Under the Radar with Sally Hampton
This week I spoke with DC Thomson's Consumer Magazine Publisher and PPA Scotland’s new Chair, Sally Hampton, about the beauty of Edinburgh, a surprising love of cars and living vicariously through characters...
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?
Oh my, well, that was a long time ago. I guess I'm really interested in people, and the storytelling aspect of magazines really, appealed to me. I'd always been a big magazine reader, and quite appropriately given that this week we've been celebrating the 150th anniversary of The People's Friend, my grandmother was a People's Friend reader and she used to pass me on her copy, but obviously I'd grown up reading, predominantly, DC Thomson and children's comics. The Beano, The Dandy, The Bunty, onto The Jackie. The Beano was my favourite. I've never worked on it, but I loved the idea of being a girl but reading about these naughty people. I didn't behave like that myself, but it gave me a bit of a thrill to think that I might
It really appealed and, at that time, [publishers] would put an advert in our local newspaper that said, "Write a chatty letter and then come in and speak to us." So, I did and here I am, more than 30 years later, still loving it.
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
I started working on The People's Friend magazine in 1989. No, that's a lie. 1984, I started working on The People's Friend magazine. I started as a general Editorial Assistant and I was the Cookery Editor by the time I left.
That gave me the bug for being out and about and meeting lots of collaborators. Quite early in my career, I used to jot up and down to London to meet home economists and things like that, so that was good fun. And then I took a complete change of direction and went to work on a teenage launch, which was Catch Magazine. That was in 1989.
Then I had my son, and I was asked to move onto a parenting title that they had at that time, so I worked there for four or five years. And then, in the mid-1990s, I moved to My Weekly, and I've had an association with My Weekly ever since. So I guess it is properly my baby. And I joined as features editor, worked my way up to Editor, and then became an Editor-In-Chief.
First off with responsibility for My Weekly and The Scots Magazine, which was another of our really thriving, we call them heritage products because they've been about for so long.
Then, just last year, I moved on again, and now I'm a Consumer Magazine Publisher with DC Thomson and still have overall responsibility for My Weekly, but there's now a new Editor in place, Stuart Johnstone, who's doing a fantastic job and it's great that he's got the time to concentrate fully on the magazine. I now head up My Weekly and our women's magazine projects, and our portfolio of Scottish magazines, which has now grown from The Scots Magazine. We've now got five different specialist titles with a Scottish flavour.
What's the most unusual situation you've found yourself in because of your job?
Well, I don't know if it's that unusual, but a situation I did find myself in was when I was editor at My Weekly, I and lots of other women's magazine Editors were invited to Downing Street to meet then Health Secretary, but also Tony Blair who was Prime Minister at the time.
It was a kind of seminar and we listened to speeches and then, slightly later than anticipated, Tony Blair came into the room and shook everybody's hand and whatnot. It was very welcoming and nice, but we all kind of got the feeling that he seemed quite on edge, and when we left Downing Street and listened to the news, it turned out that had been the day when there'd been the Prime Minister's Questions that were all about the dodgy dossier and Iraq.
I think it was, in some ways, amazing that he still made the time to come and see all these women's magazines Editors. But perhaps not surprising that he was a little bit on edge.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I don't really, but I suppose, Monday to Thursday I wear dresses and flat shoes and, because I work in Scotland 10 months of the year, thick tights. On a Friday, I always wear my jeans. I suppose how I feel most comfortable is in my jeans and a smart jacket, which is not that surprising in media, but I don't wear it every day of the week.
What do you turn to when you’re on deadline – tea/coffee/snacks?
Chocolate. I am absolute chocoholic. Today is the first day of a month without chocolate, because I'm doing chocolate-free February. Rather than have a New Year's resolution this year, I decided every month I was going to do something different.
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
I suppose, now, the thing that people would be surprised about my job is that so much of it is about the numbers, because if your magazines and their associated brand extensions don't make money, then they cease to exist. People are out of a job. I do lots of different things, but I suppose the most important thing that I do is keep an eye on the numbers and react if something's going the wrong way. Or, even better, if something's going the right way, try to work out how to build on that.
At the moment, I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm quite fortunate in that I manage a number of niche titles where there are passionate readers who are invested in the title. Also, because they're quite niche, there are opportunities to diversify and to take your brand to consumers in different ways, and also to bring commercial partners to these niche audiences that they're interested in.
Obviously, the Scottish titles are regional, and some of them are niches within a niche; we have Scottish Wedding Directory, which is for Scottish brides and then, My Weekly, being such a long established, warm, loving, more mature brand, we have some really engaged consumers there as well. Advertisers realise that it's good to connect with those consumers via a magazine platform, that they're basically not going to find them on Twitter, let's be honest.
Walk me through your typical day.
I don't have a typical day. I absolutely don't have a typical day. I guess every day I will check in with the Editors of my different titles, just to make sure that everything's going well, which obviously, they've got it totally in hand. I probably catch up with my emails first thing in the morning. Everybody probably says that, but really, honestly, there is no typical day.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
When I first started being aware of PPA and started getting involved, it was very helpful from a learning perspective; going to Magfest, attending seminars, and learning from other people in the industry and what they do, and also partners within the industry and what they do. It's been really valuable to me, as well, that colleagues and team members have been able to take advantage of that.
Now, I would say, because I'm fortunate enough to be involved in the Scottish Exec Committee and also now to be chair of the Scottish Committee, I have opportunities to meet with my peers and to talk about business opportunities where we might be able to help one another.
I really intend to build on that during the two years that I'm chair of the Exec Committee. Not just, obviously, for me and my company but helping to connect people because there are great opportunities and challenges for us all to look at.
I think we've reached a point in the magazine industry where we realise that there's a lot to be gained from working together and from supporting one another. It would really make me happy to feel that, even in a small way, I can help to make that happen or help to make it happen more.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
If I had more time, I would read more. Reading is the one thing that I don't have enough time to do. I read a little bit more now than I did until recently because I've started commuting to work on the train and joined a workplace book club, so that's great.
Even just keeping up with what's going on in the industry on top of your leisure reading, you could spend all day doing that.
The most recent book that I read was called The Diary of a Bookseller, and that was quite interesting. It's a gentleman who owns a bookshop in Wigtown, which is quite a small town in Scotland where they run a book fair every year and it's kind of revitalized the local economy. It was just really interesting to read about someone operating on the frontline in an industry that's not that far away from ours.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
It’s the table centrepiece from The People’s Friend’s 150th anniversary party in London.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
What's my guilty pleasure? I don't feel guilty about my pleasures.
I like watching game shows if I've got an afternoon off. You know, The Chase and Tipping Point and things like that? But I don't feel guilty about it, you're allowed something every day.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
I think I would like to have Barack Obama's phone number, so that I could phone him up and say, "So, what do you think about all that's going on just now, Barack?" or "How would you resolve the Brexit deal for us, please?"
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Okay, the worst piece of advice I have ever been given was when I was first in a position where I managed other people, and somebody said to me that I needed to, quotes, "Man up" and basically be a forceful, "just do it" kind of manager.
I had a few months of soul-searching and feeling quite uncomfortable on the back of that. It's not how I believe you should manage people. I think you get the best out of people by nurturing and supporting.
What/where is your happy place?
Edinburgh is my happy place. I think it's the most beautiful city, or I think it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I spend a lot of my weekends there and lose myself in culture and music and theatre. It makes me happy.
I'm from Scotland. I've never lived more than a couple of hours away from Edinburgh, but I spend a lot more time there now than I used to. Quite often I'll go through on a Friday night and meet my husband. I'll go on the train and he'll take the car through and then I step out of the train at Haymarket and walk up towards Princes Street, which is the centre of town, and I just kind of feel like all my cares just ... Not that I have lots of cares, but just feeling myself relax.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I've always really loved cars. I love driving, I love talking about cars, I love talking about weird technical stuff like what size of engine they've got and how they've been tuned and things like that.
I love to look at a Lamborghini. I'm never going to have one, but I love to look at one. But I did have a Ford Capri like all sad petrolheads of my vintage. Well, in fact, I had two Ford Capris, one after the other.
I've been to Monaco, which is an amazing place. The Grand Prix wasn't on at the time I was there, but rather than sightseeing, I just walked round where the track was and went, "This is where Piquet overtook whoever."
I'm quite a big Lewis Hamilton fan. I do think he's an amazing driver. I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for Brazilian drivers, so Massa, Barrichello, Senna before that. Of the current crop, I think Hamilton's head and shoulders above the rest of them.
What would be in your Room 101?
Well, I'm quite easily irritated by noise, so yeah. Just generally people talking too loudly on trains and planes. I do have a set of noise cancelling headphones to maintain my sanity, but I was on a train journey last week and even with them on, all I could hear was this guy on the phone endlessly talking nonsense.
Introvert or extrovert?
I actually think I'm a combination of both. I love being with people, but I need my own space as well sometimes.
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
TV. I always watch things behind, I wait until people tell me, "This was good," and then I watch it. So the most recent thing I did that with was The ABC Murders, that was on at Christmas. I love the cinema, but I don't go that often.
Sweet or savoury?
Savoury. I love cheese, especially Danish Blue.
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
I think they're really cool, and yes, I do use them. The one that I like best is the wink with its tongue sticking out.