How Amy Conway Climbed the Ranks From Freelance Copy Editor to Editor-in-Chief of ‘Weddings’
In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
In the age of "millennial job-hopping" — and a growing gig economy populated with freelancers — working five years, much less 20, at the same company is almost unheard of these days. Such is not the case for Amy Conway, editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. Nearly two decades ago, she got her foot in the door at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as a freelance copy editor for the print magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and it's been Martha Stewart all day, every day since.
"I should go back and count, but I've had 12, 13 or 14 different positions here over the years," says Conway, about her time in various departments of the sprawling brand. She's worked in roles ranging from merchandising to editing best-selling cookbooks, including Martha Stewart's Cookies and Martha Stewart's Cooking School. "It's really rare in our industry and I feel lucky that my career has taken this path."
In January 2016, Conway fully immersed herself in all things bridal with her appointment as editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. The print magazine publishes quarterly, plus two additional special "Real Weddings" issues, in addition to coverage on marthastewartweddings.com and non-stop social media content to over 600K followers on the @Martha_Weddings Instagram. (In 2015, Meredith Corp., which acquired Time Inc. earlier this year, took full editorial and operational control of Martha Stewart Living and Weddings as part of a licensing agreement.)
While potential brides and grooms intensely search for wedding inspiration, imagery and vendors on a limited-time basis, Conway and her staff need to produce fresh ideas and concepts regularly — if not just to keep themselves entertained, as she'll explain below. In a lead up to Bridal Week (or "market," as people in the industry like to say), Conway jumped on the phone with Fashionista to discuss how she spun her way into her first copy editing job at MSLO, what impresses Martha Stewart (the person) the most and why "market" is so "exhausting." (Spoiler: Champagne is involved — and I will confirm that they usually serve the good stuff at Bridal Week.)
Tell me about your background. How did you start in publishing and media?
I studied French and Italian as my major, but I took a lot of English and creative writing classes. After I graduated, I moved to London — just for fun — thinking I would go there for few months just to hang out and travel. But I actually got a job with a publishing company that helped me get a work visa that allowed me to stay there and work for them for two years. That's what helped me figure out that I wanted to be in publishing. There, I also did a short journalism course that taught me the mechanics of copy editing so that when I came to New York, I could say that I was a copy editor — even though I'd actually never done it before.
It is rare to stay at one company for 20 years. What is the secret to career longevity at Martha Stewart, the brand?
When I joined the staff of Martha Stewart Living in the '90s, the business was exploding — so much growth. Martha Stewart Weddings, in fact, was just being launched. I was a copy editor on the first issue, and there was a ton going on: books, products, and many other brand extensions. So exciting. That meant lots of opportunities for people who understood the brand, so I was given new positions and new challenges and was able to learn and grow without going anywhere else. So my particular path is due partly to the growth of the company at the time, but also to the corporate culture and Martha [Stewart], herself. Having people who knew and loved the brand was crucial, and often those were people who started in junior roles and learned from Martha and the senior staffers. I'm far from the only one who has worked for Martha brands for 10 or 20 or more years. Martha taught us the importance of doing excellent, detailed, innovative work and supported the people who were doing that work. Our magazines are now run by Meredith, but Martha is still involved and the guiding force behind the brand.
How does one catch Martha Stewart's attention and impress her as an employee so she wants to give you these opportunities and help you grow?
Martha is the kind of person who likes to know the people who work for her. So whenever I have someone new starting — however junior or senior they are — I always make a point to introduce them to Martha really early on because she wants to know them, and it takes a little of the intimidation out of the experience. If you've worked here for a couple of months and you haven't met Martha yet, it starts to kind of loom large in a scary way. Work is a huge part of her life and she really just appreciates people who work hard, who are creative and who really take pride in what they do. So if she sees that in people, then she really respects that.
Now you've honed in on the wedding industry, which is pretty specific. How did that transition come about?
Before this position, I was editor-at-large on Martha Stewart Living and, when Martha Stewart Living and Weddings were licensed to Meredith, Martha and the executives at Meredith asked Weddings Editor Elizabeth Graves to move over and be the editor-in-chief of Living. Then they asked me to be EIC of Weddings. It was a wonderful surprise. I wasn't expecting that to be the conversation when I was asked to come into that meeting, but I was surprised and delighted and really very happy.
Was there a learning curve when you narrowed the focus to just weddings?
That's one reason I was really excited about it: I always like a new challenge. So the idea of doing something that had a certain comfort level — working with a lot of the same people and the same overall brand values and aesthetics — I felt like, 'okay, I know this. I know the Martha Stewart Weddings approach.' We're all about creating creative ideas that will resonate in people's lives. But then, at the same time, the bridal industry is really specific, and it's something people feel really passionate about. So it's been interesting and gratifying to get to know that whole scene and meet so many new people. It's been an education — and a really fun one.
The bridal beat is unique as it typically is a one-time audience that's constantly changing out, so how do you keep your job exciting?
It's not that hard because weddings are not one-note. For one thing, you're covering fashion and flowers and food. There's a lot that goes into any wedding, just ask any bride. And, certainly, trends change, so we need to report on those. Then we just always like to give advice in new and different ways because you never know if someone will pick up several issues. We don't like to repeat ourselves, [and] to some extent we like to keep things interesting for ourselves. Also the trends, in terms of the visuals and even etiquette, those evolve a little bit.
We like to tell people, 'this is a traditional way to do things, but here is how you can do it, where it's up to you.' I feel like there's honestly a never-ending well of ideas that we can share with our readers, and a big part of that is also the team I work with: our fashion editor, our stylists, who come up with the actual ideas and DIYs, and our in-house expert on flowers. There's always a different approach you can take to any of these areas.
How does the popularity of social media like Pinterest and Instagram, especially when it comes to wedding planning, affect how you do your job?
I work really closely with our Digital Director Jennifer Cress; basically we know that our brides are getting their information from so many places and social media is obviously a huge inspiration. And it's not even just for pretty pictures and colors, but people are actually finding their vendors, such as their dress or florist or venue, on Instagram. That's happening more and more, so we just need to be everywhere that our brides are. We are creating content for social media, in addition to our website, of course. So we just need to be everywhere our brides are.
Planning a wedding can be overwhelming, and with so much information coming from everywhere, what's really nice about a magazine is that it's curated content — it's a little bit more manageable. We that find our readers let us know how much they like that experience because it does break things down and get a little bit more specific. So we still hear from vendors that brides are coming in with dog-eared pages and Post-its, and things like that. We know that our audience really has to look in so many different places and she's pulling information from everywhere, so we just have to keep evolving right along with what our brides are looking for.
Wedding content has traditionally been heteronormative and even condescending to the female. How has it evolved for a more progressive, inclusive and feminist audience? How do you make sure that happens?
The reality is the vast majority of our readers are brides; we do have grooms who are looking at our magazine, some of whom are part of a same-sex couple, and many of the ideas in the magazine are just as valid for them as for any wedding. So we try to maintain a fairly gender neutral voice in stories as appropriate. You know, if it's not about gowns, for example. We try to basically make sure our magazine is speaking to everyone.
In terms of certain traditions, I think it's empowering for women to just know that they can do something that feels really authentic to them and that they don't have to be given away by their father, [a tradition that] a lot of women break these days. A lot of women include it, because it's a tradition, and doing something your parents — and your grandparents and all the people before you — did makes it a really powerful meaningful event. So, we love stories like that, where people really choose to do their own thing for their own reasons. We definitely seek those out, we definitely highlight them and when we're giving advice to people, it's very much about whatever makes you feel comfortable. We feel like our magazine is absolutely for everyone. It's not for one kind of bride, whatever meaning you might take that to mean.
Bridal Market is coming up, which I always feel is like this very niche Fashion Week. What is your typical day like during market?
It usually starts pretty early with the first appointment being like 8 or 9 a.m. There are five or six of us from our brand and we pile into a car and we basically become very good friends with our driver. He stays with us all day and takes us from one show to the next, which is amazing because these shows are all over town — so you're uptown; you're downtown; you're East Side; you're West Side. It's this fun communal energy because you're basically doing it with everybody in the bridal industry. We're all doing the same thing. So you're at one show, so you see people, and you all rush off to the next one. And who's late and who got stuck in traffic? It never gets boring and you can do white dresses in so many different ways. The more shows I go to, the more I appreciate the artistry that goes into all of these gowns. It's really exhausting and we get extremely, extremely hungry because basically what you do all day is eat macarons and drink champagne. I know, it sounds terrible. That's the only downside. Too much champagne, basically.
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With digital and social media and the relaxing of tradition, where do you see the future of bridal editorial going, especially if someone wanted to pursue that path?
When I was looking for my first job, it was all about clips — getting those published pieces to show your work. But it's so much easier today, whether you want to be a writer, food editor, fashion stylist, or crafter, you can create your own brand on a blog or even on Instagram. That's really valuable to show prospective employers. They can see your skills and your style before you ever get a paying gig.
I have to say, [being a bridal editor] is a really special thing. To work in the bridal industry, you have to be a nice person who believes in love, basically. I don't think you could succeed otherwise.