Under the Radar with Esther Kezia Thorpe
This week I spoke with Esther Kezia Thorpe, a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Dennis Publishing about the joys of a proper brew, working in a purely digital environment and unconventional ways of recording a podcast...
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 think that's a complicated one, because I wouldn't really say I work in the magazine industry. I mean, what is the magazine industry anymore? I work at a publisher who publishes magazines, but I think actually what I do is more technology, and content marketing, and that's a very different side to the business.
I never set out intending to work in the magazine industry. I set out intending to be a teacher… and then Michael Gove happened, so I decided to shelve that one for a while.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
I went to an educational publisher over the summer after university as my degree was Education with English, which turned into a job doing digital versions of their textbooks. I then went into publishing tech. I did digital versions of magazines for publishers, and at that point, I started to get quite interested in a lot of the challenges that the industry was facing and a lot of the innovations that were coming out of it. Then I got into media analysis at theMediaBriefing.
When Dennis offered me the opportunity to actually come and work inside a publisher, on these alternative revenue streams I've been talking about for so long, it was a great opportunity to actually see inside a publisher, rather than analysing from the outside..I still don't really feel like I work in magazines, but that's just because I focus on all the digital sites.
I had to pick up a lot of skills along the way around writing persuasively. A lot of what I was writing about at Uni involved taking apart an academic subject that people might not necessarily understand and turning that into practical advice that people can understand. I've come to use that skill across all the different jobs and it's got to this stage where I basically do that every day.
For me, the most exciting thing is it's working on a new revenue stream in Dennis. It's not something that many other publishers are doing, and it's quite interesting to get the chance to drive part of that strategy.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Almost always a dress and blazer. If the dress has pockets, even better.
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
Snacks. I’ve always got a bag of chocolate buttons or something nearby.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
At our Comic-Con themed Christmas party I went as Rey from Star Wars.
I was wandering around Soho in the middle of winter draped in scarves, with my husband's knee strap supports as arm warmers.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
I don't always fully understand what I am talking about. I don't actually know that much about IT, but a lot of what my job involves is taking some very, very technical white papers and turning them into content that is understandable and digestible. People use the term “snackable”, I hate that, but it's these really in-depth whitepapers on, for example, cloud storage.
It's about researching what are the actual important things around that. I can write about five trends in cloud storage but if you actually ask me to explain what I am writing, I am not a pro at that.
Walk me through your typical day.
I'd be amazed if anyone has one these days.
I get in, I make a cup of tea (English Breakfast obviously) and the rest of the day completely varies depending on what stage we are at in a campaign, or throughout the month. Often my job will revolve around, if a campaign comes in, I've got to read the whitepapers, summarize them and look up all the existing content we've got around them. The one pressure point in the day is probably the fact that the IT team produce news every morning for the lunchtime newsletter.
I'll have to check if anything is suitable for our clients that goes in there. In the morning I also tend to focus on our email strategy and I'll compose emails a couple of times a week for those data pots.
The rest of the time, I write articles myself, and also look at analytics, actually saying “what's doing well, what can we push a bit more, why has this done well?”
I'd say probably about a third of it now is looking at the data we've already got and asking how we can do things better. It feels like it's that kind of trend within the industry.
So, it's not a typical job and there's no typical day but I doubt if anybody has that.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
The PPA Festival is really good. It's always great to get an idea about what other companies are doing with the innovation. There's always ideas you can pick up from that, new people to meet and see at the festival, this will be my first year attending as part of Dennis.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I'd relax. I'm really, really bad at relaxing. Also, over Christmas, my husband introduced me to a game called Stardew Valley on the computer. It’s about having your own farm and managing it (but better than Farmville!) It’s really addictive so I’d probably play that.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
We were recording the meeting for this podcast [the Media Voices Podcast with Chris Sutcliffe and Peter Houston] and I obviously don't have a studio, the three of us record remotely. We were testing a new recording solution and I had to sit on the bed with a blanket over my head, the laptop and the microphone to get a decent sound. I then took a photo afterwards to show the guys what I've been sitting under.
It looks very cosy, but my goodness, you would not believe how sweaty it got under that blanket.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I try not to feel guilty about things I enjoy, but in terms of things I love doing that are really embarrassing, I love it when you've got a really long car journey so I can load up my musical theatre playlist. Let’s just say, I get to the end of the road with very little voice.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Mark Hamill’s, only because, I don't know where he's been for the last however many years, but he's re-emerged in recent years on social media and he's just hysterical.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Your readers will love this. I was advised three or four years ago not to go into the magazine industry, because it was dying. This was from somebody inside a publisher. They just said, the industry's not going to be around for long enough for you to build a career, so don't do it.
What/where is your happy place?
It's just a quiet weekend with the sun shining, having a beer in the garden. Five years ago, I would never have been caught dead saying something like that but since getting a garden, you kind of have to look after it and it’s growing (literally) to be my happy place.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I'm synaesthetic, where you see numbers and letters in colour. I didn't realise until I read a piece about Katie Melua who’s also synaesthetic and then it was one of those Wikipedia rabbit holes which explained it. I thought it was something everybody experiences, but it turns out no, it's not a thing most people have. I did all these online tests and it turns out I'm actually synaesthetic. It’s like different letters and numbers and days of the week have different colour auras, that’s the only way to describe it.
What would be in your Room 101?
People who walk along with their headphones in watching shows on their phones, especially when wandering around Waterloo. They have zero awareness.
Introvert or extrovert?
I am both. Honestly, it depends on the situation, like conferences, for example, are tough, because if you've been at a conference you need to recharge, then you've got post-conference drinks and sometimes I just need to charge up for a little bit.
Optimist or pessimist?
That also varies. Can I be cynical optimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
I don't think there's much of a difference anymore, it's all merging. I actually thought the BBC's adaptation of Les Misérables was brilliant.
Sweet or savoury?
I think I'm more a savoury person, but I do have a weakness for chocolate, and I love cheese.
Morning person or night owl?
At the moment, neither. I used to be a real night owl, but I just get to the stage now when it gets to 10:30pm and I know if I’m not in bed, the next day I'm going to really regret it.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. It’s got to be a medium strong proper English Breakfast tea, with no sugar.
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Depends on how you're using them. We use Slack at Dennis so it feels like you can't not use emojis. Everybody reacts in emojis and it's quite a nice way of humanising people. Then again, if they’re overused, I feel a bit like saying “calm down”. The one I use most often is the grimace.