Inside Cosmopolitan's Weekend Conference, NBC Comedy: "It's a Great Time to Be a Young Woman"

Joanna Coles Cosmopolitan H 2014
Courtesy of Cosmopolitan


Joanna Coles Cosmopolitan H 2014

The magazine's EIC dishes on what to expect at Lincoln Center and why the show will reverse 'The Devil Wears Prada'

New York City's Lincoln Center — usually home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and New York Fashion Week — is soon to be swarmed by a tribe of 20-somethings. Particularly, the confused kind (is there any other?).

The gathering is Cosmopolitan's first-ever Fun Fearless Life conference, a two-day slew of keynote speeches and panels that come together as a "crash course for your 20s" with "a younger, Oprah-esque, think-about-your-life-as-a-whole approach," says editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. "I think your 20s — which is really the peak sweet spot for our readers — is a really exciting but also overwhelming time when you're very aware of all this possibility of your life unfolding in front of you, but it still feels like you're on a road driving with no map."

Coles aligned with Jennifer Rudolph Walsh — WME board member who oversees the literary, lectures and live events departments — to secure a talent lineup mirroring Cosmo's sections: Spanx's Sara Blakely and Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso to talk business and money management, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and DKNY PR maven Aliza Licht to strategize image how-tos (online and in-person), Jillian Michaels and Brain Games' Jason Silva to plug physical and mental health, and Chrissy Teigen to moderate a man-focused chat. Gabrielle Union, Kelly Osbourne, Atlantic Records COO Julie Greenwald and Pretty Little Liars' Shay Mitchell will also take the mic (with more speakers still to be confirmed), with video presentations, performances by female musicians and networking breaks to take place between sessions.

Coles and Walsh had wanted to collaborate on a conference for years, but the conversation accelerated when they had the magazine debut an excerpt of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. After a handful of hot-ticket Cosmo-CFDA career evenings, Coles observed that readers not only want to engage with the publication in person, but also with each other, and lists Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit, The New Yorker Festival and Billboard's Film & TV Conference as similar audience-focused gatherings, as well as Oprah Winfrey's The Life You Want Tour and Arianna Huffington's Thrive Conference, also powered by WME Live. The groundwork was set when the two ran into each other at Marie Robinson Salon one day: "We had to sit there with this dye on our hair for two hours, and we literally dreamed up the entire Cosmo weekend," recalls Walsh, who also brings the newly launched pop-up Gimme Books, which reports sales to the New York Times best-sellers list, to the event.

The potentially transformative weekend at the David H. Koch Theater is scheduled in the midst of the magazine's own brand upgrade: Coles' 2012 takeover of the Hearst title has broadened the notoriously sex-sighted magazine's coverage to politics and women's issues (including an award-winning 12-page piece on contraception) and nabbed the first chat with Jill Abramson after her firing from The New York Times.

"We happen to have coincided with a moment which is all about women in the culture right now — it's a great time to be a young woman," says Coles of the brand's growth. She promises another big partnership announcement before the end of the year, as well as big things for the recently announced NBC workplace comedy with Leslye Headland and Dave Bernad.

"Our life really is at the junction of celebrity, fashion, beauty, fun, career inspiration — we really do have celebs rolling through the office all the time!" Coles laughs. "It's a different trope to Devil Wears Prada. For me, that was never about the fashion industry; it was about office politics and having a boss that's mean to an assistant, that's why it was so relatable. This reverses the trope — you have several junior characters who in fact appear to run the office, which is slightly what happens here," she continues, adding that viewers can also expect "one or two characters who, when they're at their desks, are only online shopping, and then you just have a parade of messengers coming in with boxes, and they go, 'Nah, I don't want this, I'm returning it.' And that's behavior observed throughout America!"

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