever calling me up on proper disposal of plastic and batteries, saying ‘re-use, recycle and reduce’! My kids are my conscience. Politics is one thing, but without a planet we won’t have anything left.
I am massively in to creating a world that is not so wasteful and I know that can be done in the industries that I am in, be it fashion or luxury jewellery, and in everyday living at Vogue House too. We are very mindful of our actions. When I think about how far we have come in the time I have been here (24 years) with being more environmentally aware, it is amazing. We now have systems in place for proper disposal of plastic bottles, proper disposal of magazines… we think about the way we trade, the partners we seek to work with, their ethics etc etc. I know that is a BIG thing for Madderson London and I love everything that they are doing in that area. It is a really really good platform and so important for our future.
At Vogue House we do have a disproportionately high amount of paper because of what we do, from competitors magazines to newspapers and so on. The recycling is taken very seriously, and that is a huge change. When I first joined everyone was smoking, people were disposing of coke cans and plastic bottles in with the magazines - we didn’t know any better. Now we switch the lights off and we don’t have AC on when windows are open. In my office the light goes off if I don’t move around enough!
What advice would you give young girls starting similar careers to you?
You have to absolutely go the extra mile and be a ‘YES’ person – don’t allow your personal life to encroach too much on your willingness to be at every event and go to everything. The life blood is getting to know the clients through meetings and events. You cannot hide behind the emails and conduct your life that way. In this industry personal relations are so important, which you only really effectively build through looking in peoples’ eyes, shaking their hands, eating their food and drinking their cocktails! When I first started I literally went to every single thing – whether it was during the holidays or at the weekend, and there were no cabs home or days in lieu.
I pride myself on being able to attract people who will go the extra mile, who are ‘can-do’, positive people and I think hiding behind emails and social media is not the way forward. People must know you.
So I would say search your conscience and make sure you really are a jolly nice person who can positively influence people, and if that is true get out there, meet people and make an impact.
What has been the stand out moment in your career? Good or bad!
I have been at Conde Nast for 25 years, so there are so many memorable moments!
I would say the famous millennial issue of Vogue which was January 2000 – that was something I am proud of. I worked on that which was a privilege and a pleasure. (I managed to get 5 physical copies and get them home, but all except one have since been nicked and they are now available on ebay for thousands of pounds!) Working on that in the golden years of print - that was just unbelievable. We had a goal of doing 2000 pages for the year 2000 and we had very high revenue goals, and we smashed through every one. I was Associate Publisher at the time. Another highlight was becoming publisher of Conde Nast Traveller. I got the job, met my husband and got pregnant with my first child all in one year, so that was pretty massive!
I am very proud of the fact that I have had a very long, sustained career which people can often burn out in through over indulgence or taking themselves too seriously. I hope that I keep it real. Family is very grounding for that.
So in summary I think I would say combining the two; Family and a career, at a very high level over a sustained period of time.
The media landscape has changed so much over the last 20 years. What is the main difference in your job today vs when you first started?
Without a doubt it is the fact that we no longer refer to the titles as ‘magazines’ - they are brands. So clients have every single platform available to them from print to digital to social media to podcasts to video and events. We have a real 360-degree approach – that is the biggest single change. We sell a brand we don’t sell a medium. You are literally a multi-lingual – platform-agnostic. You don’t make a single distinction. It is great fun, like being in 6 dimensions rather than just 2.
How do you envisage print and digital continuing to co-exist, and what roles are you seeing them play in consumers lives?
In the world of luxury, print will have a pace in the foreseeable future. I can’t see it disappearing when you have big conglomerate brands that still put most of their budget in to print advertising. It is a chicken and egg situation – they continue to do that and we continue to create beautiful magazines that are the mothership of what we do. Those advertisers are supporting that and the readers are still enjoying the magazines, but they get what we call the ‘squared effect’. They get the wrap around impact of all the other mediums combined.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have normally gone to the gym, dropped of the kids at school and had a coffee all before 9am. After that I can be doing anything from going to a meeting at Chanel to discuss their native fragrance campaign and how it might push new boundaries in our digital platforms, to interviewing candidates for openings in our new events department which we are creating, to talking to members of my team who are putting together presentations and decks for advertising agencies. Then I might have lunch with the MD of Cartier who talks about his new boutique on Bond Street and asks me if I can bring 30 influencers to a dinner party there, before going to a meeting with The Princes Trust (who I really believe in and work hard for) meeting with Daniel Galvin and Kelly Hoppen. Then I would come back and after about my 5thcup of tea of the day I will look at my hundreds of emails, arrange a sleepover for one or other of my children, work out what they need in their school bag for the next day, and then run home (as I am training for a ski marathon). In the evening invariably three times a week there are events with clients. I remind myself how lucky I am to be going to those, and try to remember to post on my Instagram afterwards then get dismayed when I see my wonderful team’s amazing posts already up!
What’s your favourite piece in the Madderson workwear collection?
I love my jacket, but I also LOVE the red Miranda jersey dress. I am loving the leopard too. (Leopard is having more than a moment, but a cycle!) The Miranda red jersey is the kind of dress that folds beautifully into my gym bag, then comes out for meetings and on to a Vanity Fair party!
I love the way they Madderson ladies incorporate the best of the fashion trends in to pieces that are really timeless and just so wearable.
What is important to you when it comes to clothes you wear to work?
They have to be easy to lay out in the morning (if I am lucky enough to lay them out the night before!) or tuck in to my gym bag, so it is usually a dress. They have to cut the muster of Vogue House, which is no mean feat too! I am on the third floor now, and where I am is much more fashionable than the 4th where I was previously!)
So practicality, ease, but also really being enough of a nod towards fashion for someone who is sharp thinking in that department.
I love the fact that my friends all say you look so well dressed and so chic – the minute they stop saying that is when I know I have made a wrong decision!