Focus interview on Familes South East with editor Robina Cowan
Families South East brings local news, products, events and regular features to busy parents in the South East and Kent borders.
This week FeaturesExec caught up with editor and mum Robina Cowan to find out more about the magazine, her PR pet hates and what she’d do if she had a day off.
About the publication:
Tell us a bit about Families South East:
Families South East is an informative local magazine for parents living in south east London and the Kent borders.
How do you differ from other media outlets in your sector?
The magazine has been established for over 12 years and has a very loyal following, with strong editorial features. When we run reader surveys, they tell us they consider Families their ‘bible’ because it is local, focused, well written and full of useful information. Our advertisers choose us because, as one said “it’s obviously a magazine people read – and your readers are such nice people!”
Describe a typical reader for us:
A professional mother aged 30+ who is taking a break from her career to raise her children, or already back at work. Fathers and childcarers read the magazine too, and we ensure that they are included in the editorial. We mainly target parents with babies up to the end of primary school age, but also include features on bringing up teenagers to support readers who have been ‘hooked’ on the magazine since their children were younger.
Which stories are you most interested in covering?
Local news and stories get priority, followed by subjects commonly faced by all parents, such as childcare, education, family health, book and product reviews, and event listings.
How do you decide the content and headlines?
Experience! I have a family myself so the content is lead by the issues and needs I come across, along with seasonal features, and suggestions from readers, local contacts or PR companies.
How does the editorial process run? Do you have specific days when you focus on different aspects or is the planning on a much more ad-hoc basis?
Each issue has regular features – Local News, Education News, You and Your Baby, What’s New product/ service reviews, a Book review page, and London event listings, which we fill as relevant pieces come in or we’ve researched them. There is also a ‘special feature’ for each issue, such as Choosing a school, Choosing childcare, pregnancy and babycare, etc, which we research as required.
Do you produce a features list?
Yes. It is always available on request.
Do you use freelance contributions, and if so, are they for any particular section/type of work?
We don’t buy in features – the copy is written or sourced inhouse. However we do publish articles which are relevant, where they promote a certain product or service (such as a book or parenting course, for example); credit the author and provide contact details.
Do you work closely with PRs?
The good ones, yes.
What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
Those who have targeted what we need and provide relevant information that is easy to access.
What’s the best starting point for a PR who wants to tell you about their client?
Do you have a PR pet hate?
Yes! Having worked in PR myself for 10 years before starting the magazine, I have experience of the ‘other side’. These are my pet hates: 1) Emails where the main content is an attachment, and there is no incentive in the subject line or introduction to delve further – please include the information in the body copy. We receive about 100 emails a day – those that require timely investigation don’t get read. 2) PR people who call to ask if we received their email. If we did and want more information, we’ll ask for it (assuming the contact details are included) – constant calls from someone clearly with a ‘round robin’ phone list is not helpful. 3) Emails which are badly written or have grammatical errors. 4) PR people who cannot be reached or do not respond to emails when I need more information/ images etc. 5) People who send six images when I’ve asked for just one – they take forever to download. It would be useful if more clients used image libraries such as Pick and Mix or PR shots which are easy and quick, and ‘open’ 24/7.
When is the best time for PRs to contact you & when is your deadline for contributions?
The deadline for each issue is the beginning of the month before the next issue date – eg early August for the September issue, early September for the October issue, etc. There isn’t a particular ‘best time’ to make contact, although the week before we go to print is usually very busy.
Describe a typical day at work:
It depends how close we are to deadline, but broadly the day starts with the boring stuff – dealing with the post/ invoices etc/ calls that came in overnight, saving the researching and writing for the afternoon as it’s what I enjoy more. A typical day probably includes about 40 minutes wading through emails to sort out which need a response and which are not relevant to the magazine.
What do you love about your work?
Working from home so I can be on hand for family life; not having to commute to town. Researching and writing double page features and adding a local angle.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
In a small PR consultancy then an international one for ten years, followed by three years inhouse in a senior marketing position for a national retail chain. After that a year or two offering freelance marketing/ copywriting/ proofing services before setting up the magazine in order to work around family life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?
Sitting by a Greek pool with a stack of novels and a mojito appeals.
What’s your idea of a relaxing day off?
Tennis or Qi Jong in the morning, followed by a light lunch in a pleasant local café, and a good book to look forward to.
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