Glenda’s Way – Glenda Bailey of Marie Claire

David Handelman

Glenda Bailey has made ‘Marie Claire’ a hit with the gentle–and not so gentle–art of persuasion

In the midst of last year’s teeter-tottering presidential race, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey was determined to have her magazine weigh in–but not with the usual profile or thumb-sucking think piece.

Instead, Bailey persuaded Al Gore and George W. Bush to submit dueling articles titled “Why You Should Vote for Me” and reserved a spread in the August issue. But while Gore’s effort was handed in on time, Bush missed his first deadline, then another.

So Bailey gave him an ultimatum. “I made sure that his people understood that if he didn’t get his copy in, I would print a blank page,” she says. “And I would have.”

At the last minute, Bush finally delivered. But as soon as the issue hit newsstands, readers flooded the magazine with rancorous letters and e-mails: While Gore’s piece mentioned women nearly two dozen times, Bush’s didn’t mention women even once.

“I thought, ‘How proactive they are,'” marvels Bailey.

The episode provides a snapshot of why Bailey has been so successful, first with the launch of Marie Claire in the U.K. in 1988 and, later, when she took over the U.S. edition in January 1996: her inventiveness, her doggedness and her ability to connect with and galvanize smart, devoted readers.

“Glenda never takes no for an answer,” says Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black. “She’s an incredibly original, provocative and determined editor who loves to push the envelope. She always wants to give her reader a surprise.”

“With Glenda,” adds deputy editor-in-chief Michele Lavery, “there’s no room for complacency.”

Bailey–a spirited 41-year-old with a mass of curly hair and a self-proclaimed passion for shopping–grew up in a working-class area of central England. Perhaps because of her humble background, she studiously avoids the elitism and authoritarianism of many of her competitors. “What differentiates Marie Claire is that we aspire to our readership, not the other way around,” she says.

During her stewardship of Marie Claire, it has largely been her innovative, expansive and democratic approach that has exploded the narrow definition of a fashion and beauty magazine. In the five years since she took over from founding editor Bonnie Fuller (whom Hearst moved to Cosmopolitan after only a handful of issues), Bailey has raised circulation a whopping 80 percent. Instead of leveling off at around 700,000, as had been expected by Hearst (and French co-owner Comary Inc.), circ rose to just shy of 950,000 by the end of 2000. Of that, 70 percent comes from newsstand, where Marie Claire is the No. 1 fashion title. In 2000, ad revenue soared nearly 39 percent, to $88.8 million, on 1,662 pages, a 19 percent jump.

“Marie Claire doesn’t limit itself to a category, which is wonderful and fresh for the American market,” says Valerie Muller, director of print services at Mediacom. “It’s straightforward, no-nonsense and really accessible.”

In the final analysis, it is Bailey’s persuasiveness that keeps readers–and advertisers– flocking to the magazine. There is an adage that a particularly convincing person can talk a dog out of a meat wagon. In Bailey’s case, she would also get the dog to write a somehow revealing 2,500-word piece about the experience.

It was Bailey who talked Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein into writing a “wacky opinion piece” about the state of the union, got Oprah Winfrey to give the keynote address at a Marie Claire–sponsored conference on “What Women Want,” and prevailed upon Monica Lewinsky to do an internship at the magazine and pose for the cover.

“It’s about having fun, being entertained, being surprised–and not taking ourselves too seriously,” says Bailey, who’s sitting in her spartan corner office overlooking midtown Manhattan. She’s wearing a long black Calvin Klein jacket over a black Donna Karan dress and fishnet stockings.

The fun continues with the magazine’s fashion coverage, which aims to be refreshingly realistic and user-friendly, emphasizing thrift and creative accessorizing. Fashion director Mary Alice Stephenson says that before any article of clothing gets into the magazine, it must pass the staff barometer of “Would we, as women, wear it?” In one of last year’s most memorable features, “Is It Time to Change Your Underwear?” women were photographed in their skivvies … while their partners displayed undergarments they’d prefer to see on their mates.

Some, however, sense a certain schizophrenia in the magazine’s fashion pages. “I like their realistic viewpoint on fashion,” says a media planner at a design firm who asked not to be identified. “But it’s hard to remain upmarket and reach a broad audience, because it ends up being more aspirational. In middle America, they have no interest in the latest Badgley Mischka dress.”

But the magazine’s content extends well beyond the closet. Included in Bailey’s frothy mix are investigative journalism (on subjects such as domestic violence and rape); international activism (child prostitution, girls over-coming barriers to education); voyeurism (“What’s it really like to be a princess?”); everyday heroism (teen mothers coping with child rearing, female entrepreneurs); health and sexual behaviorism (“Men who love curvy women”) and a dash of TV talk-show sensationalism (“I was raised by my mother’s murderer” and “I lost my daughter to liposuction”–both in the same issue!).

Bailey’s trademark quirkiness and humor are most apparent in the way she avoids typical celebrity journalism. Instead of profiles, Marie Claire runs “challenges,” putting stars in offbeat and revealing scenarios. Sarah Jessica Parker, for example, went out on the town with three readers and shared tips for picking up men. Julia Roberts joined strangers for a Notting Hill-like dinner party. Charlie’s Angels heroines Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu were stranded in the desert for three days on a survivalist course.

“Some celebrities will never do it,” says Lavery, who usually accompanies the stars on their stunts. “But others love it, because they don’t have to rehash their past three relationships yet again. And it’s great copy for our readers.”

Once a year, a celebrity comes into the offices to guestedit an issue; Demi Moore enjoyed her stint so much, she still calls up Bailey with ideas. “She’s become an extension of the team,” says Bailey.

Bailey prides herself on her team, which Lavery and fellow deputy editor-in-chief Jenny Barnett have been a part of for more than a decade. Though some say she can be demanding, they are also quick to say her fairness inspires loyalty. “She’s not standoffish, she’s very straight-talking,” says Barnett. “She expects an awful lot of people, but she gets them to achieve things they otherwise wouldn’t.”

Each month she holds a meeting with her entire staff to solicit feedback on the most recent issue. And twice a year she gathers department heads for brainstorming sessions on marketing and other typically business concerns that they wouldn’t be consulted about at most magazines.

“So many women in this industry seem almost frightened of each other,” notes Stephenson, who has also worked at Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Allure. “But Glenda is a great leader, inspiring to work for.” She not only remembers everyone’s birthdays, she’s thrown singles parties for staffers.

Bailey’s egalitarian streak is directly traceable to her less-than-lavish roots. “I am living proof,” she says, “that a fairy tale can happen.”

Bailey, the daughter of a manual laborer in Derbyshire, England, began a lifelong love affair with magazines when she was eight. The family rented a modest, two-bedroom house, in which Bailey and her sister shared a bedroom. Glenda worked on Saturdays from the age of 12 and stashed away her earnings so she could buy clothes.

She was also “addicted” to the British girls’ title Jackie, which featured outline drawings of the latest fashion trends (“I could color them in!”). She moved on to the pages of Honey and 19, before graduating to British Vogue. “I loved the idea that I could aspire,” she recalls. “These magazines made you feel good about yourself, that you could be whoever you wanted to be.”

Bailey attended Kingston University in London, intending to become a fashion designer. Though she won a few prizes and got a nice mention from Suzy Menkes in the Times of London, “I was not going to be the next Karl Lagerfeld,” she says. Rather, in her first year at school, she began to discover her calling while writing a paper on glamour. She decided to interview someone glamorous, chose Joan Collins and somehow successfully got responses to faxed questions.

For another paper she tracked down and interviewed Gloria Swanson. “Gloria remarked on the similarity between Mary Pickford and I,” says Bailey. “I think the only similarity is we swear the same way.”

Bailey enjoyed those assignments so much that she opted to spend the next summer working at IPC, a major British publisher. She ended up doing her final paper on women’s fashion magazines, interviewing editors about their jobs. “What I found fascinating, which has been helpful to this day, is listening to them talk about their readers,” she says. “And I was amazed how many people weren’t looking at the gaps in the market or looking at future opportunities.”

Bailey would not make the same mistake. After college she worked briefly for an Italian knitwear company, then for a fashion-forecasting trade magazine called Design Directions, where she quickly assimilated basic writing and editing skills. It would prove her only dues-paying job.

After 18 months, Bailey’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother had died while she was at Kingston, so Glenda decided to return to Derbyshire and nurse him through his final days. After he died, Bailey was at a crossroads, both personally and professionally.

“All I can say is, there’s nothing like losing everything to really clear your mind as to what you really want,” she recalls. And what she really wanted was to edit a fashion magazine. So when she returned to London, she got off the bus, went to a pay phone and called publisher Malcolm Abraham, whose name she got off the masthead of Jackie. She managed to get him on the phone and persuaded him to meet her. She borrowed a typewriter and quickly banged out her pitch.

“What I thought was missing was a fashion magazine that made sense,” she now says. “It was wonderful to be inspired by the designer books, but there was an opportunity to also give women ideas how to utilize their wardrobe. You didn’t have to spend a vast amount of money to look good.”

Abraham agreed. He introduced her to IPC group publisher Colin Smith, who fronted Bailey enough money to produce a dummy for a new magazine.

Her effort, called Folio, sold 90,000 copies, a huge success for the U.K. market. But after producing three issues, she was in bed with pneumonia when she heard that Marie Claire was going to launch a British edition. She was, admittedly, worried about the competition.

“French Marie Claire was, to me, the ultimate magazine,” Bailey says. “It had absolutely the right attitude.” Not that she could read French, mind you. “But I could understand the philosophy. It had in-depth investigative journalism and this inventive edge.”

She dragged herself up and lobbied Smith to obtain the English rights to the title from Marie Claire owner Comary. He informed her that IPC had already tried and failed. “You go get it,” he challenged her.

Bailey worked her phone magic again. She called Comary’s president and CEO, Evelyne Prouvost-Berry and, despite a limited command of French, persuaded her to fly to England for a meeting. Bailey borrowed someone else’s office to appear more impressive. She spoke for two hours, and the next day she got a telegram saying the editorship of the magazine was hers. It was 1988; she was just 28. “Evelyne took an enormous risk,” Bailey says.

Her initial ideas included many that would follow her to America, including the vibrant cover and the now-classic fashion gimmicks, like “What I Bought Last Year,” “101 Ideas,” “Splurge or Steal,” “Mix and Match” and “Looks for Less.” Sales skyrocketed, and Bailey became so famously identified with the magazine that she appeared in American Express ads in England.

But when the time came to launch an American version of Marie Claire, a friend of Bailey’s was ill, and Bailey didn’t want to leave England. Instead, in 1994 she took on the additional role of consultant to all the international editions. Bonnie Fuller’s first test issue came out that fall, followed by four more tests before the magazine went monthly.

Then Hearst decided that Fuller would replace Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmo, and Bailey was offered the top job. This time she was ready. And determined to find a profitable niche in the States.

When she arrived, she immersed herself in the culture by traveling to “every city Frank Sinatra sang about.” A key fact she picked up on her journey: While sex was the surest way to move magazines off newsstands in England, in America, it’s hair.”

As a way of adding intellectual ballast of sorts, she ignored advice to steer clear of international coverage. Bailey’s reasoning: “We only have one life. Isn’t it interesting to know how other people live theirs?”

Another service to readers was when the table of contents was moved up to the opening spread last March. “I really commend them for that,” says David Verklin, CEO of Carat. “The TOC is very important to that magazine, and I’d say it’s now one of the best TOCs in publishing.”

It’s that willingness to change that has helped Marie Claire find purchase with American readers. Readers like the woman who recently wrote to Hearst Corporation president and CEO Frank A. Bennack Jr. The letter commends the magazine for avoiding the usual women’s magazine trap of “cater[ing] only to the women whose self-esteem seems to be low,” for “focusing on the entire self instead of just on the outer physical surface” and for substantive articles that “deal with real issues.”

“I think,” Bailey says, “this says it better than I could.” As usual, the reader has the last word.

David Handelman is a weekly columnist for, a contributing editor to TV Guide and the TV columnist for Elle.

COPYRIGHT 2001 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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