We spoke with Harrod's Magazine Beauty Editor and one of our PPA 30 Under 30 winners, Olivia de Courcy about how she got to where she is now, the transition from working for a publishing house to a retailer and the importance of omnichannel story-telling, taking content beyond the magazine.
What made you want to work in the publishing industry?
I knew I always wanted to do something with writing, it was always the thing I was very “good at” at school and I genuinely really enjoyed. It was probably 90s Girl Talk that had a heavy influence; I remember being so excited to read a new issue. My mum always taught me that books are treasure and I feel that about magazines too – I can’t bear to get rid of them! I never aspired to be a novelist, it was journalism I always had my eye on.
Chart your career from the start to where you are now.
Having worked on school and university publications, my first role came at Condé Nast Brides, after a lot of interning at various titles including GQ, Tatler and The Times (time that I will always be so grateful for and cemented the idea I wanted to work in publishing). I started at Brides as the online editorial assistant – but there were only two of us on the digital team so it was very hands-on from the word go. There I got into beauty writing; I’d always loved beauty but never quite realised it was something I could make a career out of. After three years I moved to Harrods as Online Beauty Editor and then became the omnichannel Beauty Editor due to a creative team restructure.
What was the transition like moving from a publishing house to a retailer?
There were striking similarities and polar opposites too. Harrods has a great creative department and so it very much felt like I was still working within a team who have sharp creative minds and constantly want to push the boundaries, just as if I was working on a title or site that wasn’t part of a retailer. The size of teams and the business as a whole was very different but it’s great working with such a wide range of people – from marketing and brand partnerships to the buyers and in-store retail teams. While I was at Brides I particularly enjoyed the brand partnerships side. Partnership content is big at Harrods too, so that has been great to continue.
As part of the editorial team for a retail magazine, is readership engagement or conversion more important? How have you had to realign your focus?
When we’re creating content, the customer is always in mind, but I think that’s similar to how a reader is always in mind at other publications. For us that doesn’t necessarily always mean “to make them buy it right now”, but to make them feel empowered and educated to make the decision that is right for them. Conversion is just one form of engagement (and as a retailer a very important one, of course) but it’s not the only one.
How has the Beauty section of Harrods magazine changed since you became Beauty Editor?
The magazine itself has gone through two redesigns since I joined, in a bid to make it as relevant, inspiring and engaging to our readers as possible. One of the big changes was taking our content beyond the magazine and making it omnichannel; so while we may have a glossy shoot by hair stylist Sam McKnight in the issue, we’ll also create content for the App, social media and harrods.com to continue the story. Harrods has lots of different stories to tell – some of the brand stories are frankly outstanding – so as a team we’ve worked hard to make the section as diverse and fantastical as the store itself.
How does it feel to be part of the PPA 30 Under 30?
I feel very honoured to be recognised amongst such brilliant talent, including my ex-boss Alyson Lowe. The pair of us ran Condé Nast Brides website and digital channels so it was a very happy coincidence to be recognised in the same year.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
Working on the H beauty launch campaign throughout Lockdown 1 that launched in September 2020. H beauty is a new brand from Harrods and we really pushed the boundaries of the type of content you’d expect from a luxury retailer. I am so proud of our diverse cast and how we crafted the narrative of each short film around the individual’s relationship with beauty. I worked on it right through from initial concept to casting, storyboarding, directing, overseeing the edit – even down to writing features about our talent and captions for social media. The results have been excellent and the entire campaign was produced during lockdown and filmed just weeks after – a feat in itself!
What’s on your radar?
Beauty has really come into its own in the past year and taken on poignant role in our lockdown lives, proving that the superficial stereotype that’s sometimes attached with the industry isn’t what it’s all about. Many of us have turned to beauty, particularly skincare, body care and fragrance as a form of self-care. (Even the motion of applying skincare has proven to make people feel happier – I highly recommend taking 5 minutes to massage in a facial oil to switch off; YouTube or Instagram have a plethora of easy-to-follow technique videos. Votary’s oils are brilliant.) This self-care movement is a trend that I think will change the market, for the better, and it’s exciting to see how the conversations around beauty and wellbeing are evolving.
What magazine would you stockpile?
Can I stock pile a website? I could read The Cut for hours and not get bored. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner does with the site. As for print, I’ll never miss a Glamour or a Sunday Times Style – how many can I have? Oh, and Waitrose Food. The imagery and design are beautiful.