28 Jun Instinct Insider: Louise Saunders
Welcome to instinct insider our regular interview spot with the industry’s biggest and brightest influencers, sharing what makes good PR
This month we have been chatting with the Queen of the Sidebar Louise Saunders.
As the UK Showbusiness Editor at the MailOnline Louise is responsible for the must-read celebrity news and features the site is famous for.
Her days start with a 7am handover from the LA team and often finish at an industry event. In between Louise, 30, spends her time tracking stars on social media, jumping on breaking news stories, finding angles for the best picture stories and sourcing exclusive interviews as well as liaising with the LA, Sydney and New York offices to ensure they are covering all the best showbiz stories globally.
Sounds glamorous, right? But behind the glitzy title and the seemingly ‘fluffy’ world of celebrity there is the very real pressure of feeding the beast that is the MailOnline (Louise’s team upload hundreds of stories per day, with the most popular getting millions of views) at the same time as making time to nurture relationships with PRs and talent.
Her advice to PRs? Say it with pictures and pitch her something bespoke and – even better – exclusive, with a brilliant celebrity hook. DO make sure you read the site and know the kind of stories they run. DON’T bother with tenuous links, old news, mass mail-outs or post party requests when there wasn’t a pre-party invite…
- Did you always want to work in show business?
“Until I was about 13, I really, really wanted to be an actress (cliché, I know), but when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen I suddenly decided I wanted to be a journalist.
“I always thought I would go into straight news, rather than showbiz, but sort of fell into the showbiz side of things after a couple of work experience stints at OK! magazine, which I loved.
“While I was at university I did as much work experience as possible, including stints at local newspapers, the BBC, The Times and The Independent, which was absolutely invaluable. After working at a news agency in Manchester for five months I got my first foot in the door at BANG Showbiz, where I worked for two years before joining the Mail in 2012. I started as a showbiz reporter and worked my way through senior reporter and assistant showbiz editor roles, before taking on the showbiz editor job three years ago.”
- What does your standard workday look like?
“Manic! I check our overnight list on the tube in and then go through Instagram/Twitter for any social media stories. I get to the office at 7am then the day consists of reacting to and jumping on big breaking stories, finding inventive sells and angles for picture stories and exclusive interviews and covering reaction to trending topics across our global showbiz teams.
“I also have to attend three conferences a day with the other department heads. Unfortunately running the desk means I don’t get to write much anymore, which I really miss. My day finishes at around 6/6.30pm (ish) after evening conference.”
- What makes a dream story for you?
“I love covering big breaking showbiz stories. There’s obviously a lot of pressure, but it’s such an exciting environment to be in when everyone is pulling together to make sure our coverage is the best.
“I also love working on big red carpet events, which do really well for us. Things like the Oscars, BAFTAs, Met Gala etc. are always stressful nights for us, but an exciting time to be in the newsroom. Prioritising can be difficult, but ultimately we know what does well for us and what the readers want to see – we do get surprised sometimes though when a story we weren’t expecting to be that well-read turns out to be a hidden gem.”
- Who is the MailOnline reader?
“Anyone and everyone! I’m always surprised at the huge range of people who read MailOnline on a daily basis.”
- What’s been the best show business story you have covered?
“One event that stands out was when Zayn Malik left One Direction. We got it up before our competitors and our coverage was leading the news agenda. It felt like a really big moment in showbiz news and it was great to be a part of that.
“I’ve also been lucky enough to cover the BAFTAs and the BRITs on numerous occasions and have interviewed people like Lindsay Lohan and Kourtney Kardashian, which have been personal highlights.”
- What do you think sets the MailOnline apart from other websites?
“I think the way we’ve got to number one is by constantly keeping up with what our readers want. We’re lucky in that we know immediately whether something works for us or not and whether our readers are engaging with our content, so we’ve been able to develop a tried and tested formula.
“We’re constantly trying to give our readers an enhanced experience to other sites so they keep coming back for more. I think the showbiz sidebar, in particular, is unique in that it draws the readers in and hits them with the biggest stories of the day immediately. The format and style has been copied a huge amount, but we’re constantly working on new things to keep MailOnline bigger and better than its competitors.
“In terms of our direct competition, I look to the big US sites to see how they do things differently. We need to keep evolving and developing to ensure we’re at the top of our game.”
- How many PR pitches do you get a day? What can PRs do to stand out?
“I get around 500 emails a day, so it’s really important to get my attention from the word go. Because we have such high volumes of content coming in it’s important for PR pitches to have a really strong celebrity hook with something that sets us apart from everyone else – exclusive interviews and pictures are always a good starting point.
“I find it frustrating when people try to tenuously link their campaign to showbiz news when it’s obviously just a big plug, or when it’s not bespoke to MailOnline.”
- What makes great PR? Any major no-nos?
“The best PR pitches come from people who read the site and know what we’re about and the sort of stories we cover on the showbiz channel. They come up with ways a story could work for us and help engage with our readers.
“Great showbiz pictures always get my attention and interview opportunities for celebrities we regularly cover are always a winner.
“My big PR no-nos are when people pitch an idea that is so obviously wrong for the site, for example, I was offered an interview with a puppet this week! Really obvious mass mail-outs where PRs forget to change the name of the title they’re sending to are a real turn-off too, as it just seems like they don’t care about personalising their pitch for your publication. More often than not if a PR calls me the wrong name or references a different publication in an email, I’ll delete it straight away.
“It’s really about relationships too, I always want to work with people who go out of their way to meet and develop a good working relationship, rather than those who just send over post-event releases and expect coverage.”
- And finally… where’s your go-to PR breakfast/lunch place?
“I would have to say that local places are the best as it’s so hard to get away from the desk, so The Ivy Kensington Brasserie and Aubaine are always winners.”