Laurel Touby, mediabistro.com Creator, Talks About Overcoming Obstacles, Persevering, Success, Body Image, Health, Societal Misconceptions of Women, and Her Goals For the Future

Laurel Touby photographed by Stacy Kranitz

You may be wondering why we interviewed mediabistro.com creator, Laurel Touby for our blog. We will tell you why…Laurel is an inspirational woman!

Laurel wasn’t handed success on a silver spoon. In fact, she has said herself that she felt like an outsider and didn’t have the right pedigree to make it in New York. Her hard work and determination paid off. In 2007, she sold mediabistro.com for $23 million dollars. Mediabistro.com started as a gathering place for professionals in journalism, publishing, and other media-related industries. Laurel’s story is one of finding her passion, working hard, overcoming obstacles, persevering, and succeeding.

Laurel was born in Oahu, Hawaii; grew up in Miami; graduated from Smith College in Economics; and moved to New York City in 1985. She started her career in New York at mega-ad agency Young & Rubicam as a media planner. She went on to Working Woman Magazine as an assistant editor, to BusinessWeek as a staff writer, then to Executive Female magazine as a business editor and to Conde Nast’s Glamour magazine as a columnist. In 1994, she started a series of cocktail parties, which would later evolve into the mediabistro.com web site. But in the beginning, she never dreamed it would become as big as it did.

I interviewed Laurel by phone, and I can tell you that she is intelligent, funny, witty, sassy, kind, open, ambitious, direct, and an insanely successful businesswoman. Oh, sure, she’s more than all that, but those are the first words that come to my mind.

 

Laurel, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, and NPR’s David Folkenflik photographed by Isabelle-Mills Tannenbaum
 

I’ve read that you felt like an outsider and that you didn’t have the right pedigree when you first moved to New York, what drove you and continued to drive you to succeed?

New York was a scary place for me when I first arrived here, and not just because it was the 1980’s and quite dangerous. The danger for me was in all the hefty egos walking around. There were a lot of young hot shots, people who had gone to all the right schools, who knew all the right people, who were very literary and they were intimidating! I never felt less intelligent than they were. I just felt that I was starting out with a handicap because I grew up in a cultural wasteland called Miami, Florida. But, I am very competitive and believe that if you try hard enough, then you have the opportunity to succeed. So, I had this crazy idea that I could catch up to them. Complete hubris and ignorance kept me going; it was blithe ignorance.

What keeps you going when you get down?

I believe in what I’m doing. Positive feedback feeds me. But, on the other hand, every bit of negative feedback sets me back. In the beginning, if someone made fun of mediabistro.com in a wry, snobby New York way, it would hurt me for days. People would often say, “You host those parties for ‘desperate freelancers,’” and that wounded me terribly.

How did you deal with people who spoke to you in that manner?

I was defensive and aggressive. But it also pushed me to be more vigilant. I thought, “hmmm, there must be some truth to what they are saying. Why are they getting that impression and how can I change it?” Then, I would just strive to do better. And, I took hope and strength from the positive things people were saying, too. That made me high, that positive energy.

What misconceptions do you think society has of successful women in general?

I believe that women’s personalities are kept in check by the fears and biases of men. Read the book On Lies, Secrets and Silences by Adrienne Rich to understand what I mean. We are scolded not to get angry in the workplace. “You are too scary,” and so we express ourselves in subtle ways. Then we are told we are passive-aggressive or manipulative. But how else can we behave if we cannot be accepted when we are direct?

Jon Fine and Laurel in Cape Town, South Africa, climbing Table Mountain

Who inspires you?

No one in particular. I see everyone as merely human. I used to idolize people who I met who were show-offy smart or obviously successful. I no longer pedestal anyone. However, I am awed by any person, whether a desert nomad, an artist, a banker or even a bank robber, who really lives, and not just talks, her own brand of ethics and beliefs. People who have internal integrity inspire me, so long as they’re not abusive or mass murderers!

You are a busy woman. How do you stay healthy?

Plan out your weeks. Look at your calendar and write in appointments with yourself every day. I don’t care if you don’t like your job, you’re in a bad marriage, or your kids are driving you crazy; every day, you need one hour with your mind and body. I joined Weight Watchers. I love it. If you follow it, it works!

Obviously, you’ve been an extremely successful businesswoman. What traits do you think are most important to being successful?

Persistence, holding yourself to high standards, benchmarking what you do against others, not being afraid to do something similar to what others are doing only with a twist, constantly striving to be better, being flexible, inquisitive, and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Out of all the places you traveled while on sabbatical – where is the most memorable and why?

Africa was pretty exciting. There are so many opportunities there for the people to lead happy and fulfilled lives. They just need to get the education and training to self-govern. The people who are in power seem to be repeating the same mistakes over and over again. There is a system of tribal patronage that creates favoritism and prevents government from serving the people. I hope they figure things out before all the animals and nature are destroyed.

In Rwanda tracking gorillas

What do you like to do in your down time?

I’m actually stressing over why I am allowing myself so much down time. No seriously, I’m spending a lot of time on what I call “social candy,” having meetings, meetings, meetings, and talking, talking, talking. I’m a person of action, so I’m not sure where all these meetings are going. But, I guess I will figure it out sooner or later.

What is the single best luxury you have? What would be the last luxury you would give up? (I gave Laurel examples such as record or art collection, valet parking, travel, etc.)

My health. I would pay anything to maintain it. I could give up taxis, going out, and travel. I could always travel in my mind by reading books. I take that back. I may not be able to give up my new loft apartment! My husband and I bought it a year ago and have not even moved in yet because we’re doing a gut renovation. Another luxury is not having to work every single day of the week. I work 2 days a week at mediabistro.com now. Prior to this, I worked every day for 26 years. I have freedom, space, and breathing room now. That is an incredible luxury.

Have you ever struggled with self-esteem or body image issues in the past? If so, how did you reach the point of accepting and loving yourself the way you are?

Or course I have felt inadequate. Like any other New York woman, I see the naturally tall and slender 19-year-old models walking around. And there are fresh crops of them arriving every day! It was really sobering when I first came here because I was accustomed to being considered attractive and suddenly I was completely invisible. Since then, I have learned that every woman in New York who is over thirty feels it. The invisibility. On top of that, your metabolism slows by one percent a year and it’s harder to stay in shape. So, my attitude is don’t sweat what you can’t change and work harder at what you can. There is a lot you can control. But it’s important to recognize the things you cannot control and try not to be too hard on yourself over those.

Readers want to know where you shop for clothes and where do you buy your favorite jeans?

I like to shop at Barneys, Bergdorf, Pucci, and random small shops that no one would recognize the names of. I like Earl and J Brand Jeans. J Brand Jeans seem to fit me perfectly.

What are some of your beauty must haves?

Eucerin moisturizer and any brand of legitimate UVA/UVB sunscreen to protect my skin.

Photographed by Diana Levine

What does a normal morning look like for you?

Every day, the first thing I do is have coffee at Gimme! Coffee and read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I could spend two hours reading the papers, seriously. I want to read things the editors have carefully curated, not just stumble over random things on the Web. Then, I either work out or go to the office. Then, it’s off to the races.

Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of and what is your greatest achievement?

I’m really proud to finally have some recognition for building mediabistro.com into a great company. I wish the recognition had been easier to come by! But most people really didn’t give me any credit till I sold the company. Then, adulation poured in. It seems a bit cynical. I feel that I now have some of those wry New Yorkers’ grudging respect. Grudging being the keyword.

What goals do you have for the future and what are you excited about right now?

On the personal front, I’m working on getting into top shape. After all, I have been traveling for eight months, so I couldn’t really control my routine the way I wanted to. Externally, I want to change the world. I don’t know in what arena that will occur yet though. I want to do something that intellectually feeds me and that “feeds” the world as well. I’m excited to have time finally to focus on that more.

*Thank you, Laurel! You are amazing to work with and incredibly gracious!

**Mediabistro.com was sold to Jupitermedia.com, which became WebMediaBrands.com

***What is your proudest achievement? Who inspires you and why? How do you overcome obstacles? How do you stay healthy?

Plus-Size Models Unite is for ALL women of every size, shape, ethnicity, and age.

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