BELLA Magazine’s Courtenay Hall on Accomplishing the Seemingly Impossible
NEW YORK—On a scale of intensity from 1 to 10, in the publishing business, launching a self-funded magazine in New York is pushing 11. Despite being told repeatedly that the project is going to be a mission impossible, Courtenay Hall did it anyway.
Hall is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of BELLA New York Magazine, BELLALAMag.com, and special correspondent for “Celebrity Page TV.” She spoke to Epoch Times about her journey in publishing and how she managed to accomplish her dreams while raising a family.
Unlike other glossy magazines, BELLA, which launched in 2011, speaks to the average New York woman who aspires to greater things while trying to balance practical life issues and a budget that may not be in the ball park of Ivanka Trump.
The idea came to Hall in her living room one day, when she realized that most of the magazines available to women were very similar in that they preached an unobtainable beauty and lifestyle that in reality only speaks to a very limited demographic.
“I think that the magazines out there are very similar—they are going after the 0.01 percent, but what about the rest of us? We want to look and feel beautiful, and I don’t have to be wearing a $3,000 pair of shoes in order to feel beautiful. So the approach with BELLA was to be very aspirational but obtainable. And I don’t think that anyone else is giving that message,” she said.
The day she spoke to Epoch Times she was doubly excited because the magazine was hours away from a design overhaul—a move which Hall sprang on her close-knit team just before the July/August issue was due to go to print. Her enthusiasm is contagious and one gets the feeling that while she is a hard taskmaster, her energy is more than partly responsible for her ability to push through the limitations and doubts that everyone else seemed to have about the magazine succeeding.
“Everyone said, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s going to fail. You’re going to go up against major magazines,'” she recalls. “I may have been a bit naive, but I said, ‘Yes, I think that we can.’ So BELLA was born literally out of our house six years ago.”
Forging the Dream
To be fair, Hall came to the publishing industry with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Her drive and work ethic subsequently resulted in a stellar record in advertising sales at luxury shelter magazines such as Metropolitan Home, Elle Decor, and Better Homes & Gardens, the latter being where she sold $1 million in advertising in three months. She was also part of the New York team that launched Rosie O’Donnell’s national lifestyle magazine ROSIE.
Increasingly, she found herself dreaming of being involved on the other side of the business as well.
“Doing ad sales was great, but that was me making money for somebody else. I wanted to be on the creative side, I wanted to think of the content and execute the content and the covers,” she said, also mentioning that she has always loved writing.
Hall truly believes that there is nothing in the New York tri-state area market (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) like BELLA magazine. And even though she thought that it might take her and the team between 5 and 20 years to truly succeed, she was willing to take that chance.
The plan was always to go national with a bunch of regionals, so that following the Los Angeles edition launch in 2016, Miami will be next in 2017. Then Dallas, Washington, and Chicago—essentially every major market, since the message works everywhere, according to Hall. Most of the content will be the same, apart from possibly the cover photo’s and the street style photo-editorials.
“I think that that’s why BELLA has done so well, because our tag line is ‘beauty defined by you.’ So we want the readers to define beauty in their own lives,” she said.
The Beauty in Her Life
While she is partial to taking extra care of her hair, in terms of personal style, Hall prefers to be defined by all things that are beautiful in her life—her family and her positive outlook. She and her husband, who is a partner in the business, have three children and are living close to her mother-in-law, without whom she suspects that raising three children would have been a much greater challenge.
“It takes a village,” Hall said, about raising a family, with a laugh that ended on a note of cheerful nervousness, alluding to the challenges faced by any working mother seeking to attain that elusive work-life balance.
In terms of her own fashion sense and style, Hall credits her mother for instilling in her the idea that one must look one’s best at all times. Her mother was strict about what she was allowed to wear, with jeans and T-shirts being out of the question. Unsurprisingly, Hall was voted Best Dressed in high school, and while she admits to now wearing jeans on weekends, the style etiquette has stayed with her.
“I think fashion is not about a product or a brand, but it’s about your eye. It’s all about being able to put it together, and a lot of women struggle with that. So in BELLA we try to put together looks that are affordable yet still aspirational—so that you can recreate a look that doesn’t break the bank,” she said.
Hall points out that New York is a city full of women who wear just about every style, which is also why she feels, “You really can’t put the New York woman in one spot.”
There is, of course, also the unavoidable truth that having a celebrity on the cover of a magazine sells. This is no different in the case of BELLA, although Hall emphasizes that the images are not photo-shopped to the extent that they are in other magazines.
There is no shortage of famous faces who have been supportive since the launch of BELLA. In fact, Hall is amazed by the support from celebrities, and is quick to point out that BELLA has grown through the kindness of others. Talking with Hall for any amount of time, it immediately becomes obvious that she has the kind of personality that attracts others to join her in her vision.
The first cover was Denise Richards, and since then, Jessica Alba, Taraji P. Henson, Rob Lowe, Olivia Munn, and Maria Shriver are among the many celebrities who have either graced the cover or have been featured in the magazine. The current May/June issue features actress Jaime Pressly with minimal make-up and a down-to-earth attitude that undoubtedly resonates with the BELLA reader.
What Really Matters
Apart from the aesthetic beauty, what Hall is really interested in celebrating is the inner beauty, something that is a result of living a good life, which should also make room for giving back.
“What’s more beautiful than helping somebody else?” said Hall.
In terms of form, the magazine has the usual sections: features on celebrities, style, health, travel, dining, beauty products, and philanthropy. The real difference is in the overall message.
“I think that what makes BELLA very different is that we are tackling beauty in such a new way,” Hall said, adding that not everyone is going to be “model-beautiful” and it is unrealistic for women to be constantly reminded of that, because we all look different.
“It doesn’t really matter what you look like, if the main things aren’t there for you. I think that women need to find that in their own lives and I don’t think it should be dictated,” she said.
While the magazine continues to grow, Hall has also taken on new roles. Since 2015, Hall has also been in front of the camera as special style correspondent for “Celebrity Page TV,” which allows her to spread the word about the brand.
At the core of Hall’s accomplishments there is more than just a belief in her own vision. She mentioned that although not many people speak about God, her belief plays a huge role in her life, and also fuels her belief in herself.
“I owe everything to His grace, because this shouldn’t have been a success—as everyone has reminded me many times,” Hall said. Following that, what inspires her is making a difference through her message and by example.
“I don’t want to leave this Earth and not have put out my message. I want it to be positive and upbeat, and I want women to feel that you can be told ‘No’ or you could be told ‘You’re crazy, you can’t launch a magazine,’ but it can happen if you really believe in yourself. It’s about having a dream and having the guts to follow that dream,” she said.