There is nothing like a chat with Lizzie Renkert, best known as the Editor of (now closed) Madison magazine, to make you feel like you need to shape up and make things happen. Hard work has taken Lizzie great places, and with almost 20 years experience in journalism, countless television appearances and event management, she has now added fashion label founder to her list.
The decision to enter media publishing was always the plan, but without the 98 ATAR to match her interest in media communications, Lizzie enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney. Six weeks in Lizzie remembers sitting in a lecture wondering what she was doing, “It just wasn’t me”. She worked, she travelled and she returned to enroll in a degree in primary teaching, “I have always loved children, and thought this will be great”, but again, as semester two was approaching Lizzie laughs as she recalls a family dinner when she mentioned to her parents that she was not going to re-enroll. “There was a journalism course at Macleay College” – and that was the beginning.
While working as a waitress through her degree Lizzie met Jackie Frank, who invited her for work experience at Marie Claire. “I worked two days a week, then five through my holidays – whenever I could”. The culture of the print world 20 years ago was vastly different to today, “people had budgets” she laughs. Her early years surrounded by what she describes as “an ever inspiring” group of ambitious and hard working women had a pivotal impact on her own work ethic. Virgina Webber, her mentor, taught her the business of magazines – from syndication, dealing with agents, managing budgets to negotiating content.
From 1997 – 2004 Lizzie grew within Marie Claire, from her beginnings as an Editorial Assistant she worked up the ranks into a Senior Editor role before jumping ship into the role as Deputy Editor of the homegrown brand, Madison magazine. Within four years Lizzie was the Editor, a role she held for three years before the magazine closed its doors in 2013. “I still wish it didn’t happen; I am still devastated. I honestly thought if you worked hard you would be rewarded.”
While the decline of the print world is nothing new, Lizzie can give great insight, reflecting that holding the top end management role was difficult, “being privy to the profit and loss statements of the magazine was hard”.
While in the hot seat, Lizzie continues to remain humble and true to the foundations she has built in early years. When you are the leader of the team you need to be a team member and team player, “The team will not be at its best if you are not in there with them. Even though we knew we were producing a beautiful magazine that was being bought and loved by 65,000 monthly readers nationally, our advertising sales were slowly diminishing”. The process of decline was slow and “heart wrenching” Lizzie notes, “as a homegrown and loved label- Aussie decision makers got what we were doing. We were doing our job really well. Home grown labels were loyal advertisers – but brands whose ‘decision makers’ were internationally based saw more value investing in a label that had multinational magazines”.
The Madison team remains close, “I speak to many of them weekly”, they have all been placed in great jobs – and while she misses the Madison team on a daily basis, she notes that, “the future holds great things for them”.
Replaced by Elle magazine, a brand already overarching in Europe and America, Lizzie hopes the magazine does well, “For me, sitting down after a long day with a magazine is bliss, I read my computer screen all day – that is work. I do not want this to be the last generation who enjoy magazines, I want my daughters to grow up with magazine stands. The brand Madison was all about creating ‘you and me’ time for the reader, “There is something beautiful about reading a tangible book, magazine or paper – I’ve tried to read a Kindle, but I can’t.”
Today- with two beautiful children, a husband, label We Are Kindred and regular television appearances, busy does not do her schedule justice; yet interestingly Lizzie works fewer hours now than at Madison. In her role as Editor Lizzie, “honestly thought I could do it all (balance Motherhood and work), and I would have made it work. I guess I wouldn’t have known what I was missing out on”, she notes as her six month old son laughs in the background. “Loosing Madison was probably a blessing in disguise for my family.”
The lessons to be learnt
With an enviable career that is still continuing to grow, her advice for journalism students and juniors is to gain experience. “You need to walk in with a smile on your face. Remember that you don’t know everything, sometimes ‘they’ know better than you, and as you work up the ranks you will see that in retrospect, they did.”
Diplomacy and drive is something the Lizzie has exemplified her whole career, “I think that young people have an expectation of early success; you need to be an expert in your field – that will make you invincible.”
She speaks about learning from those with experience, “Don’t get ahead of yourself- I have been re-written so many times, and while at the time it is heart breaking, if you can learn from the changes you will be all the better for it.”
What she wish she knew
“I guess I put so much pressure on myself coming up through the ranks,” Lizzie explains that there is an urgency when you are young and looking to prove yourself. “I guess I enjoyed it a little more. Once you are in a management role, the industry is a whole different ball game – while as a junior you are still going to have the perks, just without the stress.” When asked if she would do it all again there is no hesitation, “Yes, absolutely. I just wish it ended differently- it ended quickly.”
Taking the plunge into fashion design
Lizzie and her sister, Georgie, have launched the label, We Are Kindred- “would we have done it had I not lost my job… probably not.” The concept had been talked about for years; the two sisters who are technically different, share a similar fashion aesthetic. Georgie worked in buying and development across leading Australian fashion labels, with Lizzie’s experience in sourcing prints, costing garments, managing production and supply chains; they make the perfect team. Just yesterday, Lizzie was on shoot for their Autumn/Winter 2015 range and it is obvious that while she lost her dream job at Madison, she has built her own- “It was great to be back on a shoot – I missed it”.
There are already brand extension concepts for We Are Kindred in the mix. “Eventually I would like to see Kindred as an umbrella title over a number of avenues, I would like to put my publishing experience to use”. While it seems that an online magazine is on the cards one day, Lizzie affirms that for now, the fashion aspect of the label is the most important.
Click to see We Are Kindred