Director of Communications at WIRED
- How did you get started in PR?
I was an armchair journalist. A fan. I loved to read, and I loved the romantic notion that I had about the life of a journalist. I was a political science major in college, but I ended up writing my thesis about the US and UK reporters who covered the Bosnian war and siege of Sarajevo, and abandoned the ‘objectivity’ mandate of traditional journalism to both bear witness and advocate for Western intervention. Writers like Susan Sontag, Emma Daly, Roger Cohen, Peter Maass, each to varying degrees. Right now, it’s a snarky given that there’s nothing that media loves more than talking about itself. But that self-mythologizing, and that sort of rigorous self examination, made the profession seem both glamorous and profound. Writers of the first draft of history.
So, I graduated and like any good poli-sci student, got an internship at the Council on Foreign Relations in their media office. But… and I was addicted to reading food blogs. It was the early days of Grub Street and Eater. I was filling my head with a lot of seemingly useless knowledge, about which chef was opening which restaurant, and why this new dish was important, and all of a sudden I was fascinating by the self mythologizing of the kitchen. Anthony Bourdain, Marco Canora, Gabrielle Hamilton.
A friend was working at Conde Nast, and she told me that Bon Appetit’s new PR director was looking to hire a second person to work with her. I went in for the interview, and now, ten years later, I’ve worked my way through the company from Bon Appetit to Gourmet, to Conde Nast Traveler and now… to the San Francisco office of WIRED.
- How did you find yourself where you are now?
I have come and gone from Conde Nast a few times. After my first start at Bon Appetit, I found that I hated the event lists and things, and loved working with TV producers on the TODAY Show and Good Morning America and the Food Network.
So, I thought I should try film producing, instead of PR. I moved to New Orleans, where a friend of a friend was about to start making his first feature film. I ended up doing the casting for the lead character, a six year old girl, and working as the production manage of the film shoot. The film turned into Beasts of the Southern Wild, and in a great trick of fate, was nominated for four Academy Awards. (Here is a hilarious story on The Wrap where I managed to briefly upstage Minnie Driver and Eva Longoria with my 15 minutes of fame as “Conde Nast’s own link to Oscar season, Gaia Filicori.”)
But guess what? I hated that all of the creative decisions of a film have already been made by the time you get to set. There’s very little room for creativity unless you’re one of few top, coveted positions on a film. And I love to write, and I loved the freedom that I was given at Conde Nast to pursue my own ideas and initiatives. So, back to PR I went.
With each new position, I’ve found myself immersed in a different world. Food was a great hobby, then travel was exciting because it’s not just a lifestyle beat but a billion-dollar global industry that includes hotels, hospitality, and airlines, and we were able to capitalize on breaking travel news for our press coverage. And now, with WIRED, we run close to the edge of the newscycle on so many topics (earnings reports, diversity issues, future of mobility, etc.) while also telling these deeply insightful feature stories that continue to turn over the perennial question “what does the future look like?” but through all sorts of different, personal, human vantage points. “Tell us something we’ve never heard before, in a way we’ve never seen before,” is the guiding editorial principle of WIRED.
- What is your role at Wired?
I am Director of Communications, a part of a three person team, but the only comms person based here at our editorial headquarters in San Francisco. We handle all external comms for the both the editorial and the business side of WIRED Media Group, which includes Wired, Ars Technica, and Backchannel.
On the editorial side, this means coming up with the rollout strategy for cover stories, for big exclusives, as well as for countless rapid response media requests we field each day. WIRED’s scope of coverage is so vast (not just a tech magazine) and ever since the November election and Trump’s presidency, our expertise has been particularly in demand. I book our editors and writers on TV and radio shows to talk about everything from election machine hacking to Elon Musk’s latest audacious claim to the box office success of Wonder Woman to the Uber fiasco to… you name it.
- What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud that two of our writers were on NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross on the same week. Both because they were so delighted by it (and “delighted’ isn’t a word you often get to use when you’re stealing important reporting time from a journalists day) and partly because the producer told me “It’s WIRED week here on Fresh Air!” which I loved.
I was very pleased to book writer Gabriel Snyder on Brian Stelter’s great show, “Reliable Sources” on CNN. Snyder had spent months inside the New York Times for the March issue cover story learning about this pretty huge pivot they’ve made to prioritizing digital products, like podcasts, and recipes, and other ancillary life tools that are outside the traditional realm of newspaper reporting. It was the right place for the right story (Sherman talking to former NYT media writer, and “Page One” star, Brian Stelter, about the future of the New York Times) and I’m just happy that we were able to break through the onslaught of Trump coverage.
- What is most important in your work?
In my opinion, it’s important to have fun, to value the people you work with, to be in sync with your team and your organization on your goals, so everyone can go forth and pursue a wild idea, stretch the bounds of one’s job, do your best work, without having to always be stymied by meetings and approvals. Identify the goals, create a strategy, and then go wild with your tactics. That’s my idea of PR fun.
A more serious answer is that it’s important to tell a good story to the right audience.
- You have an extensive experience working in communications for media groups, how would you say the media landscape has changed over the course of your career?
This question requires a very long response with a very cynical answer. The good news, is that it’s not over yet. Platforms and Publishers. Some of us own the pipes, and some of us create the content. McLuhan may have said that the medium is the message, but there’s no transmission without a message. (I wish that sounded cooler saying that, but I can’t resist a corny McLuhan reference, sorry!)
On a more optimistic note, the question “is this running in print or online” is finally circling the drain. This is what PR people need to think about now: they need to consider how to pitch not just a print story, or an online story, but also a video story, an Instagram Story, a Snapchat Discover story, a Facebook Live story. There are so many new and exciting ways that we are telling stories with WIRED. There are so many great opportunities for PR clients to reach the WIRED audience. It’s exciting to explain that to people, and to see the lightbulb sort of go off. “Oh, you mean I can reach 2 million WIRED readers by inviting you into my workshop floor and showing how we make things for a Facebook Live?” Yes, you can!
- You recently moved to San Francisco from New York, how did that affect your working process?
The time changes is the biggest challenge. I live my life in two time zones. I wake up at 7am with a gasp “but it’s 10am in New York!” And when it’s 2pm my time, I try to wrap up my last calls of the day. It’s changed my working process in now I work 24/7. Half the people I’m emailing with are also constantly splitting time zones (be they writers or sales reps for WIRED, or producers/reporters I’m working with on other stories) so I now pretty much disregard the “time” and I just go ahead and send that email any day of the week, and at any time. We move fast at WIRED. You just have to keep it going.
- Where are your favorite places for business meetings or drinks with writers/clients?
I love Cockscomb in SoMa for lunch. They have the “Impossible” burger that was grown in a tube, but still bleeds like meat, and a great selection of oysters. It’s also less precious than the nearby chicster lunch spot Marlowe (which I go to so regularly that I feel I can self-deprecatingly poke fun at it, too.)
I like to do a Friday morning coffee date with press or other PR’s in my neighborhood in the Mission. Stable Café has the most beautiful garden, and Coffee Bar is another great spot near local NPR affiliate KQED.
- PR/Communications can be fast-paced and stressful, what is your favorite way of relaxing?
Yoga, or a swim in the outdoor pool at my gym, thanks to California’s beautiful year round weather!
I also do like to just come home and turn off my phone and laze around my living room with a cup of tea. I get so overstimulated at work with all the emails and slacks and calls and meetings, that I sometimes just need to lie down and stare a blank wall. I also love to spent quality time with my plants on my deck. They get a lot of attention from me, regular drownings and merciless prunings.
- What are you reading these days?
If I’m honest, I’m reading a science fiction book about a cat which undergoes a hormone-chemical transformation and becomes a big biped with talons and super strength, and who, along with all the other animals, goes on a war to annihilate all humans. It’s really not very good. I just can’t stop reading it yet.
But my favorite new author of the last year is Jeff Van Der Meer. I was blown away by his Southern Reach trilogy. Brilliant, circular, so many overlapping textures and interlocking themes. It’s a feat of literature. His more recent book, Borne, has a tighter focus and is less of a sprawling epic, but has some great dialogue that made me laugh out loud.
- What are you listening on repeat these days?
I’m listening to the Reply All podcast (this recent episode made me laugh.) I also discovered, through a colleague at Pitchfork (a sister publication to WIRED) this wonderful Dirty Projectors/Bjork collaboration from a few years ago.
- What is your next big adventure?
I’m heading to London and Berlin for a 10 day trip to catch up with family, old friends, and to shake up my environment. “The eye needs to travel,” as Vreeland said, and my eyes have been spoiled with the immense beauty of northern California for too long. I need to go away in order to come back and fall in love with it all over again.