Cosmo Editor Nandini Bhalla On Running A Fashion Mag & What She Learned Along The Way

Cosmo Editor Nandini Bhalla On Running A Fashion Mag & What She Learned Along The Way

There is an unwritten rule in the media—you don’t ever mention the competition. No other publication or its editors and writers. At POPxo, we believe otherwise. When conceptualising POPxo Women Who Win, our Founder & CEO Priyanka Gill was clear that we will celebrate ALL women we find trailblazing and inspirational. One of the first names that came to mind was Nandini Bhalla, Editor, Cosmopolitan India, and the Digital Editor for Harper’s Bazaar, India and Brides Today

Along with being one of the most influential people in the media, Nandini has a strong social media following, with over 100k followers on Instagram, where she posts about beautiful dresses, animals who need help, and what it takes to put together a magazine (now remotely) month after month. 

Nandini believes that most things can be done. This is why, at the age of 24, when most people are struggling in their first job, she successfully launched a new magazine in India. Years later, she cannot believe that she pulled it off, but in the way that she talks about her work and how much she is willing to dedicate herself to it every day, it’s easy to see why her career got off to such a roaring start.

Armed with her nine cups of tea, several to-do lists, and the resolution to learn one new thing every day, Nandini gets it done at work, plays Monopoly with her sister, gets some self-care time in and reads children’s books for comfort—all in one day! As part of our POPxo Women Who Win series, we couldn’t think of a better person to give you a sneak peek into the life of a media maven. Excerpts from our conversation with Nandini: 

You’re managing three publications at once. What does an average day look like for you?

So, of course, we are part of this new normal now. My day and night tend to merge into one of late. The first thing I do when I wake up, around nine, is that I have two to three cups of steaming hot tea. I’m a huge tea addict, and that just gets me going. 

I like to spend the first hour of my day looking into what’s going on. So, I look into the news, I see what is going on with other publications, what’s happening on social media, etc. We start our calls in the morning around 11 and I think most of my day just goes on the phone. It is just constant back-to-back calls. 

I eat lunch at my desk. That is something I have always done because that is easily when things really pick up. Of late, I’m also having dinner at my desk. And, to be honest, before I actually know it, the day is kinda done. And I try to write a little bit every single day, even if it is only for five minutes or 10 minutes in the day. Because that is what brings me joy. And, while I love all of this frenzy, organising, coordinating, and figuring things out, I think those 10-15 minutes of actual writing is what makes me feel at peace. 

So, my day wraps around 10 on most days, maybe 11. And then, again, I like to do a bit of research. I’ll check the emails that I have missed because I tend to miss a lot of emails. I reply to all the WhatsApp messages. So, a lot of people will suddenly hear their phones ping at 1.30am. I’m a big fan of board games and card games, so before I sleep, I play a round of Monopoly with my sister. Or I call up a few friends and chat with them. Or I watch a very slow-paced show as it calms me down.

Between managing these editorial workloads and print issues and the daily hustle of the digital world, I’m curious to know about the methods or tools you use to stay organised and manage your time.

I am a manic list-maker. I have so many endless lists, and this is something I have learned over the years. I just started off by making one daily to-do list. And now I make a separate list for separate teams. But I also make a ton of lists for myself. I have a travel packing list. I have my own list of things to do—one is personal and one is professional. For the professional one, they’re just the things I need to check up or I need to approve. Whereas the personal list will have things like ‘call back’, ‘don’t forget to wish x happy birthday’, or ‘check the ticket prices for Bali’. And every now and then I send a voice note to myself. But I’m a huge fan of lists and that joy of using a neon marker and crossing something out, it just gives me energy! I love crossing things out. It gives me a sense of relief, like it’s done and now I’m moving on. So, yeah, I love making lists.

You were only 24 when you became the editor of 'Grazia'. What was that like, starting so young? And what have you learnt about managing people along the way?

You know, I actually think that I was rather foolish at that time! There’s a lot to be said about learning, about gaining sufficient experience before being given a lot of responsibility. I was extremely lucky to have been given those opportunities at a very young age. Obviously, I had enough experience in the sense that I had done fashion and beauty and features and everything. I truly enjoyed working so I really gave it my all and I worked extremely hard. But, I was still learning management skills, which ultimately only come after a few years. So, I was learning how to manage people and how to make things happen. 

What I have learnt now over the years is that people are everything and you are just one little dot. But it is the people who surround you who will make things happen. I have so much gratitude on a constant basis for the people who I get to work with. They are the ones who are making things happen because there is no way that I will be able to do any of this without the kind of talent, the dedication, and the hard work that my team puts in. So, I think the shift over the years kind of happened when I realised that there’s no leader in the world who’s a good leader without an excellent team. 

What would you say are the standout professional skills that have really helped you succeed along the way.

I think that the one thing that has possibly helped me is that I believe that most things are possible. I always say that I don’t like the word ‘no’ or ‘not possible’ or ‘can’t’, because I feel that most things can be done. So when I’m faced with a problem, I don’t think that this can’t be done. My response is to think of a solution. 

And another thing is that when I fall, and all of us fall, I don’t waste too much time wallowing in that. I quickly get up and I get going. So I think of the mistake or the fall, and what I did wrong in it, and I try to immediately fix it and learn from that. I think that is a very, very crucial quality in any profession. I do a lot of self-evaluation. I truly believe that the only real thing we can all do in life is to grow and be better and learn from our mistakes. So I take that bit extremely seriously. I don’t allow myself to get stuck in a negative pattern and I try to learn something new every single day. It could be something as simple as me Google-ing ‘how to deliver a speech better’ or ‘what are the five books that I should read right now’. I think it is a combination of all that. One really cannot tell! I think it takes many years for you to look back and say, ‘oh this is what I did right or that’s what I did wrong’. 

 

What would you consider to be your biggest professional achievement so far?

I think that launching a magazine at 24. I think we did the launch edition for Grazia India in the span of a month or a month-and-a-half maximum. I came in and we were meant to launch immediately. When I think back, I’m like ‘wow I have no idea how I ever did that’. I was 24, I had moved to a new city, I did not know enough people there. I was figuring things out and I was still learning along the way. But we launched that magazine! So that was an achievement that I’m truly proud of. 

And the most recent one was when we launched the Cosmo Work From Home issue just a few days after the lockdown. That was a very tumultuous time because nobody knew or expected this to actually happen. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty at that moment and I think that the team just took that risk. Today, we can think of it because we are seven months into it. But to think of that in the first week of April, that is something I’m very proud of. 

 

And what milestones are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I have been dying to write my first book. It has been on my mind for a couple of years and each time I try to get things moving, something else comes up so I don’t get the time to sit and write.  So, I’m really hoping that it happens in the next couple of years.

Do you have a piece of advice for anyone who’s starting out in the media industry?

I think my piece of advice would go with any industry, that there is no shortcut when it comes to hard work. We are living in a time where we want things to happen extremely fast. But, if you were to speak to any successful person, you would find that they have put in hard work and what you see on the outside doesn’t tell you what the real story is—there were disappointments, there were fears, and there were sacrifices.

The other thing is that many young people are influenced by negativity around them. I think that the voices that come to us from the outside and as well as the voices in our heads, when they are critical, they can actually pause the way of our thinking. So if you have a dream, you have to single-mindedly focus and ignore the voices around you. 

I really enjoy masking—I don’t know if that counts but I pop one on and I sit at my desk and I let it soak in for 20 minutes and then I wash it off. Talking to my mom also feels like self-care because she is so loving and so supportive and always in a good mood. She perks me up. And my late-night calls to my friends, it really puts me in a good mood and for me that’s self-care.

You have over 100k followers on Instagram. What is your approach to being a social media influencer?

I try to be as authentic as I can on my Instagram handle. I just try to have a bit of fun with it. When I joined Instagram, it was not meant to be a way to promote work. It was just a way to express myself. So I have never really taken it seriously. I say what I want to say. If I feel like being goofy, I’ll be goofy, if I feel like putting out something serious, I will totally do it. For me, there is no formula to it. It is just me having fun. When I had joined Instagram a couple of years ago, Instagram was not an influencing platform. It was meant to be for communication. So I have maintained that.

How do you stay fit? Do you have a fitness regimen? 

Nothing! I sit at my desk and I stare at my sneakers and I think that I really must take you out sometime soon and I don’t. A few days later, I will once again line up my shoes and say that we’d be going out and that we don’t go out and I do absolutely nothing. And that’s the honest fact and that’s bad. If I feel like I’ve become really unfit then what I like to do is to climb stairs. I will climb two to three flights of stairs and do it a couple of times and that’s the extent of my fitness regimen.

That’s refreshingly honest. Do you have a skincare routine? 

Yes! I have only recently begun to get a little serious about skincare. I was a soap and water kind of girl for the longest time because I thought I have oily skin so I don’t need to moisturise it, which is a myth. Then I met a lovely facialist, who was also the facialist for Kate Moss. She told me that you will wake up 10 years later and you’d regret that you did not look after your skin. So now I use under-eye cream religiously. I use a separate day moisturiser and a night moisturiser and beneath the moisturiser, I use a separate day serum and night serum. This is something I do every single day. And I can’t tell you what a huge difference it has made to my face. All these years that I was not using moisturiser thinking because my skin is oily, my skin was actually creating more oil in order to compensate for that. My skin feels a lot more balanced now. 

And the other thing is, which is actually a cliche and I never believed it but it’s true, drink a lot of water! Recently, I tried a little beauty experiment where for 15 days I drank water religiously. I’m not much of a water drinker. I drink a lot of tea. But I drank two to three litres of water every day and I can’t begin to tell you, my skin absolutely glowed. 

What are the three makeup products that you swear by?

I think that a good eyebrow pencil can really transform how your face looks. I have been through that phase where I wanted really thin brows so I got them threaded off. For me, a good brow pencil is an absolutely worthwhile investment. I always have a bright red lipstick and a light pink lipstick. For the red lipstick, I try to find the one that has a slightly orange tone to it. I have one from every brand. And, of course, mascara. To me, it just really opens up my eyes and makes me look more awake.

Do you do this every day? Do you dress up for work every day?

Absolutely not! Most of the days you will find me in comfortable pyjamas and I look totally unglamorous. But every once in a while inspiration will strike and I’ll be like, ‘enough’! Or if I’m on a Zoom call then I’d dress up a little bit. But on most days, I’m just aiming for comfort.

Are you a big reader? 

I enjoy reading and I end up reading a lot of children’s books. One of my favourites is Roald Dahl. I find that there are a lot of very important grains of truth in children’s books. I find them relaxing. So I have a bunch of beautiful children’s stories. I just find them so joyous and delightful! They have a very soothing effect. 

I also enjoy reading a bit of self-help. One of the books that I find really helped me is called Eat That Frog! It’s a classic self-help book and it talks about how if you were served a meal that you really want to eat, but also a frog that you didn’t want to eat, then what would you eat first? The general premise is to eat that frog first and get done with it. To finish off the tough task that we have been dreading at work or in personal life. Just get the big things out of the way. 

Another book that I have read at least five times is called Anthem by Ayn Rand. It talks about the spirit of man and the man’s mind. I read it maybe once a year or once every two years and it just fills me with a great sense of determination. 

And, finally, what does a perfect day look like to you?

The perfect day for me is in bed. I absolutely love my bed and I love sitting in my bed with a cup of tea, obviously, maybe on the phone or watching something lovely. I just think that the art of doing nothing or just lazing, and of being fed… what is more joyous than that? I think that is truly a great day.