Instinct Insider: Claire Sanderson

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

This month’s industry expert is Claire Sanderson, who has been the Editor of Women’s Health magazine since January 2017.

We met Claire at the very hip Farm Girl Cafe at Sweaty Betty’s flagship London store when she is four weeks into a three-month body transformation programme for the magazine.

Before the interview she pauses to check the ingredients in her superfood salad bowl before chatting about her nutritionist and taking a quick snap of the pretty dish for Instagram and her next Editor’s Letter.

So far, she’s living the magazine dream.

But when nervous staff inform us they have run out of wakame there’s no media diva fit. In fact Claire – like most of the rest of us – has no idea what wakame is. She’s also not impressed about the Farm Girl prices (“£8 for a bit of yoghurt!”). She’s a normal girl from the valleys at heart, she explains, who cut her journalism teeth on the news desks of Fleet Street. And the real reason we’re at Soho’s trendiest eatery is not because they serve five types of dairy-free lattes but because it’s so close to the Hearst offices and Claire is busy. Very busy, in fact, running the UK’s fastest growing Women’s Magazine in her dream job. A job that almost didn’t happen….


A little birdie tells us that you almost talked yourself out of this dream job…?

“It’s true, editing Women’s Health has always been my dream job, but when bosses at Hearst first approached me last year I did have to think twice about it.

“After 15 years in magazines [Claire spent nine years at Look and before that she was Deputy News Editor at Grazia] I was just four days into a new job at The Sun that started straight after my second maternity leave. And so my first reaction was ‘No thank you,’ because even though this was my dream job it was a HUGE job and I didn’t think I was ready to take on that level of responsibility so soon after having my second child.

“BUT – first rule – you always should go along to meetings that could be interesting for your career, and so I went along to see the Publishing Director and by the end of that meeting I was totally on board. It was too much of a big opportunity to turn down.

“There are of course some sacrifices, and I don’t see my family quite as much as I would like, but it’s such an important role within Hearst and its incredible to be part of a media brand that is genuinely growing – we just posted our 10th month of consecutive growth in the ABCs, which is unheard of. And we have also won the PPA Magazine of the Year award for two years running, which has never been done before.”


Describe a typical day for you – how fit does the Women’s Health Editor have to be?

“I have always been really into health and fitness and I’ve read Women’s Health since its first issue, but ironically I put ON weight when I first joined the magazine! I had been working out a lot during my maternity leave and had spent a year off sugar, but I spend most of my time in the office or in meetings now and commuting and being at the desk is quite a sedentary life, even at a fitness magazine.

“I commute to London from Winchester, but I am a morning person and so I’m happy to be up with the kids around 5.30am for some breakfast and Peppa Pig before the nanny starts at 6.30am, and then I’m on the 6.48am train to London where I actually get a lot of work done without anyone to distract me.

“I work out every day, and so arriving in the city my first stop is the Third Space gym near my office where I’ll mix it up between reformer pilates, weights and spinning classes. I also love an F45 session when I get the chance and at the weekend I’ll do an intense circuits class called Orange Theory, which is a bit like Barry’s Bootcamp. I’m quite old school when it comes to fitness. I love exercising to the point that I’m going to be sick and if I’m not bent over double I don’t really feel like I have worked out.

“After a quick shower I’ll head to the office in Soho for around 9.45am, or sometimes to a breakfast meeting, which is definitely the best way to get face time with me.

“We get invited to so many great things but it’s actually really difficult for my team and I to get to classes, launches or events in the day, and the only time I really leave the office is for meetings or cover shoots.

“In the evening I try and make sure everyone has left the office by 7pm at the latest. My background in weeklies means that I’m very militant about deadlines and making sure we work to schedule. As a result, people don’t need to work late, even on press day, and if I see someone at their desk late I assume they aren’t managing their time very well.”


Who is the Women’s Health reader?

“The beauty of Women’s Health, and why I think it continues to buck the declining sales trend of most magazines, is that we have a really broad readership, aged between 18 and 40+.

“Age is nothing but a number for most women these days and while our core readers are the 25-35 ABC1 professional women with a high disposable income, we also have the students and glamorous mums. I try and cater for all readers, like featuring Melanie Sykes, who looks insane at 47, in the recent Naked issue.

“It’s really a gift that we can feature such a plethora of people in the magazine. Our recent cover star Sofia Vergara is pure Hollywood for instance, but then Louise Redknapp, who is much more ‘girl next door’, sold really well earlier this year.

“It’s very important to me that we don’t alienate readers. We do live in a bit of a bubble in London and although the wellness trend is permeating around the UK I have to remember that not everyone can spend £25 on a class or eat ‘wakame’ for lunch.”


Who is your ultimate cover girl?

“I think the perfect Women’s Health cover star is someone who understands ‘balance’.

“Meghan Markle actually comes across like one of us and she would be the dream right now, although generally issues sell better with a British stars because readers want to relate to them. American celebrities like Gwyneth are seen as being on another level of wealth and circumstance.

“I would also love to get Cheryl Cole on the cover, I think most magazines would.

“And I would say that everyone we feature is really delighted to be on the cover. Most admit to already being Women’s Health super fans which is brilliant and I think is because it’s such a positive brand. I come from a fashion and beauty background, where sometimes people can be more difficult, but I havent met anyone so far who isn’t thrilled to be on the cover.”


How can magazines survive and/or thrive in the changing the media landscape?

“It’s all about the brand now, from 360degree content online and offline to events like our Secret Sweats, and we are very much exploring avenues to maximize that brand. We already have a gym range and there’s a drive to learn from titles like Men’s Health and introduce more products and merchandise.

“When it comes to content the online and offline teams are run quite separately but we make sure that we support each other and as brand custodian I’ll often be overseeing projects that work across both channels e.g. The’ In Shape My Shape’ campaign in July where we gave away cards with the magazine and asked people to post social pictures of themselves with the #s. Or the recent Deliciously Ella cover where she also answered the ‘five most Googled questions’ about her and we used that as separate online content.”


How can PRs work best with Women’s Health?

“Come to me if you are looking for a brand partnership or have a huge exclusive or a commercial proposition. Otherwise target the section heads, and think about how you’re doing that. Really have read the magazine for a start. Consider what you are coming to us with and then find out who you are targeting and address them by name. And don’t be too familiar, starting am email with ‘hi lovely’ or ’hi darling’ when you don’t know me drives me mad.

“When pitching content suggest where in the magazine you think it’s going to go. It shows that some thought has gone into it. It’s amazing how many people pitch us alcohol stories and we have never put alcohol in Women’s Health, so really think about how this brand/pitch/idea is going to fit in the magazine but stand out in our inboxes.

“We’re quite a unique magazine and so there’s lots of content that works for us that wouldn’t really fit anywhere else.  For example, we’re very science-heavy, so do a bit of research yourself. Help us out. Suggest angles. It might not be totally the right angle but again it shows you’ve put some consideration into it.”


What makes good PR, what gets your attention?

“I think PR is all about relationships and so I do think it’s really important to meet people.

“Remember that we are under siege with people wanting coverage so it’s always good to be able to put a face to a name. I am quite loyal, once you are in with me and I know I can rely on you I will always try and work with you when I can.

“Be clever, be insightful, be knowledgeable about the brand, tell us how you think this can work and how you think this can benefit Women’s Health. Show us that you value Women’s Health above all other publications, even if you don’t, make us feel that way.”


Any big PR no-nos you care to share?

“It frustrates all journalists when PRs blanket pitch. Don’t send me the same email you are sending out to a whole email list. I barely read those.

“And one of the bugbears of the team is when these same emails are followed up within a couple of hours with a chasing phone call. If it’s interesting and we can use it, we’ll get back to you.

“Don’t get a very junior intern with no confidence to make calls, it’s an uncomfortable experience for everyone – at least sound as if you have some balls, if you have to, fake it!

“And if we DO get back with a request/call-in make sure you can deliver. Don’t say yes and then leave us hanging. We need to know if something isn’t available, we don’t have time to chase and be let down.

“Finally, as an Editor I get sent a lot things and I’m very grateful but I can’t possibly feature everything, I’m not allowed to even if I could, and to preserve the integrity of the magazine we will only feature things that the team and/or I have tested and loved. So please don’t take it personally if we can’t feature your product. If you ask for my shoe size, I will give it to you, but if you then send me trainers that I don’t like they won’t be featured.”


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

“It’s always, always breakfast because it’s so difficult to get out during the day, so anywhere close to the office is best. Close and healthy. Favourites include The Ivy SohoBill’sFoxlow and The Ham Yard Hotel.”

Words – Toni Jones