Under the Radar with Amy Cutmore
IdealHome.co.uk's Digital Editor talks breaking into journalism, a love of a certain big haired rock band and finding her place in the world of interiors...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
So, it's quite a funny one. I think deep down I've always wanted to do it, and actually, the other day my mum reminded me that when I was small, I used to make magazines for my toys.
As a kid I always used to read all the magazines of the time, so like Big, Smash Hits and Look In. I'm showing my age a bit there. I always bought magazines every week. That's what I spent my pocket money on.
As I grew older and went to university, I was massively into music at that time, and I got involved with the student university newspaper, called Epigram, and I started writing articles for them.
I really enjoyed doing that, but I always saw it as a hobby, because I'd done a maths degree. I left university and got a job at an investment bank in The City, in London. A lot of my friends and my boyfriend at the time worked in media and I think there was always something bugging me that I wanted to work in magazines or be a bit more creative because my job was very much maths and spreadsheets and finance.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
After doing the banking stuff for a couple of years I got itchy feet about doing the journalism thing. I thought, "While I'm still recently young, I'll take the jump."
I was lucky, I got a bit of a bonus from my job, so I thought, "Well, I'll take my bonus and live off that for a few months. I'll have a go and see how far I can get."
I sent loads of letters to all the Editorial Assistants in all the different publishing companies like Nat Mags, ITC, saying, "Have you get any work experience? I'll work for free or be an intern…Whatever you have."
I sent all these letters out not knowing what would happen… and then I got a few replies and I got very excited. I ended up helping out at Wedding and Home at the time. I was steaming wedding dresses and packing up boxes and sending very expensive wedding dresses to different places and going on photoshoots.
I was also doing some stuff in 19 magazine, which was going out on the streets and interviewing people about what they were wearing and what they had just bought. Those kind of features that are everywhere now, but I think at the time they were quite new.
Then I went and did some work for what was then called 25 Beautiful Homes. I never thought of myself as an “interiors” person, but I absolutely loved it. The people were lovely and I found it really interesting. It wasn't just nice cushions; it was all about architecture and things like that.
That job put me on the road to thinking I’d want to work in interiors. As it was, I couldn't get a job there because I didn't have enough experience at the time, so I ended up doing some work as an Editorial Assistant at Angler's Mail, a fishing magazine which still exists.
I ended up working there for nearly two years, they called me the Carol Vorderman of Angler's Mail because they used to give me all these stat based stories to write. I ended up doing little bits in of investigative stuff, like the state of divorce for fishermen, stuff they didn't normally do, but it gave me a little bit of a grounding in writing news stories.
Eventually, I managed to convince a lady called Jenifer Morgan to give me a job on a host title out in Orpington called Inside Reader’s Homes, which is closed now. I've been in interiors there ever since.
From Inside Reader's Homes I went back over to a magazine called 25 Beautiful Kitchens, and from there, I worked my way up. I was Sub-Editor and writer there, and then I was made deputy chief sub and writer. Then I went across to Beautiful Homes, so I got to live not just in the world of kitchens.
Then I was offered the job at Ideal Home of Consumer Editor. I changed that role into something called Technology Editor. My Editor there, Belle McKenzie Pride, was really supportive and gave me a lot of guidance. She almost let me forge out my own career and gave me a push to find out what I wanted to be doing. We pushed towards that technology area because you could see that was a real growing part of homes and interiors, especially with the advent of iPad and other smart technologies.
There was a lot more AI involved, and appliances were becoming intelligent and smart and connected. That was becoming a huge area and I really jumped into that with both feet and created a blog called Girl About Tech, which was really designed to make technology a bit easier for people to get involved with. It was really focused on women as the primary audience, but it was more just to give people a flavour of tech without it being too jargon-y and as a branding exercise, it got quite a lot of attention.
Eventually it got to the point where I had been working for quite a long time, so I decided to take a break and I went freelance in November 2016. Within six months I was back as Digital Editor on Ideal Home. I've been at the brand now, it will be nine years in April, bar that little break. It's a brand I know really, really well and absolutely adore. Last year I won the award at the PPA Digital Awards. I was very excited, although I do really want to share that with my team because my team are fabulous. We're a small team, but we've achieved an awful lot in the last year. We've grown the website, so now we're hitting a million unique users a month in the UK and that's pretty spectacular.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I'm kind of infamous for I never wearing trousers, ever.
My go-to work outfit is probably black tights, especially this time of year, and probably some sort of dress or smock and, depending if I'm going out, I wear my little black boots or Converse.
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
When I'm on deadline, I just stop eating. I realised that I do that thing where it gets to about 4pm and I think, "I haven't had any lunch," so I'm actually really terrible. When I'm on deadline I probably eat less than I do normally. Also, I am a massive tea person. As everyone in the office knows, whenever someone says, "Does anyone want a tea?" They know that automatically they have to make a tea because I just drink so much tea. I’m a bit of a tea fiend.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
I've seen a few weird things that you wouldn't expect, especially when I was doing tech, there was quite a lot of travel involved because tech companies are all over the world. The most unusual one was probably a press tip to Korea where they decided as a little “treat” that they would take us to the border of North and South Korea.
We all got on this bus, didn't even really think about it, and the next minute they were driving us to the border of North and South Korea. Then we were marched into this room in what was essentially an army base. This room had a projector and desks, and this military man comes up with his stick (I felt like I was in a war film) and starts pointing at maps of North and South Korea with his stick saying, "This is this zone. This is no man's land." Then they put a form on our desk which we all had to sign which basically said, "If you're shot or killed, the South Korean Government and the USA take no responsibility," or something like that.
I thought I was going out to look at some ostriches but then this happened. A little bit surprising and not something I expected to be doing, but one of those kind of crazy experiences that you'll never forget.
We eventually ended up in these little huts, you often see them on TV, where Hilary Clinton and various other head of state or senior politicians will go and have talks. We actually went to the huts where you cross over between North and South Korea; you walk around a table, one side is North Korea and one side is South Korea and the whole time, South Korea's got their soldiers who are pretty impressive and the North Korean soldiers are just looking at you with their guns sort of lazily leaning on them, keeping an eye on you.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
I think with online now there's a lot of stats and things to keep an eye on and look at every day, so that becomes quite a big part of the job. It's more numbers based than maybe you'd think. If you just think journalism, you would think it was words. Obviously, these days it's a lot about numbers as well. I think for a layman, that's quite surprising. I suppose if you're involved in the industry it's not, but maybe that's surprising.
Walk me through your typical day.
I have to say we do have quite a typical day, but it depends if I'm coming into the office or not because I'm lucky that I can work from home one or two days a week, so that's quite nice.
I have my commute which takes about an hour and a half in because we're in Canary Wharf. I'll have a look at the news, see what competitors are doing, maybe read a book.
I usually get into the office between 9 and 9.30am, then usually catch up with the team quickly. We do have some regular meetings, but it all depends on the day. Sometimes we'll have informal chats about stories and throw ideas around, just to get our news of the day.
I know a lot of brands go really hard on news, but Ideal Homes, we've found that it's better to have a mixture of core and more in-depth articles, rather than having a really big new focus. We’ll put out three or four new stories a day, so those are the things that get discussed then.
Then we'll probably have a few meetings about commercial products that are going on.
I might look at what clean ups need to be done on the website, because that's the bit we've inherited. Ideal Home is being migrated from a site called House to Home, which was humongous.
It's been an ongoing job of ours to clean up the site and the content, because the site's been going for a good ten years, so there will be old pieces of content that are maybe 150 words long which obviously we don't want there. It's making sure we've kind of cleaned all that, redirected it, and we're building up our main categories like kitchens and bathrooms, to be as strong as they can be.
Lunch is usually at my desk, which is naughty. I'll try to maybe get out for lunch maybe once every two weeks, end up going and actually seeing people. But usually yeah, it's at the desk. Working online, you're constantly wanting to keep things updated and add more to the site.
If there are industry, I'll try to head out to those, usually after work.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
The opportunity for networking and the access they give to shared learning from colleagues across other businesses. The PPA Festival is a particular high point in this regard. Also, the campaigning and lobbying the PPA does on behalf of the industry. For example, on data protection (GDPR) and Facebook/Google regulation (The Cairncross Review).
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I think I'd exercise more because I'm terrible. I'm really interested in learning a new skill, something like screen printing of lithography. Something quite artistic. I've got about a million tubes of posters and art and things that are yet to go on my wall.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
A photo I took at Architect Cesar Manrique's house when I visited last weekend.
What's your guilty pleasure?
I love Queen. I'm obsessed with Queen. It's really sad, especially singing it loudly and annoying my neighbours.
I obviously wouldn't do that in public.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
I probably wish I had Roger and Brian's phone numbers from Queen so they could come and perform with me when I was doing impromptu concerts in my own home.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I don't know if it's the worst piece of advice, but I did a maths degree and I was really pushed by my school and my headmistress to do maths, because I was good at it. I ended up doing an A level in English and I really loved in English, but I think because I did maths and further maths and had all this maths knowledge to do it and because I was a girl, I think they were very keen to push me into maths. I wish I'd done an English degree, put it that way.
What/where is your happy place?
On a beach; it’s got to be a nice beach. In a hammock, in the Caribbean or Thailand or somewhere like that, with a cocktail. I used to be a Piña colada person, but maybe now a Caipirinha. A good book, and probably a few days not looking at Google Analytics.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I really love pub sports, like snooker and darts and things like that.
I don't mind a game of a pool, but I really am obsessed with Formula One. I absolutely love Formula One, but I can't drive a car, so it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Driver-wise I absolutely love Danny Riccardo and Jensen Button.
What would be in your Room 101?
There’re a few things. I'm allergic to tropical fruit so that would go in there. It's dangerous. I don't want to be asked about, "Have you got a food allergy?" I hate talking about it. It's just really annoying. That, and people that walk a bit too slow because they're always looking at their phones.
To be honest, gin too. I'm so sick of gin. I don't like gin, and everything is all about gin all the time. Every event I go to there's a gin bar. Everywhere. Olives and gin as well. I hate olives, so olives and gin. Gin is everywhere. I don't like.
Introvert or an extrovert?
Optimist or a pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Tricky, but I'd probably go film. I'm considering now binge watching The Sopranos because I've never seen it.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Tea, it makes everything better.
Emojis; cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
I don't mind emojis. I wouldn't say they were cool, but I wouldn't say they were cringey; I just don't mind them. My favourite one at the moment is an animated one which is like an angry face that goes redder and redder and then just blows. It amuses me.