Under the Radar with Laurence Mozafari
This week I spoke with the newly appointed Editor of Digital Spy and PPA 30 Under 30 winner, Laurence, about writing creatively, gaining an Editorship at a very young age, the power of helping others up the career ladder and going to the world's deepest underwater rave...
Ellie Austin scored a job at Immediate Media as a Features Writer for Radio Times after graduating from the Magazine Journalism MA course at City University. Here she talks about working in the fast-paced world of a major weekly magazine and the power of a good coffee.
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
I always wanted to be a journalist, I was quite lucky in that regard and when I was a kid, I had it quite set in my mind. I'd read Official PlayStation Magazine, which I loved, cover to cover and then when I got to university, I did a lot of straight news. I found that there wasn't really opportunity to do lots of creative writing, an idea which solidified when I did work on local papers and BBC Stoke.
I got into reading FHM while studying and I really loved the style of writing there, so I got it set in my head that I wanted to be Features Editor there. I was a bit of a generalist, rather than having a specialism like football or tech or something, but I'm interested in TV, movies and gaming, which fit in with the men’s magazines of that time, as they covered lots of interests. I managed to get an internship at FHM straight out of university. Then I went into the digital side of magazines about 10 years ago, at FHM.com and I've never looked back from there, really.
What have been your career highlights so far?
I've had a few! I became Digital Editor at Heat Magazine at age 23, which I was really chuffed about at the time. I interviewed my childhood hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger when I worked at Heat Magazine as well. He loved my hair, which was a great ego boost for me. Also, I got to lecture at a number of universities, particularly City, University of London and Nottingham Trent a few times. That's been really rewarding, to help people come up. Then, obviously there’s winning PPA's 30 under 30 earlier this year. I also won the BSME's Deputy Editor of the year 2018, which was quite a big deal for me. And, of course, I became Editor of Digital Spy, the UK's biggest entertainment website, recently.
In terms of work and places, I always wanted to cover Glastonbury for work, and the Brit Awards. So that was quite nice too to cover Beyoncé at Glastonbury and do the Brits a few years in a row. It has been quite an honour for me.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
Generally, it ends up being something like a fisherman's jumper, or a heavy-knit jumper and jeans. It’s quite basic and I tend to fall into a habit of wearing a lot of black.
Magazines are generally a bit more casual, but now that I'm Editor and there's more commercial meetings, I think I’ll need invest in a few more suits.
How do you handle deadlines?
My ethos on deadlines is generally that I try and get whatever I have to do out the way early. I don't like leaving things until the very last minute because I don't feel, a lot of time, that I've done my best work if I leave it until the last minute.
When I'm leading a team, I try to be very clear and concise about what we want to do. Against a deadline, things can get very murky and you can have too many cooks, that sort of thing, so I think being very clear and direct about what we're trying to do is key. On the whole, I think I can deal with deadlines well, despite going quite prematurely grey.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
I'm stuck between two. The first was when I was working at FHM and got to go on my first ever press trip after I'd done some good work on the mag, and I went to the EXIT festival in Serbia. I ended up with the guy that ran the EXIT festival, at his house, which was actually an old wooden train they'd chopped up and built a house out of. It was up on this hill overlooking the river in Novi Sad and the sun was going down and the star of Serbian Big Brother turned up, who’s this huge, portly old man who everyone was going crazy over. Then some Serbian basketball players turned up and we had Serbian Barbecue and, quite like the festival, it was just very surreal.
The other one was just last year. I went to Italy to go to the world's deepest underwater rave. We were basically at the bottom of a diving pool, there's a tube going through the water where there's a DJ set going on and people were watching in the tube and you kind of rave under the water. They have music playing through your headphones. And then there's people that could deep dive who were diving next to you in neon stuff and giving you glow sticks and things. I'll probably never do that again!
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
Probably that at the moment, we don't have a daily news meeting. We did have one for a long time, and it's kind of a thing we've constantly tried to evolve. I think sometimes, meetings can drag on, so our new system currently is working really well, a lot of the daily news meeting’s elements are replicated digitally and we schedule a meeting on a weekly basis to have a look back and forwards about what we're doing for news.
Walk me through your typical day.
I think it depends on the day of the week, but the sort of things that I'll normally hit are the news meeting, which I said previously was daily, but at the minute we are experimenting with a weekly. I have a lot of one-to-ones with my senior staff scattered across different days of the week.
Depending on which day we're on, I'll be talking to one of them and catching up about their workload, what they're doing, their priorities, anything I need to flag.
Then lots and lots and lots of emails. I've never been an inbox zero person, so I'm constantly battling emails that are coming in, like press releases or internal emails or ideas that I need to catch up on.
I'm also working quite heavily with the video side of things. That was a big part of my role that still carried on from when I was Associate Editor, then Deputy Editor. We recently hired a Video Editor, so at the minute I'm catching up with the video schedule for the day, what edits are we doing, what we're filming that day, the deadlines and embargoes, going back and doing a lot of video producing, and checking the videos, and occasionally I do get a little bit of video editing myself. Presenting can be a big part of it as well, as in presenting video.
We just finished a bunch of Game of Thrones live streams, which we were doing after the show every Monday from 10PM onwards, until quite late at night. In fact, I’m relieved I have my Monday's back, even though I'm sad the show is over.
There's a lot of commercial work and commercial briefs can drop at any time and invariably they're short lead times, but we're trying to come up with good ideas for them, or ideas for junkets and creative solutions.
Training, I guess, is the other thing. If I go on training sessions with social, internal company training, I have to do a lot of presentations and a few more events. As of late last week, I was in Manchester, and I've been running a 20th anniversary quiz of Digital Spy, where we did a big TV, movies and entertainment quiz for a bunch of agencies which went down really well.
The other thing that comes up all the time is event planning. We've got ComicCon coming up so we're going to get together and plan for what we're doing for that.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
Digital Spy won the PPA Digital Content Team of the Year award in 2017 and 2018. We’re nominated for the PPA Team of the Year award this year as well, so fingers crossed.
What was really great about that was giving Digital Spy the credit it deserved. It's always been a great, well-performing site and I think one of the things we tried to do in the last three years is make it more consumer-facing and really build it to as big as it can be.
So, it's really great for the team to win that award because there’s a lot of hard work from those people that goes in. It's not one individual.
Obviously for my own personal viewpoint, winning a 30 under 30 was also great, that I managed to squeeze it in just before I was too old. It's really great for the PPA to have the ability to pick out these up-and-coming people and established people, and established teams, in all sorts of different fields, to give them the credit they deserve.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
Oh. I'd love to say I'd spend it expanding my mind and reading or becoming a drummer like I've always wanted to… but I think I'd probably end up binging on the TV that I need to watch and playing PlayStation, actually.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
It's a card that my Nan sent me to congratulate me on becoming Editor of Digital Spy, she'd handwritten me the card and I went to see her the weekend. I don't get a chance to see her very much and she said, “I'm not a writer like you, but I've put pen to paper to say congratulations." It was a really big thing.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I actually love power ballads; my girlfriend absolutely hates them. I love “Kiss from a rose” by Seal because I remember it was on the Batman soundtrack when I was a kid.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
What’s the best/worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It was from a lecturer of mine at Staffordshire university, John Rafferty, he used to say, "Be a pump, not a drain." I think by that he meant, be a positive person. Pump the water. Get people gee'd up and don't be a drain on things.
Thinking back to people I've met in my career, some of the people that perform best and do best are people persons that connect with people and get on well with people. If you can work well with someone, that's most of the battle.
What/where is your happy place?
Glastonbury is amazing, and unfortunately, I won't be there this year. I'm usher at my friend's wedding, and he's booked it on Glastonbury weekend! I've always been so happy whenever I'm there. Either that, or Max's Sandwich Shop in Finsbury Park because that place is incredible. There are great sandwiches and it's just around the corner from my girlfriend's house. If not Glastonbury, then you would probably find me there on the weekend.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Maybe that I can't really ride a bike, I never really learned. I've tried to learn a few times over the years, and I blog about it. I can just about wobble along, I’m not great at turning, which is quite a key thing to riding a bike. Or that I was bitten by a dog on my face when I was in my early 20’s. Looking at my face you’d never know, so I was quite lucky in that regard.
What would be in your Room 101?
People who wear sunglasses on London Underground. It's quite a specific thing that annoys me. I don't know if it annoys anyone else. Obviously, I don't mean people that need a prescription or something like that. But if you're just wearing fashion sunglasses underground then why on earth are you doing that? You can barely see. Take them off, you poser.
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
I think TV generally, I think it's generally better. I do like just dipping into film because you can complete it and it's done with. I’m binge-watching Killing Eve season two at the moment.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
I think probably more of a morning person.
Tea or coffee?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
I think cringey most of the time. I think it's between either the thumbs up or the grimace. I use the grimace quite a lot which I think I was misunderstanding as a smile for quite a long time. But now I just keep using it as the grimace, just like, "Ugh."