This week we speak to TTG's charismatic and inspirational Editor Sophie Griffiths. Charting her career from it's beginnings at Building Magazine to climbing the ranks at TTG, Sophie is a B2B veteran. We discussed the journalists' passion for print, what it was like working for a sector hit so hard by the pandemic, TTG LGBT+, which Sophie founded, and of course we couldn't resist asking her for the top travel destinations!
Chart your career from the start to now.
I went to university to study Ancient and Modern History but always knew I wanted to go into journalism. I took a year out after university to do work experience at my local newspaper and ITV, and then I went to City University to do a post grad diploma in Magazine and Investigative Journalism. Then I was very lucky to get a job at Building Magazine, where I’d done some work experience. I say particularly lucky because we graduated in 2008, which was just when the financial crash had happened. I was at Building Magazine for almost two years. At the time, UBM owned Building and various other B2B titles, including Trade Travel Gazette. A reporter job came up at TTG, so I swapped construction and hard hats for travel! There I looked after the cruise patch which was a big change – and a lot of fun.
When I joined, it was just when that volcano eruption had happened in Iceland – at the time, the industry was in uproar, but I loved it because it was my first week and there was news everywhere! I then worked my way up there to Deputy News Editor and then News Editor. I then took a career break to go travelling. I spoke to my then editor Daniel Pearce to hand in my notice but Dan asked if I would be interested in writing the odd travel blog while I was away, and most crucially - asked if I would like to come back to my job once I returned. I didn’t need to think about it – I absolutely loved my job! I told him ‘I would love to!’ so Dan very kindly held my position open for me. While I was away Dan bought the company from UBM and transformed it into an independent business, meaning I returned to a totally different business, and since then it has just gone from strength to strength.
You’ve been a B2B journalist for your whole career. What’s the best thing about this kind of journalism?
Every day is different which I genuinely love. But I think the key thing that came to light during the pandemic, is that in B2B journalism you really get to fight and champion your readers. You really know your readers for a start, so it’s a very different world to that of consumer journalism. Having them call you up in tears on the phone really brought home how much things were affecting them, especially during the pandemic when we had the government flip flopping on destinations at a whim. Ministers weren’t releasing evidence as to what data they were basing their decisions on so there was zero transparency. And knowing and seeing the impact that those government decisions were having on everyday people, in their lives and on their livelihoods – the debt some of them were having to go into, the loans some of them were having to take, the worries that some of them were having to take on, because so many of them were having to lay off their staff. All of that really galvanises you to want to fight for and champion your sector like never before, because you know these people and you know what they’re going through.
That’s the power of B2B journalism that we’ve really seen as a result of the pandemic. And it’s not just TTG, we’ve seen it with every sector represented by B2B magazines, that have been able to really jump in and fight the corner of their readers.
The travel industry was one hit the hardest by the pandemic – what was it like leading your team through such a difficult time?
Firstly, it was not just me leading the team. TTG has a fantastic senior leadership team, led of course by our CEO Daniel Pearce. But really I think it was all the team that got each other through it. First off, we were working from home and pre-pandemic I never would have thought we could put a magazine to bed working remotely – I just didn’t think that was a possibility! Obviously when you’re forced to do it, you make it happen. And even when we paused print and went digital only in April 2020, we were still producing a fortnightly magazine.
Our deputy news editor Tom Parry, who was named in the PPA 30 under 30 this year launched ‘Get Travel Talking,’ which was a fantastic mental health initiative to try and encourage the travel industry to talk to one another, but it also got us as a team talking and thinking about what we needed to be doing to look after one another. So we all made our own individual mental health pledges. We launched a buddy system, where we paired up with different members of the team, who had to check in with one another every week and have a call that wasn’t work related. Just to talk about what was going on like that really helped – especially for those members of the team that might have been living alone or those living in shared flats. Everyone was sort of having their own struggles and being able to talk to someone in a non-work capacity, to have a fellow colleague who got what you were going through, made a really big difference.
Could you tell us a bit about the work you’re doing for TTG LGBT+?
This was an idea that came around in 2014. I was invited by Jo Rzymowska a very out and proud woman and the boss of Celebrity Cruises, to an OUTstanding event as she had been named one of the top 100 out business leaders across all sectors. We were looking around the room thinking, ‘God, travel is really poorly represented.’ We thought that travel was perceived to be quite a gay industry, so we thought something was going wrong here. Either LGBT+ people weren’t getting to the top or they were, but weren’t comfortable being out. Either way we thought something had to change.
I went back and talked to Dan about maybe setting up an LGBT network. He loved it and so we got on with launching it - something we had much more freedom to do as an independent business, rather than being constrained by the ties of a big corporate organisation where an idea has to be cleared by umpteen people. We launched TTG LGBT with one sponsor – Celebrity Cruises. By the end of the week, we had three more.
It wasn’t all plain sailing - one advertiser raised serious concerns and threatened to pull advertising. Another industry figure said we were creating divisions by "separating people”. But some of those same critics have since come to our LGBT+ events and have launched their own diversity initiatives - the world has moved on thankfully, and most people now recognise they need to be part of the change.
Initially TTG LGBT was all about creating an LGBT+ networking space for LGBT people to come together within the industry – but we were also very passionate about inviting allies along as well. We really wanted to encourage the sort of older white straight men that were the bosses of these companies to come along and show their support, and in doing so, demonstrate to people within their companies that it was ok to be themselves. Off the back of that we launched the TTG LGBT Conference, which was all about educating those who wanted to market and sell to the LGBT community. We were trying to encourage people to think about their marketing and to use more inclusive imagery, thinking about the language they use. Naturally it evolved into wider conversations about diversity. Then we started having regional events too. We later launched the TTG Diversity and Inclusion Charter, which had to be signed by the CEO of a company. They would send a photo in of the boss signing it, which we hosted on our website. Firms then placed the charter on their walls which was designed to send a message to their employees that they could feel comfortable being themselves.
We did various surveys, analysing attitudes towards LGBT+ people and how comfortable LGBT+ people felt being out within their jobs and the travel industry at large. We then used that data to help convince those that still needed convincing that there was still a lot of work to be done in the travel industry when it came to diversity and inclusion.
The conversation was naturally moving more towards the wider D&I space, so TTG LGBT now forms part of our larger TTG Diversity and Inclusion programme, which we launched in 2019. We had our first conference that year, addressing all aspects of diversity and inclusion – looking at age, sexuality, gender, disability, accessibility and religion. We launched a series of D&I breakfasts, although the pandemic hit just after we held our first event. However we have grand plans to continue our work in this area, and TTG remains more committed than ever to continuing our fight to improve diversity and inclusion in travel. The pandemic has given us a real opportunity for the sector to now rebuild in a much more fair, open and inclusive way.
You brought back the print format of TTG in September 2020, after going solely digital over the pandemic, what are the particular qualities of print that made you keen to reintroduce it?
We were always going to bring print back. We’re 100% committed to print – it’s our bread and butter. There are so many other aspects of the business, but our core product is still print and that’s really important to us and our CEO, Dan. He’s a former journalist and really passionate about publishing and journalism.
We did have to change our way of thinking though – TTG had been a weekly magazine since the business was launched in 1953. But when we returned to print in September 2020, we realised a weekly magazine no longer worked in the current climate. The news agenda was changing so rapidly – the government was switching destinations on and off. And actually that was what our website was for – for the constant update of news.
We thought it would be more beneficial for our readers to separate the two, and have the magazine focusing on much longer, more analytical reads with deeper insight, with more opinions to share different voices from across the industry . Between September and January we thought about what we really wanted our monthly magazine to look like, so we worked again with design agency Oliver & Graimes and in January 2021 we revealed our new look, perfect bound, magazine, with the pages and layout redesigned to reflect more of a monthly feel. We invested in a heavier paper stock, recycled obviously, so it feels more like a coffee table style read.
You’ve spoken about travelling and publishing’s need to get more women in senior leadership positions. From your experience, what can the industry do to further promote the careers of women?
Actually I feel very passionately that as well as improve gender equality, we should also be focussing on social mobility - I think that’s a massive issue for the industry. To begin with I think more paid internships should be offered to prevent journalism becoming the preserve of the elite, which it has been for far too long. I think especially with the closure of local newspapers, where a lot of people were able to cut their teeth in journalism and still live at home with mum and dad, rent free, there are now fewer options for people to get into journalism.
There are smaller things we can all do too to improve D&I within the world of journalism. We all have a responsibility to make sure that diverse voices are seen and heard across the magazine and we’re certainly trying to do this at TTG - we're always pushing ourselves to be better when it comes to imagery, making sure our magazine is not full of the usual white faces.
We want to make sure that our website is not full of pale, male, stale faces and in that women’s voices are heard. So it’s about considering the opinion pieces that we put online but also thinking about the events that we put on. We have a commitment to never ever have all male panels. We just won’t do it. I think we need to see that across the media space as we still don't see enough non-white females. I think everyone in media has a responsibility on this.
Best travel destination?
I was very lucky when I was travelling to go to the Galapagos which was amazing. But that’s a real bucket list long haul destination. Closer to home my favourite country is Norway. If you every get the chance to do the fjords you should, its just breath-taking. But I honeymooned this summer with my wife in Scotland – we travelled around the Highlands and Isle of Skye (complete with our dog) which were just beautiful.
What's on your radar?
COP26 should be on everyone’s radar. At TTG we're very passionate about sustainability - when we redesigned the mag in 2019, we relaunched with a mission statement that we exist to promote smarter, better, fairer travel.
Just before COP26, when the budget was announced the Chancellor announced his decision to halve domestic APD (Air Passenger Duty) which was an interesting move. Aviation gets a bad reputation, but it's not the worst polluter. A UN report from 2018 actually highlights that the fashion industry consumes more energy. (And you don't see a shopping tax like APD!) At the same time, we’re under no illusion that aviation has a key role to play in tackling the climate emergency, and most in travel agree. Many in the industry understand the urgent need for travel and tourism to embrace the challenges of sustainability. So that has been very much on our radar.
Also just trying to navigate how we can support businesses that have been absolutely decimated by the pandemic, as they rebuild in a fairer and more sustainable way - while also trying to manage costs!
What magazine do you stockpile?
National Geographic has always been a favourite and that's the one I would treat myself to at the airport if I've got a long plane journey. I also like The Economist. But as a child I massively stockpiled The Beano - I’ve been loving it recently because my nephew has recently discovered it, so now I get to buy The Beano again and rediscover my love of Minnie The Minx!