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Cosmo Digital Editor: We Don't Always Have Topless Guys at Our Pitch Meetings

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Cosmopolitan.com editors yesterday live-streamed a story meeting where a shirtless guy stopped by with a pitch. The Amy Odell era at Cosmopolitan.com has begun.

Cosmopolitan.com live-streams a pitch meeting with the website's editor, Amy Odell (center)
Cosmopolitan.com live-streams a pitch meeting with the website's editor, Amy Odell (center)

Viewers saw Ms. Odell, editor of Cosmo's website, and other edit staffers debate the merits of certain sexual positions, take a swipe at Teen Vogue and, a few minutes in, welcome the shirtless man.

It was the latest step in an effort to build and foster a sense of community with Cosmo's growing online audience, according to Troy Young, president of Hearst Digital. Viewers were asked to tweet story ideas to Cosmo editors, who read several of the tweets during the meeting.

"There aren't always shirtless guys in our pitch meetings," Ms. Odell said, calling Tuesday's meeting an accurate representation otherwise. Topless "hunks," as she put it, do occasionally show up in the Cosmo offices at Hearst Tower, but not usually to help talk over story ideas. (This shirtless man was CJ Richards, a model and writer, who decided to enter bare chested to suggest a piece on "cooking with a cutie." The cutie, Mr. Richards explained, would be topless.)

The pitch meeting, streamed live on the magazine's website, is also representative of Ms. Odell's editorship, which began in September when Cosmo poached her from BuzzFeed. Web stories now seem edgier and bawdier than the already-edgy and bawdy Cosmo fare, with quick-hit posts about public masturbation, erections and so on.

Ms. Odell is part of Hearst's broader digital strategy under Mr. Young, who joined the company this spring. Mr. Young has promised to move Hearst from "months to moments," partly by increasing the metabolism of its web editors. Cosmo became his test lab for the strategy, a key part of which was hiring Ms. Odell away from BuzzFeed.

The focus on digital couldn't come at a more critical time for Hearst, which has been subject to the secular headwinds affecting print magazines. Readers are increasingly turning to digital-only sites for their news and entertainment -- and advertisers are tagging along.

Cosmo's monthly unique visitors climbed 45% in November compared with the prior year, according to ComScore, reaching nearly 3.6 million. The live pitch meeting grabbed from 1,000 to 1,100 views, according to Hearst, and more than 500 mentions for #cosmolive on Twitter.

"We will do it again," Ms. Odell promised, adding that she was envisioning the Cosmo audience leaning in to a computer to watch. "I used to curl up around a magazine," she said. "Now they're curling up around a device."

But the question of making money from that traffic and engagement is still being answered. "We're building an infrastructure to sell the website more aggressively," Mr. Young said.

The site is also adding staff to cover politics, among other topics, according to Ms. Odell, as part of a push by Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles to report on more serious topics.

The print version of Cosmo is Hearst's largest publication in terms of ad revenue. It closed 2013 up 6.2% in ad pages, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.

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