Nicole Byers

Evolving an Australian icon

When Nicole Byers was appointed the Editor-in-Chief for The Australian Women’s Weekly in July 2017, she has a clear view for how to evolve the title. The first step was a redesign.

“An important part of that was not only the flow and the mix of the stories within the issues but also how they’re displayed to readers,” she says.

The new look Weekly, which has been in-market for several months, was a collaborative process between Byers and creative director Joshua Beggs who joined Bauer at the start of this year.

Byers says: “He brought so many ideas to the table that helped bring that vision to life. We now have a strong platform from which we can continue to evolve because the challenge is to remain relevant to a new generation of women but continue to draw on aspects of our heritage that we are so proud of.”

Heritage is a major part of the Weekly brand with the masthead celebrating its 85th birthday this year and this heritage means the Editor-in-Chief’s role is unlike any other in the Australian industry. Byers says: “It was such a huge opportunity and responsibility I felt when I was offered the role. I was very honoured but also a little bit trepidatious about the history and the weight of expectations for such a big title.”

Former editors of the title include such industry heavyweights such as Ita Buttrose, Helen McCabe, Deborah Thomas and Robyn Foyster.

A year later and Byers has overcome her trepidation. She says, “I’m really feeling at home here now. It’s such a wonderful team; so many talented writers, designers, and contributors. Surrounding yourself with these talented people makes the job a lot easier.”

The legendary loyalty of the Weekly’s readers has also been a new experience for Byers who has no shortage of guidance for the magazines with thanks to her highly engaged audience.

“You’re told very clearly about what it is readers want, and they tell you when you step in the wrong direction. They also tell you when they think you’re doing a great job, or a story has resonated deeply with them, so that’s really rewarding,” she says.

Beyond the redesign

Now that the redesign is complete for the printed product, the next phase is to roll out the refresh across the various extensions of the brand including the famous cookbooks, food magazines and also digital. And brand extensions are a major part of the Weekly’s ecosystem.

Byers says: “Magazines need to be more than just the printed word on the page, and the Weekly is no exception. There are so many opportunities in diversifying how you speak to your readers. That is the key to longevity and to staying relevant in the market.”

One of the first extensions to show off this new look was a wellness journal that went on-sale in May. “We’ve done health magazines in the past, but this time we really focused on wellness. It’s such a big issue with our readers,” says Byers. “We deliberately gave it quite a different look and feel to what normally comes out under the Women’s Weekly banner.”

With a commemorative royal magazine going on-sale next month, and plans for the 85th birthday celebrations well underway, it has been a busy time.

Another major project in the works is the Women of The Future awards which sees AGL come on board as a partner for the first time. The annual campaign aims to acknowledge deserving young women doing exceptional things in their chosen field. The judging panel includes a veritable who’s who list of accomplished Australian women including Lisa Wilkinson, Ita Buttrose and Julie Bishop, while Dame Quentin Bryce continues to be a proud patron of the project.

Launched in the June issue of the magazine, the campaign culminates with a lunch in September where the winners will be announced.

Byers says: “I started during the campaign last year and I was blown away by the calibre of women who throw their support behind this initiative, let alone the amazing entrants. These brilliant young women doing important work in a variety of fields really deserve to be taken to a broader market.”

A career in magazines

Byers herself has forged a rather impressive career in publishing which began with a work experience stint on Dolly magazine at the age of 15. “Marina Go was the editor at the time. She was very impressive. I just fell in love with magazines. It cemented my obsession with wanting to work in magazines at an early age,” she says.

However, several years of hard slog followed before Byers worked her way back to the glossies. First came a stint at The Australian before she moved into trade publications. Finally, she scored a role as an editorial coordinator at the long-closed She magazine. Byers always had her eye on the editor’s chair but she had to work her way up to the position.

For young women looking to follow in her footsteps, Byers suggests being a self-starter. “When I’m looking for people to work here, I’m interested in those who have been self-published or have done internships. That’s how you have to get started, and that’s what brings you to the attention of editors. Persistence is a big thing as well.

“Nothing comes straight away, and sometimes we have to remind people that you have to perhaps move sideways or cover topics that aren’t your first choice until you get that experience up to be able to move into the area you really want to be in.”