Cosmo Girls are something of a significant cultural reference – the magazine is a byword across both sides of the Atlantic for the handbag bible of the sophisticated, glossy-haired, power-suited career girl. She knows what she wants, and how she wants to get it. From Elle Woods’s declaration post-case win in Legally Blonde (any Cosmo Girl knows her perm technology, right?) to the “Cosmo Dream” (great clothes, great sex, great job, great friends, great cocktails), Cosmopolitan is synonymous with the fashionable independent woman and her world. But that’s not to forget it’s also a high-production glossy magazine (and website): busy, driven by hard work, and a dedicated team of editors, stylists, creatives and journalists. Luckily for OxStu Fashion, Rosie Mullender – Cosmo UK’s Fashion Features Editor, and the woman responsible for overseeing the magazine’s journalistic content – was kind enough to take the time out and answer some questions I had about her career at one of the most famous magazines in the world.
You’re Features Editor at one of the most widely-read women’s magazines in the UK. What kind of responsibilities does that job entail – not just in terms of workload and managing staff, but in terms of knowing your readership?
I’ve been here for seven years, and getting to know readers inside-out is something that comes with time. The letters, emails and comments we get shape how we come up with ideas for the magazine. As well as less tangible things like understanding what our readers want, we spend our days looking at ideas from PRs and journalists, writing copy for the magazine and website, editing, fielding queries and doing random things like asking people in the street questions, compiling polls and testing sportswear. It’s certainly varied!
During your working day, what kind of work might you typically do? How does your job take you outside of the office?
I could be doing any of the above – but my day mainly comprises responding to emails, commissioning, writing and editing copy, and coming up with new feature ideas. I often have meetings outside the office with people such as PRs, and we go to plenty of events, such as the recent Girl Summit, awards ceremonies, or film screenings.
How does the job of Features Editor differ from that of Fashion Editor, or other editorial positions more generally?
Each department deals with a different section of the magazine – we have beauty, fashion, picture, art, web and subs teams, each headed up by a director and / or editor. The features team deals with articles such as careers, reports, confidence and confessions – everything except fashion and beauty. Every department works very differently, but as a team we work together to create the final product.
A lot of people believe that working at a magazine is a glamorous job (courtesy, no doubt, of films like The Devil Wears Prada). To what extent is this an accurate representation of the kind of job you do?
I’d say it is glamorous to an extent, but not in the way it’s portrayed in films! We’re not all clad in designer gear, nibbling salads. But we DO get plenty of free doughnuts…A lot of people except the office to be full of bickering and sniping, but you’ve never met a friendlier team – everyone supports each other and works together. We do have our glam moments – interviewing celebrities, attending premieres and parties and getting to delve in the beauty cupboard – but we’re the same as our readers, just with a job we’re very very lucky to have! And, of course, we work very hard too.
What is the most exciting thing about your job, and what is the most difficult?
The most exciting thing is that every day is different. When you land an exclusive interview or read the new issue when it lands on your desk, the buzz is unbeatable. There’s always stress – tight deadlines, rescuing features which threaten to fall apart, last-minute changes – but because we’re trying to help women enjoy their lives it’s always going to be more satisfying than stressful.
How often do you have to make sure your content is different to that of other magazines? Are you aware of “trends” that arise across the features sections of magazines during the same months? Do you have to actively pursue eliminating content that might come up in another magazine / how easy is it to access the “Cosmo voice” in your pieces?
We try to be as unique as possible. Of course, you’ll sometimes have crossover with other magazines – for example, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month most women’s magazines will cover it in some way. The trick is to identify what makes our reader different to the others and why she comes to us rather than anyone else, and make sure we’re giving her what she wants. There’s always a new way to write something that’s been covered by others, whether that’s visually, or with a new twist, giving it a strong Cosmo voice. But generally, we try to be unique by being ahead of the curve and constantly coming up with fresh ideas. Our ears are always open for what women are interested in and talking about.
As Features Editor, you write yourself but you also have other writers writing for your section. How do you choose pieces for an issue of Cosmo – do you commission a writer, or will a writer approach you for an idea? And how do you make sure that your writers / pieces have the right tone for your magazine?
We write most things in-house, but get hundreds of pitches from freelance writers too. If we choose one of their ideas, especially if it’s a writer who is new to Cosmo, we’ll send them articles in the tone we’re looking for as guidance and write a detailed brief. We also have some writers with different specialities to hand who have written for us before and know our style, who we will turn to if we need something specific written for us.
How did you come to be in your career – did you always want to be a Features Editor, or did you pursue another career first?
I always wanted to work in magazines, and Cosmo was always my favourite. But after doing an English degree and three years of work experience I thought I’d never make it, so I started to pursue a career in publishing – I’d just started a new job when I got my big break at a news agency in Bristol as a features writer, and it went on from there.
Did you have to overcome any difficulties to reach this point in your career? How did you manage to do this?
I had to be very very persistent and it was very hard work. After three years of working in a petrol station and doing unpaid work experience, at one point going seven weeks without a day off, I still hadn’t managed to get an entry-level job, and was losing hope. I was lucky that my last-gasp attempt lead to a job, but I really wanted it, and was prepared to put the work in to get it. I’ve also had jobs I haven’t enjoyed much, but told myself that all experiences make you a better journalist in the long run – and luckily I was right!
What advice would you give to anybody trying to pursue a career as a Features Editor / journalist, and why would you recommend this career?
I’d heartily recommend it, because it’s exciting and varied, but I’d also say this: don’t expect lots of money, be prepared to work VERY hard, make sure you really want to do it before you start (it’s SO competitive), and if this doesn’t put you off, don’t give up. I’d also tell aspiring journalists not to confuse writing about yourself with being a journalist – very very few make a career from ‘confessional’ journalism – if you want to make it, you need hard journalism skills, being willing to chase leads, attend court cases, and conduct tough, emotional interviews. We’re not all Carrie Bradshaw, sadly…