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A Girl’s Best Friend

Alumna Michele Promaulayko, the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health magazine, brings her 1.5 million-plus readers must-have information on health, nutrition, sex, and fitness.

Michele Promaulayko
Women’s Health transcends its title,” says Michele Promaulayko. “Our mission is to help readers live a better life by setting up guideposts for them: take care of your body and mind to look and feel your best.”  Photography by Deborah Feingold

“Sleek Arms!” “Flat Sexy Abs!” “Hot Body Fast!”

Sounds like a lot to promise a woman. But if anyone is going to come through for her, especially when New Year’s resolutions are beginning to feel like a millstone, it’s Michele Promaulayko. As the vice president and editor-in-chief of Women’s Health magazine, Promaulayko RC’93 brings her 1.5 million-plus readers must-have information on health, nutrition, and fitness that eclipses what other women’s magazines put behind their alluring covers.

Women’s Health—Advertising Age’s Magazine of the Year in 2009 for the excellence of its content and for its business model (making sizable revenue gains when the rest of the industry was in free fall)—also delivers “service” articles on beauty and style, finance and careers, sex and relationships. The publication, which also won the 2011 National Magazine Award for general excellence, distinguishes itself, too, for its investigative journalism, such as the story that looked at returning female war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the lack of health care options for them.

Women’s Health transcends its title,” says Promaulayko, who arrived in 2008 after nine years at Cosmo­politan. “Our mission is to help readers live a better life by setting up guideposts for them: take care of your body and mind to look and feel your best. We speak to women in their 20s and 30s, and they are active, ambitious, curious women who are full of zeal.”

The same could be said of Promaulayko, who thrives on the up-tempo life she leads inside and outside the doors of 733 Third Avenue, the Manhattan offices of Rodale, publisher of Women’s Health. Her job, as mentor Kate White, the editor-in-chief of Cosmo, once put it, is akin to white-water rafting: thrillingly unpredictable and fast paced. And that’s just fine with Promaulayko. “I took this job cognizant that it comes with responsibility and stress and pressure,” she says. “But I feel invigorated by it.”

One has only to witness her presiding over a meeting with top editors to plan an issue of the magazine, which is published 10 times a year, to appreciate her enthusiasm—and talent. As members of her staff audition story ideas for her, she responds with encouraging follow-up questions, a good measure of humor (much of it self-deprecating), and a deft knack for quickly honing the idea to make it appropriate for Women’s Health. Promaulayko knows all too well that in the crowded publishing world of women’s magazines, in which some titles appear to be clones of one another, health and wellness are the flavors of the month, even among magazines not known for covering them. As it becomes more of a challenge for Women’s Health to convey its distinctiveness, Promaulayko has to be vigilant that stories are well articulated and appropriate for “the brand.” Indeed, her bountiful capacity for creating stories, for getting “the angle” for them just right, is no doubt a big reason she was hired by David Zinczenko, the editorial director of the magazine and editor-in-chief of its brother publication, Men’s Health. “If you are going to succeed in this business,” she says, “you have to have ideas. Ideas are the currency of what we do.”

Promaulayko knew what she wanted to do early on. As a teenager growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, raised with her older sister, Margo Promaulayko Bryk RC’90, by their single mom, she fell in love with magazines. By the time she transferred to Rutgers as a sophomore from East Carolina University, eager to return to the bustle of the Northeast, she wanted nothing less than a career in magazines and a life in New York City. As she accrued credits for her major in journalism, Promaulayko jumped on New Jersey Transit bound for the big city to intern at magazines such as McCall’s, Harper’s Bazaar, and Sassy. After leaving Rutgers, she broke in with YM and Teen People before moving to Cosmopolitan, named executive editor before she was 30. She also authored the book Cosmo’s Guide to Red-Hot Sex (Hearst Books, 2008).

During her first year at Women’s Health, Promaulayko wrote another book, Look Better Naked! (Rodale Books, 2009), a primer for women to shore up their confidence before launching into the prescribed six-week eating and workout plan, something from which she herself benefited. “It was a frenzied, self-critical time that lent authenticity to my mission for the book,” she says. Indeed, the biggest job perk is having a front-row seat to learn the latest in health, nutrition, and wellness—and acting on the knowledge. Promaulayko works out frequently, usually within her apartment building in Chelsea and during summer weekends at her Long Beach Island home. And she lives in the greatest city in the world for food and restaurants, which she samples with ardor. If she doesn’t get the exercise in, if she gets weak for a glass of red wine or chocolate, Promaulayko, an avid snowboarder and stand-up paddle enthusiast, isn’t too hard on herself. “I face the same challenges that readers do. I get in slumps. But, my job reminds me that every day presents an opportunity to recommit to a healthy lifestyle.”
                                                                                                                                                      — David W. Major