With the brilliant Scottish Magazine Awards taking place just last night, we thought today would be the perfect time to chat to the driving force behind it and PPA Scotland: the awesome Nikki Simpson.
Here, Nikki discusses her career path leading up to her current role as Business Manager of PPA Scotland, Magfest, what she thinks makes the Scottish magazine publishing industry so distinctive, and offers up some advice for those looking to establish a career within it.
I’m Nikki Simpson and I’m the Business Manager of PPA Scotland, the trade body supporting magazine publishers, set up to promote, protect and advance the industry.
Tell us about your career path to your current role at PPA Scotland.
I worked in hospitality for years before landing a role in a recruitment agency. While working as a recruitment consultant, I met a woman who worked for another recruitment agency who got me a job working for the Scottish Print Employers Federation (SPEF), which is basically the trade association for printers in Scotland. From then on I knew I wanted to stick to career in the creative industries.
I got a job at White Light Media, a magazine publishing company and while I was there I volunteered as the Regional Director for the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC). When my current role at PPA Scotland became available I thought, ‘Wait, you want to pay me to do the job that I’m already doing on a voluntary basis for the IoIC?’ I jumped at the chance, got the job and I’ve been here for about 4 and a half years now.
What are your favourite aspects of your role at PPA Scotland?
It’s a difficult question to answer because there’s not much that I don’t love about it to be honest. I really, really love working on Magfest, which is our magazine festival. It’s just so much fun running an event. I always say it’s like inviting my heroes to come and speak to my mates for the day.
I love how people come away from the day so inspired and how pleased they are to see something so fantastic going on in Scotland. The way it brings people together from around the UK and internationally is brilliant.
Magfest takes up a lot of my year. We start working on it about a month and a half after the last one finishes. It’s always on my mind and I’m constantly looking out for speakers, thinking about the venue and ways in which we can improve. I think that’s the most fun and most crucial task.
On top of that, I love lecturing at universities, spending time with PPA Scotland members, doing what I can for them and bringing them together through the events I run. I just really love being able to show people what a great organisation the PPA is and how many brilliant opportunities it can offer.
It’s also great fun working on various different committees. I’ve got an exec committee and I’ve got a Magfest steering group as well. I work relatively closely with the PPA guys down south and that’s really nice too. As I say, I’ve been in the role for 4 and a half years now and you get to know people after a while. It’s just great fun really.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
My favourite year of Magfest was this year due to the venue and the atmosphere but talks-wise, my favourite year was 2014 when Wyatt Mitchell was there. That just totally blew everybody away.
I’ve had amazing feedback from the events and some people have told me that they’ve completely rethought their approaches to how they work. It’s great to have an impact on people and the way they think about their careers. I’m in such a privileged position to be able to highlight that.
Another highlight was working alongside Emma Wilson on the 100 years of Scottish Magazine Publishing exhibition. I really enjoyed putting that together. Everybody just thought it was brilliant.
It was quite early days in the job for me then so it was one of the first times that we’d done something really fabulous that everybody could see the impact of and realise that we were doing something a bit different. We worked our socks off on that so it was great to see everything come together and look so great on the day.
We toured the exhibition around Scotland afterwards. Getting out there and meeting people and talking to them about the exhibition and what we were trying to achieve with it was a brilliant experience.
Another personal highlight was visiting the Hyman Archive in London, which is the world’s largest magazine collection. I started crying because I was so overwhelmed by it all. Having worked in the magazine industry for nearly 10 years I’ve become so absorbed in it. I live and breathe magazines now. Witnessing this exhibition curated by two people who are so passionate about showcasing the history of magazines was just a totally overwhelming experience.
There’s things that I wouldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for my role at PPA Scotland, such as the Offset Conference in Dublin, which really influenced the way I steer Magfest. It’s such a holistic role. You don’t start work at 9 and go home at 5, you never think that way. It becomes part of your soul.
What do you think makes the Scottish magazine publishing industry such a distinct and vibrant place to work?
Every company is different but I do think that London-based publishing companies are a bit more money driven. That’s totally fair enough and I get those aims.
But what I love about the publishing industry in Scotland – and the way that PPA Scotland represents its members – is because it’s predominantly comprised of small publishers, there’s a completely different outlook on the industry.
You get to speak to the people who are one man bands and learn that their passion for their subject is why they got involved in the industry in the first place.
I was recently chatting to Mark Bowler from Fly Fishing & Fly Tying the other day, who’s based just near Pitlochry. He was saying that the reason he got into magazine publishing was because he loved flyfishing and flyting and wanted to find out more about it. He thought he would start publishing a magazine on the topic and invite contributors to come and write articles for it, which would help him learn more about his hobby. This has now extended into a full-time career where here employs 3 or 4 other people as well.
The Scottish publishing industry is so fun and interesting because you can really see all those different personalities, business models and subject matters all reflected back into the industry.
It’s not that the publishing industry is any different down South, or internationally for that matter, it’s just represented differently by newsstand titles, like Cosmo, Heat and that sort of thing. They’re brilliant magazines and extremely well-targeted but they’re not representative of the whole industry.
What I love about the publishing industry in that you don’t have to be someone who is making millions of pounds, you can just sustain you and your family and be happy that way. Life is not all about money, it’s about being happy.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
The Scottish Magazine Awards just took place last night and it was completely brilliant!
This was the first year we had online entries only, which worked out really well. There’s a lot of admin involved at the Scottish Magazine Awards so I try to treat it as two separate events: the judging day and then the actual awards themselves. The judging day requires so much prep. I’ve been working with my colleague Julie who is doing an internship at the moment. It’s great fun.
I’m also working on an initiative to open an International Magazine Centre in Edinburgh. That’s a really long-term major project but the idea is to create a hub for the magazine publishing industry in Scotland and to really branch out and attract an international audience to live and work in Scotland. We’re in the middle of a feasibility study at the moment. The next step will involve looking at potential venues and deciding what route to go down in that respect.
And of course I’m having a baby, which in itself is a major project!
What advice would you give to those trying to establish a career in the magazine industry? What skills and attitudes should they have?
I have a few tips. First of all, the one thing I receive more inquiries about than anything else is sales positions. So, if you have any inkling to be a sales person of any kind, I would definitely say that would be a good starting point. Even if it’s something that you haven’t done before, I would definitely say to give it a shot because you might be really good at it. If you’re really good at it you can get to a point where you can be picky about what job you want to go for because good salespeople are really hard to come by.
If you’re more interested in becoming a journalist for example, I would create a blog on the subject matter that you’re particularly interested in. If you’re interested in golf, write about golf, if you’re interested in magazine publishing, write about magazine publishing. If you’re interested in you name it, then write about it!
If you don’t have any experience, then employers need to see your skills through a body of work. Showcasing your skills is a great way to do it. Whatever your skill, do it to the absolute best of your ability because that will be your sales tool.
Just be really proactive. If you’re looking for a job, treat the jobhunt as a full-time job. Don’t just send off a few CVs and hope for the best. When you’re emailing people never ever, ever put ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. Find out who that person is beforehand. I have never kept an email that opened with this, it’s just so lazy. I understand why people do it, it’s easier, but if you don’t have time to find out my name, then I don’t have time to consider your application. Make a massive effort because that’s how you get the work.
Another tip: network. No matter how much you hate it, go out and meet people and talk to them because eventually it will pay off. The amount of people that I’ve met in this role who I’ve ended up working with, who have become members, sponsors, or linked to like-minded individuals is incredible. It’s just a really nice way to get out there. It doesn’t have to be a business relationship, you can just go and meet people and make friends. That’s why people do what the do: for the love of it.