Washington Is (Still) the Key to Cosmo's Future Success


Recently appointed Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles is trying hard to turn her magazine into something women don’t read just as a guilty pleasure. Coles hasn’t kept her goals a secret, but it’s her tactics that are worth paying attention to: instead of attempting to convince her fellow media-hounds that the magazine has changed, she’s more interested in getting people in power (aka politics) to take it seriously – and she wants everyone to know it.

If you are in media, you’d have to be blind not to notice Coles’ staffing changes, which started off dramatically with the ousting of long-time staffers but has resulted in exciting hires, especially in the online arena. But Coles doesn’t seem to concerned with making her peers respect her as much as she’s working on getting female political figures to admit they read the magazine. A profile about her in the Washington Post published Tuesday is just one of dozens that have cropped up since she’s taken over the magazine, many of which discuss her meetings in Washington and her power lunches with women like Valerie Jarrett, the president of Emily’s List or various female senators. Most of these articles about the magazine’s new direction are titled a variation of the same incredulous thing: “Cosmo wants to be serious?!” A sampling:


Coles doesn’t seem to mind the shock and awe routine these publications have taken about her plan, but is instead focused on promoting women in politics and talking about political issues that matter to women, like the Affordable Care Act. In fact, since Gretchen Carlson inaccurately claimed that Cosmo was advertising for the ACA, Coles has tweeted about the gaff several times:

Other topics Coles cares about: Miley Cyrus, as indicated from quotes in the Post article from this week, a lengthy profile in the New York Times called “The Pro-Miley Backlash” and the magazine itself. Coles has learned how branding works from the best, and she knows it: you’ve got to make your magazine be about a few big things and make people pay attention to them. Coles often references how she looks up to former Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown. “She understood the impact [the magazine] could have,” Coles tells the Post. “It really is for all generations.” For Brown, Cosmo was about discussing the issues that mattered to single career women: work and sex. A product of the “Can Women Have It All?” generation, Coles appears to be trying to be more inclusive.

That means attempting to marry the old Cosmo with the new. Coles has made it clear that the magazine isn’t going to be getting rid of the sex stuff and that she’s very sex positive. But what to do with the idea of “the Cosmo girl,” once a popular enough concept that it sparked its own now-defunct teen magazine?:

The Cosmo girl doesn’t have to be a Miley Cyrus. She can also be the 71-year-old at the Four Seasons who says “darn” and “pooh.” The Cosmo girl — or Cosmo woman if you prefer — “is a psycho-graphic. It’s an attitude,” she says.

Not sure what “a psycho-graphic” is, but everyone loves an attitude.

Joanna Coles, making that Cosmo girl a little more serious [WaPo]

Images via Cosmo/Astrid Stawiarz/Getty for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014

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