After managing Marie Claire’s website for more than three years and tripling its readership, Jessica Pels was ready to lend a hand to Cosmo. She took over as the digital director of Cosmpolitan.com in January.
She had big shoes to fill, taking over from former digital director, Amy Odell, who was instrumental to Cosmopolitan’s digital growth during a transitional era for the publication before leaving to pursue other projects. Now six months in, Pels, who has also worked for Glamour, Teen Vogue and The New Yorker, is seeing her early work pay off: In April, Cosmopolitan.com hit 19 million unique visitors, an increase of 38 percent compared to the same period last year and the site’s highest traffic to date, according to comScore.
“It’s been a really big [time] for Cosmopolitan.com,” Pels said. “We revealed a new design, published a series of big exclusive features, released custom GIF stickers for Instagram and went ham covering the royal wedding.”
The digital director shared a recent day in her life, beginning bright and early with video edits on a feature on Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and leading into a hectic afternoon overseeing pitch meetings, hanging out with drag queens and developing a coverage plan for Pride Month. The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
6:30 a.m.: My alarm goes off. Our dog George lets out an annoyed sigh and goes back to sleep while I kick off my day, which starts on my phone fielding emails, responding to Slacks and checking our vitals from the day before.
7:00 a.m.: My feet hit the floor. As much as I love to sleep in, my brain’s already full steam ahead with everything I need to do today, so the snooze button isn’t worth it. I work through some ideas while I water the plants on our patio, and then I crack open my laptop to program our homepage to highlight key stories for the day.
7:31 a.m.: Running late! We’re hustling to post our new video featuring Olympic champion Adam Rippon’s hilarious recap of the royal wedding, complete with puppet reenactments, and I owe notes to my associate producer Amanda Kabbabe. I watch the video twice and shoot her a few tweaks to play up his humor.
7:45 a.m.: I wash my face and smear on Sunday Riley’s CEO brightening serum and La Mer soft creme. I accidentally forget SPF, again — apologies to all the beauty editors I’ve ever worked with who have done their best to scold me into submission. I throw on a dark floral Marisa Webb dress and a green leather Zara jacket while my husband, John, an audio-books editor at Scholastic, generously walks the dog before heading in to work.
8:15 a.m.: Someday I’ll get wise to the idea of commuter shoes, but in the meantime I hoof it in heels. On the train from Park Slope to Midtown, I jump into my ritualistic podcast routine — NPR’s “Up First” and the New York Times’s “The Daily” are my morning go-tos. Halfway to the office, I nab a seat, and two little girls stare and giggle as I furtively curl my lashes and swipe on mascara and red lipstick.
9:30 a.m.: I arrive at Hearst Tower for breakfast with my executive editor, Lori Fradkin, who’s back from maternity leave today. Over eggs, I catch her up on the last few months, my first few at Cosmo, and we chat about the rising stars on the team.
10:45 a.m.: Quick regroup with the features team to follow up on a discussion we started yesterday about the cancellation of “Roseanne.” We covered the news but want a smart second-day angle on the story. Freelance editor Kaitlin Menza suggests we reach out for an interview with Channing Dungey, the president of ABC. Dungey broke ground as the first black woman to head a TV network, which makes her decision to cancel the show all the more powerful and resonant. I greenlight.
11:00 a.m.: I meet with our creative director Abby Silverman, who runs me through the selects from a few recent photo shoots, including a really fun one with sex-and-relationships editor Carina Hsieh, who spent time in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes in honor of the “Sex and the City” 20th anniversary. We recreated some of the Carrie’s most iconic looks with Carina, and the tutu shot is such a good match for the original.
11:30 a.m.: My boss Kate Lewis, our editorial director, touches base to see how hiring is going for the round of new talent we’re bringing in to Cosmo. I’ve just made several offers, now I just have to figure out where to put them. We recently redecorated the office, and it’s a gorgeous, inspiring space, but there are only so many desks! I may need to reorganize the newsroom to accommodate.
12:00 p.m.: I swing by our studio to check in on one of today’s video shoots, our latest episode of the popular “Cosmo Queens” series. Today we’re featuring Momo Shade, who is patiently waiting for our production assistant. We recently expanded “Cosmo Queens” to Amazon Prime and Musical.ly, where it’s finding a whole new fandom.
12:30 p.m.: Back at my desk, I check in on the site. The team is flying a mile a minute to cover all the latest news, conduct interviews, file original reporting and pitch new ideas. I ask for a few headline tweaks and art updates, and open a handful of stories in new tabs so I can come back and read them later.
1:00 p.m.: Hungry! I pop out to Balducci’s around the corner to grab my regular (salmon sushi with brown rice, seltzer and an apple for later). I have a meeting in a few minutes, so I’m going to have to multitask.
1:15 p.m.: It’s time for my twice-monthly pitch meeting with the sex-and-relationships team, a group of ambitious editors with too many ideas to get through in our half-hour time slot. We talk about our coverage plan for Pride Month and a few new features we want to develop, and they’re nice enough not to judge me for eating the whole time.
1:45 p.m.: I head back to my desk to do a little prep for my monthly budget meeting tomorrow. Looking good.
2:30 p.m.: Every afternoon is punctuated with a daily Snapchat review, a chance for me to gather with Cosmo’s Snapchat team to go over the next day’s edition. Every single day they create an original issue of roughly 10 stories, which are read by millions of fans. Snapchat editor Mia Lardiere and senior designer Tom Losinski walk me through a rough outline of the lineup, including a story about whether it’s normal to get cramps before your period and a funny animation of a cat as a cactus.
3:00 p.m.: I head back over to the Tower (Cosmo.com’s headquarters is next door) with senior content strategist Rosa Heyman and our brand-new social media editor, Patricia Camerota. Senior leadership has gathered all the sites’ social editors to touch base with the Twitter team about Twitter Moments, and we discuss strategy and best practices.
5:00 p.m.: Alexa Gill, Hearst Digital Media’s director of product management, pings me that she’s downstairs. I’m her date to a Women of Hearst cocktail hour a few blocks from the office, and I dash down to meet her. We walk in the nice springy sunshine and catch up, and once we get to the bar, we both order a drink. She tells me she has no social media whatsoever, which of course I grill her about. There’s a part of me that’s jealous of the freedom, but who am I kidding, I’m going to want to post an Instagram before the night’s even over.
6:15 p.m.: My husband texts me to say he’s decided to make mussels for dinner — if I’m really doing him justice, it’s mussels steamed in beer, fennel, garlic and leeks, and heavily seasoned with herbs from our garden. John is an incredible cook, and thank god because if he weren’t we’d both be half starved to death by now.
7:15 p.m.: The subway back to Brooklyn and the walk home take a full hour, during which I catch up on “This American Life.” I’m listening to an amazing episode about a woman who works at airport security and refuses to take abuse and discrimination, and I find myself breaking down the structure of the story and borrowing some learnings from how they packaged it.
7:20 p.m.: I unlock the front door and a snout pushes through and a very wiggly George, who’s very excited to see me, jumps up to give me a hug. John is busy prepping dinner, and we fill each other in on our days as I take off my heels (finally) and change into jeans and a sweater. While he cooks, I indulge in another ritual: I settle into the couch with a glass of wine and my laptop, where I finish up any urgent to-dos.
8:00 p.m.: Dinner! It’s cooled off outside, but we eat on the patio anyway, under bistro lights and with music playing. As always, George is on standby under the table.
8:45 p.m.: While John cleans the kitchen (I know! He’s a saint!), I go to our desk to start working on an edit. I find it’s easiest to do more thoughtful work at home after hours, when there are fewer dings and notifications. This is the part I secretly love the most, sitting quietly with a story, finessing it into the best possible version of itself. I take pains to make detailed notes back to the editors and the writer so they know why I’ve made the changes I’ve made and what the next steps are.
9:45 p.m.: John is back from walking the dog and convinces me to call it a day. We watch two episodes of “Mad Men,” laying on the living room rug with George.
11:45 p.m.: I could stay up for hours (I’ve always been a night owl), but I have another big day ahead, so before jumping in bed, I wash my face and slather on the new miracle product Allies of Skin Promise Keepers Blemish Facial that my beauty director Carly Cardellino told me I had to try. It’s winning the “best acne eradicator” category in the Skin Awards next week, so we practice what we preach!