26 January 2017

My 'Kennedy' Moment

We all have a 'Kennedy' moment; a point in your life when the world stops spinning on its axis, time stands still and you remember exactly where you were the day you heard the news. My 'Kennedy' moment came when I was eight years old. I remember exactly where I was the day I heard that Smash Hits had increased from 48p to 52p.

By eighties standards, this was a monumental price hike. How was I going to afford it? That extra four pence equated to two-fifths of a bag of Space Raiders. I know you're wondering how this tale of woe ends so let me put you out of your misery: I overcame the odds and, through sheer grit, I found the extra money just in time to vote in the Poll Winners Party. Balance was restored to the world.

I've shared this recollection with you for a few reasons. Firstly, my lead tutor, Roberta Cohen, said that I am not allowed to use 'drop intros' until I'm as famous as AA Gill. Yet, here we are, Roberta. She also said that I couldn't use ‘secondary clauses’ but I continue to prove her wrong on that point too.

Secondly, I shared this memory with you because I like to talk about the eighties. I think this comes from spending all day with lovely classmates that are so millennial, they describe common sense as a 'life hack'.

'Drop intro' (and secondary clause) achieved, I can now share with you my third reason for recalling this memory.

Last night, I met Barry McIlheney. It is not enough to simply describe Barry as 'former editor of Smash Hits'. He is a human compendium of success stories. I shared my 'Kennedy' moment with him too. Based on my use of the free bar, I'll have to err on the side of fandom here and assume that Barry was charming and witty in his response.

Barry, Farrah and some groupies

I met Barry at Old Street Records where he was hosting a Q&A with Farrah Storr, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. This was the second in a series of PPA Live events designed to give access to some of the industry's most influential figures. The audience questioned Farrah about the future of print, her own career trajectory and the changes she has made at Cosmo. But mostly, we just wanted to know how the hell to get a job.

Farrah was authentic and generous in her answering. She shared her own experiences and personal anecdotes. Instantly, you could see why she was editor of the UK's best selling women's monthly. She was unwavering in her conviction and vision for what Cosmo should and could be. She talked about the magazine like the business that it is. I loved hearing her speak on this. Listening to Farrah, I understood why editors are a breed in themselves. I also understood why so many journalists never get that far.

When you are training, you are a self-indulgent pinhead. The only thing you know for certain is that if the world is going to change, it needs to hear your voice. You whine to yourself: “If only someone important would discover me through a funny tweet or something.”

We also tend to view the ‘business of magazines’ as an inconvenience that gets in the way of our precious creativity. Much like those inverted pyramids. We stick our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that journalism is an enterprise.

I like to think that the Farrahs and Barrys of the publishing world view the ‘business of magazines’ as the most creative part. They appear to weave together a tapestry of ideas and revenue streams. They create mission statements that sum up their readers in three words: I am Cosmopolitan. They manage advertisers expectations and multi-platform content. Editors diversify and innovate, all the while remaining aware of the commerciality of every decision, no matter how insignificant it may appear.

They know that creativity is not limited to the words that you put on a page or the idea that you pitch in a meeting. In fact, I think Farrah Storr and Barry McIlheney know that true creativity lies in building a community around a brand.

I’ll bet you a packet of Space Raiders that they also know this: when you do build a really great community around your brand, your readers will always find that extra four pence.

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