Less than a month after the death of founder Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan is bracing for a major editorial change. Kate White, Cosmo’s editor in chief, is stepping down after 14 years, to be replaced by Joanna Coles, editor in chief of sister publication Marie Claire, effective Sept. 10.
When Coles, 50, became editor in chief of Marie Claire in April 2006, the brand needed a makeover. She boosted the magazine’s high fashion and mass media cred by hiring former Elle fashion director Nina Garcia, who was also a judge on the hit TV series Project Runway. Marie Claire replaced Elle as the centerpiece of the show, and Coles herself later became a mentor on the program's all-stars edition. Under Coles, Adweek's 2011 Editor of the Year, Marie Claire also played center stage as the setting for Running in Heels, a reality show on the Style Network.
Coles’ strategy proved a hit with both readers and advertisers. Overall circulation rose from 958,624 when Coles took over in 2006 to 970,716 in 2011, and the magazine just published its largest-ever September issue with 237 ad pages (including the Marie Claire @Work supplement, also launched under Coles). Replacing Coles at Marie Claire is Anne Fulenwider, who was hired away from Condé Nast's Brides.
Before joining Marie Claire, Coles was executive editor of More and articles editor of New York magazine. She began her career on the news track in her native U.K., where she worked for The Guardian, the BBC and The Daily Telegraph.
Hearst Magazines president David Carey said he pegged Coles as the heir apparent to Cosmo after White initially voiced interest in retiring this past January. White, who “decided to shift focus to her already successful writing and speaking career,” according to a statement from Hearst, will stay on as an advisor at the company after she steps down from Cosmo next week.
"Kate told me in January she wanted to transition to a different creative role," Carey said. "And then I groaned, because it's a big job to fill."
Carey said he settled on Coles, with her cross-platform instincts, early on. "Her work on Project Runway is probably the best example of print brands working with TV," he said. When Marie Claire did a live chat with Angelina Jolie about In the Land of Blood and Honey, it was Coles' idea to roadblock all Hearst's women's sites with an editorial takeover to promote it, he said. "She's always thinking about how to push content to new areas."
Carey said while the print edition of Cosmo was "rock solid," he expected Coles to focus on digital growth. "It can be much stronger," he said of the site. "The uniques are 8.5 million, but it has a chance to be even bigger."
Look for Coles to also use what she learned at Marie Claire, with its 35 editions worldwide, to exploit Cosmo's 64-edition-strong international footprint. "I'm really excited about what you can do on a global level with so many magazines," she said. "One of the things I learned from Marie Claire was, Running in Heels was incredibly powerful because it was shown in many foreign countries where we have editions."