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Bella Magazine’s CEO & Editor In Chief, Vanessa Coppes, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “Print Is Important Because Print Makes Something Permanent.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

August 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic 38

“It’s [Print] what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic.” Vanessa Coppes…

“Print is like nothing else. It’s like a great book. It’s literally nestling on a couch with a cup of coffee or some hot cocoa and your magazine. It’s learning about different people and places. Right now everything is aspirational; we’re not getting on planes for a while, but at least on the pages of Bella you can look through beautiful images of different parts of the country and the world and still stay connected to people, places and things.” Vanessa Coppes…

Vanessa Coppes is a social entrepreneur, an author, blogger, and now CEO and editor in chief of Bella Magazine. With the new tagline “Life Is Bella!” Vanessa is bringing more compassion, empathy and social relevance to the brand’s content. Bella Magazine is a national subscription- and newsstand-based lifestyle publication offering a curated guide to fashion, beauty, health, philanthropy, arts and culture, cuisine, celebrities, and entertainment. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the newsstand distribution has been somewhat curtailed with Barnes & Noble unable to receive any new orders.

But with the same passion as her brand, that didn’t stop Vanessa. I spoke with Vanessa recently and we talked about how the magazine is being offered online and now has an apparel line associated with it, which has brought in any entirely new infusion of revenue and interest. With the monumental movement “Black Lives Matter” and the pandemic engulfing the world in a new normal that no one was even remotely ready for, Vanessa has taken the content of Bella to a new level, turning each themed issue into its own unique experience and bringing thoughtful stories to life within the magazine’s pages.

And now the 38th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Vanessa Coppes, CEO and editor in chief, Bella Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On why she acquired Bella instead of starting her own brand from scratch: I have always loved telling stories and that creative process of connecting with a person. Maybe get them to share their story in a way that can help and support someone else in something that they may be going through. I had been working with the previous owners since its inception. We were friends and had connected. And when they decided to sell, I don’t even know what triggered, it was like a kneejerk reaction to jump on the opportunity because I have always been a very creative person and I just felt that maybe this was my time to tell these stories from my perspective. And hopefully help other people see the world as I see it, but not just as I see it, but as my team sees it.

On whether the combination of the pandemic and other milestone events that have happened since she took over Bella have hindered or helped her elevate the brand’s content: By nature, I am a very spiritual person. I operate from a place of spirituality and integrity; I pray a lot; I meditate; I practice yoga three times per week. So I come from that world of energy. And everything that goes into each issue is literally prayed about; it’s thought out; it’s meant to be intentional. So to your point, I knew in my gut that a lot had to change for this magazine to stay relevant.

On any challenges she has faced along the way during her magazine journey: The challenges are there when you see them as “challenges,” because my team has quite frankly learned to navigate, especially now during this pandemic and this racial divide that we’re in; we work from our hearts. We operate out of love and compassion. We want to tell stories of people who are doing amazing things, not just here, but in the world. And the support that we’ve received has been great, I have literally cried. I haven’t had to furlough or let go of anyone on my team. That’s a true testament of commitment on one part from each of them, but also love for what they do.

On why she thinks print is important to the Bella brand today: It’s what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic. Our distribution has changed a little bit; Barnes & Noble completely stopped receiving new orders, which was our distribution outlet.

On anything she’d like to add: One thing that people ask me is what’s in the future. We are, as I’m sure everyone is, taking it one day at a time with regards to the world and the times we’re living in. We’re super-proud and excited for the future, because regardless of what’s happening, we’re still here. People are still buying the publication, subscribing to it; we’re signing on new brand partners. It still has its place. And I think it’s because of those minor changes that we’ve made, content-wise.

On what keeps her up at night: The fate of our future because I am a hopeless optimist. I really do believe in compassion and empathy. I always pray that we all be a little kinder and a little more gracious to each other, because if we find ourselves in a difficult situation we would want to be afforded that same courtesy. Not to say I’m perfect, I’m far from it, but I think that we are all in need of a little bit more love and compassion and understanding from each other so that we can get ourselves out of this mess.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Vanessa Coppes, CEO and editor in chief, Bella Magazine.

Samir Husni: Why did you acquire Bella instead of starting your brand own from scratch and what’s your concept of Bella today?

Vanessa Coppes: I have always loved telling stories and that creative process of connecting with a person. Maybe get them to share their story in a way that can help and support someone else in something that they may be going through. I had been working with the previous owners since its inception. We were friends and had connected.

I remember receiving the first issue of Bella almost 10 years ago and I just loved it. You had trends, fashion and beauty, but there was always substance. And as a person of substance that I like to believe I am, I connected with the content. And so I definitely wanted to be involved. I had been writing since I was a young girl, and I actually came up with my column that I wrote for Bella almost seven years ago.

And when they decided to sell, I don’t even know what triggered, it was like a kneejerk reaction to jump on the opportunity because I have always been a very creative person and I just felt that maybe this was my time to tell these stories from my perspective. And hopefully help other people see the world as I see it, but not just as I see it, but as my team sees it.

I have a very diverse team and I don’t say that to peg myself into the trends of diversity and inclusion, I just really have a very diverse team. People from different cultures, different backgrounds, and it’s such a beautiful thing to have all of these creative people come together. Because at the end of the day each issue tells a story in itself and everything is connected one to the other. And I try not to disrupt anyone’s creative process, because as a creative person I know that always kills the process itself. Everybody is free to share their ideas and share their concepts and based on the theme of the issue, what comes out of it is truly phenomenal.

I think the biggest compliment that I’ve received, especially over the past year, is just how the magazine has elevated how the content has been elevated to really be reflective, not just of the team, but also of the times that we’re living in. I always felt like that was missing a little bit. There are so many fashion/beauty publications and when we decided to be in the space of lifestyle, I asked what does the Bella lifestyle actually look like? And it’s really trying to live a beautiful life from the inside and outside. The reality is not everyone looks the same. The world that we live in isn’t a reflection of size two models and blonde women. It’s an array of beautiful people who come in different shapes and sizes. So, let’s be reflective of that.

I even changed the tagline this year to be reflective of that. It’s “Life is Bella!” because life is beautiful when you decide to look at it from that lens.

Samir Husni: Since you took over the magazine, you’ve had to deal with the pandemic first and foremost, then along came the milestone movement of Black Lives Matter; do you think the gods are working with you or against you to elevate the content of Bella?

Vanessa Coppes: By nature, I am a very spiritual person. I operate from a place of spirituality and integrity; I pray a lot; I meditate; I practice yoga three times per week. So I come from that world of energy. And everything that goes into each issue is literally prayed about; it’s thought out; it’s meant to be intentional. So to your point, I knew in my gut that a lot had to change for this magazine to stay relevant.

I don’t want to say a lot in the sense of the covers themselves had to change, it was more the stories that we were focusing our attention on, so that they could be more reflective of the reality of the world that we are living in. In the beginning, one of our popular issues had always been the “Hollywood Issue,” which was the Jan./Feb. issue and things revolved around awards season. And I like the awards; I like the fashion, but that’s not really what I wanted to focus the content on, because it’s like the running joke, when we’re writing about beauty and fashion, it isn’t brain surgery. It’s fluff to a certain extent.

People that wanted to pick up the publication, especially after I took it over, were people that wanted to read about women who were building businesses, or the person in another country who was helping to feed the hungry; it was more human interest stories, fashion-conscious companies that were sourcing ethically or organically. Things again, made of substance. It all goes back to substance.

Again, I’ve always listened to the universe, have always been opened to receiving and allowing for this to take the form that it’s intended to take. My team, for the most part, operates from that same space. Again, the stories that we were telling were just reflective of what we were feeling and what was happening around us.

I also felt that it would be completely unethical on our part to not take a stand and to not be another voice to add to the movement of Black Lives Matter, with me myself being a person of color. I think I would have been denying part of my identity had I not done that.

The magazine has never been self-serving. We have weekly meetings editorially to dig through the topics that people really want to know about. What is of interest to our readers; what do people want to explore; what should we be expanding on? And that’s really want we’re focused on.

Quite honestly, the response has been truly a blessing, because as you know and everyone knows, magazines have completely shut down and have had to lay off a ton of workers. This whole working from home concept isn’t new to my team, because we’ve been doing it for years. So, we just adapted. Today I’m home because there’s no power in my office, which is 10 minutes from my house, but I go to my office because I have smaller children and I need the peace. (Laughs) But this isn’t new to the team.

No one really wants to know about the latest lipstick right now. However, we do want to know how people are cooking, how they’re working out from home, how they’re keeping their sanity. What are a few things that I can do to brighten up my mood, because it felt like Ground Hog Day every day for a while. We felt like we were living the same thing over and over.

I’m not going to lie, once the pandemic hit it was very difficult. We lost clients and I looked at my husband and asked him what did we get ourselves into with this? But I think that the way we adapted and responded to the crises was the true blessing. We found other ways to keep money coming in, which was we created an apparel line with the brand. Who knew that people wanted a T-shirt with the Bella logo on it? I knew, because I had been saying it for years. We put that plan into action and attached the philanthropic work that we’ve always done. I always like to think of myself as a social entrepreneur, where yes, we need to make money, but how is this impacting our helping another group of people.

So, we attached the apparel line to several causes and people got behind it. And honestly, that’s a reflection of the work that we’re doing to this day. I’ll sit somedays and say, we’re here. People clearly still want to read this. We’re producing and working content every single day. It has honestly been a blessing. So, yes, the gods have been working with us. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: The magazine industry is still, for the most part, lily-white. You’re one of the few people of color who actually own and produce a magazine that I know. Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you or have there been challenges along the way?

Vanessa Coppes: Here’s what I have found to be true from the moment I took over. Ultimately, the person at the top is the one that makes the decisions. We know this from other companies and businesses; it always comes from the top. And that is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Meaning I am the one who ultimately decides who’s going to be on the cover; who’s going to be featured; who’s going to be in the book. I have to say kudos to my team, who are all very opinionated and will speak up and speak out.

We did a really big campaign for Pride, which was something that hadn’t been done in the publication itself in past years, however I made it a point myself because I have team members who are a part of the LGBTQ community. And again, I felt it would be unethical for me to not hold space for them. I even told my team members that I wanted it to feel like their birthday every day that month, because I wanted them to feel celebrated for who they are.

That kind of compassion and humility has been what has driven me as a person and as editor in chief of this publication. I’m always the one to ask how something will impact our readers; what is the ultimate goal that we want to reach? What is it we’re trying to relay and what story are we trying to tell?

With the content we’re publishing, I always say that I want my nieces who are 11, 12 and 16, when they pick up this publication, I want them to be able to see themselves in the stories. And that’s very important, because I remember being 12 or 16 and wanting to starve myself because I couldn’t fit into what I saw in the publications.

But to your point, the challenges are there when you see them as “challenges,” because my team has quite frankly learned to navigate, especially now during this pandemic and this racial divide that we’re in; we work from our hearts. We operate out of love and compassion. We want to tell stories of people who are doing amazing things, not just here, but in the world. And the support that we’ve received has been great, I have literally cried. I haven’t had to furlough or let go of anyone on my team. That’s a true testament of commitment on one part from each of them, but also love for what they do.

These stories have to be told, because we also have responsibilities to our clients who are still onboard. But everyone has worked as a team and has vocalized. When an issue arises, my team are the first to state their opinions. So, it’s only a challenge if you view it as a challenge. We’ve been very adamant about trying to do the right thing at all times.

Samir Husni: While you’ve seen some magazines fold or decrease their frequencies, you continue to publish during the pandemic, every other month, a bimonthly frequency. Why do you think print is important to the Bella brand today?

Vanessa Coppes: It’s what our readers want from us. A magazine is a response to human behavior. Our reader is a reader that either walks into a bookstore or orders the publication online, which is what we’ve done over the past few months because of the pandemic. Our distribution has changed a little bit; Barnes & Noble completely stopped receiving new orders, which was our distribution outlet.

Print is important because print makes something permanent. And the acknowledgement that you receive from seeing your stories on a printed page is something that’s quite literally indescribable. It’s like getting to the top of the mountain. Before all of this, my first article in print I literally cried. It became real to me. It just felt like I had gotten to a part of where I wanted to go.

We have readers who have collected every copy of the magazine because each one is just very unique, especially this year. We’ve elevated even the paper that we print on, the quality has increased tremendously. I felt like since our distribution was not the same, our prices have gone up, people are willing to pay for it, therefore we have to give them something that they will continue to want to pay for. And I get texts and emails from people who tell me that each issue is better than the last. It’s really quite beautiful. And we’re very proud of that.

Print is like nothing else. It’s like a great book. It’s literally nestling on a couch with a cup of coffee or some hot cocoa and your magazine. It’s learning about different people and places. Right now everything is aspirational; we’re not getting on planes for a while, but at least on the pages of Bella you can look through beautiful images of different parts of the country and the world and still stay connected to people, places and things.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Vanessa Coppes: One thing that people ask me is what’s in the future. We are, as I’m sure everyone is, taking it one day at a time with regards to the world and the times we’re living in. We’re super-proud and excited for the future, because regardless of what’s happening, we’re still here. People are still buying the publication, subscribing to it; we’re signing on new brand partners. It still has its place. And I think it’s because of those minor changes that we’ve made, content-wise.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Vanessa Coppes: The fate of our future because I am a hopeless optimist. I really do believe in compassion and empathy. I always pray that we all be a little kinder and a little more gracious to each other, because if we find ourselves in a difficult situation we would want to be afforded that same courtesy. Not to say I’m perfect, I’m far from it, but I think that we are all in need of a little bit more love and compassion and understanding from each other so that we can get ourselves out of this mess.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

3 comments

  1. […] been working with the previous owners since its inception. We were friends and had connected,” Coppes told Husni in an interview. “And when they decided to sell, I don’t even know what triggered, it was like a kneejerk […]


  2. Thank you so much for the opportunity and your time. Loved chatting with you!



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