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Cosmopolitan.com’s new digital director on embracing innovation, ambitious storytelling and ‘keeping things in motion’

Jessica Pels was named digital director of Cosmopolitan.com in January. She oversees the content and editorial operations for all of Cosmopolitan’s digital efforts. In the five months since her appointment, Pels has helped revamp the publication's digital presence, seen Cosmopolitan.com's traffic increase by 36 per cent, and launched half a dozen varied projects. 

"I really like to innovate and push the envelope," she said.

Pels oversees a staff of 40, which is about triple the size of the team she oversaw as site director at MarieClaire.com. It may have been a big jump, but it was one she was ready for, she says. Meetings feature prominently in her day-to day, where she develops strategies and kicks off big projects. She'll also work with an editor to sharpen a story angle, perfect an edit or overhaul a design, to make sure they're executing at the highest levels as a team, she explained. 

 

Jessica Pels ()

 

"The way I think of it is that it is the biggest, most exciting sandbox I could possibly be playing in right now," she said. "So, basically, the way I operate things here is that it is a dance between taking the macro view and zeroing in on the micro view. That's what I do all day, every day, is zip back and forth between looking at the big picture and finessing the details." 

"An important part of my job is to be a clear and consistent communicator, to move projects forward and clear obstacles, answer questions, approve ideas and generally keep things in motion." 

Pels, who has a features background, with former stints at Glamour, Teen Vogue and Marie Claire (and was a nominee for FIPP's Rising Stars in Media in 2016) seems to elevate the profile of and coverage for all the publications she's worked at. For example, MarieClaire.com’s content expanded to include more ambitious reporting, exclusive interviews with top newsmakers and award-winning multimedia features with a focus on women’s issues.

 

 

Marie Claire HW ()

The women who took Harvey Weinstein down

 

Marie Claire ()

Feature on female missileers

 

"I'm deeply passionate about storytelling, and about good old-fashioned gumshoe reporting that makes news and ideally, that breaks news, but beyond my own dedication to it, there's real audience interest in content like this," Pels explained. "I think reporting and features are what drive cultural conversations, what exposes you to something you hadn't seen before or knew existed, and ideally, makes you more open-minded and empathetic as a result."

It's a big priority for Pels and her team at Cosmopolitan.com, and Pels has no intention of slowing that elevation of content and says she will continue to push to tell big, exciting stories that get people talking.

And she does all of this with a bright, bubbly attitude and an enthusiastic passion that she brings to the office each day. "I like to think that it is infectious, and it makes everyone else here equally as passionate about all of the exciting projects we have on our plate," Pels said. 

“I just truly, deeply, ridiculously love what I do. I’ve always been a words geek, and as I got older I became addicted to journalism, and through film school I fell in love with storytelling and visuals. My job combines all three of those passion points, and it also gives me the freedom to explore and play and experiment. My husband can attest that I spend more time behind my laptop than is probably healthy, but no matter how late it is or how tired I am, as soon as I dig into editing a story, I light back up all over again.”

 

 

Cosmo UTIs ()

The UTI issue

 

Cosmo TSA ()

Report on TSA’s questionable practices

Pels' Cosmopolitan.com staff is young, and as she explains, everything they do is made for young women (the publication's target audience), by young women (and a few young men). "It's inspired by the conversations we have with each other about our real lives, about what is going on in the world, what we're passionate about, what we're angry about, what we want answers for," Pels said.  "We work very hard, but at the same time, we like to have a lot of fun."

 

Passion projects

One of her biggest milestones in the five months she has been the digital director at Cosmopolitan.com, is a complete website refresh. "We started working on it pretty much the second  I got here," Pels explained. "I had an amazing partner in my creative director Abby Silverman, who gamely took on this project and redecorated our office at the same time."

 

 

Cosmo new look ()

 

"And in 2018—a time when young women have more agency and impact than at any point in history; when we’re making our voices heard on every issue we care about; when we’re taking no sh*t; when we’re prouder than ever to be who we are and to make no apologies for doing what we want—there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Cosmopolitan.com is going to make some big strides this year through ambitious stories and exciting innovations, but first, we wanted to set the stage. And to make it pretty." - Jessica Pels, Cosmopolitan.com

 

As of May 14, Cosmopolitan.com looks like a totally new website, with its additional platforms made over from top to bottom. The new look incorporated bold designs, colours and attitudes, across platforms including Instagram, video, and Snapchat. The makeover of the site coincided with an exclusive collection of custom-designed GIF stickers for Instagram Stories made by Cosmo, a special digital edition all about UTIs, and the first in-depth interview with the first female Acting New York State Attorney General, Barbara Underwood and her mostly-female staff.

 

 

 

 

Future plans  

Continuing her streak as a rising star, Pels outlined what she hoped to achieve as digital director of Cosmopolitan.com in the coming months and years.

Like her work with Marie Claire, Pels explained that she also wants to bring on bigger, diverse voices to Cosmopolitan. "I want Cosmo to continue to grow, to find new readers and new fans," she said. "I want us to tell stories and do things that surprise people and that start conversations and start interesting discussions around the country."

With Pels at the helm, there's no telling what innovative, surprising things we will see from Cosmopolitan.com this year. 

 

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