Under the Radar with Emma-Lily Pendleton

Louisa Cavell

This week I spoke with the Editor-in-Chief of Future Plc title, Canon Europe Pro, where we dove inside the world of contract publishing, discussed travelling the world as part of her day job and a surprising love of classic cars...

 Emma-Lily Pendleton

What made you want to work in the magazine industry?

I started in the newspaper industry and, to begin with, I didn't know I wanted to do magazines… but when I started to understand the differences, it was the mixture design and editorial that appealed to me. I like the design element of a magazine, how crafted it is, opposed to a newspaper where it's mostly templated.

What have been your career highlights so far?

We were just nominated for a Webby Award for a feature we did for Canon Europe about a marine biologist and the work he's doing in Norway – using his scientific knowledge and access to photograph Norway’s whales, eagles, sea lions...His underwater photography is well worth a look.

Two years ago, I started working in contract publishing. I’d been working as the Editor of Professional Photography magazine at Future, but this opportunity arose and it’s provided me with all of my career highlights: I’ve travelled to the Arctic Circle, New York, Sicily, Milan… and we’ve been nominated for a PPA and won CMA awards for the work we’ve produced along the way.

It was a big career shift, and it comes with a whole new set of challenges, but it’s allowed me to create video with budgets I could only have dreamt of when working on newsstand titles. I’ve learnt skills I didn’t expect to from some fantastic journalists who’ve already moved over to the dark side.

What's the most unusual situation you found yourself in because of your job?

On a 10-plus hour tin boat journey in the Arctic Sea with a group of men… wearing a survival suit, with the only toilet option being hanging off the back of the boat with my bum out in the Arctic. I dehydrated myself for the few hours beforehand so I wouldn’t have to flash the whales.

What would people be surprised to know about your job?

I think that contract publishing probably isn't that well understood by the rest of the publishing industry. I feel like the team I have now and the way we work is far more traditional and old-school than what I was doing over the past few years for magazines, where my team was increasingly scaled down.

Brands are becoming so much more open-minded when it comes to content, they're realizing branding doesn’t have to be pushed down throats – there doesn't have to be this hard sell. So we get a decent budget and more freedom to create great content than I think might be expected. Standards are high, and the price for mistakes is more apparent.

Walk me through your typical day.

I take my daughter to school, arrive (with a slightly frantic demeanour, making a beeline for my desk) at work. I’ll spend a couple of hours answering emails, and dealing with or assigning tasks that have materialised overnight. A day never goes by without two or three meetings: at least one of those being with our client. We work hard to keep meetings as succinct as possible.

I shouldn’t, but I eat at my desk… I’ll often have a content proposal or five to write, or on-going projects to report on, and some first or final reading. I have team-members in Bath, London and Copenhagen, so editorial meetings where we make sure everyone is on the same page are a regular punctuation. The days go fast, and struggling to answer this has made me realise how blessedly varied it is.

Do you have a go-to work outfit?

My standard go-to outfit is just black jeans and a jazzy jacket or jumper.

How do you handle deadlines?

It's a difficult question – it just depends on the deadline. I think deadlines are great, and I need deadlines. But in the context of working with Canon, there are a lot of them going on all the time. So those editorial meetings are so important just to make sure we're sharing the load and we're working in the right direction – keeping an eye on them. There are often multiple projects going on simultaneously, with colliding deadlines. We’re lucky to have a fantastic production editor keeping us on track with those.

I think that my gut reaction to looming deadlines is to try and get it done as fast as possible – to just get my head down and get on with it.

How has being a member of the PPA helped you or added value to your brand?

I think, being in contract publishing, it's nice to still feel part of the wider publishing industry. It's great reading about what everyone else is doing, and the insights and the courses PPA runs. It's nice to feel a part of a bigger industry, and then of course it’s important that clients see and recognise what it means about us.

If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day? 

The ambitious person in me wants to say I would read a lot more and I would exercise, and do all those things that I make excuses for not doing enough of because of lack of time. I think in reality I would probably be lying in bed browsing my phone for 7 hours longer.

What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?

I took a picture of a wall with some flowers growing up it, that I thought looked pretty. It was at Lacock Abbey.

Emma-Lily Pendleton last photo on phone

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I do not feel guilty about my pleasures, although there's one that verges on it:  I love instant noodles. Generally, I think I'm quite a healthy person. But the instant noodles that you get from Asian supermarkets with lemon squeezed on – I can (and do) eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know they're not good for me. There's no nutrition there, but I can't stop eating them.

Whose phone number do you wish you had?

Ryan Gosling.

What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?

It's not so much the advice but the thing that has often preceded bad advice: "Believe me, I've been doing this a long time.” I always think that if someone's saying that, then it's probably preceding something that you don't really want to hear, or isn't going to be very useful to hear. I don’t mean to belittle experience, but condescension in the face of new ideas is the worst.  

What/where is your happy place?

A Singapore hawker centre. My family used to spend a lot of time in Singapore – my mum’s Chinese-Indonesian, and her family live there. The hawker centre is where you get all the local foods – it’s a foodie’s heaven.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I drive a 1974 Ford Capri MK1 and I've had 37 classic cars over the past 15 years.

What would be in your Room 101?

Have you noticed how 9 times out of 10, if you ask ‘How are you?’ the answer is, ‘Busy’. It's such a subjective thing. I think it's really overused, and feels like a competition in being busy.  

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?


Optimist or pessimist?


Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?

Film, but Fleabag has been phenomenal.

Sweet or savoury?


Morning person or night owl?

Night owl.

Tea or coffee?


Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?

Thumbs up

Cool. I use the thumbs up all the time – it seems more dynamic than sending simply a ‘yes’.

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