Leadership Edge with Simone Oliver, Global Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29
For my leadership series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview:
Simone Oliver, Global Editor-In-Chief of Refinery29. Simone oversees Refinery29’s content and editorial teams across the globe and is responsible for identifying and building impact-minded, insight-driven content and partnerships that speak to this powerful generation of women through the lens of culture, identity, and lifestyle. Oliver is a digital pioneer and thought leader who has made significant contributions to the media industry, earning her a spot on Folio’s 2021 Top Women in Media and The Root’s Glow Up 50 in the Innovators of Image category.
Refinery29 is the leading media and entertainment destination focused on women and underrepresented voices. Through a wide spectrum of lifestyle stories, original video programming, social, shareable content, and live experiences, Refinery29 provides its global audience with the inspiration and tools to discover and pursue a more independent and informed life. Refinery29 is part of Vice Media Group, a global multi-platform media company.
At a time of great uncertainty for many industries and, indeed, the world itself, Web Summit gathers the founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, and heads of state to ask a simple question: Where to next?
Politico has said we run “the world’s premier tech conference,” the Atlantic that Web Summit is “where the future goes to be born,” and the New York Times that we assemble “a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests.”
Web Summit also hosts events across the world: Web Summit in Tokyo, Collision in Toronto, and RISE in Hong Kong.
Provide a brief introduction to yourself and your role within Refinery29? What brought you to this specific career path?
My name is Simone Oliver, and I am the global editor in chief of Refinery29. I lead the vision of the brand and how we show up in the world, how we can be impactful and beneficial in people’s lives. For my specific career path, I have been in journalism and media for over 15 years. I have always loved storytelling, and I think no matter where my career winds, it has always been there.
One catalyst happened in undergrad. I applied to The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, and it was the first time that The New York Times had put this internship meets boot camp together. The goal of it was to get a bunch of undergrad students together and create a newspaper from scratch. Short of having children, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was crazy and amazing and a critical catalyst in my life.
At the end of the program, I knew. I was like “oh, this is it. This is exactly what I want to do with my life.” It was a huge accomplishment for me, and after that, I set my feet in this industry.
What is your blueprint to success? Can you share an example of how you have implemented this into your work at Refinery29?
I don’t have a blueprint for success; actually, I have certain principles that I focus upon, like never stop learning.
As a student of journalism, the way we tell stories and our business as a whole is changing so fast, and even though it’s challenging, it’s truly exciting. The way we tell stories and the way we capture audiences around us didn’t exist decades ago, and that’s incredible. But it also means that we have to learn new things and think about things in a different way, and that keeps me going. That might not be a blueprint of success, but constant learning has brought me a chain of opportunities that have eventually led me to a lot of success.
What are some changes you see in media? What’s the best way to jump on those changes/ trends
What a great question! The way we tell stories has changed over time, and I believe it will continue to change. We can’t even imagine how we will tell stories 5-10 years from now. For example, before, we communicated through print, radio, and television. Now, we’re getting the news from places like Twitter and communicating to people across the world through a variety of social media.
If we, as an industry, stay nimble and creative, we will be able to navigate it. The convergence of storytelling and technology and humanity will continue to evolve and become more intimate, allowing for more openings for engagement.
Another key trend is the way our industry creates resources. That is changing too. Creating revenue from different places will enable media entities to thrive and be sustainable. As humans, despite challenges, we are really good at putting our noses to the pavement and getting creative for our survival.
What is/are your life philosophies? Are there any social causes that you are particularly passionate about?
I would say that I’m passionate about giving the underrepresented within underrepresented groups a voice and a platform, and a space to speak real talk and truth. I feel like I’ve worked at places that have been considered mainstream media, and although that can be thrilling but also challenging, I have felt a career-long commitment to — however way I can — be a driving force in amplifying diverse voices and diverse experiences.
In my time at Refinery29; I’ve been able to do that with our Beauty Beyond IG series in partnership with Very Good Light, continuing our Voices of Disability series, and making sure that every time we do a collection of stories, we’re not just talking at our audience, but with them in collaboration with authentic voices. We also continue to do this with our Every Day Indigenous package in Canada, with our recently launched Sex Re-Education series and with the L-Suite from R29’s Somos, which is giving Latinx women a voice and a platform to discuss entrepreneurialism.
Are you working on any exciting new projects right now?
One extremely exciting and fulfilling project has been working with Unbothered, our community for and by Black women, led by Chelsea Sanders. Earlier this month, Unbothered launched Black Love, a month-long celebration of Black love including storytelling that is meant to unpack what it means to embark on a journey of love and self-love as Black women. Chloe Bailey was unveiled as our cover star for this package where she got real with us about navigating anxiety and imposter syndrome and how she’s still working on learning to love her body.
As part of this month-long celebration, Unbothered and Keke Palmer also launched ‘The Hookup‘ earlier this month in Los Angeles, an intimate live dating event aimed at bringing together Black singles and bringing back the art of IRL dating as everyone, at some point, hopefully, can emerge from their pandemic bubbles.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
The first thing I wish someone had told me earlier is that there isn’t just one path in your career. When you are very young and your career has yet to begin, you often might not have a clear picture of what your career will look like, but you will have feelings about what you hope it will turn out to be. This can lead to a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I teach a social media class at Syracuse University, and I see this every semester with my students. They always wonder “what should I do? Will I find a job?” One thing I try to share is that there isn’t going to be just one path, and the process is going to be very personal.
The second thing I wish someone had told me is that your path will be heavily influenced by relationships. Be proactive about initiating relationships, and be proactive about cultivating those relationships.
Lastly, mentorship is key. But mentorship can be initiated by anyone and it can go both ways. When I say both ways, I mean that you can be a mentor as well as someone’s mentee, and it’s okay to go up to someone you admire. If there is someone you look up to, you can DM them, email them or reach out through whatever channel and say “Hey! I admire your work and I would love it if you could be my mentor if you have time to spare.” It is usually very counterintuitive for most people, but it’s always been incredibly successful for me.
Do you have a life hack that’s always come in handy?
One life hack I have relates to the relationship cultivation I mentioned earlier. It’s important to keep yourself front of mind for people, and it needs to be a proactive, recurring activity. I’ve worked myself into a rhythm where I reach out quarterly, and ask how my mentors are, what they are into, or congratulate them on things I came across.
What do you want the readers to know (any calls to action)?
Refinery29 is a place where we contextualize the world around us. But we’re also a place that amplifies diverse voices and experiences. But also, we bring joy. We inspire, right. And so for us, we feel like that is our responsibility every single day, to be a mission-driven brand and to be impactful in the way that we tell stories.