Interviewer: Esther Kezia Thorpe

Esther: What does the role of Publishing Director involve on a day-to-day basis?

Kate: So, I’ve been here in this building at Vogue House for a quarter of a century, which I can barely believe, and I have always been on the commercial side, learning my craft on Vogue, then Condé Nast Traveller was my first Publishing Director’s job, and then House and Garden and now here I am at Tatler and Vanity Fair.

And I think it’s changed obviously, at the beginning of my time here versus now and it boils down to, you are responsible for the financial well-being of the brand that you are looking after.

So at the beginning of my time here, it was just a print thing. We were all obsessed with pages and competitors and who had market share, and just always creating pie charts, just showing who was ahead. And it was a very much simpler conceit then.

But now with the advent of digital, with the advent of events, and all forms of other media, my role as being in charge of the revenue coming into the brand has just expanded out of all recognition. So, wherever that revenue comes from, be it print, digital, supplements, events etc, I am running the team that look after the various strands of our activity.

Running quite a large team, because we’ve got two brands to look after, and the team includes creatives who produce material for supplements, the content for the supplements that we produce. They also produce native articles online, they produce promotions. So we’ve got art directors, we’ve got copywriters, but I’ve also got a really strong team of sales people who divide into display, creative partnerships, and events.

Obviously managing quite a disparate bunch of people is quite a juggle at times, but really my job is everything to do with money, everything to do with money. Lots of liaison with editorial teams, because obviously every point at which they’re producing content requires them to spend money, and so they’re always sort of coming to and fro, asking where the boundaries lie.

So I’m the money guy.

Esther: So you almost grew with that, if it went from being fairly simple just around print to, I think I’ve heard the term 360 now, it’s all these different things. That must be quite intimidating for somebody, if you were coming into this completely fresh, to have to deal with all that. 

Kate: Intimidating…that’s not a word I ever would use to describe my job. I think I’m so privileged to work in this world. I absolutely love the brands that we have in this building, the people that we have in this building and the commitment to excellence. I know that sounds like I read a press release but it’s true! So I don’t think I ever found it intimidating.

I think there’s a sense of, ‘Oh gosh, get your sports gear on. This is going to be a rocky ride. There is going to be lots going on.’

When it became obvious that digital was going to be a huge, huge growth area for us, you just really want to learn everything you possibly can about the medium, and how it’s sold, and how the agencies use it, and how the clients perceive it.

And at the time, really when digital started to take off, I was running House and Garden, and I remember actually we had a different M.D. at the time, Nicholas Coleridge, who absolute mentor to me. I loved working with him, and I was saying, we need a website. House and Garden needs a Website. And he helped bring that about, but it was a huge realisation that…it was like a tsunami happening, and that you just needed to gear up.

You needed to get all your ducks in a row, make sure that your team was up for selling digital as well, make sure that you running the show understood what the capacities of digital were, and how it applied to your brand.

House and Garden obviously is a different user of the digital medium than perhaps we are here at Tatler and Vanity Fair. It’s very easy to kind of go onto or Vanity and, there’s just, at the moment all you want to read about is the royal tour of South Africa, and is Meghan pregnant again… It is literally just, there’s reams and reams and reams of it.

Whereas House and Garden is and always was very visual, so we used galleries a lot in those days, so lots and lots of galleries, and you could get lost in sort of millions of bathroom fittings and carpets.

Esther: Scrapbook-like.

Kate: Exactly. So it is the two brands use digital in very different ways. But to your point, was I intimidated? No. I was exhilarated and challenged.

And I think as a salesperson you always want the next thing, and you are always ambitious and hungry for more, and if you’re not, then perhaps you’re not in the right job.

Esther: And how do you juggle your time across Vanity Fair and Tatler? They’ve got their similarities but they are quite different titles.

Kate: Yes they are. They are very similar in audience, with the exception that Tatler’s audience is perceived to be more UK-centric, Vanity Fair is more international. But in terms of spending power, they’re both an ultra high net worth individual that you’re talking to. So from a client point of view, it’s actually a one stop shop.

It can be very expedient for clients to just have one conversation with me, and I sort of internally triage it, ooh they’ll be wanting Vanity Fair, or they’ll be wanting Tatler.

So I wouldn’t say I’m juggling my time, I’m sort of prioritising. Very often you’re in the happy situation that the client wants both, but very often equally you’re trying to decide between one or the other.

I’ve got twins at home and I feel like I’ve got twins at work! And sometimes you’ve got the naughty twin who just won’t go to sleep, won’t behave and you’re like, ‘Oh god, I need to give a bit of attention’ because something’s exploding in an event.

I mean we had a situation on one of our events recently where we realised about 10 days before the event that perhaps it needed to be changed to the other title. I won’t go into any more detail than that, but we realised that it made sense to shift from one title to the other. And that was a massive…negotiating the client’s sensitivities. But in the end it was brilliant, because the client actually won both ways, because they had a fabulous event with said title, and they also got lots of coverage for the event in the other title.

So you can very often help the cause by bringing one title to the aid of the other, if that makes sense. I’ve tried to be very diplomatic and not mention the actual people!

Esther: Your two naughty twins are my favourite analogy! And Tatler has actually seen a circulation increase this year, which is great for print magazine, given some of the news recently. So what are some of the changes that you’ve made to make this happen?

Kate: Well the biggest change obviously was the change of editor, Richard Dennen who joined last year. His first issue was July (2018). And so we’ve had just over a year of Richard’s issues. He actually joined in February but obviously his first issue was in July.

And we have had, I think the first thing that you notice about #NewTatler are the covers. And the covers are bold, they’re celebrities, they’re recognisable, they’re really beautiful covers that are resting on news stands.

And I think that is the first thing that Richard when he came on board wanted to see changes in that area, and he succeeded. The covers, I think that’s the first thing that people will look at. Will they buy it? A lot of it is based on the cover. If they like the experience, then they will repeat buy.

But to get new users to the brand, we’ve had to really make a sea change to the covers. So that’s one thing.

I think the other thing is that he’s bought a blend of long form writing, and really lovely ‘mind candy’ snackable content to the magazine.

And the journalism that we produce on Tatler is really engaging and really interesting. And whether you want to read about politics, or Soho’s underworld, or goings on in the royal family, Tatler is a good place to look for really interesting dinner party fodder. You hear people talk about it. That’s I think really been key to our success.

And it’s an increase in newsstand and increase also in subscribers. And yeah, it’s a small increase but we’re hanging onto it, and we love it.

Esther: I mean any increase is good these days! You said already that both magazines have got a very wealthy readership. How has that evolved over the years, and how do you reach the younger elite, rather than just that reach growing older with the title? 

Kate: So I think reaching the younger audience, obviously you’ve got to keep refreshing, and Tatler we always used to say… I mean I joined Tatler about six months before Richard came on board, and it was ingrained in me from the moment I started that the Tatler audience was from 9 to 99. That’s quite a spread.

I think really in reality our sweet spot is, we get those school kids because we do a fantastic schools guide. They want to see their schools in it. They want to see their parties, their friends, they look online. But we also get their grandparents, so it is probably a three generational spread.

But we’ve got to feed that pipeline as you say. And so keeping the young generation engaged and interested, and feeling that Tatler is relevant for them is a constant challenge, and a constant job of reassessment, and looking at the platforms that we have available.

Obviously online, that’s where everyone goes for instant fixes. And you’ve got to get your online looking good.

Richard, while he was preparing his first print issue, the first thing he did was really take our site and give it a real shake up. So the design is better, the functionality is better. The content just is updated and replenished daily, twice daily. There’s just so much on it, and that has been very key in keeping the young interested.

Also on Tatler, I’ll come to Vanity Fair in a minute, but on Tatler, we have a raft of supplements that speak to all sorts of interests, from cosmetic surgery, to schools, to spas. In the magazine we also put gym awards, beauty awards, I mean it’s all relevant to the under 30s, and really stuff that they need to know about.

And we’ve now evolved even further with that whole offering whereby we’ve just launched the Tatler address book, which is an online product where you can be on the move and it’s like, eek I need a cosmetic surgeon urgently, look at the Tatler address book and find a cosmetic surgeon whose speciality is whatever you urgently need fixing, and go and get it done.

So, I think it’s the repackaging, the knowing where the audience is likely to be, how they consume their media and it’s… At the beginning of my career before I came here, I worked at WPP at J Walter Thompson, and I always remember even in those days, you’ve got to know how your audience consumes their media. And I think that’s what we’ve been quite good at doing on Tatler. We know that they’re very active on their phones, we know that the first thing they check in the morning is the website, and it’s like looking for eggs in the henhouse, you know, what’s happened this morning.

And then on Vanity Fair, again we had a new editor in 2018, and Radhika’s first issue was April last year. She had 25 years of Graydon Carter to follow. I think Graydon Carter, I didn’t have the privilege of working with him for more than two months. But he definitely was taking that Vanity Fair audience into the kind of old boys club of, let’s just bash Trump until he bleeds. And it was a very honourable intention but it was…it was quite amusing actually, I went to visit him when I first joined and I went to his office, and he showed me in his office the 42 framed tweets he had from Donald Trump. And they were blown up big and framed in his office. So I think he had one set of people that he was speaking to.

Radhika’s audience is definitely younger, definitely more diverse by the very fact of her being younger, female, instantly everything is refracted through her eyes, it’s just fresher.

And again we have a great raft of supplements that we produce here in the UK on things like art – obviously the Vanity Fair audience, they have a lot of money to spend, a lot of disposable income to spend on art, watches, fast cars, planes, trains, automobiles.

So all of those things we put in the mix, and the feedback that we get from the supplements and from the main magazine, but also from the website that we here in London produce, Vanity Fair London, the feedback that we get would suggest that people are very engaged and really like what we’re doing.

Esther: And you’ve been a Publishing Director for a number of Conde Nast titles. You said at the start, Conde Nast Traveller, House and Garden, now Tatler and Vanity Fair. Have those titles faced quite similar challenges over the time you’ve worked on them, or have they’ve been quite different, and what have you done to address some of those challenges? That’s a big question!

Kate: That’s a lot to unpick. So challenges as I’ve said, over the 25 years that I’ve been here, at the beginning it was print. It was this obsession with pages, wherever those pages might be, whether they were in the supplements, I mean we used to really feel that our biggest challenge as glossy magazine publishers were the Sunday supplements. It’s just ludicrous to think back to that now. So it was the Sunday supplements we would be obsessed by, a style section and You magazine and you’d be kind of combing through those pages and tearing them out.

Condé Nast Traveller, just to focus on that, was my first publishing job. That I ran at a time when there were lots of crises in the world. And actually I was publisher there when the tsunami hit. And that changed the face of travel, really changed the face of travel overnight, such that no one wanted to go very far.

And it launched the whole thing of staycations, and I think it was 2004, December 2004 and I remember that the following year 2005, the previous year we’d been talking about the Maldives and Seychelles and Australia, and you’d get all these advertising and these huge sections from these tourist boards who would spend lots of money in print putting a great big piece together on Traveller, and then literally overnight you had to change tack.

I think changing tack on Traveller was something I had to do quite a lot, within that context of it mainly being print.

House and Garden was definitely the shifting over to digital, that was the challenge was recognising that there was this huge snowball coming at you, and that House and Garden needed a website.

And then not only did we launch the website, but we also launched this directory called The List, which was, is still…it’s still there and doing incredibly well…it is the vetted directory of interior designers, and I think they’ve got 750 members now. But it was something that we launched when I was there.

And so that challenge with House and Garden was just, no, we can’t just be print, we can’t. And home interest titles tend to be consumed in a different way, and people like to tear out sheets.

So it was just at that beginning, and then my challenge here at Tatler and Vanity Fair is just literally keeping ahead of the game. I was going to say keeping up, it’s not keeping up, I set the pace! Set the pace? Keep ahead of the game, and run the team that is really looking for every angle on bringing in revenue, and ‘Have you thought of this, are you going after that.’ And really just encouraging people to take risks and do it slightly scared, if that makes sense.

I think you’ve got to just take risks. You can’t just fall back on what has always been. Got to always move forward, and I think it would be very easy for me to sit here with 25 years experience and put my feet up on the desk and say, I’ve seen it all before, I’ve done it all, oh that’s just…! But I never ever do, and I hope the day I do that, you can chuck me out the door, because I don’t ever ever rest on my laurels.

Esther: Which leads me nicely into my next question, what steps are you taking then to prepare Vanity Fair and Tatler for the future?

Kate: The steps that we are taking are really around the area of innovation, and also if something isn’t working, just park it. Go on to the next. So innovate, innovate, innovate.

Have conversations with clients where you bring your entire experience, this is what I say to my team, bring your entire experience, everything that we’ve done, you should be aware of it all and be able to talk eloquently, and to light that spark of desire, and make those clients want what we have to sell.

So I just think that we have to permanently be at that forefront of moving forward, whether it’s video or – our current obsession is actually video.

We’re quite obsessed by video, especially on Tatler. Making video something that we do more of. We did a fantastic one with Chopard last year with Sabine Getty dressed in couture, just 10 minutes, but it was so watchable and so fun, and it had massive engagement online, and lots of click throughs for Chopard, which was great. And it was slightly tongue in cheek, slightly funny not too reverent, but it was good. So I want to do more of that.


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