People, InStyle profitable with Nelson at the helm

In what has likely been the toughest business climate in the 16 years she’s been at Time Inc., Martha Nelson remains steadfastly optimistic about the future of the megabrands she’s now charged with overseeing.

“I always tell people when the high seas and the harsh winds are blowing, it’s better to be on a big ocean liner than it is to be on a 20-foot sailboat,” says Nelson, who has risen from assistant managing editor of People to her current gig as Group Editor of the publisher’s Style & Entertainment Group.

With Nelson at the helm since October, behemoths People and InStyle (whose total audience is 68.1 million adults) have weathered the storm and even experienced a few bright spots.

The group brings in more than $1.8 billion yearly in PIB ad revenue.

This year, InStyle was the only luxury fashion magazine to post ad page growth (3.7%) for the all-important September issue. (Competitors averaged a 34% decline.)

“We’ve had tough issues like wholesaler disruption, the softness of the ad market and consumer uneasiness. All of that has had an impact,” Nelson acknowledges. “That said, we’ve had some great sales and have a loyal and strong advertising base. We’re poised for a good rebound. ”

During the protracted recession, Nelson’s battle cry to her staff has been “Raise your game.”

That means taking the long view (“My job is to chart where we’re going to be five years from now”) and looking at the business more broadly to find ways for the titles to work together. (Nelson says developing websites is a favorite part of the job.) It’s critically important, she says, “to adapt to the new environment — whatever that may be.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Job title: Group editor, Time Inc.’s Style & Entertainment Group

Role models: “My earliest mentor was Catharine Stimpson (dean of the graduate school of arts & sciences at NYU), who was my first boss. I’ve always found her to be inspiring, and I’ve always been inspired by my mother, who is a remarkable woman of great resilience and energy.”

Career mantra: “Take the high road.”

Leisure pursuits: “Outdoor sports with my family.”

Philanthropic passions: Board member of ACRIA (The AIDS Community Research Initiative of America) and the Actors Fund; Peace of Kids, an L.A.-based program for foster children.

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