Industry Voices

Claire Hodgson | Editor-in-Chief | Cosmopolitan, Hearst UK

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

1 Jul 2020

For a second year in a row, the public voted for Cosmopolitan to win the PPA Front Cover of the Year award. Forever pushing boundaries and providing a platform for a diverse range of communities, the winning Cosmopolitan cover featuring the TV star, Jonathan Van Ness demonstrated exactly this. We spoke with Editor-in-Chief Claire Hodgson about what it meant to win last night and the evolution of the magazine since she took up her role last April.

What made you want to work in the publishing industry?

I don’t think I could pick a start point. I remember reading Smash Hits, Bliss and Sugar as a child and then Cosmopolitan in my teens and twenties. There was nothing else I ever really wanted to do.

Chart your career from the start to where you are now.

I moved to London when I was 21 and went through stints of work experience and unemployment before I got a job at the lads mag, Zoo. I had a brilliantly supportive Editor when I was there who gave me lots of opportunities. I moved to the Mirror to work as an online entertainment journalist and then in 2014 I landed my dream job as senior digital writer at Cosmopolitan. I have been here for six years now and feel incredibly lucky to have had such supportive managers and colleagues.

Last April you became Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief – what was at the top of your to-do list when you took over the reins?

It was just to better use the tools at our disposal. Historically magazines have had to rely on circulation figures and focus groups for audience feedback and Cosmopolitan has an average audience of over 16 million users that come to the site every month and 5.4 million social media followers. We can poll our audience, see what they are reading, buying and searching for. The data is endless. I wanted us to utilise that reader feedback to enhance the way we are working and the content we produce so that we can better serve our consumer.

You spoke of an ‘evolution not revolution’ when you took over Cosmopolitan, expanding it more as a brand rather than just a magazine. What stage is that evolution at now?

A good place. We hit 19 million monthly global users on the site this year which I am very proud of. After the redesign last year, we have hit our stride with what we are doing in print. One of my favourite facts is that contributions from our former print-only writers have brought in 17.3 million users to the site over the last year which is up 1000% from the year before. In tandem with that, our former digital-only writers have been contributing to print as well. They’ve been using their data insights and trend analysis to make content even stronger. Our content and our resources are travelling a lot further and working a lot harder. Evolution does not stop however, and I don’t have an end point. I worked in digital for about 10 years and I think that really sets you up to embrace change and run towards it rather than run away from it.

What drives editorial decisions around who you feature on the cover? Such as the historic Jonathan Van Ness cover.

So many things, but ultimately the reader. I see it as my job to be in all the places our reader is. I’m looking at what artists are being danced to on TikTok, what shows are trending on Netflix, what celebrities are behind the big spikes on the website and who is driving engagement on our social platforms. We use a whole load of reader-focused data points to inform our editorial decisions but I am also a big believer in layering my gut feeling and brand experience on top of that, along with Cosmo team collaboration and input. You can get very swept up in the now and the data, but it is also important to take a step back and trend forecast for the future.

What kind of engagement did the Jonathan Van Ness cover receive?

That cover had such huge industry recognition and PR coverage, but it was never a PR stunt for us. It was for our readers and to make them smile. It was our January issue which came out in December and we wanted it to be this party moment of inclusivity and joy. The cover-break post on Instagram hit 10,000 shares and 8,000 interactions within a few hours, which surpassed any previous cover post engagement. The most important thing for me was the reader feedback we received from it as it’s those comments and stories that bring things to life. We had people saying that “It’s so good to see a magazine and team using their voice for a positive message,” and “This is brilliant. I wish a magazine had the guts to do that when I was younger.” Jonathan also said he was grateful to us for “showing more variations of beauty for young LGBTQ+ people.”

What does it mean to win PPA Front Cover of the Year, for the second year running, with the Jonathan Van Ness cover?

Myself and the whole team are just thrilled. We are all so proud of this cover and what it has represented to our readers, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. As I said, this cover was always about our audience, so their vote feels like the biggest seal of approval any Editor could ask for. Cosmopolitan prides itself on championing inclusivity and positivity and this feels like a win for both.

What is your favourite cover as Editor so far and why?

Jonathan’s cover would be up there. The Jordyn Woods cover which was my first cover as Editor will always hold a special place in my heart. That was a great example of how we can use data to inform a cover as it went on to make headlines everywhere and was one of the best-sellers of last year. I also really adore our Little Mix cover which we had in May. I wanted the vibe to be Spice Girls on the cover of Smash Hits, full of energy and fun! They are a perfect cover star because of what they represent as a girl group, standing up to body shaming and racism and being a champion of feminism. Each cover always teaches you something new that you can take onto the next one.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Working through this pandemic has been incredibly tough. I don’t think I have ever been prouder of the Cosmo team. They are scrappy, creative, resourceful, so hard working and inventive. There aren’t enough adjectives for me to use. Their ingenuity over the last few months has been astounding but does not surprise me at all. That has been a huge highlight for me.

What’s on your radar?

I have been thinking a lot about how Cosmopolitan can continue to be a champion for change and a place of positivity in the industry and for our readers. Now more than ever I keep coming back to the very definition of Cosmopolitan being free from prejudice, intrinsically multicultural and proud to be made up of people and places from all around the world. Diversity and representation have always been so important to me and using our platform to give a voice to underrepresented communities and people. The last few weeks have reiterated that there is so much more we can do.

What magazine would you stockpile?

I love reading our global editions and seeing how our brand translates around the world. I love buying and supporting magazines like gal-dem, Girls Club and Sister. I have so much admiration for the teams running those publications. Their work is fearless, smart and opinionated and I love seeing that rising talent coming through.

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