Joanna Coles is fueled by the unexpected. As the Commander-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan, the Holy Grail of sex tips and style, the U.K.-bred editor has given the publication a new look and feel by incorporating pieces on politics, feminism, career goals and whatever concerns the millennial woman may have. Last year, Cosmo even won its first ever National Magazine Award in the personal service category for its article on birth control called “Your Guide to Contraception,” beating the likes of Money and GQ.
Even before the Internet dictated trends, unprecedented moments flooded Coles’ career. A news journalist for 20 years for the likes of The Times of London and The Guardian, she began her editorial journey at 10-years-old by making a magazine with a friend and sending it to the Queen of England (#moreonthislater). She also snagged the first O.J. Simpson interview after he was found not guilty and witnessed him shatter a glass with his bare hands.
Another one of her more recent history-making moments: Cosmo‘s first Fun Fearless Life conference held last November at New York’s David H. Koch Theater. The brand tapped pop culture notables like Gabrielle Union, Kelly Osbourne, Chrissy Teigen, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and other professionals to inspire (badass) women to be the best versions of themselves. Sample quotable from Coles during the weekend affair: “I’ve grown up with a fear of routine.”
It was only right that VIBE sit down with Coles for Women’s History Month to pick her brain about what makes her tick and how Cosmo thrives in both print and online. Tap open your Evernote app this instant and take notes from her below.
How I got the Queen of England to read my first magazine:
Weirdly, I was just staying at home with my parents in England. My mum had kept a bag of stuff for me and she was like ‘Here, take this,’ and I found the letter from Buckingham Palace, which I’m now going to frame and keep in my office so people don’t think I’m exaggerating. I had actually done [the magazine] with my friend and the two of us used to send it to our neighbors. We sent [a copy] to the Buckingham Palace and we had gotten a letter back from a Lady-In-Waiting, saying that the Queen had really enjoyed reading it. To me, that was a sign that I should carry on doing it. I kept on with my magazine for a couple more issues but I think I had just always wanted to write, have stuff published and mix things together. We had little poems, bits of prose and bogus news stories that we thought were news about our roads [in England] but very early on, I just realized this is what I loved doing.
The moment I knew I was going to work in the magazine industry:
As a user of magazines and a huge reader, I love the journey of discovery that a good magazine will take you. You pick it up, thinking it’s one thing and then you open the pages and discover a whole new world of ideas, stories and narratives that might be fashion, advice and service that you had no idea you were interested in. That’s what I love about being a reader and it’s what I like trying to create. So, for example, in Cosmo‘s May issue, it is such an exciting mix of the person on the cover and two stories, which you would never predict you would find in Cosmo. I love giving readers a surprise.
Asking questions and being engaged in what’s going on. I don’t have any issues with motivation. I have a lot of energy. I spent 20 years as a news journalist so I’m always interested in what’s going on and always [ask], ‘What is actually happening? What is the real story here? What is the processed version being given?’
The last challenge that made me nervous:
I just came back from a skiing trip and I came down a run a little too fast. Suddenly, I saw a little safety net they had erected at the bottom and was thinking so hard about how to approach it that I fell. I still tried [to ski] but I had no choice or I was going to fall off the edge. I couldn’t ski for two days because of my leg but it’s fine now. My legs are always better when they’re on high heels.
My response to critics who say ‘print is dying’:
I don’t think great content is dying. I think the way people are absorbing content is changing because technology is changing. We have to be more creative in the way we use print. It gives us an opportunity to be bigger, bolder and better. More books are being sold than ever before and Hearst has launched four new magazines in the last five years. I think people say that because they see new things going on on their smartphones but that doesn’t mean print is dead. I also think that with a brand like Cosmo, we want to be everywhere the reader is.
Apps I can’t live without:
Snapchat, Twitter, Evernote, Newsstand, Kindle, Tix and BBC News
The key to not burning out:
Well, I like to sleep. Honestly, the key to not burning out is to have fun. If you’re not having fun while doing it, you shouldn’t be doing it. The only times I’ve ever really felt burnt out are when I’m doing jobs I didn’t enjoy but my energy comes from working with people that I love, coming across people that I love and being engaged with what I’m doing so that sort of feeds on itself.
How I balance my personal and professional life:
I have a pretty understanding family. I have a husband who travels a lot and is a writer so he’s flexible. I feel like it all just swirls around in one big mess. I wouldn’t say that I compartmentalize, I’d just say I’m always on the verge of chaos.
My go-to statement piece:
I would say these Sidney Garber rolling cuffs because they stretch and you can wear them with anything. I find they’re an incredible talking point. You can sit on the subway and someone will lean over and say, ‘I really like your bracelets’ or you can talk to someone at a black tie dinner and they will say, ‘Oh I love those bracelets.’ It’s actually three sets of bracelets but it looks like there’s a lot of individual ones. I never go out [while] wearing them without someone wanting to talk about them.
My definition of an effective boss:
An effective boss needs to have clarity of purpose. If you’re working for someone, you need to understand what they want and what they expect. If you don’t have [a boss] with a clear vision, it’s very hard to work for someone because you don’t know what they’re after. You need a boss who has the ability to communicate that purpose and who will listen to you even when they don’t agree with you.
VIBE Presents: In A League Of Their Own
She Got Game: Meet WNBA President, Laurel Richie
One-Woman Show: A Closer Look At Soledad O’Brien
The Blueprint: Karen Civil On Rocking The Industry And Beyond
Poetry In Motion: Ballerina Misty Copeland On Standing Out
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Meet Lifestyle Connoisseur, Miss Diddy
Nothin’ But Sweat: Meet Personal Trainer, Massy ‘Mankofit’ Arias
Ladies First: ESPN’s Cari Champion On Taking Charge In A Male-Dominated Industry
Last Laugh: Aisha Tyler On Being A Woman In Comedy
Fortune Cookie: Taraji P. Henson On Building Your Own Empire
High Notes: Meet BMI Vice President, Catherine Brewton
Flex Zone: Meet Hollywood Trainer, Jeanette Jenkins
Down For The Cause: Meet Petals-N-Belles Founder, Damali Elliott
Controlling The Narrative: Meet Marketing Maven, Tricia Clarke-Stone
Electric Lady: Janelle Monae On Starting A Movement
Voice Of Power: Angie Martinez On Making Bold Moves
Homerun Hitter: Egypt Sherrod On Planning Your Next Takeover
Breaking Barriers: Meet First Latina CEO Of Girl Scouts, Anna Maria Chávez
Super Powers: Tia Mowry-Hardrict On Balancing Career, Motherhood And Marriage
The People’s Champ: Meet FYI Brand Communications CEO, Tammy Brook
Red Carpet Slayer: Meet E! News’ Alicia Quarles
Show Girl: Wendy Williams On Leading An Army Of One
First Take: Mara Brock Akil’s Blueprint For Running Your Own Show
Dream Chaser: Food Network’s Sunny Anderson On Being A Jane Of All Trades
Morning Glory: Meet Executive Editorial Producer Of Good Morning America, Santina Leuci
The Perfect Struggle: MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry On Being Okay With Making Mistakes
Mic Check: HLN’s Rocsi Diaz On Making Transitions
The Luxe Life: Kimora Lee On Balancing Multiple Hustles