Instinct Insider: Farrah Storr

Welcome to Instinct Insider our regular new interview spot with the industry’s biggest and brightest influencers, sharing what makes good PR.

Farrah Storr is one of the most powerful people in publishing right now. The 37-yr-old editor is famous for injecting new life into magazines and her CV, including stints at Glamour, Woman & Home, Good Housekeeping, Eve, Women’s Health (where she held the accolade of being one of Britain’s youngest ever editors) and now Cosmopolitan, is enough to make us dizzy.

As Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan for the last 18 months Storr has succeeded in the impossible, catapulting the failing title out of the doldrums into the top spot in women’s mags, and it’s now the country’s biggest selling glossy.

As you can imagine, life is pretty hectic for the Salford-born journalist who’s often up before 6am to keep on top of magazine copy as well as oversee digital collaborations and reader events like the brand’s recent Self Made Summit.

But her ethos for career success is pretty simple, for Storr it’s all about brilliant story-telling and brilliant relationships, whether that be with the readers, her staff or PRs.

And her best advice to PRs is equally simple: know your brand, know her brand… and in case of emergency, take her coffee.

Was magazine editor a childhood ambition for you?

“Not at all. Aged seven I wanted to be a judge or a cosmetic surgeon, motivated completely by money. And now look! I’m definitely in the wrong industry for that, but I always loved writing. Although it took me a while to be convinced that journalism was for me. My sister was a journalist and she worked at More magazine in the Nineties and all they seemed to do was party and I was really snooty about that. I was very sanctimonious thinking ‘that is not for me’ and then I tried PR for a year and was suddenly desperate to get into journalism because I realized that was where the power was (although the instinct pr team may disagree with that).”

What does your perfect work day look like?

“My perfect work day is a clear diary where I just get to sit in my office and read and edit copy and have a features meeting. That’s what I love about journalism. Coming up with new ideas and angles, being naughty and irreverent and playful with copy. Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of time to do that anymore so I do a lot of my editing on the train home, or on Saturdays. But I would never, ever give it up and I think that you can’t really call yourself an editor if you’re not looking at the copy that goes into your magazine.”

Tell us about the Cosmopolitan girl…

“The Cosmopolitan girl is 27, very career-minded and incredibly ambitious. She’s fun, and funny and loves men. I call our readers the ‘selfie-made generation’, young women (and men) who no longer crave the job for life/corner office but instead want to be self-made and have their own security.”

How has Cosmopolitan changed since you took over in 2015?

“It has gone much more traditional in many senses. I think that if someone has chosen to spend money and time with a magazine they want to be fully immersed in the story, and the best way to do that is to tell it from a first person point of view [according to the latest research most of us choose to read magazines in the bath and for around 40 minutes].

“And so I went back to what Cosmopolitan did so well in the Sixties and Seventies, when it was committed to long-form journalism. Today we are one of the only places in women’s magazines where features are allowed to run to 3,000 words and we do a lot of first-person pieces. I’m really interested in making characters from the team that we have, characters that the readers kind of fall in love with and will always read a piece by e.g. Jennifer Savin or Amy Grier.

“We’re pretty much doing what Loaded did in the Nineties when it was really, really good. I loved that magazine edited by James Brown, because he made stars of the writers and they told brilliant stories through gonzo journalism.

“Cosmopolitan is not a serious publication, we’re about entertainment, but at the end of the day I ask: ‘Is it a brilliant story?’ It might sound like a cliché but in the digital age the whole point of magazines is telling a story.”

Who is your ultimate cover girl?

“Truth is it changes all the time depending on who is interesting, relevant and being well-behaved! Someone who is self-made is always an added bonus. Jessica Alba was great for us because she’s a billionaire through her business not just through her acting career. That said I wouldn’t say no to Gigi Hadid.”

How can magazines survive the changing media landscape?

“Today a successful magazine is a magazine brand. Cosmopolitan is a living, breathing thing. We are way more than a magazine. For instance, we’ve just teamed up with eBay and a property guardian company to launch ‘Cosmo Houses’ in London to help rehouse women who may be leaving the capital because they can’t afford to live there or need to move to the city in order to start their career but are priced out. This kind of initiative is about commitment to our readers.

“And my job at Cosmopolitan is way more than editing copy, it’s about getting out there talking about the brand and hustling, talking to other companies about how we can work with them. We have a really powerful female audience and there are a lot of businesses out there who don’t have that so what’s interesting to me as an editor is joint ventures, like our partnership with Snapchat. A successful magazine has to operate on several platforms and you have to be very specific about how you speak to your audience on each platform. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that Cosmopolitan has one voice, not even in the magazine.”

What makes good PR?

“Follow-up! Coming up with an angle is good PR, but better PR is having regular dialogue with a journalist. Take them to breakfast. Get them out. We all know journalists have no money, so take them somewhere really nice and keep following up (scheduling breakfasts/meetings every e.g. two months will help you stay on their radar).

“It’s really all about relationships. At the end of that day it’s about ‘who do I want to do business with?’ Get a journalist out, put a face to a name and it will flow from there. Persistence eventually pays off. If you keep up the contact with your key journalists most people are nice enough not to ignore you forever. And if I really can’t escape the office to meet you? Bring me coffee!”

And once you’ve secured that meeting?

“As a PR you need to look at all the different platforms that publications are working over and tailor-make a bespoke plan for each platform (and make sure you get the right person for each of those platforms in the first place! People assume I am over the website, which I may be overall, but there is also a Web Editor to contact).

“I think brilliant PRs today are people who talk less about PR and more about brands. A good PR almost acts as a brand builder and needs to be really knowledgeable about the brands they are representing. Present me with the facts, hopefully some that you haven’t divulged elsewhere, and then let me come up with own angle.”

In a sea of emails and phone calls what gets your attention?

“Emails that begin ‘Hi darling’ or referencing the wrong magazine or person (it happens!) get deleted immediately. But (*whispers*) I don’t actually get that many emails – or invitations actually – as I think that sometimes PRs tend to contact the same people, often Directors and then juniors, assuming that they will always be available. It’s the same with my Deputy Editor, and I think that PRs could be missing a major trick by not paying more attention to the ‘deputies’ out there.

“What does get my attention is when people say something personal. Whether that’s referencing a love of exercise for instance, or flattering my product. With Cosmopolitan, because we have done such a major overhaul it’s really nice when that is recognised and PRs say: ‘I love the change in direction at the mag and that’s why I’m drawing your attention to this particular product/idea.’

“And the one place I really have time to talk to people is when I am speaking at events, and this will be the same for most senior press. The time at the end is a great opportunity to have a one-on-one with editors that you may never get access to through normal channels. Invariably I am stood around not knowing anyone so you will get my full attention. Just try not to be too full on.”

– Words by Toni Jones