One expects Conde Nast to bring a touch of class to everything it
does, and its new contract publishing division is no exception. Sales
director Michelle Nelan is the perfect ambassador for the unit - raven
haired, sophisticated and as unruffled as the pashmina draped over her
Not that Nelan is some glacial society figure. In fact, she is quite
capable of laughing at herself and says her main motivation in life is
’having an incredibly good time’.
She certainly seems to have managed that so far, having spent a large
proportion of her career flitting around the glamorous advertising and
fashion circuits. She hints at a decadent youth, joking that she has
been ’courted by captains of industry’.
Now she is the sole member of the contract publishing sales team,
although she intends to recruit two more people to work on the
operation’s Canary Wharf and HSBC magazines.
Nelan denies that customer titles are a bit of a step down from
’These magazines are as far removed from the unsexy side of contract
publishing as you can imagine. They are spectacular,’ she enthuses.
’Don’t forget, we have the syndication rights to articles in all the
company’s magazines, plus access to an enormous archive of words and
Nelan broke into media in the early 80s when she spotted an ad in a free
magazine (’I think it was Girl About Town’) asking for a media
She rang the number, discovered it was wrong, and immediately got on to
the magazine to ask for the right one. When she finally got through to
TBWA, she discovered she was the only person who’d replied to the
’Mike Ironside, who was media director, was so impressed by my ingenuity
that he practically gave me a job on the spot,’ she chuckles.
After TBWA, she moved on to Saatchi & Saatchi. This was the era of Tim
Bell and the Conservative Party account. ’It was a wonderful time to be
in advertising. Looking back, the emphasis seemed to be more on the
creative side, rather than media, which has definitely come to the fore
Eventually, lured by ’the glamour of magazines’, Nelan joined She as a
sales executive, later moving to Cosmopolitan. ’I felt pretty confident,
because I’d worked on the other side and was prepared for the abysmal
way media people treated sales reps.’
After deserting Cosmo for Vogue - where she did a six-month stint in
Australia - she returned to the National Magazine Company to become head
of fashion sales on Esquire and Harpers & Queen. ’It was every bit as Ab
Fab as you’d expect,’ she confirms. But she had fond recollections of
her time at Conde Nast, and was happy to return when the opportunity
’If you work in the affluent market and you believe in quality,
commitment and professionalism, this is the place to be,’ she says, and
you believe her, despite the fact that the company’s PR representative
is sitting at her elbow.
Nelan is probably right when she says the contract publishing unit is
unlikely to be anything other than a success. ’It won’t stop with these
two magazines. Vogue is an international brand that has natural synergy
with blue-chip firms.’
One thing is for sure - advertisers can’t fail to be won over by Nelan’s
enthusiasm and poise.
Nelan on career planning
’I’ve been just as happy to move laterally as upwards. I haven’t planned
my career around money or titles, but around variety and fun, and I like
people who’ve done the same. I look for people who have something
different to offer. They have to be positive about life, with lots of