We want to be The Lad Bible for middle-aged women.
Media industry veteran Emilie McMeekan noticed in 2015 that most publications she was reading had a huge blind spot: women ages 35 to 55, or “midults.” These women had plenty to say, but were being ignored by websites aimed at millennials. Meanwhile, traditional women’s magazines weren’t relevant to this digitally literate group.
This spring, McMeekan teamed up with fellow journalist Annabel Rivkin to launch The Midult, a new media venture aimed at this demographic. She spoke with the Innovation Group about the changing tide of women’s news.
Can you give us some background on why you launched The Midult?
Annabel Rivkin and I had been friends and colleagues for about 15 years. Annabel also runs her own storytelling agency called Bee Works, which works for Jo Malone and Dior and other high-profile luxury clients. Up until recently I was the deputy editor of Tatler, and before that I was the features editor of the Evening Standard, which is a London newspaper. Annabel is still the editor-at-large at Tatler, and she also does a beauty column for the Evening Standard magazine. So we cut across all the traditional media.
The reason we founded The Midult was because the conversations we were having with our friends and our colleagues in our age group just weren’t chiming with what was aimed at us in the media. And we realized that the cultural underestimation of this generation, and this demographic, had left a huge space. We decided we wanted to fill it.
Annabel is an expert in tone of voice, and I’m all about the ideas. So it’s a great combination. A lot of the stuff that we’re writing about comes from the conversations that we’re having with each other and the conversations that we’re having with women our age. We’ve realized that we are all crazed with anxiety and we want to laugh. And that the life that’s being presented to us is one full of AGAs and HRT, and that’s not what we want.
I find that idea of the gap in reaching these women really interesting. Why doesn’t a publication like this already exist?
It’s driven by the fact that midults and this generation of women are the first generation to grow old without checking out. So there has to be a shift. Because all of the products that are being made and created out there, we’re using them. And even though they might be aimed at millennials, we’re embracing them. Just look at the Snapchat numbers—30% of Snapchat users are over 35. Traditional media hasn’t caught up with that. We’ve grown up digitally literate and hyper-connected, and the messages that brands are sending us don’t ring true. They’re not uniquely focused on or targeted at us.
What are some of the forces that make this generation from this phase of life 20 or 30 years ago?
I think it’s absolutely the digital engagement and the expanding of the workplace for women. It’s not perfect, obviously. But it has changed—we’re financially confident. And I think that makes a huge difference.
We are just as likely to be talking about the latest Justin Bieber single as we are to be talking about whether we’d like to buy a new sofa, and we grew up with hip-hop and the internet. I think there’s no limit to the conversations that you can have with women these days, and I think that the media is slow to catch up. The idea that there’s just one women to market to—the “busy working woman,” the “busy working mother”—that just isn’t true anymore.
How do you try to balance the wide perspective of the range of women that fall in this age set?
Again, I think it has to do with the breadth of conversation. We’ve launched in beta, and it’s a discovery period to produce a truly authentic voice. We’re going to cover all the subjects; nothing is taboo. We’re all bound together by the desire for connection, and as well as by anxiety. And the flip side of that is laughter. Talking about things just makes you feel better, and that’s why the bedrock of The Midult is the forum, where women can go to talk about things and share their voices. We’re building a community, so it takes a village.
What has the feedback from your readers been like so far?
Overwhelmingly, it’s “Thank god you’re here.” Which is great. We’ve started doing a daily newsletter, and I’ve had people come up to me and people that email us and they say, “Oh my god, you’re saying what I’m thinking. How did you know that I was going to be worried about not making a will, or that it’s payday and we’re worried?” Or whatever it is.
We’re trying to be as authentic as possible. We have the advantage in the sense of it being just two people making decisions about things. For the moment, we don’t have to pitch ideas to 15 people and see whether or not they get through. So we’re extremely lucky in that sense. It’s fresh.
Are there any topics that have been particularly successful?
Yes, there’s a lot about the agonizing “mutton or lamb” question [Note: “Mutton dressed as a lamb” is a UK idiom for an older woman wearing styles meant for a younger woman]. I think that’s a big thought when you suddenly turn 40 and you think that you can’t wear certain things. There’s been a lot of very funny talk about that. And there’s a lot about anxiety, about stress. We had a hilarious woman who said that every time her husband was late, she planned her funeral outfit.
Actually, a thread about meditation was very big as well. We published a list of all of the apps that were recommended most by medical professionals, because it was incredibly useful. So it’s a lot about anxiety and worry, and a lot about fashion and the change of life. And divorce: we’re the divorcing generation, too. It’s a time where you question a lot about where you are and where you want to be. We like to say that midults exist at the intersection of potential and anxiety.
What’s interesting for us is that we are not just uploading traditional women’s magazine content online. We want to be the community of Mumsnet, but with the shareability of BuzzFeed. I’m a big fan of The Lad Bible, which is for 16- to 34-year-old men. We talked really early on about wanting to be The Lad Bible for middle-aged women.
What values do midult women have? How do they differ from millennials or other generations?
I think they’re ethical without being worried, which is a point of difference with millennials. The women that I’m talking about want karma on the side, but they don’t want to shout about it.
They also value kindness, and they want to help each other. That is something they have in common with millennial women. I grew up in a world where the message from the generations above was that other women were a threat. And I think that is not true of millennial women. It’s an interesting move, toward wanting to help each other. Everything is a hashtag, a call to arms. It’s a strong force.
The other thing that’s interesting is that these women are age-agnostic. They don’t see things as not being relevant to them. They are evolving, rather than disappearing. There’s a saying: In their older days, men became distinguished and women were extinguished. Now, we’re saying, “Oh, they’re Snapchatting. I’m going to go have a look.” Like I said before, they’re growing old but not checking out. They don’t say, this is not for me. They say okay, how will this be interesting to me? Which I think is great.
One trend that we’re following is the evolution of women’s media. Several websites have launched trying to address a new, more inclusive range of interests that might appeal to women. What is your take on that?
I totally agree. We are really interested in artificial intelligence, for example, which is something that would normally be written about by men’s publications. But as far as we’re concerned, we are interested in it because it will affect our lives and it is the future. We don’t filter out subjects based on what’s women’s interest and men’s interest. If we’re interested, we will write about it. We don’t have that filter, effectively.
What are your main goals for the site moving forward?
We want to be able to expand our offerings, so we’ll do video and like I said take it 3D. We also want to do events, to move into the phygital arena so that we can actually have the community in real life. And we also want expand to reach the midult man—it’s exciting.