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Focus Interview with Tom Sandham, editor of CLASS

CLASS magazine is monthly controlled circulated title aimed at everybody who owns, manages or works in a bar or quality pub. Here editor Tom Sandham tells us a little more about what he is interested in and the best way for PRs to gain coverage.

About the publication:

Who reads it and how many of them are there?
The magazine is read by anyone who works in the premium end of the bar industry, so bar tenders, managers, owners and anyone who works on the premium brands, specifically spirits. We also have a growing international fan base. It’s a niche, only 10,000 subscribers, but it’s 100% requested so in big demand.

What subjects do you cover?
Cocktails liqueurs and speciality spirits (hence CLASS), location reports in the UK and global, profile pieces, forums, general news, training, bar menus, also regular features on boutique beers and wines.

What makes you different from the other publications in your sector?
We’re the only title that is specifically targeting bartenders with a purely spirits and cocktail focus.

Do you produce a features list? Why? Why not?
We do, although as a monthly magazine we can’t be too rigid with it, simply because we have to react to changing trends. I tend to use it as a broad guide for PRs, not a concrete plan. Frankly, on a monthly I’m not sure I think they’re a great idea past listing one or two general subjects.

About PRs:

Do you work closely with PRs (e.g. for supplements, round tables, events) or do you keep them at arm’s length?
I have around 20 PR calls a day and currently have 2,000 emails unopened. The problem I face is being inundated with PR contacts. This is great, it really helps, but it also makes close relationships difficult. I tend to have very good working relationships with a number of brands and bar operators, this is direct contact so cuts out the PR. That said I also work closely with those who I’ve been able to meet and like!

Do you have any advice for PRs?
Get journalists out with you on a relaxed occasion and show them that you’re nice. Sounds puerile, but frankly, we respond a lot better to the people we get on with. The job is about communication, so show journalists you’re good at that.

What information/input from PRs is most useful to you?
I’ll look at most things, events, brands news, people stories, what annoys me is when PRs send stuff that clearly isn’t relevant. At least read the product before contacting me, the number of people I talk to who bang on about ‘pub’ related news and don’t realise we’re talking about very specific premium bar information is staggering. Sounds pedantic, but as I get a wave of information every day, this really wastes my time.

What’s the best starting point for a PR who wants to tell you about their client?
Show me they know the product, try and get me out to meet them. Lunch works, but better is evenings, this is an after 6pm industry. A meeting is a big ask… I’m not sure why I’m suggesting it, I tend to have to organise a lunch four weeks in advance with all the international travel, but it really is the best way. And hassle me. I get there in the end…

When is the best time for PRs to contact you & what is your deadline for contributions?
In this industry there are no parameters, tonight I’ll be out until 1am and up at 5am to fly to Denmark. Monday I could work an 8am – 6pm shift (although I’m sure I’ll have to judge in a cocktail competition or go to a bar opening…).
I’d advise emails really, I can’t ignore them. Most of the time.

About you:

Where have you worked previously and what led to you becoming Editor for CLASS?
When I left uni I did lots of things, mucked about, tried to be an accountant, re-housed homeless people, flew an RAF jet for a while, did some weight lifting in the Olympics made some movies with Sharon Stone, these weren’t on general release. But I’ve been a journalist for the last eight years and covered everything from finance to celebrity nonsense and top-flight sport. I’ve worked specifically on drinks for the last five though and have recently co-authored a book on Beer (good Beer Guide West Coast USA – buy it please) so this is an industry I know well. I was deputy editor on Class when the editor left and asked me if I wanted a punt as editor, I did, so here I am a year on.

What interests you most about your job?
I get a lot of free drink, although my girlfriend (who’s in PR) is rightly hacked off about the number of spirits bottles currently clogging up every room in the house. I enjoy visiting new countries (although the actual travel is a bit boring). But I’m grateful for the occasional cocktail in a great bar that comes my way.
In the last 12 months I’ve been everywhere imaginable, from midnight sun in Lapland to white sand beach in Havana (in fact I did these two trips in the same week – props to Finalndia and Havana Club). It’s a massive privilege and I get to meet some great people.
The enthusiasm of the readers is also fantastic, they really love the product and that’s quite rare, it’s like their monthly bible so it’s a big responsibility but also good to know people like what we’re doing.
And our awards, they’re great, they come up in November and while standing up and presenting them to 800 of the industry finest scares the crap out of me, it’s an amazing occasion.

Describe a typical day at work.
Doesn’t exist. See when to contact me. Usually ends up in one of the best bars in the country though.

I’d like to have a go at…
Flying, becoming rich and being invisible.
Getting a TV show off the ground, I love TV. I’ve had countless conversations about this with production companies and it never seems to go anywhere. TV is a total mystery to me – not how the people get in that little box, more how anything without a ‘celebrity’ in it ever gets made.

Where do you hope to be in five year’s time?
Somewhere sunny with a family.
And a TV show. A publishing company. And lots of spare time to enjoy life.

[img|jpg|Top: Sandham, bottom: CLASS]