Meribeth Parker discusses taking chances, launching Town & Country and why her younger self wouldn't believe her life now.
Tell us a bit about your job
I am the group publishing director at Hearst of the luxury titles, so Elle, Elle Decoration, Harper's Bazaar and Town & Country. I have profit and loss responsibility for those brands in their entirety, because as well as the magazines we also have the spin-offs and we also have web products.
How has your job changed?
The role I did five years ago, I was group publishing director here then, and the role I do today is completely different. We're not just a magazine, we're a brand and content producers for a group of people at a particular life-stage. We need to keep focussed on that audience and then look at new avenues and routes to get the content to them. As an industry we're always experimenting and trying new things.
For example, over the last couple of years we've completely reinvented the Elle proposition, we no longer have a print and digital team, instead we all work together. We took a group of people who worked one way and asked them to change, it was a real test but we've seen really positive results. It's exciting because we've looked at the consumers and thought what do these women want when they're getting up in the morning on their mobile? What do they want at their desktop at lunchtime? And what do they want in the evening when they're leaning back?
With Elle, my role was to help Lorraine (Candy, editor of ElleUK) make that change happen, to provide the business and structure to enable it. Key for us was the whole attitudinal change we needed the team to go through, so we brought in a positive reframer to help us think differently about change. It wasn't for everyone but I think it's exciting for people to work in something that's groundbreaking. Clever journalists realise this is the future and they could be industry leaders in it.
You've just launched Town & Country in the UK. Tell us about that experience.
Launching Town & Country has been incredible. I feel very fortunate that I was given this opportunity by Hearst. We've launched a new product in a slightly different way, so we've only launched two issues this year and next year we'll do four. Rather than try to think about how we get an audience to commit to 12 issues of a new product, we decided to try and build it slowly. We used this model for Women's Health and it really worked for us. We might decide we only ever do four issues but do other products or we might do more issues. It's about seeing what works.
You're Canadian but based in the UK. What prompted the move?
I met a man and moved for a man. I suppose I was at a lifestage where I just thought, why not? Although, I got him to first agree that if I wasn't happy he'd move to Canada! If at 20 I'd written a letter to myself saying that in the space of two years I'd meet a man, get married, move countries, have a baby, I wouldn't have believed it. There were a lot of people who thought I was completely mad but I just saw it as an opportunity. I thought, "if it goes wrong I can always come back".
I've always had an attitude which assumes that even if an idea doesn't work out, it will all be OK in the end. In a way I've always been a bit envious of those people who knew what they wanted to do age four, my career has been much more about seizing opportunities and taking chances.
What would you have done differently in your career?
I probably wish I'd been a bit braver earlier, women need to not be afraid to take chances. We are always looking over our shoulder wondering if someone's going to work out but life is short – just go for it.
When you're young you look at women balancing work and family and wonder how they do it but when you're in it, you just get on with it. I'm sure if I'd spent less time trying to get that balance I'd be more senior but I'm very happy with what I do. Would I have liked to spend more time with my kids? Yes, but I was there for the important bits and they seem pretty well-balanced. And I have very strong friendships and that's important to me – I made the choices that gave me the balance.
If I could pass on one piece of advice it would be that: decide which elements matter most and then divide your time and balance accordingly.