It’s brainstorming day at TIME.
The TIME 100 is an annual issue we do profiling the 100 most interesting, influential, newsmaking, world-changing people of the past and coming year. (No, you’re not on the list. You were the person of the year; don’t be greedy.) It’s followed up by a celeb-stocked extravaganza in the swanky Time Warner building on Columbus Circle.
The TIME 100 is one of those brand-building business ideas that gets the bosses all hot and bothered and that the staff is then charged with executing. You must have some in your line of work. You know: the giant year-end sales event at your auto dealership. The Superbowl promo hand-delivering Nerf footballs to your satellite TV clients. The big supermarket roll-out for your bakery employer’s line of organic edamame brownies.
Working on team projects like these can be both thrilling and frustrating. Ours starts up with a round of brainstorming sessions, one for each category of influentials: Heroes & Pioneers, Builders & Titans, Artists & Entertainers, Leaders & Revolutionaries, Scientists & Thinkers. Everyone on staff, from interns to top editors, toss out their suggestions: Nelson Mandela! Hugo Chavez! Oprah!
Then, to spice it up still more, we’re meant to suggest celebrities or other notable folks who could write the profiles. Let’s get Bob Newhart to write about Ellen DeGeneres! Ooo–how about Jesse Helms to profile Bono? Let’s profile Condoleeza Rice–and get her write about Oprah!
As you might imagine, this adds a whole new level to the administrative danceathon; you need people to wrangle celebrities who’re wrangling celebrities. As our then managing editor Jim Kelly wrote in last year’s issue,
How do you juggle 100 different writers, most of them famous people like Laura Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, Tom Cruise…each writing a profile of one of the 100 people that Time has deemed the most influential people on the planet?
…Tom Cruise, who wrote about J.J. Abrams, was the first contributor to turn in his copy to [senior arts editor] Belinda Luscombe, quite a feat given what else is going on his life. (As a writer, by the way, he is fond of italics.) Charles Barkley proved eager to write about the sensational Steve Nash, but as [writer] Sean Gregory discovered, Barkley’s promise to call in the “late afternoon” turned into 11:30 p.m. Inspired by Tom Brokaw’s writing about Jon Stewart last year, Adi [Ignatius, the deputy editor who supervised the issue] asked Brian Williams to tackle Stephen Colbert. Adi caught Williams on his way to New Orleans, and after some gentle ribbing about the deadline, Williams turned in a piece that deftly captured Colbert’s brilliant delivery.
I pitched Rachael Ray, mainly because I wanted to get her autograph for a friend whose severely handicapped son is a huge fan. Mario Batali got to profile her instead. At first I cursed him but then I read his blurb:
Dinner at her house with my kids is tastier than I could have imagined. My boys went wild for the veal, meatball and pasta stoup, as she calls it, and, like her audience, were quickly softened to putty in her kitchen-confident hands, disarmed of their usual ingredient suspicions by Ray’s “just try one” allure.
I wouldn’t have had those personal bits; my kid’s never “softened to putty in her kitchen-confident hands.” And who knew Mario writes in TIME style?
More and more these days, it takes boldface names to sell products, from cars to magazines to edamame brownies. But it’s important for us lowly staffers to remember there wouldn’t be a brownie without us sifting the organic flour and designing the biodegradable packaging. We may not get invited to the glitzy launch party (what would we wear on the red carpet alongside J-Lo that wouldn’t make us look like trolls, anyway?). But playing a role on the team has its own awards. It’s no small thing to say, Hey, I helped make that happen.