News & Scoops

2013 February 22

Hearst's Top Competitrix, Carol Smith

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Carol Smith Carol Smith
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(NEW YORK) Publishing’s most affable category chameleon, Carol Smith, hopscotched from Elle to Bon Appétit to her current home of the past year and a half, Harper’s Bazaar. A fashion homecoming of sorts? You betcha! The secret to her success? Some familiar faces from her six-month tour of Condé—and, yes, working weekends.

How’s Bazaar treating you?
It’ll be two years in June—it’s one of the fastest rides I’ve taken in terms of rethinking a magazine. 2012 was our best year ever, and we’re 145 years old! March 2012 was our biggest March ever. It billed more revenue than September! It was a total surprise; I didn’t even notice until my bosses told me.

Were you thrilled or bummed to cut frequency?
Being out 10 times a year, by combining our December/January issues, means I take vacations twice a year. In October, when everyone’s stressing over that January issue, I’ll be away! I’m debating between Greece and Israel right now.

What else does 10 issues mean for Bazaar?
We saved a lot of money doing that, and David [Carey] is letting us spend it all. He could’ve taken it and put it toward the bottom line, but instead he gave it to me to invest in production value—better paper, bigger pages, and an even more beautiful product.

Don’t editors usually make those calls?
I married an editor, so I think I have edit in me. We needed the best production values: Bazaar was never going to be the biggest, so we had to be the best. We don’t want to be W, with a circulation of 450,000; I like being around 700,000. I’d even like to be a little bit bigger.

Should more mags cut their frequency?
July and January are horrible! There are no ads. If you’re making money, stay at 12 issues. But when I got to Bazaar, it seemed like a no-brainer.

How about that six-month Bon Appétit stint—Did you think it would last?
Of course I did! But I’m very happy to be back in fashion. I belong in fashion. I was so excited to be in food; a hamburger and fries is my idea of a delicacy. The good news is that half of our [publishing] staff is from Bon Appétit.

Why so many Bon Appétit alums?
Me! They followed me. It’s a different perspective to bring talent from outside, as opposed to pulling from the fashion pool. When I came from Parenting to fashion in 2001, diapers was all I knew.

You’re a quick study!
I used to carry this Post-it with me, listing all the brands at PPR and LVMH. I had no idea what any of it meant. It was my little cheat sheet. But in fashion, people are more than happy to teach you. If you love fashion, you want to be taught.

You’re a fashion lover, I take it?
My mom was one of the first Long Island retailers to have Donna Karan in-store, and my dad made ladies’ hats—Jackie Kennedy-pillbox-type stuff. It’s in the genes!

Do you still work weekends?
Yes, I have a weird habit of working on Sundays. I go through my inbox, getting it below 100 unread e-mails. I often get below 50! It’s hard to get to zero. It’s a very nice Sunday ritual.

So, enlighten us: What’s Bazaar’s niche?
Fashion first, beauty second, then life. Bazaar’s DNA is in art, culture, and even literature. We published some of the best fiction; Andy Warhol was our shoe illustrator for almost 20 years, and Dick Avedon started right out of college here! Diana Vreeland brought risk-taking to Bazaar, and Glenda is taking some of that back.

Did you hit it off with Glenda?
When I arrived, I imagine she thought, “OK, another publisher.” But we showed that our team can really produce: We made more money in 2012 than Bazaar had made in over 25 years. In 10 years, Glenda had never seen a bottom line like what we produced in December. Glenda also has so much knowledge that she’s willing to share. She’ll call anyone on my behalf.

What’s the deal with Shop Bazaar?
In 1997, I left publishing for a year to launch two content-to-commerce sites: Beauty Jungle and Baby Style. Neither worked. I didn’t get very rich. I still have 263,000 shares of Beauty Jungle if you want any! In 2009, I tried again at Elle; I still didn’t have it quite right. When I got here, I presented my idea to David [Carey] and Michael [Clinton]. Hearst Corporate funded it. People say that’s sort of amazing.

Why was Bazaar a good guinea pig?
Bazaar has more fashion edit and is more commercial than any other core fashion titles. It’s the most shoppable, too; that does not mean affordable!

Is Shop Bazaar a success?
My mother has been a retailer since 1967, and she tells me I’m successful! 

Will you be masthead-hopping again soon? Should we just set up the next (fourth!) Carol Q&A now?
Ha! My plan is to end my career here.

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