Under the Radar with Simon Kanter
This week I spoke with Haymarket's Editorial Director about the unexpected joy of a bus journey, having a little slice of heaven outside his front door, an extensive career in creative innovation and one very memorable work trip...
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?
Nepotism, basically. I was sitting on my arse at home and my dad said, "You need to go to work, you lazy shit."
He said, “I've got a mate called Cyril Giddy who works for a company called Northwood Publications. I’ve been on the phone to him and asked him if he could give you a job and he said yes and you're starting Monday, so get out and go and start working."
I'd never even thought about a career until that point, I was about 21/22 years old. I did a year in Australia and the Far East after university. Then I got home, and I was just a bit of pot-head to be honest, as people who do those things after university often are.
There I was, just wishing I was in the Far East or Australia, rather than sitting at home in the cold, with a miserable looking Dad who was angry all the time.
It makes me laugh when I find myself now, as a miserable man who's getting tetchy with my kids, but what goes around comes around!
What have been your career highlights so far?
In 1988, there was a so-called Ipex, which was the International Printing Exhibition in Birmingham and I was then editing a magazine called Litho Week, which was the weekly magazine for the printing industry. We decided to do a daily magazine.
The only way we could do it was by using all the technology that exhibiting companies had on their stands, including the printing presses. So we literally arranged with a type setter, a repo company, a plate maker, a film maker, a printer... to all collaborate with us on doing this exercise and we printed this magazine twice a day for the eight or nine days of the show, and it worked. It came out. It was an extraordinary experience, and it was talk about fly by the seat of your pants, but it was an amazing thing to do back in 1988.
That said, the German running the MAN Roland stand, the mob who were printing the daily, took one look at the first issue and screamed at me: “I weel not print zis sheet!”
Next highlight would have to be launching XYZ magazine in 1990. The proposition of XYZ, was that the future of the world and the future of the creative world in communications, would be colour desktop computing. Moving from trade houses delivering end products to artists, creators, journalists and photographers building their own stuff. We launched the magazine specifically to promote that idea.
I’d met a lady called Emilia Knight who was the marketing director of Apple UK, then a small company in Stockley Park off the back of Heathrow employing perhaps 30 people. This was after Jobs had been sacked and Apple was struggling to compete with Microsoft.
Emilia was desperate to get some Mac based systems to market and she agreed to supply the new XYZ with Macs, LaserWriters and full support for nothing in order to showcase the installation, one of the first of its type in the UK.
Everybody else at Haymarket was still using typewriters, faxes and Grant enlargers so this system was a sensation, frankly magical. It’s hard to imagine now, in the internet and smart phone era just how extraordinary that stuff was back then.
Other highlights: launching FourFourTwo under cover because “we don’t do hobby publishing at Haymarket” and doing all the magazines, including the incredible daily programmes, for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Oh and the X-Factor in 2010 – “yes we discovered One Direction”. Oh and working with Mike Ashley, which was oddly entertaining and successful.
Oh and sitting opposite the estimable Mike Lee in Nyon and being told: “Don’t f**k with UEFA”.
Do you have a go-to work outfit?
I wear a pork pie hat, that's my uniform.
How do you handle deadlines?
Deadlines exist to be met at the last possible minute. If I know something is due a week today, the time to start thinking about it is a day before a week today.
I'm cavalier with deadlines, but I've always made sure that I have a fantastic production or managing editor close at hand, who is actually able to kick my arse.
What’s the most unusual situation you’ve found yourself in because of your job?
Being in a brothel. I went to a press reception, this would be back in the 1980s, in Bavaria. It was a German printing press manufacturer launching a new press and we went to dinner and then at the end of dinner the host said, "We're going to go on and have a few drinks."
We went into this little place; it was a bit odd; it didn't seem like a bar and it was all a bit tacky - lots of velvet, ornate chandeliers and things and just something odd I couldn’t quite fathom. I was certainly very young, single and naïve, so I just sat there drinking.
Then this woman came and sat down next to me and started chatting me up and I was sitting there thinking, “Jesus, my luck's in, this never happens!”
Then one of the older members of our team nudged me and said, "You do realize where you are?"
So, I said "I'm in a bar being chatted up by a girl!" To which he replied, "No you're not, you're in a brothel and she's not chatting you up, she's about to take you somewhere."
At which point I felt physically sick, got up and left and went back to the hotel very quickly…
What would people be surprised to know about your job?
Being Creative Director gave me a license to do things I could only have dreamt of 10 or 15 years ago but the surprising thing might be that I've become quite a big fan of data.
The reason is obvious once you think about it. Because our business model is a paid content qualitative play, knowing your audience and understanding what stories they consume and how frequently they consume them, allows us to do better journalism. It means we can shift from an x number of stories per day model to focusing more effort and energy on the stories that matter.
Walk me through your typical day.
I suppose it's a day at the office. Get on the 281 bus, which is direct from just outside my house pretty much, to right outside the front door at the office. Always on the top deck, always sitting in the same places and it's enjoyable to see so many good looking people to brighten my mornings!
Then it’s a succession of coffee, meetings, politics, sticking stuff on walls, blagging offices, nagging managers, arguing, singing to the canteen staff (passable Barry White), being super creative on the newly reimagined super creative Campaign and then home again.
I can't really say much more than that. The bus journey is the most interesting part of it, the 281 frames my day, and bookends the start and finish.
How has being a member of the PPA helped you/added value to your brand?
I think that's really important because I'm passionate about the printed magazine and because I'm also passionate that there is a whole new audience of young magazine makers that are emerging. I've discovered a whole bunch of new ones when I was up in Edinburgh the other week, talking at the International Magazine Centre up there.
I met a whole load of young magazine makers from Edinburgh and Glasgow who were in their own way inspirational. I think that Magnetic, as well as PPA, is really important because I think too many of us old-timers have come to believe that we shouldn't be talking about magazines. We should be talking about brands and we should be talking about digital and we should be talking about live. We should be saying that we're thoroughly modern and we don't think about print anymore, we've moved on from that.
I think that's crazy, I think our brands are our brands and we must use all of the tools at our disposal, of which print is one, to have great conversations with our audiences. Yes online is our most critical channel, yes live is our fastest growing revenue stream but print allows us to set a tone and voice for our brands that other channels simply can’t match.
Until they shove me out of the door or put me in a box I’ll continue to promote the value and joy of print done properly as poster sites for our brands.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
Watching football, Spurs to be precise.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)? Why?
The Champions League Final, before 30 seconds into the game when Liverpool scored.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I quite like trashy TV, like Newsnight and Panorama in between the good stuff like Pointless and Love Island.
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Phoebe Waller Bridge - comedy genius. Just genius. I've no dog collar so would sort her Fleabag misery for sure
What’s the best/worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Worst advice: "You have to experience your magazine on press" before spending a night at Thamesmouth in Basildon sitting in a room with a fridge, some tins of Carling Black Label, a portable TV, a Scrabble set and bugger all else. Finally gave up at 6.00am, drove down the A127 to Southend and tossed some stones into the sea.
Best advice: “If you believe, keep plugging away until you become boring. People will do anything to stop the droning, boring person.”
What/where is your happy place?
I do like to smoke, and I have a bench outside the front door of my house. I can watch the world go by and chat to the neighbours. The bench and the bath are my happy places.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I’m only three steps from John F. Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy had the famous Doctor Max Jacobson (Dr. Feelgood) who basically sorted his back pain, kept him standing and walking and maintained his active sex life, by feeding him drugs.
So, Max Jacobson married my auntie Ruth (my mother’s foster sister) who is then connected to me.
What would be in your Room 101?
Lame punning headlines, like “Reach for the sky” for a story about planes, or “Get stuffed” for a Christmas food story. I hate them because they’re lazy and it's lame and they rarely tell the story.
Introvert or extrovert?
Extrovert. Well oddly enough, both I think. Privately, I'm quite introverted but publicly I'm quite extroverted. Most people who know me would say I'm an extrovert, but actually I don't feel that way when I'm at home.
Optimist or pessimist?
Optimist… except for football.
Film or television? What are you binge-watching at the moment?
Film. I can't wait for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, that's going to be the highlight of my year.
Sweet or savoury?
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most?
Cringey. I don’t.