Welcome to my new feature 'Career Chat' where I will be grabbing industry professionals for a coffee and a chinwag (or a quick email) about how to bag that dream job. I'll be picking their brains on what it takes to climb the ladder of success and how to stand out from the crowd. Meet my first guest, Ben Cooper, Travel Editor for ELLEuk and Red Online.
EG: Hi Ben. Nice to meet you. As the Travel Editor for ELLEuk and Red Online, what's your favourite part of the job?
BC: Hello. You, too.
I'd obviously be lying if I said it wasn't getting paid to travel and visit amazing hotels. I'm a bit of an online geek, though, so the challenges of making words and pictures (and sometimes a bit of code) keep me in a job, comes a very close second.
EG: You started your career at the Observer, was it then that you realised you wanted a career in the media?
BC: Before then. The Observer work I got was as a result of a lot of hard graft put in on my Leeds University student newspaper, followed by more hard graft in the holidays making tea and opening the post, before eventually I got given some editorial bits and pieces to do. Then I worked hard to build up a portfolio of good work.
EG: Where do you find inspiration for the content on the site?
BC: Talking to people mainly. Other writers, editors and friends in the industry - and, yes, sometimes PRs. Keeping on top of what's going on via Twitter is key, too.
EG: You must travel around a lot, what's your most memorable experience so far?
BC: I often find there's a difference between how 'good' a hotel is (design, service, food etc.) and how much I enjoy my stay - and my extension how memorable it is. If I'm being honest, usually the more self-consciously high-class any of those aspects are, the less I tend to actually enjoy it.
A case in point was a stay at The Bath Arms in Longleat. It was in the run-up to Red Online's launch. I was knackered. We got there about 9pm on a Friday night after a long drive in the rain. We went inside to find a buzzy pub, roaring fires and good food (and some strong complimentary firewater in the rooms). The next day, I sat nursing a hangover in front of the fire, writing reviews and being served Bloody Marys by the friendly manager. Was it amazingly luxurious? No. Did I have a great time? Absolutely.
On a similarly relaxed note, I had an amazing stay at Casa La Siesta in southern Spain recently. Yes, the interiors are fabulous and the setting is beautiful, but it's the relaxed vibe of the place that makes it so special.
All that having been said, a honeymoon at L'Heure Bleue in Essaouira was pretty out-of-this-world...
EG: When receiving press releases or invitations, what sort of thing tends to catch your eye the most?
BC: That it's what I'm looking for, when I'm looking for it. So the eye-catching thing would be that the sender has read, and has a good understanding, of the site(s) and what goes on it. In the vast majority of cases, don't come to me, I'll come to you would be my preferred approach. Other than new openings (hotels and restaurants) I don't really want to hear about a timely (and PR-driven) spin on something like the Diamond Jubilee, or an interview with a CEO, or the launch of an 'exciting new app' (unless it really is exciting).
PRs should make themselves readily available by updating their websites with recent clients and contact details, shouldn't be afraid to introduce themselves via Twitter (it's @ben_coop)... and, please, shouldn't ever call on the off-chance!
EG: What is your advice for graduates or anyone hoping to make it in the world of journalism?
BC: Be prepared to do it for the love first. And then probably keep doing it for quite some time. Almost no one, no matter how brilliant they are as an under-graduate, walks into a role these days with a box-fresh degree in English or Journalism and no, or not much, writing experience. I'd also recommend trying to specialise as early as possible - there's simply too much competition for generalists.
Beyond that, having online experience - even if it's just updating your daily blog - is never going to hurt. Nor is an understanding of social media.