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Creating a Life of Creativity: Q&A with Condé Nast's Erica Boeke

Posted by Samantha Stallard on October 18, 2017
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When Pop2Life was acquired in March, Erica Boeke was one of the first names buzzing around our office in NYC's Flatiron neighborhood. As 23 Stories' VP of Strategy and Experiences, Erica was an integral part of finding and hiring our agency, bringing us downtown to One World Trade Center and into the fast-paced world of Condé Nast. Her high-energy, intuition, and creative connection with our CEO, Eric Murphy ("We planned that," he said, when Eric and Erica were introduced together during our acquisition announcement) matched the energy of Pop2Life perfectly.

I sat down with Erica to discuss her journey to New York City, her passion for writing, and the evolution of 23 Stories, Condé Nast's branded content studio named after the 23 floors the company occupies in the World Trade Center:

 

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up?

 

 

That’s a loaded question! I was born in Chicago, quickly moved to Columbus, Ohio, then Pittsburgh, where I became a lifelong Steelers fan, and finally Southern California when I was 14 — kind of like Brandon and Brenda Walsh from 90210 except I didn’t have a twin to help me assimilate. But it was there that I met Daniella Wells, who has since served as my twin. After high school in Orange County, I did my undergrad at UC San Diego where I built my classes around tanning times — not very cool anymore, but it used to be a way of life!

My first job out of college was as a writer for the San Francisco Giants. I found the job by answering an ad in the newspaper, which seems so archaic now. I had always loved sports and got to interview in the dugout at Candlestick Park — it was an amazing first job. Once I got a taste of magazine writing, however, I discovered I wanted to be in media and felt like I needed to move to New York, but I was too scared and moved to Chicago for grad school instead. While studying at Northwestern, I was a beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune where I covered civil court cases and had a story deadline everyday at 3pm.

Daniella started working here I was finishing up grad school and she’s the one that told me, “You have to come to New York. You have to come to work with me.” And here I am.

How did your career here begin?

My first interview was with a man named Matt Roberts, who is a bit of an icon in this business. I went in, told him all about my background, and said I was interested in working here for a couple years before starting my own magazine, and that eventually, he could be working for me! Who knows if that’s exactly what I said, but that’s how he retells the story. He said I was “intense,” but knew I belonged at the company.

From there, I interviewed at Condé Nast Traveler as a copywriter. At the time, I didn’t really know the difference between a writer and a copywriter, but I took the job and got to discover life on the business side, when I had only ever been exposed to editorial. Being able to write everything from proposals to invitations to advertisements was really exciting for me and I wanted to learn and do everything that I possibly could.

My first day was March 17, 1997. Our offices were at 350 Madison Avenue and it was St. Patrick’s Day Parade day. I was late that morning, anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by that, because people were already starting to line up on the sidewalks and some were still drunk from the night before, but it was all so exciting! Literally 20 years later, we acquired Pop2Life and Ribyt and I was standing in front of you all, welcoming you into our family. That experience was such a meaningful “bookend” moment for me.

Do you still consider yourself a writer?

I’ve always kept my writing on the side. Even as I’ve ended up in a marketing career, I’ve always had my side projects. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m either writing a screenplay, a book, a treatment, or an article. I always have allowed my side hustle to fuel that writing passion. And in fact, I have written two books — one on politics and the other on sports.

Besides Daniella’s pleas, what else drew you to the publishing world?
When I was younger, I knew I wanted to grow up and work in a big city. My family had roots back east and, even when I was in California, I felt like “real life” happened in New York. I wanted to be where everything was happening — everywhere else I was living that wasn’t New York made me feel like I was missing out. As far as the company goes, we've always been focused on not just reflecting culture, but creating culture. The excitement of being around all of these incredible editors, finding out who’s going to be on every cover, and passing celebrities in the hall on their way to an interview was a very fun and fabulous time.
How has the company changed?

Though it’s evolved, it’s still just as exciting. Our editors do a lot more Skype interviews now, but it’s still fun when you hear, “Oh my God, Justin Bieber’s in the building!” So, while a lot has changed, the excitement, glamour, and vitality of these brands is still here and exciting.

The core business has evolved in a tremendous way. We went from a magazine company—we were still called Condé Nast Publications up until fairly recently—to a media company. Aside from that, working at 23 Stories, which is a legit agency, has allowed us to look at all of the assets we have in-house, putting an editorial lens on them, and packaging them in a really unique way. Yes, we’re creating new business streams, but also channeling all of the expertise in-house and showcasing it as new products.

We're composed of incredible brands and the resources to invest in the future. It takes a really unique and ambitious type of person to work here because we think big and, with everything we do, the standard is really high. For me, I never want to be where I’ve been before or do the same thing we did last year. Instead, let’s take what we did last year, put it on steroids and exceed even our own expectations.

Everyone really enjoys working with each other because we share that drive. When I look back at every event we’ve produced — Architectural Digest’s Oscars Greenroom, GQ’s Men of the Year Awards, Wired Cafe at Comic-Con, and The GQ Lounge — they’ve all been incredible experiences, but it’s the team that built those experiences that really matters. And whether it’s a digital product or a physical experience, I love looking ahead to where we should go next.

How does your marketing and writing background help you in your current strategy position?
When I was a young writer, I was under the false impression that everyone could write. Some people can’t even write an email! So, just being able to communicate clearly and creatively has been integral to my success in doing everything from creating a pitch deck, to writing collateral for an event. I look at every event as a story — the narrative begins from the moment you receive your invitation to the moment you’re leaving and buying your next ticket. Producers have to know what story they’re telling.
Where did 23 Stories come from? How did a traditional publishing house, build a brand experience agency?

I always say that our editors are the special sauce. My hybrid editorial-marketing background makes me really respect their craft and their point of view about the world. Whether it’s a printed magazine, digital content, a product, or an event, here at 23 Stories, we put an editorial lens on it. Right now, we’re working on the Teen Vogue Summit and we began the brainstorming process through the eyes of Teen Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Elaine Welteroth.

In the old world, marketing departments would dream up events and then beg the editorial teams to participate. Today, we invent the experience with the editors because they know their audience and what their consumers want, which is ultimately what our clients want — that access to our content with an editorial POV. We have this access that no one else has.

If we can reinvent how we tap into that editorial sensibility and are smart about how we monetize and offer it to the world, making it easy and fun with work with us, then we’ll win. We’ve created an agency where our editors are creatives and there’s an incredible distribution across our brands. And people are responding to it — they understand the power of Condé Nast. We’ve always been known for our content and marketing prowess, but now with Pop2Life, we’re unstoppable.
 

 
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Erica Boeke is a writer, author, sports-lover, lady boss, entrepreneur, and VP of Strategy at 23 Stories Experience Agency.


 
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Topics: go beyond, interview, brand experiences

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