NEW YORK, United States — It’s a conversation that seems to happen weekly. It typically starts with a friend texting me a link to a news article about the latest tumult in the legacy fashion media world. There’s some back and forth about how “everything is a mess,” mess being the operative word these days. And then it ends with the same cry for help: “I have to get out of media.”
When I entered media in 2006, I have to get out of media is not a refrain I ever expected to hear. Before the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession, when print advertising budgets were healthier and the internet still seemed like a sideshow, I certainly never expected journalists, like myself, who entered media with so much ambition and optimism, to be rushing for the exits. After nearly 8,000 media jobs were cut in the first five months of 2009, we thought the rise of digital media would make up for it. Only, it never did.
Now, the odds of old-media bouncing back feel about as likely as old-retail bouncing back. Columbia Journalism Review’s layoff tracker counted 3,160 job losses in newsrooms in 2019. Last year’s job cuts in media were the worst since the Great Recession. And a discomfiting number of them came at the companies that were supposed to provide a new way forward for the industry: Vice laid off 265, BuzzFeed 200; Refinery 29 cut 10 percent of its workforce.
Staying in media, especially at legacy players, feels tougher and tougher for people who want job security. Even if a writer or editor’s job doesn’t get cut, they face lower earning potential in a sector where a senior editor title doesn’t guarantee a six-figure paycheck anymore.
And so, many find themselves in a frenzied search for positions at brands and retailers, which, in recent years, have been becoming mini-media companies of their own, creating content to speak directly to consumers on social media without the need for third-party publications.
"There's so much more beyond the top of the masthead," said Sharon Kanter, who left People in April of last year to become editorial director of Stuart Weitzman. "I think the jobs that media people are going to get in the next five years do not even exist yet. That is how quickly the landscape is changing for brands, especially fashion brands. And that is what's so exciting about it."
Jumping to a brand or retailer can lead to a more prosperous career that’s just as fulfilling as working at a legacy consumer magazine. “It's scary for everybody to leave editorial and move on to something that is pseudo-editorial or flat-out advertising or marketing,” said Chandra Turner, the CEO and founder of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy, which places editorial employees with brands. Turner took a job in branded content at Scholastic after being laid off from Parents magazine in 2017 and before launching her recruiting business. She worried about transitioning to branded content, leaving the magazine world behind and coming down with magazine FOMO. “Then the FOMO never came,” she said.
Editors ready to make the move should start with some soul-searching. What exactly do you want to do, and in what sector? Remember, brands rarely look for generalists. Once you have an idea of the kind of role you want (“copywriter at a beauty brand” or “content strategist for a wellness brand”), take meetings with people who can tell you what these roles are like, and then update your LinkedIn profile to mirror the bullet points on the job ads that appeal to you.
Turner said there are currently lots of opportunities in the health and wellness space for legacy media workers, though every sector from fashion to financial services is viable. Jobs for editors and writers can range from social media management to speechwriting.
But an editor’s first non-media salary won’t likely be a financial windfall and will undoubtedly come with some sacrifices. “It's not like you're going to go get paid double if you go to a brand, definitely not,” said Turner. A beauty editor making $70,000 a year could transition to a copywriting role for a brand for a $90,000. But she’d have to be ready to leave behind her bylines and promotion on the company Instagram.
“I think it's a tough decision, but I think that the primary issue is to recognise the skills that you have from working in media. We went into it because we like communication and we like creativity,” said Linda Wells, the former Allure editor-in-chief who became the Chief Creative Officer of Revlon, where she founded the Flesh makeup line. “What we know how to do as media people is connect with the consumer.”
After finding a job at a brand or retailer, media people will likely have to get used to working at a different rhythm, which is often welcome because the relentless clicks-driven news cycle won’t be a constant source of stress. The new pace can also be difficult because some brands move much more slowly with many layers of approval. Other brands have no idea how much high-quality editorial content really costs. “Some brands will hire a magazine editor and think, ‘I checked that box, now all our content will be done.’ One human being can't produce an entire website for a brand that has thousands of products, it's just not humanly possible,” said Wells.
Many brands, especially startups, expect employees to put on shows of loyalty and enthusiasm uncommon in media. A friend and ex-editor who recently went to a brand to run content said: “When you work for a brand, you need to drink the Kool Aid… I wish I had known how hard that would be.”
And, of course, branded content operations aren’t immune to upheaval. Last year, Net-a-Porter’s Porter magazine, which launched in 2014, announced it would restructure its 70-person team and cut back from six to two print issues a year. At the time, CEO Federico Marchetti told London’s Telegraph this was to enable a pivot to video and podcasting: "We decided the split between print and digital was going to be more favourable to digital because that is where our customers want us to be.”
Nonetheless, more and more media professionals are jumping ship with no regrets. Molly Nover-Baker left her job as beauty director of Women’s Health in 2016 to start the Edit Collective, a group of six former beauty editors who do consulting and content creation for brands. She got the idea for the business after spending her last year at Women’s Health conducting methodical research on how to leave her magazine job.
Two years after Nover-Baker left Women’s Health, the title was acquired by Hearst, which laid off 15 people. Nover-Baker is glad she left when she did, even though it felt “terrifying.” Within six months, the Edit Collective had momentum. “Now I have no second thoughts. I love it. I'm happy doing it. I feel like it energised me. I certainly loved my print career, but it definitely started to feel a little stale, a little monotonous, whereas this has awakened me.”
Editor's Note: This article was edited on 27 January 2020. A previous version stated Linda Wells is the chief content officer at Revlon. She is its chief creative officer.