Instinct Insider: Olivia Walmsley

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

From fashion intern at The Telegraph to Tory Party conference correspondent, Life & Style Deputy Editor, the London Lite start-up team, a Femail editor, freelance writer, and a stint running a desk at the beast that is the MailOnline, there isn’t much that Olivia Walmsley hasn’t covered in a seriously impressive journalism career (so far).

Today, back at the Telegraph as Deputy Editor of Weekend Lifestyle, Print and Digital, Olivia, now 38, is responsible for daily online stories as well as the paper’s much-loved Weekend lifestyle sections, including the big cover stories and the Men, Women, Food, Drink, Health & Fitness, Cars, Gardening, Interiors and Pets sections.

Wearing both online and offline ‘hats’ means that Olivia is always on the hunt for good ideas, contacts and content, and so there are plenty of opportunities for PRs and brands to work with her and her team, if the angle is right.

Her advice from life on a National? Don’t be surprised if she doesn’t answer her phone, do pitch her non-London-centric ideas, do think about social media, and please don’t ask for a copy of the paper if you missed it….

What does a typical day look like for you?

I always start the day reading papers and news sites online on my way to the office. I usually get in around 9am but some mornings I get in earlier and go to the 8.30am Digital Conference representing Lifestyle alongside Video, Pictures, News and Features. I’ll be talking about stories from each of my sections, presenting to Chris Evans, and then feeding back to the relevant editors.

We always aim to get a couple of digital-only stories live before lunchtime, pegged to what’s happening that day, and sometimes tweak the paper content (which goes up online overnight) to make it more digital-friendly and/or shareable to maximise any social activity.

And then I’ll spend the rest of my day working on paper stories for the weekend which takes more planning.

My job at The Telegraph is kind of a combination of my previous roles at the MailOnline and Femail, covering print and digital, although I would say I spend most of my time – around 70% – on print, working on the Food section, cover stories and features for the Saturday and Sunday print sections.

It’s basically two jobs, but I really enjoy the variety because I get the satisfaction of firing out stories online and crunching the daily numbers as well as commissioning columnists and great writers to write more in-depth pieces on subjects they are passionate about.

You’re a busy woman! What’s the best way to approach you and your team?

When am I most receptive? Any time! Or maybe I shouldn’t admit that?! I’m constantly in my inbox so there’s not really a good/bad time as such. But email, not phone, is definitely the best way to get hold of me.

Every day on the desk of a national is actually very different, but the one constant is that we’re flat out all day every day and so (sadly) I’m very rarely able to attend launches or events in the day.

We have two print press days – Wednesday for Saturday and Friday for Sunday – and we don’t have hugely long lead times but we do try and plan out at least the next month in advance.

What makes a great pitch/story?  

A dream pitch for me would be something non London-centric. The Telegraph is a national paper and we need to reflect that in the content – but most PR pitches we receive are London-based.

One example of a good pitch is a PR company with a London-based client who sent a suggested theme for a Dine Time round-up (Dine Time is a regular restaurant feature) including their client but also ideas for other locations around the country. They understood that we don’t always make one brand/client the entire focus of a piece plus the fact we need to feature the whole UK, not just London.

Special or national ‘days’ or ‘weeks’ are also sometimes good opportunities for PR activity e.g. things like National Margarita Day or Afternoon Tea Week can do well for us on social so we’ll do a bit of planning around these.

We also try and publish evergreen content where possible that can be resurfaced on social as relevant which is worth bearing in mind if pitching ideas along these themes.

How does digital content differ from print?

I would say our digital content might feel a bit more playful, a bit quirkier or more reactive. And it often surprises us because you never know where it’s going to end up. The stats show us that many of the readers of the stories that take off on Facebook for instance can be brand new readers to The Telegraph site which I find really interesting.

The Telegraph is also investing in Snapchat as another way of talking to and introducing the title to a newer, younger audience.

And events are another way that the Telegraph brand is engaging with different audiences. My team and I may get involved in recommending columnists or writers for Q&As or hosted dinners etc. and then providing editorial support as relevant. 

How can PRs work best with you?

We are always looking for great cover stories for the Saturday and Sunday section so big ideas, which a client could then feature in, are always welcome.

It’s great when PRs understand that we are rarely able to feature just one brand and instead will often need to make pitches/ideas broader and bigger and encompass other brands/products/places.

Lists, surveys and Top Tens are still very useful for the daily, snappy shorts, mostly when the results are counterintuitive and/or very specific e.g. the recent ‘37 is too old to go clubbing’ story.

I like it when PR’s create content reacting to stuff they can see does well. And of course it’s useful if people getting in touch have an understanding of the different sections and channels. 

Any PR no-no’s you care to share?

People emailing about a column that hasn’t existed for over a year is pretty frustrating.

And a real pet peeve is when someone misses the paper at the weekend and asks us to send a PDF or a copy of the paper.

And finally… where are your go-to PR breakfast/lunch/dinner places? 

It really is almost impossible for us to get to breakfasts or lunches so it’s always after work for me, but I’m happy to try anywhere new and buzzy.

I live in East London and work in Victoria so the city is my oyster. I still love Soho, and I generally want to escape Victoria after work but I’m hearing good things about the new Lorne restaurant on Wilton Street.


                                                                            Words – Toni Jones