LONDON, United Kingdom — The editorial free agent pool got a lot more crowded this week. Just as former British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers’s shockingly candid interview went viral online, the storied title bid goodbye to more longstanding editors as newly appointed editor-in-chief Edward Enninful continues to overhaul his team. Emily Sheffield, Frances Bentley, Fiona Golfar and Nicola Moulton have reportedly departed the title.
The exodus of prominent fashion magazine names is far from uncommon: on the other side of the pond, legendary editors have increasingly found themselves without a home as budget-strapped titles whittle down their costs by cutting expensive salaries and prioritising digital and commercial experience over pure editorial chops. After a regime change at Allure, founding editor Linda Wells and Paul Cavaco were two prominent names up for grabs. At the end of 2016, W's executive beauty director Jane Larkworthy and Elle’s fashion news director Anne Slowey both stepped down, each after almost two decades at their respective titles. Last week, Joe Zee left Yahoo where he had been editor-in-chief since 2014.
So what opportunities are there for high-level editors in today’s market?
The most obvious answer are brands in need of compelling content and native advertising. “Every brand is trying to be a publisher, as you know,” says Karen Danziger, managing partner of recruitment firm Koller Search Partners.
“The quality and level of content that we see brands creating on their own platforms will elevate as the editorial talent will migrate brand side,” adds Rachel Saywell-Burr, founder of London-based creative headhunting agency Talent Atelier.
But editorial leadership positions at these companies are much harder to land than they were five years ago. Eric Puestow, vice president at recruitment and consulting firm Joe's Blackbook, describes the hiring market in that sector in 2012 as a “feeding frenzy.” Now, many brands already have a content strategy in place. “For people who stayed in editorial and really climbed the ladder for a long time, if you don’t have brand experience or commerce experience under your belt … the risk and fear of taking on someone who makes that much money and is not tied into anything that innovative is too much to swallow for brand presidents or CEOs or boards of directors,” he says.
Plus, premium editors carry a heavy salary price tag. “Brands are already paying somebody to be a VP, SVP or chief marketing officer who is really thinking about how we want this content to exist and what are the ways that it can manifest,” says Puestow. There is less room for someone making $200,000 to $300,000 per year on top of that. The problems plaguing retail right now “only makes it harder for really high dollar people,” he says.
Editors have to reinvent themselves like everyone has had to do.
The beauty space, however, where new niche brands are popping up at a fast clip and heritage brands are looking to course correct, still has many untapped opportunities for editorial converts. Revlon, for example, hired Wells as chief creative officer in February and Goop, which has had a strong beauty focus from launch, hired longtime Lucky beauty director Jean Godfrey-June in 2015.
Fashion directors, whose work can incorporate trend forecasting and styling in addition to an editorial point of view, are also more attractive candidates for brands looking to elevate their aesthetic in every corner of the business.
But “a great editor-in-chief that has the strategy, the people management… I have not had a client ask me for anything like that in God knows how long,” says Puestow. Eva Chen, former Lucky editor-in-chief and now head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, is a rare exception.
Puestow also says there is untapped potential in multi-brand e-commerce companies that have yet to build mass audience name recognition. Take StitchFix, for example, which hired Elle accessories director Maria Duenas Jacobs as director of brand development last month. “ We've been working with several new online retailers recently who are moving at lightening speed and wanting to bring on board the talent who they know are influential within already successful areas,” says Saywell-Burr. She added that consultancies are also attractive to editors who want more flexibility — and higher salaries.
The options don’t end with brands, however, says Danziger. She said in-house agency at publishing companies, such as Meredith Xcelerated Marketing and Condé Nast’s 23 Stories, are looking for talent, as are brands and publishers outside of fashion — in travel or home decor — looking to capture a fashion sensibility. “It might be useful if someone wants to break out of that hardcore domain area where they have been wedded,” she says.
With more talent than opportunities on the market, the burden is on the editors to pitch themselves and leverage the relationships they have spent their entire careers building. “There are opportunities out there, but they are few and far between,” says Danziger. “[Editors] have to reinvent themselves like everyone has had to do. It’s about thinking differently and learning new skills, which you could argue everyone should have done long ago.”