Nancy Miller – West Coast Editorial Director, Fast Company
Early in her journalism career, Nancy Miller was an American expatriate in Paris and needed money. Her solution? Write an article on the difference between dating American and European men, submit it to Cosmopolitan, and cross her fingers. Unorthodox as it was, it worked – so well, in fact, that in addition to buying the story, they hired her as an assistant editor.
This break eventually snowballed into an impressive resume of editorial positions at Maxim, Entertainment Weekly, National Public Radio and most recently, Wired, where as senior editor she served to solidify the magazine’s entertainment coverage.
Now as West Coast editorial director at Fast Company, Miller’s ingenuity and willingness to risk failure are still key attributes to her success, and lie at the heart of her new role.
Miller now steps back from the deep “in-the-trenches line editing” of her previous position at Wired, and carries the lofty task of providing the “overall shaping of what Fast Company’s culture and entertainment voice is going to be.”
She recognizes that her arrival comes during a transitional phase for the magazine, and explains that “people still try to figure out what Fast Company is.”
“I think that people who know it, love it,” she added. “It speaks to this young, creative, entrepreneurial, digitally-savvy person.”
Just as she did at Wired, Miller is tasked with building Fast Company’s brand. However, instead of expanding coverage within one area, she now looks at the big picture, nurtures new ideas, and mobilizes teams to execute on them.
“I have a position that hasn’t existed before at Fast Company, which is straddling both online and print,” she said. “I took the job as a guinea pig to see if this can work, and it may not, but threading those two things together with creativity and content is something that I really feel like is necessary for these publications to move forward.”
Miller sees the opportunity to break the wall between print and online as a unique position to enrich both forms.
“One of the reasons I took the job at Fast Company was because it offered me an opportunity to do both print and online, having editorial influence and direction of the magazine and FastCompany.com, which I rarely see and magazines, which is something I still don’t understand.”
Despite the alluring headlines about the death of print media, Miller has “really enjoyed seeing what we thought was a doomsday scenario into what I think is a fascinating collective of how we get information,” she said.
To that end, one of Miller’s first long-term projects is a digital addition to Fast Company that looks to break new ground at the intersection of entertainment, culture and advertising.
“There are ad magazine and websites, there are entertainment magazines and websites, but there’s nothing that’s really looking at creative ideas coming out of these little pools of industry, and I really want to tap into those,” she explained.
To determine Fast Company’s future needs, Miller is actively gathering ideas and meeting with individuals in the entertainment community, a source that had until now remained untapped at the magazine.
She also returned to writing and editing entertainment pieces to get a feel for the process experienced by the writers and editors working under her.
Fast Company seems an ideal fit for Miller, who is a big-idea thinker eager to try new approaches.
“I like the idea of working at a smaller magazine,” she said. “If I have an idea for something I want to put on the website, I just do it. If I have an idea for the magazine, I can do it for the magazine. We just move.
“The freedom to be able to be that creatively mobile is something I don’t see a lot in bigger magazines,” she added.
Ultimately, Miller is bound only by her imagination and welcomes any input she is offered.
“Now more than ever, I am excited and open to new ideas in a way that I haven’t been able to be before with my other jobs. This is a really fertile opportunity for people to come to me with stuff that they think is interesting and it may not be immediately Fast Company but my job is to engineer what Fast Company will be in the future, so bring it on.”
Miller prefers to receive pitches via email or Twitter. “I am actively engaged in Twitter almost all day long,” she said. “I always see my @replies on Twitter, and if you can condense an idea into 140 characters, that is proof to me that this is something that is a good idea.”
To make an email pitch effective, she insists that it should be thoughtful and personalized. Be familiar with the publication, and do not send her irrelevant blasts. “The publicists that I’m now friendly with are the people that say ‘this is a perfect idea for Fast Company because…’ and they finish the idea why.”
She explains that she will respond to a thoughtful pitch even if she does not use it. “I will react to people who are clever and real and personalized. I always like it when someone does their homework. A lot of publicists are really good writers, and they’re really good thinkers, and I love when a publicist gives that texture to who they are.”
She also notes that clever email subject lines – those containing witty puns or her name, for example – always grab her attention.
Regarding phone calls, she quips, “You will never get an editor in a good mood over the phone. Email maybe, but a phone call, you risk at a young age being completely lasered by the cruelty of an editor on a deadline.”
Likewise, she is annoyed when publicists follow-up an email with a phone call to confirm that the email was received, and suggests avoiding this practice entirely.
*Editor’s note: Nancy Miller left Fast Company to join Los Angeles Magazine as deputy editor in March 2012.
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