Under the Radar with Julian Linley
Hearst's New Business Development Director talks terrible film remakes, the joy of the early morning gym session, helping to develop new ideas and using his love of cheese as an ice-breaker...
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?
Funny enough, it never even occurred to me that I could be a journalist because I was terrible at spelling and grammar and all of those technical parts of English, which had sort of, ruled it out as a career opportunity. What actually got me interested, really, was just my love of magazines.
I’d always read comics as a kid, then magazines as a teenager, so I'd always grown up with the culture, as well as the newspapers that my parents would get. The Telegraph during the week and then The Times, and I used to love reading those papers.
The thing that actually made me understand that I could become a journalist was, first of all, meeting somebody who worked in the industry. Completely by chance, he was the boyfriend of somebody that I worked with in a café.
Seeing how normal he was, I started thinking, "Oh my God, actually, maybe I could do this, if someone like me is doing a job that I would like to do."
The second thing that really got my career started was a very cleverly worded job advert in The Guardian.
I had just graduated from an English and Theatre degree, and the Media Guardian on Tuesday and Friday, I think it was, was the place to look for jobs. It was like the Gorkana of our generation.
I saw this great job advert that said, "Do you know the difference between Ren and Stimpy? Who's the secret hot one in Take That? Why did Shane dump Angel in Home and Away? If you know the answers to these questions, we want to hear from you."
I thought, "Oh my God, I do know the answers to those questions," and so I applied for the job, thinking, I suppose, at the age of 21, that I've got nothing to lose - just give it a go. I was fortunate enough to get the job, so that was how I accidentally tripped up and ended up in the industry, really.
Can you chart your journey from where you started out to your current position?
I applied for that job and I got it, eventually, but they were nervous about giving it to me, because I had no experience, so they got me to do the role as a kind of freelancer, testing me out to begin with.
After a few months, they obviously realised that I was good enough to do the role, so I went from freelance to getting the job as a Junior Writer at Sugar magazine, which was a teenage magazine at the time.
I worked my way up from Junior Writer over the course of five years, to Special Project Editor for the magazine.
I then went to work on a young women's lifestyle magazine called Be, which was aimed at young women, as Contributing Editor for Special Projects. I then moved across to More magazine, which is a young women's magazine. I worked there for about 10 months, because when I was at More, I was approached to go and be the Features Editor at Heat, which had just launched. Then, after about three months as their Features Editor, I became Heat’s Deputy Editor.
I spent probably the next 10 years in various roles such as Deputy Editor and then Digital Editor.
I launched Heat World website. I then became the Editor across the whole brand, so I was the UK's first multi-platform editor, according to The Guardian.
From Heat, I then became a creative director of Bauer, the company that owns Heat.
I then went to work for myself, for about three or four years, as a Media Consultant, and one of my clients was Hearst. They then persuaded me to come in-house and be Editor-in-Chief of Digital Spy. After Digital Spy, I then became New Business Development Director across the whole Hearst portfolio in the UK.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
The thing I love about media is that you can pretty much dress how you want to, depending on your mood. So some mornings, I'm absolutely in the mood for jeans and trainers and a shirt. Other days, I’ll be smarter. But I have always, ever since I started my job, had this rule that I'm not allowed to get out of the shower in the morning until I've decided what I'm wearing, because I've wasted so many hours of my life trying on various different outfits that just don't feel right.
It's a bit like the way I eat food, as well. I tune into myself to see what food I want or what outfit I'm going to wear that day.
It's a bit like it's instinctive dressing, rather than dressing the part. I dress how I feel for that day.
What do you turn to when you're on a deadline? – tea/coffee/snacks?
As far as food is concerned, it used to be coffee. However, I’ve been sleeping so badly, I've had really bad insomnia for about 18 months, and actually I connected it back to how much caffeine I was drinking. So, I'm now only allowed one cup of coffee a day, whereas previously it was absolutely coffee that focused me.
Usually, when I'm really, really busy, I tend to not eat. I tend to find food a distraction, it's terrible. I should eat more, really.
What's the most unusual situation you've found yourself in because of your job?
Well, it's unusual! I organised an event years ago with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, this was at Heat, and we hosted a special concert that Elton John performed at a very small venue.
In the audience were lots of his celebrity fans like Liz Hurley and David Furnish, [Elton John’s] partner, was there, and because I had organised the event I had an Access All Areas pass. I got to watch Elton John performing in this tiny venue, in the wings of the stage where I could literally have reached out and touched the piano he was playing. So, I was the closest person to him in the whole theatre, and it was a very, very rare and special kind of moment.
It was incredible. I mean, there's lots of other bonkers things that have happened, too, but that, I would say, is a real stand-out moment.
What would you think people would be surprised to know about your job?
I suppose, in a way, New Business Development doesn't sound very creative, and yet, it is possibly one of the most creative roles that I have ever had.
You're constantly having to think of new ideas and new ways of engaging consumers or advertisers with a brand. It sounds, because it's got the word "business" in the title, kind of boring and corporate, however, it's probably the most creative I've ever been.
I think it's a new departure for our industry, really, Business Development being so central, but actually because we are a business that's driven by creativity, all of our new business has got to have creativity at its core.
Can you walk me through your typical day?
So, a typical day is: I go to gym at the crack of dawn, because I find that it focuses me and wakes me up and gets my brain working. I then cycle into the office and then I'm going through emails and getting on top of the day. Although, to be honest, I'll be looking at emails at the gym as well, just seeing what's urgent and needs dealing with immediately.
Then, most of my day is actually taken up with meetings, and at the moment, most of those meetings are relating to the Nest, which is the new incubator program that I've launched at Hearst, which is an ideas and talent accelerator.
I run a new Nest every two months, and so we will recruit talent externally; from our audiences, from our readers or internally from the staff that we already employ. I spend a lot of time teaching them, in a very similar way that I do at City, University, actually. Teaching and encouraging them to develop new businesses. So that, in a way, it takes up all of my day, and then I cram in all of my other work around that central project.
It's so varied, every day is completely different once I hit the office. My routines are set in the morning and the evening, but what happens in between is different every single day.
A lot of it is meetings. It's a combination of having meetings, internal meetings, to help develop products, and also having external meetings to engage new partners in our business and what we could potentially do for them. So, I'm always meeting new people, which I love.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
An advantage is shared knowledge and insight about the industry, it's nice to belong to an industry body that, because, obviously, we're all in competition with one another, but at the same time, the success of our industry is based on us joining forces and sharing our knowledge, I suppose, for the greater good of the industry. That is a benefit to me with belonging to an organisation like that.
If you didn't have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I would work all the way through so that I could then have longer blocks of time off to go and travel. I travel a lot, all the time, anyway. I'm very fortunate, but obviously I'm limited to that set number of holidays per year. I would love to cram all my work into part of the year and travel for the rest of it.
What's the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview) and why?
I took a photograph of the television to upload onto Instagram. There's a new film that's just come out called Widows, which I went to see, and I hated it, but the original from the 1980s that I grew up with was just so good and I found it on Amazon Prime. I took a photograph of the screen and uploaded it onto my Instagram [pictured].
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I don't know if I feel guilty about it. I can't stop eating cheese, but I don't think anyone can. I don't think that's, like, a guilty pleasure. I mean, I'm literally famous for it.
What's your favourite cheese?
At the moment, it's Rollright, which is a very strong soft cheese, but it changes constantly.
Why are you famous for your cheese habit?
I think it's because I bang on about it all the time!
It’s also my go-to interview question, always. As an icebreaker, when I interview anybody, I’ll ask, "What's your favourite cheese?" I literally would ask Elton John that question, because most people are passionate about cheese.
I'm yet to find anyone who doesn't like cheese. It's become like a thing that everyone takes the mickey out of me about, my obsession with it.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
I mean, it's a very shallow answer, but I've always been obsessed with Victoria Beckham.
I would love to somehow work with her, because I think she's incredibly smart but she's also very, very funny and I think that she'd be a good person to do business with.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?
My careers advisor told me that I should train to be an Occupational Therapist, and I went as far as applying on an Occupational Therapy course at college. When, all of a sudden, I just had this wake-up moment that I really, really am not interested in this, but I got as far as going to the interview for the college to do the course. Then, thank God, I diverted to media instead.
I mean it's a great job but, for my brain, I don't know where on earth that advice came from.
What/where is your happy place?
It is the pool at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach. Whenever I'm told to relax in yoga class or anything like that, I think about the pool there. I’ve been there a lot.
What I love about it is, there's a whole string of hotels in Miami, and that all of them have been steroid injected. They're all these massive, beautiful boutique hotels. What I love about the Raleigh is it's a 1920s Art Deco hotel, and they have done the opposite. They've refused to turn themselves into this big steroid-injected hotel, and instead there's a really great Martini bar there, everything's very traditional and authentic, with Art Deco interiors. The pool is just stunning, and I love it.
What would people would be surprised to know about you?
That I'm a real country boy.
Even though I live in the middle of London and I've lived in London since 1991, I basically left the country when I was 18 to come to London. I've never, ever looked back. I love it, but I am really, really, really happy in the countryside.
What would be in your Room 101?
I mean it makes me sound like an old dad, but it is Blackfriars Road.
It is impossible, I don't know who has designed the new layout, but it's impossible to drive down and maybe that's the point. It takes 25 minutes to drive what should be about a five minute journey. I'm such an old man, in terms of that boring dad answer, but it's also true. It drives me insane.
I hate it. It makes no sense. It's almost like it's been designed as a road to pass a driving test on, because there's every kind of hurdle and barrier imaginable to man on that road, like traffic lights every 10 meters.
Introvert or extrovert?
Definitely extrovert. I am happiest when I am around people doing stuff. My home is very much an open venue for my friends. There are constantly people staying there. I have parties all the time. I'm definitely extroverted!
Optimist or pessimist?
Optimistic; I've been accused of being too optimistic in the past. In fact, former colleague of mine once called me and she literally said (because she's famously negative about everything), "Oh God. You're so bloody optimistic all the time."
Film or television? What are you binge-watching anything at the moment?
I am definitely more into TV. I'm binge watching the original Widows from the 1980s on Amazon Prime, which is the series from the photograph. I've just finished binging on Making a Murderer and House of Cards.
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury, definitely. I’ll take a packet of crisps any day over a chocolate bar.
Morning person or a night owl?
Morning, definitely. I love being up before everyone else is up. I love being at the gym at 6.00am when it's just opening. I feel like I've got the whole day ahead of me, and it feels like anything's possible that time of day.
Tea or coffee?
Tea probably, Earl Grey tea.
Emojis - cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
I would say, I think that I use them all the time which, in itself, probably makes them uncool. If I, as a middle-aged man, am using them, then that probably makes them not a cool thing. I use the horror face the most, I'd say. I use either that one or the one with the hand on the chin, the thinking one. Those are my two most overused ones.