Under the Radar with Carla Buzasi
This week I spoke with the Managing Director of trend forecaster WGSN about making your own luck, an insight on some of next year's big trends, the importance of empowerment and a life-long love of print media...
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?
I grew up in a household where we were raised on print media. My father in particular, but my mother as well, loved magazines and newspapers.
Every weekend we would get The Sunday Times, and I remember reading The Funday Times, while my Dad read the sports pages and my Mum the colour supplement. Each Sunday we'd also have a guest paper: a tabloid or different broadsheet, and it was a focal point of every Sunday discussing what we'd read.
When I went to university, everyone else would get care boxes filled with food or money. I, however, would get packages arriving full of cuttings from newspapers and magazines that my parents thought I'd find interesting. I think it's probably inevitable that I ended up as a journalist.
Can you chart your journey from where you started out to your current position?
I knew I wanted to write so the minute I got to university I signed up for the student paper. I was Editor the following year and probably spent far more time working on that than I did my degree. My parents were teachers; I didn’t come to the industry armed with contacts, but I made my own by working on that student paper and doing as much work experience as I could. I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck.
My first paid journalist gig was temping at John Brown Citrus publishing, followed by a stint at Redwood publishing on the Swarovski magazine, where I basically spent six months in a windowless cupboard, polishing crystals.
Previously though I’d managed to secure work experience at Cosmopolitan and made friends with a staff member called Erin, who went on to work at More magazine and would pay me to get sex stories from my university friends for the magazine, for £10 each.
She was the fairy godmother who tipped me off about a Digital Writer job at Condé Nast, a few years later, which was my first ‘proper’ job.
I learned so much being part of a very young, digital team, at a time when digital wasn’t really a thing yet and most magazines didn’t even have websites. I then got approached by Marie Claire when I was 26, to launch their digital arm. A few years later I moved to AOL for an Editor-in-Chief role. Before I knew it, AOL were buying The Huffington Post, so I got in touch with Arianna Huffington and proposed launching in the UK. Finally, I was headhunted by WGSN and, four and a half years later, here I am!
What is the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
It’s more about unusual questions than situations. Everyone wants to know how we predict trends. And everyone wants to know the next ‘it’ colour. WGSN, historically, was created for the fashion industry, but we now service almost too many industries to name. We take these really big macro ideas and then we forecast how that will make people behave, what it will make them feel, how it will make them think, and, therefore, what products and experiences they will want to buy. I use the word experiences deliberately. Products can be experiences today, and visa versa.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I can be pretty lazy when it comes to dressing, for someone who runs a trend forecaster, with the most fashion forward people at their fingertips. More often than not, I’ll wear jeans and trainers, or a jumpsuit or a dress, which doesn't require me to think about two separate parts to the outfit!
Any tips for aspiring fashionistas?
Our colour prediction for next year is neo mint, and surprisingly, pedal pushers are coming back!
How do you handle deadlines?
I think the problem is I'm a journalist by background and journalists leave everything to the last minute, because they have a filing date and you file to that minute, especially in a digital world. I totally do leave things until the last minute, but I always hit a deadline. I get very frustrated with people who don’t.
Can you walk me through your typical day?
I travel a lot for work. We've got 14 offices around the world and we've got clients in 94 countries so, more often than not, I’m on a plane somewhere. I can pack for a two-week trip with hand luggage only. Although, if the weather forecast is incorrect on my iPhone at the time of packing I'm stuffed.
Probably an average day will see me spending time with clients, going and finding out what's worrying them, what's exciting them. Probably a few strategy documents to put together. I think the difference from moving from the creative role into running the company has been there's a lot more reporting to do, so making sure all my board packs are up to date and correct, and looking at the numbers side of the business as well as the content and insight, but I'm quite hands on with the team as well. We're launching WGSN Beauty this week, and two days ago I spent the morning signing off the creative for the pop-up banners which will tell people it's coming.
Down to that kind of level I like knowing what's going on. We had an event recently and I was unhappy with the menu. I get into that level of detail.
What do you think people would be surprised to know about your job?
I pride myself on not asking anyone to do something I'm not prepared to do myself. I learnt that from Abigail Chisman, who was the Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Digital when I was just starting out.
When we were launching Easy Living online, we were all there copying and pasting horoscopes until about three in the morning and she was there right alongside us. For me, that’s always the mark of a really good leader. I also really believe in good work/life balance and flexible working. I feel very strongly that you should be empowered to be brilliant at your job however and wherever you are.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
I think what's been really interesting is how it’s shining a light on the amazing stuff that's happening in the B2B space at the moment.
If you didn't have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
Exercise. I love yoga, running and walking.
What's the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview) and why?
It was the new salted caramel Nakd bar. I took a photograph and sent it to my boyfriend saying, “This is the best thing ever!” Tragic, I know.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I buy candles all the time and discovered H&M Home recently, where they’re really cheap so there’s nothing stopping me buying even more of them. So, my guilty pleasure is probably spending too much money on scented candles either at Anthropologie or H&M.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Oh, probably Theresa May's right now to ask what the hell is going on.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?
It was from a pension adviser when I was just starting out. I'd been offered a pension at Condé Nast and he came to talk to me and said it was very good. He actually said, “You probably should stay and work there for the rest of your life”. I was 22 and even though I loved the company, I couldn’t believe someone was suggesting I carried on working there forever just because they had a good pension scheme.
What/where is your happy place?
Formentera - a little island just off the coast of Ibiza. It's my favourite place in the world.
What would be in your Room 101?
Live chat where there isn’t another human being on the other end.
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching anything at the moment?
Television. Escape to the Château: DIY.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or a night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Emojis - cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cool! The kissing emoji.