Five years ago, founder Leandra Medine Cohen brought Amelia on as Man Repeller’s first full-time writer. Amelia became an integral member as the site transitioned from a personal blog to a media property. Now as the Head of Creative, she continues to help shape the future of MR with her distinctive voice and leadership skills that bring out the best of everyone on her team.
This interview took place via phone call between Christel in New York and Amelia in Nantucket
Editor: Duc Dinh
CL: I listened to your interview on Man Repeller’s former podcast, Oh Boy. I heard you say that “you kind of can’t mess up.” So I was wondering if you could talk a bit more about that, and what you mean by it?
AD: It's very easy to feel like there's a right or wrong path to get to the career that you want to go to -- and I just don’t think that’s true. This idea of “one right path” can be enforced a million different ways or by a million different people, and to be fair, there are some professions where you really do have to follow a focused path in order to expedite the process of reaching your goal. If you want to be a doctor, for example, there are steps that you absolutely have to take in order to become a board-certified doctor.
I remember being in college -- I was a journalism and mass/comm major -- and being very concerned that I wasn't taking all the right classes, or that I wasn’t on the right path. Was I going to graduate and suddenly decide that I didn't want to do fill-in-the-blank? There were numerous times in my own career that I worried that I was setting myself up too far along on a path to veer from it and to try something new. But time and time again, I've proved to myself that there's always a way to not only pivot, but to apply what you know and who you’ve met to something new. In a sort of cheesy way, you never know what's going to come up. I do think that being aware that there are possibilities that come up allows you to be more prepared for them, to look for them, or know when they are coming.
An example might be, if you're working in PR but you’ve always wanted to be a writer, and a friend reaches out to you and says, "I'm looking for a writer to help out with this brand that I’m starting and I need someone to be the voice of the brand. Do you know of any writers? Do you want to be a writer?” There's an opportunity to say, "Yeah, I do know one. You're talking to her." You know?
When you first came onto Man Repeller, how did you and Leandra decipher what needed to be done and what needed to be learned, in order for the site to grow?
When I started, Leandra had a vision for the next wave of Man Repeller, which was a media property beyond personal blog. Kate Barnett (who most recently was our president) was there to help that vision come to life. Charlotte Fassler handled visuals, and I came on as the first full-time writer besides Leandra.
So it was the merging of a very small team, ideas, and voices; then realizing what holes were there, what opportunities we were seeing, and then identifying what we needed to tackle. When the company expanded, more opportunities arose, and Leandra needed to fill more roles to help take us to those opportunities, so the company grew in a very organic way.
Because Man Repeller started as a personal blog, there were no formal expectations of what it had to be. At the time, there was no real precedent set, either, in terms of going from blog to media property. It meant we had the luxury of taking risks, and doing what we were interested in doing, or what we were excited about, rather than having to prioritize some of the things that more traditional media had to at the time. We didn't have to publish 20 stories a day. We just had to make sure we had a core readership who was excited to visit Man Repeller each day.
Man Repeller was one of the first to transition from a blog to a media property. So with no real roadmap in front of you, what were and still are some of your key goals?
The first goal was making sure that we were charging toward our mission. And that’s still our goal today. I guess that sounds obvious, but as a company grows, you want to make sure you’re focused on what got you excited in the first place. I think the nature of starting small allows you to be open and weird and communicative with the team -- everyone in the room has a voice and can hear one another's voice. Those things allow us to identify what isn't working, or have quick adaptations, or flexibility if there is an exciting idea that we want to try.
I don't think it's realistic for every company -- I know we’re lucky -- but when you're a small team and your main goal is storytelling, you have room to express yourself.
You're now the head of creative for Man Repeller. What does your role consist of?
What, I don’t know!
Also, congrats on 5 years!
Thank you, it’s kind of crazy, huh?
Ok, what does my role consist of? I help to guide the brand voice, both from a literal voice and an aesthetic perspective, across all the spectrums that Man Repeller is a part of. I work with the creative team, which consists of the editorial team and the visual team, and everyone on those teams drive and create what you see on the website, on social media, and where "creative" is concerned at MR events. I help to facilitate what everyone does best and make sure that’s going into the day-to-day output of Man Repeller.
Since my area involves a lot of voice-guiding and gut-checking aesthetics, that carries over to the events that we have, or collaborations that we work on, or the partnerships with other brands. I think that’s a pretty general overview, but maybe the easiest way to put it. I also still write and style for Man Repeller.
How do you manage having high standards for Man Repeller, but also being reasonable with your team?
It has definitely been a learning experience. I'm very much someone who's used to doing everything herself -- but doing everything yourself is rarely (probably never) the best answer.
Learning to trust who you manage is so important because the quality of individual work can improve greatly when you delegate, and the work that you produce as a team improves when other people are given room to take ownership over what they are producing, or what they’re working on.
I think that creating space or finding opportunity for others to find their emotional attachment in whatever they're doing is important to me and a goal of mine as a manager. I don't know if I always succeed, but I try to have a pretty open-door policy. I really, really, really, always welcome ideas. I try to not be married to what I think is the best way of doing something, and I also try to encourage problem-solving. By all means, if you don't like the way that we are doing something, whether it's a process, or a format, or whatever, tell me. But also, let me know your solution. If you have a solution, but don't know how to get the resources to make the solution a reality, tell me that, too.
That doesn’t always mean that you can wave a wand and make whatever someone wants come true. The shitty part of being a manager is not being able to give someone what they ask for, or having to give feedback (or receive feedback!) that's not all sunshine and rainbows. But there's something important in having a place where people can at least feel heard, you said your piece, someone listened to it, it's been ingested, and it didn’t just bounce off of a wall. I try to exercise that as often as possible.
I know that the community is highly valued at Man Repeller, so I was wondering how has listening to your readers helped shape the direction that Man Repeller has gone in?
In a major way. We have community events now, which is the most literal manifestation of listening to and interacting with our readers! In terms of content, since I started working here, we’ve always read what the commenters have said and have taken it to heart. A lot of times, it's really positive and nice to hear, and it’s really nice to read through. There have also been times when our readers felt that we could do better, and we take all of it to heart.
I can wholeheartedly say that at Man Repeller everything is done with such sincere intention, and the nature of having a continual feedback forum means that you can learn from the audience. It’s about listening, absorbing, and thinking about the feedback in a constructive way.
Has Man Repeller ever given you happy tears? If so, when was the last time?
I think the piece that has touched me the most in a long time was by the writer, T. Wise. It's the story about a transgender man’s transition from female to male, but it’s less about the transition and more about all that comes with it. It's so beautiful and also really funny. That piece has a way to touch anyone who reads it. It’s very human. I don't really know how else to put it, it just really got me. I sent it to a lot of people. (T. Wise just wrote something else for us too about his father and food -- that got to me, too. I love this writer!)
That's the best when you read something like that. Do you have a biggest learning experience?
This past year has been one big learning experience. I think learning how to manage a team in general is a learning experience, and I’m also working on not taking things too personally, I guess. Very sensitive.
Is there an impact that you would like to have on the industry?
Man Repeller, or me?
I guess it goes hand-in-hand, but I personally want to contribute to what I cling on to as part of Man Repeller's greater mission, which is to make people, or more specifically people who identify as women, feel like they’re less alone, like they’re not the only ones thinking about X, like they’re a part of something. I really believe in that.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
I would say, your gut is surprisingly right, listen to that. Also, work really, really, really hard. I don't think that there's one easy job, or one easy industry. I do believe in working really, really, really hard for what you want so long as it keeps feeling good and so long as it feels like you're working toward your purpose (which only you can define).
But don’t just work hard to work hard, either. Ask yourself why. And if you can't answer that question, then maybe it's time to reconsider what you're doing. Of course, that comes with privilege. If you're asking, “Why am I doing this,” and the answer is “because I'm bringing home a paycheck” then great. But if you're thinking, "What am I doing? I'm not happy here, and I'm not really making money, and I don't like what the company stands for, or I don't like who I've become..." then consider that, listen to that, and think about it. Then, within that, incubate those ideas. Make a plan! Don't just panic and run.
And in general, when it comes to career paths or life turns, I really, really, really, like to tell myself that ultimately, things happen for a reason.