April 17, 2015
/ by Laura Botham
Leigh Belz Ray was named executive editor for Lucky magazine at the beginning of this year, ahead of Lucky’s push into the e-commerce realm. She got her start as an editorial assistant for ELLE in 2001 and has since worked with Teen VOGUE and People StyleWatch, joining Lucky as deputy editor about a year and a half ago. She is a style expert who is well versed in the world of influencers and has an innovative approach to finding new tastemakers. She sits down to talk about style, shopping and Sleater-Kinney.
Leigh Beltz Ray | photo courtesy of Leigh Beltz Ray
Tell us about Lucky and your mission for content as executive editor?
Lucky is all about personal style. We started as a sort of shopping bible and that remains at our core, but today the brand is more about creativity and expression through fashion and beauty. Our readers don’t want to look like just everyone else – they want to take a trend and make it their own. So a lot of the content is a natural extension of that – profiles on new, independent designers, small lines that are doing things differently and the smart women entrepreneurs who are looking at the market and sensing something missing and then creating a business to fill a void. What I do with our editor in chief, Eva Chen, is help look for the new voices, the people that are doing something exciting – and that includes not only fashion designers but other creative talent (writers, performers, etc.) to feature in the magazine.
How has your role changed, and are there any particular projects you are excited to get your hands on?
Since I started in August 2013, each issue has been something new, in a really great way. And since we added the e-commerce layer in February, there’s been a lot more of a focus on the voice of every platform and how they work together to speak to readers and customers. I love that kind of thinking. There’s no one project that I love more than others … hands down, the thing I like most about my job is that I get to think about how everything works and lives together.
You have a number of women’s interest and style-forward publications under your belt – what learning experiences or achievements have shaped your present-day editorial style or interests?
I’ve been fortunate to work at four magazines that are in a closely related set – but each has been wildly different in terms of process and staff. So each has given me a very different perspective on how to get things done and my personal preferences end up stealing a bit from all of them. I guess I’m a bit more loose in terms of letting a writer or section editor try things their way instead of imposing myself on every piece of text.
Lucky made waves early this year with a cover feature on fashion bloggers. Can you tell us how the game is changing style and shopping-focused publications, and if there are other trends or taste-makers you are excited to work with/explore going forward?
I think our February cover did exactly what we’d hoped it would do, which is to get people talking about who influencers can be. There should be no tiered system of importance – social media and the Web are the great equalizers. People will follow those they find inspiring. And we feel like bloggers are just as inspiring as models and just as inspiring as celebrities. I always love being the first to do something because there’s an energy to it – from being the first magazine to put a blogger on the cover to the first to profile a brand new designer or business owner to spotlighting a singer that just released her first EP but will without a doubt be the next Florence Welch or Adele.
Read Cision Blog’s feature “Lucky Magazine Puts Three Fashion Bloggers on Its February Cover” here!
Do you think that the fashion publishing industry is evolving nimbly enough with online shopping and social media? Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie?
I think everyone is doing the best they can. There’s no way for a company or a brand to move as fast as a single person, ever. So it’s bloggers or independent entities who end up being the most nimble, because they’re able to just jump onto a platform or collaboration. The more people who have a stake in a brand, the longer it will take to build a presence that feels good enough to go public with. That said, something does feel different in the past 12 months. Companies are starting to look at things in a more non-traditional way, which I think had led to a lot of interesting changes and partnerships and, in our case, taking the brand to a whole new place. Now I think everyone is watching the other brands to see how it works out for them, based on the decisions they made. I think if a brand has a defined aesthetic, that’s their biggest asset moving forward. Creating a hub that speaks to the audience in a real way activates their allegiance through curated e-commerce, real time events and more actionable opportunities.
What do you expect to achieve in your tenure as executive editor, and where would you like to see your career take you?
I love that feeling of picking up a magazine (or going to a website) for a specific reason … and then getting the surprise of 2-3 more features that give me something I didn’t even know I wanted. I love when Lucky gets to do that too: surprise people. I’m a not-so-secret rock geek and so I was unbelievably pumped that in our March issue we had St. Vincent do a NYC City Guide for us and then a few pages later, Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein wrote our monthly Fashion First Person essay. I think someone who hasn’t read Lucky in years would be surprised by that in that good way. So working on more of that kind of content – unexpected writers or really cool girl subjects that aren’t directly in the fashion world but are so awesome and stylish… That’s what gets me excited about work. And we have a few more of those already up our sleeve for future issues, so stay tuned.
In terms of my career, I honestly can’t predict. When I started at ELLE almost 15 years ago as the assistant to the editor in chief, people always said ‘So you want to be an editor in chief someday?’ and, even then, I remember knowing myself enough to say ‘Actually, I think I’d be more into being the executive editor’ – getting to focus intensely on the stories and the voice and the writing was always the thing that called to me. So, having that title now is kind of amazing and wonderful … and I have no idea what’s going to come next.
Finally, do you have any pitching tips?
I would always stress to take the time to know who you’re talking to, what they do and what the magazine does. The best pitch I’ve gotten this week was from a publicist who said, “I have this great designer who would be perfect for your Lucky Life column. Here’s her bio and if you’re interested, I can send you some photos of her apartment.” And, I mean, she did the work for me. She knew the column, knew her client fit and gave me the info I needed to jump right to the next steps. Blanket e-mails are tougher to work with because they’re sent to everyone. So I’d say if you have a client or product that you know is a really good fit to encourage your team to tailor pitches just a step further – it really makes them stand out.
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