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Women in Content: An interview with Helena Lang

Women in Content: An interview with Helena Lang

In line with International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2021, The Content Marketing Association are hosting a morning session of webinars with female leaders in content marketing to celebrate the achievements and impact of women in our industry!

They’re kicking off the Women in Content event with a series of interviews with the speakers to find a bit more about them, and get an insight in to their careers and how they manage their work.

Helena Lang is the Head of Content, Food and Lifestyle at SevenC3. Helena oversees the multi-award winning Sainsbury’s magazine brand including the print title, Sainsburysmagazine.co.uk and social channels, digital and social content for WW (formerly Weightwatchers) and other clients. With a background in journalism and editorial, Helena is a strong believer in putting the audience first and establishing their needs and wants before delivering content that tells a story that the consumer wants to hear.

Here’s what Helena said when she caught up with Natasha Glazebrook at The CMA…

Hi Helena! We saw that you recently had a change in role at SevenC3 and are now the Head of Content for Food and Lifestyle… congratulations! Can you talk us through your role and what it is you work on?

My new role still sees me with hands-on responsibility for the Sainsbury’s magazine brand, planning all the content for the print title and other platforms and managing the team of editors and creatives. In addition I’m now the content lead on Livi, a medical app and WW (formerly Weight Watchers) for whom we produce cookbooks, digital and social content including video.

I’m also overseeing various food content projects including a great video project we recently produced for Maille Mustard UK. What all of this means is that I work with a close-knit group of expert journalists, home economists and creatives to come up with ideas, decide which are the right ones and make sure the right and best people are producing the work. Then making sure it’s delivered to the clients on time and is the best it can be.

Your job for many people in our community is a dream position. Can you share how you got to where you are now, for any aspirational editors?  

I started off in fashion PR many years ago, which helped me to get my first job in magazines in the fashion department of Cosmopolitan. Over the years I’ve worked for many different newsstand magazines including Red and Psychologies and some that no longer exist sadly, such as 19 and Options and also had a long spell as a freelance features editor. I moved into content magazines some years back and edited a magazine called Source for the John Lewis Partnership before joining Sainsbury’s magazine as Editor.

However, the world as we know is a very different place since I started and modern content is created for lots of different platforms and delivered in many different ways. The type of people we recruit now need to have good journalist and writing skills but also – and crucially – be able to understand the different audiences and how content is engaged with on all the various platforms.

What would you say are the top skills needed to be a successful editor? 

The most important thing is to understand and empathise with your audience. Know what they are looking for before they do. Sometimes you have to pass up on good ideas or interesting subjects because although you might be inspired by them, your audience won’t be. And secondly to be able to communicate that thinking to your team and give them all the tools they need to produce the best material possible.

Can you tell us what inspires you or motivates you in your career?   

Challenge motivates me. Doing different, new and exciting things and continuing to learn. That could mean finding a new way to shoot food videos or discovering the next up and coming chef or food writer. Personally it also means improving my leadership and management skills, doing more events like the CMA one and stretching myself. 

How do you balance your time between the various clients you have, and know when to focus on which one? 

I discovered Todoist (thank you Michael!) an App that helps me manage my time. When you’re working on several big projects it’s often hard to know what to do first and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of just replying to emails or bouncing from one meeting to the next without any decent time to focus on big ideas or tasks. I’m now very strict about my working day – I bunch meetings to the beginning or end of the day, turn off email and devote chunks of time to write proposals, pull together presentation decks, brainstorm ideas or edit copy. The Sainsbury’s magazine work is still my biggest project but I have such a talented team that it allows me to work a couple of days a week on other clients.

Do you feel pressure in this position? If you do, are you able to share how do you cope with that? 

Of course there’s pressure and this year has been very challenging for everyone. I’ve found the best way to cope is to talk about it, I’m lucky to have some great colleagues I can offload to after a difficult day. It really helps keep things in perspective. Other than that I find that exercise – I have a spinning bike at home – really helps, and eating healthily and getting outside are also essential.

How do you stay creative and break new ground editorially? 

You have to be open to ideas in order to create them. I read a lot, particularly in print – newspapers, books and all kinds of magazines, I listen to lots of podcasts, follow a lot of blogs and take up their recommendations. I also find simple ‘thinking time’ is vital. I find ideas come from the most unlikely places and often come up with them on my daily walk – and thanks to Siri can quickly note them down.

With a monthly magazine like Sainsbury’s, how do you keep innovating whilst maintaining it’s brand synergy? It is a skill to continuously produce success for such a well-known brand. 

It’s a balancing act. We know the print magazine audience have a certain approach to cooking – they are very confident in the kitchen and like to plan in advance, so it’s all about encouraging them to try new ingredients and expand their repertoire. Whereas the Instagram audience are looking for hacks and quick inspiration as to what to cook that evening or bake on the weekend. It’s about making sure the content we create can talk to both demographics or appeal to the different mood change.

Has your work had to change in our lockdowns? How have you and your teams adapted to this? – Can you share any practical tips for managing a remote shoot or how your team collaborate?  

The way we work has changed dramatically, from all being full-time in the office to not seeing each other in real life at all. It’s tough, particularly when so much of what we do is brainstorming ideas, or having those casual conversations that spark ideas. We all make a huge effort to have regular contact, a weekly team meeting, individual check-ins and then a ‘wine o’clock’ gathering on Teams every other Friday afternoon.

Our art director Cassie has been directing shoots remotely all year, and her advice is to firstly make sure the team you have work well together and that you can trust them to do a great job. In our experience this hasn’t been the year to try out new people who may not get your style immediately.

In addition, brief really well. Being very specific about the shots you are hoping to see otherwise there is a lot of time wasted. Normally Cassie can tweak things as the shoot goes along, but art directing remotely means waiting for shots to be uploaded or sent through before she can ask for changes to be made.

If you were giving advice to someone that has just started out in journalism/content what would you tell them?

We’re all publishers nowadays. Or we should be if we want to work in content. So cut your teeth on your own blog and social channels, become your own media brand in the field you want to work in. If you’re not yet in the job you want this is the best way to make sure you’ll get it when it comes up.

On the 8th March, Helena will be presenting ‘What My Best Female Bosses Taught Me‘ at the Women in Content Event. Register to join HERE

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