Rianna Middleton

How Condé Nast’s Khadija Bush Balances Innovation and Intuition

charisse-kenion-495825-unsplashKhadija Bush is a senior director of marketing at Condé Nast. She graduated from Michigan State University in 2010 with a degree in communications. After graduation, Khadija began her career in Detroit working at Infused Public Relations & Events as an account manager. She went on to gain agency experience at GlobalHue working in branded entertainment and engagement. She worked as a freelancer on and off in production roles for various event companies in New York. In 2016, she jumped head first into the world of media by taking a job as a senior producer of brand partnerships at Complex.

Last July, she began her role at Condé Nast, where she works on the business side of the company’s various media brands, including Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She helps fill some of the most well-known magazines in publishing with advertisements, working with clients to find the best placements across print and digital channels. I talked to her about what innovation looks like at a media giant like Condé Nast and how a simple mantra of wanting to love her work has guided her throughout her professional career.

Why did you decide to enter the media industry, specifically in fashion?
It was kind of an accident. I was a student at MSU majoring in communications and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Then, I got a summer internship at Def Jam Recordings working in publicity. I worked on press releases, press kits and ran random errands, but I also got to sit in on listening sessions with artists. I got to meet artists like Rihanna, Fabolous and Ne-Yo. It taught me primarily that if you want to be in this industry, you have to work hard. The pay will arrive much later.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
What excites me the most is working on multiple brands. I can do something with The New Yorker, but it’s an ad for Maserati. I’ve found that I need variety. I don’t like doing the same thing every day. My work varies from launch parties to working with brands that want to advertise or have events with one of our publications.

I’ve had a few people tell me I’m crazy for getting a journalism degree. Has anyone ever told you you’re crazy for working in media, and if so, what do you say to them?
For starters, my father was against me working in media. My family doesn’t really know what I do; it’s not simple to explain. I think I’ve shown with my actions and being in this industry for almost ten years that you have to do things that you’re passionate about. I genuinely have to like what I do, so to me, it’s okay to do those things.

Is your work affiliated with Condé Nast’s agency CNX? Why does it exist?
No, CNX is a separate in-house events agency. They handle big events for the company like New York Fashion Week and larger vendors that have bigger budgets. There are certain projects and clients that need additional services that our regular marketing team can’t provide. CNX can execute on much larger ideas that require many more details. 

The state of the media is changing rapidly, and we hear about the end of journalism and layoffs every day. How is Condé Nast navigating this shift?
I think you have to look at it from both ways. No matter what, times are changing, so you’re going to have to adjust to what’s currently trending. With a brand like Vogue, advertisers are dying to have a placement in the September issue. Condé Nast’s brands have a clear market that is craving that content. You have to assess it brand by brand and it depends on demographics. If you’re targeting a younger demographic, you need to push for digital. For older, richer demographics, print is actually better.

How are you and Condé Nast trying to be innovative in your marketing efforts?
One thing is tapping into influencers, looking for great people outside the brands themselves for people to tell the story and tie it all together. Being able to find people that can mirror your brand’s strategy and getting them to get behind it and support it is really important.

What’s it like to work on the business side of media? Do you ever find yourself clashing with editorial?
It’s difficult and I think there’s always going to be an adjustment period. When I have a client that’s asking for a placement, I work with the editorial team before we even sell the deal.

On the business side of things, there’s a difference between editorial and what we do. We keep the lights on and we allow for photoshoots to occur because that costs dollars that advertisers bring in. It’s getting better and some brands are better than others. When we do something successfully, we can almost create a template for next time. Instead of creating a huge new idea, I just see if they can promise one organic post or one homepage takeover for a client.

We all need to sit down, brainstorm and collectively think about what we can feasibly do that will keep the client happy.

What is some advice you’d give to your college-age self?
The main thing I’d tell myself is don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t look how you thought it would. I had roles and jobs at first that I hated. I would think, “This project is awful and it’s taking every bit of my energy”, but later on, you find out you’re building an important skill set or the experience has provided a lesson learned. Another thing is that all of your projects aren’t going to be a success.

Admit to making mistakes and then move forward. I would think I could come in and get that first job and get all these promotions, but it took a long time for me to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to work. You have to have enough flexibility with yourself if it isn’t what you dreamed of initially.

This interview was edited for content and clarity.

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