With only two days to go until The PPA Awards entry deadline, we spoke to the Editor of the PPA Magazine Brand of the Year, 2019. Launched in 1897, Country Life has been in publication for over 120 years and this year celebrated a decade of ABC print increases, testament to to the strength of the title's editorial and loyal audience."The best piece of advice I ever received was that you must put the reader first," said Mark Hedges, Editor of Country Life. "A reader is the most precious thing."
What was it that made you want to work in the publishing industry?
I didn’t intend to work in the publishing industry. I did geology at university and my great love was horse racing. I worked in Newmarket for 3 or 4 years and then in Australia in horse racing and then came back to England and found a job in the back of Horse & Hound. I couldn’t type very well but I realised that magazines were all about ideas and creativity and within five years I had become Deputy Editor of Horse and Hound.
Chart your career from the start to where you are now.
After Horse and Hound, I then became the Editor of the Shooting Times and profit increased massively while I was there, however I didn’t want to be boxed in so after a bit of time there, I then became a publisher for 18 months. It taught me how to be bilingual and understand the business side of things before I then went on to be Editor-in-Chief of 51 magazines. I learnt a huge amount because every magazine did something brilliantly and spoke really cleverly about their special topics. In 2006 I then became Editor-in-Chief of Country Life. I was acutely aware that people were becoming more visually literate, so we did some amazing things with pictures. I have edited it now for 14 years and for 12 of those years, it has had an annual ABC increase.
What do you think it is about the Country Life brand that has resulted on this year-on-year increase?
The best piece of advice I ever received was that you must put the reader first. If you ever have to have a difficult conversation with a writer or a staff member, you have to remember that you have the weight of the readers on your shoulder, so you have to make those important decisions. You need a reader before you get an advertiser, so a reader is the most precious thing and you must look after your newsstand and subscriptions.
How has Country Life evolved as a brand since you started as Editor-in-Chief?
When I took over, Country Life was heavily focused on property. If you go back to before the internet, a lot of people who had a house in the countryside would only be able to sell it through the magazine. Property remains the most important advertising medium, but now we have an interiors medim, a luxury section, a school supplement and I have got Prince Charles to guest edit it twice. We have launched London Life for those readers who live in London and those that come from the countryside into London. You have to always be doing something!
How do you handle your deadlines?
There are three gifts an Editor has – the words, pictures and planning/productivity. If you really get the planning and productivity right, then you end up with more time for words and pictures. We work on about 13 issues at once. The countryside looks its best in May in June, so the architecture gets photographed then. It’s a strange mixture of planning a year advance, the features are planned two to three months in advance and the news is done within three days of the reader seeing it. Nobody has to buy a magazine and the greatest danger is producing a bad issue followed by another bad issue. You want to consistently produce very good magazines.
What would be in your Room 101?
What magazine would be your long train journey read?