People's New Editor Wants to Add Humor, Focus on Covers

Many Brand Extensions Planned

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Jess Cagle, the new editor of People's magazine and website, looks at the brand as the "morning show of magazines."

"It's one of those few places where you can cover celebrities, politics, human interest stories and more," said Mr. Cagle, who had been managing editor of Entertainment Weekly.

Jess Cagle is the new editor of People magazine
Jess Cagle is the new editor of People magazine

People not only covers a broad area of interest, but it makes significant money in the process. Last year, the magazine generated 20% of all revenue to parent company Time Inc., which also publishes brands including Sports Illustrated, Time, Fortune, InStyle and others.

Indeed, it's a big job for Mr. Cagle, who was named editor on Friday, succeeding Larry Hackett, People magazine's top editor for the past eight years. Mr. Cagle will also oversee People's digital efforts, which had been handled separately, and serve as editorial director of Entertainment Weekly, a newly created post. He plans to name an editor of EW in the coming weeks.

Ad Age spoke with Mr. Cagle soon after the company announced his new role. Our conversation has been lightly edited.

Advertising Age: What changes do you plan to bring to People?

Jess Cagle: It's too early to tell about specific changes editorially. The marching orders are not to break it because the magazine is not broken. On a management level, I will be overseeing as well, so that means making sure the digital team and the print team are working hand in hand and maximizing the content and the resources that we have. Also, I will really focus on the covers. I don't think we'll ever get the cover numbers back that we used to, but you want to stabilize it, at least.

Ad Age: People is Time Inc.'s most valuable property, but executives have indicated they want a fresh set of eyes looking at the brand. How do you plan to walk this tightrope of maintaining People's current readership while also breathing new life into the magazine?

Mr. Cagle: Hopefully, my sensibility, or parts of my sensibility, will overlap with what the readers want. There are things in the book that I like; there are things that I don't like and things that I want to change. But I also have to look at how are readers are responding to those things. The audience is king.

Ad Age: Can you give me an example of something you want to change?

Mr. Cagle: One thing I can say is maybe do it all with more humor. How do you add humor? How do you make it more entertaining? That's one thing I know I want to add. It's something we can do in the magazine and online and with the many brand extensions we want to create down the line.

Ad Age: Does your move to People and editorial directorship over EW point to an eventual combining of the titles?

Mr. Cagle: There's no way to combine the titles. They are two distinct brands. We don't want to do anything that derails EW at all. They have separate publishers; they always will. And they have separate editors.

What I will be doing is working with the new editor of EW and the publishers of EW and People to look at things that we might do together that would benefit both brands and appeal to advertisers. I also want to look at editorial initiatives that we might share.

Ad Age: There is a feeling among EW staffers that People eats up attention and resources that should go to EW --

Mr. Cagle: The editor of EW would certainly agree with that. I think less that way today than I did yesterday. The reality is, People is a really significant part of the company's revenue, so that's understandable that there is a tremendous focus on People. Where People goes so goes the company. It's certainly a vote of confidence that they would want the editor of People to look out for EW, because that means EW is also really important.

Ad Age: How do you plan to address that with EW staff now that you're People editor?

Mr. Cagle: I think the EW staff is glad. The more people watching over EW in the company and paying attention and being committed to its growth the better. Listen, EW can't fail. It has to succeed. Time Inc. is committed to that.

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