Episode 44

 

Janell Hickman is a veteran editor who knows all too well the feeling of digital overwhelm. While her livelihood is creating content, she’s also an expert on staying sane in a world where that content seems infinite.

Announcer

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.

Jodi Katz

Hey everybody. I am joined today by Janell Hickman. She is the beauty editor at BET Digital. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.

Janell Hickman

Thank you for having me. I’m very excited.

Jodi Katz

I’m so excited that you’re here. You’re a fan of our podcast.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

And of podcasting, so it’s cool to have someone in the chair who listens. I’d like to tell everybody how we met.

Janell Hickman

How did … Well we met because I got a pitch that you had the girls on Fat Mascara on, and I love their podcast, and then I started researching you and I was like, “Oh, well,” … I think originally I thought it was a pitch. They were pitching you to me, but I thought they were pitching me to you. So, I was like, “Oh!”

Jodi Katz

That’s awesome.

Janell Hickman

You know, like, “Oh, I’d totally love to be in the podcast!” And they were like, “I guess you can be on the podcast.”

Jodi Katz

So that’s Kate, our publicist, who’s amazing. She’s been so integral in making this podcast this year mean more than what we thought it would be. I want to tell people that we met that way because I think it’s important to de-mystify how people move through our industry. It’s really just like one human to another human.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

Right? I used to have this sort of like self doubt position on making it in this industry, and I really in my head…it sounds so silly to say now…but I really thought if I didn’t go to college or [inaudible 00:01:25] and I wasn’t friends with so and so I’m never going to be what I want to be.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

That’s just not true.

Janell Hickman

No. I always tell young girls that will be like, “Hey, how did you get a placement at this place?” Or “How did you get this job?” And I’m like, “Literally I was a former publicist when I started.” But I think I was always thinking about, “How do you contact someone?” The great thing about the internet was that you could find anyone’s contact information. Actually [inaudible 00:01:52] Smith said that on an interview. She’s like, “You can literally find anyone’s contact information you want. If you search hard enough, you can find it.”

Once I kind of learned that, I was just like, “Oh, I’m just going to start reaching out to people,” and you realize even though the industry kind of has like a nasty connotation to the outside world, people are really nice and people are really receiving. Let’s say I email a hundred people, I’d probably say like sixty people got back to me. It’s like, if you’re doing something, that’s enough people to get back to you to continue the momentum of whatever project you’re trying to figure out or whatever job you’re trying to apply to.

Jodi Katz

Right, so it’s … I think part of my goal with the podcast series is to humanize and to make people realize that you just have to put yourself out there, and that there will be people who are helpful or respond or give you good feedback. Then there’ll be people who don’t take the time.

Janell Hickman

Yeah, and that’s fine. I mean, the worst thing that can happen is someone just doesn’t respond.

Jodi Katz

That’s right. That’s right. But you know, in my self doubt position, which is always my go to, it’s like my default unfortunately … I’m working through it. It always feels personal.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

Or used to. Now I’m getting over it. I hear that a lot from young people that I mentor, like college age young women who are looking to enter our industry, they just will take it personally. “Oh, someone didn’t get back to me.” It’s so not about you. It just means they’re too busy. You are the 20th college student emailing them this month.

Janell Hickman

Exactly.

Jodi Katz

It’s not about you. Just try again. And you have to try again, and then you take a little break, and you try again. Then you send a hand written note and then you try again. It’s not a reflection on your or your email or anything, but it’s hard to remember that.

Janell Hickman

Yeah, it is. I think also as you progress in your career you realize how busy you become. I can remember, like when I was an intern, if I reached out to an editor and they didn’t respond, I was like, “Oh, she doesn’t like me.” Like, “What’s going on?” But now that I’m in the position, you’re looking at your inbox horrified and you definitely have the intent to respond to someone, but sometimes you don’t get around to it the first try. So I always tell people, at least email someone twice, because the first time they might miss it. The second time hopefully they see it and they’ll respond, and then the third time don’t give up, but at least just acknowledge that it’s like, “Okay, this may not be the time for us to connect.”

Jodi Katz

Right. What is your management system for your inbox? What kind of approach do you take during the day?

Janell Hickman

I’m a psychopath and I love …

Jodi Katz

I’m going to write that down.

Janell Hickman

Zero inbox. Like that’s always my goal to have unread messages. I think because of my former bosses, I’m one of those people who always scans emails, so I rarely delete an email. I’ll always at least kind of look at the subject line, kind of look at the first two sentences, and if it’s something that I need to look at, I’ll mark as unread. I treat my inbox almost like a to do list. If something’s unread it means I need to get back to it later. If I have unread emails that are just unread for the sake of being unread, I get crazy.

I think even in my personal email, maybe I have like 20 unread emails. In my work email I want to say I maybe have 14. I’m very specific because you miss things. So yeah, I like a zero inbox. Sometimes it’s daunting and it’s not always possible, and if it’s junk, I’ll search something. Let’s say it’s a store I like and I’m not really reading their emails. I’ll just gather those and move them, or just mark those as read, and then the one that I need to read later I’ll mark as unread so I can look at it later.

Jodi Katz

Okay, so I think I have a similar philosophy. I don’t have an obsession with zero inbox. I actually like … There’s some things that are, you know, just a note from someone that I want to remember, that for some reason I don’t have a better filing system so it just stays in the inbox, and it could be there for quite some time, but I definitely do the mark as unread so I go back to it later. Otherwise I’ll never think about it again.

Janell Hickman

Never.

Jodi Katz

I don’t think I’ve seen a zero inbox ever.

Janell Hickman

Really?

Jodi Katz

Yeah. There’s always something in there because I’ve kept it there.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

But kept it there for a reason.

Janell Hickman

Intentional.

Jodi Katz

Yes.

Janell Hickman

Not accidental.

Jodi Katz

No, but I don’t even know what that would feel like, on zero. Maybe on one of my old personal accounts, but I’m just … I’m not a deleter.

Janell Hickman

Yeah, I don’t like to delete emails. It’s a weird feeling.

Jodi Katz

I think that there’s so much stuff that … I don’t know why I don’t delete like Anthropology’s emails. Like they don’t need to be there, right? I could delete them. I really just don’t.

Janell Hickman

I think as a writer you also realize someone worked on this. I think my background of being at [inaudible 00:06:37] for four years and them telling us the click rate and just being so devastated. Like no one opened my email. This is horrifying. But you just realize that everything’s not so automated. All the things you think are automated, even down to like the fine print on your packaging stuff, someone wrote that. Someone took time to write that, so deleting it almost seems mean.

Jodi Katz

It’s very sweet of you to think that way. I can say that the lack of clicking inspires away. When I reach out to my database, it’s not a constant contact or [inaudible 00:07:11] email. It’s not. I write them in a very personal way and I have communities in my database, you know? This group of people versus this group of people based on their needs and the information I want to share with them, but it’s written to that person.

Janell Hickman

Right.

Jodi Katz

Because I can’t stand the kind of just spammy emails. I’ve written them in my career too. I’ve written like banner adds in 1999, 2000 that said, “Click Here Now.” I’ve done everything in my work as a copywriter. I’m so proud of those banners for those different companies.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

Let’s talk about what you’re going to do with your day today. Tell us what it’s going to be like.

Janell Hickman

Today I woke up around like 7:30. My boyfriend made me breakfast, which was really nice. Since BET Style has a lot of news, we aggregate a lot of content from Instagram and then also other websites, so the first thing I kind of do is scan what happened on social media for the girls that our reader looks to, or like is interested in. I don’t know why it took me so long to do this, but because … I love following people on Instagram. People think I’m crazy that I have like 3,000 people that I follow, but I just think it’s interesting to see a feed that’s inspiring. What I had to do for work is I created a secret Instagram account with only the celebrities that I need to know what’s going on, so then it’s not … I don’t get distracted by someone’s really nice vacation and then my morning was been wasted.

Jodi Katz

So are you doing the scanning of social like when you’re still at home or is that at the office?

Janell Hickman

When I’m still at home. Like right when I get up in the morning. Which is bad, because I feel like I should get out of bed and then do something else, but I kind of say good morning to my boyfriend and then start scrolling through my phone. Then I’ll kind of bookmark things that I think are interesting. Then I’ll check a few sites just to see what else either competitors or just sites that I love to see if they had a really specific spin on something.

Then our team uses [inaudible 00:09:13], so I’ll just kind of run down maybe five to nine ideas that I think could be strong for the day. Then my editor will kind of reply and be like, “Oh, this is great. Skip this. Let’s try this,” and then I start …

Jodi Katz

Do you think she’s doing that from her bed?

Janell Hickman

She might be doing it from her bed, but she’s also an early morning person, so I guarantee she’s probably already had a workout in and is like drinking her matcha. She’s on top of it. I’m like scrambling to get my life started. Then we’ll assign to the writers and the writers will kind of chime in and be like, “Oh, I like that story, I’ll take it.”

Jodi Katz

But you’re still in bed when you’re assigning the writers?

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’m still in bed. Or maybe I’m at my … At that point I’m at my laptop.

Jodi Katz

Oh, okay. But still at home?

Janell Hickman

Still at home.

Jodi Katz

Okay.

Janell Hickman

I’m at my laptop, probably in my living room. We’ll assign stories and then it’s kind of like off to the races. So then you build your shell. You build what your story will look like. Then you submit a photo request. Then you’re talking to the photo team, and then once the story is edited, the writers will … Or once it’s written they’ll send it back to me. I’ll edit it. My editor will kind of look up the headline to make sure it’s clickable and interesting, and then it gets sent to copy. Copy activates the story. It’s live on the site. We send it to social media and then we do it all over again.

Jodi Katz

So the process of you starting on the scrolling in your bed to an article going live on the site, could that be like two hours?

Janell Hickman

Maybe. Maybe even shorter. It depends because we have an Instagram group chat, so if we see stuff we’ll just like drop it in the chat. So it’s almost like we’re just DMing each other. Like, “Hey, did you see this?” “This person has a birthday cake.” “This person shaved off their eyebrows.” So I’ll look on that.

Jodi Katz

Yeah, right.

Janell Hickman

Seriously!

Jodi Katz

Right. Of course, I get it!

Janell Hickman

I’ll look at that group chat first because typically those are the stories that are like most relevant, but then there might be something that we missed that went viral. I’ll never forget this. I was scrolling at like 1:00 AM in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, so I’m like, “Let me see what like people are doing in LA,” and Porsha Williams posted a selfie of herself, from Real Housewives of Atlanta, that she shaved off her hair. I was like, “This is not real. I don’t believe this.” So of course I do some Insta-stalking. I find her hair stylist, Kellon Deryck, who’s a really amazing hair stylist, and I’m like, “You know what? I’m going to reach out to him because this is a story for tomorrow and I cannot rest until I know if she actually did this.”

I email him. He emails me back. First thing in the morning I had an interview with him. So I’m like, “Hey, just like a few questions. Can you answer them?” She didn’t shave off her head, it was a wig cap, and all these other sites reported that she just live shaved off her hair. I was like, “That’s incorrect. She still has hair.” I was like, “I just don’t believe this.” The great thing about it is you can do things so fast. By the time I woke up, I already had my interview done. I already sent my photo request out. Then it’s like I just launched the story and that was one of the best performing stories of the day.

Jodi Katz

Oh, that’s so awesome. And that’s all because you just couldn’t sleep?

Janell Hickman

Just because I couldn’t sleep.

Jodi Katz

Right. Last night I woke up at like four o’clock in the morning, or this morning I woke up at four, and I do that probably once a week or once every other week, just like I wake up and I’m done. You know, sleep’s over even though I’d really like to sleep. Most of the time I end up doing work because I’m like, “I’m productive right now.”

Janell Hickman

Yeah!

Jodi Katz

There’s nobody calling my name.

Janell Hickman

Why not?

Jodi Katz

Nobody’s looking for me. Then I get a jump on the day, and then I get sleepy and I go back into bed. So I get it, you know, why not make the most of that moment.

Janell Hickman

Right.

Jodi Katz

Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in your industry right now. Which is like, as an outsider, I’m not an editor.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

You know, I’m not in publishing. It just feels like it won’t stop, right? The consolidations, the layoffs. What’s your mindset right now?

Janell Hickman

I mean, the weird thing is I feel like I’ve been through this already.

Jodi Katz

Well you have!

Janell Hickman

Yeah. When I started in 2008 it was kind of a similar situation, but mostly it’s magazines. It’s interesting because it’s like digital wasn’t taking over yet, but I think it was like magazines are trying to find their voice. Some people claim, “Oh, there were too many magazines so they had to go…” I don’t think so. There are just different perspectives. I feel like there’s more indie brands. When I came to New York I had a very specific vision of, “I’m going to be a fashion editor. I’m going to work in the industry in New York for a magazine.” I had mentors and they’re like, “Magazines are closing. You can get a job, but it’s going to take you a little longer than you anticipated.” So that’s why I went into public relations.

But now it’s scary because we knew that things were shifting to digital, but now things are shifting further than digital. It’s like social media and Instagram is faster than… There are pure content sites that are based on Instagram. A good one is The Shade Room. So fascinated by them. So it’s basically kind of like an urban gossip blog, but the way that they produce content and the speed at which they do it is baffling. I’m like, “Do you guys have 200 people on staff that are just like scrolling through social media?” Because they’ll find comments….let’s say someone says a funny comment on your Instagram page and you clap back. They’ll find that, screen shot it, and like write a little blurb about, “Jodi claps back at fan,” and you’re just like, “How did you even find this out of like thousands of comments?”

Jodi Katz

Right?

Janell Hickman

Even as an editor we’re almost utilizing those resources. We’re just using Instagram as such a big source because now celebrities don’t have to wait to release a press release. They don’t have to hit the red carpet. If they want to show you their new look or if they want to debut something, they can just do that all on their own, sans publicist, no marketing, no wait. So you’re almost always working and I think as a magazine it’s tough because you can never produce at that rate. Digital platforms can barely produce at that rate.

Jodi Katz

Right. Have you talked to anybody at The Shade Room?

Janell Hickman

No. I’d love to.

Jodi Katz

Curious, isn’t it?

Janell Hickman

I’d love to see like what their deal is.

Jodi Katz

Yeah, you know, as you’re talking, the pace gives me like total anxiety. To be honest with you, I am definitely a less is more girl, and when I see the momentum that it requires for pubs to stay relevant and have the clicks that the advertisers want and all this stuff, it makes me feel like a little vomitous.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Like when’s it going to stop?

Janell Hickman

I don’t know… I actually had a conversation with a friend I ran into on the train yesterday about net neutrality, which I don’t know enough about and I really need to do a deep dive, but I was just like, “Okay, so if certain websites are banned or not banned, but you have to pay for them, who pays for that?” For me at work it’s like, “Does my company pay for that?” Or now for consumers is that built into your subscription? Now do I have to pay Cable Vision four hundred dollars a month so I can make sure that I have my internet access? I just don’t really get how it works. I think it almost puts a hindrance, and I wonder if “dying industries” will start to rise again. It’s like, if I want entertainment news versus having to pay for all these things, should I just watch Entertainment Weekly?

Jodi Katz

Right.

Janell Hickman

Or not Entertainment Weekly. What’s the show?

Jodi Katz

Like Access Hollywood.

Janell Hickman

Something like that. Because if I’m paying for that …

Jodi Katz

Right, and almost the way you’re describing it, and I don’t know anything about this topic either… It’s like cable. Do you get the package that has HBO and Showtime and Starz, or just the HBO, right? It’s like will you have to make those decisions and will it give an opportunity to other ways to consume content?

Yeah, I get very anxious, a kind of fast racing heart feeling when I talk about this topic because I think there’s a lot out there and it happens very fast. It’s relevant for a minute and then you move on, and I really feel for the people who have to create this content. You know you and your team, and teams like you, that the senior management is pushing this forward because it’s all they know and it’s all they’re clinging to. I’m poopooing it, because a lot of fun great stuff happens, but it’s not a pace that’s sustainable.

Janell Hickman

It’s definitely a grind, and I think you have to take a step back, because to your point, it is a little disheartening to know that it’s like, okay, yes we’re writing articles maybe in 35 minutes to an hour. You know, and maybe if it’s a deeper dive you’re spending two hours. But then you look at the numbers and you just realize how people don’t even spend time on things, and it’s really about a headline, it’s really about a deck. Which is interesting because it’s kind of the same thing as e-commerce. It’s like, “What’s the tagline? What’s the branding concept?

Then the likelihood of someone rereading something is so low. It’s not like you’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I read this really good article about the top ten hairstyles in 2017.” You’re only going to read that once. You might read it again if someone cites it in another article, but the likelihood of anyone ever looking to see all the design work you did and all the back and forth you had with photo and all the stylists you interviewed. It almost feels like it doesn’t matter because they’re so on to the next thing.

Jodi Katz

What do you think the people in leadership positions in these media companies, what do you think the future looks like for them in terms of inspiring their team and guiding their team?

Janell Hickman

I think it has to kind of shift away from a numbers game. I think it does have to go back to quality over quantity. You have to think about what’s our point of view, what are we willing to invest in, and just realizing that it may not always be about the numbers. Even advertisers need to realize that like, yes it’s very sexy when someone says, “We have 14 million uniques,” but of the same token they’re spending maybe 15 seconds per article.

Even if you had a banner, even if you sponsored the content, they’ve just scrolled past that. But if you get something that’s really engaging and really strong, they’ll read it. Then even if there’s a small placement of your brand they might remember it a little bit more, but I think … I don’t know. It’s just like, producing twelve articles a day, I can’t even remember all the articles we wrote. Much less a consumer if you’re on Facebook and scrolling. You’re bombarded with information all the time.

Jodi Katz

What you just said reminds me of something from one of our other podcast guests. It’s Jessica Hanson, who you just met in the hallway.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

She said that her motto and her philosophy is ‘Something can be good, it can be fast, it can be cheap, but it can’t be all three. It can only be two of those things.’

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

So you can have good and fast or you can have fast and cheap or you can have good and cheap, but it can’t be fast. It’s sort of the same thing that you’re talking about.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Like maybe we don’t need to be as fast. Or if we’re going to be fast, it’s just not going to be that good. This is my kind of realignment of expectations.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

You know you spoke about waking up in the morning, scrolling through. Is that basically your day? It’s like repeated again all day long?

Janell Hickman

Yes and no. I’ll also try to, for my own sanity, just try to read things and see how other people are shaping and shifting and crafting things. Because I do think the nice thing about so many websites is everyone definitely has a different point of view. I love writing for BET because we’re a little bit funny. We’re never quite snarky, but we’re kind of like your fun friend, you know? I know a lot of people say that, but it’s just we’ll talk, we’ll write how we talk but properly. So you’ll see like a, “Hey girl,” or like, “[inaudible 00:20:48].” That’s fun, so that kind of breaks up all the reporting that you have to do.

But then it’s a lot of editing. Because we are producing a good amount of content, so I feel like most of my stories come in the morning. Then maybe I’ll look around 2pm, threeish again, and then we’re kind of wrapping, because most people… if you think, when you’re at work zoning out and you’re just like, “Oh, let me read this article quickly,” people are starting to go home at five and six. So unless it’s true breaking news, I might as well save it for the next day or maybe send it to the evening team so they can post something a little bit later.

Jodi Katz

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You told us you’ve been a publicist.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

You’ve been an editor, a content creator.

Janell Hickman

Yep.

Jodi Katz

Now an editor again. When we first spoke you told me that you were looking for a job where you would see yourself represented in the work that you’re producing. Tell us about that goal and how you see it coming to life.

Janell Hickman

Yeah. I mean, for such a long time it was so limited to be a woman of color and see things that spoke to you, so even now… It’s like the wig culture. It’s definitely more accepted and I think it was always something that my aunts wore wigs and my friends wore wigs, but it was something that no one was really talking about. So it’s nice that we have a series called Laced where we talk to different wig makers.

Jodi Katz

Oh, that’s cool.

Janell Hickman

And hearing the different techniques they have, or how popular they are, or how expensive it is, or what their inspiration is. It’s kind of nice to have those unsung or unspoken about things a little bit pushed to the forefront, and then even when you think about like celebrities of color. Unless you’re an A lister, you’re not really hearing about people as much. Even though I know people will be like, “Oh well, the Real House Wives of Atlanta aren’t really celebrities.” To some people they are. Or even the girls of like Love and Hip Hop Hollywood, they’re still relevant and they’re still trendsetters and taste makers, and they’re kind of pushing the conversation forward. You know, if one of them puts a lime green wig on, someone is gonna copy that. It’s nice to be able to kind of give them a platform, give them the spotlight. I really love talking to the artist or the team behind it because I think it makes it a little bit more interesting to ask, “Well what was the process?” Or even seeing recently, we did a story about Nicki Minaj. She did a video with Migos and Cardi B. She has these super long pink braids, and it took them 36 hours to do those.

Jodi Katz

No.

Janell Hickman

Yes. It’s a wig.

Jodi Katz

A wig. So they didn’t have her in a chair.

Janell Hickman

They didn’t have her in a chair. But just the fact that you see this iconic image and that’s going to be a really memorable look, but it took 36 hours to do, and apparently like seven braiders.

Jodi Katz

Oh my God. It sounds like, you know, sowing sequins on couture.

Janell Hickman

Yes. But it’s just interesting to know that because people are just scrolling, you’re like, “Oh, this is a hot look,” but you don’t realize the work that it takes to produce some of these things.

Jodi Katz

I like what you’re talking about because it’s actually slowing down the consumption a little bit. It’s not just me looking at the photo and being like, “Oh, that’s crazy,” or, “That’s cool,” or, “That’s amazing,”… I’m feeling about it. You’re telling me a back story which slows me down, right?

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

And you’re making me think about, it’s not just that she threw a wig on and went out for her appearance. There is a process and thinking and strategy, right, like everything that we do in branding.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

And I think it will slow down people to the point where they’re starting to appreciate the content in a different way.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

Are you able to do that for most stories? Like be able to go a little deeper?

Janell Hickman

I try to when it makes sense. I mean, for someone who has a dramatic transformation, I think definitely. It’s like, why? Why did they do this? What did they do? I think for something that’s a little bit more run of the mill or something that they do frequently, maybe not, but I always like to link back. I love searching our website to be like, “When else have we talked about something similar?” Or, “When else can you learn more about this person?” So kind of dropping, whether it’s from a different website sometimes, so it’s maybe they had a really good quote about…

I remember Kim Kardashian claimed that she’d never dye her hair blonde in like a 2011 Insta article, and I was like, but now you’re so blonde. You have the right to change your mind, like Kim Kardashian goes blond again after saying she’d never do it. Just kind of reading to see other what others did, here’s what it looks like, what do you think? Kind of pulling in a little bit more information. Because again, it does slow people down, like I’mgoing to give you a huge paragraph before you can scroll down to the next photo.

Jodi Katz

So is it “celebrity still rules”, is this the name of the game?

Janell Hickman

I think celebrity still rules. I think influencer still rules, but people are getting … They’re catching on a little bit.

Jodi Katz

To like the marketing behind it?

Janell Hickman

I think it’s almost like traditional advertising. One of my favorite shows is Mad Men. Loved that show. I thought it was amazing, well done, very relevant. Just seeing how they treated women, just how they kind of spun different things. I think now maybe we’re jaded because we live in New York, but if I saw a Coca-Cola add, I’m not like, “Oh, I must buy Coca-Cola.” You know? I’m like, “It’s an advertisement. They want me to buy it.”

Jodi Katz

Right.

Janell Hickman

I think with influencers people are starting to be like, “Oh, she wants me to buy this?” I think for some reason people are almost okay with a celebrity promoting something. They’re like, “I know that she’s getting paid to do this.” It’s part of her job. It’s a little bit more transparent with some people. I’m like, “Do they like this dress? Do they want me to buy this dress? Are they getting paid? How much are they getting paid?” You start to ask yourself more questions, or at least for me. Versus somebody that’s so overt. Like I know that they’re paying you millions of dollars to tell me about this.

Jodi Katz

I think about this topic a lot, obviously, since we’re in the business of marketing, and I really wonder. When we leave LA and we leave New York and we start thinking about, you know, we leave Chicago. Let’s leave these metropolitan areas where a lot of people are [inaudible 00:26:57] and think about the [inaudible 00:27:01], or the person’s actually going to spend money to buy that lipstick, right, or spend money to buy those shoes and not get them for free or not get them from a friend on a discount because she works at the show room, right?

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Like really leave our industry. What is she truly absorbing?

Janell Hickman

I’m fascinated and dying to know. I’m from Minnesota. I should ask my friends and be like, what do you guys think? Or just give them example A, example B. What do you think? Because I have no idea. But it has to work, because they’re still around and people are still shopping. Even when you look at a brand like Fashion Nova; Fashion Nova is like this really fast fashion company, and they have so many celebrity endorsements. They’ve got girls who maybe have at least like 100,000 Instagram followers. Don’t quote me on that. But they’re the top [inaudible 00:27:47] fashion brand of 2017. Like above Gucci, above Chanel, because people are just like, “What is this?” Like why can’t I get a dress for my next party for $25? But it’s something like that, it’s obviously it works. These girls are moving inventory and selling things and people are so into it. So me, being like, “Ugh, of course she’s getting paid to do this.” Someone else is like, “Oh my gosh, I found my New Years dress on FashionNova.com”

Jodi Katz

Right. I don’t have data to support this because we haven’t done any research, but maybe this is a good time for us to start it. But when I talk to my friends who live in New Jersey, in new suburban New Jersey, and I have many friends who are not in advertising, not in marketing, not in media. Maybe they’re a doctor or psychologist. Whatever, teachers, whatever. These messages that we are inundated with every single day, they don’t reach them. These are working moms who get their kids off to school, they go to their job, they do their job, they come home. Maybe they watch a little TV, maybe a little bit of Facebook or Instagram, but they don’t know any of the brands that I’m talking about. The ones that we’re like, “You totally know this brand. This is a huge hit,” but they don’t know it.

You know what they know? They know Beauty Counter and they know [inaudible 00:28:58] because their friends sell it. Like the social selling, and that’s how messages reach them. They penetrate through all the other clutter of their day because it’s friend to friend. This other stuff, they never see it. They don’t internalize it even if they’re seeing it. It’s like foreign to them. So I think that as jaded as we are about the process and the cycle and the constant pushing forward and more and more and more and new and new, I think the regular customer really just doesn’t see it or feel it the way that we do. But that’s anecdotal. I don’t have real data. But I was very surprised the other day at dinner that these women, they read a lot of the same things I read, but they don’t see it the same way.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jodi Katz

Right? It also makes me think there are more opportunities for social selling to be done really well because it really works. Friend to friend, peer to peer. Let’s go back to the topic that we talked about on when you took the job at BET about seeing yourself represented. Do you feel like you threw the celebrity focus? Have you been able to do that?

Janell Hickman

I think so. I think it’s just getting the content out there. And also always putting a positive spin on it. I think women have a right to change their bodies, their looks, their faces, their hair, whatnot, and kind of supporting that. I think we always come from a place of like, “This happened. Who else has done it? Here’s how you can do it,” or, “It’s okay to do it.” I never really want to put someone down for trying something… Unless it’s dangerous. There are certain things that are dangerous. But also kind of presenting like both sides.

We did a story about … I can’t remember her name right now, but it was an African actress, I want to say, who was slammed for skin bleaching, and they had before and after pictures. It was very apparent that something was going on. It’s like, I don’t know the details about what she’s using or how often she is using it, and she gave an interview where she’s like, “This is who I am and this is who I want to be.” I supported that, but it’s like I also need to talk to a doctor to figure out, “How dangerous is this?” Or, “Can you do it under supervision?”

But I always want to leave the reader with a choice and two different opinions. Even with our writers, I’m say, “If you’re interviewing someone, unless it’s a feature, you need to get a mix of reviews, or you need to get a mix of opinions.” You can never talk to one doctor, you should talk to two or five because they might have conflicting info and we need to present all of that so then you as the reader can take something away. Like, “Okay, well I believe this,” or, “Now that I know this perspective I’m not so sure.” Versus us giving a one sided thing.

Jodi Katz

Is it a judgment free zone or do you pick a side? Or does it not even matter.

Janell Hickman

I don’t even know if it matters. I mean, we try to be like, “She looks great,” or, you know, “New look for the new year.” I don’t know, I try not to inject my personal viewpoints unless it’s something that gets us really fired up. Like if a brand does something that’s like a little bit out of line, but then I always try to put it in the perspective of like, “You know, maybe it wasn’t a diverse crowd of people who were sourcing this,” or, “Maybe there’s no one in the room to speak up.” However, that’s why it’s important to have a diverse staff situation so people can give perspective or whatnot. But we try not to go too hard because you never really know what’s happening.

Jodi Katz

Right. We, as a creative agency, we have the ears of clients, and when we talk about casting, we’ve been talking about this for years, I’m like, “You can’t show one person.” The days of hiring one model, they’re over. They’ve been over for us for a really long time. It doesn’t mean that they’ve been over in the minds of the client or their budget, but it makes no sense because it really feels dismissive.

Janell Hickman

Yeah, it’s really isolating, and I think also … But then on the flip side sometimes, it can be very inauthentic when people are like, “Okay, well let’s hire one asian model, one black model, one white model, one Latina.” I know what you’re doing here too. I know that you’re trying to showcase like, “We’re for everyone.” So it’s a balance. It’s just kind of figuring out who represents the brand well, what are we speaking to?

So it’s certain things, I don’t know, I’m never really concerned about… What’s something that’s so universal? Like body care, right? It’s soap or, I don’t know, like loofahs or something. I don’t think that’s tied to a specific race, but it’s cosmetics, yes, I do need to see this on a range of skin tones to make sure that it works for me, otherwise I’m just assuming that they don’t have my shade and I’ve dismissed you as a brand.

Jodi Katz

Right. I don’t think I feel as strongly about the pick kind of representation of everybody who would ever buy my product because I actually do feel like, as a customer, and I’m always trying to be the customer, I’m only seeing what I want to see in that moment. I want to see me. I feel for women as I kind of [inaudible 00:34:01] marketing and advertising because I haven’t seen me that often. When I was a kid I was, I don’t know, call me athletic/curvy, whatever I am, and all the girls in the advertising for, I don’t even know what it would have been, you know the circulars in the newspapers back then.

Janell Hickman

Anything, yeah.

Jodi Katz

They were all like stick skinny and I didn’t look like that. I’d look around myself at school and all the girls around me and I felt like they were stick skinny. I mean, I’m 42 years old and I still think about this stuff. It really goes very deep. I want to show that girl or that woman herself or a version of the self that she dreams to be or imagines herself or whatever, because she’s not going to see the other ones. She’s going to focus on the one that feels like her. Especially if it’s cosmetic or hair. Like, “Is this going to work for me? Is this going to perform? Can I see myself in it? Will I get the results I’m looking for?” I think it’s true of skin care. I think it’s true of everything. I think it’s true of soup, you know, quite frankly, if you’re going to have a table and there’s gonna be people at the lunch table in an elementary school eating soup, you better show everybody.

Janell Hickman

Show everybody.

Jodi Katz

You better show everybody, because number one that’s like, this is our world. I want that kid to see herself or him to see himself at that lunch table.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

I think it’s really important. The power of advertising is very rich. That’s why it works. That’s why we keep doing it, but I don’t think that we should, and I don’t want our clients to miss an opportunity to really make a deep connection, because that’s what this is. This is a connection with a customer, so I feel very strongly about it. But that means that the client needs to spend more money on casting, right? Have more talent, be prepared to know when to say, “Okay, we’re just going to pick one person and it will just be a Caucasian person,” because that’s just not good enough. It really isn’t.

Janell Hickman

Not anymore. Now with social media people will call you out very quickly.

Jodi Katz

Yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, even if you have a diverse cast, which we’ve done a lot of campaigns.

Janell Hickman

You’ll still get called out.

Jodi Katz

I had a client who was like, “There’s people writing all these nasty things saying that the campaign’s not diverse.” I’m like, “It is.” There’s age, there’s body shape, there’s skin tone, there’s everything you could imagine was in this campaign, it’s just people want to jump. I think you just need to stay on your track, like stay on the road.

Janell Hickman

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Commit to it.

Jodi Katz

Yes. There’s always going to be somebody who wants to jump no matter what side of the fence that they’re on. They’re going to jump. But this has been so enlightening and I really appreciate you sharing all your wisdom with us. I know a lot of people who are listening who want to know what happens behind the scene on a job like yours. Number one, thinking about you probably at 7:30 in the morning doing your work. But knowing that you can also wrap it up by six and move on to the next day.

Janell Hickman

Well yes and no, because then I think it’s a danger. There’s always something happening. Someone is always doing something, so you also have to make the personal choice to step away. Sometimes I practice dark hours. From like 9pm until like 7am I’m not going to look at anything, because you can get wrapped up and worked up and think, “Is this a story? Is this an angle? Is this a trend?” Because again it’s like the consumption of feeling like you have to feed this monster that’s insatiable. The weird thing about the internet is there’s no such thing as too much content, which is scary. No one’s ever going to be like, “Oh, there’s too many stories here.”

Jodi Katz

Yeah, we’re not going to run out of film.

Janell Hickman

Yeah, and I think that’s the difference between a book. It’s like you only have so space. A magazine it’s like you only have 15 beauty well pages and that’s it. Versus like the internet. I can write one story, I can write 20 stories. There’s nothing stopping me other than physically myself not being able to produce that.

Jodi Katz

Yeah, so when you do this dark hour are you able to stick to it?

Janell Hickman

Yes and no. I’ll have to like put my phone … I am like a psychopath. Again, I’ll put my phone in another room and turn it on airplane mode and just zero in on what I’m doing. Movies are really good for me because I have to focus on something. Workout classes are good for me because obviously you can’t like have a phone while you’re doing Pilates. It’s like you have to …

Jodi Katz

Well I’m sure you’ve seen people in the class with it.

Janell Hickman

Yes, but you have to focus. I’m not trying to kill myself on this [inaudible 00:38:11]. You’re just like, “I have to focus in on that.” Dinner with friends, catching up with people, and just really putting your phones … So it has to be really, we’re in a very cell phone culture. It’s like even on the train, not that I want people to talk to me, but sometimes you look around and you’re like, “No one’s even paying attention to anyone.”

Jodi Katz

Right. I love that you actually do this and you commit to it. I think that we all need to do it. It’s probably something that needs to be prescribed by doctors. After whatever hour, pick the hour, 7:30pm, 8pm, whatever it is for you, it goes away.

Janell Hickman

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Because it’s … I think it’s a burden. I really do. I think that our hearts need to slow down, our minds need to slow down, our fingers need to slow down. We can read books, we can watch movies, we can see friends, we can do nothing.

Janell Hickman

[crosstalk 00:39:00]. Yeah.

Jodi Katz

Just do a little bit of nothing. Or for me, I watch the The Real Housewives and anything on Bravo, but that to me is such a joy. Well thank you so much for sharing that wisdom. It was so awesome.

Janell Hickman

Thank you.

Jodi Katz

And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Janell. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, please follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast

Announcer

Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

 

 

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