Midwest Director, Vogue
Sitting in Wendy Levy’s 35th floor office in downtown Chicago is a treat. The view … the magazines … and especially Wendy, make it downright irresistible. Getting here did not happen overnight.
Wendy was born and raised in the Chicago area. From an early age she had a love of reading and often stole her older sister’s magazines. There was something about touching and feeling the stories in magazines, newspapers and books that she feels led to her passion for media and print.
Illinois was really her father’s choice for her college education. With three daughters, he wanted not only a good school, but also an affordable one. Once at Illinois, Wendy made it her home. She was a member of Sigma Delta Tau and served as PanHellenic Chair. “I liked meeting people from other houses,” Wendy recalled. She worked at the Daily Illini in the advertising department and was president of the Student Advertising Association.
Her experience at the Daily Illini opened her eyes to the world of advertising. Wendy initially thought she would be a writer or creative director, but instead she sold display advertising. And she sold a lot of it. Winning an award for the most sales in a special Homecoming issue opened her eyes to the possibilities. Wendy remarked, “I think I found my groove there, found my interest and really enjoyed it.”
Wendy fondly remembers Kim Rotzoll as the most difficult professor and Gordon White as the most inspirational. But even more, she remembers the intimacy of the college, the group projects and the hands-on experiences, like a media planning project for Miller Beer.
Wendy’s career path speaks to her determination. Her first job was with an advertising agency, working on media planning for Midas Muffler. While it wasn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, it did open doors and allowed her to gain experience that led to a job at the Chicago Sun-Times. She worked first in local real estate and was consistently promoted until a recommendation came that led her to a local publication: Chicago Magazine.
Wendy’s real interest was in national media, but it was very difficult for her to break through. Hard work and industry contacts finally earned her a connection to her first national magazine – Playboy, which was based in Chicago at the time. She worked directly with Christie Hefner. “I was very skeptical,” Wendy recalled, “but I thought you’ve got to start somewhere! It was wild and probably the most outrageous thing I’ve ever done in my life.” It proved to be a great experience and led to her next adventure, with Esquire magazine – her first publication job that was part of a publishing house – Hearst Corporation.
This change in publications fit with changes in her personal life – she was newly married, and while at Esquire, she gave birth to both of her children. After having her children, Wendy was interested in working part time – something unheard of in the industry at that time. A progressive president, Cathy Black, approved a job-share arrangement and a move to Country Living magazine. The part-time work continued with Harper’s Bazaar and later, with the launch of a new publication – Lifetime magazine.
When the Lifetime project folded two years later, Wendy planned to take a little time off. Her children were 10 and 8 at the time and she needed a breather. It didn’t last long, however. Hearst called again and offered her freelance work on a part-time basis.
A short time later, Wendy got a call from Conde Nast about Self magazine. She struck a deal to work 4 days a week and became Midwest manager. Five years into this position, Susan Plagemann was named Vice President and Publisher of the Conde Nast publication Vogue. “That was a big deal,” Wendy recalls. The two had worked together at Esquire and Lifetime. Susan called with a job offer and Wendy returned to working full time. “My kids were a little older,” Wendy said. “The timing was right.”
Wendy offers today’s students some very straightforward advice: “Get your foot in any door.” Experience sets people apart. And while your first job may not be your ideal job, you will learn from each experience. Wendy encourages students, “Work hard at each step along the way. Prove yourself.” Wendy believes hard work is the common denominator for success. “Show that you know how to work; that you know time management; that you know how to answer to someone. Nothing replaces experience.”
Where does Wendy see herself in five years? “I hope to see myself at Vogue for quite a while. I find this job so interesting. I’m happy! You can’t teach passion. My excitement and enthusiasm for media has never changed. It keeps me motivated.”
Wendy generously gives her time and talent to her alma mater by providing guidance to College of Media students who have interest in careers in advertising. Since reconnecting with her alma mater, she has offered to return to campus to lend her expertise to students in advertising and share her insights as the college launches its new Media Sales Certificate Program this fall. Wendy also serves on the college’s new volunteer leadership board, the College of Media Leadership Council.