By Annette Stevens.
If you’re looking at pitching feature ideas to national women’s glossy magazines, then make sure you know your stuff. Freelancing can be tough, but satisfying when you receive the ‘yes we love the sound of your pitch’. Do your homework and understand the DOs and DON’Ts. Claire Matthiae, features director of Glamour magazine worked her way up from interning at ELLE, and provides Jump for Journalism with some extremely valuable advice on making your mark in this industry.
What other experience do you have in the field of journalism?
I started out as an intern at ELLE magazine and worked my way up from there. I was lucky and landed a job at ELLE as the editor-in-chief’s PA/editorial assistant. That position allowed me to learn on the job and I started writing. Over time I was promoted until I reached commissioning editor there and moved on to NET-A-PORTER to get some digital experience. I worked on their online magazine as deputy editor and then acting editor. Then it was on to Glamour magazine…
What makes a good freelance pitch to you personally?
Two things, really. Firstly, it needs to get to the point, so at a glance I know exactly what the idea is. Secondly, it needs to feel new. This could mean speaking of trend, calling on a new survey or research, or simply offering a really fresh way of looking at a theme.
Could you tell us a little bit about your duties as a features director?
I’m responsible for all features content in the magazine that isn’t celebrity related – that’s overseen by our associate editor and entertainment editor. Working on a monthly, my duties follow a nice cycle: ideas meeting… commissioning… editing. It’s my responsibility to expand our pool of brilliant freelance writers and to find the perfect fit for each feature we want to run in the magazine. When copy comes in, it’s then up to me to make sure it fits with Glamour’s overall personality – that it’s smart, witty, thoughtful, emotive, useful and of course, when it comes to things like our Health Handbook features, that everything is sound and supported by research.
Were you ever interested in journalism growing up?
I always loved to read and as a kid I often wrote stories that my mum would spiral bind for me. I’m sure I still have a few somewhere – in a box in the loft, probably. I suppose I’ve always been interested in storytelling (from art to literature to film) and as a features director you’re essentially shaping stories, especially when it comes to first person and real life pieces. But it wasn’t until after university and over 15 months travelling the world that I decided on my chosen career in journalism. In fact, when I was growing up, I wanted to be a child psychologist, inspired by a book about play therapy written in the 1960s called Dibs in Search of Self.
How did you come to work at GLAMOUR HQ?
I spotted the vacancy on Gorkana’s Friday job alert and applied.
Do you have any publishing/journalism idols you look up to?
I look up to the editors I’ve work with – Lorraine Candy, Jo Elvin, and Natalie Massenet when I was at NET-A-PORTER. Each incredibly creative, full of ideas and passionate about their readers. But also at the helm of powerful brands, incredibly driven and business-minded. You can learn so much from the people around you. I’ll never forget Lorraine saying to me, ‘Claire, as a journalist you live or die by your ideas.’ When I started out I was so keen to climb the ladder I sometimes forgot to take a breath, but I’ve learnt the most when I’ve sat back a bit and listened hard and watched the people at the top of their game.
Through some interviews, it’s been said by a few figureheads to vary the email subject line when pitching ideas. Could you tell us a little bit more about this?
When you’re pitching it’s a bit like doing your own PR or selling to a shopper, even. Ideally you want the subject line to jump out of my email feed. Be clear what’s inside – ‘feature pitch’, ‘real life exclusive’, ‘careers feature idea’ etc. And then tailor your pitch to the magazine or publication you’re aiming at. There’s nothing more infuriating than receiving a pitch to Glamour that says, ‘I thought this would be perfect for Grazia’.
Once you’ve developed a relationship with an editor it gets easier (get face time with them if you can – ask them for a quick coffee to run through your ideas and show them examples of your work), but when you’re making contact for the first time, yes, it’s worth putting some thought into the subject line. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your ideas are if they don’t actually open the email!
How can freelancers make there pitch stand out?
Work up ideas that I won’t have had time to think of myself – i.e. get in touch with experts to discover the absolute latest research or figures that could be used as the foundation for a feature, pull together suggested case studies, or tap into the zeitgeist and try and identify trends that are brewing.
Does GLAMOUR HQ really have as many clothes, packed into the office space, like it seems to have on Instagram?
YES – our fashion cupboard is a sight to behold!
What are your handbag essentials at the office?
My iPad – I read the papers on the way to work. A notepad for meetings and ideas on the go. Spotify on my phone – music is always playing on the Glamour features and entertainment desk, especially on Friday afternoon when our pop-up bar, Jam’s Jars, kicks off.
Social media is becoming more and more relevant to publishing. Does it have relevance to your daily routine?
We use social media to help promote content and give readers an insider look at Glamour life – that could be, say, tweeting a photo of my favourite feature in an issue or tweeting about Richard E. Grant popping into the Glamour office (which happened earlier this week, he’s very charming!). It’s also useful to follow social media when it comes to generating new ideas. For instance Dawn O’Porter wrote a feature recently called ‘Can you find love on Instagram?’ and Zoe Williams wrote an opinion piece that looked at the trend for sending naked photos. These sorts of ideas come from watching how people are using and interacting on social media and being part of it. It’s also a brilliantly instant way to get feedback and get readers involved in the Glamour world.
Are there any advisable qualifications that you feel freelancers should have?
There are some great courses out there, but the most important thing is building up your book. One of the first questions I ask freelancers is, ‘Who have you written for?’ That said, any opportunities to meet and work with your peers can be beneficial to build up your network. Those people you are training with or interning with will be the columnists and editors of the future.