Alison has been working in the coveted field of women’s magazines for over ten years. During that time, she’s worked as a web editor for TOTP mag (loved it), an executive editor for more! mag (loved it) and the multi-channel editor – or “resident geek”, to use her own words – at LOOK mag (love it!) In her last role, Alison oversaw the brand's digital platforms' strategy and content, including the Look.co.uk website, iPad editions, social media and Look What I'm Wearing app. Wow, I know.
Around her high-flying job, Alison somehow manages to run her award-winning blog, Not Another Mummy Blog, which she started whilst on maternity leave. I met Alison when I did my work experience in the fashion department at more! mag (RIP), where she asked me to write the first in their series of work experience blogs - just one example of how Alison is always encouraging the next generation. She kindly took the time to chat to me:
I'm deputy editor of a new fashion brand customer magazine - being sent out to customers each month. I help the smooth running of the team, edit copy and help sort out any issues that may arise day to day.
2. You've had a long, successful (and very enviable) career in glossy women's mags, was that always the industry you wanted to work in?
I originally wanted to work in TV. But then aged 16 I realised my dream job was Editor of Smash Hits so I did everything I could to break into magazines.
3. How did you get into the industry?
I went to the University of Greenwich to do a Media and Communications course. That taught me the basics and showed me how much competition there was for the few jobs out there. So while studying, I applied for as many work experience placements as possible. I wanted to stand out from the crowd so I used to send my CV folded up inside a CD case and designed a CD cover for it. It seemed to work and I was invited to do placements at teen magazines like TV Hits and Big.
When I graduated, I emailed every magazine and website I could, offering to work for free over the summer. I know there is debate over whether companies should take on unpaid staff but I genuinely wanted to work for free that summer.
I knew that if I could show people what I could do, it might lead on to a job. I was right - I worked for TOTP website for a couple of months and then I was offered a job there.
4. That's brilliant! Is working in magazines really how films like The Devil Wears Prada would have us believe?
Nothing like it! Magazine offices vary, from scruffy and mouse-ridden to polished and sleek, but they all have one thing in common – they’re messy. There’s paper and magazines everywhere and everyone has tons of stuff under their desks (usually promotional things they’ve been sent… and loads of pairs of heels.)
Every editor I’ve worked for has been very friendly and nothing like Miranda Priestly. Interns may get sent out to get coffee, but they also get looked after by the staff and get to attend photo shoots and come to post-work drinks.
5. From my experince, I definitely agree with that. Do you think traditional glossy magazines still have a future despite the challenges posed by the internet?
Absolutely. Just like there’s a place in everyone’s lives for radio and TV, there’s a place for magazines and websites. They serve a different purpose – I use the web for a quick fix, for the latest update, and I use magazines for a more considered read. Months of planning and real expertise goes into one issue of a magazine, and it feels like such an indulgent treat to spend time reading one.
6. Absolutely. You’ve done a lot of work with bringing women’s mags to new digital platforms - have you ever faced difficulties being a woman in a techie online world?
I don’t see myself as working in a techie online world, I just work in the world. The world is a techie place! The teams I’ve worked in, in the past like More and Look, have mostly been women, so it’s all been extremely supportive. I grew the More Facebook community to be the largest of any UK womens mag and it led to the crowdsourced Facebook Issue of the mag, which received massive press coverage.
I love what people like Belinda Parmar from Little Miss Geek is doing to encourage girls to get into tech and I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of Decoded, which teaches you to code in a day (set up by a woman – Kathryn Parsons). There’s loads of really positive stuff going on with women and tech which is exciting.
7. Sounds great! Now let’s talk about blogging. How do you manage to juggle your job, being a mum and running your highly successful blog?
I’m not sure! To be honest, I’ve had moments in the past where it’s all been a bit too much and I’ve had to step back from the blogging a bit to focus on my job and family. I try to be organised in all areas, so spending one evening a week working on blog posts, which I schedule for that week, and spending my train journeys to and from work dealing with blog emails.
When I’m at work, I don’t think about my blog, I try to separate it all in my head. Likewise when I’m spending time with my daughter, I focus on her.
8. It seems like everyone has a blog nowadays, and more people are starting their own every day - what are your top tips for making your blog stand out?
Try to do something different with your blog. Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing. Establish a clear voice and be consistent. Whether you’re a fashion, beauty, parent or tech blogger, find out who the big hitters are and follow them. Seek out any networks or groups (eg in parent blogging we have Britmums and Tots 100) that may have useful resources. And try not to be too “bloggy” – if you want your blog to be read by non-bloggers, don’t do too many memes or linkys.
9. That's great advice! And finally, what advice would you give to those of us hoping to follow in your footsteps and break into the world of women’s magazines?
Have an “I will do anything” attitude. I’ve seen too many young people who think they can come into a magazine, work from 9am-5pm and do all the fun stuff. It’s not like that – you need to be the kind of person who’ll say YES to everything with a big smile, be prepared to work late and do lots of boring tasks. It’s those people who impress everyone and who are quickly given more responsibility and more fun tasks to do. When I was starting out, I said yes to everything – even if it scared me. I cancelled plans in order to work late, and did everything I could to impress my bosses.
Brilliant, thanks so much, Alison!
Follow Alison on Twitter here, and check out her blog here.
I'm sure you enjoyed reading this fab interview, so I imagine you'll also like my equally fab interview with the News Editor of Star magazine, Kelly Allen.