The last five years have been none too kind to the magazine business. We have tearfully bid adieu to household names like Gourmet, Domino, and More!, while other publications, like Newsweek, have gone strictly digital. Pre-teens no longer have Teen magazine to peruse before graduating to Seventeen, making me nostalgic for Teen's profound advice on how to make your own Halloween costume or how to ask for more allowance. It takes some serious chutzpa to launch anything, let alone a print magazine, but when you have a vision--or in this case a mission--to speak to women about authenticity, Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm were up for the challenge.
Verily Magazine's name and tagline "Less of who you should be, more of who you are," speaks to women's desire for realness. In a world that feels increasingly manufactured, I'm listening. Their inaugural June/July issue covered everything from an inspiring interview with a sex trafficking survivor to a spread on flattering one-piece bathing suits (yes, please). The magazine's branding and messaging clearly points to the value of an integrated life (read: work/life balance), but in a start-up magazine, I wondered if it was far easier to do as they say and not as they do.
In an industry famous for high-pressure work environments and grueling hours (let us recall The Devil Wears Prada), I wanted to know whether Verily's internal culture aligned with the values it espoused. Beyond mere curiosity, I knew the potentially devastating consequences for organizations with misaligned missions, values, and internal cultures--and hoped that Verily wouldn't fall prey to this misstep. My "authenticity investigation" began with a surface level sweep of the magazine and its website. Do they airbrush their models' faces or bodies? No -- check. Do they equally showcase women's inner and outer beauty? Yes -- check.
Intrigued and inspired that perhaps this was the real deal, I dug a bit further, asking the two co-founders, Kara and Janet, a series of fairly in-depth questions about their organizational culture and living out their mission. What I got in response was, no surprise, honesty and, at times, profound. Some of my favorite responses are captured below.
Jane: Why was launching a magazine with this focus on authenticity and integrated living so important to you? How are you promoting and living that message through Verily's organizational culture?
Janet: Personally, I truly needed a magazine like Verily. I use to strive, consciously or not, to live up to the magazine headlines, to perform as best I could, acting more confident, playing hard to get in the power struggle with the opposite sex. The "less is more" mentality when it came to my clothes, body weight, and even wants and desires in a relationship, crept into my very being. So, Verily was born out of this personal desire for something more than the status quo; a magazine that reflected the kind of happy, healthy, integrated woman I want to be. And, I knew I wasn't alone in this desire. We all know the powerful effect visual messaging from the pages of magazines has on women with over 69 percent of young women who say their ideal body weight is heavily influenced by magazines, over 70 percent percent of women with disordered eating, and only 4 percent of women in the world who would call themselves beautiful. Not to mention the focus for fashion content and style is centered around 'being sexy' and a narrow view of beauty.
Kara: For our internal culture, we know that there's no way we can fill our pages with that kind of content if we can't live it ourselves. We try to be encouraging of each other to live the integrated lives we talk about all the time.
Jane: How do you handle work/life balance in a way that doesn't impact your bottom line?
Kara: First of all, I think when people discuss work/life balance, what they're really saying is "I need to work less." I prefer to think of it as working smarter--and that should have a positive influence on our bottom line. We try to be well defined in what needs to be done and have open conversations about bandwidth. We're a small startup, so we all wear a lot of hats, but if life is overwhelming for someone, we try to work through what can be done to make it more manageable. I'm really proud of the fact that we have three working moms on our team. We set some times where people have to be available to answer emails and calls, which is when they usually have a nanny or some help at home, but then the rest of they day they can be flexible with their family time, getting work done as needed.
Jane: How do you set boundaries so that employees understand that Verily is supportive of work/life balance, but that this needs to be respected?
Kara: I think we frame the issue as balance -- not simply as working less, but as making appropriate time for both. On the editorial side, we have definable work that is more dictated by deadlines than hours put in, and we try to plan well in advance so that no one is taken by surprise by a deadline. I think it's a topic that needs constant communication so that both parties feel like their time is being respected, and they're still getting work done.
Jane: How will you handle potential investors pushing you towards decisions that may sell more magazines, but may be less in line with your vision of a woman's true, authentic self?
Kara: We've tried to find investors who are aligned with our philosophy. Our mission for creating positive, intelligent media is just as important as selling magazines -- if the only way to be successful is to become everything we're trying to change, why do we exist at all?
Maintaining personal conviction and resisting outside pressures are no easy tasks, not to mention from potential financiers with checkbooks. But what's refreshing and fortunate about Verily is that its internal culture reflects the external culture that it is trying to create. As the magazine's distribution and team expands, safeguarding the harmony between its inner and outer self will be challenging, but perhaps no more taxing than any other company trying to pay homage to both the pursuit of profit and the safeguarding of its values. Janet and Kara's words and actions make me confident that Verily will achieve this balance -- and will do so while protecting its authenticity.