After 13 issues, White Light Media decided to stop publishing drinks magazine Hot Rum Cow. Previous Creative Director of the title and now Managing Director of the Edinburgh-based agency explains why it was important to go out on a high – and why he's partial to the aubergine emoji (it's not as bad as it sounds)..
What made you want to work in the magazine industry?
It was when I was working at The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. I was trained to work with our archaic design programme to design the magazine within the paper that had all the information about what was on telly for the coming week and theatre reviews, book reviews etc.
I loved the way the features had their own style and characteristics. I started to get a real flavour for how magazines are put together. I also really loved working with type. I have a real passion for typography – being able to see how you can take a couple of sets of typefaces and be able to use that limited type pallete, but have so much variety in doing layouts and design, was really interesting for me.
I gravitated from that into doing The Scotsman's glossy Saturday supplement magazine The Scotsman. There were a lot of pages that were heavily templated, but when it came to the cover feature and the other two features that were in the magazine, that's where I really got creative freedom to craft something that was really impactful for the reader.
Do you have a favourite font?
That's like asking me to choose between one of my children! I can't say I have a favourite one. I love using types that have multiple weights – they all have a condensed, regular and extended variety. One type family can do multiple jobs throughout a publication and when you couple that up with another interesting typeface, that's how it all comes together. That's what we did with Hot Rum Cow, our drinks magazine, when I was putting that together.
How did you feel when White Light Media decided to stop publishing Hot Rum Cow?
It was mixed feelings – I was really sad that this amazingly creative project came to an end, but also really excited as well. Hot Rum Cow did for White Light Media exactly what we wanted it to do – and that was to make people sit up and take notice of what we can do as an agency and what we can produce in-house.
Hot Rum Cow was a predominantly print title and it was all about creating this beautiful product that people would see on the newsstand, pick up, flick through, be blown away by and hopefully purchase at the till and take away and read. Due to the writing style, it had longevity, so you could read issue one or two now and it still stands the test of time. It did a great job of winning us more clients and getting far more creative print work into White Light Media than we would normally get to do.
Our brand work can be very dry because of the nature of the audience we're speaking to, but now we're finding at White Light what we're being asked to do and what our clients need us to do are far different than just printed magazines.
We are now pivoting the agency to be far more focused on the content marketing offering that we have. In that space and the amount of time that Hot Rum Cow took for us to produce on a biannual basis, we feel that we can take that time and now dedicate that into this new project that we're going to be taking on. It's going to benefit the agency and the direction that we want to go along the content marketing route. It's good to go out on a high, right?
Can you chart your journey from when you started out to your current position?
When I finished up at The Scotsman magazine after a year, I moved on to an Edinburgh publisher that published four different magazines. I actually got the opportunity within six months of starting to redesign one from scratch. It was a new launch travel magazine and it hadn't been doing well on the newsstand, so it pivoted a little bit and targeted a new audience.
From there, I worked as a freelance magazine Editorial Designer. I went on to work for Nick Barley, who's now the Edinburgh International Book Festival Director. I worked with him in a Senior Designer role at The List when he was the Editor and I covered the Art Director who was on maternity leave.
One thing I'd never done was customer magazines, so contract publishing for brands, and it wasn't something I'd really thought about before, but White Light Media came knocking. I jumped at the chance to join the company as a Senior Designer. It was a brand new challenge. It was great to become part of a big design team working under the Creative Director at White Light at the time Alan Lennon.
Alan left the company after eight months, so I was given the chance to step up to Creative Director. Going from a Senior Design position finding my feet within the first few months in a company to running the creative department within eight months was a baptism of fire, but one that – with a talented design team behind me – I was happy to take on and to push things forward. Now I’m Managing Director.
If you didn’t have to sleep, how would you use the remaining hours in the day?
I’d catch up on some box sets or read books. I just caught up on all series of Ballers, which stars Dwayne Johnson.
What is the last photo you took on your phone (at time of interview)?
I was at a Marketing Society event in Glasgow on the ninth floor and I took a photo looking down over the street from a floor-to-ceiling glass window. I thought I was going to pass out.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I'd probably say box sets again – or beer. I'm a beer fanatic. I love trying new beers. My go-to beer is the Williams Brothers' Caesar Augustus. That's from a brewer up here and it's just really nice. There's a craft beer shop right across the road from the office [based in Leith, Edinburgh].
Whose phone number do you wish you had?
Dwayne Johnson. I think he's such a funny guy. I'd love for his character in Ballers to talk to me for five minutes. I'm not a massive wrestling fan or anything, but from seeing his characteristics as The Rock and then seeing him in films or in a TV series, you get a flavour of a person and he's one of those guys that comes across as really personable.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?
People giving negative advice, like don't follow your dreams, don’t go travelling, stick with what you're doing. I gladly ignored it. I finished college, got my first job and got really badly paid. I didn’t see much progression and then I made the decision to pack it in and go travelling the world for a year.
When I came back, I ended up getting a job at the same company and getting paid more money doing a different job – a better job.
What/where is your happy place?
I would say most of the time at home or on holiday. My family and I went to the west coast of Scotland and we were blessed with really sunny weather. We got outside loads, so the kids got loads of fresh air, and everyone was just laughing the whole time. That was great, that was fantastic.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I could swim 100 metres in under a minute when I was younger. I used to do it competitively until I was about 16/17 and I gave it up when I discovered booze. I realized that I didn't have to get up at five in the morning to train anymore. I never swam for about 10 years and then I picked it up again, so I've been swimming once a week before work. I leave at seven in the morning, get in a 30-minute swim and I'll try and do 80 lengths of the pool and then get out and get to work refreshed.
What would be in your Room 101?
I've got this real pet hate about people who don't indicate where they're going when they’re driving. It's not a big thing, but it can just really rile me. I think it's less of a people indicating thing and more of a respect thing. I hate disrespectful people.
Introvert or extrovert?
Optimist or pessimist?
Optimist, I would like to think.
Film or television?
Television. I am one of those bingers. I rarely watch live television now, so it's always something I want to watch.
Sweet or savoury?
Sweet. Any sweets – chocolate mainly.
Morning person or night owl?
Tea or coffee?
Emojis – cool or cringey? Which emoji do you use the most/is your favourite?
Cool – better than text speak, which is definitely cringey. The one I use the most for some reason is the aubergine. A lot of the time it’s used as a symbol for something else. I just think it's quite funny. If you've got a random group conversation on WhatsApp, just throw that in every once in a while. People will get puzzled and they don't know why you've done it. No explanation – just throw it in there.