Case Study: Group Editor - Melissa

What do you do?

I'm group editor for Guild Press Ltd, which is a publishing and exhibition organising company within the professional beauty industry.

I oversee the production of four magazines in the UK and Ireland. I also oversee the marketing for four exhibitions covering beauty and holistic therapies. There's also the company website.

I manage a team of seven staff, which includes a team of writers, a deputy editor, an art room manager and two designers. We write, research and design the editorial content for all four magazines. Some additional articles are contributed by industry experts.

Our flagship title - which has the highest circulation in our sector - is published monthly and goes out to beauty therapists, nail technicians, salon owners and spa managers.

What is your background?

I always wanted to work in the media. After my A levels, I began a degree in media studies, but as it was theory-based rather than practical, I left shortly after starting.

I enrolled on a BTEC National Diploma in Media Production, which lasted for two years. I then went back to university to do an HND in media production. In the second year of the HND, I specialised in journalism.

I got a job with a free paper, which had about 500 titles; I worked across seven of them, doing local news and business profiles. That was a really good grounding, because I got to do a bit of everything. I was there for about 18 months.

I then moved on to become a website editor for a software company. But it wasn't really my sort of thing - I didn't find the content particularly stimulating.

I then saw the position of assistant editor advertised by my current employer. After about six months, I was promoted to editor. At that stage we had one magazine.

I've been here seven years now. The company has grown and I've taken on more responsibility. I was promoted to the position of group editor about a year ago.

It never occurred to me that I would work in the beauty industry; I didn't know anything about it when I started. Originally I wanted to be a sports reporter or a war correspondent.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

You need to be very well organised. If you're not an organised person, you won't be able to manage your time and keep to deadlines. And you need to manage other people's time as well as your own.

Although you take on board other people's ideas, you have to be able to lead and motivate. You also have to be quite persuasive.

As the editor, you're the one that deals with any complaints, so you have to be quite thick-skinned. When dealing with those complaints, and also when managing your team, you need to be diplomatic.

You have to be committed and prepared to work long hours. You can't always leave at five o'clock, because deadlines have to be met.

You've got to be multi-skilled and willing to get your hands dirty. And you need to be able to put your foot down and have the guts to discipline when necessary.

Everyone's a cog in the wheel, but you're the one that keeps the wheel turning so everybody else's job falls into place.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Because I've been involved with all aspects of the business, I've picked up all sorts of skills from across the company.

The natural progression for me would be to move into being a publisher. Moving sideways, I could go into marketing or PR. Having my own PR company is something I've thought about doing. Or I could move on to another trade magazine or a consumer title.

What changes will there be in the future?

It will go more towards web-based publishing; that's the way we're going at the moment. I think we'll always produce a printed publication, but the opportunities with the internet mean that we can increase our circulation. We need to find a way of ensuring the magazine is still read by our target readership, but increase circulation by also presenting it through the web.

On the exhibitions marketing side, everything is going electronic (when I first started, everything was done by direct mail). That's the way everyone's going - it's so much more cost effective. But an implication of this is that we'll probably need less staff.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

As a journalist you're not trained in staff management. As an editor, it's a given that you will manage staff. I was 26 when I became the editor, and at first it was a challenge to manage people much older, who had been in the industry for longer than me.

I find recruitment a stressful process. It's not just about candidates having the skills and ticking the boxes, it's about getting the right person. The last time we recruited a writer, there were about 100 applications, so finding the right person can be a long, hard task.

When you move up the ladder, you lose the elements that you initially loved about your job. I rarely get to write any content myself. You end up being the person on the phone or on email, dealing with the problems. But if you want to progress and you want the responsibility, you have to deal with that.

There are also external challenges - working with printers and mailing houses and other sorts of suppliers. You have to tailor your schedule and be strict with deadlines. If you miss one deadline, it has a knock-on effect and things don't happen when they should.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

There are fewer opportunities, because of the move to web-based publishing - although there will still be a need for editors. Any company that produces a newsletter, for example, will need an editor.

Because there are more media degree courses, there's more competition for the jobs. If you're prepared to move to London, there are more opportunities, but again there's more competition.

What do you like about your job?

One of the great things about my job is that I get to travel, as there are exhibitions and trade shows abroad that I need to visit. There are shows in the UK too, and awards ceremonies where I get asked to present awards in posh dresses!

On a day to day level, I like the team aspect of my job best. If you've got people around you that you get on with and who are supportive, then you can have loads of problems thrown at you but you'll come away thinking the day wasn't that bad. You deal with it better if you've got good people around you.

I really like nurturing staff. Seeing someone who has trained to be a journalist - but not really trained to do a job - grow and progress is really satisfying.

I find it really satisfying if I go into a salon and see someone reading one of our magazines. Or if I'm talking to someone in the beauty industry - who doesn't know who I am - and they are saying which parts of our magazines they particularly like.

We've launched two titles while I've been here, and taken over a further title. I really enjoy seeing a product develop from the very early stages. It's really satisfying to see a concept that you've had become reality.

The company I work for is respected in the sector we're in. It's satisfying to work for a company like that and which looks after its staff.

What do you dislike about your job?

It's quite restrictive on your life. It's quite difficult to make plans in your personal life, because if there are major problems it has to be the editor who sorts it out.

You end up planning your life around the production schedule. Whether that's how I've made it, I don't know. But if I hadn't let everything else fit round it, I don't know if I'd have been as successful as I have. You have to make sacrifices.

The pay is okay, but it's not great. I think if I worked in a different sector, away from journalism but with this level of responsibility, I could be earning a lot more money. But then I never wanted to do anything other than work in the media. You know when you go into it that you're not going to be on a massive salary.

It can be very stressful, and there are times when you get ill because of the stress. You just can't help it. Because I'm a control freak, I tend to take too much on. I've only recently learnt how to delegate. It's all about finding a balance. If you love your job, you don't mind the stress and the long hours, because your reward is doing the job.

What are your ambitions?

When I came into publishing, I had the ambition to be an editor by the time I was 30, which I achieved.

A year ago, I might have said that I've achieved everything I want to in my career and I'm ready to have a family. Somehow, I feel slightly different about that now. I can't imagine giving up my job to have children. I don't really know what my ambitions are any more.

I was really career-driven when I was younger. So perhaps my ambitions now would be on the personal side - buying a house and travelling a bit more.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

You have to be open minded to the opportunities that are out there. Someone might offer you an opportunity to do something that's totally away from your comfort zone, and not something you've ever considered before. But you may just have to take it and see where it will lead.

If someone had said to me that I'd be group editor for a company that publishes beauty magazines, then I'd have said - mmm, I don't know if that's what I want to do; I want to be a serious news journalist.

I think a lot of media students have an idealised vision of what the future's going to be like, ie, they are going to go and work for Sky News or the BBC, or write for The Times. It's great to have goals and want to achieve something, but the reality of the world is that you do have to sell yourself out a little bit. There are only so many jobs at the BBC, Sky and the national press.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't aspire to things like that, but it's about being realistic. The reality is that if you want to work in the media, you may need to take whatever opportunity comes your way, and make the best of it.

Some people might think that they've sold out and lost a bit of their journalistic integrity. But if you're lucky, like me, you'll absolutely love it, and not want to do anything else.

A day in the life

My actual hours are nine till five, but I come into the office any time after eight.

The first thing I'll do is check my emails and messages. I don't have a PA or editorial assistant - who might ordinarily do that kind of thing.

Anything that's urgent or a problem, I tend to deal with first.

If we're working on a new issue, I'll then plan the pages of the magazine. We work on a 50/50 split of editorial content and advertising. So I'll liaise with the sales manager, to find out what their targets are, and how many pages of advertising they want to sell in this issue to reach their target.

Then I'll work out how many pages of editorial we need to write. At an editorial meeting with the team, we'll allocate which features are going to be written by which writers and set deadlines.

Then I might spend some time with the art room manager, looking at different imagery we want to use for features.

If one of the magazines has gone to the printers, a proof copy would come through for me to check before it goes to print. That could take a couple of hours.

If there's an exhibition coming up, I'll spend some time liaising with event managers, talking about ideas they have for the show and how we'll want to market it.

I'm supposed to take half an hour for lunch, but I tend to work through. If it's a good day, I'll leave at half-five or six; if it's a bad day, it could be a couple of hours later than that.

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