Amy Keller Laird was promoted from executive editor of Women’s Health to editor-in-chief in September 2014 after Michele Promaulayko left the Rodale pub the month prior to become the top editor at Yahoo Health. The former deputy editor at Allure has settled nicely in her new role and already made some changes to the mag’s front-of-book and expert Q&A pages, particularly in response to the speed at which her social-media-obsessed readers are consuming news.
On the digital side, Keller Laird admits to looking for innovative ways to get those all-important clicks — let’s face it, like every other publication out there — but says she won’t do so at the risk of straying from the magazine’s straight-shooting voice and reputation as an authority on all things related to women’s health. Here, she answers five questions for us, including why this former Manhattanite is now firmly on team Brooklyn.
FBNY: You arrived at Women’s Health in 2011 as executive editor after spending most of your career as a beauty editor. What skills did you bring to that new position?
Keller Laird: Allure was a very research-intensive place, even though the magazine is all about beauty. I worked there for five years as the beauty director. The editor-in-chief [Linda Wells] had come from The New York Times so we reported on beauty [with the same editorial standards]. Those skills transferred to editing health, fitness, food — really delving into a topic beyond what the press release says. Let’s really talk to an independent expert; let’s not rely on the hype and the buzz.
There’s an aesthetic to being a beauty editor that has helped me out at Women’s Health, especially in my role as editor-in-chief, in terms of looking at art and trends. I covered the runway shows for many years, and I edited a lot of film so you start to see what makes good film, what doesn’t make good film, what’s going to resonate with readers, what’s going to really show the image you’re trying to portray. I think that has translated.
Also, the fact that as a beauty editor you work with [advertising] a lot, you get to understand the business side of a magazine, and you understand pitching these bigger, broader ideas that will take the brand to the next level. I did that a lot at Allure, and then I did that here as an executive editor, and obviously now as the editor-in-chief.
FBNY: Now that you’re in charge, what are some changes you’ve implemented?
Keller Laird: The magazine has been doing great over the past five years, but I think it was time for a refresh. For instance, one of the things we’re doing is [revamping] our FOB news section, ‘Scoop.’ We can’t just report on news anymore. With social media, as soon as something happens it’s all over everyone’s feed. If a study or survey comes out and then two months later I put it in the magazine, it’s like, ‘I’ve already read this.’ What we’re doing is taking the news and turning it into something our reader can interact with. We take a survey, and we turn it into a pop quiz in the magazine. We are doing these fun things called ‘Let’s Talk About One-Night Stands’ or ‘Let’s Talk About Pot in the News,’ so we can open the conversation and not just rely on one study.
We used to have Q&As throughout the magazine with some of our big experts. We have a couple of the doctors from the show “The Doctors” as our experts; we have Kathryn Budig, who is our yoga expert; and Keri Glassman as our nutritionist. These are big names and we’re kind of burying them in these tiny Q&As, so we’ve brought them together in a section called ‘Ask Anything.’ We’re letting their personality come through in their answers, and we’re just featuring them more prominently to show we have this robust group of experts who are advising you. We also added an item into that section called ‘Asking for a Friend,’ based off the concept of somebody asking an embarrassing question, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m just asking for a friend.’ We have a rotating comedienne [including Whitney Cummings, co-creator of “2 Broke Girls”] who will do that every three months, just to add a little humor, a little quirkiness, something unexpected. I think that’s really part of my overall goal, for the magazine to be [unlike any other] women’s magazine. We always want to be provocative and innovative.
FBNY: What does your digital strategy look like?
Keller Laird: Digital is very important to Rodale. I hired Lisa Chudnofsky, who’d come from MTV, as our site director and she’s awesome. She brings a different perspective and dynamic. She’s also great with video, and there’s a push companywide to create more and better-quality videos because how-to videos are just so big. What Lisa and I are working on together is how can we do them differently? How can we give them the Women’s Health spin? We tell it like it is. We’re straight. No B.S. We recently did a post, and it was about our editors trying hairstyles from Pinterest and showing the actual results. Basically, it’s like everyone goes on Pinterest and posts these hairstyles and they say, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to create,’ and then our editors created them, and it was hilarious to see the results. We’re coming at it from a ‘Here’s your no-B.S. guide to beauty.’
We have also gone back to our health roots. We had been doing a lot of sex and love content, and we’re still doing that because that’s popular and it’s clicky, but some of our most popular posts recently have been about signs of cancer you didn’t expect. People are clicking on that. We are really trying to vary what we put up on the Web, just as we are a varied magazine. We are a lifestyle brand. We cover all things, and we want to make sure we deliver what the reader wants. We obviously want to keep our unique ties and have things people click on, but we also want to be a trusted source, and people know they can get that at Women’s Health.
Keller Laird: We do have our popular franchises like ‘Workout Wednesdays,’ which is something we do on Instagram where we give an image of a move and we ask people to do it and post pictures of themselves. We’re also doing something called #WHStrong, where we ask our readers to give us a picture of them doing something that is strong. We’ve been getting these amazing photos. We put them in the magazine every month on a page called ‘Get More Women’s Health’ and people are doing yoga poses underwater and they’re paddle boarding in a handstand — it’s kind of like a give-back to the reader.
FBNY: Finally, just for fun, what’s your favorite part of New York?
Keller Laird: I live in Williamsburg. I was always one of those people who lived in Manhattan and I was like, ‘I’m never going to Brooklyn.’ And now that I’ve lived there for five years, I love it and I’m never going back to Manhattan. My husband owns a company there, an ice coffee company called Grady’s Cold Brew [pictured above]; the factory is there and we go there a lot in the summer. We put up tents, hang out, have a few drinks, and the kids can run around. It’s a very hipster playground kind of scene because the kids are playing around on concrete. But it’s home, and it’s family.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.