‘Real Simple’s’ Kristin van Ogtrop On Why You Should Always Have A Plan B

This week we were lucky enough to sit down with Kristin van Ogtrop, the Managing Editor of Real Simple Magazine. Since taking that position in 2003 the magazine has achieved popular and critical acclaim and has received six National Magazine Award nominations in the category of General Excellence. In addition to leading the magazine, van Ogtrop oversees all brand extensions, which have grown to include a robust website with unique, daily content; tablet editions; special issues; books; licensed products; and mobile apps.

Van Ogtrop also writes a personal blog, Adventures in Chaos, on realsimple.com and is the author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom (Little, Brown, 2010).

Before joining Real Simple, van Ogtrop was Executive Editor of Glamour and has also held positions at Vogue, Travel & Leisure and Premiere.  Van Ogtrop received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Virginia and an M.A. in English from Columbia University. Kristin lives in the New York suburbs with her husband, who is also a magazine editor, and their three sons and a small zoo of animals.

This is why we thought Kristin would be the perfect person to interview for TheGrindstone with her amazing career in the highly intense field of magazine journalism. Plus Real Simple focuses on helping busy women bring balance and organization to their lives so we thought we’d get some tips from the master.


Did you picture yourself in a career like this growing up?

No and yes.  No in that I never imagined I would be working in midtown Manhattan, wearing high heels and eating sushi once a week.  But yes in that I have always loved reading and writing–now I just get paid to do it.

Do you think being a woman in this business has worked for or against you? Do you think there is a prejudice or some people in journalism or media may look down on so-called women’s magazines? 

I don’t think being a woman has ever worked against me, because there are so many successful women’s magazines and brands—staffed largely by smart women–that you can fairly easily forge a path for yourself that is both interesting and sustainable.  As for the prejudice:  absolutely.  From time to time it makes me completely nuts, especially when I see how powerful some of the women’s brands (mine included) are, and how passionate the consumer base is.  Frankly, on a day-to-day basis, what you are going to wear to work and cook for dinner has a much bigger impact on your life than a presidential campaign or a war in a foreign country.  Perhaps I just tell myself that to justify my women’s service journalism existence.  But there have been a couple of times that I’ve met U.S. Senators and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who have told me that Real Simple is their absolute favorite magazine, and then I begin to feel downright superior about our quotidian content.

 I know Real Simple has done a lot of research on women’s struggle with work/life balance and managing their time. How do you deal with balancing everything? What are your tips for other women? 

Balance to me is a completely hilarious concept.  I don’t think I am balancing anything.  I am simply trying to cram a lot of things into my life—running a magazine, raising three boys, trying to give my husband some attention from time to time—without being committed to an institution or sent to jail.  But kidding aside, I have a lot of support (my work hours are sane—ditto my husband’s–and my babysitter should get some sort of humanitarian prize).  I think women need to get up every day and ask themselves:  What is my goal today?  Maybe it’s to make it to the PTA meeting and maybe it’s to impress the boss with a killer presentation.  Identify your goal, keep your expectations in check, and plan accordingly.

What are some of your biggest challenges and how do you deal with them in your career?

Time management.  I often feel like I am in meetings all day long.  In 12 short years Real Simple has grown into a powerhouse brand and now it’s like an octopus with a gazillion tentacles.  I struggle a lot with how to be involved in every element of the brand, while keeping the 30,000 foot perspective, and not having back-to-back meetings every single day of the year.

Can you tell us about things you have done you considered to be a failure in your career and how you learned from them?

I have a master’s degree in English (an expensive, relatively useless diversion) and have written two unpublished novels.  What I learned:  I do not have what it takes to be an English professor or a novelist.  You always need a Plan B.

As a manager, what is your strategy?

Hire good people and get out of their way.  There is nothing that makes me happier than to say to one of my direct reports:  ”Whatever you decide is fine with me.”  I also happen to have 5 extremely good direct reports, which helps!

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    • Lynn Longo

      I absolutely love the rug on which Kristin Von Ogtrop is sitting, in the picture in the Editor’s note May 2012 Real Simple magazine. Where can I buy that rug runner?