In today’s interview we hear from Simon Griffiths editor and creator of H2Open, the magazine for open water swimmers. He tells us all about his inspiration for the magazine, its readership, and how he wants PRs and freelancers to help.
Who reads it and how many of them are there?
As far as we know, H2Open is the world’s first and only magazine dedicated to the fast-growing sport of open water swimming. Our readers are a diverse group ranging from people who enjoy a quiet dip at a local beauty spot to wild swimmers looking for amazing places to swim, competitive individuals tackling mass participation races from 750m up to and beyond 10km to solo swimmers taking on long-distance swimming challenges. From our launch in February 2011 to date we have signed up nearly 1,000 subscribers. About 10% of these are outside the UK. Additional copies are sold through WH Smith or handed out in goody bags at events, totalling 5-6,000 per issue.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
Anything to do with open water swimming in its various guises. We have regular pieces on iconic swim success stories, the best places to swim, how to train for different sorts of challenges and what to eat and drink. We love to hear from readers about why they love open water swimming or challenges they’ve taken on to raise money for good causes. We also keep abreast of what is happening in the world of professional marathon swimming.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
We are the only magazine to focus on open water swimming.
How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
We like to pick a seasonal or topical theme for an issue and focus a portion of content around that theme. For example, we’ve previously had a beginners’ issue and a wetsuit issue, and we’re planning a Channel Swimming special for later in the year. We’re a small team and we decide among ourselves what to feature on the cover.
Do you produce a features list? Why? Why not?
We have a features list for internal use but we don’t share it with anyone else as it’s just a rough draft of what we’d like to include in the next year or so. We receive a steady stream of suggestions from freelancers and have plenty of ideas of our own, and they all get dumped onto the list. Ideally we’d like to produce a sanitised version for external consumption but simply haven’t prioritised it.
About you and freelance journalists:
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so,how?
We’re happy to receive pitches by email. We’d prefer a pitch with a specific story idea that clearly shows the writer has read the magazine and has a good idea where his or her story might fit. General pitches along the lines of “I’m a writer, I like swimming, can I write for you?” don’t really do the trick. We do receive quite a few pitches and try to respond but it’s not always possible. We’re just as likely to phone as reply by email, so include a phone number.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
Our readers are both expert swimmers and beginners so a writer has to know what he is talking about but still be able to explain things to people who might be struggling to grasp basic swimming concepts. We don’t want to spend hours editing text or cutting it down to size, so, like most places, we need well written content of the right length delivered on time.
If you can, tell us about the best approach you’ve seen from a freelance…and the worst…
I don’t have a specific example of best but the ones we’ve used have typically been those where the writer has come up with something we haven’t thought of and told exactly how it would be written.
We don’t need any more pitches from people taking up swimming for the first time and offering to share their experiences.
Do you work closely with PRs (e.g. for supplements, round tables, events) or do you keep them at arm’s length?
We’re happy to talk to PRs and like to know about new products or relevant stories as long as they are valuable and interesting to our readers. We’ve occasionally asked PRs to help us contact people we’d like to interview. If people want advertising however they should pay for it.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Don’t send us irrelevant stuff
How should a PR approach you about their client?
When is the best time for PRs to contact you & what is your deadline for contributions?
For new products around 4-6 weeks before publication. For news about 3 weeks before publication.
Describe a typical day at work: What are you editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet?
It depends on the cycle with the magazine. I share the commissioning, subbing and writing with our deputy editor Sarah Warwick based on our time commitments and interests. Sarah handles most of the subbing, plus writing and picture research. I also write but spend time on marketing and the business side of things – meeting or talking to potential partners and posting updates on Facebook and Twitter, where we’re finding an increasing number of readers. I also look after our website and spend too much time dealing with emails.
What interests you most about your job?
As something of a swimming nerd, I’m fascinated by the topic. It’s a surprisingly technical sport. One of the great things about it is you can continue to refine and improve your technique as you get older and, unless you’ve competed at the highest levels, offset declining fitness and actually get faster. I’m also fascinated by all the stories of people who take on extreme challenges. I love the feedback we get from readers telling us how the magazine has inspired them to take on challenges of their own and I’m really excited about starting something from scratch.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I’ve worked in a number of places both inside and outside of journalism, including banking, engineering and development. Directly before starting H2Open I worked as a freelancer contributing to Triathletes’ World and Africa Investor (an African business publication).
Do you tweet? Why, why not?
We have an account but I rarely use it, although Sarah Tweets when there is something of immediate interest. I have enough trouble keeping up with Facebook. I haven’t yet seen the worth of tweeting incessantly but I’m willing to be educated.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
I’m tempted to say, “never give advice, especially good advice,” but it’s a quote and I read it somewhere. Oscar Wilde possibly but I’m not sure.
What media do you seek out 1st thing in the morning?
I read The Economist while I eat breakfast.