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How She Got There: Ann Shoket, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen

Posted Apr 29 2011 - 12:00am

Ever wish you could sit down with the editor-in-chief of the #1 teen magazine in the country? Her Campus landed an exclusive interview with Ann Shoket of Seventeen magazine to find out which mantra she follows, who she looks up to, and what will make her want to hire you. Read on for the inside scoop!

Her Campus:
What was your first entry-level job in your industry and how did you get it?

Ann Shoket:
I started out as an intern and I was an intern at Rolling Stone magazine. I actually got very lucky, it was back in the days before the Internet and I had to go to the career center services and dig through piles of applications and I started out on the promotions side, so the business side of Rolling Stone. It was a lot of fun, but I very quickly realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I moved over to edit my second semester at Rolling Stone and had so much fun. I felt like I was around smart people and around smart idea generation and I was incredibly intimidated by the Editor-in-Chief who is now the head of ASME [American Society of Magazine Editors], Sid Holt. He was under Jann Wenner, he ran the magazine. My first real job when I got out of college was at The American Lawyer. The American Lawyer is a trade magazine about the business of law and lawyers and I was like, “Oh great! This is going to be a snooze!” But it turned out I got very lucky again that The American Lawyer was run by this brilliant renowned journalist named Steve Brill who demanded incredible excellence and great journalistic integrity from his reporters. Some really famous people came out of The American Lawyer—Business writers like Connie Bruck. There were great journalists that came out of The American Lawyer and Steve was this iconic figure and I had no idea. It almost turned into graduate school for me in a way because I really learned how to be a reporter from the best of the best at that time. The other very fortunate thing that happened was that when I got out of college it was right at the beginning of the Internet. The American Lawyer was launching an online service—sounds old-fashioned, but it’s true—an online service for lawyers and it really started my thinking about how do you create content wherever they are, whatever they’re interested in, and make it multi-platform content. Of course, our thinking has evolved a lot since 1994 but a lot of the things we learned back then about how people want to access information still hold true and how the business of the web works.

HC:
Though no day is the same for you, what is usually on your agenda?

AS:
My day is a lot of meetings and I’ll shift from one focus to the next. I’ll meet with the top editors here—fashion, beauty, features, art department—every day and talk about what we’re doing in the issue. I have meetings with other people within Hearst where we talk about our other business efforts, we talk about iPhone and iPad app development, we’ll talk about books we’re creating, or special issues that we’re doing. I’ll meet with the circulation department or I’ll meet with David Carey to talk about our businesses. My day is really a series of meetings. Some are really granular: what happens on our pages and how we’re going to structure a story and some are much more big picture, talking about the future and direction of our business. I always take a break and tweet, Facebook, blog, and get in touch with our girls throughout the day. Not a day that goes by that I don’t in some way reach out to our readers. I think that’s incredibly important and every night our reader services editor brings me a stack of letters and emails and thoughts and Facebook posts and tweets from our readers so I’m always in touch with what’s going on in their lives and I can hear it from them directly so that I get their voice.

HC:
What is the most rewarding part of your job?

AS:
I love when I hear from girls that they hear the message we’re sending in the magazine. Our magazine is so fun and so girl-candy and so girl-heaven in every way. There’s cool fashion and fun beauty and there’s boys and there’s real girl stories and tucked into everything we do is a message that celebrates real girls and makes them feel strong and appreciated and worshipped and that’s really what is the underlying message of Seventeen is, that you’re amazing in every single way. So when I hear from girls that they feel that way about our magazine and our brand in general, whatever it is seventeen.com, all of our iPhone apps, all our pieces, that makes me feel all melt-y inside.

AS:
Particularly for Her Campus readers, the fact we have such a strong relationship with you when you’re in high school, when you’re a teenager that we talk about such important things and we want to help you learn how to be the most amazing person that you can possibly be. When you’re off in college, everything is brand new all over again and you really need someone you can trust and rely on and in a lot of ways that’s still Seventeen magazine.  You might think that you may, by the time you’ve gone to college, outgrown traumarama. Right? You’ve read all the embarrassing moments for all your four years, but you still need to know how to dress for your body, you still need to know cute new makeup ideas. Our Freshman 15—you know, we have 15 girls at different colleges blogging about their experiences and it really creates a community of girls that are going through that massive change together and that’s what makes Seventeen so relevant when you’re in college.

HC:
Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

AS:
There are so many people that I have looked up to in my career. I think certainly Cathie Black was a really inspirational figure to me. She is still! The fact that she, at the height of her career, shifted gears to go work in education I think is a phenomenal experience. There was a woman I worked with directly at The American Lawyer, her name was Barbara Johnson. She was maybe 5’2” and yet everyone called her “The Dragon Lady” because everyone was petrified of her. You would call her “The Dragon Lady” behind her back but she knew that’s what everyone was calling her and she owned it. She was incredibly smart and decisive and somehow struck fear into the hearts of everyone around her without being physically imposing in anyway, just for being incredibly wicked smart. David Carey, our new president at Hearst, has such a forward thinking, broad spectrum look at our business that it’s inspirational in a whole new way for me. The idea that we can embrace the changes that are happening in our business rather than worry about them has really been such a great focus of his that I’m honored to work with him.

HC:
This is definitely comforting for students, especially those studying magazine journalism—the concept that we can utilize multi-platforms and not just worry about one totally consuming the other.

AS:
Our world is changing so dramatically and I believe that your generation is going to lead the future in the biggest way possible. I think that being in the magazine business, the media business, being in our business the important thing you need to realize is that we’re in the business of talking to teens and young women about how to be awesome in the world. It can happen in print, it can happen online, it can happen on your phone, it can happen on demand, it can happen however it needs to happen. But the bottom line is that we need to talk to young women about how they can be the most awesome they can be.

HC:
What advice would you give to a 20-something who looks up to you?

AS:
I think that there are no limits. Never ever, ever limit yourself. Never say, “That’s not the way it is” or “I can’t do that” or “Nobody’s ever done it that way before.” Our world is changing so fast and you have no idea where it’s going. You have to be ambitious and curious and hungry and want to learn everything. Really, that’s the whole point of being in your 20s: Taking everything in and learning everything altogether. You sort of begin to filter out what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, what feels right. But you should always go for everything and be in curious in every single way.

HC:
What is one mistake you may have made along the way and what did you learn from it?

AS:
That’s such a classic question and I don’t really ever have a good answer for it. It’s not that I didn’t make mistakes but the mistakes always turn out to be some kind of learning experience. I focus much more on the things that I’ve learned rather than what went wrong. I hate when we’re doing interviews for the magazine and we ask girls, “What’s the one thing you’re insecure about?” Of course, you’re going to get a great answer from it, but why am I asking this strong, amazing woman what she’s insecure about? I don’t feel wounded by missteps or misguided approaches or things that I now realize that it happens, you get upset, and you move on. That’s sort of my M.O. in the industry.

HC:
Is there a particular quote or mantra that you live by? “It’s fun to be seventeen?”

AS:
I believe in fun so deeply that if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. It’s not worth reading if it’s not fun to read, it’s not worth doing for your work if it’s not fun. We work so hard here but everyday I come home and I feel like I had such a crazy, fun time at the office. It’s not a disco dance party here everyday, but we are always having fun. The one piece of advice that I like that I think is just as true for me as it is for all young women is something that Barbara Walters actually said when I interviewed her which is: You have no idea how interesting your life can be. I think that is what drives me to be curious and try new experiences. What I want young women to do is to imagine the biggest, most amazing, most interesting life you can have and it will be as delicious as you think it is.

HC:
What do you personally look for when hiring someone?

AS:
Ok so, you’re sitting at the edge of your seat. I don’t know if anyone ever told you that, but when people come in to interview me, I feel very strongly about them sitting at the edge of their seat. I think that shows enthusiasm, energy, hunger, and ambition and I think it’s one of those signals that shows you’re engaged with me and interested in this position. A lot of times people sit back in their chair and they don’t seem engaged and it’s hard to peel away that physical message. I look for people who have tried new things, who have excelled at something, who have broken away from the pack, and have done something that’s different, new, fresh, interesting. I think all of those are the qualities for an entry-level person I pay attention to.

HC:
Is this the same for interns as well?

AS:
Yes, absolutely. Nobody is looking for you to have a massive resume. We know that you’ve been in school, that you’re new on the scene, that it’s hard to get started in this business, get clips, and get whatever you need. There are opportunities along the way for you to distinguish yourself along the way in high school and in college that you have to take and you have to show that you have found your own way to shine.
 


 

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