#WhatDrivesYou: Melissa Ahlstrand, Publisher at FLARE Magazine
February 18, 2014
Who doesn’t love flipping through the pages of the latest issue of FLARE Magazine? While working at a major fashion publication can seem pretty glam, it’s rare to get a true glimpse of what happens behind-the-scenes, the true grit and mettle it takes to keep a powerful engine chugging along. The role of publisher is critical yet often flies under the radar; we got a chance to sit down with one of Toronto’s finest and get the inside scoop on what drives her…meet the elegant and down-to-earth New York expat Melissa Ahlstrand!
Editor’s Note: She knows her em dashes from her en dashes!
What inspired you to get into the print and publishing industry?
To be honest, it was lucky. I was in University and was investigating internships for course credits. I came across an opportunity at a local TV station in their marketing-sales-promotions department. A few weeks into the job and I was hooked on being part of the media business. After graduation, a sorority sister offered me a position at a small NYC publishing company, Harris Publications, in the sales-marketing department. I went for it and never turned back on publishing. I truly believe that internship experience can shape the rest of one’s career and that print media is a very innovative place to be working right now.
What’s most challenging about your role as Publisher at FLARE? What’s most rewarding?
The pace by which the media landscape is evolving has substantially increased since my coming to FLARE. From the onset of taking on the FLARE Publisher role, the idea of having a multi-platform strategy has gone from good-to-have to must-have. I would not call this a challenge, it’s exhilarating, and each day my role morphs to meet the new demands of the market. We have very exciting plans for FLARE brand growth and development—as these come to fruition, it will be hugely rewarding. Make sure to keep an eye on us!
I will give two examples here, the first is purely because it made me giddy; the other, because it was rewarding professionally. I was an Account Director in sales on the launch team of George Magazine. Back then, the benchmark for advertising sales success was to land the Absolut Vodka account. With perseverance and a good media plan, I secured the business. That evening at home, the biggest, most beautiful flower arrangement I had ever seen was waiting for me. It was not from my boyfriend but from John Kennedy Jr., my boss, congratulating me on the win. I still have the card today.
While the flowers from JFK Jr. were monumental, it has been even more recently in my career where I have felt truly rewarded. During my time at LOULOU, where I was the Advertising Director, I belonged to a team of differing personalities and each person required a customized management style and mentorship approach. Everything I learned about management and leadership culminated at this stage of my career and I am most proud of the work that was achieved with this team—both during my tenure and where they are now in their careers. They know who they are!
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m a full-time working Mom so I get inspired whenever and however I can. I’m an avid magazine reader and get inspired by Canadian, US and UK publications. I take cues from social media and websites, plus I subscribe to many brand and association email newsletters to keep on top of who is doing what. I love to travel and have friends living in different places around the world from which I also take inspiration. Sometimes the best way to get a fresh perspective is to move around.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in business?
Trust and empathy are the key to successful dialogue. Success happens when you take into account the other person’s position and trust is built. Where are they coming from? What are they hoping to achieve? What pressures are they under? Couple these answers with your motivations/objectives and great things can happen. This can be applied to reaching goals within any aspect of our business—from getting an editorial exclusive, communicating to consumers to securing a new marketing partnership.
You have a lot of experience managing teams across different departments. What are you best insights into successful management?
Communication is key as well as what I mentioned above—trust and empathy. With these elements intact anything is workable. In 2013 I completed a Rogers supported leadership coaching course. I was not at first sure if coaching was a management technique that I would incorporate into my repertoire but what I’ve found is that coaching is effective and is an extension of good communication. A successful coaching session leaves the coachee with concrete results that he/she are more likely to action. P.S. It works in personal situations too!
Who is your favourite shoe designer and why?
I love all sorts of shoes across all price points. For spring I’ll be looking to FLARE to show me the best of kitten heels. What I am really obsessed with now is getting a Chanel purse. A Chanel bag to me is iconic, beautiful and strong—like Coco herself.