"We like to shake things up and keep it fresh. A lot of our decisions come down to who we’re all talking about in the office at that moment and who our readers are chatting about on our website and social media," says Now's Victoria Kennedy – the deputy editor keeping up with the fast and frenetic pace at IPC Media's celebrity weekly.
Ensuring the right celebs are chosen for the cover, overseeing the editorial team's blogs, organising a 5km race in wedding dresses and accepting thank you calls from Peter Andre (the man, the legend) are just part of the responsibilities that come with working on the magazine. We find out what goes into keeping readers, and celebrity stars, coming back to Now.
'What about Now?'*
*Not just a terrible Westlife cover; it's also the opening question to this interview.
What makes Now the best magazine in its sector?
Our tagline is 'Gossip Gets Glamorous' and that's exactly what we are. We set the news agenda both with the stories we break and our exclusive shoots and interviews (that regularly get followed up by national newspapers and websites). We also have by far the best fashion and beauty pages in our market and pride ourselves on the fact that Now is a magazine with heart – we’re all about girl power here, instead of trying to make women feel down about themselves, unlike some of the other celeb weeklies. But, hey, I’m biased!
Which brands are its main competitors?
The celebrity weekly market is the toughest magazine category of them all; there are nine other magazines within our market competing for our readers, and we never take this for granted. But we also consider newspapers and websites our competitors when it comes to breaking showbiz stories – we always want to be the ones breaking the exclusive.
How does the editorial team select who’s going to be on the front cover and the headlines for each issue?
We like to shake things up and keep it fresh. A lot of our decisions come down to who we’re all talking about in the office at that moment and who our readers are chatting about on our website and social media.
We were the first celebrity weekly (apart from the more royal-focused HELLO! and OK!) brave enough to give Kate Middleton a main cover because we knew that our readers really liked her – and it was great when the sales figures reflected that. I’d be lying if I said we haven’t made the odd mistake, but we’d rather try out different stars on the cover than bore our readers with the same couple of cover stars week in and week out.
Describe a typical day at work (if there is a typical day for you…)
I read the tabloids and showbiz websites before I get into work so that I’m top of what’s going on, because as soon as you get into the office you don’t get a moment to yourself again! I also have Radio 4’s Today programme on in the background while I’m getting ready so that I’m still in touch with the news and what’s happening in the ‘real’ world!
The editor Sally and myself are both from a newspaper background so we like to keep things fast-paced. A typical day might involve a morning conference with the section heads talking about what stories we’re chasing, followed by a chat about what the team are going to blog about for our website that day (people from every department on the magazine blog – from news to the art desk – and I oversee them), then a meeting with the fashion team to talk about an upcoming celeb shoot, a catch up with marketing and advertising to chat about new projects, followed by a meeting on digital developments. I’m really excited about new ways we can get readers to engage with Now away from the magazine and we’ve got a lot of exciting things going on behind the scenes. I finish the day with a pile of proofs to read.
But the best part of the day is always the office banter: from which celeb bloke we fancy at the moment to the TV show we’re addicted to, we might work hard but we always have fun and I think you can tell that when you read the magazine.
Is there anything you’re really excited about that’s coming up for the magazine?
We've just launched Race for Wife, which is a project that I'm really proud of. On Saturday 22 June around 100 of us – including members of the team, readers and our celebrity friends – are running/walking 5km dressed as runaway brides. We will be at the front of Cancer Research UK's Race for Life event at London's Finsbury Park and I love the fact that we will be leading the run with a sea of women in white dresses or tutus. It's going to be a really girly morning out, raising money for an amazing charity and promises to be really moving – many of the women joining us have battled cancer themselves or lost someone close to them from the disease. We still have places left so please join us: www.nowmagazine.co.uk/raceforwife.
Now has a roster of big celebrities who are happy to work with (and, now, race with) the magazine – how do you maintain good relationships with them?
Celebrities regularly choose to tell their stories to us over our competitors – this comes down to the fact we have great relationships with agents and because celebrities know that, while we will push them to talk candidly for the first time about aspects of their lives, they can always trust us to tell their story accurately. They also know our shoot with them will look stunning as we use top photographers.
About Now and freelance journalists
Does Now pay for contributions from freelance journalists? Which sections are they usually commissioned for?
Yes – we will always pay a trustworthy freelancer for a good news exclusive or amazing real life story.
Do you think journalism training is still important, or is it better for have a blog or online portfolio of some kind? Which is better for being commissioned by Now magazine?
I think journalism training is very important – I did a post grad at City University and still use the skills I gained there, like shorthand and legal training, every day. But nothing can beat good ideas, enthusiasm and sheer bloody determination to get a good story, plus the experience you gain when you’re actually on the job.
Of all the press releases your team receive on a daily basis, what percentage of them make it to publication?
It really depends – I get sent a lot of strange releases that would never in a million years make the pages of Now. My best advice to PRs would be to read the magazine; is a story about farming REALLY going to make it into a celebrity weekly? My big bugbear is when PRs call me and ask if we would like to feature one of their products but clearly haven’t thought about where it would go in the magazine.
How do you think the PR/journo dynamic will change in the future?
There will always be a great relationship between journalists and good PRs. What makes a good PR? One who reads the magazine and ‘gets’ what makes a good story for us.
What’s the best thing about working at Now magazine, and is there anything you’d change about the job?
The people I work with – I’m surrounded by a bunch of people who are bloody brilliant at what they do and it makes for a really creative office, with everyone constantly sparking ideas off of each other. Our policy is that the best ideas are always the ones that start with ‘I know this is a bit weird but…’
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
Every job I’ve ever got has been through people I’ve worked with in the past recommending me for positions, which is a relief because I don’t think I’m that great in interviews [this one's going pretty well, we think – Ed]!
I started out doing work experience at a news agency before being offered a job there. I then worked as a showbiz reporter at the Daily Express before joining the launch team at Reveal magazine. I was there as a celebrity writer for just over a year before I landed my then-dream job as a feature writer at the Daily Mirror. I spent five years there, moving my way up to become assistant features editor before getting a coffee with the editor at Now (a previous colleague at Reveal) to talk about my current job.
How important is Twitter/Facebook when working in journalism now? Would you find it difficult to work/function without it?
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have changed everything for the celebrity market – readers can now get direct access to their favourite celebrities in a way that they never could before. In the past, celebrity magazines and newspapers were the only places they could read interviews with the stars, now they can get instant quotes from them any time of day. This all means that we have to work harder as journalists, but we're up for the challenge.
On your Twitter (@vixkennedy), you’ve said “How many journalists get paid to talk about One Direction all day?” Who are some of your fave celebs that you get to write about in Now magazine, and are there any that you really can’t stand?
We're often surprised that the celebs who you think are going to be the biggest divas turn out to be pussy cats and then the ones you think will be the most down-to-earth prove challenging. I love it when a star surprises you in a good way; after we ran an emotional Peter Andre interview recently he personally called our news editor to thank her for writing his story so well – that’s good manners for you.
Victoria is tweeting @vixkennedy.