Industry Voices

Laura Rowe | Editor | olive, Immediate Media

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

20 May 2020

Locked down at home with nothing to punctuate our days other than breakfast, lunch and dinner it's no surprise that olive magazine subscriptions are up 277% this month and digital traffic is up 200%, increasing steadily every week. Editor Laura Rowe, picks out the processes they'll be carrying forward, the importance the magazine plays in championing the food industry at this time and their reactive content which shifts daily as our quarantine eating habits change.

What made you want to work in the publishing industry?

My parents bought me a DIY magazine kit when I was little, so I used to go around interviewing my family and writing up stories. Since then I have loved reading and writing – I did English Literature at Cardiff University. I also realised that I loved talking to people one on one. I find passionate and talented people so infectious and I get such a buzz speaking to them. To be able to learn their story and then translate it and share it with others is such a privilege. Now I’m addicted to words, magazine craft and shaping a brand!

Chart your career from the start to where you are now.

After leaving university I did some work experience on a daily newspaper in Bath and, from there, was offered a job on the features desk. I worked there for six months, before becoming a junior editor at an independent publishing house called MediaClash. It was an incredibly small team, just myself and an editor, so I learnt so much so fast. We wrote, we subbed, we picture researched, we shot photography, we did everything. I worked my way up and eventually edited five freemium, local lifestyle magazines here. I knew that I wanted to specialise in food, though, so I then got a job as food writer on Fabulous Food magazine and started to build up a freelance career on the side. I wrote for The Guardian and websites such lovefood.com and thewelshmenu.com, who asked me to do some food demonstrations at one of their events. From here I met GBBO winner Jo Wheatley and began working as her regular home economist (the person responsible for the ‘here’s one I made earlier’). I went on to help her edit her second book, which introduced me to the book publishing world. I came back to Bath and took on Crumbs magazine (launching two further editions), during which time I also wrote my debut book, Taste: The Infographic Book of Food. It was after this that I landed my dream job as editor of olive magazine.

As an Editor, how have you adapted to virtually pulling together a monthly magazine? Will you carry on any good practice you have adopted once this is over?

It has been really interesting to be forced into change, because it makes you reassess whether something has been working or not. On a practical level, the biggest change has been our photoshoots. Now we are employing really good photographers who can also cook, style and prop in their own homes. It’s obviously a cheaper and more flexible way of working so it is something that we will look at when this is over. The way we record podcasts has been a gamechanger, as well, because we always thought we had to be in a studio together to do it but now via remote recording we are able to speak to people all around the world.

What percentage increase have your subscriptions and digital traffic seen over the last couple of months?

On the first week of lockdown we sold 740% more subscriptions YOY and we are up 277% on our budget for May subscriptions. We have had some amazing digital traffic growth in the last five years, but it’s currently up 200% YOY for UK and global traffic, and increasing steadily every week of lockdown.

Are there new audiences that you have attracted and engaged with during this time, that you otherwise might not have engaged with?

We have always positioned ourselves as a brand for foodies, which was our point of difference from our competitors. While we produce content which is normally for people who are likely to already have a bit of food knowledge, we have definitely opened ourselves up to those who don’t necessarily identify as foodies but want to cook interesting things at home.

How does a magazine sustain and keep hold of these new audiences and high rates of subscription and digital traffic once this is over?

We have had more social interaction than we have ever had before with a lot of people posting about getting their magazines through the door. Somebody posted on my Instagram today saying that they had named their new kitten after the magazine. For us, it’s about encouraging our readers to sign up to the newsletter and the website so that we can continue to talk to them and help inspire them once this has died down. We are also looking at rewards packages for old and new subscribers. The key thing going forward is to continue to listen to our customers. All of our decision making is based on them and their needs. In the first few weeks we had to do a lot of shifts in the focus of our content. Nobody had flour, for example, so we had to adapt our recipe collections to that and we saw great rewards as a result. Now there are more ingredients available, so we are promoting our more exciting bakes.

What role can you play as a food magazine in championing and supporting the food industry?

Our three key editorial pillars on olive are Cook, Eat, Explore aka recipes, restaurants and travel. Two out of the three pillars are effectively redundant during lockdown so it’s really important that we champion them during this time to ensure they are there when this is over. We update a restaurant heroes article each week, where we look at how restaurants and chefs have pivoted and how we can support them. We’ve also been promoting our great chef recipes and we’ve posted a lot of virtual travel content, telling the human stories, highlighting the great producers of an area, and sharing ways you can get your travel fix from the comfort of your own home.

Without a communal office, what has the communication been like between all the brands at Immediate?

Cross-brand communication has been better than ever because everyone wants to share and help each other out. We have launched an Immediate-wide campaign called Stay Home, Get Inspired, where loads of brands have come together and are cross-promoting on our different platforms and combining our content in a newsletter for readers. We have had simulcasts across our different Facebook pages with the Radio Times editor interviewing olive’s food director, for example. Immediate have also set up something called IM Community where they send three emails a week to staff to support our mental health and wellbeing, with tips on everything from posture to mindfulness, virtual exercise and crafting classes, and opportunities for volunteering and more.

What’s on your Radar?

The big thing that was on my radar before COVID was the rise of veganism and plant-based eating. We took onboard a vegan columnist for the magazine and online due to the high demand on our website for this kind of content. It’s still performing well but baking has certainly overtaken in the current climate.

What magazine would you stockpile?

Architectural Digest to nosy inside peoples’ homes; Grazia for a mixture of celebrity gossip and political commentary; olive to keep me well fed and Gardeners’ World because I am now an avid kitchen gardener!

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